Tuesday 29 November 2016

Match preview: United v West Ham, Part II...

Hello again.

Three days after they shared the Old Trafford spoils, the Reds and the Hammers meet again for a place in the League Cup semi-finals. 

The fact that we met so recently adds additional intrigue to the encounter: will Sunday's frustrations provide extra motivation for United, or will Slaven Bilic's side be buoyed by escaping with a point? 

The tie must be settled on the night - extra-time penalties are possible if needed - and there looks set to be two much-changed line ups from the weekend's meeting.

Paul Pogba and Marouane Fellaini are both suspended after both picked up their fifth bookings of the season, so Mourinho will need to decide his midfield combination.
There are no new injuries and Michael Carrick could be available again after he missed Sunday through injury.
Anthony Martial and Luke Shaw are both in contention for a recall after being left out of the squad completely at the weekend. 

Sunday's goalscorer Diafra Sakho went off injured and is a doubt which could mean former United academy product Ashley Fletcher could start.
Winston Reid is set to return from suspension and is likely to feature while man of the match Darren Randolph will retain his place in goal. 

The Hammers are familiar opponents in the domestic cups after we knocked them out on route to Wembley, after a replay, last season.
The last time we played in this competition also came at the quarter-final stage when they ran out 4-0 winners at Upton Park over a hybrid United side. 

"It is positive that we are playing on Wednesday, against the same team, because it is another opportunity to win" said Reds 'midfielder' Ander Herrera.
"It is a different competition but that does not matter because we want to win every game to make our fans proud, they are unbelievable.
"We have been very unlucky but we have to keep playing well and the results will come, it was tough at the weekend but we have the chance to get revenge so that is what we will do."

Arsenal host Saints, Leeds travel to Liverpool and the lowest ranked side left, Newcastle, play Hull in the other quarter-final ties. 

Form guide: United D L W D W D West Ham W W L D L D 
Match odds: 12/4 Draw 18/9 West Ham 6/1
Referee: Mike Jones (Chester) 

Monday 28 November 2016

Mourinho repeated his mistakes against West Ham - but not with the sending off

At least Jose's United side isn't dull.

But we are about as repetitive as the same old jokes and tired gags dredged up on social media every time we fail to win a game.

There is only so much satisfaction to be taken from the upturn in style.

Referee Jon Moss was booed at half-time and again at full-time yet Jose cannot blame his influence for the latest addition to our Groundhog Day sequence. 

United have regressed and the momentum developed after the performance against Arsenal and result vs Feyenoord has significantly subsided - we needed to beat to West Ham to keep it going and be marked down as a credible Premier League force.

Mourinho repeated his mistakes - but not through his sending off. 

He will doubtless receive another touchline ban for the heinous destruction of an inanimate object when he should actually receive an apology from the pompous and self-important officials.

The biggest call he made at the weekend was to keep faith with his out-of-form front six, which spurned enough chances against Stoke and Burnley to be winning a season's worth of games.

The only player to score in those games, Anthony Martial, was sat in the stands. 

The same attacking line-up combined to topple champions Leicester, but that was almost three months ago and remains United's last home league win. 

Jesse Lingard did not have a fixed position, Marcus Rashford was short on confidence, wasteful in possession and is pining for a central role while Juan Mata was taken off too early.

Rashford's inclusion was questionable having not played for over two months while Lingard was preferred ahead of Mkhitaryan who so impressed again Feyenoord.

Both wasted excellent chances at 1-1 and Lingard's needless foul on Payet that led to their second minute opener suggested he had never noted the Frenchman's supreme dead ball ability. 

With Carrick injured, selecting Lingard as the second 'runner' alongside Paul Pogba was logical but Mourinho changed his position and switched him to the right. 

For a club synonymous with wingers, United's only natural width came from Antonio Valencia at right-back and we need more from the forwards than near-misses and energy. 

Putting Marouane Fellaini on to try and find a winner was like buying arrows while forgetting the bow. 

United have won only one of our five fixtures immediately following a Europa League tie and it was again noticeable that a number of players were struggling with cramp in the second half.

The strong selections in Europe have suggested that Mourinho is prioritising the competition ahead of the league, and has said that he sees the tournament as a realistic target.

There is plenty to appreciate but the repetitive nature of the season has become infuriating. 

Players are giving everything but consistency remains elusive

What is it about Old Trafford that brings out the best in opposition keepers?

Not for the first time this season, United came up against a visiting goalkeeper who had the game of his life: where Lee Grant, Tom Heaton and Petr Cech had gone before, West Ham's Darren Randolph followed suit. 

It was a fifth draw in seven games on Sunday, one that saw United slip 11 points behind the leaders and eight off the top four.
That aside, it is not all doom and gloom.

The players are giving everything and cannot be criticised for not playing for their manager. 
You can't really pin the blame on Mourinho either: what can he do if the team are missing chances. 

Perhaps Wayne Rooney and Henrikh Mkhitaryan should have come on earlier  - or even started - but other than that, Mourinho did everything he could to try and find a way through. 

He named Bastian Schweinsteiger on the bench for the first time against West Ham, the German did not come on but that showed that Jose is willing to keep trying something different.  

He utilised the side's attacking qualities by mixing long balls with width and short passing, moved Jesse Lingard central and gave Juan Mata licence to cut inside.

The game followed a familiar pattern: domination, attacking intent and a superb display from Darren Randolph in the West Ham goal.
Apart from conceding early and perhaps pushing Mata further up, there wasn't much more we could have done. 

West Ham deserved credit for their resilience but we were unlucky again.

Mourinho has an incredible CV but he is a momentum manager and his Chelsea sides, particularly during his first spell, would go on tremendous runs of form. 

That is not happening this time around at United and not winning games consistently is affecting the players confidence and decision-making, particularly in front of goal.

They are overthinking things and missing chances that you would expect to be tucked away - Marcus Rashford's one-on-one with Randolph a perfect example of the problem.

Jose has never been shy of criticising his players and, while there is nothing wrong with that, it seems as if he made his mind up on certain players too early. 

At the start of the season, Ander Herrera was not really in the picture  and neither was Michael Carrick, but that pair have proved integral to this side so far.
Others, like Anthony Martial, Luke Shaw and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, are yet to win him over and that has shown in the infrequent manner of their appearances.

Jose will get it right at United - it's just a question of whether he will do so in time so get our season back on an even keel. 

Sunday 27 November 2016

Chopping and changing not helping the search for consistency

Oh Jose....

Three days after the impressive 4-0 Europa League win over Feyenoord, the manager made a mockery of that old adage: don't change a winning team.

Except, he did and this constant chopping and changing, of both shape and personnel, is hindering the team's search for a consistent run of form. 

There were six changes to that side against West Ham, including the demotion of Wayne Rooney and Henrikh Mkhitaryan who both dropped to the bench after excellent performances in that match.

Mkhitaryan was so good on Thursday that it seemed impossible for Jose to overlook him but his performance still wasn't considered good enough for Mourinho to start him against West Ham. 
He showed flashes of brilliance when he came on but should have been on from the beginning. 

Matteo Darmian, who again look suspect defensively and offered little going forward, was recalled at left-back, with Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford also brought into the team.

He also reverted from the 4-3-3 used to such good effect against Feyenoord back to the more ponderous 4-2-3-1 used against the Hammers and we again missed the influence of 35-year-old Michael Carrick.

He sat out the match with West Ham through a minor injury and his absence led to the surprise recall - completely out of the blue - of German World Cup winner Bastian Schweinsteiger. 

Mourinho's frequent chopping and changing was understandable and acceptable in the early months of his tenure.

He was still learning about his players, who should play where and tried different combinations to give his entire squad a chance to prove themselves - a natural process for any new manager. 

But, nearly four months into the season and there's no indication that Jose is any further forward to finding a settled side.

If the manager himself is inconsistent with his team selections, then how can the players be expected to follow suit in their performances.

But what is particularly strange is that Mourinho has made a success out of being decisive in his illustrious career.
When he won the league at Chelsea, consistency was his side's trademark and he operated with a core eleven players which he only changed in the event of injury or suspension. 

Tellingly, when we won the first four games of this season, we did so with an unchanged side. 

The tempo and intensity was considerably slower that it was against Feyenoord and there seemed little logic in Mourinho shuffling his pack to such an extent.

One change, factoring in Carrick's enforced absence, would have sufficed. 

Jose needs to decide on a settled side, and stick with it, if we are to be successful this season. 

Match report: United 1-1 West Ham

United were forced to settle for a fourth consecutive home league draw as Jose Mourinho was sent to the stands for the second time in a month.

The boss received his marching orders for kicking a water bottle after Paul Pogba was booked for taking a tumble - replays showed there was no contact in his clash with Mark Noble.

He also received his marching orders in the game against Burnley and, like that encounter, this proved to be another afternoon of frustration at Old Trafford.

Diafra Sakho put the struggling Hammers ahead inside two minutes but, after Zlatan Ibrahimovic equalised, the Reds, not for the first time this season, found the visiting goalkeeper in fine form.

Darren Randolph made a series of fine stops to keep out Jesse Lingard, Marcus Rashford, Paul Pogba and substitute Henrikh Mkhitaryan to earn his side a precious point. 

With Slaven Bilic's side also the opposition in Wednesday's League Cup quarter-final, the Reds knew that there was crucial physiological advantage, as well as league points, to be gained with victory.

Instead, we got off to a nightmare start when a trademark Dimitri Payet free-kick was met by Sakho, who muscled past Ibrahimovic to power home his header. 

United were level with their first real opening when Pogba's pinpoint pass picked out Ibrahimovic who nodded past Randolph from close range.

Mourinho was then sent to the stands for his passionate reaction to a coming-together between the French midfielder and Hammers captain Mark Noble. 

Lingard volleyed over on the stretch and Marcus Rashford should have done better when one-on-one with Randolph. 
The unmarked Zlatan then had a shot blocked when well-placed and Randolph saved well from  Lingard after Juan Mata had played him in shortly before the break.

The visitors started brightly after the restart and - after Sakho went close with another header - the Reds needed a superb save from David de Gea to keep out another Payet set-piece.

Mkhitaryan again impressed after his introduction in place of Mata, and the Armenian was quickly in the thick of action.

The Armenian fired against the post but Lingard's follow-up was ruled offside, before Randolph saved well from Pogba's well-hit effort from distance.

The Hammers keeper was called into action again soon after when substitute Rooney found Ibra only for Randolph to block well with his foot. 

Former United Academy graduate Ashley Fletcher almost stole an unlikely victory for the visitors, and Rooney fired wide late on, but there was to be no twist in the tale. 

Overall team performance: 6/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Paul Pogba 

Saturday 26 November 2016

Martial struggling from a nasty case of second season syndrome

All football fans are familiar with the so called 'second season syndrome'.

A player (or club) enjoys an impressively strong debut campaign in a new league only to suffer a slump and downturn in fortunes in their second.

That seems to be what's happened to Anthony Martial.

Signed by LVG for £36 million from Monaco and written off as a panic buy, he defied the doubters and instead proved to be the Dutchman's best purchase.

He stood out as last season's standout star, becoming an instant hero with his wonderful goal on debut against Liverpool and in a dark, depressing season, lit up Old Trafford with his pace, trickery and direct style (finishing the campaign with 17 goals). 

However, this season he has found the net only twice in 13 appearances and looks very short of confidence, having failed to find any semblance of form.

Mourinho cannot be blamed for this as he stuck by the young Frenchman and given him numerous chance to turn things around but now is believed to be running out of patience. 

He started the draw with Arsenal but, despite being available, was dropped for the visit of Feyenoord and looks set to remain on the sidelines for the visit of West Ham after Henrikh Mkhitaryan's outstanding performance against Feyenoord. 

Jose played down his absence afterwards, insisted that Martial was rested in a simple case of squad rotation, as he has too many options to accommodate everyone. 

Mourinho has also been blunt when it comes to addressing the young Frenchman's Old Trafford future:  he has failed to take three opportunities offered to him by Jose and there cannot be many more. 

There a number of reasons why Martial is finding life hard: a disappointing Euros in the summer, the loss of his shirt number to Zlatan Ibrahimovic (without his knowledge) and the public breakdown of his marriage, coupled with his slump in form, have certainly not helped his cause. 

The Portuguese boss has suggested that a change in tempo and intensity may also have hindered his young attacker: maybe Martial was better suited to LVG's slower, more ponderous style and system and he may be struggling to adapt. 

To compound his worries, strong rumours are beginning to circulate that Mourinho will attempt to entice his former player Willian from Stamford Bridge to Manchester in January. 

The Brazilian is out of favour under Antonio Conte and was highly regarded by Mourinho so where this leaves Martial remains to be seen. 

Match preview: United v West Ham

United welcome the struggling Hammers to Old Trafford for the first of two meetings in four days on Sunday.

Slaven Bilic's side come here in the cup on Wednesday in a welcome distraction from their disappointing league campaign so far in which they currently reside just outside the bottom three only on goal difference. 

That's a far cry from their success of 2015/16 when they beat us in their last ever match at Upton Park - one of four meetings last year - on their way to an impressive seventh placed finish in the Croatian's final season in charge. 

United, buoyed by Thursday's impressive 4-0 win over Feyenoord, have Zlatan Ibrahimovic back after his one-match suspension against Arsenal.
Wayne Rooney, on what could be a record-breaking day for the skipper, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan look set to retain their places after impressing in that European tie, but Chris Smalling and Eric Bailly remain sidelined with Marouane Fellaini doubtful again. 

There are no new injury problems for Mourinho and United.

Captain Mark Noble is available for the visitors after a ban, but Winston Reid is out after his red card against Tottenham.
Pedro Obiang is expected to be fit despite an ankle problem. 

Mourinho believes the visitors are in a false position, and said: 

"The players have to fight to win their positions, they are all friends and colleagues so there is a good spirit but I can only play with 18 players, not 19 or 20. 
"Against Stoke and Burnley the opposition goalkeeper was man of the match so we have to be scoring our chances, and need to be clinical.
"We play another difficult and important game on Sunday so let's see if we can get points - big results are not usual in the Premier League but it can happen.
"There is a great balance between the teams and every game is difficult, we need to four or five matches in a row so that is what we will try to do."
"We play them also on Wednesday in the cup but for now focus is on the league and this game.
"It is a very competitive league with a lot of quality and things can change very quickly, we're a bit of a distance away but the team is in good shape and we have been playing well." 

Rooney goes into this match on the verge of history.

He needs one goal to equal Sir Bobby Charlton's club-record haul of 249 and two to surpass it and become the all time top goalscorer for both United and England (not bad for a player supposedly past it). 

Form guide: United W D L W D W West Ham W W W L D L 
Match odds: United 5/4 Draw 7/2 West Ham 6/1
Referee: Jon Moss

Friday 25 November 2016

Magic Mkhitaryan dazzles on first start since September

This is what we had all been waiting for. 

Henrikh Mkhitaryan had played only 75 minutes of first-team football since his move from Dortmund in the summer and hadn't started since September.

It had taken a while for us to see the £26 million Armenian at his best but it was worth the wait.

Able to play anywhere in attack, when it was announced that he would be involved against the Eredivisie outfit, we were intruiged to see where he would feature. 

Such was the sense of anticipation and excitement that followed his inclusion, it was almost like we were witnessing his debut. 

Starting on the left in the 4-0 Europa League win, Mkhitaryan was voted man of the match in a truly magnificent, all-action performance in only his fourth appearance for the team.
He showed everyone what he's got in his locker and surely must start in Sunday's home league game against West Ham. 

Occasionally drifting centrally, to good effect, his passing was good, he was a constant threat in attack and his superb link-up play, particularly with Wayne Rooney, continually caught the eye. 
United overwhelmed Feyenoord in the second half and Mkhitaryan set the benchmark for his team-mates to follow.
His creativity, flair,  intelligence, pace and penetration offered more or less everything we've been missing and he played like a man wanting to release his pent-up frustration with a point to prove. 

Unceremoniously taken off at half-time in the derby defeat to City and afforded half an hour in Istanbul last time out in Europe, when he left the field this time he did so to a standing ovation. 

The only thing missing from his mesmeric 82 minutes was a deserved goal as he fired into the side netting and then went close from distance, before one swashbuckling burst forward, from his own half, saw Feyenoord's Jan Toomstra fortunate to escape censure for his cynical challenge on the winger.

He was instrumental in starting the fine team move that culminated in our third goal as he began the play from deep before he raced on to Rooney's pass and found Zlatan to score. 

Jose may have hoped for more defensive responsibility from him, but such was his attacking prowess that shouldn't be held against him.

There's not a huge amount of competition on the left-hand side and, with Anthony Martial's second season struggles continuing, there's no reason why Mourinho should ignore 'Mikki' any longer. 

Match report: United 4-0 Feyenoord

United moved to the brink of qualification for the knockout stages on the night that Wayne Rooney became the club's all-time record European scorer.

The skipper overhauled the mark previously set by Ruud van Nistelrooy when he opened the scoring ten minutes before the break.

He set up Juan Mata to double the lead and further strikes from Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Jesse Lingard ensured the Reds overhauled the Eredivisie leaders in the Group A standings.

United are second - two points ahead of the Rotterdam side and one point behind Fenerbahce - and require only a draw from the trip to Zorya on Matchday Six to seal our spot in the last 32. 
The Reds remain in contention to progress as group winners, should we beat Zorya and Fenerbahce share the points with the De Kuip club. 

The Reds started strongly and soon brought out the best in Feyenoord's former Liverpool keeper Brad Jones who saved superbly in quick succession from Paul Pogba and Michael Carrick.

Pogba headed over before the visitors, who had barely threatened up until that point, burst into life on the hour-hark mark.
Eljero Elia picked out Nicolai Jorgensen who forced a fine save from stand-in stopper Sergio Romero, who then did even better to brilliantly deny Dirk Kurt on the follow up with his foot. 

That intervention proved crucial as United moved in front in the 35th minute as Ibrahimovic picked out Rooney - just onside - to clip home over the advancing Jones.

Ibrahimovic had an effort blocked and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, who dazzled throughout, then should have earned a penalty having been hauled down by Jans Toomstra following a brilliant run from deep.

Mkhitaryan fired into the side netting and a frantically back-pedalling Jones tipped over Mata's dedicate lob as United up the ante in pursuit of the elusive second goal. 

It duly arrived in the 69th minute as the Spaniard  - who also had a goal disallowed - slid home his second goal in as many games from Rooney's cross at the culmination of a scintillating team move. 

Jones saved well from substitute Jesse Lingard before another replacement, Marcus Rashford, found Ibra who fired in the third with the aid of a deflection off the unfortunate keeper. 

Jesse was not to be denied, however, and put the gloss on another wonderful exchange of passes with a delightful finish late on to put United in a strong position in the group. 

Overall team performance: 8.5/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Henrikh Mkhitaryan. We've waited a long time to see the £26 million man at his best, but it was worth it. Received a deserved ovation when taken off late on. 

Wednesday 23 November 2016

Match preview: United v Feyenoord

United welcome Feyenoord to Old Trafford for the penultimate Europa League fixture and our last home match in Group A.

With the frustration of Saturday's late draw with Arsenal still lingering, this European tie is sandwiched between two league and cup matches with West Ham in three days. 

Jose hinted at a rotated Reds side and confirmed that Henrikh Mkhitaryan will make only his third United appearance in what looks set to be a much-changed team. 

Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who confirmed an extension of his United contract beyond the summer,  could be recalled after a one-match ban but Chris Smalling and Eric Bailly are still sidelined with injury. 

Luke Shaw could be in a line for a return but Marouane Fellaini is doubtful with a calf problem. 

In keeping with the inconsistent nature of United's season so far, our form in Europe has also wavered having slipped to disappointing defeats in this reverse fixture and in Istanbul last time out.

We beat Fenerbahce 4-1 and bottom side Zorya (who we meet on Matchday Six) at home and currently occupy third spot in Group A, although a win in this one would see us leapfrog the Dutch visitors and require a point from that trip to the Ukraine to qualify.

Fenerbahce top the group ahead of the Dutch side by virtue of a superior head-to-head record, host already-eliminated Zorya in the other Group A game. 

Gio van Bronckhorst's side hold a two point advantage over Ajax at the top of the Eredivisie but, having won 11 of their first 12 games, they arrive in Manchester in somewhat indifferent from, with only one win in five. 

Mourinho said that he was happy with the level of the team's performances, but that results must improve.

"The results are not good, especially compared with how the team are playing, we have deserved better.
"We need four points to qualify so there is no space for a defeat, perhaps when we played in Feyenoord in September we approached the game differently.
"I have said that this competition is a target for us to win so that is what are trying to do, we have to get through the group first and a win against Feyenoord would put us in a strong position to do that."
"I am happy and the team are happy with the direction that we are going and we have to keep working" 

Form guide: United L W D L W D Feyenoord W D D D L W 
Match odds: United 13/5 Draw 4/1 Feyenoord 17/2 
Referee: German official Manuel Grafe takes charge of a first ever United match. 

Sunday 20 November 2016

Identity crisis over with United finally playing in their manager's image

United might not have got the result we craved but it could be a significant point for Jose and the team.

Mourinho has appeared relaxed and at times nonplussed in the dugout this season but on Saturday he was relentless, intense and incessant and so were United.

We finally played in the image of the manager and it looks as though the identity crisis might be over. 
Stylistically, we are playing our best football since those frenetic four months at the start of Sir Alex's final season - even if results are yet to match the upturn in performances - not yet, anyway. 

Mourinho's United attack with width, pace, confidence and swagger  and look largely solid at the back - whatever the "United Way" is supposed to be, we are probably not far off it. 

Statistically we have scored as many goals in the league as Watford but don't let that fool you - the dissenting voices have quietened, we are playing with freedom and even Marcos Rojo looks like a solid centre-half.

After much chopping and changing, Mourinho has finally settled on the right shape.

His 4-3-3 system functioned coherently and fluidly against Arsenal and Antonio Valencia's width made a huge difference.
He allowed Juan Mata to shift inside and link up with Ander Herrera,  a fabulous combination LVG discovered in his first season, only to bafflingly discard it in his second. 

Mata even showed his versatility and willingness to adapt as a makeshift right-back when Valencia surged forward and gave Nacho Monreal a torrid time. 

Paul Pogba continued to impress in his favoured position and Michael Carrick, as ever, coped with Arsenal's aesthetes supported by the busy and bustling Herrera.

Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford did not distinguish themselves but it's easy to forget that both are still youngsters in their second season in the senior side. 

Results may have been frustrating and inconsistent and it was hard to draw positives from the Stoke and Burnley stalemates last month.
If we had won both of those and beaten Arsenal yesterday, we'd be a mere two points off the top so not doing so was tough to take. 
That said, however, both of those games offered far more excitement, flair and flamboyance than the woeful wins and soporific slumber served up under LVG. 

We out-muscled, out played and out-thought an impotent and anodyne Arsenal, who looked anything but potential champions despite their late leveller.
The match was - bar the result - reminiscent of the SAF days and the post-2005 fixtures we invariably enjoyed against the Gunners. 

Paul Pogba was hugely impressive against Arsenal 

Big game win continues to evade Mourinho

United's need for a big game scalp in the Premier League has become worryingly acute. 

Jose Mourinho is - or perhaps was - the ultimate manager for a such an occasion but, just when he thought he'd got arguably the most prized and satisfying one of the lot so far, Arsene Wenger's side snatched it from his grip.

Getting beaten by City in the Manchester derby and crushed at Chelsea has undermined the process Mourinho is trying to oversee with a side that still look fragile confidence-wise.

The 0-0 stalemate with Liverpool is a feather in the side's - and Jose's cap - given how Jurgen Klopp's outfit are putting their opponents to the sword. 

But we need more impressive plumage than the solitary point plundered on Merseyside and a cup win over a second-string City side - no matter how satisfying those results were.

This was the game we had identified as the fixture that could finally light the fuse, get some momentum and fire some oomph into United's campaign.

Annoyingly, we were so close to doing so.

After the curious mix of frustration and delight of the avalanche of chances in the previous two home games against Burnley and Stoke and the stroll against an abject Swansea, United had to get used to a more conservative supply of opportunities and less possession. 

United got no help from referee Andre Marriner but - as annoying as that was - sometimes you need to put perceived injustices aside and take the game by the scruff of the neck. 

Paul Pogba was again impressive in a midfield trio, and once the early threat of Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil faded, that heavyweight-worthy scalp started to look like it was on. 

Following his recent drought out on the right, there was a hope that Marcus Rashford would rediscover his goalscoring touch stationed up front in the absence of the suspended Zlatan.

Mourinho also recalled Anthony Martial on the left but his disappointing season continued with another below-par performance.
That left Rashford on his own up against an Arsenal defence far more solid than we'd expected and certainly not as vulnerable as when the academy graduate made his dramatic entrance in February. 

The last time he faced Arsenal turned out to be a very good day for the homegrown youngsters, but last season's match-winner was skinned easily by Oxlade-Chamberlain to allow Arsenal their last gasp equaliser - and there was nobody at the back for the Reds to outjump Giroud and clear. 

United have not won successive league games since August and let slip a major platform to end that frustration and reboot our season. 

Match report: United 1-1 Arsenal

A late Olivier Giroud header cancelled out Juan Mata's opener and earned Arsenal a scarcely deserved point at Old Trafford.

The Gunners had been outplayed throughout but salvaged a point when fellow substitutes Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Giroud linked up as the former crossed for the latter to power home a header and earn a share of the spoils. 

United were again left to rue their bad luck after referee Andre Marriner had earlier waved away appeals for what looked a stonewall penalty after Nacho Montreal had rugby-tackled Antonio Valencia.

Petr Cech had made two impressive saves but Mata's well-taken opener, on 69 minutes, looked to have moved us to within three points of the visitors until the late sucker-punch.

Mata - who continued to underline his importance to the side - went close with a free-kick early on and Alexis Sanchez, selected in a lone striker's role, should have done better with a header on the quarter hour mark. 

Then came the big talking point of the first half as Valencia raced through in goal and shaped to pull the trigger before Montreal hauled him down only for referee Mr Marriner to remain unmoved. 

Czech saved well from Mata and then denied Anthony Martial twice in quick succession shortly before the break, as United upped the ante in search of the opener. 

The Reds continued to press, without really troubling Cech further, until the deserved breakthrough arrived with twenty minutes to play.

Paul Pogba picked out Ander Herrera down the right and he cut the ball back for the onrushing Mata to fire home a low finish from 18 yards.

It was a carbon copy of the Spaniard's recent winner against City in the cup and continued his knack of scoring crucial goals in tight, high-profile matches.

Substitute Daley Blind picked out Marcos Rojo with an expert cross but the Argentine nodded narrowly wide, while Ander Herrera and Marcus Rashford both had good chances to settle the contest.

Despite the slender nature of United's lead, they seemed on course for victory with Arsenal having barely threatened, but then came the sucker-punch.

Oxlade-Chamberlain skipped past Rashford down the right and crossed for fellow substitute Giroud to power his back-post header beyond David De Gea with the visitors only attempt on target.

It was harsh on United who had dominated throughout - just as against Stoke and Burnley recently - but Jose, who remains unbeaten in his 14 league and cup matches against fierce rival Wenger, can take some positives from another excellent display.

Overall team performance: 8/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Antonio Valencia 

Friday 18 November 2016

Match preview: United v Arsenal

Jose Mourinho renews his bitter rivalry with old foe Arsene Wenger as United welcome the fourth-placed Gunners on Saturday lunchtime. 

The pair lock horns in the latest edition of their storied and long-running rivalry as the North London side arrive at Old Trafford in fine form and unbeaten in 16 league and cup matches. 

Victory for United would inflict only a second league defeat of the season on Wenger's side and move us to within three points of the visitors and five off the top.

We're unbeaten in ten league matches at home against Arsenal and Mourinho also boasts an imperious record against Wenger, having only lost once to his rival (and that came in the Community Shield) even during his Chelsea side's horrible slump at the start of last season. 

History and the head-to-record would point to a United win but we have a lengthy list of injuries and suspensions ahead of the 224th meeting with our fellow top-flight giants. 

Antonio Valencia (arm), Chris Smalling (toe) and Eric Bailly (knee) are definite absentees - as is Zlatan Ibrahimovic who serves a one-match ban - while Wayne Rooney, Luke Shaw, Marouane Fellaini and Henrikh Mkhitaryan are doubtful.

Arsenal have injury worries of their own with Hector Bellerin out for a month with an ankle problem.
Santi Cazorla remains sidelined and - despite playing for Chile on Tuesday - the fitness of Alex Sanchez (hamstring) will be assessed. 

On his record against Arsenal, injuries and hopes for the future, United boss Mourinho said: 

"A football match is an isolated event so past records don't matter, it has nothing to do with what has happened before so I do not think about records.
"We have some injuries but I am not sad because it's a window of opportunity for others and the players  are ready for those opportunities.
"I am in the club where I want to be - I was champion in four different clubs (Porto, Inter, Real and Chelsea), and I want to be a champion at every club I work, which is quite a nice record to be able to have, so I want to do that at Manchester United, a club that has been accustomed to being the champion." 

The corresponding fixture last term was memorable for two brilliantly-taken goals by Premier League debutant Marcus Rashford - and in Zlatan's absence it's likely he will play up top so let's hope he can repeat that feat this time around! 

Form guide: United W L W D L W Arsenal W D W W W D
Match odds: United 8/5 Draw 23/10 Arsenal 13/8 
Referee: Andre Marriner 

Thursday 17 November 2016

International Reds round-up: Herrera debuts and Pogba shines

United's stars enjoyed and endured mixed fortunes as they returned to club duty after the latest international break.

There was a proud and long-awaited senior Spain debut for Ander Herrera - which ended in controversy after an apparent elbow on Eric Dier - in Tuesday night's friendly with England at Wembley.

Herrera came on in the second half but club-mate Juan Mata was taken off at half-time after a quiet 45 minutes.
Jose Reina took over in goal at Wembley with David de Gea rested, but the United keeper played in the 4-0 win over Macedonia the previous weekend.

Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford both featured in the Wembley draw having missed the 3-0 qualifying win over Scotland, a game in which Wayne Rooney started, captained the side and claimed an assist (and then got off his face in the early hours)...

Meanwhile, Memphis, out of favour at Old Trafford, fared better for his country as he scored twice in a 3-1 win in Luxembourg - a game in which Daley Blind also featured - before he came off the bench in a 1-1 draw at home to Belgium in a friendly.

Blind equalled his father Danny's tally of 42 caps for his country in that match in Amsterdam.

Paul Pogba continued his recent excellent run of form when he scored the equaliser in his side's 2-1 qualifying win over Sweden on an emotional night in Paris, the match coming on the one year anniversary of the tragic events in the capital. 
He also played in the first half of an uneventful goalless draw with the Ivory Coast three days later.

Matteo Damian was an unused sub as his Italy side cruised to a qualifying win in Liechtenstein but featured for the full 90 minutes against world champions Germany as the two European heavyweights cancelled each other in the Milan friendly.

Elsewhere, forgotten man Henrikh Mkhitaryan proved his fitness as he captained Armenia to a dramatic comeback win over Montenegro and end a run of three straight defeats in Group E. 

Sergio Romero played twice for Argentina and emerged on both sides of 3-0 scorelines - the first to CONMEBOL qualifying leaders and fierce rivals, Brazil.
The World Cup finalists bounced back strongly, though, and kept up the pressure on the teams above them with a convincing win by the same scoreline over Colombia on Tuesday.

More important than the results, all of United's international stars emerged fresh and injury-free from their latest exploits and ready to resume battle as the Premier League returns with a bang this weekend. 

Friday 11 November 2016

Defensive injuries means now should be Tuanzebe's time

United's proud record of featuring an Academy graduate in every squad since 1937 has not been threatened under Mourinho despite fears to the contrary.

Rashford, Lingard and Pogba - techincally - have kept that tradition going, and Tim Fosu-Mensah has also been involved with the first team after an impressive breakthrough last term.

With United's defensive resources stretched to the limit in the absences of Smalling, Bailly, Valencia and Shaw, the manager may need to turn to the production line once more.

It seems as though Jose may have already identified the ideal player to fill the void.

Axel Tuanzebe needed only eight pre-season minutes against Wigan to prove to his new boss that he has all the assets to be the natural successor at the back. 

So much so, he was included in the 27-man Europa League squad list.

Tuanzebe was actually the first Academy graduate to feature in a first-team squad under LVG but never made it off the bench - he was an unused sub at Palace and Bournemouth last term.

A composed defender with pace, athleticism and intelligence beyond his years, Tuanzebe is a ball-playing centre-back who can step into defensive midfield if needed.

His Reserves team-mate Ro-Shaun Williams - who was a first team substitute against West Ham and Liverpool last season - is more suited to that role with Tuanzebe regarded as an out-and-out centre-back. 

To enhance his burgeoning reputation further, he captained the Under 19 side as a first year scholar and is already skipper of the Reserves (he turns 19 on Monday). 

Eric Bailly won't be back until January once he's been to the AFCON, Smalling is out for almost as long and Marcos Rojo simply isn't good enough.
Phil Jones can't be relied upon to stay fit and Daley Blind remains unconvincing as a centre-half. 

Tuanzebe is already outgrowing second-string football - the best player on the pitch every week and has been training with the first team under Jose's watchful eye. 

The Rochdale-born youngster has been at United since he was eight and looks the most likely to emerge as the next breakthrough star off the Carrington conveyor belt. 

Axel Tuanzebe profile 

Birthplace: Bunia, DR Congo
Position: Centre-back/defensive mid
Date of birth: 14.11.97 
Height: 6ft 1

Honours: League winner with the Under 21s and an England international at U19 level. 

Smalling's broken toe leaves Jose red faced after Swansea comments

Jose's comments about his players commitment have badly backfired with the news that Chris Smalling is likely to miss the rest of the year.

The centre-back is unlikely to return before Christmas having been ruled out for up to six weeks with a broken toe in two places that he aggravated in training. 

The news further calls into question Mourinho's handling of his players after he publicly criticised the centre back, and team mate Luke Shaw, for missing the weekend win at Swansea.

The United manager questioned the pair's 'bravery' and willingness to play through the pain barrier but now has cause to regret those remarks. 

It's not the first time that Jose has hit out at the players in public having criticised Shaw's performance in the defeat at Watford and then slamming the side in the media after last week's loss in Fenerbahce. 

Henrikh Mkhitaryan started the derby defeat in September when not 100% fit despite being given the all clear to play and the same seems to have happened with Smalling.

Smalling - under Jose's instructions - played with a pain-killing injection and suffered a torrid time in the 4-0 defeat at Chelsea.

He was badly off the pace at Stamford Bridge and got caught napping for three of the visitors four goals in a shambolic showing. 

The centre-back is set to miss games against Arsenal, the two matches with West Ham, Everton, Palace, West Brom and the European ties against Feyenoord and Zorya. 

With Eric Bailly out until January with knee ligament damage and then AFCON duty -   Antonio Valencia is also sidelined with a fractured arm - it leaves injury-prone Phil Jones, not good enough Marcos Rojo and left-back Daley Blind as our only fit senior central defenders. 

Tim Fosu-Mensah impressed in a breakthrough campaign last term and highly rated young centre-back Axel Tuanzebe - although raw- could be called up to fill the void. 

Jose Gimenez of Atletico and Benfica's Victor Lindelof have caught Jose's eye and are being monitored ahead of the January transfer window. 

Louis Van Gaal was always transparent with injuries and it's an approach that perhaps Mourinho should take.
Smalling and Shaw are players to be valued and - out of anyone in the squad - they would be the two I'd least likely to expect to 'cry off' with injury.

Shaw has shown immense courage and bravery to recover from his horrific injury last season and 'Mike' has always given me the impression that he'd run through a brick wall for his manager. 

Tuesday 8 November 2016

Under-rated Carrick is key and getting the best of Paul Pogba

Even at 35 years of age, Michael Carrick's importance to this side cannot be overstated.

United are undoubtedly a better side with the calmness, composure and class of Carrick sitting at the base of midfield - we as fans know it, Jose knows it and, crucially, Paul Pogba knows it too.

Like a fine wine, he just seems to get better with age. 

We've won all six games that Carrick has played in this term (Leicester, Northampton, Fener, City in the Cup and Swansea with a 12 minute cameo against the Foxes in the league with the game already won).

Mourinho looks and sounds like a man who wants to play Carrick on a more regular basis but - understandably - is wary of his age and wants to manage his game time.
He cannot play every game but has to be involved more often. 

He brings stability, composure and gives licence to those around him to roam forward with freedom.
Pogba has been the player to benefit most from the 35-year-old's presence in the team.

He seems more at ease on the ball and breaks the shackles when driving from deep safe in the knowledge that he's got Carrick as a shield if needed.

Pogba's goal at Swansea was a goal of the season contender and he does appear freer- and more confident- with Carrick alongside.
At the weekend, Pogba flourished in an attacking role and looked unburdened by all that has weighed him down since making the world record move back to United in the summer. 

It was the same in the Europa League match at home to Fenerbahce last month when the Frenchman scored a belter from distance in a man of the match display. 
The common denominator? Carrick played. 

In terms of his true footballing talents he's nothing exceptional: safe, simple, limited mobility wise and rarely offers anything going forward. 

It is what he brings to his team-mates that makes him so indispensable - he makes others around him better and what he lacks in pace and power he makes up for in intelligence, accuracy and vision. 

He rarely wastes a pass (his completion rate is always up in the 90s), shields the back four effortlessly and his decision making is sharper and quicker than anyone else in the team.

Jose has a better squad at his disposal than has been recently recognised but he must find a way to get much more out of them and Carrick - more than any other player - is the man who can help him do that.

Monday 7 November 2016

United need to kick on after normal service resumed at Swansea

Zlatan scored for the first time in two months and United won for a first league match in four as a semblance of normality was restored at Swansea.

The much needed win was welcome relief for Jose who watched from the stands as the side faced a ramshackle Swansea side in charitable mood. 
Rarely have United won so easily at a venue that has been far from a happy hunting ground.

The team rediscovered our early-season swagger - albeit against abject and lacklustre opponents - and the performances of Zlatan, Paul Pogba and captain Wayne Rooney will have sent United into the two-week break in high spirits. 

It was our first win in the league since the 4-1 against Leicester on the 24 September and Zlatan's first since the Europa League victory over Zorya that followed five days later - a career-record drought of 525 minutes. 

The big man picked up a booking that means he will be suspended for the visit of Arsenal, United's next game on the 19th November, after the latest international break.

Getting a result at Swansea has proved difficult and hard to come by in recent years for us so comes as a welcome and confidence boosting win but inconsistency has been our downfall so far this campaign.

The victories over Leicester and the League Cup win over City have starkly contrasted the defeats to Watford, Chelsea, Feyenoord and dropped points against Stoke and Burnley, two games we should have won at a canter.

There have been a number of factors behind the frustrating up-and-down nature of our season so far.
Lack of anything that resembles a settled, first choice starting XI, a recent catalogue of injuries and Jose's professional (and personal) problems have all been reasons behind the failure to find any sort of winning formula.

We've not had successive, back-to-back wins since August but yet victory over Arsenal would leave us only three points behind Arsene Wenger's side and with favourable fixtures on the horizon. 

After facing Arsenal, we host Feyenoord in the second of four home games on the spin followed by two matches in three days - League and Cup - against a struggling West Ham side yet to find the form of last season. 

Beating Swansea is fine and all well and good but will mean little if we fail to back it up with further victories from these fixtures. 
Despite Zlatan's absence - step forward Marcus Rashford  (who scored twice on his league debut in the fixture last term) - both United and Jose have superb records against the Gunners and another win this time around would be our most significant victory of the season so far.

Sunday 6 November 2016

Match report: Swansea 1-3 United

United returned to winning ways and Zlatan ended his goal drought as we cruised to victory over lacklustre Swansea and move sixth in the table.

With a makeshift defence and the hosts impressive recent record against us, there was nervous trepidation among the travelling faithful but those fears were quickly banished with three first half goals.

Paul Pogba enhanced his credentials further with a stunning volley while Zlatan's brace- his first of which was the 25,000th Premier League goal- saw the Reds race into a 3-0 lead by the half hour mark.

Bob Bradley's feeble side were thoroughly outplayed and never threatened a comeback despite Mike van der Hoorn's 70th minute headed consolation.

United controlled proceedings from the off- a dominance we would never relinquish- and could have gone ahead inside five minute through the excellent Wayne Rooney.
The rejuvenated skipper jinked past two static Swans defenders and curled a well-hit effort inches wide of goal.

That proved to be only a temporary reprieve for the hosts as United moved ahead on 15 minutes through a truly sumptuous effort from Pogba, his fourth of the season.

Rooney's flicked header was cleared away by van der Hoorn but only as far as the Frenchman who crashed home an unstoppable volley into the top corner from 25 yards. 

Six minutes later, United doubled their lead when, after Marouane Fellaini had gone close, Rooney found Ibrahimovic who fired home his first goal in 525 minutes.

Not content with the 25,000th Premier League goal, the big man had another target in his sights and found the net again ten minutes later.
This time, after lovely link-up play with Rooney in the Swans half, Zlatan bundled his way through and finished well for his 400th club career goal and put the result beyond any lingering doubt.

Fellaini had a half chance and Rooney nodded narrowly over while Gylfi Sigurdsson lashed wide in a rare opening at the other end after half time.
Four minutes later, the Swans grabbed a consolation when de Hoorn headed home the Icelandic's free-kick but that was as good as it got for Bradley's side. 

Juan Mata went close to a fourth, David de Gea saved well from substitute Modou Barrow and Rooney was unlucky to have a goal ruled out as the Reds went into the international break with a welcome and confidence-boosting win. 

Overal team performance: 8/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Wayne Rooney.  Had a hand in all three goals and unfortunate not to get on the scoresheet himself. 

Saturday 5 November 2016

Match preview: Swansea v United

United travel to  recent bogey side Swansea without a win on the road in the league since August and with a whole host of injury problems to contend with.

Paul Pogba joined that list after limping off early on Thursday and is doubtful with Chris Smalling, Eric Bailly and Antonio Valencia all ruled out and Ander Herrera suspended following his sending off against Burnley. 

The struggling Swans sacked manager Francesco Guidolin after a poor start to their season and his replacement Bob Bradley has picked up one point from a possible nine to leave them second bottom of the table (they've not won since the opening weekend).   

United are not in action again until the 19th November because of the international break and, with our season yet to get going, a fifth league win of the campaign would prove the perfect tonic for Jose and the team. 

On paper, this fixture looks an ideal one in which to return to winning ways but the Swans hold something of a hoodoo over the Reds having won four of the last six matches between the sides.

Wayne Rooney's instinctive winner at Old Trafford in January ended a run of three consecutive defeats against the south Wales side but we've not won at the Liberty since 2013.
Rui Faria will be on the touchline for the Reds as Jose serves his one match ban and the boss has called for a reaction from his side following the defeat in Turkey.

He said: "Football is from the first second and when you give the opponent an early head start it is a completely different game.
"I know that in this moment we are fragile when we go behind in a game and we are not scoring enough goals.
"We have to be strong mentally and we need to be starting games better, and differently, from how we did against Fenerbahce and Chelsea.
"Football is an emotional game and we have to control that emotion on Sunday because we need a good reaction, a strong response, as Swansea are not an easy opponent.
"They are struggling a bit at the moment but every match is difficult so we need to play well."

Despite our injuries, the resultant lack of numbers in midfield and Bastian Schweinsteiger's return to training, Jose has ruled out an inclusion back into the squad for the German World Cup winner.

The boss added: "It is too early for him, he has been with the teams for three or four days but he's not ready to play football at that level yet so he will not play." 

Form guide: Swansea L L L L D L United D W L W D L 
Match odds: Swansea 4/1 Draw 11/4 United 8/11
Referee: Neil Swarbrick 

Friday 4 November 2016

Full-backs were key to flying start but now there are struggles

It is easy to forget now that it started so well.

When Jose Mourinho waved goodbye to his players before the first international break at the end of August, United had won four out of four.

A derby defeat to Manchester City was still two weeks away and everything, up until then, had gone smoothly- Antonio Valencia and Luke Shaw were playing well, too.

Shaw looked like the player he was before his horrific leg break against PSV Eindhoven in September 2015.

Valencia was rejuvenated and so good he was nominated as the Premier League’s player of the month for August.

Even in a team full of superstar forwards, Valencia and Shaw were two of Mourinho’s main attacking threats. Flying forward from full-back, they gave United width, purpose and a plan.

What a difference two months make.

There are lots of reasons for the recent indifferent form and the full-backs’ dip in form is among them.

Some of the blame lies with Mourinho.At times, the full-backs have looked nervous to cross the halfway line.                                                                                                                                               As if they were following strict instructions to be more aware of the space behind than the possibilities in front.

He might also be responsible for what has happened to Shaw, at least in part.

Criticised by Mourinho after the 3-1 defeat to Watford in September, the 21-year-old has insisted, at least in public, that his relationship with his manager is good.

But there were times against Fenerbahce, particularly in the first half, when he looked unsure of where he should be and what he should be doing.

He is only just back from a troublesome groin injury, which does not help.

But he does not look like the £30m left-back United signed from Southampton in 2014. 

He may not even have a place in the team at the moment if Daley Blind wasn’t needed in the middle.Matteo Darmian fared little better and it was notable that he didn't manage to complete a cross all night.

Valencia and Shaw were two of Mourinho’s big positives in August. More than that, the way they played crucial as United started with four wins from four games.
Sound defensively and dangerous going forward, Fenerbahce made United look fluid and threatening. 

Mourinho’s team were neither as they slumped to defeat on Thursday night.

The ball was very rarely wide, and the pattern of play, if one was there at all, was very different to those early wins against Leicester, Bournemouth and Southampton.
With injuries and suspensions piling up, Mourinho’s problems are mounting as he heads into the latest international break. 

The mood is much less positive this time.

Problems mounting for lightweight and unbalanced United

Paul Pogba's injury on Thursday added to an ever growing list of problems and questions for Jose Mourinho, who at the moment looks like he has no answers.

Pogba started on the left of midfield in a 4-3-3 but limped off after half an hour of a largely ineffective performance and a long absence on the sidelines will leave us light in midfield.

Ander Herrera is suspended for the trip to Swansea on Sunday, Michael Carrick has yet to nail down a regular place and Morgan Schneiderlin just isn't good enough.

With those two and Rooney, Marcus Rashford (who looked tired) and Anthony Martial- also struggling for form- we were too congested through the middle and lacked the width to get in behind Fenerbahce. 

There's no getting away from the fact that there's at least seven of the starting XI from last night that simply aren't good enough.

United had their central midfield exposed time and time again against Fener and while there was little we could do about either of the goals, the hosts were a constant threat on the counter attack.

Herrera has never convinced me that he's up to standard and along with Schneiderlin (who again flattered to deceive) endured another below-par outing, too often getting outpaced and bypassed when United's pedestrian attacks broke down.

United looked laboured and ineffective in a midfield that cried out for the under-rated brilliance of Michael Carrick.
Although he's in the twilight of his career, his intelligence and use of the ball are vital for United and we always play better with him in the side so his absence- particularly with Schneiderlin ahead of him- was baffling. 

The centre-back pairing of Daley Blind and Marcos Rojo lack height, pace and power and were too easily bullied and beaten in the air by Fener's striker Emenike and Sow.
The returns of Eric Bailly and Chris Smalling cannot come soon enough: it's no co-incidence that our best form this season came with that partnership and, with Blind's intelligence and reading of the game utilised at left-back, we looked a lot more balanced.

I like Blind but he lacks the attributes for a centre-half and it's no co-incidence that we're shipping goals with two-left footed players in defence, neither of whom are good enough for the position. 

United have won once away from home since August (and even then it was Northampton) and things don't get any easier as we travel to bogey side Swansea on Sunday. 

Match report: Fenerbahce 2-1 United

Fenerbahce scored two stunning goals as United slipped to a fifth consecutive European away defeat and dropped to third in Group A.

Striker Moussa Sow put the hosts ahead after 65 seconds with an exquisite overhead effort from Ali Kildirim's cross before Sunderland loanee Jeremain Lens curled in a brilliant set piece after the break. 

The visitors dominated possession but did not threaten enough and saw Paul Pogba go off with a leg injury on the half hour mark.
Wayne Rooney silenced his critics with a superb 25 yarder late on but it proved a mere consolation in the infamous cauldron of the Sukru Saracoglu. 

Our last victory on the road in Europe came in 2013 under David Moyes- 5-0 in Leverkusen- but qualification to the knockout stage remains in our hands with two games left (Feyenoord at home and Zorya away). 

After the early setback of going behind, United went close through Marcus Rashford while Simon Kjaer cleared under pressure from the onrushing Rooney.
Lens headed wide at the other end and Fener keeper Volkan Demirel blocked bravely at the feet of out of form Zlatan shortly after he had come on from the stricken Pogba.

United pushed to restore parity and went close twice in quick succession through Rooney, who headed wide, and half-time substitute Juan Mata who lashed an effort narrowly off target.

Just when an equaliser looked imminent, however, Fenerbahce doubled their lead with another superb goal on the hour mark.

Ibrahimovic's foul on Mehmet Topal 25 yards out was punished by Lens who smashed home an unstoppable free-kick that left David de Gea stranded. 

Henrikh Mkhitaryan came on for his first appearance in nearly two months but Fener continued to threaten when de Gea's point blank block kept out substitute Emmanuel Emenike.

De Gea was forced into another excellent stop from the same player and then breathed a sigh of relief when Topal's cross narrowly evaded the onrushing Nigerian. 

Rooney gave the Reds a late lifeline with a wonderful long range finish and then had a header cleared off the line from a Mata corner in injury time. 

The five consecutive European away defeats  (Wolfsburg, Midtjylland, Liverpool, Feyenoord and Fener) extends our run to an unwanted club record seven matches without a win on the road in European competition. 

Feyenoord and Zorya drew 1-1 in Ukraine which means that the Dutch side lead the way along with Fener on seven points with United a further point behind in Group A. 

United Faithful Man of the Match: Wayne Rooney

Wednesday 2 November 2016

Match preview: Fenerbahce v United

United travel to Istanbul for the fourth Group A fixture knowing that victory would all but secure a place in the knockout stages.

Victory in Turkey- coupled a Feyenoord failure to see off Zorya- will take us top of the group and open up a five point gap with two games left to play. 
The competition remains the only major honour missing from the club's glittering collection      (and the winners gain a Champions League place) and Jose admitted we're targeting the trophy.

He said:
"My opinion of the Europa League has changed because the rules have changed.
"The tournament winner has a direct spot to the Champions League so it has a different meaning for the big clubs in the last couple of years, it is another way to try and quality for the Champions League. 
"I think the Turkish league is improving all the time, other clubs are coming from outside Istanbul now and of course Fenerbahce are one of the strongest teams.
"They have very good players, an experienced manager and players with experience of the highest level and international competition."

We beat Dick Advocaat's side 4-1 at Old Trafford last month but the away tie looks a more difficult proposition with the infamous and intimidating atmosphere of the Sukru Saracoglu Stadium.

Fener are unbeaten in the league (a 1-0 loss to Bursaspor) and have won twice since their defeat in Manchester in their last European outing.
Former Red Robin van Persie scored in that game and found the net again at the weekend in a 5-0 win over Karabukspor.
They sit fifth in the SuperLig table and, like us, are eight points behind league leaders and city rivals Istanbul BB. 

Henrikh Mkhitaryan has travelled with the squad with Phil Jones also included but Michael Carrick, Chris Smalling, Eric Bailly and Memphis Depay all miss out.
Bastian Schweinsteiger made a surprise return to first team training this week but he's ineligible for Europe so will not feature.

Anthony Martial could return having recovered from injury but Antonio Valencia has suffered a broken arm and will be out for "a while" so Matteo Darmian will continue at right-back. 

"We lost three defenders in a week, Antonio (Valencia), Chris (Smalling) and Bailly so we're in a difficult situation" 
"We don't have time to be in a better position so maybe I have to select Phil and play him" added the boss as he explained Jones' recall. 

Form guide: Fenerbahce W D D L W W United D D W L W D 
Match odds: Fenerbahce 15/8 Draw 23/10 United 5/4
Referee: Milorad Mazic (Serbia)

Travelling United squad: De Gea, Romero, Johnstone, Blind, Jones, Darmian, Fosu-Mensah, Rojo, Shaw, Fellaini, Herrera, Mkhitaryan, Lingard, Mata, Pogba, Schneiderlin, Young, Ibrahimovic, Rooney, Martial, Rashford.