Tuesday 31 January 2017

Match preview: United v Hull City

United and Hull will be sick of the sight of each other as they lock horns for a third time in 23 days at Old Trafford on Wednesday.

Despite a second leg defeat last week, United held off the spirited challenge of Marco Silva's struggling but improving Tigers to seal a place in the EFL Cup semi final at Wembley.

A win could lift United to within three points of second place whilst a shock victory for the visitors may see them move out of the bottom three (they currently sit 19th, two points off fourth from bottom Swansea). 

In the second of our back-to-back domestic cup outings, Jose made nine changes in the 4-0 win over Wigan as he utilised the size and strength in depth of the squad at his disposal.

Eric Bailly has returned from AFCON and is available, Anthony Martial and Antonio Valencia will feature and regular starters David de Gea, Paul Pogba, Michael Carrick and Zlatan Ibrahimovic will all come back in. 

Mourinho brushed off transfer speculation surrounding the future of Ashley Young and said the winger is in his plans for the fixture against the Tigers. 

He said:
"No one is leaving the club and no one is coming in to the club so it is finished.
 "I'm happy with my squad and I intend to select Young for tomorrow." 
"The last time we played Hull, we lost and it didn't matter because we still had a good result.
"Even to lose the match by one goal like we did was enough to give us a final.
"This time only three points and a win is good enough, so if we don't win it is really bad.
"That's the big difference - we need to win this time.
"They are playing much better with a new manager, I have spoken before about Marco and we saw last time the problems they can pose us and they didn't deserve to lose to Chelsea so that shows the improvement they've had.

Curtis Davies is out for Hull and top scorer Robert Snodgrass completed his move to West Ham earlier this week but deadline-day loan signing, defender Andrea Ranocchia, is available.
Ahmed Elmohamady is still at the African Cup, while Alex Bruce, Markus Henriksen, Will Keane, Ryan Mason and Moses Odubajo are all sidelined for the injury hit visitors. 

Form guide: United W W D D L W Hull City W L W L W L 
Match odds: United 6/1 Draw 13/2 Hull City 17/5
Referee: Mike Jones (Cheshire) 

Monday 30 January 2017

Jose finds winning balance on weekend of shocks

On a weekend in which many heavily rotated sides crashed out, United and Jose suffered no such FA Cup misfortune.

Tottenham made nine changes and scraped past Wycombe, Liverpool also made nine and lost to Wolves whilst Southampton, Watford and Leeds all fielded much-changed sides and were beaten.

Jose rested David de Gea, Michael Carrick, Antonio Valencia, Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic against Wigan but the 4-0 win demonstrated the club's strength in depth resources.

This was an opportunity for a number of fringe United players to prove a point to their manager and, after a slow start, they responded with a professional performance to sweep aside the 2013 winners. 

Luke Shaw, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Tim Fosu-Mensah and Anthony Martial were all handed rare starting places.
Schweinsteiger scored and set up the opener, Martial chipped in with two assists after he
was moved out wide and the two returning full-backs also showed glimpses of their ability. 

Mourinho threw down the gauntlet to Martial ahead of the visit of Hull on Wednesday and he surely showed enough to keep his place for that one. 

Any side that features Juan Mata, Wayne Rooney, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Martial, Chris Smalling and a German World Cup winner cannot be considered 'weak' and showed how seriously Jose is taking the competition.

Many of his top flight contemporaries threw their untried youngsters in from the start, but Jose found the perfect balance: he named a side good enough to get the job done and then gradually drip-fed a few younger players - therefore making a mockery of the mythical notion that he's a manager who never gives youth a chance. 

19-year-old defender Axel Tuanzebe and 20 year old goalkeeper Joel Castro Pereira both made their senior team bows as second half substitutes as Jose finally promoted academy graduates into his first-team set up. 

Tuanzebe was first named in a matchday squad by Louis van Gaal but never stepped off the bench under the Dutchman while Pereira has recently returned from Belenenses. 

Having consistently impressed in the under 23 side, Tuanzebe has long been touted as a first-team star of the future and did not look out of place with a confident and composed 20 minute cameo. 

He showed several neat touches and good anticipation to track back and dispossess a Wigan player as the visitors looked to launch a late counter attack.

Jose showed respect to the competition, as well as his desire to treat the Cup as a realistic trophy chance, by starting with a strong side and then giving a couple of debutants a taste of the first team with the tie already won. 

Sunday 29 January 2017

Basti rolls back the years and sends message to Mourinho

Two months ago, Bastian Schweinsteiger was training with the Under 23s and set for an ignominious United exit.

Jose Mourinho has a history of turning his back on players once he's marginalised them: Iker Casillas and Juan Mata two of the most obvious examples. 

A highly decorated and hugely popular figure wherever he has been, the German World Cup winner deserved better and, maybe, just maybe, his Old Trafford career isn't finished yet.

Basti was linked to a move to the USA but it's testament to his dedication and professionalism that he has earned his way back into Jose's plans. 

He made only his third appearance of the season, and first start for over a year, in the FA Cup win over Wigan and sent a timely reminder to his manager.

The 31 year old claimed an assist and rounded off the scoring with his second ever United goal in a man of the match performance. 

His previous run-outs this season proved to be brief cameos against West Ham and Reading in the EFL and FA Cup respectively but he rolled back the years against the Latics.

Understandably given his meagre 16 minutes of action this term, he looked rusty early on but grew into the game and set up Fellaini for the opening goal.
His only previous Reds strike came in the 1-1 draw at Leicester last season but raised the roof here with his neat acrobatic finish late on. 

We've got 16 league games left, continued interest in both domestic cups and are in the Europa League knockout stages - a possible 66-match campaign.

35 year old Michael Carrick remains hugely important to United's ambitions this season but, as we've seen recently, his metronomic precision has begun to waiver and he's in need of rest.

The departures of Morgan Schneiderlin and Memphis Depay - to Everton and Lyon respectively - have left United with five out-and-out midfielders and opened the door to Basti.

He proved against Wigan that he can still play a major role for Jose this season and looks set to be rewarded with a place in our squad for the Europa League knockout stages.

The games continue to come thick and fast and it's a huge ask to expect Carrick to play every minute in all of them.
Schweinsteiger is his ideal deputy: he's very similar in style to our string-puller in chief and, like Carrick, uses his experience to get the best out of those around him. 

United are still fighting on all four fronts and it would cap Schweinsteiger's remarkable personal turnaround if he ended the season with multiple winners medals at the club. 

Match report: United 4-0 Wigan

Bastian Schweinsteiger marked his first start for a year with a goal and assist as United to FA Cup victory over Wigan.

On a weekend of shocks and surprises, the much changed holders ensured their place in Monday's fifth round draw at the expense of Warren Joyce's Championship strugglers.

Marouane Fellaini headed United in front shortly before the break from Schweinsteiger's cross and Chris Smalling doubled the lead on the hour.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan finished off a superb sweeping move before Basti brought the house down with his acrobatic effort for the fourth late on.

Backed by their vocal travelling support, Wigan began brightly and carved out the first opportunity of the match on twelve minutes.

The wonderfully named Max Power collected the ball and found Callum Connolly, whose well-hit effort was beaten out by stand in stopper Sergio Romero.

In contrast, United were sluggish early on although the returning Luke Shaw showed flashes of his pace and penetration with a couple of bursting runs from deep.
It was from one such foray forward that led to United's first opening when the full back's chipped pass found Juan Mata, but he could only blaze over the bar.

Mkhitaryan dragged a shot wide from close range when he should have done better, but United did not rue that missed and moved ahead from our next attack.

With seconds remaining before the interval, patient build up between Wayne Rooney and Mkhitaryan found Schweinsteiger whose whipped cross was met by Fellaini to emphatically power home his header.

Fosu-Mensah fired wastefully wide but it was the visitors who then should have levelled when Romero saved with legs to keep out David Perkins.

It was a missed chance that came back to haunt the second tier side as United moved 2-0 ahead moments later when Anthony Martial found Smalling to nod in. 

Then followed a special moment for highly-rated young defender Axel Tuanzebe who was introduced in place of Fosu-Mensah for his long awaited senior debut. 
Romero saved well again, this time from Connolly, but again the Reds launched a breathtaking counter-attack to make the Latics pay.

A superb team move released Martial, who burst into the box and cut the ball back for Mkhitaryan to put the result beyond doubt. 

Another debutant was given a debut, Academy keeper Joel Pereira, before Schweinsteiger applied the icing on the cake on 81 minutes.

He acrobatically flicked home substitute Ander Herrera's knockdown from a corner to rubber-stamp a satisfactory day at the office for him and the team.

Our FA Cup defence continues....

Overall team performance: 7/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Bastian Schweinsteiger

Saturday 28 January 2017

Match preview: United v Wigan Athletic

A familiar face will return to Old Trafford with the visit of Championship strugglers Wigan Athletic in the FA Cup fourth round.

Warren Joyce served United with distinction when he served as manager of our Reserve side,  unearthing and nurturing many gems along the way - including current young homegrown talents Jesse Lingard and Paul Pogba. 

He was appointed Latics manager in November after six years with the Reds and, after a slow start, has lifted them out of the bottom three after back-to-back league wins

Wigan provided the opposition in Jose Mourinho's first match in charge in a July friendly and these two North-West rivals meet again for a place in the last 16. 

Sergio Romero will start in goal for United, Luke Shaw could return after a 12 game absence and Eric Bailly, back from AFCON, is also in contention.

Anthony Martial is set to feature after recent speculation about his future and Jose has challenged his young striker to keep his place for Wednesday's League meeting with Hull City.

The boss explained: 

"It's another difficult game against Wigan and I will make changes - I will play Romero and Martial and if he plays magnificent then he will play in the next match - it is simple.
"We will give some opportunities, some fresh legs to the team and I hope that we can do it. 
"I want to treat the FA Cup in a serious way, the players are fresh and preparing with extra motivation for Warren and his players."

Wigan's former United players Nick Powell and Reece James will both miss out through injury. 

Joyce's side have struggled for goals so far this term but the chance of a major upset against the holders may re-ignite the fire inside last season's top scorer Will Grigg (all together now...)

Joyce said:

"It is a game I'm very much looking forward to, both for me personally and for my team. 
"We'll prepare as we do for any other game but we can play without pressure and hopefully give it a real go.
"We know that United have a world class team with a world class manager and a squad of very, very good players.
"There are certain tick boxes for the X factor players and some - like Paul and Marcus (Rashford) tick every box.
"Rashford is a very, very good footballer and a brilliant goalscorer - he's in the same category as Pogba - clever, quick, skilful and very tough." 

Both sides saw off further Championship opposition to reach round four as United beat Jaap Stam's Reading 4-0 and the Latics enjoyed a 2-0 win over divisional rivals Nottingham Forest. 

Form guide: United W W W D D L Wigan L D L W W W 
Match odds: United 11-2 Draw 15-2 Wigan 50/2 
Referee: Neil Swarbrick 

Friday 27 January 2017

EFL Cup final: Saints and Devils to lock horns at Wembley

On his 54th birthday, Jose rekindled his League Cup love affair as he steered United to the first major final of his Old Trafford tenure after six months in charge. 

Mourinho has never lost in this competition - winning it in each of his three full Chelsea seasons - and will have the chance to move level with both SAF and Brian Clough on four in next month's showpiece.

The EFL Cup may not be top of this club's priorities but a trophy is a trophy and a major final will surely only fuel confidence and belief for the bigger obstacles that lie ahead.

However, with progress, comes problems. 

Mourinho will now see the strength in depth of his squad tested to the full with the final scheduled for the same day of the away derby - which will now be rescheduled - and four days after the Europa League second leg tie in St Etienne. 

Victory at Wembley would bring United a fifth League Cup success, but for our opponents Southampton it represents a first ever appearance in this competition's showpiece.

They won't need to look far for inspiration and a good omen, however. 

The Saints won the only major trophy in their their history in the FA Cup final when, as a Second Division side, Bobby Stokes scored the only goal to stun Tommy Doherty's United at Wembley.

They came close to repeating that feat in 2003 under Gordon Strachan but lost out to Arsenal through a solitary Robert Pires goal.

Even just by making the final, Southampton have made a little piece of history.

Claude Puel's men became the first side ever to reach a League Cup final without conceding a single goal on the way. 
Not only that, but they've faced Premier League opposition in every round which makes that statistic even more impressive.

Saints despatched Crystal Palace and Sunderland in the early stages before their 2-0 win at Arsenal paved the way for their deserved 2-0 aggregate win over faltering Liverpool in the last four.

Jurgen Klopp's side seemed odds on favourites to join United in the final when the semi-final draw was made but Southampton made a mockery of that with an impressive victory in each leg. 

Jose has the chance to etch his name in folklore too; no United manager has ever won silverware in his first season in charge (the Community Shield isn't a proper trophy)...

Legendary knights of the realm Sir Matt Alex endured three difficult seasons before they finally tasted success at Old Trafford and LVG won the FA Cup at the end of his second (and final) campaign in charge.

So all eyes on Wembley on 26th February, when United take on the Saints with silverware up for grabs and history on the line...

Match report: Hull 2-1 United (2-3 agg)

United suffered a first defeat in 18 games but progressed to the EFL Cup final at Wembley despite a disappointing second-leg showing at Hull.

On manager Jose Mourinho's 54th birthday, the Reds started the contest with a two-goal lead that was halved through Tom Huddlestone's controversial penalty.

Paul Pogba's seventh of the season re-established our two-goal aggregate advantage, before Oumar Niasse's late goal restored the Tigers lead on the night.

That was not enough to change the outcome of the tie as the Reds set up a Wembley showdown with Southampton at the end of February, following the Saints impressive and deserved last four-victory over Jurgen Klopp's faltering Liverpool. 

The hosts, rejuvenated under new boss Marco Silva, started brightly and went close twice early on through Harry Maguire and Sam Clucas.
Marcos Rojo had an effort deflected wide and David de Gea then thwarted Niasse at the other end at the culmination of a neat counter-attacking move. 

In a season riddled with refereeing controversy, Jon Moss became the latest official to err when Rojo was harshly adjudged to have fouled Maguire following a corner.

Huddlestone made no mistake from the spot in the 36th minute but United almost provided an instant riposte when Zlatan Ibrahimovic forced a smart save from recalled Hull keeper David Marshall. 

Having awarded Silva's side a very soft-looking penalty, Moss then compounded his error by ignoring two more obvious spot-kicks for United shortly after the interval.

Michael Dawson sent Pogba sprawling but the referee waved play on, and then Chris Smalling was bundled over by Huddlestone only for the protests to fall on deaf ears for a second time. 

United were deservedly level in the 65th minute as Pogba poked home Marcus Rashford's pass to re-open the two goal lead.

Rojo headed against the bar and the impressive Niasse, on his first Hull start, did likewise at the other end.

The former Everton loanee got the goal his individual performance deserved when David Meyler picked him out to slam in from close range with ten minutes to play.

To their credit, the hosts showed admirable spirit and determination in the closing stages, but they were unable to find the goal needed to force extra time.

Having already won once at Wembley this season in the Community Shield, Jose has taken us back there in a bid for a fourth success in this competition.

Que sera sera!

Overall team perfomance: 5/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Marcus Rashford. 
NB: A special mention must go to the magnificent 4,179 United fans in the away end who did the team proud and never stopped singing. Simply incredible.

Wednesday 25 January 2017

EFL Cup preview: Hull (0) v United (2)

United head to Humberside in a strong position but wary of the treat posed by a Hull side rapidly improving under Marco Silva. 

Goals from Juan Mata and Marouane Fellaini put the Reds in the driving seat in the first leg at Old Trafford a fortnight ago.

That should be a sufficient enough advantage to take us to Wembley, but despite defeat Hull impressed for long periods and were also unlucky in their 2-0 defeat at Chelsea at the weekend.

There are no new injury concerns for the Reds but Eric Bailly - on his way back after the Ivory Coast's early AFCON exit - will not return in time. 
Marcos Rojo is expected to recover from the illness that saw him miss the Stoke game but the injury hit hosts have seven players on the sidelines.

Ryan Mason is recovering from his nasty skull fracture and faces a lengthy absence and Curtis Davies is also out. 
Robert Snodgrass, subject of a £10 million bid from Burnley will not feature but loanee Lazar Markovic, formerly of Liverpool, could be included. 

Silva's side - currently second bottom in the table - visit Old Trafford in the Premier League next Wednesday for our third meeting in as many weeks (and fourth in total this campaign).

Marcus Rashford's last-gasp goal secured victory for United in our previous encounter at the KCOM in the league in August.

Despite his side's commanding aggregate lead, United manager Jose said that there is no room for complacency. 

He said:

"Hull played very well against us both times we have played them this season, and they were very good against Chelsea, too.
"So I think they are in a good situation and we cannot underestimate them. 
"Marco is a very talented coach, he has a difficult job in hand but I knew that the team would really improve. 
"It is a big fight for them with five, six, seven teams for relegation but a good, very good, coach.
"It's nice to win a competition and that is what we want to do, but I don't think it's crucial to do well after that - we go competition by competition and match by match.
"It is going to be difficult but we can approach this game like we do the others and I hope we can get to Wembley."

Liverpool host Southampton tonight (Wednesday) in the other semi final at Anfield with Claude Puel's side defending a slender advantage. 

Form guide: Hull D L W L L L United W W W W D D 
Match odds: Hull 23/4 Draw 7/4 United 5/1
Referee: Jon Moss

Monday 23 January 2017

Opinion: Record breaker Rooney's due some respect

Wayne Rooney has bludgeoned the ball into a net 250 times. more than any other of the 899 players to have pulled on the Red shirt of United and Newton Heath over the last 139 years.

Perhaps because it's been built up for so long, maybe because two blokes called Messi and Ronaldo seem to score that many per season these days, or perhaps because it's Wayne, but the number and scale of his achievements seem to have been diluted. 

Rooney hasn't just strolled to the front of the queue: he's had to graft his way past a cavalry of genuine greats. Legends that include the likes of Ruud van Nistelrooy, the two Denises, Law and Viollet, Eric Cantona, CR7, Sir Bobby, Ryan Giggs, George Best and countless others.

In doing so, he's massively impacted on United's fortunes. His 250 goals have come in 189 games, 164 of which have been wins. Six of the remaining goals - including Saturday's record-breaker at Stoke and the Ewood Park penalty that clinched title number 19 - have directly clawed the team back from a losing position. Only 14 goals have come in defeats and he's broken the deadlock in 82 previously goalless encounters.

Rooney has scored in every round of the Champions League and FA Cup (except the final), two League Cup finals and semi finals and the World Club Cup final and semi-final: his contribution when it comes to the business end of tournaments is unarguable. 

He's scored in 46 different stadiums, across 14 different countries, against 94 different goalkeepers and 98 different managers. The indisputable fact of all this is that Wayne Rooney is due a serious outpouring of respect, something that he hasn't had much of in recent years.

The reaction after he equalled the record in the FA Cup win over Reading earlier this month was questionable.
Firstly, there was the ridiculous furore over his shirt swap with George Evans which took place in the tunnel, and then the suggestion that the record could be under threat from Marcus Rashford.

Rashford is a rare and precocious talent but even the teenager would admit that such talk is premature and disrespectful.  The potential of Rooney breaking the club's goalscoring record was first mentioned after his hat-trick in that 8-2 thrashing of Arsenal in 2011. The subsequent wait has diluted the appreciation of his achievement, but that wait is over and the record is now Rooney's. 

He has realised his greatest individual aim a few months after completing his set of domestic club honours.  There is nothing left for him to prove, history has been re-written to his greatness and perhaps now Rooney will get the recognition and respect befitting a player who has cordoned off a truly unique achievement. 

Sunday 22 January 2017

Record breaking Rooney stands alone as one of the greats

United skipper Wayne Rooney eclipsed Sir Bobby with his 250th club goal at Stoke and he now stands alone in club history. Rooney, so often United's fulcrum since he was signed by Sir Alex as a teenager from Everton, has had to make do with a bit part role under Jose Mourinho this term. 

In his 546th club outing, Rooney surpassed Sir Bobby's record that has stood since 1973 - 212 games fewer than the great man himself reached his seemingly unbeaten mark. In the process, he has filled a variety of roles during his time at the club: the teenage wild card, Cristiano Ronaldo's partner-in-crime, senior pro club captain, all-action midfielder, number ten, right winger, makeshift full back and the last survivor of the Ferguson empire.

Having become England's all time leading scorer in 2015, Rooney reached his record-breaking moment in style. 

Like so many of his other decisive moments, it came when we needed it most with his penchant for the spectacular in evidence again here.

There was THAT overhead kick against City in 2011, his anger-fuelled volley against Newcastle in 2005 and the halfway line goal at West Ham in 2014. 

We saw the superlative lob against Portsmouth in the FA Cup in 2007 and the sensational counter-attacking goal against Bolton in the same season, sprinting the length of the field alongside Ronaldo. 

His critics will argue that he never hit the heights with England, that despite being the all-time top scorer for our country, Rooney failed to contribute on the big stage at major tournaments.

After his breakthrough tournament in 2004 at the Euros, Rooney only scored once at a major finals (against Uruguay in 2010), but even the best players of our generation have failed to hit the heights on the international stage.

Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard were unable to turn their stellar club exploits into England success and even Lionel Messi has arguably underachieved during his time with Argentina. 

Deep into stoppage time with United 1-0 down and hoping to preserve a 17-match unbeaten run at Stoke, a free-kick wide on the left looked to be the visitors last chance.  Rooney looked prime to cross but instead unleashed a wonderful, dipping and swerving right-footed shot that left the previously unbeatable Lee Grant with no chance.

It was right up there with his very best United goals and a fitting way to reach the milestone. Rooney has won everything there is to win the English game in a United career littered with goals, silverware and match-changing brilliance. He deserves more credit for what he's achieved in a wonderfully highly decorated career.

Congratulations skipper!

Saturday 21 January 2017

Match report: Stoke 1-1 United

Wayne Rooney became United's all time leading goalscorer with a stunning free-kick deep into injury time to rescue a point at Stoke. 

We wasted chances, hit the woodwork and, not for the first time this term, were repeatedly denied by an impressive opposition keeper.
Our 25th and final effort of the contest finally provided the goal that ensured our long unbeaten run remains intact - albeit if the dropped points see us lose ground in the congested battle for a top four place. 

Mark Hughes side had frustrated the Reds in October's reverse fixture at Old Trafford and looked set to do so again after Juan Mata's unfortunate first half own goal. 

United - unbeaten in seventeen matches in a run that stretches back to November - dominated the second half and Rooney - who had come off the bench - popped up with his decisive and historic 250th United strike in the dying minutes.

It was one of his best too, an unstoppable free-kick wide on the left that he blasted over the wall and beyond Grant with a wonderful, dipping, right-footed strike. 

United started slowly but gradually exerted themselves on the game and deserved a point for their second half efforts.

Grant fumbled an early Ander Herrera free-kick, but the hosts took the lead out of nothing with their first attack on 19 minutes. 
Erik Pieters low cross evaded everyone until it deflected off Mata and nestled in under David de Gea.

United responded well and went close twice in as many minutes when Marouane Fellaini headed straight at Grant and Mata then missed a sitter.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic picked out the Spaniard who should have made amends for his inadvertent error but he could only fire over from six yards.

Grant, mightily impressive in that Old Trafford meeting, was then called into action to keep out Fellaini before he pawed away Paul Pogba's piledriver from distance.

On the hour mark, strong penalty appeals were waved away by referee Mark Clattenburg after Mata's shot from Pogba's cut-back struck the hand of the sprawling Glenn Whelan.

At the other end, De Gea saved well from Xherdan Shaqiri in a rare foray forward from the hosts. 
The Reds laid siege to the Potters goal which lived a charmed life as substitute Jesse Lingard rattled the bar and Marcus Rashford flashed an effort inches wide.

Pogba cracked an effort narrowly off target after nice link up with Rooney as Stoke sat deep and continued to keep United at bay.

The pressure eventually told, however, as Wayne came up with a captain's goal with the last action to preserve a point and eclipse Sir Bobby's long standing record.

Overall team performance: 7.5/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Antonio Valencia 

Friday 20 January 2017

Memphis finalises move to Ligue 1 Lyon

Memphis Depay became United's second permanent departure in January as he sealed a £16million move to Ligue 1 side Lyon.

The deal also includes buy-back and sell-on clauses and the fee is expected to rise £21.7 million. 

The young Dutchman has made eight appearances for United this season, but only one start, and has featured for just eight minutes since October under Jose Mourinho. 

His days at the club seemed numbered when Jose took over, and the manager's preference for players to fit his own identikit was always going to make Depay an outcast. 

Memphis was the top scorer for PSV in the Eredivisie in the 2014-15 and that form persuaded Van Gaal to bring him to United for £31 million.

Highly regarded as one of the hottest young properties in Europe, Memphis future at United seemed destined to be a bright one as he started strongly and dovetailed well with Luke Shaw.

The two had begun to form a potent partnership down the left and two stunning goals - albeit against the lesser lights of Brugge - demonstrated the 21 year old's potential before Shaw broke his leg in Eindhoven. 

Memphis never regained his previous form and - despite flashes of brilliance against Midtjylland, Watford and Arsenal, he fell out of favour and was dropped by Van Gaal. 

There's no doubting his talent but his attitude and willingness to work for the cause were often called into question. 
The most obvious example of this lazy approach came at Chelsea when, after he had come on as sub, his lack of tracking back led to their breakaway down his side of the pitch and Diego Costa scored. 

Tellingly, he becomes the second big-money, high profile Van Gaal signing to be moved on.

Morgan Schneiderlin was also hampered by lack of game time under Mourinho and signed for Everton in a £26 million move last week.
 Angel Di Maria became our record signing  when he signed for £59.7 million but he also failed to live up to expectation and left for PSG after just one season in Manchester.

Bastian Schweinsteiger has been heavily linked with a move away and Luke Shaw's fitness and inability to adapt to Jose's new United style has also left his future at the club an uncertain one. 

Memphis becomes the second Red to move to Lyon in recent seasons after Van Gaal sold former full-back Rafael to the French outfit in 2015. 
They currently sit fourth, eight points off the Champions League qualifying places. 

Match preview: Stoke City v United

United make the ever-tricky trip to the Britannia looking to make it seventeen matches unbeaten at a ground where we haven't won since 2013.

Eric Bailly remains unavailable on AFCON duty but the Reds have an otherwise fully fit squad to pick from for the visit to the Potteries. 
Wilfried Bony, Mame Diouf and Ramadan Sobhi all also away with their countries but Mark Hughes side have no injury worries.
Peter Crouch will start up front for the hosts in Bony's absence as he searches for his 100th Premier League goal. 

Lee Grant almost single-handedly denied United the win in October's Old Trafford reverse and looks set to deputise again with Jack Butland still injured. 

The Reds were frustrated by the stubborn and resilient visitors - and Grant's heroics - in that game as Joe Allen cancelled out Anthony Martial's opener to earn Stoke their first away point at United in the Premier League era.
We've won our last four away league games but the Britannia has not been a happy hunting ground in recent years with two defeats in the last three seasons. 

Stoke, led by former United striker Hughes, have been inconsistent this season and come into this clash ninth in the table - a position they have made their own having finished there in each of the Welshman's three seasons in charge. 

The Potters earned a reputation as a robust and physical outfit under Tony Pulis but Sparky has added guile to their grit and, with the quality of Bojan, Xherdan Shaqiri, Allen and Marko Arnautovic, they remain a dangerous proposition for any side. 

Reds boss Jose Mourinho has said his side are not going to Stoke to focus on defending our unbeaten run. 
He said:
"It's a nice run to have, I have to admit, but we are not going there just to defend this record.
"We are not going to play any match to try to be unbeaten for one more match, or to try to reach 18 or 20, not at all, we cannot think this way.
"We want to win always, we try to win every match and will do everything we can - if we lose, we lose the unbeaten run.
"We have zero injuries and everyone is available apart from Bailly, we have little problems but that is normal so we are in a good situation."

This match presents a perfect opportunity for us to make up some ground on the sides above us as fifth placed City host in-form Spurs in the tea-time kick off.

Form guide: Stoke D L L W L W United W W W W W D
Match odds: Stoke 13/8 Draw 14/5 United 9/2
Referee: Mark Clattenburg 

Monday 16 January 2017

Mixed fortunes against Liverpool for United's marquee signings

Paul Pogba suffered a bad day at the office against Liverpool but Zlatan Ibrahimovic again was his side's catalyst.

He may be 35 and in the twilight of a wonderful career but he is our talisman and the new leader of Jose's team. 
This certainly wasn't his best performance of the season - largely ineffective for long periods - but he was still the man who made the difference and produced the decisive contribution when we needed him most.

Isn't that what the best strikers are all about: peripheral in the most past but then pop up with moments of match-winning, game-changing brilliance to alter the outcome of a match almost single-handedly. 

Ibra brings a winning mentality to the club and continues to influence this side far beyond his specific, line-leading role. 

When he raced back to the centre circle after his 19th goal of a stellar season, he whirled his arms around and cajoled his team mates for one last push in search of a winner. 

With 89 minutes played, he hit a long, curling pass out wide to Antonio Valencia and then burst into the box for the return pass.
I haven't seen him move that fast all season  and it was a moment that demonstrated his desire, hunger and will to win - and those qualities seem to rub off on his team-mates. 

He now has 14 goals in 20 league appearances - the same total as Sergio Aguero and Alan Shearer, and not bad for someone who was supposedly old, slow and past his best upon arrival in England. 

Zlatan hit the ground running in the Premier League but Paul Pogba's United career has been a slow burner. 
He started sluggishly with a series of indifferent performances but he's come into his own and started to look the player we know he can be throughout our recent run of victories. 

He may have been trending on Twitter with his own hashtag prior to the Liverpool game, but he made a hash of things in an outing to forget.

He needlessly conceded the penalty when he inexplicably handled in a challenge with Dejan Lovren, missed a clear one-on-one opening and was frequently caught in possession.

Clearly a player with world class potential and attributes, Pogba endured a bad day at the office but even the best players have an off day and the young Frenchman should not dwell on this too much. 

Spirit and courage on show again as United refuse to accept defeat

The first half against Liverpool was arguably United's worst 45 minutes of the season in a strangely flat and lifeless performance.

We still created more chances than the visitors, but Jurgen Klopp outdid his opposite number tactically and many of our key players were below par. 

The effervescent German got his system spot on and deserves credit for his game plan that stifled and smothered United.
Jose's tactical change from a pass and move style to a more direct approach paid dividends and his introduction of Marouane Fellaini was an inspired switch. 

Michael Carrick struggled to find his usual metronomic consistency, Anthony Martial was well - er - marshalled by a posse of  Liverpool players and Henrikh Mkhitaryan was quiet.
Zlatan, his goal aside, was largely ineffective and Paul Pogba - hugely impressive in recent weeks - had probably his worst game in a United shirt.

He gave away the penalty from which the visitors took the lead,  missed a great one-on-one chance, was often caught in possession and resembled the player who struggled in the early weeks of his second United career. 
Even the best players, however, have a bad game and Pogba should not dwell on his bad day at the office too much. 

Ander Herrera was excellent, our man of the match Marcos Rojo also impressed with an immense performance at the back and Marouane Fellaini's introduction changed the game in the second half. 

The Reds run of nine successive victories came to an end, but the unbeaten run goes on as we gained a deserved reward for a much improved second half showing.

A draw was ultimately a fair result from a fiery encounter low on quality but high in entertainment and passion with talking points aplenty.

The fact that we managed to still get a result despite not being at our best spoke volumes of this side's spirit, desire and courage.
There were again hallmarks of Sir Alex's United, the never-say-die mentality, the refusal to accept defeat and the ability to grab a game that appeared to have slipped from our grasp by the scruff of the neck. 

Decision making let us down against Liverpool: too often we tried to pass our way through the middle of their high-octane midfield, didn't get crosses in often enough and struggled to deal with set-pieces. 

There was to be no late heroics like we saw against Middlesbrough on New Year's Eve, but, had there been another five minutes against Liverpool then we might well have forced a winner.

No doubt it's an opportunity missed as victory would have put us two points behind Liverpool, but our unbeaten run stretches to a 16th game ahead of the ever-tricky trip to Stoke on Saturday.

Reborn Fellaini rescues out of sorts United

Eyebrows were raised when Marouane Fellaini was introduced as United's third substitution against Liverpool at the expense of Marcus Rashford.

Rashford's pace and penetration against the inexperienced Trent Alexander-Arnold seemed to be the more obvious switch as United chased the game.

The Reds had struggled to get around Liverpool's famed intense and high-pressing game plan and Jose Mourinho introduced Fellaini to change tack and bombard the visitors aerially.

Fellaini's arrival triggered the team's more direct approach as we hit long balls to him and Zlatan, got crosses into the box and bypassed Liverpool's dominance in midfield. 

The Belgian, often a divisive and much-maligned figure at United, made the difference as his height, touch play and power unsettled Liverpool and brought about our equaliser.
His influence proved key in the goal as he rose above man of the match Dejan Lovren to head off a post, United recycled the ball and Zlatan was on hand to head in. 

Fellaini scored the all-important second goal in the midweek Cup win over Hull, then signed a contract extension and the player rewarded his manager's belief in him with an impressive performance off the bench in Sunday's encounter. 

Fellaini's United career has been transformed since that late penalty incident against Everton which resulted in him being booed by sections of the Old Trafford crowd against Tottenham.

He's always been something of an enigma at the club as he's produced some important moments and performs his specific role in the team very well.
His reckless approach and clumsiness can also expose him as a liability and it's this side of his game that has seen him struggle to win over a large legion of the club's fans. 

Although a draw was ultimately a fair result, United were strangely out of sorts against Liverpool and earned a point through keeping things simple in the second half.

The visitors midfield trio of Giorginio Wijnaldum, Jordan Henderson and Emre Can marked tightly, they disrupted United's passing and movement and Adam Lallana completely stifled the usually excellent Michael Carrick. 

United's impressive run of nine successive victories have been built on collective excellence, but all our key players failed to hit the heights of recent weeks against Liverpool. 

Henrikh Mkhitaryan was quiet, Paul Pogba had a shocker, Zlatan was largely ineffective (apart from his goal) and Anthony Martial was doubled up on. 

Yet despite the fact we didn't play well, the team again proved hard to beat and preserved our unbeaten run and that can only be positive. 

Match report: United 1-1 Liverpool

A late Zlatan Ibrahimovic header earned United a fully deserved point in a typically thunderous clash with Jurgen Klopp's side. 

The visitors led through James Milner's 27th-minute penalty, awarded after Paul Pogba's inexplicable handball from a corner.

The much-maligned Simon Mignolet was Liverpool's hero with superb first half saves to keep out Ibrahimovic and the quiet Henrikh Mkhitaryan. 

It looked like the visitors would hold out and condemn United to a first defeat in 15 games and move back second but the Reds finished strongly to keep the unbeaten run going. 
It was our own much criticised figure who proved influential, when excellent substitute Marouane Fellaini headed off a post, United recycled the ball and Ibrahimovic nodded in off the bar. 

Ibrahimovic went close early on when he charged down a Mignolet clearance but the ball dropped narrowly over, before Pogba raced through one on one only to put his effort wastefully wide. 

Divock Origi scuffed a volley wide before Liverpool took the lead just shy of the half hour mark.

United conceded a corner cheaply when Phil Jones dallied on the ball and Marcos Rojo had to intervene, but Pogba handled when he went up with Dejan Lovren from the resultant corner.

Milner made no mistake with his spot-kick as Liverpool were gifted the lead, but the hosts sought an instant riposte and went close six minutes later.

Ibrahimovic's free-kick was beaten away low down by Mignolet who then thwarted Mkhitaryan with a sprawling save when the Armenian was clean through.

Jose introduced record-equalling Wayne Rooney at half-time, but it was Liverpool who almost doubled their lead on 48 minutes.

At the culmination of a rapid counter-attack, Emre Can picked out Origi and his deflected effort flashed inches wide of the post.

The visitors went close again when substitute Philippe Coutinho played in Firmino, but de Gea saved well and Mkhitaryan went close at the other end in an increasingly stretched encounter.

Georginio Wijnaldum went close and Rooney fired wide from distance, but the Reds finally gained reward for their pressure when Ibra pounced from close range to preserve United's long unbeaten run.

Both sides pressed for the winner but a draw was ultimately a fair result from an enthralling and entertaining contest. 

Overall team performance: 6/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Marcos Rojo. 

Saturday 14 January 2017

Match preview: United v Liverpool

With nine wins in a row and a 15-game unbeaten run across all competitions, United's form couldn't be better for the colossal clash with our fiercest rivals.

Sunday's top of the table six pointer represents a perfect opportunity for the Reds to strike a psychological blow in the race for the top four and gain further ground on the teams above us.

Jurgen Klopp's side arrive at Old Trafford three places and five points better off but have wobbled of late after three games without a win - draws with Sunderland and League Two Plymouth and a 1-0 EFL Cup defeat at Southampton in midweek. 

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is set to return from the illness that kept him out of the Hull fixture, but Eric Bailly remains unavailable on AFCON duty.
Luke Shaw is back in training but this game may come too soon and Marcos Rojo is doubtful.

Liverpool's top scorer Sadio Mane is away on African Cup duty with Senegal, but Phillipe Coutinho is in contention to feature having returned from a six-week lay off at St Mary's. 

Joel Matip and Jordan Henderson missed that semi final first leg with the Saints and only the latter - Liverpool's captain - could be involved against United.

Jose issued a rallying cry to club's "fantastic" supporters in a bid to create a fervent Old Trafford atmosphere.

"The fans of this club are fantastic and what I want from them I have had, since day one.
"We play at home, so it is different from the last time and a huge percentage of our fans compared to Liverpool's.
"What I ask is four our fans to create that little bit extra to make the game more special and help the team to win it.
"It is a big rivalry and it's always nice to win against your biggest rivals but it's three points and no more than that." 

History beckons for United skipper Wayne Rooney, who is likely to be on the bench, as he searches for one more goal to stand alone as United's record goalscorer (and what a fixture to do it in)! 

The Reds of Manchester and Merseyside locked horns four times last season with United winning both league fixtures - 3-1 at Old Trafford and 1-0 at Anfield.
Klopp's side earned a modicum of revenge with a 3-1 aggregate victory (0-2 and 1-1) in the first ever meeting in European competition.

The 197th match between the sides ended in a dour goalless stalemate in the reverse fixture in October. 

Form guide: United W W W W W W Liverpool W W W D D L
Match odds: United 6/5 Draw 12/4 Liverpool 11/4
Referee: Michael Oliver. 

Friday 13 January 2017

Analysis: Winning the midfield battle will be key to beating Liverpool

United were joint favourites with the bookies for the Premier League title at the start of the season.

The world class additions of marquee signings Paul Pogba and Ibrahimovic appeared to tip the balance towards Jose Mourinho's men but things have not quite worked out.

Pogba made an indifferent start as he settled into a team finding their feet and identity under new manager Mourinho.

Now, however, Pogba is definitely one of our in-form players and is playing with a strut and a swagger that we know he is capable of. 

His all-round contribution and end product was being questioned earlier in the season but United are utilising his attributes in the right areas and he's looking the real deal.

He's getting past people, driving forward, tracking back, scoring goals, assisting them and opening up defences with his rapier-like passing range.
He's dovetailed perfectly with Ibrahimovic and he's able to push forward more safe in the knowledge that Michael Carrick and Ander Herrera can cover him. 

Those three have become Jose's first choice trio in midfield and have provided United with a nicely balanced engine room that we were missing a few months ago.

Carrick has the know-how to give United control of midfield by keeping possession and has the ability to use the ball progressively when most others would just play safe.

He is a simply wonderful player who is indispensable to everything United do - and Mourinho may have been surprised by his fitness levels and ability to master games the way he does. 

The midfield battle will play a key role in defining the outcome of Sunday's clash at Old Trafford, with Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson an injury doubt.

He's probably their only player who can physically match up to Pogba's energy, pace and strength on the ball and his absence would be a huge blow for the visitors. 
Liverpool rely on him to break up play and his athleticism in the middle of the park, and he's  usually the player they look to when starting attacks from deep. 
Henderson is as key for them as Carrick is for us - the skipper keeps Liverpool ticking over and his range of passing can penetrate dangerously going forward.

Lucas Leiva would prove an able deputy should Henderson not make it but he is different in style to his captain.
He's a steady and reliable presence but does not have Henderson's pace or quality of distribution. 

The battle for supremacy in midfield will prove just one of many fascinating match-ups in the latest instalment of hostilities between the country's two most historic and successful clubs. 

No caution this time as United and Liverpool lock horns again

United's approach at Anfield in October was to stifle the hosts with a stubborn defensive showing but that will not be the case in the return meeting.

Liverpool had gone into that match as the league's most free-scoring side but their tempo was blunted by a well-organised and disciplined United side. 

We mustered only one shot on target in a cagey affair of few chances.

Jose Mourinho will be fully aware of the threat posed by Jurgen Klopp's side but will almost certainly change his approach to focus on our own strengths and abilities rather than silencing a hostile atmosphere. 

They visitors have shown many times this term that they can hurt any team away from home and still have a lot of quality at their disposal. 

This time, however, Jose will be more confident in his own team's attacking capabilities and the team will be full of confidence having won nine in a row.
We look strong, powerful and our important, match-winning players have all hit form and are performing well. 

Both teams will go toe-to-toe with each other and the match will likely be the complete opposite of that defensive masterclass that we saw at Anfield. 
Jose will feel that United can hurt Liverpool and the visitors will not sit back under Klopp so neither manager will be 'parking the bus' this time around. 

In the aftermath of that dour draw, parallels were being drawn that compared Jose's United to the sterile and, arguably, boring side of Louis van Gaal.

A week later, we were thumped 4-0 by Chelsea but that defeat at Stamford Bridge was a turning point and the side are unbeaten since.

Jose decided to push Paul Pogba forward into a more advanced role in the victory over Swansea.
He also handed Michael Carrick a starting place to bolster the midfield three and Henrikh Mkhitaryan was unleashed at full throttle after his early problems.

Those changes released the handbrake and the transformation has been staggering.

The build-up play is exciting, the attacking play is cut-throat and we're playing the best football seen from a United side in years - more akin to the throwback days of yesteryear.

This is a good time to play Liverpool.

Klopp's team have hit a bit of a blip of late with Sadio Mane away at the African Cup, Jordan Henderson and Joel Matip injury doubts and Philippe Coutinho only just back from a six week lay-off.

Their confidence could be in question whereas United are playing as well as we have done for years and - on a run of nine successive wins - who would bet against us making that ten on Sunday....


Wednesday 11 January 2017

Match report: United 2-0 Hull City

United moved a step closer to Wembley as Marouane Fellaini's late header put the Reds in a commanding position at the halfway point of the semi-final against injury-hit Hull. 

A near full-strength United side struggled to break down the determined and resilient Tigers but Juan Mata poked us ahead in the second half before substitute Fellaini nodded home the second to put the Reds in control.

Marco Silva's side had set about with the intention of still being in the tie ahead of the second leg at the KCOM Stadium, and the new boss will have been pleased with his makeshift side's effort and commitment.

Swiss stand-in stopper Eldin Jakupovic instantly found himself called upon when he pushed out Mata's effort from close range after two minutes.
Harry Maguire fired wide for Hull on the counter attack before Antonio Valencia went close from distance at the other end. 

Henrikh Mkhitaryan twice lashed off target when he perhaps should have done better, and Paul Pogba then tried his luck with a 35-yarder, only to be thwarted by a superb stop from Jakupovic.

Marcus Rashford had a swerving shot that flew narrowly over, but despite our dominance, it was the visitors who almost claimed a shock lead.
Adama Diomande drifted into space from a Robert Snodgrass free-kick and sent a downward header back off the post, but the flag was raised was an offside infringement. 

Intent on killing off the tie as quickly as possible, United upped the ante and raised their tempo after the break.
Wayne Rooney came agonisingly close to breaking the club's goals record on 51 minutes when his low effort on the angle flashed inches wide.

However, the elusive breakthrough was not long in coming as United finally took the lead five minutes later.
Mkhitaryan's header from Valencia's cross looped dangerously to the back post and Mata was lurking to poke home his seventh of the season. 

Hull went close to an equaliser against the run of play when David Meyler picked out Diomande, who could only fire over the bar with his acrobatic effort.

Pogba rattled the post with a 20-yard free-kick, and substitute Anthony Martial fired wide as United searched for the all-important second goal. 

It duly arrived in the 87th minute when Darmian picked out Fellaini  - who had just come on - to steer in a header and put further daylight between the sides. 

Jakupovic kept out Martial to prevent a third, but United had long since sealed a ninth successive win (a 15th match unbeaten) and are now firm favourites to reach a first League Cup final since 2010. 

Overall team performance: 6.5/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Juan Mata 

Tuesday 10 January 2017

Match preview: United v Hull City EFL Cup

Jose Mourinho will shuffle his pack again for the visit of Premier League strugglers Hull City in the first leg of the EFL Cup semi final. 

Liverpool lie in wait in Sunday's blockbuster showdown, but the United boss has hinted that we'll have a strong side to face the Tigers with the team bidding for a return to Wembley.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Paul Pogba and Ander Herrera were rested on Saturday but are set to feature whilst David de Gea - also given an FA Cup breather - could return.

Luke Shaw is fit again but Eric Bailly remains unavailable and Marcos Rojo could be a doubt after he picked up an injury in the win over Reading. 

Despite having steered Hull to the last four, former United no.2 Mike Phelan paid the price for the club's poor league form of one win in 18 when he was sacked last week.
His replacement, relative unknown Marco Silva, won his first game in charge at the KC Stadium in a 2-0 FA Cup third round win over Swansea.

Jose is fully aware of the importance of the meeting with Liverpool but said his side would go all out in the semi-final. 

"We play a big match against Liverpool, a big match for us, but we want to be in a cup final.
"We will face this Hull match with everything we have, all our power, it is two legs but the second game is away.
"A team like Hull do not play in a semi final very often so it is also a big occasion for them."
"If we can play a strong match in the first leg that will give us an advantage, then we will do that. 
"On Saturday I played with fresh players to it is easy to know my team - the guys that didn't play against Reading.
"I don't want to say anything about first and second choice players because I have a very good squad who are all fantastic professionals and they all deserve to play." 

This is the first of three matches against the Humberside outfit in as many weeks - with the second leg scheduled for the 26th of January, six days before we meet again in the league at Old Trafford. 

Southampton host Jurgen Klopp's side at St Mary's in the first leg of the other semi final on Wednesday. 

Form guide: United W W W W W W Hull City L L L D L W 
Match odds: United 1/5 Draw 6/1 Hull City 16/5 
Referee: Kevin Friend 

Sunday 8 January 2017

Tactical evolution key to best winning run in years

United secured an eighth successive victory in all competitions with Saturday's FA Cup win over Reading - the first such run since the 2008/09 season.

With Tuesday night's EFL Cup semi final against Hull and the league clash with Liverpool looming at the weekend, Jose made nine changes from the side that beat West Ham last time out. 

Despite the rotation, it was a still a strong United side that included eleven internationals and demonstrated the quality and strength in depth at the manager's disposal. 
Paul Pogba, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Henrikh Mkhitaryan were named on the bench but stand-ins Wayne Rooney, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford all got on the scoresheet and Marouane Fellaini also played well. 

United have two players for each position - even three in some areas - a far cry from the depths of last season when Louis van Gaal went into the campaign with a shallow squad of 19 players, and relied on untried youngsters in the event of injury.

Chopping and changing is a natural process for any new manager as he searches for a winning formula and Jose was no different in the early months of his tenure, but results (if not performances) suffered. 

He received criticism for doing so - perhaps justifiably - and, while the upturn in results is a collective rather than individual effort, the manager deserves credit for our reversal in fortunes. 

Consistency breeds success and it's no co-incidence that since settling on a system and keeping personnel changes to a minimum, United and Jose have hit their stride. 

In stark contrast to LVG's rigid 4-2-3-1 system, Mourinho's system evolves between three formations: often a 4-3-3 than can also fluidly switch to a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-1-4-1, depending on the match situation. 

Michael Carrick is a peerless and brilliant presence in the team and makes us tick, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford give us width, pace and penetration and Paul Pogba's energy and athleticism has proved the perfect foil for the string-pulling Juan Mata alongside him.

Jose has lifted the squad beyond all recognition.

Marcos Rojo is a player reborn, Phil Jones is in the form of his life and LVG outcast Ander Herrera has discovered a new lease of life and has become indispensable under Mourinho. 

Antonio Valencia has added potency and an end product to his solid and dependable style, and Mata has enjoyed his most productive season to date under the tutelage of the manager who alienated him at Chelsea. 

Eight wins in a row, heady days indeed and the good times are surely coming back to Old Trafford. 

Record breaking Rooney stands on the cusp of history

Ever since he burst on to the scene as a fiery 16-year-old at Everton, we've known that Wayne Rooney was special and on Saturday he took an indelible step towards further greatness. 

 Rooney has secured his place in United history and Old Trafford's hall of fame with his record-equalling feats.

His seventh minute strike against Reading was his 249th for United as he moved levelled with legendary club icon Sir Bobby Charlton in the club stakes. 

It is surely only a matter of time before he stands alone and, given his personal history against his boyhood enemy, how fitting would it be if he did so against Liverpool on Sunday. 

He's won everything there is to win in the English game, has broken nearly every record going
and became England's all time leading scorer in September 2015.
Rooney's 194 goals is the second-highest total in Premier League history - only Alan Shearer has more - and he's hit double figures in each of his 12 seasons at United. 

Even if he did not get anywhere near Sir Bobby's record for the club, Rooney deserves to be mentioned in the same breath of United's pantheon of legends. 

What cannot be ignored is that Rooney's stellar Old Trafford career has been littered with trophies, brilliance and match-winning moments.

When judged in a purely football context, the skipper's contribution to both club and country has been a great one, but yet he does not get the credit he deserves.

Sir Bobby will, rightly so, forever be adored and loved in the English game as a World Cup winning hero who helped the club rise from the ashes of Munich.
Rooney, despite his longevity and highly decorated career, remains an unappreciated - even divisive -  figure in the eyes of many. 

There were the two episodes of his "will-he-won't he" transfer saga, frequent outbursts of his firebrand, sometimes out of control temper and Rooney - unlike those before him - is an expensive export from Merseyside. 

Despite his lofty place in the record books, Rooney will never be revered by our fans in the same manner as maverick catalyst Eric Cantona, the great leaders Roy Keane and Bryan Robson and the brilliant home grown talents of Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville. 

Yes, his star has flickered and dwindled in recent years but that's surely a natural process for a player in his 30s and Saturday proved that Rooney still has a lot to offer for club and country. 

Rooney has to be right up there with the greatest players our country has ever had and deserves to be recognised as such. 

Match report: United 4-0 Reading

Wayne Rooney equalled Sir Bobby Charlton's goalscoring record as the rotated Reds put Jaap Stam's Royals to the sword and sealed an FA Cup fourth-round spot.

Stam - serenaded by both sets of fans throughout - enjoyed a stellar, if brief, Reds career in his playing days but was unable to prevent his second tier side from causing a huge shock at the hands of the holders. 

Rooney - one of nine alterations in a much-changed United side - moved alongside Sir Bobby with his 249th goal inside ten minutes.

Anthony Martial doubled the lead and Marcus Rashford netted his first goals since September as the Reds - despite resting Paul Pogba, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Henrikh Mkhitaryan - were simply too strong for their Championship visitors.

United started on the front foot and could have been ahead inside a minute.

Marcus Rashford lashed a shot wide before Al Habsi saved well from Rooney after Daley Blind's delightful through ball had picked him out. 

That proved to be only a pre-cursor, though, as the skipper marked his return with a historic moment in the seventh minute.
England's all time record goalscorer diverted home Juan Mata's cross with his knee eight yards out to bring up his landmark United goal.

Reading, third in the Championship, struggled to gain a foothold in the match and found themselves 2-0 behind on 15 minutes.
Martial played a lovely one-two with Rooney on the edge of the box and the Frenchman stroked a shot through the legs of Liam Moore and beyond Al Habsi for his sixth of the season. 

Marcos Rojo went off through injury but United continued to swarm forward and could have increased their lead tenfold by the break.
Martial's 20 yarder almost slipped under Al Habsi, Rashford fired into the side netting from a tight angle and both Rooney and Mata went close from distance. 

The Royals keeper continued to keep the Reds at bay as he pushed away Michael Carrick's curler shortly after the break and then also did well to deny Marouane Fellaini and Rooney in quick succession.

Martial's dangerous cross narrowly evaded the onrushing Rashford as Reading - Cup semi-finalists two seasons ago - continued to be on the back foot.
Stand-in stopper Sergio Romero saved at the feet of Garath McCleary but United were dominant and moved 3-0 ahead on 75 minutes.

Rashford got the goal his performance deserved when he raced on to Carrick's brilliant through ball and fired in his one-on-one finish with aplomb. 
Bastian Schweinsteiger received the biggest roar of the day with his 78th-minute introduction before Rashford netted his second and United's fourth in comedic fashion.

Al Habsi mis-kicked Moore's backpass to present the striker with the easiest goal he will ever score to add gloss to the scoreline against a plucky but outclassed Reading outfit. 

Overall team performance: 9/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Marcus Rashford 

Friday 6 January 2017

FA Cup preview: United v Reading

United begin their defence of the trophy as we welcome Jaap Stam's promotion-chasing Royals to Old Trafford in the third round.

The Dutchman will forever be highly regarded by United having won the Treble with the club during his playing days and makes a first return to his old stamping ground as a coach. 
Sir Alex Ferguson admitted than when he sold Stam to Lazio 2001, it was his biggest mistake as United boss and the former defensive titan is sure to receive a rapturous reception. 

He was appointed as manager of the Berkshire side in the summer and has proved to be an inspired appointment in his first managerial job having steered the Royals to third place in the Championship and well in the mix for a return to the top flight (six points off the two automatic promotion places). 

United edged past League One Sheffield United at this stage last year, en route to that never-to-be-forgotten, record-equalling twelfth FA Cup win as we came from behind to beat Palace in the Wembley final. 

Stam said:
"I still follow United and will always love the club and its fans, but now I need to prepare my team to play against them so it will be different."

Jose Mourinho looks set to shuffle his pack after the hectic festive fixture schedule, with Wayne Rooney back in contention having missed those matches over Christmas and New Year with injury. 

Jose said: 
"Some players need a rest and others need to play so I trust them all and there will be changes. 
"We have zero injuries, there are 27 players and no injuries. 
"I know that if I change three or four players in my team, some will say that there is a risk.
"We can do that because Reading is a Championship team but they are in third in their league and are better than some Premier League teams, I think.
"There is only a risk if there is the wrong attitude from my players, with the wrong frame of mind.
"If the players have a good responsibility and the same desire they are showing every match, then we have a good chance to win even if I rest some players and give others a chance." 

Sergio Romero will deputise in goal but Eric Bailly is unavailable, while Bastian Schweinsteiger and youngsters including Axel Tuanzebe and Tim Fosu-Mensah could also get minutes under their belts. 

The visitors also have a near fully fit squad at their disposal, with only Stephen Quinn and Deniss Rakels sidelined. 
There will be a couple of familiar faces in the Reading ranks with former United pair Paul McShane and Tyler Blackett in their side. 

Form guide: United W W W W W W Reading L W L W W W 
Match odds: United 2/9 Draw 5/1 Reading 12/1 
Referee: Andre Marriner 

Juan Mata must be in contention for our Player of the Season

Since he signed for United in 2014, no one has been involved in more goals and assists than Juan Mata in that timeframe. 

Mata has history with Jose Mourinho but, far from being ostracised by the Portuguese, Mata has quickly become one of this side's most important players. 

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been brilliant in his first season in England and Eric Bailly has also impressed, but neither have performed consistently as the Spaniard. 

Henrikh Mkhitaryan's resurgence has seen Mata start on the bench in recent weeks, but the playmaker remains our man of the season so far. 

He made the decisive impact at West Ham and has a knack of making the difference at vital moments in tight match situations (think of his 'Juanfield' double, his winning goal against City and the opener against Arsenal this season as perfect examples). 
Mata has six goals for the season now, four short of his tally of ten in both of Louis van Gaal's campaign.

A forward hampered by the rigid restrictions of the Dutchman's system and often isolated on the right flank, it is under the manager who sold him to us that Mata has discovered his best position in this United side. 

Only six players have started more matches than Mata this term, and Mourinho has successfully incorporated him into both his of his formations.
LVG blunted Mata when he reverted to 4-2-3-1 last season, when he was shunted out to the wing and left isolated from the rest of the team's attack. 

Under Mourinho and despite the presence of Mkhitaryan, Mata has been this side's best playmaker. 

In Jose's 4-3-3 system, he's had a creative licence to 'float' in the right central midfield role, where he dovetailed seamlessly with Jesse Lingard, the highlight being the wonderful team move and goal that Mata started and finished against Leicester in September.

An ineffective performance at Palace in the Armenian's absence (marred by an incorrectly disallowed goal) persuaded Mourinho to demote Mata but he was missed from the start against Boro on New Year's Eve.

Michael Carrick was given a breather, and with United searching for a breakthrough, Mata made the decisive difference.
He crossed for Paul Pogba to nod home the winner and then broke the deadlock himself as a half time sub in east London.

When Jose took over, many believed that Mata would be the first player out the door as a consequence of his supposedly strained relationship with Mourinho. 

Those rumours were only heightened when Mata was substituted as a substitute in the Community Shield win over Leicester. 

That Wembley flashpoint aside, the pair's relationship has appeared stronger than ever and Mata has reaped the rewards of Mourinho's man management. 

Tuesday 3 January 2017

United are back and a good year beckons in 2017

United got 2017 off to a winning start as the momentum built during our winning run continued unabated at West Ham.

It was a sixth league win in a row and a seventh in all competitions to extend our unbeaten run to 13 games, the best such run by a United team since the retirement of Sir Alex.

It wasn't our best performance of the season in east London but we got the job done to pick up another win and, despite still sitting sixth, closed the gap on the top four sides to a solitary point. 

Attention now turns to the home FA Cup third round tie with Reading - managed by former United legend Jaap Stam - and then the first leg of the EFL Cup semi-final with Hull City. 

These two matches will offer a welcome respite from the hectic schedule of testing league fixtures and provide Jose with the chance to give some of the players a much needed rest.

Many of them have played non-stop throughout the festive fixture programme and, with Liverpool looming in a massive league match next weekend, how Jose utilises his squad will be key to keeping this momentum going. 

35 year old Zlatan Ibrahimovic has played every minute of all but one match this season and fellow veteran Michael Carrick is not far behind (although he was rested against Middlesbrough). 

That match with Jurgen Klopp's in-form outfit looks to be of increasing importance as a win would move United to within two points of the second-placed Anfield side.

We're ten points adrift of the leaders Chelsea - who also have a game in hand - so we've surely left a title challenge too late, but there's no reason why we can't aim for a top two finish.

Manchester City are inconsistent, Liverpool are the league's top scorers but concede aplenty and Arsenal are only one point ahead of us. 

The team have re-discovered a winning mentality, we're brimming with confidence and belief, look a settled and cohesive unit and possess arguably the best team spirit in the league. 
We're also the only English team still fighting on four fronts - the three cups as well as the league - under a manager who has looked a changed man for the better in recent weeks. 

The mood in the United camp couldn't be in starker contrast to that of this time last year when United endured their worst winless sequence in years with morale at an all time low. 

The Red juggernaut rolled on at West Ham as we started the new year in the same way we ended the old one: United are back and look set to achieve big things in 2017....