Sunday 30 October 2016

Prickly Mourinho feeling the strain and pressure

Two months into his tenure at Old Trafford... and we've had the first meltdown.

It was always going to happen at some point but the fact it's come so early in the season hinted that all is not well is the world of Jose Mourinho. 

Angered at Antonio Conte's touchline antics at the Bridge last week, charged over comments made towards referee Anthony Taylor and now living a lonely existence at the Lowry Hotel, it's been a bizarre and troubled week for Jose. 

Without a trace of irony last Sunday, Mourinho barked condemnation in Antonio Conte's ear over the Chelsea manager's 'unprofessional' touchline demeanour.
Days later, one of the most poorly behaved bosses in the game was passing notes to an assistant doing shuttle runs from the directors box to the bench. 

The Special One is looking anything but right now and although he may he insist what he said about 'living in a goldfish bowl' were made in jest, there is no doubt that he's feeling the strain.

The media interest, paparazzi, autograph hunters and selfie snaps go with any managerial post- none more so than at United-  but his antics on Saturday hardly hinted at keeping a low profile and getting on with the job. 

Pep Guardiola took a sabbatical when he left Barcelona before he went to Bayern, to recharge his batteries and come back refreshed.
It looks and sounds like Jose could have done with the same as his career has been more or less none stop hard work for 12 years. 

He's admitted to struggling to adapting without his family but yet is making his job harder by hogging the headlines and the latest episode in a career chequered with controversy came during the Burnley game.

Referee Mark Clattenburg sent Mourinho to the stands for his comments at half-time that came after the official turned down a penalty appeal against Matteo Darmian. 

Jose was visibly incensed by that decision and his mood would not have improved by having to move seats and go into the directors box after being told he was too close to the dugout. 

There can be spells of dignity and charm tossed in but that is normally the price you have to pay when Jose is your manager- he may well bring success but it will come with excess baggage. 

We're less ponderous but no more productive on the pitch while off it the Mourinho sideshow is gathering pace. 

There is a decent combination of players in this United squad- an attacking threat which we have seen in flashes but not consistently- and Mourinho is struggling to find it. 

It's not the only problem he's battling with at present. 

Deja vu for profligate Reds in 90 frustrating minutes

United's front six was the same as the profligate attack that started against Stoke and again a lack of cutting edge proved our undoing, 

It's hard to be critical of such a dominant performance as the only thing missing was a goal but this was a frustrating carbon copy of the Stoke game.

Two points from a possible six against the Potters and Burnley is hardly a crisis and the performances have been positive but an inability to make dominance count has left everyone frustrated.

The visiting keeper had the game of his life in both games but we're going through a dry spell in front of goal that has co-incided with the longest drought of Zlatan's career. 

Jesse Lingard had one good chance but was largely anonymous, Juan Mata- again our best player- was taken off and Zlatan cost the team with some flimsy finishing. 

Tom Heaton added gloss with that incredible second half stop from the Swede but Zlatan has become a liability in front of goal and- just like against Stoke- he squandered an early chance that would have given us a far easier afternoon.

Jose perhaps tried to prove a point by retaining his favourites, he even overlooked Michael Carrick and again kept Henrikh Mkhitaryan in the stands.

Having watched him regularly for Dortmund last season, Mkhitaryan oozes class and we're crying out for the pace, ingenuity and guile that he brings to the table.

The Armenian's absence is all the more baffling when set against Jesse Lingard's recent form- anonymous at Chelsea and only marginally better against Burnley.

Our attacks regularly broke down when he was on the ball and despite being occasionally capable of the spectacular, that and intuitive movement are not enough to earn a regular place in a forward line such as ours.

Lingard's inclusion ahead of Mkhitaryan is as mystifying as the Armenian's continued absence from the squad. 

In the first half, Paul Pogba seemed uninterested as he ambled around in a deep-lying role and at times not even bothering to keep up with the pace going forward.

After half time, however, he looked every inch like the midfielder we hoped we had signed- having moved to the left of midfield.
Pogba's vision and link-up play improved immensely and his whipped crosses were right on the money as United mounted siege. 

His positioning should not pose a problem when it's patently clear- just as with Angel Di Maria- that he has to start on the left of a midfield three. 

Once we start turning these chances into goals- and draws into wins- everything will look a lot rosier for Jose and the team but that's easier said than done.

If that means the boss has to bite the bullet and drop his marquee signing then so be it. 

Can't fault performances but we're lacking a killer touch

Jose Mourinho and Ander Herrera both sent off, Mark Clattenburg public enemy number one, a world class goalkeeping display and a misfiring strike force.

Yesterday's draw with Burnley had more or less everything (expect a goal) but the over-riding frustration is that this is United side lacking a killer touch.

The last two home league performances against Stoke and then Burnley have been two of the best we've seen for several seasons but, while the 0-0 stalemate against Liverpool will be applauded this one won't be.

We had 37 shots against Burnley and 28 against Stoke- more than we had under LVG across the whole of last season combined- which in itself is progress but we've picked up two points and only scored once.

On the positive side, things are starting to click, we're playing the attacking football we're accustomed to and the players look like they are enjoying themselves again.

There's not much a manager can do when his players are misfiring but if Jose's rebuild is to make bigger strides then he needs to sort out this dry spell.

Burnley's away record- successive defeats at Chelsea, Leicester and Southampton- looked perfect for a United strike force desperately in need of a goal glut.

It had been four matches since either main strikers Zlatan or Rashford had scored in the league and both would have fancied their chances against Burnley.
But Sean Dyche's side exposed the depth of a mini barren run that is building up for Jose.

Former Academy products Michael Keane and discarded keeper Tom Heaton were in inspired form and we just couldn't find a way through. 

What we didn't want was for our famed Swedish hitman to fluff his lines after 30 seconds. 

He started his Old Trafford career like a train but the adrenaline has worn off and he can't buy a goal at the moment.
He hasn't scored since City on 10 September and had he not 'passed' to Heaton with that early opening we would have been looking at our biggest win of the season.

Instead we saw Stoke City, 2.0 

Against Mark Hughes dogged visitors, Zlatan missed a sitter inside two minutes and that gave them hope.
Despite our almost overwhelming dominance, that worrying lack of cutting edge gave Burnley belief- just as Stoke grew in stature- and they carved out a gritty draw when they should've been dead and buried.

Zlatan's cultured touch is superb but it sometimes needs more conviction and fire, he had chance after chance but it was never enough to find a breakthrough.
Referee Mark Clattenburg will be under the spotlight for some questionable decisions but we should have won this without the need for finger-pointing. 

With Rashford quiet, no Anthony Martial and Wayne Rooney on the bench again, it didn't 'Mata' what Juan tried to create, United had the look of a team who could play until Christmas and not score.

Heaton, plus the woodwork, added up to another one of those days. 

Match report: United 0-0 Burnley

United had Jose Mourinho and Ander Herrera sent off and found former keeper Tom Heaton in inspired form on a fractious afternoon at Old Trafford.

Just as against Stoke, the Reds were totally dominant and registered 38 shots on goal but were thwarted by a combination of bad luck, superb goalkeeping and questionable refereeing. 

We drew a blank for the third successive league game with the tenacious Clarets indebted to their in-form keeper and the woodwork which was rattled twice by Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Juan Mata.

The tone of what was to follow came inside a minute when Heaton held out of form Zlatan's strike from distance and then denied Mata after good link-up play between the Swede and Marcus Rashford.

Paul Pogba went close with a deflected effort while Burnley - looking to avoid a fourth away defeat of the season - struggled to impose themselves.

Heaton was on a one-man mission to deny his former club and Zlatan in particular and came to his side's rescue again with a series of superb saves shortly before the break.

Pogba found Ibrahimovic who was kept out by an excellent save from the sprawling stopper before Mata's low effort from 12 yards was tipped around the post. 

Herrera picked out Jesse Lingard who had a header turned over the top and Ibra's side-footed finish was diverted behind by Ben Mee after excellent play from Pogba.

The Frenchman flashed inches over the crossbar before strong penalty appeals were turned down after Matteo Darmian went down under a challenge from substitute Jon Flanagan. 

That saw a furious Jose sent to the stands but his side continued where we had left off after half time. 

Ibrahimovic worked his way to the byline and cut the ball back for Mata but the impressive Heaton saved with his legs and also blocked Lingard's follow-up.

Pogba's cross hit the hand of Michael Keane- again the appeals were waved away- but United continued to lay siege to a Burnley goal that was living a charmed life.

Heaton's best save of the lot saw him somehow miraculously fist away Ibra's point blank range effort but, even when he wasn't called upon, we were denied by the woodwork.

Zlatan headed against the bar and Mata's low effort hit a post before our afternoon became even more frustrating when Herrera was sent off for a second booking when he slipped and clipped the heels of Dean Marney. 

Burnley could have snatched an unlikely win when Sam Vokes flicked narrowly wide from Scott Arfield's cross but United kept coming in the closing stages.

Daley Blind, Luke Shaw, Pogba and substitute Wayne Rooney all went close to the elusive breakthrough but Sean Dyche's side survived five added minutes to secure their first away point of the campaign.

Overall team performance: 9/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Paul Pogba 

Friday 28 October 2016

Match preview: United v Burnley

United manager Jose Mourinho has warned his side not to underestimate a "dangerous" Burnley side ahead of the visit of Sean Dyche's newly promoted Clarets.

The midweek derby win restored confidence and belief, but Jose said he expects a "difficult" challenge from our Lancashire neighbours. 

"In the last seven matches we lost one,  it's better to lose one match 4-0 than four matches 1-0, it is three points, so our run of results is not bad.
"We lost two points against Stoke which was our best match of the season in terms of opportunities and chance creation.
"We are a team in process, we will not do this in three or four months, in this moment we will take it game by game and Burnley will be very difficult- they are dangerous. 
"The last match we played against City was very good so I hope we can continue that on Saturday."

Burnley will arrive in Manchester off the back of a dramatic injury time win over Everton last time out-step forward Scott Arfield- to earn their third victory from nine so far (they've also beaten Liverpool and Watford, both with a 2-0 scoreline).

Currently sat in 14th place, they are one of three sides yet to win on the road this season and have only scored once away from home having collected all ten of their points at Turf Moor. 

They will look to their form at home as key to their survival in a bid to become an established Premier League side having become something of a 'yo yo' club in recent years. 

Their first year back in the top flight in 2009 was swiftly followed by an immediate relegation.

History repeated in 2014 when they were promoted- then relegated- again before 'the Ginger Mourinho' Dyche led them to the Championship title last term to seal an instant return to the Premier League. 

 Eric Bailly and Phil Jones are injured while Wayne Rooney and Chris Smalling are doubtful.
Anthony Martial, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Tim Fosu-Mensah also missed the midweek cup win but all are fit are could feature.
Andre Gray is available again after suspension- with Ashley Barnes and Stephen Ward also back in contention- but Steven Defour is doubtful.

George Boyd has recovered from injury and could join former United Academy graduates Michael Keane and Tom Heaton in the Burnley line-up for our first 3 pm kick off this season. 

Form guide: United W D D W L W Burnley D L W L L W 
Match odds: United 2/9 Draw 11/8 Burnley 35/1 
Referee: Mark Clattenburg 

Thursday 27 October 2016

Magical Mata becoming key man for Jose's United

Juan Mata was expected to be Mourinho's first casualty at the club but he is becoming a key man and hugely important. 

Jose sold him to us for £37 million because of his preference for a pacy, powerful, physical Chelsea team and for Mata - who is massively popular both at the Bridge and in Manchester - his days seemed numbered. 

He was voted Chelsea's player of the year in successive seasons but fell out of favour under the Portuguese because of an apparent failure to work hard defensively and stick to his role wide on the right.

The Spaniard scored his third of the season in last night's win over City and the stats - although admittedly they can be misleading - highlight his growing influence on this side.

One of the few players to have emerged from the last few turbulent years with an enhanced reputation, Mata has scored 30 times, assisted 18 and is injury free, which is always a precious commodity. 

What's more, most of those have turned out to be crucial, match winning moments: think of his goal in the cup final, last night and his 'Juanfield' double in 2015 to name but three. 

In his nine starts this season, we've won seven and lost only once (at Feyenoord) and without him in the team, we've lost three, drawn one and won at Northampton in the cup. 
If that doesn't tell you of his importance to the team I don't know what will. 

Mata is often criticised because he does not fit the "United identikit": pace, counter attacking and flying wingers but he's the archetypal number ten and I can't think of any that possess speed. 

His vision and ability to find space make up for it, though, and despite his diminutive stature, he is not afraid to dig in and take a game by the scruff of the neck. 

He's pulling the strings in attack tucked in behind Zlatan and is the one player who looks the most likely to carve open defences. 

Mourinho still has decisions to make as to who plays the number ten role but it is becoming increasingly hard to ignore the gifted and mercurial Spaniard. 
He glides through games with such ease and is crucial to the way we want to play when expected to dominate the ball.
Not only is Mata a wonderful and highly intelligent player, he has also earned a reputation as one of the nicest blokes in football.
Before the Stoke game earlier in the season he stopped the team coach to take the time to pose for photographs and sign the shirt of a young, disabled fan.

Not for nothing has Juan Mata become my favourite United player (he evens ends his blog posts with 'hugs') 

Match report: United 1-0 City

Juan Mata's solitary second half strike proved enough to send United through to the quarter finals at the expense of holders City.

The recalled playmaker's intelligent finish shortly after the break settled the 173rd Manchester derby and ensured a modicum of revenge for last month's league defeat. 

We progressed to the last eight to face West Ham after a much needed and confidence boosting win that restored belief and a sense of pride to all those in Red following Sunday's debacle.

As a result of that defeat, Mourinho named a stronger side than perhaps we expected, while, in contrast City boss Pep Guardiola fulfilled his promise to rotate.

Despite a much-changed side, however, the visitors started in a menacing mood and could- maybe should- have gone ahead inside five minutes.

Kelechi Iheanacho scored in the league encounter last month and almost did so again here when he steered a header narrowly off target after Jesus Navas had picked him out.

Aleix Garcia had a possible penalty appeal turned down when he went down under a challenge from Michael Carrick but referee Mike Dean waved play on.

Zlatan went close with a free-kick and then had an effort deflected over the top by Nicolas Otamendi after Marcus Rashford had linked up well with Luke Shaw. 

Iheanacho and Antonio Valencia were both booked for strong challengers before Marcos Rojo blocked superbly from Leroy Sane after Daley Blind was caught in possession. 

Neither goalkeeper had much to do in the first half but Willy Caballero was soon called into action as United came flying out of the traps after the restart.

The City stopper made a stunning save to push Paul Pogba's effort onto a post after Zlatan had played him in.

The Reds continued to press and got what turned out to be the decisive goal nine minutes into the half.

The impressive Zlatan's cutback evaded the onrushing Ander Herrera- who collided with Fernando amid screams for a penalty- but the ball broke for Mata to steer in from close range. 

Old Trafford erupted but City were not going quietly and introduced big guns Raheem Sterling and Sergio Aguero to try and turn the tie around. 

Aleksandr Kolarov fired over with a 25-yard free-kick, Rashford shot wide and Caballero did well to deny Pogba when clean through.

City probed for a leveller but they were unable to find a way through- or even a shot on target- and the Reds held out to deservedly earn a quarter final place.

We return to league action with the visit of Burnley and will take confidence and satisfaction from sending the neighbours packing at the end of a testing ten days. 

Up the Reds!

Overall team performance: 8.5/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Juan- nil, Juan Mata. 

Tuesday 25 October 2016

Zlatan's goal drought costing United after brilliant start

Having started his United career with five goals in his first five games, Zlatan Ibrahimovic has now gone over eight hours without finding the net.

The big Swede started his Old Trafford career like an absolute dream: he was aggressive, clinical and an imposing presence, pretty much everything we hoped and expected him to be.

He and United felt like a match made in heaven, a maverick figurehead in a rejuvenated squad with a newfound swagger. 

He scored against Leicester in the Community Shield and followed that with goals at Bournemouth and a double against Southampton to become the first player to score four goals in his first three appearances for the team. 
After that lightning start, only a goal against City and Zorya in the Europa League have followed.

It's true that form is temporary and class is permanent and every striker- no matter how good they are- goes through a goal drought but this is his longest for a decade- just shy of 500 hours- and his costly misses are adding up.

It isn't as if he isn't getting service and chances and has had the most shots of any Premier League player this season, 45, but failed to score with his last 30 attempts. 

He headed over from a good position from close range at 1-0 at Chelsea and had United's big moment at Anfield when he could only misdirect a poor header and should have done better. 

That's not to say he's been poor in the intervening games and indeed, against Leicester and Stoke in the league he was excellent. 

But in games where we don't score, he's been ineffective.

Watford he was poor, Hull too and in the Liverpool and Chelsea games this week he was almost anonymous- those two glaring misses apart. 

Other players, particularly the younger members of the squad, have time to settle, Pogba can become all he wants to become and it can take 2-3 years because he's still only young.

But for Zlatan, he was signed for now and really needs to rediscover his goalscoring touch to make the most of what could be his only season in England. 

Ibrahimovic is unlikely to be scrutinised as intensely as Wayne Rooney, whose struggles stretch back to Sir Alex's last season, but we are not scoring freely from open play and there is only so long we can countenance Ibrahimovic's profligacy. 

Maybe it's time to give him a breather and start Anthony Martial or Marcus Rashford as the focal point in attack. 

Match preview: United v City

United entertain City for the second time this season with both sides looking to put the weekend's disappointments behind them and progress to the EFL Cup quarter-finals.

Sunday's defeat to Chelsea was instantly forgettable but the games comes and thick and fast and a home Manchester derby cup tie could be just the tonic even if there are no league points on the line this time.

Pep Guardiola's side won their first ten games in all competitions this term, including September's 2-1 win at Old Trafford, but have not won in five after a 1-1 draw with Southampton on Sunday.

They also suffered a chastening 4-0 defeat of their own last week in the Camp Nou (conveniently glossed over by critics, of course) when they were dismantled by Barca and rarely have the two sides gone into a derby in such wayward, inconsistent form. 

United are definitely without Marouane Fellaini and Eric Bailly, Wayne Rooney is doubtful and Henrikh Mkhitaryan (whose last appearance was in that league derby) is expected to feature in what looks to be a much-changed line up for the hosts.

City boss Guardiola has also hinted at a rotated side but Kevin de Bruyne, Bacary Sagna, Pablo Zabaleta and Fabian Delph will all miss the fourth round tie for the league leaders.

Jose said that his side will "come out fighting" after the Stamford Bridge setback, and said:

"I am 100% Manchester United, it is not a good situation but there is only one answer: to keep fighting, keep training and keep working hard.
"Something bad happened but that can happen in football and we owe the fans a big performance and big result so this game against another difficult opponents is a chance to do that.
"I would prefer to play in the Premier League because it is a bad feeling with the combination of results meaning there is a gap of six points to the top.
"We've had a very difficult period of tough matches, I am not saying that Burnley, Swansea and West Ham are easy but we need to win.
"The top five all have to play between themselves and they will lose points too so we are still in the run." 

City overcame Swansea to reach the last 16 with a 2-1 win at the Liberty last time out while United avoided the scalp of a lower league side to knock out third tier Northampton 3-1.

The most memorable League Cup meeting between ourselves and City came in 2010 when a late Wayne Rooney header settled a thrilling semi final 4-3 on aggregate and United went on to lift the trophy that season. 

Form guide: United W W D D W L City W D L D L D 
Match odds: United 13/8 Draw 18/5 City 9/5
Referee: Mike Dean 

Monday 24 October 2016

Up and down form makes Mkhitaryan's absence all the more puzzling

This whole situation with Henrikh Mkhitaryan does not make sense.

Taken off at half time in last month's derby with City, he has suffered an injury but Mourinho said the Armenian was recovered and fully fit for the matches against Liverpool, Fenerbahce and Chelsea.

We have to assume, therefore, that he was.

He picked up the injury during the derby and then aggravated it further for Armenia but it was originally only set to keep him out for ten days. 

Given that our season has been up and down and Jose is still searching for his best system and formation, it's all the more baffling than Mkhitaryan does not seem to be in his plans.

A lack of match fitness would have made it risky for him to start at Anfield and Stamford Bridge but he was not even in the squad- why wasn't he at least an option on the bench- and surely could have played against the Turks.

The reason for his absence was that Mourinho said he does not know a system that "uses four wingers at the same time", and he started with Jesse Lingard, Anthony Martial and Juan Mata, who have been alternatively preferred ahead of Mkhitaryan. 

But he's not even really considered an out and out winger... he can play anywhere across the front and was often used as a "CAM" at Dortmund, to great success. 

His first- and indeed only- start for United came in the chastening derby defeat to Old Trafford where he was taken off at half-time and he has not been seen since.
It remains to be seen whether he will be included for Wednesday's League Cup rematch between the two sides at Old Trafford which has taken on added significance. 

Logically he should play and there is an expectation at United that he will be involved.
Not least given how poor we were at Chelsea: Mkhitaryan has the guile, pace and creativity that we clearly lacked going forward. 

But it is far from certain.

He was heavily praised by Mourinho in the club's first pre-season friendly at Wigan but has not played more than 45 minutes in any of our matches so far and is thought to be confused and unhappy at the situation.

He was named Bundesliga player of the year last season- scoring 25 goals with 28 assists- but there's a growing suspicion that Mkhitaryan was a transfer Mourinho inherited rather than sanctioned himself.

Of the four big summer signings, Mkhitaryan was the one that predated Mourinho and one that he, perhaps, had no say in.
Perhaps that means that Mikki will have to work that bit harder to convince Jose of his worth and that Mourinho is going to make him wait for his chance. 

Chelsea 4-0 United: Where it went wrong at the Bridge

While Conte's Chelsea seem to have found a formation and system to suit them, Mourinho's United are still searching for ours.

It looked like we might have found it on Monday at Anfield when we were solid, aggressive, hard to beat and a threat going forward.

We still had chances at Chelsea but everything else was a shambles from start to finish.

We were opened up too easily, lacked basis defensive nous and did not have the same attitude and discipline.

The Liverpool goalless draw was a fantastic performance, where we looked like we were happy to dig in and defend but against Chelsea we did neither.

Conceding after 30 seconds killed the game plan and forced Plan B, but trying to chase the game made things worse. 

Instead of staying compact and being hard to beat, we tried to play out of trouble and fell right into Chelsea's hands.

The hosts were not bothered about allowing United more possession because the more we had of the ball, the more wide open play would become and that enabled Chelsea to hit on the counter.

The longer the game went on we took too many chances at the back and looked extremely vulnerable, with catastrophic results.

Ragged, shambolic and disorganised - something you would never associate with a Mourinho team - we lost concentration and the third and fourth goals epitomised our defensive display.

Yes they were good finishes from Hazard and Kante but the ease with which they raced through the defence was embarrassing.

Chris Smalling had arguably the worst game of his career in a United shirt. 

At fault for the first goal, he failed to pick up Cahill for the second and gave Hazard all the time and space in the world to pick his spot and score the third. 

Daley Blind was also off the pace and, to compound things further, Eric Bailly picked up a nasty looking knee injury.

Defeat at the Bridge was no great surprise but the manner of it certainly was and it leaves Mourinho with a lot of work to do.

You can't legislate for going 1-0 down inside a minute but the good news is that we have realistically winnable fixtures coming up.

In the next weeks we host Burnley and Arsenal and travel to Swansea and I think it's going to be one of the seasons where there is not going to be a runaway winner so we just need to stay in touch.

Every team has a blip and a bad result once in a while and you don't win the league in October so the next few weeks are important as we're only six points behind and things can change very quickly in this league. 

Scapegoated Pogba being held to an impossibly high standard

United were beaten 4-0 at Stamford Bridge in a poor team performance but Paul Pogba was again made an individual scapegoat for collective shortcomings. 

Nothing was made of it when the young Frenchman scored twice in a man of the match performance against Fenerbahce but the critics were out in force again yesterday.

Every time we fail to win the queue of naysayers can't wait to get on his back.

It seems that if he got a hat-trick in a 4-0 win, there would still be criticism for failing to get an assist. 
He's being held to a standard and expectation impossibly high that no player in the world, not even Messi, Ronaldo, Suarez and company, could ever live up to. 

It seems that he has to wipe out ISIS, end poverty, win the US election, negotiate an EU exit and stop immigration before the keyboard warriors will be satisfied.

Pogba wasn't even the worst player on the pitch at Chelsea- that dubious honour goes the way of Chris Smalling, I'm afraid, and the focus should have been on the failings of our defence but again the blame - there always has to be someone to blame, it seems, was put squarely on the shoulders of the Frenchman.

That being said, the world record fee is hardly Pogba's fault and against Chelsea he was not given an opportunity to influence the match.

Deep, isolated, well marshalled by Kante and co and often starved of service from the full-backs and his midfield, Pogba's performance was dragged down by those of his team mates.

When the rest of the side don't perform, what is Pogba expected to be able to do?

You win as a team and lose as a team. 

Statistically, he was United's best performer against Chelsea with the most passes, most tackles and most interceptions of any player in Red but this was not mentioned in any coverage of the match analysis. 

No matter how much he costs, to expect a 23 year old to come to England and dominate in the way that is being expected of him - adding to that the immense pressure he's under to perform - is asking too much. 

You don't just become a world superstar at the click of a button. 

I suppose when you cost 89 million it comes with the territory, but John Stones, who made a costly error against Southampton, cost 47 million and has not received anything like as much criticism.

It's interesting to note, too, that City's recent indifferent run- including their own 4-0 defeat- has been relatively brushed aside compared to the hysteria that accompanied out first loss in six yesterday.

Instead of letting him get on with his game, flourish and play without pressure, Pogba is not being given a chance to succeed with all and sundry queuing up to make him a scapegoat at the first opportunity.

Match report: Chelsea 4-0 United

Jose Mourinho endured a miserable return to Stamford Bridge as rampant Chelsea thumped a lacklustre United to inflict a first defeat in six games. 

Mourinho was returning to Stamford Bridge as United boss for the first time since being sacked in December but his day could hardly have been any worse.

The scoreline did have a slightly flattering look but Chelsea were deserved winners with United shoddy and shambolic throughout.

Chris Smalling and Daley Blind suffered tortuous afternoons as the visitors gifted Antonio Conte's side all four goals to crash to a third defeat of the season. 

The tone was set after less than a minute when Smalling failed to deal with a long ball, David de Gea rushed out to clear and Pedro slipped the ball into the empty net from close range.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic went close with a header and Thibaut Courtois saved well from Ander Herrera and Jesse Lingard, but United never recovered from the opener.

De Gea saved well with his foot to keep out Diego Costa but was powerless to prevent a second as the hosts doubled their lead on 21 minutes.

The basic element of defending a set-piece eluded us as we switched off again to allow an unmarked Gary Cahill to stride in and prod the ball home after two deflections.

There was little sign of a once-famed comeback from United after the break as Chelsea put the result beyond any lingering doubt shortly after the hour mark.

It was another gift from an increasingly charitable backline as Eden Hazard was given time and space to advance on goal and fire in from 15 yards.

N'golo Kante walzted through a static defence to make it 4-0 and inflict Jose's heaviest Premier League defeat.

Eric Bailly was forced off with a "serious knee injury" to compound our misery further and his replacement, Marcos Rojo, went close with an effort from distance that Courtois tipped over the top. 

That was the final action on a desperately disappointing night, but every team has a bad result and we'll look to get back to winning ways when we welcome City in the EFL Cup on Wednesday. 

The result sees United sit seventh, six points behind early Pep Guardiola's early league pacesetters albeit still at an early stage. 

United Faithful Man of the Match: Antonio Valencia. 

Saturday 22 October 2016

Match preview: Chelsea v United

Jose Mourinho returns to Chelsea as manager of a domestic rival for the first time tomorrow but insists he is only focused on winning the match for the visitors. 

Mourinho said he left Stamford Bridge with a "very good feeling" but will not let the reception of the home fans get in the way of the quest for another three points. 

He said:
"I have to try and forget it and do my job as I go there as Man United manager now.
"I knew that working in England and the Premier League I would, sooner or later, have to play against Chelsea and go to Stamford Bridge and the computer has decided that I go now. 
"I will always have an amazing affinity with Chelsea and their fans, so we have good memories together, but tomorrow my focus is on winning another important game for Man United.
"My feeling is that it will be tight, very close for the title and probably one team who are challenging for the title in March doesn't finish in the top four so I think it is going to be really tight."

Antonio Conte's side suffered back-to-back defeats to fellow contenders Liverpool and Arsenal in September but have since steered their season back on track with successive victories over Hull and champions Leicester last time out (having also knocked the Foxes out of the League Cup). 
This match is the third of three in six days with Wednesday's cup derby with City on the horizon and United go to West London unbeaten in six and five points behind Guardiola's early league pacesetters. 

Victory would lift us above Chelsea but the Bridge has been far from a happy hunting ground for us having not won there since 2012- indeed, the Blues have built up an unbeaten ten match run against the Reds in that time. 

Chris Smalling picked up a minor muscular injury in Thursday's win over Fenerbahce but is expected to be fit to play while Henrikh Mkhitaryan will soon be ready for a comeback. 
The Armenian has not featured for us since the derby defeat on 10 September but returned to training this week and could be available. 

Antonio Valencia, Ander Herrera, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Marcus Rashford all sat out the 4-1 win over Fenerbahce and look set to be recalled while Cesc Fabregas, Kurt Zouma and Branislav Ivanovic again miss out for Chelsea.

Form guide: Chelsea D L W L W W United W W W D D W
Match odds: Chelsea 6/5 Draw 11/5 United 12/5
Referee: Martin Atkinson 

Friday 21 October 2016

Match report: United 4-1 Fenerbahce

Paul Pogba shone and Robin van Persie scored on his Old Trafford return as United moved second in Group A with an impressive win. 

Two penalties in three first half minutes- converted by Pogba and then Anthony Martial- put the Reds in control before Pogba made it 3-0 with a superb 20 yarder on the stroke of the break. 

Jesse Lingard drilled in the fourth to rubber-stamp the result but RvP's late consolation goal was cheered almost as loudly as Old Trafford rose as one to applaud our former hero. 

Such a convincing scoreline looked unlikely after a sluggish start in which United had plenty of the ball but little in the way of chances.
Pogba was blocked off by ex Liverpool man Martin Skrtel before Martial was inches away by turning home a delightful cross from the excellent Juan Mata.

United had soon seized control, however, with two quick fire spot-kicks just beyond the half hour mark.
Michael Carrick picked out Mata with a pinpoint pass, the Spaniard went down under a challenge from Simon Kjaer and Pogba sent Volkan Demirel the wrong way from 12 yards.

French referee Benoit Bastien pointed to the spot again in United's next foray forward when, this time, Martial was bundled over by Sener and did the rest for his second goal of the season. 

David de Gea saved well from Josef Souza but the Reds were rampant and surged into a three goal lead to put the result beyond doubt by half-time.

The recalled Wayne Rooney found Lingard who cut the ball back for Pogba to guide a superb 20 yard effort into the top corner for his second of the game. 

Former West Ham winger Emmanuel Emenike came on at the break for the visitors- as did Marcos Rojo for the Reds- but any lingering hopes of an unlikely Fener comeback were quickly extinguished on 48 minutes.

Rooney picked out Lingard to lash past a stranded Demirel from the edge of the area for his first goal in Europe for the club. 

Fener mounted a late rally and van Persie received a standing ovation from everyone inside Old Trafford when he marked his return with a goal as he tapped in Emenike's cross from close range.

De Gea pushed away Souza's effort from distance while Demirel denied Mata and substitute Tim Fosu-Mensah on a satisfying night for Mourinho and the team ahead of Sunday's league trip to Chelsea.

Overall team performance: 8.5/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Paul Pogba 

Thursday 20 October 2016

Match preview: United v Fenerbahce

United manager Jose Mourinho looks set to name a strong side for the visit of Fenerbahce despite the prospect of a crucial league clash at Chelsea on Sunday. 

This is the second of three matches in six days in a "difficult week" but Jose will resist the temptation to rest key players ahead of his Stamford Bridge return and next week's cup tie with  City. 

He said:

"It's a very difficult week for us, Monday, Thursday, Sunday: Liverpool, Fenerbahce, Chelsea, so it is tough and we have to be ready.
"The opponent is good with experienced players so if we play with a team that is not good and strong, we won't have a chance.
"We will play a really good team knowing two days later we have play again but that is football.
"It is a big test for everyone but we have to expect that at Manchester United." 

Mourinho added that he is "counting on his captain" but did not say that Rooney would start. 

It was against Fenerbahce that Rooney burst on to the Old Trafford stage as a fresh faced 18-year-old when he put them to the sword with a debut hat-trick in a 6-2 Champions League thumping in 2004. 

Luke Shaw returned to the fray late on at Anfield and will feature, while Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who has not played since the derby, is fit again and in contention for involvement.
Anthony Martial and compatriot Morgan Schneiderlin have both recovered from knocks and are pushing for recalls but there are no fresh injury worries for United.

Former Sunderland boss Dick Advocaat is now in charge at the SuperLig club and despite an indifferent start to their domestic campaign, they currently lead the way in Europa League Group A.
They left it late to salvage a point in Zorya on Matchday One before a 1-0 win over Feyenoord last time out saw them go top of the standings, one point ahead of us.

This tie sees a familiar face return to Manchester in former United striker Robin Van Persie. 
The Dutchman was a key man in Sir Alex's last title winning season at the club and scored just shy of 50 goals in his three seasons at Old Trafford.
30 of those came in a prolific first campaign at United and his memorable hat-trick against Villa sealed the league crown and made him a domestic champions for the first time in his career.

Welcome back Robin! 

Alongside RVP in the visitors ranks are ex Liverpool man Martin Skrtel and forward Jeremain Lens also plays for the Istanbul outfit under his former Sunderland boss Advocaat. 

Form guide: United L W W W D D Fenerbahce D L W W D D 
Match odds: United 7/5 Draw 10/11 Fenerbahce 11/2
Referee: French official Benoit Bastien is the man in the middle. 

Tuesday 18 October 2016

Bailly growing game by game and Herrera can become Jose's next captain

Often overlooked by Louis van Gaal for lacking defensive nous, Ander Herrera is staking a claim to become Mourinho's next United captain.

I've also been one of Herrera's critics.

I've always felt he's got plenty in his locker without us ever really seeing what he can do, I've felt that he's lacked identity and struggled to consistently showcase his undoubted talents.

He was simply magnificent on Monday at Anfield, however, being named as our man of the match in what was an excellent team performance.

Playing alongside the also impressive Marouane Fellaini, Herrera's tenacity and box-to-box  energy was symptomatic of our performance on the night.
He protected his defence superbly and everything United did went through him: a picture of calmness and composure in possession and a bundle of energy and intensity off it. 

With Wayne Rooney no longer a first team regular and 35 year old Michael Carrick in the twilight of his career, the club will need to start thinking about the next skipper and Herrera must surely be in contention.

Chris Smalling may have had the armband against Liverpool but Herrera was captain in all but name.
Cajoling and ordering his team mates about, squaring up to Liverpool players and giving ref Anthony Taylor an earful, Herrera fought for the Red cause on enemy territory in the same way a Keane, a Neville or a Vidic would have done.

He speaks of the club in the way that trio used to, he embodies what his manager wants and is regarded as a popular and respected figure amongst his colleagues.
The question of where he should play and his best position need to be settled and a decision on the captaincy will surely wait until next season but Herrera must be pushing towards the front of that queue.

Eric Bailly was the least well known and most unheralded of Jose's summer signings but he was man of the match in three of his first four United outings and looks like he's been playing there all his life.

He's impressed to such an extent that there have been comparisons to club legends Steve Bruce and Nemanja Vidic and he has all the attributes to be mentioned in the same breath as them. 

In his first experience of a Liverpool-United fixture, the Ivorian shone again alongside Chris Smalling with the ineffective Daniel Sturridge reduced to the periphery. 

He arrived at Old Trafford a relative unknown but 22 year old Bailly looks set to be an integral figure at the back for this United side for years to come. 

Honours even at Anfield but United will go home happiest

While this deadlock does little for either teams respective ambitions, there is no doubt who will be the happier manager.

United have been up and down with Jose still trying to exert his own stamp on tactics and style of play but this was the most "Mourinho esque" performance of his short Old Trafford career so far. 

This was a display entirely in his image: disciplined, resolute, organised and hard-working. 

Mourinho will be criticised for "parking the bus", his crime seems to be a refusal to allow the hosts to play in a manner in which they could win but he came with a plan and carried it out to the letter. 

After all, I vividly remember Fergie adopting the exact same tactics for matches such as this and Mourinho will rightly point to the fact that we came away with a point - the first side to do so from Anfield this season - at a place plenty will leave empty handed.  

For a team still finding their feet and a formula under the Portuguese, to come away from Liverpool with a hard earned draw has to represent a good result. 

Jurgen Klopp's side have made a promising start to the season that has been built on the German's identikit: pressing opponents into submission with and without the ball, a high pressure style that has brought notable victories at Arsenal and Chelsea, as well as nine goals in two home wins against Leicester City and Hull. 

Mourinho got his team selection spot on: a powerful, strong, athletic side that he instructed to turn the tables on Liverpool's "gegenpressing" game. 
Juan Mata and Wayne Rooney were both consigned to the bench in favour of a big, physical line up designed to give us height and strength all over the pitch.  

The superb Ander Herrera was at the heart of our smothering gameplan, almost operating in the pockets of Brazilian duo Roberto Firmino and Coutinho in midfield- a bundle of energy as he pushed, probed and prodded, with Liverpool never given a second to breathe.

United stifled them and they simply could not find a way through.

We held our shape and discipline brilliantly, much to Mourinho's satisfaction, although we still needed those two superb saves from De Gea, and Valencia's inch perfect tackle on Firmino as he ran through on goal. 

It was classic, vintage Mourinho: a tactic he has perfected and utilised throughout his career, and Anfield's impatience and frustration would have been music to his ears.

Match report: Liverpool 0-0 United

Two world saves from David de Gea proved pivotal as Jose Mourinho's first Anfield visit as United manager ended in a disappointing stalemate.

The visitors and their manager will undoubtedly be the happier of the two teams as Liverpool failed to score for the second time this term- their first home blank of the season. 

In an attritional, evenly contested encounter, neither side created much in the way of chances but De Gea- who otherwise had nothing to do- pulled off two incredible second half stops to deny Emre Can and then Philippe Coutinho. 

Zlatan Ibrahimovic, again selected as the lone striker, went close twice early on with a free-kick from distance before Lloris Karius saved well to keep out a deflected effort from the lively Swede. 

Sadio Mane's excellent cross picked out Roberto Firmino but he could only head tamely at De Gea, while Young and Eric Bailly were both booked for a coming together with James Milner and Dejan Lovren. 

Shortly after half time, the visitors created- and subsequently spurned- their best chance of the contest when Paul Pogba beat Jordan Henderson and picked out Ibrahimovic but he should have done better with his header back across goal. 

De Gea then superbly saved one-handed from Can, and the Spanish keeper was called into action again soon afterwards as Liverpool pressed for the elusive breakthrough. 

He dived to his left to push away Coutinho's dipping effort from distance to preserve his clean sheet then had an easier save to make from Mane's weak header on 70 minutes.

Wayne Rooney- scorer of the winning goal in last season's corresponding fixture, was then introduced in place of Marcus Rashford and the skipper was quickly involved. 

He won a corner from which Marouane Fellaini- a surprise inclusion in the line-up but a superb performer on the night- headed narrowly wide from Daley Blind's flag-kick. 

At the other end, Jurgen Klopp's side continued to look more likely winners but they were subdued by a classic Mourinho performance of defensive organisation and discipline 

With the clock ticking down, Firmino found himself clean through on goal and looked poised to shoot only to be denied by a magnificent saving challenge from the impressive Antonio Valencia. 

That proved to be the final action of a match high in energy and endeavour but lacking in clear cut chances, a result that keeps United in the chasing pack five points behind early leaders City.

Overall team performance: 7.5/10

United Faithful Man of the Match: Ander Herrera. Probably his best performance in a United shirt so far. Superb energy, industry, composure and positional awareness. Totally bossed the midfield areas. Honourable mentions to Fellaini, Valencia and Dave. 

Sunday 16 October 2016

Mourinho must learn from City defeat when United go to Anfield

Jose Mourinho seldom looked so relaxed in defeat: Pep Guardiola had beaten him for the eighth time but Jose was not going to subject himself to the torture of the Old Trafford derby defeat.

He came under further scrutiny following a third successive loss, at Watford eight days later, but he had begun to address his errors at Vicarage Road.

United are now settled in a 4-3-3 formation, rather than that early season 4-2-3-1, Wayne Rooney is a substitute and, in Ander Herrera, Mourinho has a more suitable holding midfielder than the immobile Marouane Fellaini.

There remains a risk in starting Herrera as Liverpool, like City, possess a fleet-footed and nimble forward line who move the ball quickly and there's a danger Herrera - like Fellaini in the derby - could be left isolated.

Paul Pogba lacked positional discipline and it was ironic that the much-maligned Rooney was the only player pressing City high up the pitch.
Pogba was branded 'a kid in the schoolyard' but, although he and Herrera combined superbly in the 4-1 win over Leicester, they face their first ultimate test at Anfield.

City's supremacy at Old Trafford last month was aided by the ease with which  they zipped the ball through our porous midfield and the 'route one' move for the opening goal began adjacent to City's own corner flag. 

Pogba and Juan Mata have started in front of Herrera in the last two games, but Mourinho - aware of the trio's defensive shortcomings - must strike a balance of securing midfield without blunting our attack. 
Mata has found his most influential role at United against opponents who play on the counter attack but Liverpool will not adopt that approach.

Against City, Herrera and Marcus Rashford came on at half-time which allowed Pogba and Fellaini to push forward, with Rooney shifted wide. 
The pressing- non existent in the first half- increased and Herrera's influence forced Guardiola introduce the defensive-minded Fernando.

Neither Michael Carrick nor Morgan Schneiderlin have the intensity or energy to match Herrera, and as a partnership last season both embodied the rigid and robotic unadventurous style of Louis van Gaal.
Both are fine players individually but an incompatible partnership. 

Mourinho might be tempted to go with one of them at Anfield, though. 

Carrick's vision and range of passing could be key if United adopt a counter-attacking game plan but the problem with Schneiderlin is his lack of game time having not started since the West Ham away game last season.

By shifting Herrera into an advanced role, he can combine with Valencia and - if selected-  Mata to double and triple up on somewhat makeshift left-back James Milner. 
In such these games there is no fixed formation and our shape will change depending on whether we have the ball or not.
Carrick has experience of playing a centre-half so can drop deep to complement the back line, enabling Valencia and either Luke Shaw or Daley Blind to offer width.

It will be just one in a series of fascinating tactical set-ups. 

Saturday 15 October 2016

Match preview: Liverpool v United

United manager Jose Mourinho admitted he is excited by the prospect of Liverpool vs United and he compared the fixture to the Clasico, the Milan derby and Porto v Benfica. 

The boss took part in those three fixtures during his time managing in Europe and is now preparing to lock horns with our fiercest and oldest rivals with the eyes of the football world fixed firmly on Merseyside.

"I always like to go to Anfield, I have won big matches there and lost big matches there also, so I cannot say that I am always successful there because that is not true.
"Everyone enjoys the atmosphere and the characteristics of the matches, going there as Manchester United manager means something more.
"It is an important match, a big match that can compare to Real v Barca, AC v Inter and Benfica v Porto in Portugal, it is a big historical rivalry that everyone at both clubs is looking forward to it and I understand the dimensions.
"This is a big contest which means a lot but the season is not about this Anfield match and the Old Trafford match in January because the season is about many points to win, points to lose and targets to achieve" said Mourinho. 

Monday's showdown between English football's two must successful and storied sides is the 197th meeting of the Reds of Manchester and Merseyside and United make the 35 mile trip looking a fifth successive league victory over the old enemy. 

Mourinho will have a full squad to pick from with Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Luke Shaw available again while Liverpool will check on the fitness of Adam Lallana, Georginio Wijnaldum, Dejan Lovren and Nathaniel Clyne but the fit-again Emre Can looks set to feature. 

The Anfield side have made an impressive start to their campaign and currently occupy fourth spot- two places and three points above us with five wins from their opening seven matches.

Having taken the scalps of Arsenal, Chelsea and champions Leicester, Jurgen Klopp's in-form outfit are the highest scorers in the league with the three-pronged attack of Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane impressing with ten goals between them. 

This game's Monday night slot means we have to wait a big longer than usual to see the team in action but it's going to be worth it with one of the season's blockbuster fixtures and biggest occasions

Bring it on!

Form guide: Liverpool D W W W W W United L L W W W D 
Match odds: Liverpool 6/5 Draw 5/2 United 13/5
Referee: Anthony Taylor (Greater Manchester) 

Thursday 13 October 2016

Three unfavourable fixtures but Jose is the ultimate big game manager

United head to Anfield on Monday to face Jurgen Klopp's in-form outfit in the first of three huge fixtures in October.

The Reds of Manchester and Merseyside collide again with United having enjoyed a fine run of form over our old rivals- last season's Europa League double-header apart- with four successive league wins. 

When the fixtures were released in June, the eyes of every United fan was drawn to a mouth-watering month with the Anfield trip quickly followed by Chelsea away as Jose returns to Stamford Bridge for the first time since being sacked last December. 

As if those two blockbuster fixtures weren't enough to whet our appetites, the draw for the fourth round of the League Cup threw up an even more enticing prospect with the second Manchester derby in the space of six weeks to take place at Old Trafford on the 26th. 

United have had something of an up and down season so far with three opening wins followed by three straight defeats before then picking up another runs of wins ended by the 1-1 draw with Stoke last time out.

Chelsea, who we face in West London on the 23rd, ended a similar indifferent run at Hull with a 2-0 win that came after back-to-back defeats at Arsenal and at home to Liverpool, with Conte's side having also won their opening three league encounters.

Klopp's side have endured no such inconsistencies, however, going into our Anfield clash with five successive victories in all competitions and a 2-0 defeat at newly promoted Burnley the only blot on their copybook. 

With Liverpool and City both in fine form and Chelsea finding their feet again, these fixtures may look difficult and unfavourable but United couldn't wish for a better man in charge when it comes to beating the big boys. 

Mourinho is the ultimate 'big game' manager and loves nothing more than beating his side's adversaries (just ask Arsene Wenger).
He is a winner, driven by a hatred of seeing others succeed and, more often than not, gets his tactics spot on and the job done when it comes to the crunch. 

The last time United came up against a Jose side came in April 2015 and it was vintage Mourinho: a deep, narrow back four soaked up attack after attack from a dominant United and Chelsea stole a smash and grab victory in typically pragmatic style. 

In his five full seasons at Stamford Bridge, he lost only two of 30 matches against sides that went on to finish in the top four that season. 

Bring it on! 

International Reds round-up: Lingard debut and Pogba hits winner

Jesse Lingard was the beneficiary of Adam Lallana's withdrawal from the England squad as the United winger started both games over the international break.

Lingard, who played for the Under 21s under interim boss Gareth Southgate, made his senior England bow in the 2-0 win over Malta before a second appearance followed in the feisty goalless draw in Slovenia.

 Marcus Rashford came on as sub in both games with Lingard getting a warning after protecting his younger team mate following a coming together late on.

Captain Wayne Rooney also featured in both matches, coming off the bench in the latter, despite the ongoing debate over his international future but Luke Shaw has not been rushed back and sat out England's latest qualifiers. 

Elsewhere, club record signing Paul Pogba came up against United duo Daley Blind and Memphis Depay and his superb solitary goal fired the European Championship finalists to victory over Netherlands as France went top of Group A (Anthony Martial played the final 23 minutes in Amsterdam). 

Spain picked up four points from their two qualifiers- 1-1 in Italy and 2-0 in Armenia, but Ander Herrera will have to wait for a senior Spain debut having been an unused sub in both matches.

Juan Mata missed out on selection but David De Gea cemented his status as his country's number one keeper by starting in both games. 

Belgium, now under the stewardship of former Everton manager Roberto Martinez, continued their 100% start to their Group H campaign with comprehensive wins over Bosnia and Gibraltar respectively.

Marouane Fellaini started in the 4-0 win over the former- claiming an assist for Chelsea's Eden Hazard, but the United man missed the 6-0 success in Gibraltar after a booking against Bosnia ruled him out of that match. 

Henrikh Mkhitaryan missed Armenia's matches against Romania (0-5) and Poland (1-2) as he bids to regain full fitness but it was a busy few days for United's South American trio Sergio Romero, Antonio Valencia and Marcos Rojo. 

Valencia scored in Ecuador's 3-0 win against Copa America winners Chile while Argentina suffered a shock 1-0 reverse at home to Paraguay which followed a disappointing draw in Peru with Romero and Rojo featuring across the two matches. 

Eric Bailly's Ivory Coast side won their opening Group C qualifier 3-1 at home to Mali as they bid to successfully negotiate the final round en route to Russia in 2018.

Tuesday 4 October 2016

Former United defender earns first England call-up

Former United and current Burnley defender Michael Keane has been drafted in to Gareth Southgate's England squad to replace the injured Glen Johnson. 

Johnson's withdrawal means that Spurs Kyle Walker is the only specialist right-back in the squad following Nathaniel Clyne's injury. 

Keane has played for the national side at under-19, under-20 and under-21 level and will now join up with the rest of the squad- including current Reds Chris Smalling, Wayne Rooney, Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard- at St George's Park.

He proved a key man in the Turf Moor outfit's promotion to the top flight last term and has started all of their Premier League matches so far this season.

The Stockport-born centre-back moved to Burnley in 2014 after he signed professional forms at United in 2011 and his debut came later that year in a League Cup tie at Aldershot.

He was an unused substitute in the FA Cup fourth round defeat at Liverpool (1-2) in the 2011/12 season but a full United debut came early the following term in a League Cup tie with Newcastle.

Keane started alongside fellow Academy graduate Scott Wootton in the 2-1 win at Old Trafford and went on to earn the club's prestigious Denzil Haroun Reserve Player of the Year award that same season (Jesse Lingard was second and Larnell Cole third). 

He went on to make one more appearance for United, replacing the injured Chris Smalling shortly before half-time in a 1-1 draw at Sunderland in the League in 2014. 

Loan spells at Leicester, Derby and Blackburn were to follow but, by then, Keane had already earned international honours at youth level.
He made his debut for Noel Blake's England Under-19 side in May 2012 in a 5-0 win over Slovenia during which his brother Will (also ex-United but now at Mike Phelan's Hull) scored twice.

He made the step up to the Under-21s in 2013, replacing Andre Wisdom in a 4-0 win over Austria at Brighton on his debut before scoring in successive Euro 2015 qualifying games against Finland (3-0) and San Marino (9-0).

In September 2014, Keane joined Burnley, initially on a loan move until the deal became permanent in January 2015.

Elsewhere, United midfield man Ander Herrera looks set to earn a first Spain cap after being named in their senior squad for World Cup qualifiers against Italy and Albania. 
Herrera represented Spain at the 2012 Olympics and has been capped numerous times at Under-20 and Under-21 level but now has the chance for a well deserved full debut under Julen Lopetegui. 

Good luck to all Reds past and present who will be representing their countries this week. 

Sunday 2 October 2016

Points for style but not for victory at Old Trafford

Jose Mourinho's arrival in the summer was seen as a guarantee of improved results at Old Trafford but we're currently three points behind last season's total at the same stage.

United sit five points off leaders City but, however, the attacking style of football-  the half of the club's tradition that some feared Jose would fail to deliver- is beginning to re-emerge in a performance the boss described as our best of the season.

Wayne Rooney, on the bench for the second league game running, watched on as his team-mates prospered without him in the first half.

With Ander Herrera sitting deeper, Paul Pogba was free to push into an advanced role and his determination and vision set up Zlatan Ibrahimovic after only two minutes before the Frenchman slid a shot wide after another incisive move.

Pogba's enthusiasm occasionally got the better of him as he was tempted by increasingly ambitious long-range efforts but he kept demanding the ball and came within inches of a dramatic late winner. 

His improvement continues but, for Rooney, the February 2014 decision to grant him a lucrative new £300,000 a week contract until the end of the 2018-19 season continues  to come under increasing scrutiny.

When you cannot do what City, Everton, Spurs, Palace and Hull did to Stoke- beat them and beat them well, then you begin to realise that Jose Mourinho's United mission is harder than imagined.

That quintet smashed a total of 15 goals past Mark Hughes porous outfit putting the ex-Reds legend in the firing line as the first Premier League manager to be sacked.

After thumping Leicester in the previous league outing it looked like Mourinho's rebuild was gathering speed and intensity and Sparky might be on the look out for a new job as his Stoke side came under siege at Old Trafford.

An early goal would surely have seen the fragile visitors- without a win to their name (bar an EFL Cup success at Stevenage) crumble, but even shaky sides get a bit of adrenaline flowing when they survive a battering.

Had Zlatan Ibrahimovic tucked away his second minute chance at the far post, then the Reds would surely have gone on to win with ease but Lee Grant was inspired and prevented what threatened to be a Leicester-style avalanche. 

Some of the Reds build up and attacking link play was the best seen at Old Trafford since the SAF days but a combination of wasteful finishing and Grant's heroics meant another rethink on the Reds progress under Mourinho. 

Match report: United 1-1 Stoke

A late Joe Allen goal and a string of superb saves from Stoke stopper Lee Grant earned the struggling visitors a point and deny dominant United victory.

33-year-old Derby loanee Grant, deputising for long-term injury victim Jack Butland, produced a man of the match showing to continually deny the profligate hosts with a series of top class stops that left Jose Mourinho's side frustrated. 

Substitute Anthony Martial curled home an excellent finish for his first of the season to finally put United ahead but former Liverpool man Allen equalised from close range on 82 minutes to give Mark Hughes side a first ever Premier League point at Old Trafford. 

The Reds started brightly and could have gone in front inside two minutes when Paul Pogba's exquisite pass picked out Zlatan Ibrahimovic but Grant reacted well to keep out the Swede on the angle.

Geoff Cameron twice went close for the visitors as Stoke settled into the game, but United continued on the front foot and should have been out of sight by the break.

Pogba twice went close when he fired narrowly off target after excellent build up play between Ander Herrera and Zlatan, before the Frenchman headed wide of the post from a Daley Blind corner when well placed.

Grant saved brilliantly from Jesse Lingard's snap-shot and had to be at his best again soon afterwards to tip Juan Mata's lovely lob over the crossbar shortly before another effort from Ibrahimovic was clawed behind by the sprawling keeper.

Allen side footed straight at De Gea who tipped over a Bruno Martins Indi effort from distance- although the offside flag was up- while opposite number Grant continued to enjoy the finest day of his journeyman career to date.

He saved from Mata from range and also reacted well to keep out the impressive Pogba while Ander Herrera thumped inches wide with a 25 yarder after Lingard had cut the ball back.

A low strike from Ibra drifted narrowly off target before United suddenly came to life and finally broke through through Martial moments after his introduction. 
It was a goal reminiscent of his sublime effort in last year's corresponding fixture when he finished excellently from 12 yards after intricate link up play with Mata.

Stoke should have been dead and buried but Grant continued to come to their rescue as he beat away an Ibrahimovic volley and then tipped wide from Herrera's header.

United were made to rue the keeper's heroics as Stoke found themselves level with eight minutes to play when David de Gea failed to hold Glen Johnson's shot, Jon Walters follow-up came off the woodwork and Allen poked in from close range. 

United lay siege to the Stoke goal as Pogba headed against the bar late on but no last gasp winner was forthcoming on a frustrating afternoon for the Reds. 

Overall team performance: 8/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Juan Mata 

Saturday 1 October 2016

Marcos Rojo is simply not good enough and must be moved on

Poor. Woeful. Terrible.

United weren't great as a team against Zorya but even by his standards Marcos Rojo plumbed new depths with his performance against the minnows.

With Luke Shaw injured and Daley Blind rested, he was given a rare opportunity to impress Mourinho at left-back but he once again failed to show any composure or intelligence on the ball.

He offered virtually nothing going forward, his positioning wavered from bad to non-existent and despite the hosts enjoying over 70% of possession he was done for pace on more than one occasion by the visitors' eye-catching winger Oleksandr Karavaev. 

Any half decent left-back should give you speed and solidity, offering attacking impetus and defensive assurance in equal measure but Rojo offers neither and instead oozes mistakes and impotence down the left- a hapless recipe that will surely consign the Argentine to the Old Trafford backwaters.

Like many, you perhaps felt that it was Louis van Gaal's inability to get the best out of his players that caused Rojo's regression but there has been no improvement to his game under Mourinho and he is simply not good enough. 

He could be considered unlucky to find himself behind one of the country's best left-backs in the pecking order but Luke Shaw will have been watching on without a worry in the world after another abject showing from the much-malinged Argentinian.

When Rojo signed for £16 in 2014 he showed early promise- and was voted man of the match in last season's Old Trafford derby- with some taking a liking to his robust style but instead of improving he somehow seems to get worse every time he is somehow given a starting place.

I'm not one for criticising players but I, like many others, remain astonished how Rojo is still at our club let alone even in the squad.
How he is still getting chances in the team- albeit in the Europa League- while Cameron Borthwick-Jackson has been loaned out to Wolves, is beyond me.

Even without the talented young full-back who enjoyed an impressive breakthrough last term, Daley Blind, Ashley Young, Matteo Darmian, Joe Riley and Tim Fosu-Mensah are better options when Shaw is not fit.

Damian is likely to leave Old Trafford in January and Rojo should be the first the join him in the departure lounge. 

Even Alexander Buttner showed more promise in his time at United than Rojo has (or ever will) and surely his lacklustre showing against Zorya will ensure he is soon on his way out. 

How United can turn tables on Stoke with set-piece prowess

United can approach Sunday's encounter with Stoke City relishing any set-pieces rather than dreading them as has perhaps been the case in the past against the Potters.

Although Mark Hughes' side remain a threat in such situations, their style of play has evolved under the former United striker since the time when Rory Delap's long throw-ins would wreak havoc during Tony Pulis' time in charge.

United's renewed power and prowess from set-pieces came to the fore in last week's emphatic win over Leicester and the height and physical strength in the Reds ranks in already proving an asset.

Headers from early crosses into the box from wide areas has been a clearly defined tactic the Reds have utilised under Mourinho- largely to marvellous effect.

Under Louis van Gaal, United struggled both defensively and offensively from crosses and set-pieces when we had a 'small team' but the Reds look much more of a threat this term as we saw in last weekend's win against the champions. 

Chris Smalling scored a header from a corner against Leicester, Rashford's third and Pogba's header in the 4-1 win also came as a result of flag-kicks. 
United's last two goals- Pogba against the Foxes and Zlatan on Thursday have come via headers with the Swede's winner against Zorya our sixth headed goal of the campaign (Ibra also scored with his head against Southampton and Leicester in the Community Shield) and Wayne Rooney's goal at Bournemouth came in the same manner. 

The fact that match officials have clamped down on grappling inside the area- something that was noted in the aftermath of the Leicester win- could obviously contribute to more chances for attacking players from set-pieces. 

It has been suggested that the stricter rules governing shirt-pulling have proved to be the main factor why both Leicester and indeed Stoke have made disappointing starts to the season as defenders up and down the country come to terms with the increased scrutiny.

Despite Stoke sitting second bottom of the table- albeit only after six games- and without a win, Mourinho has stressed that he believes the Potters are in a false position. 
Nevertheless, there will be renewed optimism when United gain a dangerous set-piece, knowing that we have the players to make a difference in those situations.
The height of the side the boss has assembled has been one of the early identikits under Jose  and could be something to watch out for this term. 

Match preview: United v Stoke

Jose Mourinho has said that Stoke are "not in a real position" as former United legend Mark Hughes brings the struggling Potters to Old Trafford on Sunday.

The Reds are chasing a fourth straight victory for the first time in Mourinho's tenure while by contrast Stoke- after three successive ninth placed league finishes- are yet to register a win and sit nineteenth in the table having lost four of their six matches so far. 

But the Potters have a squad packed with international and Premier League experience and will look to the likes of Ryan Shawcross, Wilfried Bony, Xherdan Shaqiri and Bojan to pull them out of the mire. 

United boast an imperious home record against the Staffordshire side with fifteen wins out of the last sixteen Old Trafford meetings stretching back to 1976 but the boss refused to take another victory for granted. 

This match with Sparky's side is the first of five that will go a long way to defining United's season with fixtures against Liverpool, Fenerbahce, Chelsea and Manchester City on the horizon. 

"It is another poisoned gift because Stoke is not what the table says" he said
"The manager is very good, the players are good, the team is good so when I look at the table it is not real and it is not Stoke's position.
"I play against a good Stoke and not the Stoke in that position in the table so it will be a difficult match for us and I am sure come May they will be in their usual position in the table."

Ander Herrera and Daley Blind look set to feature having been rested against Zorya, while recent injury victims Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Luke Shaw are close to returns but Phil Jones (knee) remains sidelined. 

Former Liverpool man Joe Allen is doubtful for the visitors with a slight hamstring problem and goalkeeper Jack Butland remains out but Jon Walters could return after a recent ankle injury. 
Ibrahim Afellay and Stephen Ireland are both long-term absentees for the Potters. 

"We have a pivotal month of games against big opponents so I would like to have other players playing more so I can see more and learn about them.
"I had in mind to give Memphis 20 or 25 minutes but Tim (Fosu-Mensah) got a problem so I had to play a right-back player but we need the squad for sure" Mourinho added. 

Form guide: United L L L W W W Stoke W L L L L D 
Match odds: United 8/4 Draw 5/1 Stoke 12/8
Referee: Robert Madley