Monday 24 July 2017

Real 1-1 United: US Tour talking points

United's latest Stateside encounter ended with a 2-1 penalty shootout victory over the European and La Liga champions in Santa Clara.

We take a look at some of the major talking points from the Reds fourth Tour game in the USA.

There have been some strange sights on the Reds pre-season sojourn, from the pyrotechnics in LA to Drake's cameo in Houston and a freak storm in Salt Lake.
However, the bizarre sight of Ronald McDonald (or was it David Moyes) leading the teams out here topped the lot - with the fast food chain's mascot shaking the hands of each player before kick-off.

United lined up with largely a second string in the first half, whilst Zinedine Zidane started with his first XI for his side's opening pre-season match.
In contrast, Real's second-half team consisted mainly of reserve and youth players, with many of Jose's first choice players handed a run out after half time.

24-year-old Jesse Lingard proved a thorn in Real's full-strength defence throughout his first half appearance, a constant threat with his pace, movement and link-up play.

Having gone close three times with efforts from distance, Lingard capped a superb individual performance with a goal and stood out as his side's most impressive player in the first half.

Cristiano Ronaldo has not travelled to the USA with his Real team-mates, having taken the summer off following his Confederations Cup exploits with Portugal.
His country finished third in that tournament, which only finished three weeks ago. 

It remains unclear when he will return for Los Blancos, although it seems likely that he will play for them against United in the UEFA Super Cup on 8 August. 

Boss Jose Mourinho confirmed that long-time Real target David de Gea is "100% staying" at Old Trafford, with the Reds having rebuffed a £60m from the club for the goalkeeper in May.

The United manager admitted, however, that De Gea faces stiff competition from Argentine Sergio Romero, who proved to be his able deputy whenever called upon last term.

The Reds will conclude their 18-day trip to the US with another eagerly anticipated heavyweight clash against Spanish giants, this time in the shape of Ernesto Valverde's Barcelona on Wednesday. 

Following the completion of our pre-season, with further matches against Valerenga and Sampdoria to come, Real will provide the opposition once more in the Super Cup meeting in Macedonia. 

That will provide a stern test for United and the chance to lift silverware ahead of the start of the Premier League season. 

Pre-season Tour: United 1-1 Real Madrid (2-1 on penalties)

United edged out Zinedine Zidane's European champions on penalties in Santa Clara after Casemiro cancelled out Jesse Lingard's exquisite opener. 

The Reds - who will lock horns with the Spanish giants again in the UEFA  Super Cup on 8 August - were involved in one of the comically awful shoot-outs ever witnessed. 

Only three of the ten spot-kicks found the target, with Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Daley Blind and Real's Miguel Quezada the only players to be successful from 12 yards. 

Martial, Mateo Kovacic, Scott McTominay and Oscar missed the opening four penalties, before Mkhitaryan and Quezada both scored.
Lindelof and Real's new signing Theo Hernandez then also both failed to covert, but Blind made it 2-1 and Casemiro struck the bar with the final effort to conclude a 2-1 success for the Reds. 

Lingard called Keylor Navas into action with an early effort from distance, and went close again with a 25-yard yarder that drifted narrowly wide shortly afterwards.

The Academy graduate was United's most impressive performer, and he capped a superb individual showing with a deserved goal on the stroke of half time.
It was a strike indebted to a breathtaking solo run by Martial, who slalomed beyond five Real players and cut the ball back for the lurking Lingard who applied the finish. 

Marcelo had an instant reply ruled out for offside before the usual raft of half-time changes by both bosses to give all squad members a handy run-out.
Jose made eight substitutions at the interval and was forced to make a ninth six minutes later when Ander Herrera struggled off clutching his ribs, replaced by young Academy player McTominay. 

Debutant Hernandez went down under a mistimed challenge from Lindelof and Casemiro stepped up to slam home the spot-kick beyond David de Gea.

Eight minutes later, play was halted for a second time for a water break to keep both sets of players hydrated in the searing Californian heat.
Marouane Fellaini fired wide late on when well placed, before - despite only being a pre-season fixture - penalties would be needed to determine the winner. 

United: Romero (De Gea 46); Fosu - Mensah (Blind 46), Bailly (Lindelof 46), Jones (Smalling 46), Darmian (Valencia 78); Carrick (Herrera 46) (McTominay 51), Fellaini; Pereira (Pogba 46), Lingard (Mkhitaryan 46), Martial; Rashford (Lukaku 46). 
Real Madrid: Keylor Navas; Carvajal (Hakimi 46), Varane (Quezada 46), Nacho (Manu 46), Marcelo; Modric (Kovacic 46), Kroos, Isco (Oscar 46); Lucas Vazquez (T Hernandez 46), Benzema (Gomez 46), Bale (Franchu 46). 

Friday 21 July 2017

US Tour: United 2-0 City

Romelu Lukaku scored for the second time in as many games as United won the first ever Manchester derby to be played on foreign soil.

The Reds winning Tour run continued in Houston as Lukaku and Marcus Rashford - paired up front together for the first time - hit a quickfire double shortly before the break. 

The two sides had been scheduled to meet during last year's pre-season schedule, only for the match in Beijing to be called off due to an unfit pitch. 

For United, it was a third win from three matches in the US following the thrashing of LA Galaxy and the narrow, fiery 2-1 win over Real Salt Lake.

Ander Herrera went close from distance inside the opening five minutes, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan then had a snap-shot pushed away by new City keeper Ederson.

David de Gea twice saved well from Raheem Sterling, before Chris Smalling recovered well from a slip to block from Patrick Roberts and Sterling again. 

United made the decisive breakthrough eight minutes shy of the interval, however, as our £75m signing showcased the extent of his impressive repertoire. 

Paul Pogba's sublime outside-of-the-foot pass picked out Lukaku, who outpaced the advancing Ederson, knocked the ball around him and slammed home a brilliant finish from an acute angle.

Tow minutes later, United moved 2-0 ahead through Rashford, who fired in from close range after excellent work from Mkhitaryan in the build up. 

Despite the usual raft of changes from Messrs Mourinho and Guardiola at the interval, United continued to keep up the pressure and could've moved further ahead by the hour mark. 

Rashford went for the spectacular and forced a good save from Ederson, and Lukaku then headed wide before he later rattled the crossbar.

City youngster Phil Foden went close with a lob at the other end, whilst Leroy Sane was narrowly off-target with a strike from distance. 

United substitute Phil Jones was denied a rare goal by Ederson's incredible triple save from a corner late on, but the match - and with it the bragging rights - was already wrapped up. 

United: De Gea (Romero 46); Valencia (Fosu - Mensah 78), Lindelof (Bailly 46), Smalling (Jones 46), Blind (Darmian 46); Mkhitaryan (Carrick 62), Pogba, Herrera (Fellaini 62), Lingard (A Pereira 77); Rashford (Martial 62), Lukaku. 
City: Ederson; Walker, Adarabioyo (Mangala 46), Kompany (Stones 46), Fernandinho; De Bruyne (Otamendi 46), Yaya Toure (Diaz 46); Sterling (Nasri 46), Roberts (Sane 46), Foden (Zinchenko 75); Aguero (de Jesus 46). 

Sunday 16 July 2017

Pre-season Tour: LA Galaxy 2-5 United

United kicked off their 2017 Stateside Tour in impressive fashion after another comprehensive win over LA Galaxy.

The Reds had brushed aside the same opponents with a 7-0 scoreline in the last meeting in 2014 ago and picked up where they left off in this year's opener.

Marcus Rashford scored twice and further goals from Marouane Fellaini, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Anthony Martial completed the rout in the first of seven matches 'across the pond'. Jose

United fielded two different line-ups - one in each half - at the StubHub Centre in a match that also saw debuts for new signings Victor Lindelof and £75m man Romelu Lukaku.

Jose Mourinho's side went ahead inside two minutes through Rashford, who swept home a clinical finish from close range after good work from Jesse Lingard.

Juan Mata had an effort saved by Galaxy keeper Jon Kempin and the Spaniard was involved again as United moved 2-0 ahead after 20 minutes.

Ander Herrera and new captain Michael Carrick linked up well for the latter to pick out Mata whom in turn found Rashford to apply another excellent finish.

Six minutes later, it was 3-0 when Lingard burst into the box, turned and found Fellaini who smashed the ball home.

Lingard and Mata both went close in quick succession and Chris Smalling then had a goal chalked out for an offside infringement shortly before the break.

As promised, Jose utilised a completely different XI for the second half to give as many players as possible a run-out.

Two of the new arrivals were debutants Lindelof and Lukaku, and the latter almost scored with his first touch three minutes after coming on, but Kempin saved well. 

Martial and Mkhitaryan were also denied by the Galaxy keeper, but Kempin could do little to stop the Armenian for United's fourth goal on 67 minutes.

Mkhitaryan collected the ball in midfield, found Martial and then received the Frenchman's clever reverse pass to slot home.
Martial himself then finished with aplomb having been set up by Tim Fosu - Mensah for the fifth with 18 minutes to play.

The Galaxy pulled two goals back in the closing stages, both through former Spurs and Barcelona man Giovani dos Santos, but that proved little more than a consolation. 

United first half: De Gea; Valencia, Jones, Smalling, Blind; Carrick, Herrera, Fellaini; Mata, Rashford, Lingard.
United second half: J Pereira; Tuanzebe, Lindelof, Bailly, Darmian; Fosu - Mensah (Mitchell 85), Pogba; A Pereira, Mkhitaryan, Martial; Lukaku. 

Tuesday 11 July 2017

Romelu Lukaku: A top class signing or an overpriced gamble?

When Zlatan Ibrahimovic was announced to be leaving the club last month, it became clear United would move into the market for a striker.

Atletico Madrid's transfer ban meant that Antoine Griezmann became a no-go, Andrea Belotti was looked at and Real Madrid's Alvaro Morata was also heavily linked.

The out-of-favour forward has fallen down Zinedine Zidane's pecking order and quickly became United's number one target. After negotiations slowed and then stalled, however, an agreement could not be reached and the Reds were forced to look elsewhere.

Last week's announcement that a deal had been reached for Everton's Romelu Lukaku - who looked set to move back to Chelsea - came out of the blue and wasn't a move that we saw coming. The deal has now been confirmed and Lukaku will be a Manchester United player next season.

The 24-year-old Belgian forged an impressive goalscoring record at Everton that is difficult to argue with but the question is whether he can transfer that form in front of goal at Old Trafford. Everton played to his strengths and he became the focal point of their attack, but his style of play is different from anyone we've had up front for a while.

Whilst the Belgian doesn't have the technical qualities of a Morata or a Griezmann, he's quick, powerful, plays "on the shoulder" and is at his best running in behind.
All valuable assets for a proven Premier League striker - which Lukaku certainly is - but is that alone good enough to shine on the biggest stage he now finds himself on? 

With a huge £75 million price tag, a club with an expectant global fanbase and a demanding, high-profile manager, Lukaku will need to prove he has the temperament to deal with the added pressure.  Morata, although older than Lukaku, looks a better fit for the tactical and technical challenge the Champions League will bring.

In the past three seasons, Lukaku has made 36 league appearances against Chelsea, United, City, Arsenal, Spurs and Liverpool and has scored just five times. His perhaps unfair reputation as a "flat track bully" marks him out for criticism, but a failure to beat those so called "lesser" sides last season - particularly at home - proved United's chronic undoing. 

A master exponent of turning draws into wins against those lesser lights could be exactly what we need to challenge for a Premier League title.  Then again, having paid £75m on a striker, the expectation will be for Lukaku to add big game goals to his repertoire of undoubted talent. 

Is he good enough for a club of United's size and stature?

Time, ultimately, will tell.

United complete £75 million Romelu Lukaku signing

United have completed the signing of Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku for an initial £75m fee on a five year contract.

The deal, believed to include £15m for add ons, could eventually rise as high as £90m and eclipse the world record fee we paid for Paul Pogba last summer. 

The transfer comes the day after former United captain Wayne Rooney went the other way to return to his boyhood club on a free. 

Lukaku was the second highest scorer in the league last term with 25 for Everton, and boasts an impressive ratio of 71 goals in 110 games over four seasons at Goodison Park.

Champions Chelsea matched United's bid for the striker but missed out on re-signing their former player.

Despite their last-ditch attempt to prise Lukaku from United's grasp, Chelsea weren't willing to match the fee agent Mino Raiola will earn from his player's move to Old Trafford. 

The striker, a long term target for the Reds, was on the list of forward options that Jose Mourinho gave to executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward to replace Zlatan Ibrahimovic at the end of the season.

With United looking to first Antoine Griezmann and then Real Madrid's Alvaro Morata, Lukaku had been expected to return to Chelsea and news of United's bid for him came as a surprise to many. 

The striker was sold to Everton for a then club-record £28m by Mourinho during the boss's second spell at Chelsea in July 2014.

Lukaku, who scored for Belgium in both the 2014 World Cup and Euro 2016, has linked up with United ahead of the pre-season tour to the US and trained with the team on Monday. 

The 24-year-old spoke of his delight at signing for United, and said:

"When Manchester United and Jose Mourinho come knocking at the door, it is an opportunity of a lifetime and one that you cannot turn down. I cannot wait to run out at Old Trafford for one of the biggest clubs in the world in front of 75,000 fans. You could see the fight, determination and spirit in this team during the Europa League final and I'm delighted to be able to become a part of that. He (Mourinho) is a manager that always helps to win trophies, I have a good relationship with him and can't wait to get started." 

Lukaku is yet to be allocated a squad number but looks set to pick up either Wazza's old number 10 shirt or inherit the number 9 from Zlatan. 

Monday 10 July 2017

United jet out for annual pre-season Tour

A 27-man United squad flew out to Los Angeles on Sunday as the club return to the USA for our annual pre-season tour.

Jose Mourinho and the team will face five matches Stateside, with new signing Victor Lindelof and youngsters Scott McTominay and Demetri Mitchell on the squad list. 

This is the Reds third successive pre-season trip to the USA with United once more set to participate in the oddly-named International Champions Cup. 

The tour kicks off on Saturday against LA Galaxy at the StubHub Centre - looking for a repeat of the 7-0 victory last year -  before we face another Major League Soccer side, Real Salt Lake, 48 hours later.

A mouthwatering meeting with Manchester City, in the first ever overseas derby, will then follow on 20 July in Houston as we go head-to-head with a familiar foe on unfamiliar territory. 

The Reds then conclude the US leg of the tour with a further pair of heavyweight clashes against La Liga giants.

We face Super Cup opponents Real Madrid on 23 July in Santa Clara, and Barcelona three days later in the capital, Washington DC. 

Having returned from the States, Mourinho's men will play two more tour matches, against Valerenga in Oslo (30 July) and Sampdoria (2 August) in Dublin. 

For the fans, it will be the first opportunity to see Swedish international Lindelof at the heart of the defence, as the squad look to build fitness and their competitive edge ahead of the season opener. 

For youngsters McTominay, Mitchell and Axel Tuanzebe, the tour is their big chance to impress their manager as he prepares to finalise his Premier League squad for 2017-18. 

As well as the seven high-profile pre season fixtures, the Reds have the chance to win yet more silverware in the shape of the UEFA Super Cup.
That takes place in Skopje on August 8 and pits  Europa League winners United against Champions League holders Real for a second meeting in as many weeks. 

Tour 2017 schedule:

15 July LA Galaxy v United, StubHub Centre
17 July Real Salt Lake v United, Rio Tinto Stadium
20 July Manchester City v United, NRG Stadium
23 July United v Real Madrid, Levi's Stadium
26 July, United v Barcelona, FedEx Field
30 July, Valerenga IF v United, Ullevaal Stadium
2 August, UC Sampdoria v United, Aviva Stadium

Travelling tour squad: De Gea, Romero, J Pereira
Darmian, Fosu - Mensah, Valencia, Bailly, Blind, Jones, Lindelof, Rojo, Smalling, Tuanzebe, Mitchell
Shaw, Carrick, Fellaini, Herrera, McTominay, Pogba, Lingard, Mata, Mkhitaryan, A Pereira, Young
Martial, Rashford 

Farewell Wazza: Our tribute to a United legend

Wayne Rooney's departure after 13 years at Old Trafford seems the perfect time to end all debate and simply applaud one of the best players United have ever seen. 

No cult hero, no homegrown prodigy, no imported genius has ever left a bigger mark on the Old Trafford record books.
His historic haul of 253 goals is only eight fewer than George Best and Eric Cantona combined, and it took 44 years for Sir Bobby's seemingly unbreakable record to be beaten.

In an era where one-club longevity is increasingly rare, Rooney's tally will go unsurpassed for a long, long time.

He's not only played a pivotal part in one of the richest periods in United's history, he's also dragged us out of the dark and towards the light in the turbulent post-Ferguson era.

The FA Cup success under Louis van Gaal in 2016 - with Wazza man of the match in the final - brought the winning habit back to Old Trafford and completed his collection of domestic honours. 

His first season alone gave us enough memories to last a lifetime.

The debut hat-trick, the anger-fuelled volley against Newcastle, his first winner at Anfield and the unstoppable human wrecking ball display at Highbury. 
A heroic performance in the FA Cup against the Gunners somehow went unrewarded but he was picking up weekly man of the match awards.

In his third season, a certain Cristiano was now on board and Rooney began to share the spotlight in terrifying tandem with his young colleague.
The following two campaigns yielded Premier League titles, and Rooney's selfless willingness to operate out wide allowed CR7 to become one of the modern game's great centre-forwards.

Following Cristiano's departure to Real Madrid in 2009, Rooney took on the role of the responsible, line-leading goalscorer.
The teenage tyro who made us dream of future glories grew into the battle-hardened pro to make them a reality. 

Since then, he's cracked in the greatest goal Old Trafford has ever witnessed, smashed home vital title-winning efforts, scored in a Champions League final and won the Europa League to complete the set of major honours.

Rooney top scored in 2011-12, 2012-13 and 2014-15, only slipping down the scoring charts amid Jose's process of reinventing a United side in need of remodelling.

The time is right for Rooney's tenure at Old Trafford to end - he is no longer the figurehead he once was and is determined to remain a focal point.

The moment is not only right for goodbye, but for a full and proper appreciation of a magnificent player whose Old Trafford legend will remain untouched by time.

Rooney's status as a United legend is unquestionable

Never has a player divided opinion as much as Wayne Rooney but his status as a legend at our club cannot be questioned. Certainly not with any degree of conviction, anyway.

Rooney's was a United career littered with goals, trophies and world class moments of match changing brilliance.
He won everything there is to win at club level and became the all time record goalscorer for both club and country - with 253 goals in 559 appearances at United.
Rooney hit double figures in all but one of his 13 United seasons - winning the Fans Player of the Year award twice - and only Alan Shearer is ahead of him on the list of all time Premier League hitmen. 

He eclipsed Sir Bobby Charlton twice to achieve both feats and became the first man to hit a half century of goals for his country - for whom he is also the youngest ever goalscorer.

Despite this, his critics will argue that he never hit the heights with England, and that Rooney failed to contribute on the big stage at major tournaments.
There may be an element of truth to that valid point, but the same can be said for many other players in England's so called "Golden Generation". Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard were unable to turn their stellar club exploits into England success and even the greatest of them all, Lionel Messi, has arguably underachieved during his time with Argentina. 

When the dust settles, Rooney will deservedly forever be remembered as a United legend who scored more goals than anyone else and became a leading light in one of Old Trafford's greatest ever sides.

Reaching three European Cup finals in four seasons proved how good that team was and 'Wazza' was an integral part of that unique, history making squad.

At the peak of his powers between 2004 and 2011, Rooney was simply unplayable and the finest British player of his era.

We'll forever remember the supremely gifted firebrand striker who scored THAT hat-trick on his debut and went on to re-write the record books.

Rooney lifted 16 major trophies across 13 decorated seasons at United, he captained the side  and became an inspirational talisman for club and country. 

Rooney has slowly been phased out of the first team since he signed a new four-year contract at the club back in 2014.
He didn't take the chances afforded to him by Jose last season and that made his departure inevitable once his former side came calling.

He turned down lucrative offers from the US and China to "return home" and finish his career back at his hometown club, where it all began.

Thanks Wazza, we'll miss you.

End of a glittering Old Trafford era as Rooney rejoins Everton

Wayne Rooney has ended his 13-year United career and rejoined former club Everton on a free transfer.

The United captain leaves Old Trafford having made an indelible mark on our club's recent history having eclipsed Sir Bobby as leading scorer with 253 goals in 559 appearances. 

Three of those will surely go down as among the greatest United have ever seen.
There was the angry volley against Newcastle that almost blew the Stretford End net to pieces, his overhead kick winner in the derby and the halfway line lob at Upton Park in 2014. 

Since he signed from Goodison Park as a precociously gifted 17 year old, Rooney has sent records tumbling and won every major honour in the domestic and European game. 

He won five Premier League titles, an FA Cup, three League Cups, the Champions League, Europa League and a Club World Cup. 

Despite all that - Rooney also became England's all time leading marksman in 2015 - there remains a baffling sense of unfulfilled potential.

His move away should come as no surprise, with Rooney having always expressed a desire to      end his career back where it began.
Pushed out of the United starting XI last season, he was left out of both cup finals and it has been apparent for some time that the curtain was coming down on his Old Trafford career. 

Between his arrival in 2004 and that ill-fated World Cup red card two years later, Rooney led the way as 'senior' youngster to the emerging superstar of Cristiano Ronaldo.

Rooney looked set to be the player more likely to hit the astonishing heights that the Portuguese has gone on to reach. 

The captain outshone Ronaldo at United, scoring more and winning more trophies with the club, but yet we're told Rooney has not lived up to his dazzling early promise.

Maybe it's because he peaked unusually young, never nailed down a best position (preferring the role of the "street footballer" by filling in anywhere), or that the genuine affection afforded to other United greats largely remained elusive. 

There were the two high profile attempts to wrangle a move away, citing the club's lack of ambition, his accent and possibly his status as an expensive export from Liverpool. 

Maybe, as with David Beckham, the passing of time will allow Rooney's United career to be judged more favourably.
Certainly, if recent history is anything to go by, it will be a while before any such newcomer arrives at United and creates the unforgettable legacy 'Wazza' has left behind. 

Thank you for everything, skip...