Sunday 27 August 2017

United pass first test of credentials to maintain perfect start

It is always worth remembering that you cannot win the Premier League title in August, but you can certainly lose it.

Early days, perhaps, but heady ones indeed for Jose and the team - we could not have done any more than this in the fledgling stages of the campaign so far. 

United go into the ill-timed international break having won three out of three in the league and sitting on top of the table, looking down on the other title contenders.

Ten goals scored, none conceded, United have looked the best team in the country up to this point.

It is also worth noting that we won our opening three games of last season, yet still contrived to finish well off the title pace in a sixth placed finish.

We look well equipped to challenge for the title in a very promising start, but that is all it is. 

This was a win that wasn't as eye-catching as the 4-0 thumpings of West Ham and Swansea, but that arguably makes it more important and satisfying.

The visit of Craig Shakespeare's Leicester City side - champions two seasons ago - presented United with the first true test of the campaign. 

It was an examination of credentials that we passed and an important box to tick given last season's failings.

Beating resolute, well organised teams with a limited game plan and stunted ambition proved United's chronic Achilles heel that sucked the life out of a potential title challenge.

Leicester made the Reds work incredibly hard, defending deep and in numbers as they were indebted to Kasper Schmeichel - whose second half penalty save from Romelu Lukaku added to United's frustration.

The Reds peppered the opposition area with crosses from wide during the first half, but the threat from the wings was comfortably dealt with by the Foxes defensive giants Wes Morgan and Harry Maguire.

Lukaku had an afternoon that he will want to forget quickly as he toiled against the visitors powerful backline, but Jose remained calm and sent on the fresh legs of Marcus Rashford, Marouane Fellaini and Jesse Lingard.

That prompted a switch in the manager's thinking, as United began to breach Leicester's resilient rearguard with shorter balls from a more central position.

The changes made all the difference and only further demonstrated the strength in depth and embarrassment of riches that Jose has at his disposal.

Rashford broke the deadlock only three minutes after coming on and Fellaini then linked up with Lingard to make the game safe and extend United's winning run.

Match report: United 2-0 Leicester City

United finally broke down Leicester's resilient rearguard and maintained their 100% start to the season through goals from substitutes Marcus Rashford and Marouane Fellaini.

Having won the first two matches against West Ham and Swansea with a 4-0 scoreline, the Reds passed the sternest test of their credentials so far and continue to set the Premier League pace.

We were made to work hard for the win, though, with Kasper Schmeichel in superb form as the champions from two seasons defended doggedly and in numbers for much of the contest. 

The Reds had applied constant pressure on the Foxes massed defence and endured an afternoon of frustration as Schmeichel saved a Romelu Lukaku penalty in the second half.

That was until Rashford - three minutes after he had come on - fired in from Henrikh Mkhitaryan's corner to break the deadlock with 20 to play. 

Fellow sub Fellaini then added a second from close range to put the result beyond doubt eight minutes from time.

United started strongly and thought they had gone ahead early on when Juan Mata pounced on the rebound of Lukaku's saved shot, only to be flagged offside.

The Reds bossed possession during the opening half, in no small part down to the Reds midfield dominance against Craig Shakespeare's Leicester side.
Despite the lack of a goal, it was not for the want of trying as Paul Pogba twice went close from distance and Schmeichel saved superbly from Mata.

Seven minutes into the second half United were quite literally handed the chance to go ahead when Danny Simpson was adjudged to have handled a Martial cross.

Lukaku stepped up to take the spot-kick but was denied his fourth goal of the season as Schmeichel guessed right and brilliantly pushed it away.  

Having started those first two league games, Rashford was then introduced in place of Martial and the change reaped dividends for Jose and the team.

Mkhitaryan's flag-kick - his fifth assist of the campaign already - picked out the young striker and he volleyed in his first of the season from ten yards on 70 minutes. 

From then on, the result never looked in doubt but Fellaini gave the hosts breathing space when he turned home fellow substitute Jesse Lingard's shot, despite suspicions of offside.

David de Gea had been a virtual spectator throughout, such was United's dominance, but the keeper was called into action at the death.

A superb point-blank stop from Andy King preserved the Reds third consecutive clean sheet and sent United into the international break sitting atop the Premier League summit.

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

Friday 25 August 2017

United to face familiar foes in the Champions League

United's return to the Champions League saw them pitted into Group A alongside Benfica, FC Basel and CSKA Moscow.

Absent from the competition last season, Europa League winners United have avoided all of European football's powerhouses and been handed a relatively kind draw. 

The Reds could have been paired with heavyweights Bayern Munich, Juventus or Real Madrid from Pot One, and difficult ties with Roma, Napoli and Besiktas from Pot Three. 

Our satisfaction at one of the more appealing groups, however, will be mitigated by the memory of 2011 when we drew both the Portuguese champions and Basel but could only finish third. 

Added to the prospect of an always difficult trip to Moscow and these are a series of fixtures that will require full focus with the opposition not to be underestimated. 

Top seeds Benfica - the club's opponents on that famous Wembley night in 1968 - sold defender Victor Lindelof to United in the summer.

Fellow new signing Nemanja Matic also plied his trade for the Lisbon giants whilst for boss Jose Mourinho, it's a return to the club where he began his managerial career in 2000 (having previously served as assistant).

Benfica won their domestic league - a 36th Portuguese title - by six points last season and have two European trophies to their name during an era of glittering success back in the 60s.

Swiss champions Basel beat Sir Alex's United during that ill-fated 2011-12 campaign, knocking us out of the competition, and the Reds have won only one of four previous encounters with Raphael Wicky's side. 

Last time we met them, the Reds needed a late leveller from Ashley Young to rescue a point in a six-goal thriller at Old Trafford.
Basel then pulled off a stunning upset win in Switzerland to progress to the knockouts at our expense and condemn United to a rare foray into the Europa League. 

Moscow will always hold a special place in the heart of any United fan, and the team will return to the Russian capital to face Pot Four opponents CSKA. 

They finished second in the Russian league last season, seven points behind fierce rivals Spartak, but Viktor Goncharenko's side will provide United with a stern test.

The long journey, tough winter conditions and a 'hybrid' artificial pitch all present their own unique challenges, with that tie to be played on Matchday Two (27 September).

A group not to be taken for granted, but it would be a major surprise if Jose does not take the team back into the knockout stages for the first time since 2014.

United's Champions League fixtures: Basel H Sept 12
CSKA Moscow A Sept 27
Benfica A Oct 18
Benfica H Oct 31
Basel A Nov 22
CSKA Moscow H Dec 5 

Thursday 24 August 2017

United re-sign Ibrahimovic on one year deal

Zlatan Ibrahimovic will continue his United journey after he re-signed for the club on a one-year contract. 

The 35-year-old was our top scorer last term with 28 in 46 appearances in all competitions last campaign, but he was released by the club having suffered a season-ending knee injury in April.

If fate hadn't intervened, Ibrahimovic would surely have hit the rare United landmark of 30 goals in a season and been able to savour the Europa League win in his home city on the pitch rather than in the stands. 

United had allowed Ibrahimovic - who will take Wayne Rooney's number 10 shirt - to use the medical facilities at Carrington in his rehabilitation after surgery. 

Up until the point that he ruptured his ligaments in that Europa League win over Anderlecht, it seemed almost certain that Ibra would stay with United for a second season.

Despite the fact he was not retained in June - and initial reports that he would be sidelined until 2018 - the club were always keen on the possibility of his return, provided the recovery went to plan.

It clearly has, with the Swede having shown almost superhuman powers of recovery to prove his fitness and earn a short-term deal until the end of the season. 

Ibrahimovic is set to be fit again by December to finish what he started at Old Trafford, despite interest from Los-Angeles based MLS duo LA Galaxy and Los Angeles FC over the summer. 

Even though he cannot yet play, United boss Jose Mourinho wants the Swede back to play a part in United's frantic festive fixture schedule and to bolster the attack during United's crucial run-in during the latter stages of the campaign. 

The boss said: "Myself and everyone at the club are delighted that Zlatan is on the road to recovery and we are equally delighted to have his ambition and experience back with us.
"I have no doubt that he will be an important part of our squad for the second half of our season.
"After his contribution last season he deserves our trust, we have to be patient for his return but we have been impressed by his hard work and dedication to return to fitness." 

There is a question mark over how Jose can accommodate the big man in the same team as Romelu Lukaku, but that answer will not be needed for a good while yet.

Welcome back Ibra

Holders United to face Championship opponents in Carabao Cup

United will begin their defence of the EFL Cup with a home tie against Nigel Clough's Burton Albion side in the third round.

The Reds welcome the Championship outfit to Old Trafford in one of eight ties that will see top flight clubs take on a second-tier team.

It will be the Staffordshire side's first meeting with United for 11 years.

In the 2005/06 season, the Brewers - then plying their trade in the Conference -  earned a lucrative Old Trafford replay (following a 0-0 draw) against a United side that featured Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Sir Alex Ferguson's men proved too strong in the replay, however, and ran out 5-0 winners with goals from Louis Saha, Giuseppe Rossi's brace, Kieran Richardson and Ryan Giggs. 

Nigel Clough was in charge of The Brewers  then and -  now back for his second spell at the Pirelli - guided them to survival in their first ever Championship campaign last time out. 

Albion overcame League One Oldham and divisional rivals Cardiff City to reach the third round, but have won only one of their four games in a testing start to their league season. 

United won the EFL Cup, now known under its baffling new guise of the the Carabao Cup, (just why?) with a 3-2 victory over Southampton in a thrilling Wembley final last season to give Jose his first major silverware as our manager. 

Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Jesse Lingard put us 2-0 ahead before Saints hit back through a Manolo Gabbiadini double, only for Zlatan to pop up with the headed winner three minutes from time. 

There will be no repeat this time, though, as the runners-up were dumped out at the first hurdle after a shock 2-0 home loss to Championship Wolverhampton.

Newcastle's disappointing start to the new season continued as they also fell victim to division lower opposition.

Nottingham Forest went through after extra-time 3-2 to condemn Rafa Benitez's side to an third straight loss and set up a plum tie at Chelsea.

Elsewhere, there are four all-Premier League ties, as Crystal Palace host Huddersfield and Bournemouth host Brighton in a South Coast derby.

Liverpool travel to Leicester City in the round's most attractive-looking fixture, and West Bromwich Albion host Manchester City at the Hawthorns.

The 16 fixtures will be played in the week commencing 18 September.

Carabao Cup third round draw

West Bromwich Albion v Manchester City
Everton v Sunderland
Leicester City v Liverpool
Manchester United v Burton Albion
Brentford v Norwich City
Wolverhampton Wanderers v Bristol Rovers
Burnley v Leeds United
Arsenal v Doncaster Rovers
Bristol City v Stoke City
Reading v Swansea City
Aston Villa v Middlesbrough
Chelsea v Nottingham Forest
West Ham United v Bolton Wanderers
Crystal Palace v Huddersfield Town
Tottenham Hotspur v Barnsley or Derby County (yet to be played)
Bournemouth v Brighton&Hove Albion

United set for Champions League group stage draw

United will join five other British sides in Thursday's draw for the group stage of this season's Champions League.

The draw will take place in Monaco at 5pm following the completion of the two-legged play-off rounds.

Those ties included Liverpool's 6-3 win over Hoffenheim to ensure that five English teams will play in the group stage for the first time ever. 

Qualifying started as early as June, with the tournament now whittled down to the remaining 32 teams - with the draw consisting of eight groups of four. 

Having gained direct entry into this season's competition by virtue of winning the Europa League - despite a sixth placed Premier League finish last season - United will be in Pot Two.

Pot one contains the holders and league champions of the highest-ranked European countries, with the three remaining pots seeded according to UEFA's co-effiecent. 

That means that the Reds could be drawn against twelve-time winners and last season's winners Real Madrid, German giants Bayern Munich or Italian champions Juventus.

United's last foray into Europe's elite club competition ended in ignominy as the team failed to progress from one of the easiest-looking groups under Louis van Gaal in 2015-16.

We could only finish third in the section and dropped into the Europa League, where a swift and painful exit at the hands of Liverpool ended a failed campaign (moving on)...

However, this side look a different proposition now under Jose Mourinho, and - while going all the way will be a big ask - the boss is believed to have set a target of a run to the quarter-finals. 

UEFA rules prevent sides from the same country being drawn together at this stage, so United will not face Chelsea - who are in Pot One - or Spurs and Liverpool from Pot Three.

Pep Guardiola's Manchester City join United in Pot Two, with Celtic in the last group of sides having also qualified through a play-off.

The first round of matches will take place on Tuesday 12th and Wednesday 13th September, with the group stage to be concluded on Matchday Six (5/6 December), before the knockouts begin in February. 

Pot One: Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Chelsea, Benfica, Monaco, Juventus, Shakhtar Donetsk, Spartak Moscow
Pot Two: Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Borussia Dortmund, Manchester City, UNITED, Paris Saint-Germain, FC Porto, Sevilla
Pot Three: Anderlecht, Besiktas, FC Basel, Liverpool, Napoli, Olympiakos, AS Roma, Tottenham Hotspur 
Pot Four: APOEL Nicosia, Celtic, CSKA Moscow, Feyenoord, FK Qarabag, NK Maribor, RB Leipzig, Sporting Lisbon

Sunday 20 August 2017

Faultless four-goal United gallop ahead with Lukaku and Pogba to the fore

For 80 minutes, our match at Swansea - a ground at which we've struggled in the past - was finely in the balance.

But then, the Reds summoned the ruthless streak of old and went for the kill in a manner reminiscent of some of our club's best-ever sides.

Romelu Lukaku and Paul Pogba were the hosts' tormentors-in-chief to lead the charge as the floodgates opened in a blistering burst of three goals in four second half minutes. 

Lukaku and Pogba scored for the second successive week and by the time substitute Anthony Martial had added the fourth, the afternoon felt very different.

There were just three minutes and 41 seconds between the goals and, although the scoreline flattered us - as impressive as we were - there can be no argument that the Reds have been near enough faultless so far. 

Not since 1907 have United begun a season with successive 4-0 wins: indeed, it's only the second time in which a team has won their first two matches by at least four goals in the Premier League era (Chelsea were first to do so, in 2010/11).

With our team unchanged from last week's drubbing of West Ham, United were quick to take control of this contest, as Nemanja Matic and Paul Pogba dictated the tempo from the base of midfield.

Pogba's man of the match involvement loomed over every aspect of the game, the kind of player whose imposing presence must appear in the peripheral vision of every opponent when he's on the ball. 

He won the header that led to Eric Bailly's opener, scored himself and then set up Martial to complete the rout in a continuation of last term's superb late season form. 

Mourinho has never failed to win the league title in his second season at a club - including both of his spells at Chelsea.
A summer of reshaping has fuelled the belief that he can do so again but despite our eight goals without reply, the boss reminded everyone that we won our first three games last term and still finished sixth.

This feels different, though: there is a confidence and a swagger in the side that has not always been detectable over the last four years, and these two wins have come against opponents we only drew with last season.

Beating West Ham and Swansea, albeit impressively, is all well and good but we need to see United challenged against the league's top five teams before judgement can be made about our title prospects.

Match report: Swansea 0-4 United

Free-scoring United hit four for the second time in a week with a devastating burst of three goals in the last ten minutes at the Liberty Stadium.

In the Reds best league start for 110 years, Eric Bailly prodded in his first for the team on the cusp of half-time, before Romelu Lukaku, Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial all scored for the second successive match as the Reds pulled away late on. 

The game was not as comfortable as the eventual scoreline suggested, with United on the back foot at times and Pogba perhaps fortunate to avoid being sent off after a clash with Martin Olsson. 

The Frenchman had earlier been booked for a challenge on Tom Carroll, and a similar coming-together with Swans full-back Olsson could, on another day, have resulted in a second. 

Having thrown down the gauntlet against West Ham the previous weekend, Jose named an unchanged side for the trip to United's traditional bogey team. 

Jordan Ayew went close for the Swans early on when he clipped the bar, before Lukaku flashed a shot wide after a quickfire counter-attack at the other end. 

Phil Jones headed off the woodwork from a Juan Mata free-kick on ten minutes, but the Reds struggled for clear cut chances against Swansea's rigid and disciplined five-man defence.

The elusive breakthrough finally arrived on the stroke of the half-time, though, when Bailly opened his account for the club.

Daley Blind's corner picked out Pogba who headed against the underside of the bar and the rebound fell to the Ivorian to poke home on the line.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan drilled a shot wide and man of the match Pogba went close with a 20-yard free-kick as United started the second half brightly.

Leroy Fer fired an effort narrowly off-target but any hopes Swansea had of pinching a point were swiftly ended by United's lethal late salvo.

Fresh from scoring twice on his Old Trafford debut, Lukaku got in on the act again when he collected Mkhitaryan's pass and rifled beyond Swans stopper Lukasz Fabianski on 80 minutes. 

Just as they did against the Hammers last time out, Pogba and substitute Martial both found the net with two goals in as many minutes.

Pogba clipped home an instinctive finish after more good work from the mercurial Mkhitaryan on 82 minutes before he turned provider for compatriot Martial.

The two Frenchmen linked up again as the former found the latter - who had just come on - and he rolled the ball home from close range six minutes from time to complete another resounding win.

Two games, six points, eight scored and none conceded - United's 2017/18 campaign could hardly have started better.

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

Friday 18 August 2017

Match preview: Swansea v United

United travel to the traditionally unhappy hunting ground of south Wales to face a Swansea side beginning their first full season under head coach Paul Clement.

The Swans have proved to be a bogey side for the Reds in recent seasons having beaten us three times in a row, but United have redressed the balance with two wins and a draw since then.

The Reds threw down an impressive marker in their league opener with a ruthless, Nemanja-Matic inspired  4-0 demolition of West Ham with a brace of goals from Romelu Lukaku, added to by Anthony Martial and Paul Pogba. 
Swansea, meanwhile, travelled to the south coast to face Mauricio Pellegrino's Southampton and emerged with a creditable clean sheet and point in a goalless stalemate.

United manager Jose Mourinho is expecting a tough game against the Swans, and said:

"The team was in a difficult moment last season and stayed in the Premier League - Paul did well to do that.
"One point away against good team like Southampton is a positive result for them so I am expecting a difficult match.
"It is only the beginning, last year we had three matches and nine points and finished sixth so it's not because of a good opening that I'm going to lose my stability and discipline.
"Nobody is getting carried away but the players did great work for me and they are thinking the same as myself - that there is a long way to go." 

The boss will have an almost fully fit squad to choose from, with Luke Shaw and Ashley Young set to feature for the Under 23 side on Monday - to leave Marcos Rojo as our only absentee.

Swansea's resources are already stretched with Gylfi Sigurdsson - so often the scourge of United - having completed his £45m move to Everton.

Last season's top scorer Fernando Llorente is injured, with midfield pair Ki Sung-yueng and Nathan Dyer also sidelined - but new £11m signing Roque Mesa is set to make a debut.

The hosts endured their most turbulent Premier League campaign to date in 2016-17, as they struggled early on under Francesco Guidolin and Bob Bradley's ill-fated eleven match reign.

They picked up after Clement's arrival - including a memorable win over Liverpool at Anfield - and eventually finished 15th.

Form guide: Swansea L United W
Match odds: 10/1 Draw 4/1 United 1/3
Referee: Jon Moss (West Yorkshire)

Monday 14 August 2017

Only one game but there's cautious grounds for optimism

Every team looks to make a statement at the start of a season and the one United sent out in the 4-0 win over West Ham was emphatic.

We moved the ball at speed with a tempo not seen for a long time, and there was so much energy, pace and desire in the team, particularly in the final third.

The Reds proved irresistible going forward at an attacking intensity we've longed for and, even though it is still (very) early days, you can see that there is a swagger about Jose and the players.

Put into context, United threw down the gauntlet on an opening weekend in which many of the other big names struggled

Arsenal needed a late winner to see off Leicester (having twice trailed), Liverpool were held at Watford and Chelsea were beaten by Sean Dyche's Burnley.

Big spending neighbours City - hotly tipped for the title - toiled for 70 minutes before they eventually broke down newly promoted Brighton in a 2-0 win.

Like Pep Guardiola's side, United seem better equipped than everyone else to mount what we hope will be a serious title tilt. 

The assertion from many that the challenge for the league will be an all-Manchester one is hard to argue with,  even at this fledgling stage of the new campaign. 

Last season, our problem was a chronic failure to finish off the opposition in matches such as this, particularly at Old Trafford, when we'd often dominate without success.

Drawing at home proved our Achilles heel but once we had gone ahead on Sunday, it was a case of how many we'd score. 

The team did not have much defending to do, because a poor West Ham side offered next to nothing - but that was because United did not let them.

Nemanja Matic was the outstanding player on the field, nobody else was going to take the plaudits but him and he was immense.

It was the kind of complete midfield display that former side Chelsea lacked so much in their shock defeat to Burnley - someone able to stamp his authority on the game.

Matic was aggressive when he had to be, he put in the tackles, drove forward but his distribution was also top class.
He kept things simple but spread the play when needed and fully deserved his man of the match award.

He influenced the other players around him - in particular Paul Pogba - and that partnership will be key for any potential title challenge.

How to solve a problem like Romelu: Lukaku the perfect player for United's counter-attacking style

Zlatan Ibrahimovic brought an aura and a superstar presence to the United attack but Romelu Lukaku fits the bill far better than the Swede. 

Ibrahimovic would have reached 30 goals last season if not for that cruel knee injury, but he was a player on a victory lap looking for one last hurrah before the end of a magnificent career.

Even though he won games on his own at times, he also missed many other gilt-edged chances that would have made a decisive difference as United drew 15 games that they should have won. 

Zlatan's lack of pace, coupled with his ability at connecting with headers in the box, often encouraged United to slow the game down and adopt a long ball approach to play to his strengths.

At times it was effective and the man was an enigmatic genius, but Mourinho bought him as an marquee statement signing - he was never going to be the long term striking option we needed.

In Romelu Lukaku, however, we have that player.

Still only 24, the Belgian is into his sixth season as a proven Premier League striker and he looks set to lead the line for United for years to come.

A consistent challenger for the Golden Boot award, Lukaku has three goals in two competitive outings for the Reds already and should he stay fit there's no reason why he can't equal - or even surpass - Ibra's tally from last season. 

His two goals against West Ham were typical of the big Belgian: the first a ball in behind that he finished with aplomb and the second a powerful header from close range.

A large element of Jose's successful sides during his career has been his ability to mould a team into a swift, fluid counter-attacking unit.

The boss didn't have the personnel to implement that during his first season in charge at United - as already mentioned, the presence of Ibra and lack of balance in midfield meant the desire for a more measured and patient approach.

Lukaku is the perfect man to spearhead such a side as his movement, ability and pace with the ball at his feet will allow quicker build up and the preference for a first time pass. 

At his best when running on to a ball in behind the defence, Lukaku tore West Ham apart on Sunday in tandem with the raw pace of Marcus Rashford.

Our attack has a greater threat already on a day when Lukaku - and United - hinted at a sign of things to come.

Magnificent Matic dazzles on Old Trafford bow

For all the attacking firepower ahead of him, it was United's Serbian midfielder Nemanja Matic who stole the show on his league debut for the club against West Ham.

Despite having only played 45 minutes in the Reds final pre-season friendly, Matic was voted man of the match on his United bow in the Super Cup defeat to Real Madrid in Skopje. 

He followed that up with another dominant showing alongside Paul Pogba in the engine room to set the tempo and dictate the match as we stormed to a rousing opening day win. 

In a splendid performance, Matic was once more the pick of the bunch in Red and was again named as our most impressive player - narrowly ahead of Pogba and fellow debutant Romelu Lukaku. 

Eyebrows were raised when Jose went back to former club Chelsea to prise the two-time Premier League champion away from the Bridge for a £40m fee.

Matic proved a key man in the Blues title win under Jose Mourinho in 2014-15, and again helped them to success last term in tandem with N'golo Kante at the heart of their superb midfield. 

On this evidence, one must question what Chelsea were thinking: not only did they sanction his sale, but to do so to a direct rival was even more mystifying - the addition of Matic already seems another Mourinho masterstroke. 

Dare I say it, but there are shades of the Robin van Persie signing from Arsenal in 2012. 

Arsene Wenger allowed his star striker to join United for a £27m bargain and the Dutchman finished with 26 league goals to inspire the Reds to the title in SAF's last season before retirement.

The 4-0 win over West Ham was a superb all-round team performance, but Matic was the heartbeat of United's eye-catching victory.
He broke up play superbly, got us moving up the pitch quickly, started counter-attacks at will and, perhaps most importantly, freed up Pogba to roam high up the pitch.

It was from Matic's parried effort that Lukaku got off the mark for United against Real, and the Serbian no.31 was again involved in the Belgian's opener against West Ham.

He was forward thinking, too, something he wasn't known for at Chelsea and it showed in his part for United's opener.

He won the ball high up the pitch, then bombed forward to give Marcus Rashford an overlap on the left when he played Lukaku in down the middle to score. 

Perhaps the most important role Matic will have is to allow £89m man Pogba the free licence to push forward without the responsibility of having to mop up defensively.

The Frenchman had arguably his best game in a United shirt against West Ham as he caused havoc in sync with United's front four with Matic as the shield behind them. 

Early days indeed but if he keeps this form going the former Chelsea man could represent a £40m steal.

Brilliant United lay down a marker in thrilling style

United might have picked up the Europa League and League Cup during Jose's first season in charge but - despite a Zlatan-Ibrahimovic inspired swagger - the style of football proved little more than functional.

The lyric "Jose playing the way that United should" in the catchy re-wording of "I'm Into Something Good" seemed wholly at odds with the team's approach during the manager's settling-in season.

Against West Ham though, that terrace chant could not have been more appropriate. 

Those trophies papered over the cracks of a less-than-adequate sixth placed finish but everything came together here as the Reds set down a marker in swashbuckling style.

This was the biggest win of the opening Premier League weekend, our biggest margin of victory in just under three years and, more importantly, the best performance we've seen under Jose so far. 

It was an impressive statement of intent to the rest of the Premier League. 

There is a long way to go, but this felt like the United of the Sir Alex era.

This was football with power, pace, penetration and purpose - and also the perfect debut for two-goal striker Romelu Lukaku. 

The Hammers sat back in a bid to contain and frustrate us - a tactic that worked too often last season - but once the big Belgian broke the deadlock shortly after the half hour mark, there was only ever one winner.

With Lukaku's former Chelsea team-mate Nemanja Matic - alongside the equally immense Paul Pogba - pulling the strings, the pair provided the control and balance in midfield to unleash United's formidable attacking quartet. 

It is early days with the season not even a week old but, on this evidence, United look to be genuine contenders for a first league title in four years.

Lukaku opened his account on a mixed night against Madrid in the Super Cup but he impressed throughout against the Hammers with his strong running, physical presence and link-up play.

This was precisely the type of fixture in which we laboured last season - sometimes scraping a win but more often than not drawing.

Instead, here the Reds had everything: Matic and Pogba provided a formidable and mobile midfield axis while Lukaku gave the attack the mobility and movement that was missing with Ibra as spearhead last term. 

Juan Mata and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, the Armenian now having fully adapted to life in England, were all craft and creativity. 

The defence looked strong and we also have daunting strength in depth resources. 

New signing Victor Lindelof was not even in the squad, with last season's Player of the Year Ander Herrera on the bench along with Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard. 

Jose playing the way that United should: this certainly was.

Message sent out, loud and clear. 

Match report: United 4-0 West Ham

Romelu Lukaku scored twice on his Premier League debut for United as the team threw down the gauntlet in an impressive opening day win.

Slaven Bilic's side were comprehensively outclassed as the Reds stormed to our biggest margin of victory for nearly three years with a ruthless display of pace, power and purpose. 

Led by the immense performances of summer signings Lukaku and Nemanja Matic, the team brimmed with verve, creativity and flair throughout to fire a huge statement of intent to the rest of the league.

United started brightly and almost went ahead inside ten minutes with City loanee Joe Hart quickly tested on his Hammers debut.

He saved well from Juan Mata and then cleared under pressure from the Spaniard - after a wonderful pass from Paul Pogba - with Lukaku lurking.

The breakthrough was not long in coming, however, as the Reds deservedly went in front shortly after the half hour mark.

Matic won the ball high up the field and picked out Marcus Rashford whom in turn fed Lukaku  with a perfectly weighted through ball.

The £75m man did the rest as he latched on to the pass and fired in an excellent finish off a post.

David de Gea had little to do but was called into action on 42 minutes when he palmed away  Edmilson Fernandes' close range snap shot. 

Rashford went close to a second shortly after the restart, but moments later United did move 
2-0 ahead, with Lukaku again the main man.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan's inswinging set-piece picked out the Belgian, who this time did the damage with a header from eight yards. 

Mkhitaryan had a goal disallowed for offside before Marko Arnautovic clipped the crossbar with a looping effort at the other end.

Not content with their comfortable two-goal advantage, United continued to swarm forwards and went close twice in quick succession.
Rashford thumped against the upright, Daley Blind volleyed narrowly over and Pogba lashed a shot wide from distance.

The reprieve proved only temporary for the overwhelmed Hammers as two late goals from a now rampant United side added deserved late gloss to the scoreline.

First, substitute Anthony Martial ran through and slotted beyond Hart having been played in by Mkhitaryan with three minutes to play.

Then, Pogba capped his sublime individual performance with a goal when he found the bottom corner with a low drive in the 90th minute.

We're Man United, we're top of the league!

Overall team performance: 9/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Could easily give this to anyone in Red for a superb all-round team performance, but Nemanja Matic gets the nod (just) for an immense midfield display 

Saturday 12 August 2017

Match preview: United v West Ham

Former United striker Javier Hernandez looks set to make his Hammers debut at Old Trafford, where he won two Premier League titles under Sir Alex.

'Chicharito' - who scored 59 goals in four seasons at United before he was sold in 2014 - joined Slaven Bilic's side for £16m from Bayer Leverkusen last month.

Looking to replicate their impressive seventh-placed finish from the Croatian's first campaign at the helm in 2015-16, West Ham have been active in this summer's window with four big-name signings.

Having endured a difficult first campaign at the Olympic Stadium in which they finished eleventh, Bilic has also brought in Marko Arnautovic from Stoke, and former City pair Joe Hart and Pablo Zabaleta. 

All four new boys are available to start, but Michail Antonio, Manuel Lanzini, Diafra Sakho, Cheikou Kouyate and Andy Carroll are out injured.  

The new Premier League season kicked off on Friday, and this 4pm kick off means that United and West Ham are the last two sides to get going - 84 days after our last top flight action. 

Luke Shaw, Ashley Young and Marcos Rojo are all long-term absentees, but summer signings Victor Lindelof, Romelu Lukaku and Nemanja Matic are likely to be handed debuts for the Reds.

United won six out of their seven pre-season matches and lost narrowly in the Super Cup to Real Madrid on Tuesday.
Manager Jose Mourinho said his side enjoyed a "complete tour" and that the side are ready for the recommencing of domestic league duties. 

He said: "The Premier League is what we all know, I would say there are seven teams to fight for the title and 20 teams to fight for the victory every weekend.
"The Premier League is different to any other league, and I worked in three of them so I know this.
"This season we have the Champions League as well, it is more difficult to win than the Europa League but the motivation is higher.
"If we get through the group stage, it is not difficult to motivate the team to play against Real Madrid, Barcelona, the top English sides, Bayern Munich.
"To be the champion in this country is the objective of every top team and top manager and of course that is what we want, our pre-season was very complete and I think we are ready."

United v West Ham, Old Trafford 
Last time out: United 1-2 Real Madrid, Manchester City 3-0 West Ham
Match odds: United 7/2 Draw 9/2 West Ham 11/1
Referee: Martin Atkinson 

Wednesday 9 August 2017

Marouane Fellaini enhances his status as big game go to man

There were some sublime individual performances during the Super Cup tie in Skopje - notably  from Real's Isco, Toni Kroos and Gareth Bale.

For the Reds, debutant new signing Nemanja Matic looked perfectly at home in such exalted company and made a mockery of his apparent lack of match sharpness.

Yet, with United staring down the barrel of defeat, Marouane Fellaini was the man who changed the complexion of the game when he replaced Ander Herrera  midway through the second half. 

Often derided for his unconventional approach, Fellaini once more showed that he is a player for the big occasion with an impressive cameo from the bench that almost dragged United level. 

Romelu Lukaku, who spurned one gilt-edged opening before he later pulled a goal back, looked a more imposing threat with his compatriot Fellaini up alongside him.

The two powerful Belgians gave Real centre backs Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane different problems to think about.

Fellaini, immense throughout last season's Europa League triumph, helped set up the goal with his unstinting work rate, scrapping for a loose ball and doing what he does best.

He never gives anything up and tried bravely to meet a Matic cross, sustaining a nasty head injury in a collision with Ramos in the process.

It was a painful blow and took several minutes to patch him up, which paved the way for seven minutes of stoppage time.
Once he was on his feet again, he returned to the fray and continued to cause problems, at one point even turning away from Luka Modric with a chest trap and flick. 

He set up Marcus Rashford whose effort was saved by Keylor Navas and then called the shaky-looking Real keeper into further action with a header, as United pressed bravely - albeit ultimately in vain - to force extra-time.

The decision to turn to him with United on the ropes was derided by some fans, but he scored crucial goals in two cup semi finals last season and Jose knows the value of our no.27.

Booed after coming on as a sub at home to Spurs last season, Fellaini left the field with his name being sung in recognition of his efforts.

Fellaini may not be as glamorous or as stylish as some of his illustrious team mates, but he can upset any defence in the world and is a selfless team man. 

Despite the vast strength in depth available in United's midfield, the Belgian proved that he still has an important role to play and looks set to feature in a big way in the coming season. 

United a long way off the very best but should take the positives

United might have taken the Super Cup into extra-time had Romelu Lukaku and Marcus Rashford not spurned second half chances.

But there can be no hiding from the fact that mighty Madrid were the dominant and deserving team over the 90 sweltering minutes in Skopje. With their metronomic midfield trio of Toni Kroos, Casemiro and Luka Modric effortlessly calling the shots, they had 63% of possession and hit the woodwork twice.

United hung in to show spirit and courage, but this was a match in which defeat at the hands of the best in Europe was a lesson worth learning. 

The Spanish side's superiority should come as no surprise: we're talking about a side who have blown away all before them over the past couple of seasons, setting multiple records along the way, against a team who were miles off the pace in the league last season. 

On this evidence, we still have plenty of work to do to rival the very best but there should be no shame in the result for the Reds. Despite the defeat, there are still plenty of positives to take from the match.

Romelu Lukaku had a mixed night on his official United debut but marked it with a goal and - one glaring miss aside - his performance generally proved encouraging. He showed awareness and intelligence to play Henrikh Mkhitaryan in early on, his link up play was eye-catching and he held the ball up well on a number of occasions. Fellow debutant Nemanja Matic enjoyed a superb bow in the heart of United's midfield.

He's been at the club for less than two weeks and had a 45-minute pre-season, but looked instantly at home in front of the back four and Real's victory would have been more comfortable if not for his contribution.

He also showed a willingness to push forward, and it was from his stinging drive that Lukaku poached United's goal. 

Marouane Fellaini has, perhaps justifiably so at times, had his critics but this was further evidence to suggest he still has an important role to play under Mourinho. 

We looked far more potent when the big Belgian replaced a toiling Ander Herrera in the second half, and his introduction allowed United to use a more direct approach.

His height, physicality and aerial ability caused problems for Madrid and he tested Keylor Navas with a good header in stoppage time.

Despite the addition of Matic and presence of £89m man Paul Pogba in the middle, Fellaini looks set to be an influential figure in the season ahead. 

Super Cup match report: Real Madrid 2-1 United

Romelu Lukaku scored on his competitive United debut but Zinedine Zidane's all-conquering Real Madrid side proved too strong for the Reds in Skopje. 

This was Real's sixth trophy in 18 months since the legendary Frenchman took charge, and his awesome outfit continue to throw down the gauntlet for others to try and follow. 

The twelve-time European champions dominated for much of the contest and powered into a 2-0 lead through Casemiro and the metronomic Isco.

Lukaku - who had earlier missed a sitter - pulled a goal back and the Reds then almost forced extra-time as substitute Marcus Rashford went close in a late rally. 

Despite the defeat, there's much to be positive about as new signing Nemanja Matic enjoyed an impressively eye-catching debut at the heart of United's five-man midfield.

Reported Reds target Gareth Bale fired wide from close range early on and Casemiro struck the crossbar before the Champions League holders went ahead on 24 minutes.

Despite looking marginally offside, the Brazilian midfielder volleyed in beyond David de Gea after he latched on to Dani Carvajal's superbly weighted through ball. 

Real continued to press and De Gea saved well from Karim Benzema and Toni Kroos either side of the interval.

The second goal was not long in coming for the Spanish champions, though, as Isco slotted home after neat link-up play with Bale on 52 minutes. 

Victor Lindelof, Nemanja Matic and Lukaku all made their competitive United bows, and the latter should have done better with a gilt-edged chance five minutes after the goal.

Keylor Navas parried Paul Pogba's header and the loose ball fell to Lukaku - well placed eight yards out - but he wastefully blazed over the top.

Bale struck the bar but it was game on less inside a minute when, this time, the Belgian made no mistake on the rebound from a saved Matic shot. 

The Reds mounted a gutsy late surge with half-time substitute Rashford in particular looking lively.

Having burst clear one-on-one, he came close to taking the tie into extra-time, but Navas saved well and tipped his low effort around the post.

Fellow substitute Marouane Fellaini also went close with a late header, but Real held on to take the spoils in the first ever Super Cup meeting between the heavyweights. 

Overall team performance: 6.5/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Nemanja Matic. An impressive debut

Monday 7 August 2017

UEFA Super Cup preview: Real Madrid v United

United's 2017-18 campaign begins in earnest with the toughest of challenges against Zinedine Zidane's all-conquering Real Madrid side in Skopje.

Four days out from the Reds Premier League opener at home to West Ham, United bid to start the new season as we ended the last: with European silverware.

Propositions don't come much more difficult, though, as the quadruple-winning Spanish giants stand in our way in the Macedonian capital. 

Similar to the domestic Community Shield, the annual one off Super Cup match pits the winners of the previous season's Champions League against the Europa League champions as a curtain-raiser for the new campaign. 

The Reds beat Real on penalties during our recent pre-season contest in Santa Clara after a 1-1 draw, but Zidane's men have proved an irresistible force since the French legend took charge in January 2016.

The 2016-17 campaign was widely regarded as one of the greatest in Real's illustrious history after they won four competitions in a single season for the first time. 
They became the first side to win the Champions League twice in a row for a 12th European victory and added the La Liga title to Super Cup and World Club Cup successes. 

Star man Cristiano Ronaldo hasn't featured in any of their pre-season fixtures and was expected to sit out in Skopje.
However, he's been named in Zidane's squad and the Ballon D'Or winner looks set to feature against his old club and former manager. 

Real could be left sweating on the fitness of Gareth Bale, who has been struggling with an ankle injury in the build up to this one.

The Reds will be without long term absentees Marcos Rojo, Luke Shaw and Ashley Young as well as suspended defensive duo Eric Bailly and Phil Jones. 

New United signings Victor Lindelof, Romelu Lukaku and Nemanja Matic look set to make their official competitive debuts for the club. 

This will be the Reds fourth Super Cup contest with our solitary triumph coming back in 1991 when Brian McClair scored the winner against Red Star Belgrade. 

Real have won the trophy twice in the last three seasons, beating Sevilla on both occasions 2-0 and 3-2 in 2014 and 2016 respectively. 

The last competitive meeting between the giants saw Real - then managed by a certain Jose Mourinho - edge to a 3-2 aggregate victory in the Champions League last 16 in March 2013.

UEFA Super Cup: Phillip II Arena (capacity 33,460) Skopje, Macedonia
Referee: Gianluca Rocchi (Italy)
Match odds: Real Madrid 4/9 Draw 11/4 United 11/4

*Should the match be level after the 90 minutes, there will be extra-time followed by a penalty shootout if required