Saturday 29 April 2017

Match preview: United v Swansea City

United will move into the top four and set a new club record of 25 league games unbeaten with victory over struggling Swansea.

The 0-0 draw at City on Thursday equalled the previous record set by Sir Alex's title winners in 2010-11 but a win would surpass that mark on Sunday.

Since the 4-0 defeat at Chelsea in October, only Antonio Conte's side and Marco Silva's Hull have beaten us - and both of those came in cup matches.

Swansea should not be taken for granted however, having won on two of their last four visits to Old Trafford.
Their initial 'new manager bounce' under Paul Clement has receded and they currently occupy third from bottom in the table, two points from safety.

Their survival hopes were given a major boost last time out though as a 2-0 win over Stoke City arrested a run of six games without a win. 

United are still without long term absentees Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Marcos Rojo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Juan Mata is nearing a sooner-than-expected return but the game comes too soon for Paul Pogba, who is expected to feature against Celta Vigo on Thursday.

There will be two more players missing against Swansea as Marouane Fellaini begins a three-match ban for his sending off in the derby.
Tim Fosu - Mensah will also miss out having picked up a "significant" shoulder injury as a substitute late on at the Etihad.
Jack Cork (ankle) and Martin Olsson (hamstring) are both doubtful for the visitors. 

United manager Jose Mourinho said: "I have seen a big change in the group since I came in. 
"There is more togetherness and they were missing the quality that gives you resilience and fight.
"They are ready to go for big things next year, but the reality for now is that we are fighting for the top four and fighting to win the Europa League, so let's go. 
"We know that Swansea will be difficult for us, it's never easy to play a struggling team so we have to have the right attitude and mentality and then we can be ready."

Swansea have enjoyed recent success against the Reds and picked up the tag as our "bogey" side after three consecutive 2-1 wins that stretched across two seasons - including an unprecedented league double in 2014-15. 
United have redressed that balance against the south Wales side, though, and have emerged the victors in our last two meetings. 

Form guide: United W D W W W D Swansea City L D L L L W 
Match odds: United 7/2 Draw 4/1 Swansea City 9/1
Referee: Neil Swarbrick (Lancashire) 

Friday 28 April 2017

Immense Bailly staking a claim for United's Player of the season

Eric Bailly arrived from Villarreal for £30 million in the summer as a relative unknown but has quickly become indispensable to United.

Three man of the match awards in his first thee appearances set the tone of what was to follow and - his knee injury aside - he's caught the eye with a series of impressive displays. 

Perhaps because of Zlatan's 28 goals, Pogba's price tag and Henrikh Mkhitaryan's mercurial creativity, Bailly has crept under the radar and has been the least heralded of Jose's signings. 

He's started 32 games this season and has been a hugely important presence in a defence that is one of the best in the league.

It's easy to forget he's still only 23 and in his first season in England. 

You have to be good to be good to be mentioned in the same breath as Rio and Nemanja Vidic, who rank are regarded arguably the best defensive partnership the club has had.
Both were undoubtedly the finest duo in the world in their pomp, and while Bailly is not at that level yet, his game is a majestic mix of both men. 

Aggressive, quick and strong, his positioning and reading of the game are superb and he stood tall again in the face of a Manchester City onslaught on Thursday.

With United in the midst of a defensive crisis - with Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo all injured - he was again named alongside Daley Blind as only our fit senior recognised centre-back.

Michael Carrick kept Kevin de Bruyne quiet and Bailly shackled the twin threats of Aguero and Leroy Sane superbly. 

The Ivorian was immense throughout and his highlight came in the first half when he thwarted the Argentine striker with a wonderful lunging challenge as he shaped to shoot. 

When others lost their head as tensions boiled over late on, Bailly was a picture of calm and composure and he guided United to another hard-earned clean sheet.

For the first time since SAF retired, our Player of the Year award looks set to go to someone other than David de Gea.
That's not to say that Dave hasn't been impressive, but there are other players ahead of him. 

Antonio Valencia is the best right-back in the league (only Kyle Walker is possibly ahead of him), Juan Mata had enjoyed a fine season before his injury and Zlatan has to be up there up too. 

Ander Herrera has had his best season at Old Trafford, but despite a constant change of partners at the back, the consistently peerless Bailly is staking a claim. 

United's resilient rearguard shuts down City

Jose Mourinho produced another tactical masterclass in the derby that was the polar opposite of the Chelsea match.

United took on the champions at their own game a few weeks ago with a ruthless showing of pace, power and penetration but we went back to "Anfield mode" against City.

We had 30% of possession, our lowest in a league game for almost 12 years, but despite their dominance the home side never really looked like scoring.
Their talented four-pronged attack of Raheem Sterling, Kevin de Bruyne, Leroy Sane and Sergio Aguero were subdued as United carried out the game plan to perfection. 

The Reds showed all the qualities that we've carried with us throughout our 24 match unbeaten run - one shy of a club record - to battle to a point.

United set up with a game plan that was fraught with danger as, despite a bright start and a couple of chances for Ander Herrera and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, we dropped deeper and deeper as the match went on. 

We spent much of the match on the back foot and almost the entire second half camped in our half amid wave after wave of City attacks.

This was a classic Jose away performance of organisation, discipline, work rate and a resilient rearguard action that compensated for the lack of attacking thrust.

When Jose sets up a certain way to get a result, he invariably gets it and although not pretty, it was mighty effective and this could be an invaluable result for the team. 

United stay fifth, a point and a place behind their hosts but only two adrift of Liverpool, in third, with a game in hand.

Michael Carrick provided the solid platform with Eric Bailly again outstanding and City were restricted to a handful of efforts from distance.

United carried a threat on the counter through Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial but the pair lacked service as the midfield dropped back and, by the end, were virtually non-existent. 

The one negative of our night was the stupidity of Marouane Fellaini - sent off after two bookings in 19 seconds - after he clashed with Sergio Aguero.

The Argentine knew what he was doing and made a meal of the coming-together, but there can be no excuse for Fellaini's actions.

He will now be banned for three games, pending appeal, starting with the visit of Swansea on Sunday.

Paul Pogba is again a doubt for that one, and Tim Fosu-Mensah picked up a "significant" injury during his brief cameo at the Etihad. 

Match report: City 0-0 United

Marouane Fellaini's quickfire red card provided the main talking point in an otherwise uneventful derby.

The Belgian was sent off late on for two bookings in 19 crazy seconds after he had clashed with firebrand City striker Sergio Aguero. 

City had dominated possession and territory in the second half but, despite pinning United back, were unable to make their supremacy count. 

David de Gea was largely untroubled with the hosts restricted to efforts from distance as the Reds mounted a brave rearguard action to earn a creditable point. 

The result means the Premier League table is as-you-were with United a point behind City and two off third-place Liverpool, albeit with a game in hand. 

The Reds lined up with a dynamic front three of Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial, but it was City who came closest early on.

Kevin de Bruyne burst clear down the right and picked out Aguero who struck a post with his low, well struck effort.

The next clear cut chance went the way of the visitors as United almost took the lead in a strange manner on 25 minutes.

Claudio Bravo flapped at Martial's cross and the ball fell to the lurking Mkhitaryan but the much-criticised City stopper recovered well to block.

The ever dangerous Aguero went close from distance and de Gea saved well from Aleksandr Kolarov's ambitious 30-yarder shortly before the break. 

The best chance of the half - and arguably the entire match - came at the other end in stoppage time.

Ander Herrera rose unmarked to meet Rashford's free-kick but the Spaniard could only head wide when well-placed eight yards out.

United spent the entire second half camped in City's half as Guardiola's side ratcheted up the pressure.
Raheem Sterling fired wide, Aguero headed over and Nicolas Otamendi went close with a deflected effort as the Reds hung on determinedly at the back.

Even the dullest of derbies provides a flashpoint, and this time was no different.

It came with six minutes to go as Fellaini was booked for a cynical foul on Aguero, before he was dismissed seconds later after a head-butt on the same player. 

Yaya Toure went close as the clock ticked down and City substitute Gabriel Jesus headed in only to see the goal correctly flagged for offside.

Despite their numerical disadvantage and six added minutes, United held out in relative comfort to stretch our unbeaten league run to a 24th game. 

Overall team performance: 7/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Eric Bailly. Immense again. 

Wednesday 26 April 2017

High stakes derby: First season failure

Fighting for fourth place in the league table is not what Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola are accustomed to.

The two men renew their rivalry at the Etihad on Thursday with Champions League qualification at stake, not silverware.

City won the first meeting between the pair at Old Trafford in September, a 2-1 success that put them top of the table.

That was the last time that either Manchester club was in that position.

Qualification for the Champions League is what will define Guardiola and Mourinho's first season at their new clubs.
A season without a trophy is in itself an alien concept for Guardiola but missing out on a top four finish would be even worse. 

With what both clubs have, and where they want to get to, it would be an abject failure should they fail to do so. 

It highlights how competitive the Premier League is that - even with the embarrassment of riches that both have - two of the best managers in the world are scrapping for fourth. 

If United win on Thursday, we'll break into the top four for the first time since September.
City, meanwhile, will drop out for the first time since 12 February.

On a 23-match unbeaten run, three successive league wins have changed the landscape for United and Mourinho.

The boss took stock of our situation at the start of April and admitted that winning the Europa League was our best chance of getting into the Champions League.

It's now very possible we could win that tournament and also qualify through league position. 

We've already won the League Cup so - should we go on to win the Europa League - would have two trophies and a top four finish.

That has to go down as a successful season in his first campaign at the helm.

On the other hand a fifth placed finish and not winning the Europa League would have to be considered a failure, despite the EFL Cup success.

Mourinho's unpredictability gives him and the team the slight edge in this one-off derby - we've seen both sides of his tactical blueprint in other big games.

There was the disciplined, ultra-defensive approach we saw at Anfield in the 0-0 draw in October.
Then we saw the polar opposite against Chelsea when we had a go at them and blew them away with constant harrying and high press.

It will be fascinating to see how Jose nullifies City's talented attack at the Etihad. 

Match preview: City v United

Victory in the 174th Manchester derby would see United leapfrog the hosts and inflict further damage on Pep Guardiola's stuttering side.

It's already been a disappointing campaign for the Catalan, after their last chance of silverware ended with FA Cup defeat to Arsenal at the weekend.
That means that Guardiola faces the alien prospect of a season without a trophy for the first time in his illustrious career. 

A failure to qualify for the Champions League is almost unthinkable and would make his first campaign in charge a complete write-off.
City come into the match a place and a point above us, so the victor at the Etihad will take pole position in the race for the top four.
As mentioned, we'd not only move about City with a win but also level on points with third-placed Liverpool.

We'll have to do so without world record signing Paul Pogba however, who will miss out with a muscle injury.
He joins Juan Mata, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Marcos Rojo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic on the sidelines, but Antonio Valencia and Ander Herrera are set to feature.

Gabriel Jesus, John Stones and Bacary Sagna are all doubtful for trophyless City, but key duo David Silva and Sergio Aguero are expected to be fit despite limping off on Sunday.

Honours are even between the two so far this season with one win apiece (2-1 City in the league, 1-0 United in the cup) ahead of this twice-rearranged Manchester meeting.

Originally scheduled to be played on the weekend of the EFL Cup final, the game was moved again to a rare Thursday night slot because of a television clash.

United boss Jose said: 

"There is one between the teams so it is an important match and the situation is open.
"It is an objective to finish in the top four but we are a club that is made to fight for trophies.
"We don't have a chance of winning the Premier League but a 25% chance of winning the Europa League, so I think we have to put everything into it.
"Man City has to play Premier League football only but we have a semi-final in a European competition to play in, so it is a harder schedule for us. 
"We will be giving our all in this big derby game because I know how much it means to the fans if we can win it."

Form guide: City D D L W W L United D W D W W W 
Match odds: City 11/4 Draw 14/5 United 7/2
Referee: Martin Atkinson 

Cross town rivals meet in season defining clash

The Manchester derby is always one of the most eagerly anticipated games of the season and the 174th meeting on Thursday comes with a season-defining edge.

It may not be the title showdown many were expecting, but the two sides are locked together in the table with Champions League qualification on the line.
Thursday will go a long way to deciding which one of the two Manchester clubs will occupy a top four spot in six weeks time. 

Chelsea and Spurs are all but certain to finish first and second, with us, City and Liverpool to fight it out for the remaining two places. 

City's defeat by Arsenal at the weekend ensured that Pep Guardiola will end a season without silverware for the first time in his illustrious career.

Coming into the game, City sit a place and a point above us and the victor at the Etihad would move into pole position with five games left. 
Of course, United could still qualify for the Champions League by virtue of winning the Europa League, regardless off league position.

With the semi-final against Celta Vigo on the horizon, Jose has made no secret of his desire to take us all the way in that competition.
City don't have that luxury and there's more pressure on them and Guardiola because the top four is their only route to qualify. 

There's never any added incentive in games such as this, but - not only would we leapfrog City with victory - we'd move joint third with Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool having played one game less. 
The men from Merseyside went down at home to bogey side Crystal Palace on Sunday when they succumbed to the curse of the former striker and Christian Benteke - a first loss in seven. 

Guardiola's City looked odds on favourites for the title after they started the season with ten straight wins, a run that included September's 2-1 victory over the Reds.

We ensured a modicum of revenge a month later when Juan Mata's goal knocked the neighbours out of the EFL Cup - a competition, of course, that we went on to win. 

In contrast to City's faltering form - their FA Cup defeat was their tenth of the season - United have picked up three successive wins and are unbeaten in 23 league games since the defeat at Chelsea in October. 

United have by far the most difficult run-in of all their top four rivals with trips to Spurs, Arsenal and Southampton to come.

Monday 24 April 2017

Match report: Burnley 0-2 United

United made light of their lengthy injury problems and Burnley's strong home record to cruise to an impressive win at Turf Moor. 

The Clarets had lost only three times at home all season and with Juan Mata, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Marcos Rojo all absent, this looked a tricky assignment for the rotated Reds.

However, the result never looked in doubt as United raced into a two-goal lead by half-time through recently-criticised Anthony Martial and returning captain Wayne Rooney. 

The win ensured we sit one point behind fourth-placed Manchester City ahead of the derby showdown at the Etihad next week, a contest that now looks crucial. 

United started brightly and went close inside the opening ten minutes.

Martial cut the ball back to Ander Herrera who in turn picked out Rooney but he was denied by a smart save from Clarets keeper Tom Heaton. 

Ben Mee went close with a header at the other end but the breakthrough was not long in coming and arrived on 21 minutes.

Martial started and finished the move, as he swept home from close range after a blistering counter-attack that involved Herrera and Jesse Lingard.

Andre Gray had a half-chance, but United were in control and doubled the lead six minutes shy of the break.

Heaton saved well from Martial, who had been played in by Paul Pogba, but he was powerless to prevent further damage as Rooney snaffled up the rebound for his 251st club goal.

George Boyd had an effort deflected wide for the hosts but the Reds continued on the front foot after the interval.

Having been released by Lingard, Rooney raced through one-on-one with Heaton but slipped as he shaped to shoot and Burnley cleared.

Eric Bailly and Daley Blind lined up in defence as the Reds only recognised centre-backs but the duo looked solid and restricted Burnley to speculative efforts from distance.

Sean Dyche's side have built their probable survival on home form but were on the periphery throughout and failed to muster a shot on target.

Paul Pogba went close from distance before in-form substitute Marcus Rashford fired into the side netting on the angle late on. 

Next up for the Reds, the small matter of the Manchester derby at the swamp, a match that looks to be a direct play-off for Champions League qualification.

Overall team performance: 7.5/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Anthony Martial

Saturday 22 April 2017

Match preview: Burnley v United

United's frantic fixture schedule continues apace as the injury-hit Reds make the short trip to Lancashire neighbours Burnley.

Fresh (or maybe not so) from the prolonged exertions of Thursday night, the Reds will be without five first team players for the 28 mile journey to a side with the sixth best home league record. 

Turf Moor has proved a fortress for Sean Dyche's promoted side with their home form the catalyst for what looks a first ever Premier League survival.

The Clarets were looking nervously over their shoulders after a seven-game winless run but edged past Stoke last time out at home to surely banish any lingering relegation fears. 

Burnley boast a hugely impressive home record having procured 32 of their 36 points at the Turf, with only Swansea, Arsenal, City and Spurs coming away with victory. 

That's in stark contrast to their horrible record on the road which hasn't yielded a single win and only four points - although one of those was the 0-0 draw at Old Trafford in October.

That match served as a reminder of the frustrated dropped points that have dogged United all season.
In one of the most one-sided contests Old Trafford has ever seen, the Reds bossed 72% of possession, had 38 shots with eleven on target but somehow failed to emerge with the win. 

Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Marcos Rojo look set to miss the rest of the season after their horror injuries in the Europa League.
With Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and Juan Mata also all ruled out, the team's resources and strength in depth has been stretched to the limit.

Eric Bailly and Daley Blind will start in defence as Jose's only fit senior centre backs.

Wayne Rooney could return and Ander Herrera and Ashley Young also look set to feature. 
Joey Barton faces a late fitness test for the hosts and Johann Burg Gudmundson is Burnley's only other injury concern. 

On his squad's injury problems, Jose said that he would "need everybody" and hinted that Academy star Axel Tuanzebe could make the step up.
"Herrera and Young didn't play on Thursday so they are fresh but who else. 
"We are in trouble and have no else so I have to use absolutely everyone.
"Axel Tuanzebe maybe now cannot go now to the Under-20 World Cup in Korea because he has to come with me, we need everyone.
"The situation with Ibrahimovic and Rojo is not good but we have to cope and we have options in attack.
"Rooney is coming and let's see if Mata can play again before the end of the season - we will see what happens."

Form guide: Burnley L D L W D L United D D W D W W 
Match odds: Burnley 9/2 Draw 14/5 United 4/6
Referee: Anthony Taylor

Friday 21 April 2017

Reds into first European semi final since 2011

United edged past Anderlecht on Thursday to seal a first European semi final since 2011.

Make no mistake about it, we'd all rather it be the glamorous prestige of the Champions League than the protracted toil of the second-tier competition. 

It was our twelfth match of a demanding continental run, and we needed extra-time, but we're now just three matches away from a first ever Europa League trophy. 

United last reached the last four of a major European tournament in 2011, when we knocked out Schalke en route to the Wembley final - and disappointment - against Barcelona.

Back then, if naysayers had told United fans that we'd have to wait six years to get there again - and that it wouldn't be in the Champions League - no one would have believed it.

Since, our European fortunes have ranged from the miserable failure to the non-existent, but - three managers on - there are finally signs of progress.

You have to be a decent side to make a semi final and after the bleak post-Ferguson era, it's a great feeling to be at the business end in Europe once more, no matter which competition it is. 

Since that 2010-11 campaign, our European record makes for grim reading as we failed to get out of an easy group the following season.

Defeat in the Europa League last 16 followed, before the disappointment of a controversial last-16 exit to Real Madrid in 2012/13 (Sir Alex's last season). 

During his ill-fated tenure, David Moyes failed miserably domestically but had a free shot at the Champions League and emerged with credit.

United were not expected to win it but Moyes took the team to the quarter finals where we bowed out in a valiant defeat to European superpower Bayern Munich.

As a result of our seventh placed finish that season, United would be without any European campaign at all in 2014/15.

Louis van Gaal was appointed as Moyes' successor and was given the remit of taking us back into the Champions League. 

He did so, but our interest in the tournament was ended by a crushing third-place and group stage exit in 2015-16.

Things got worse as Liverpool inflicted a painful 1-3 aggregate reverse to knock us of Europe in the last 16 on their way to the Europa League final. 

We went on to miss out on the Champions League for the second time in three seasons and LVG was sacked despite winning the FA Cup.

12 months on, we're back in the Europa League but this time we've a genuine chance of winning it and re-establishing ourselves as a European force once more.

United march on after a pyrrhic late victory

United's lengthy European journey continued into the semi-finals thanks to Marcus Rashford on a night of fluctuating fortunes at Old Trafford.

This was a quarter-final that put United fans through the entire gamut of emotions - from the joy of Mikki's opener, the nerves of Anderlecht's equaliser and counter-attacking prowess -  to  the worry of a double injury blow. 

After United had somehow contrived to miss a season's worth of chances in 90 tension-filled minutes, then came the outpouring of relief that followed Rashford's extra time clincher.

Rashford, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba had all been guilty of a succession of glaring misses as the flaw that has undermined United's season reared its ugly head once more to leave Anderlecht in contention throughout. 

As on so many occasions this season, United created multiple chances only to squander the opportunities and leave themselves vulnerable to a sucker-punch.

The tie should have been put to be long before an additional 30 minutes were needed but United were rescued from the threat of a dreaded penalty shootout by Rashford's wonderful winner. 

The Reds were their own worst enemies with a shocking display of finishing but the victory - although probably deserved - came at a cost.

Already without centre-backs Chris Smalling and Phil Jones through injury, Jose's defensive resources were stretched further when Marcos Rojo was forced off.

The centre-back suffered a nasty looking injury in a 23rd-minute collision, but the biggest concern surrounds talismanic striker Ibrahimovic.

The Swede had endured a nightmare evening before he landed heavily on his knee under a high challenge in the dying moments of normal time.

Rashford delivered against Chelsea and again here as he offered United's attack the pace, penetration and movement that the Swede does not.
However, after his 28 goals this season the loss of Ibrahimovic would still be a major blow and - with the final to be played in his homeland - it would be a cruel twist of fate should he miss out. 

With the fight for a top four finish so tight, and so in the balance, this is a competition that has acquired crucial status for us.
With daunting trips to City, Spurs and Arsenal to come during the run-in, the Europa League provides a welcome safety net. 

This was a vital victory for Jose and the team, but it may yet be victory at a heavy price. 

United face Spanish inquisition in Europa semi finals

United will face La Liga side Celta Vigo on the penultimate step of our Europa League journey after Thursday's extra time win over Anderlecht.

The Spanish team were the only side to not require extra-time in their quarter-final as they drew 1-1 with Genk of Belgium to complete a 3-2 aggregate win.

Lyon knocked out Besiktas in a dramatic penalty shootout and Ajax struck twice deep into extra-time to send them through at the expense of Schalke.

There are no easy matches in European competition, and especially not in a semi-final, but the tie with Celta is the most favourable we could've got.
United will be pleased to avoid the dangerous threats of Ajax and Lyon, who lock horns in the other last four tie, and the biggest test so far awaits in the final (should we get there). 

The first leg of the last four tie will be played at Celta's Balaidos Arena on May 4, with the return at Old Trafford set for a week later on the 11th. 

Like United, Celta have never won this competition but, unlike us, they have no major European pedigree to speak of - with only UEFA's minor Intertoto Cup in 2001.

In fact, Celta have led a nomadic existence and have never won the Spanish top division or the Copa del Rey (although they have been runners up three times). 

Celta qualified for this season's Europa League with a sixth placed league finish last term and have reached this stage via the runners up spot in their group.

Paired in the same group as fellow last-four foes Ajax, their only defeat came away in Amsterdam against the Dutch side.
Three draws left their qualification in the balance until the final round of matches, but having secured a runners up finish, they went on to knock out Shakhtar Donetsk in the last 32.

A slender 2-1 aggregate win saw them through to the last 16 where they despatched Krasnodar comfortably before that aforementioned narrow victory over Genk.

The club play their home games at the 29,000 capacity Balaidos in the "Cola" region of Spain, and are managed by Eduardo Berizzo. 

Their squad includes a few names that will be familiar to United fans.

Former Liverpool man Iago Aspas is now enjoying a renaissance at Celta and ex City, Stoke and Celtic forward John Guidetti is also among their alumnus.

Phone Sisto, who played against the Reds for Midtjylland last season, plies his trade with the club, who took the scalp of Barcelona earlier in the campaign. 

One one hurdle remains for United to reach the showpiece in Stockholm, so let battle commence...

Match report: United 2-1 Anderlecht (a.e.t) (Agg: 3-2)

Marcus Rashford's extra time winner sent United through to the semi finals on a tense night at Old Trafford but victory came at a cost.

The Reds lost both Marcos Rojo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic to serious-looking knee injuries, but Rashford's brilliant 107th-minute strike finally proved decisive.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan had put United ahead but Sofiane Hanni equalised before a countless number of missed chances from the hosts led to a later-than-expected finish.

United began the night with the crucial away goals advantage and started brightly.

Leander Dendoncker flashed an effort over the bar for the Belgians, but the Reds took a nerve-settling lead in the tenth minute when Mkhitaryan continued his European hot streak.

Anderlecht keeper Ruben soon found himself called upon, and kept his side in the tie with two brilliant saves in quick succession.
First, he tipped a Paul Pogba header over the bar before a wonderful reflex save to push away Jesse Lingard's 20-yarder.

Rojo was then stretchered off to add to United's defensive injury problems, and Anderlecht capitalised with a slightly fortuitous equaliser on 32 minutes.

Youri Thielemans deflected strike came back off the bar and fell to Lukasz Teodorczyk, whose scuffed effort was turned in by Hanni.

Sergio Romero saved well from the visitors Polish striker, while at the other end Luke Shaw's ball across goal narrowly evaded the onrushing Lingard.

Substitute Marouane Fellaini went close with a header and Rashford squandered two clear openings to put the Reds ahead as United ratcheted up the pressure.

He fired wide from distance but then somehow failed to convert from six yards with the goal gaping having rounded Ruben.

Pogba lashed over and Ibrahimovic - was was particularly profligate - twice fired wide as the clock ticked down.
Rashford had a goal ruled out before Zlatan fell awkwardly on his knee and had to be taken off in the final minute of normal time.

The Reds almost went back ahead at the start of extra-time in sensational fashion.

Rashford's rabona picked out Pogba who unleashed an acrobatic overhead but Uros Spahic, who had been immense all game, blocked the effort away.

Pogba had a goal ruled out but, with a penalty shootout looming, United finally made the deserved and elusive breakthrough.

Fellaini nodded on Daley Blind's pass and Rashford pulled the ball down, created space for himself and slotted in from close range as Old Trafford erupted. 

Overall team performance: 6/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Marcus Rashford 

Thursday 20 April 2017

Match preview: United v Anderlecht (Agg: 1-1)

United captain Wayne Rooney looks set to return as the Reds bid to finish the job and seal a place in the Europa League semi-finals.

Rooney's missed four games with an ankle injury but trained yesterday and could be named on the bench.
Despite Leander Dendoncker's late goal in Belgium that levelled the scores, Henrikh Mkhitaryan's away goal sees the Reds hold a slender advantage with a last-four spot at stake.

Sergio Romero will start in goal - his eighth starts in eleven European fixtures - and Zlatan Ibrahimovic could also return having been rested against Chelsea.
Juan Mata, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones are out for the rest of the season but United have no fresh injuries.

Having won every home match in this season's competition, boss Jose admitted "motivation is high" as the Reds look to reach a first European semi-final since 2011. 

He said: "If you don't concede, you go through and that's important.
"We know that they have to score or they are out, we play at home and have won every match here in Europe so far so we do not play for a 0-0.
"When you start this competition, perhaps the desire is not high but at this stage, three matches from the final, the motivation is stronger.
"We showed in Brussels and against Chelsea that we are a good side, but we have to keep our motivation high, that is the most important thing."

Both United and their visitors secured important league victories at the weekend, with United's best performance of the season in our 2-0 win over Chelsea to keep alive hopes of a top-four finish.
Anderlecht, meanwhile, kept their title challenge on course with a narrow win at KV Oostende with captain Sofiane Hanni hitting the winner. 

United have reached the last four of this competition once before, under its previous guise of the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup in 1964/65. 
We were eventually beaten 2-1 by Ferencvaros in a play-off but that remains the Reds best run in the tournament - the distinctive silverware on offer this time is the only major trophy missing from United's collection.

There seems a sense of fate in United's destiny with the final to be played in Stockholm on May 24 in Zlatan's home city of Stockholm - where a statue will be erected in his honour. 

In the other last eight ties, Ajax are in command against Schalke and lead 2-0 while Lyon (2-1) and Celta Vigo (3-2) hold narrow leads over Besiktas and Genk respectively.
The draw for the semi finals will be held in Switzerland tomorrow. 

Form guide: United W D D W D W Anderlecht W D D W W W 
Match odds: United 1/4 Draw 5/1 Anderlecht 11/1
Referee: Alberto Mallenco (Spain) 

Monday 17 April 2017

Rashford keeps hope alive that United can nurture youth

United's verve and potency returned in the 2-0 win over Chelsea and no one epitomised that more than Marcus Rashford.

In a week when United manager Jose Mourinho criticised his forwards for their "sloppy" play against Anderlecht, Rashford responded with a brilliant individual performance.

Arguably United's best performer along with the immense Ander Herrera, Rashford was handed a key role in Jose's tactical gameplan and performed it to a tee. 

It wasn't just his tireless and lively personal display, though, but also the affect that had on a United as a team.
His willingness to run, chase and harry meant the Reds were a lot more threatening with a pace and purpose in our attack that has been missing at times this season.  

With a tired Zlatan Ibrahimovic rested, Rashford was again called upon to lead the line and never gave the Chelsea defence a moment's rest.
He returned to his dazzling early promise, scored the opening goal and departed in the 82nd minute to a standing ovation.

Rashford burst on to the scene in fairytale fashion last season with four goals in his first two senior starts and he returned for his second season at the club with everyone expecting wonders. 
He was judged to be a fully fledged pro, the complete article, a finished item but in reality still resembled a raw, rising, up-and-coming talent. 

Mourinho is not known for his faith in youth, though, and with Wayne Rooney departing the scene, Zlatan Ibrahimovic became first choice centre-forward. 

As a result, Rashford has endured a frustrating season out wide in a bit-part role, but there are signs that he is finding his feet again.
He came on and scored at Sunderland last week and was excellent too, in Anderlecht: playing through the middle is clearly to his liking, 

David Luiz has had a superb season back at Chelsea and is one of the main reasons why they look set to win the league title.
But the Brazilian had no answer as Rashford continued his recent renaissance: he was direct, quick, relentless and skilful with the ball at his feet.
He had Luiz and his centre-back cohorts Gary Cahill and Kurt Zouma in a spin, hustling them and running beyond them time and time again.

He continues to keep the hope alive that United can still find young talent and put them on this stage to grow and learn. 

Mourinho usurps old side with perfect tactical masterclass

United's 2-0 win over Chelsea was an afternoon when everything came together perfectly.

Eyebrows were raised when Jose Mourinho's starting line-up did not include Zlatan or Henrikh Mkhitaryan, with Anthony Martial nowhere to be seen.

The result and the manner of our victory showed just how perfectly he had set up the team.

Mourinho has masterminded plenty of "big game" wins down the years, but usually does so with a defensive blueprint with a team that is hard to break down (as we saw at Anfield this season).

Against Chelsea, he flipped that model on its head: we went with two up front and wing backs pushed high up the pitch.
United got on the front foot early and went at them from the get-go. 

We did not give Chelsea an inch of space anywhere on the pitch and didn't allow them to get into any type of rhythm. 

With Ibra rested, the pace and movement of Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard - pushed up alongside his young colleague in a 3-5-2 - offered a threat that instantly troubled Chelsea.
Their work rate gave the visitors a torrid time as the Reds played Antonio Conte's side at their own game, pressing the Blues into submission with a high intensity game plan. 

Rashford was a constant menace and left the field to a standing ovation after a superb performance filled with pace, purpose and electrifying promise.

The real masterstroke was Mourinho's use of Ander Herrera.

Herrera has quickly become a fans favourite at the club for his combative and hard-working displays and will only have enhanced that reputation here. 

Deployed as Eden Hazard's man-marking shadow throughout, Herrera was simply magnificent and typified his team's performance: hungry, energetic, unrelenting and clinical when it mattered. 

The Belgian, one of the best players in the league this season, was totally snuffed out by Herrera who covered his every move and forced him to the fringes.

On a miserable afternoon for Chelsea, Herrera capped his performance with an assist for the opener and the match-sealing second goal.
Harshly sent off on his last appearance against the Blues, this was vindication for the Spaniard.

At the back, Marcos Rojo and Eric Bailly produced an impenetrable defensive display to render the visitors top scorer Diego Costa almost anonymous.
The fiery hitman continued his long-running feud with Rojo throughout, a battle handled superbly by referee Bobby Madley. 

In midfield, Marouane Fellaini and Paul Pogba won every meaningful contest and completely outplayed opposite numbers N'golo Kante and Nemanja Matic. 

This was United's best performance of the season and a perfect tactical victory at the ideal time. 

Match report: United 2-0 Chelsea

United put the champions-elect to the sword in style with our best performance of the season to reignite our hopes of a top four finish.

Goals from Marcus Rashford and Ander Herrera secured a thoroughly deserved win as we ended a winless 12-game run against the west London side.

Jose Mourinho rested Zlatan and Henrikh Mkhitaryan but got one over on his former side at the third time of asking - after two defeats to them so far this season -  with a magnificent tactical masterclass.

This was United's best showing of the season by some distance with Antonio Conte's side harried into submission as the visitors failed to register a shot on target all afternoon. 

The result cut Chelsea's lead at the top to four points following Spurs win over Bournemouth but, more importantly, lifted United back to fifth - four points behind City (with two games in hand).

Marcus Rashford set the tone for what was to follow in the fifth minute when he outpaced David Luiz and pulled his effort narrowly wide. 

Two minutes later, the young striker got his side off to the perfect start with a brilliantly-taken finish.
Despite his handball in the build up, Ander Herrera - magnificent throughout - picked out Rashford with a pinpoint pass and he ran through to slot in beyond stand in stopper Asmir Begovic. 

Begovic thwarted Jesse Lingard with a good low save, Ashley Young fizzed a shot wide and Gary Cahill's misdirected header almost flew into his own net.

It got better for the Reds four minutes after the restart after good work from captain for the day Young.

He drove into the box after his initial cross was cleared by Luiz before he cut the ball back for Herrera.
The Spaniard capped an immense individual performance with a deserved goal when his effort deflected off Zouma and wrongfooted Begovic to extend our lead.

Lingard went close from distance, Rashford fired into the side netting and then tested Begovic with a 20-yarder that the keeper did well to save. 

Chances were at a premium at either end from then on with David de Gea, on his return to the team, largely untroubled.

Conte's side had only lost four league games all season but were unable to respond as the Reds saw out a first win against the Stamford Bridge since 2012. 

Overall team performance: 9.5/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Ander Herrera. Man marked Eden Hazard out of the game and typified the team's performance. Magnificent and simply immense. 

Saturday 15 April 2017

Match preview: United v Chelsea

Jose Mourinho faces his old club for the third time this season with the west London side five wins away from the title.

Antonio Conte has overseen a mightily impressive transformation of the champions-elect since he took charge in the summer, but United have a score to settle with the in-form visitors, who have beaten us twice already this term.

Following the 4-0 horror show in the league in October, United were left with a sense of injustice as Chelsea sealed an FA Cup semi final spot with a controversial 1-0 over us last month.

N'golo Kante's brilliant strike settled a stormy contest that saw Ander Herrera harshly sent off to end the Reds hopes. 

That continued the Blues hoodoo over us-  we've now not beaten them for 13 matches, a run stretching back to  October 2012 when Fergie was in charge (a 3-2 win at The Bridge against nine men). 

This fixture comes at a bad time for United with injuries mounting up and sandwiched between the two legs of our Europa League quarter final with Anderlecht.

That tie is delicately poised at 1-1 with the second leg to come on Thursday, with this our fifth outing in 15 days. 

Chelsea have no such issues - without the rigours of European football they are fresher than us and have a fully fit squad at their disposal ahead of the trip to Old Trafford. 

The remarkable record of no major injury problems has undoubtedly played a part in their seemingly unstoppable march to the title, with Conte able to rely on the same core of players week in week out. 

David de Gea is expected to start having missed the last two matches but Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and Juan Mata are all out for the season.
Wayne Rooney could feature and Ashley Young is also available again.

United boss Jose played down the sentimental aspect of the clash, and said:

"For me it is just another opponent and another game.
"It is not emotional for me, it is a game and I prefer to focus on my team and what we need to do to win. 
"It's not for no reason that they are top of the league, it is not just because they are fresh and have no injuries.
"It is because they have individual quality and collective quality and a certain style of play.
"They stick to it, and do it very well so they are a very good side, a strong team."

Form guide: United W W D D W D Chelsea W W W W W W 
Match odds: United 9/5 Draw 9/3 Chelsea 10/4 
Referee: Bobby Madley (Yorkshire)

United in the quarter final driving seat despite late setback

United again showed a lack of killer instinct in Belgium but remain in control of the quarter-final tie.

A draw away at the leaders of the Belgian top flight, who hung in doggedly to snatch an 87th-minute equaliser, is no bad result.

The first leg draw - our 10th 1-1 of the season - only served to emphasise the mood that for all our quality, might and strength in depth, we remain a frustratingly underwhelming side at times.

Thanks to Henrikh Mkhitaryan's away goal, United are favourites to progress and should have enough to finish the job back at Old Trafford next week.

However, we'll need to avoid similar mistakes such as the one that allowed Leander Dendoncker to steal in and score.
With dangerous opponents elsewhere in the draw, notably Lyon, Ajax and Schalke, similar lapses could easily throw our European ambitions off course. 

The Reds have one foot in the semi finals after a display that yielded plenty of purpose and promise but again we paid the price for wastefulness.

At Old Trafford, we should be too strong for the Belgian side although with this side it is hard to take too much for granted.
The more we let reprieved opponents off the hook, the more likely that, eventually, we'll pay a greater price for doing so. 

From our 52 fixtures in a busy season so far, 14 of them have been draws.

It's not hard to see where United's shortcomings lie - we fail to kill teams off, don't score enough goals and are getting punished for profligacy. 

United's long and protracted Europa League journey has taken in other disappointing evenings away to Feyenoord, Fenerbahce and Rostov.
Jose's frustration in Brussels will be centred not on a poor performance, but one of missed opportunities and a late defensive lapse - as we've seen so often before this season. 

It's becoming a broken record now and Jose is not the only one wondering when - and how -  this team will find the ruthless edge that will make everyone's life a lot easier. 

United are four wins away from securing the only major trophy we've never won and the silverware that launched Jose's career 14 years ago when at Porto. 

Despite having since won the Champions League twice, the boss has maintained throughout our run in Europe that he considers the Europa League to be a pot worth winning. 

We're by far the biggest club left in the competition and, having committed so much to winning it, not going all the way to the Stockholm final in May now seems almost unforgivable.

Friday 14 April 2017

Match report: Anderlecht 1-1 United

United were again made to rue missed chances as a late Leander Dendoncker header cancelled out Henrikh Mkhitaryan's potentially pivotal away goal.

Dendoncker capitalised on a defensive lapse to get in front of Matteo Darmian and power home a header four minutes from time.

Until then, the visitors had dominated almost entirely and deservedly led when Mkhitaryan slotted  in on the angle after Marcus Rashford's shot was spilled.

The Armenian fired wide after the interval and Paul Pogba - otherwise hugely impressive - was denied by goalkeeper Ruben when clean through.

The hosts started brightly and went close inside the first ten minutes when Massimo Bruno - who had earlier fired just wide - had a shot blocked by the lunging Eric Bailly.

United came within inches of the breakthrough on 18 minutes.

Man of the match Rashford nonchalantly pulled down a pass and fizzed the ball in towards Zlatan.

The Swede's stabbed shot ricocheted off Ruben and fell for Jesse Lingard, who in turn could only fire against the post.

Rashford proved a thorn in the Anderlecht side throughout and went close himself moments later when his 20 yarder flashed narrowly wide.

Mkhitaryan had an effort blocked and Lingard was crowded out, but the team got the lead their attacking play deserved on 36 minutes.

A neat move that involved Ibrahimovic saw the ball moved wide to Antonio Valencia, who picked out the onrushing Rashford.
His strike was pushed away, but Mkhitaryan raced on to the loose ball to fire into the roof of the net from a tight angle - his fourth European away goal in as many games. 

Anderlecht started the second half strongly and went close twice in quick succession.

Nicolae Stanciu fired narrowly over the bar from a free-kick, and Bruno's snapshot was hacked away by Valencia and the rebound was cleared.

Having weathered the mini-storm, the Reds went in search of the potentially tie-sealing second goal.

Substitute Anthony Martial was denied by Ruben and Pogba then found himself through on goal, only to be thwarted by a smart save from the keeper.

Sofiane Hanni twice went close with a deflected effort and a shot from distance, but, not for the first time, the Reds were again made to pay for their missed chances.

Dendoncker's bullet header pegged United back to leave the tie in the balance ahead of next week's return leg.
The Reds remain favourites to progress to the semi finals thanks to the away goal, but the tie is beautifully posed at the halfway stage. 

Overall team performance: 7.5/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Marcus Rashford 

Thursday 13 April 2017

Opposition profile: RSC Anderlecht

United make the trip to Brussels to face RSC Anderlecht in the Europa League quarter-final on Thursday. 

But who are the Belgian side and what can the Reds expect from them? United Faithful has the opposition lowdown...

Founded in 1908, Anderlecht play their home matches in the Constant Vanden Stock Stadium in Brussels (capacity 21,845). 
The club are in the process of switching to a new home and look set to move to the 60,000 capacity Eurostadium, which will be the Belgium national side's new stadium and a Euro 2020 venue.

Anderlecht, or the "Purple and Whites" (the colour of their kit) are the most successful side in the country's history with 33 Belgian top-flight titles and five European trophies, more than any other team (sound familiar?)....

Anderlecht's manager is Rene Weiler, who is in his first season at the helm having replaced Albanian boss Besnik Hasi last summer. 
The 43-year-old arrived from FC Nurnberg in Germany and was once capped by Switzerland after he established himself in his homeland with Schaffhausen and then Aarau. 

Much like United, Anderlect have earned a reputation for championing local homegrown young players.
Their current squad is no different, with seven of their first team having risen through the club's youth system.

Considered one of the brightest young prospects in world football, 19-year-old Belgian playmaker Youri Tielemans seems destined for the top, with a number of big European clubs reportedly tracking his progress.

An intelligent all-around midfielder with a superb passing range and an eye for goal, he's already been capped by the Belgium senior team and has been voted Belgian Young Player of the Year for the past two seasons.

Captain Sofiane Hanni is their creative string-puller in chief, and highly rated Romanian Nicolae Stanciu is another player the Reds must watch out for. 

He became the most expensive signing by a Belgian club when joining from Steaua Bucharest in the summer. 

Anderlecht were, of course, our first ever opponents in European competition in 1956.
United won the first game 2-0 in Belgium before Matt Busby's rampant Reds racked up an astonishing 10-0 win at Maine Road - a margin which remains United's biggest competitive victory. 

Anderlecht have a chequered recent history in Europe, but enjoy many successes during the most successful period in their history.
During a memorable decade from 1974 - 1984, the club won two European Cup Winners Cup (74 and 76), two European Super Cups in the same years and a UEFA Cup win in 1982-83. 

This tie with United marks their first quarter-final since 1996-97 when they were knocked out of the UEFA Cup by eventual winners Inter Milan (an omen, perhaps...)

Match preview: Anderlecht v United

United return to European action as the Reds travel to the Belgian capital to take on Anderlecht in the Europa League quarter-final.

The first leg of this last eight clash at the Constant Vanden Stock Stadium represents a first meeting between the sides for 17 years and could prove crucial ahead of next week's Old Trafford return. 

After a second placed league finish last term, Rene Weiler's side missed out on Champions League qualification at the expense of our last 16 opponents FC Rostov. 
Having dropped into the Europa League, the Belgian side finished runners up in their group, behind Saint-Etienne (who we beat in the last 32). 

They impressively got past Zenit Saint Petersburg in the first knockout round on away goals before a 2-0 aggregate win over Cypriot side APOEL Nicosia set up this quarter-final. 

Wayne Rooney has not travelled despite training with the rest of the squad on Wednesday. 

Antonio Valencia has not featured in the Reds last two matches but is expected to return here.
Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and Juan Mata are all sidelined with long term injuries whilst Ander Herrera and Eric Bailly are one booking away from a European ban. 

David de Gea has recovered from his "minor" hip problem but Sergio Romero could keep his place after a ninth clean sheet of the season at Sunderland. 

Anderlecht's top scorer Lukasz Teodorcyzk is doubtful with the 25-goal striker struggling with a shoulder problem. 

United boss Jose is looking to be in a strong position ahead of next week's second leg, and said: "Anderlecht are a good team, they play well, press well and have many talented players so it will be difficult.
"We have that second leg as a protection, but we need to put ourselves in a good position.
"If we don't play well we are in a difficult situation, when a team arrives at this stage of a competition, everyone feels they can win it.
"The motivation is high and we are going to give everything, both in the league and in Europe." 

United head into the match on the back of a 21-match unbeaten domestic run, whilst Anderlecht hold a two-point lead at the top of the Belgian league. 

The other three quarter-final ties take place tonight, as Ajax host Schalke, Genk travel to Celta Vigo and tournament favourites Lyon face Besiktas.

Form guide: Anderlecht D W W W W D United L W W D D W 
Match odds: 20/4 Draw 12/5 United 11/3 
Referee: Felix Brych (Germany)

Monday 10 April 2017

Match report: Sunderland 0-3 United

United moved up to fifth in the Premier League with a comfortable victory over struggling 10-man Sunderland on Wearside.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Marcus Rashford put the Black Cats to the sword, and Seb Larsson was sent off late in the first half to compound their woes. 

David Moyes men have now failed to score in their last seven outings and never looked like ending that torrid run here, with the Reds in control throughout.
They remain rooted to the foot of the table and their relegation to the Championship, after nine successive Premier League seasons, now seems only a matter of time. 

The win stretched United’s unbeaten league run to a 21st match and provided a much needed win after frustrating back-to-back home draws.

United started brightly and went close early on with Jesse Lingard - who signed a lucrative new contract in midweek - kept out by a fine save from Jordan Pickford.

Sergio Romero started a league game for the first time this season with David de Gea ruled out with a “minor problem”.
Sunderland began to impose themselves on the contest and the stand-in stopper was soon called into action.

He saved well to keep out the returning Lee Cattermole before Jermain Defoe fired wide from an offside position after Jack Rodwell had played him in. 

Lingard had another effort tipped wide by Pickford, but the breakthrough was not long in coming and arrived in style on the half hour mark.

Ibrahimovic collected an Ander Herrera pass, rolled Billy Jones, cut inside and smashed in his 28th goal of the season from 20 yards.

United were then indebted to a fine stop from Romero as the Argentine keeper made a fine block to deny the onrushing Victor Anichebe from close range.

Sunderland’s afternoon went from bad to worse when Larsson was harshly dismissed two minutes before the break.
His challenge on Herrera was late but not reckless or malicious, and a yellow card probably would have sufficed but referee Craig Pawson brandished a red.

The match-clinching second goal arrived within 46 seconds of the restart when Mkhitaryan burst into the box and fired in an exquisite finish beyond the advancing Pickford.

The keeper saved well from Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba went close from distance. 

Defoe was denied by Romero from a free-kick and then fired another wide, before United rubber-stamped the result with the third a minute from time.

Substitute Marcus Rashford rounded off a sweeping team move with a close-range finish, a much needed goal for the striker and his first  in the league since September. 

Overall team performance: 7/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Zlatan Ibrahimovic 

Saturday 8 April 2017

Match preview: Sunderland v United

Having dispatched struggling Middlesbrough in their last away game, United are back in the North East for another meeting with relegation threatened opposition.

The Reds travel to Sunderland and the Stadium of Light, a ground which despite the hosts lowly status has not been kind to United in recent seasons.

The last two visits have yielded a solitary point and our last win there came in 2013 under the man now charged with plotting his former side's downfall, David Moyes.

After nine successive seasons of struggle in the Premier League, time looks set to have finally run out on the perennial relegation battlers. 
Rooted to the bottom, Sunderland have failed to score in their last six outings, have lost five of their last six with five wins all season and are ten points adrift of safety with seven to play. 

Moyes replaced England-bound Sam Allardyce (ironically now in charge of relegation rivals Crystal Palace) in the summer but he has been unable to oversee the fast-finishing surge that has become Sunderland's trademark. 

Poor preparation, lack of quality and a jumbled collection of stop-gap signings has made their slide back into the Championship a seemingly inevitable one. 

Ashley Young and Wayne Rooney are doubtful, with long term absentees Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and Juan Mata all ruled out.
Antonio Valencia is set to return after he was rested against Everton and Luke Shaw could also feature after his lively cameo off the bench in that match. 

There are a number of ex Reds in the hosts alumnus on the pitch as well as in the dugout.

Adnan Januzaj is ineligible to face his "parent" club, but John O'Shea, Donald Love and Darron Gibson could all face their former side.
Paddy McNair (another ex Red), Jan Kirchhoff, Duncan Watmore and Steven Pienaar are all injured, but Lee Cattermole and Victor Anichebe return. 

United manager Jose Mourinho said: "We have a fantastic run of 20 matches unbeaten in the Premier League, this is not an easy thing to achieve and not many others do it
"We are fighting against difficult circumstances, in terms of looking to the future then I prefer to look at 10 matches with 10 draws. 
"You have something that is not easy to have, solid mentally, hard to beat, you show fight and resilience but you know that points are the reality." 

Form guide: Sunderland L L L D L L United D L W W D D 
Match odds: Sunderland 25/1 Draw 4/1 United 1/3 
Referee: Craig Pawson 

Wednesday 5 April 2017

Rashford's ten game goal drought not for the want of trying

Marcus Rashford extended his goal drought to a tenth game as he drew another blank on Tuesday.

Despite a lively and hard-working performance against Everton, Rashford failed to find the net and has now not scored in the league since the 4-1 win over Leicester in September.

Having burst on to the scene in spectacular style last term, going on to hit eight goals in 18 appearances, Rashford's 40 games this term have yielded just seven.

He threatened to continue his marvellous breakthrough campaign with a similarly explosive start this time around - scoring against Hull, Watford, Northampton and that aforementioned Leicester match. 

Since then, it's been a season of struggle for Rashford. 

His last goal was the equaliser in the FA Cup tie at Blackburn in February and before that you have to go back another ten games to find his name on the scoresheet. 

That also came in the FA Cup, as he scored twice in the 4-0 third round win over Reading in January. 

Rashford changed the game when he came on for England against Lithuania and his lack of goals certainly haven't been for the want of trying.

Despite the calls to send the teenager out on loan, Jose looks set to stick by his young striker having been impressed with his work rate, energy and industry.

It was always going to be a tough ask to expect a repeat of Rashford's exploits last season, when he scored four times in his first two United games.

He hit a double on his debut against Midtjylland and then followed that up with a breath-taking brace on his league bow in the frenetic win over Arsenal. 

Rashford played mostly as the the central striker under Louis van Gaal, occasionally deployed on the left wing when required.

This term, the roles have very much been reversed with Jose preferring to deploy Rashford wide on the left in his one-striker system.
A combination of playing out of his natural position, a lack of confidence due to his goal drought, and the burden of expectation to support Zlatan in the goalscoring stakes has taken the toll on Rashford. 

He was moved centrally to fit the void in Zlatan's suspension and was only denied against West Brom by two very good Ben Foster stops. 
Before that, he deserved a goal in an impressive display at Middlesbrough and rose from his sick bed to run himself into the ground in a valiant FA Cup effort at Chelsea.

Another frustrating night as misfiring United draw again

Zlatan Ibrahimovic preserved our unbeaten run but the 1-1 draw with Everton was an eighth home stalemate of the season.

The Reds were staring at a first defeat since the 4-0 at Chelsea in October before Zlatan's calmly taken penalty sent Robles the wrong way and salvaged a point.

In many of the other seven Old Trafford draws, United have played well and been thwarted by a combination of deep defences, inspired opposition goalkeepers and the pressure of expectations. 

The biggest frustration is that we don't seem far away, we are unbeaten in 20 games in the league stretching back to October.
Mourinho has won one trophy already and can still take us into the Champions League by winning another - if that happens (as it should), then his first season must be considered a success. 

Despite what the critics will say, there has been definite improvement but the problem is clear: United do not score enough goals and look at least one striker short.

Zlatan has enjoyed a hugely productive first season in English football and his late goal on Tuesday took him to 27 for the season.
However, he has had his fair share of missed chances, Marcus Rashford is lacking confidence and Anthony Martial has failed to secure a regular starting place.

One on the main differences between this side and that of Louis van Gaal has been the more eye-catching style of play, with a preference for fluid build up and getting the ball into the box quickly. 

The performance against Everton, however, was one of the worst this season and a throwback to the days of Jose's immediate predecessor.

Perhaps because of the absence of the injured Juan Mata, United struggled for creativity with much of the play in front of the Everton defence - often sideways and backwards without showing any real strategy to break down the visitors. 

On a night when we lacked cohesion and incisiveness  a reshuffle to the side saw Herrera drop to left-back following the withdrawal of Daley Blind at half-time.
Despite the presence of Matteo Darmian and Luke Shaw on the bench, Herrera swapped position with Ashley Young to move to right-back. 

Shaw did eventually come on, and would have a hand (literally) in the equaliser, but only as an enforced change after Young's injury.

It was all very confusing and muddled and that transcended through the team on a rare off-night for the Reds.

Match report: United 1-1 Everton

A Zlatan Ibrahimovic penalty deep into injury time rescued a scarcely deserved point for United against impressive Everton. 

Phil Jagielka put the Toffees ahead in the first half as the Reds toiled for long periods.

Despite hitting the woodwork twice, United's 20-match unbeaten run looked to be over until Ashley Williams handled Luke Shaw's shot and Zlatan levelled things.

Zlatan and Ander Herrera both returned from suspension and the Swede went close early on, when he was thwarted by a superb lunging challenge from Williams.

Jesse Lingard flashed a shot wide and Marcus Rashford also went close but was flagged offside. 

Ronald Koeman's side had barely threatened but grew into the contest and soon called David de Gea into action. 
From the resultant corner, the visitors moved ahead as Jagielka stabbed home from close range from a Williams flick on.

That put the wind in Everton's sails and they almost doubled their lead straight away when Romelu Lukaku burst through but fired narrowly wide. 

Joel Robles saved well from a Daley Blind free-kick and Herrera fired against the bar on the angle from the follow-up.

Herrera, along with Eric Bailly, was United's best player on the night and went close again, only to be denied by a superb sprawling save from Robles.

Ashley Young fired across goal and Rashford, lively as always, got himself into a good position but a brilliant challenge from Jagielka ensured Everton held on to their lead at the break. 

Fit-again Paul Pogba was introduced at half-time and almost equalised on 54 minutes as United hit the woodwork for a second time.

After Rashford was fouled by Gareth Barry, Young's free-kick glanced off Lukaku and Pogba's header rebounded off the post. 

De Gea saved well from a Barry header, and Maroaune Fellaini poked just wide of the post after he created space for himself.

Ibrahimovic thought he had equalised when he headed home a Herrera cross, only for assistant referee Scott Ledger to flag for offside, a decision which was marginal but correct. 

Despite a sub-standard performance for long periods, United piled on the pressure in the closing stages as Everton determinedly clung to their slender lead.

Lingard's deflected effort flew inches wide, Marcos Rojo headed over and Ibrahimovic went close with a snapshot. 

This side is nothing if not spirited though, and preserved the long unbeaten league run in dramatic style in the third minute of injury time.

Shaw's goalbound shot was handled by the stretching Williams, who was subsequently sent off, and Ibrahimovic kept his cool to slam home the spot-kick. 

Overall team performance: 6/10
United Faithful  Man of the Match: Eric Bailly. Classy and kept Lukaku quiet with an assured display.