Friday 29 September 2017

Match preview: United v Crystal Palace

Free-scoring United welcome winless Palace to Old Trafford in a match between two sides who couldn't be in more contrasting form.

There's no such thing as a 'gimme' in the Premier League but this looks as close to one as it's possible to have - it would be a major surprise if United come away with anything other than three points. 
United have been in devastating mood so far this season having amassed 29 goals in ten outings so far, and a win here would - temporarily at least - send the side three points clear at the top.

City travel to Chelsea in the late game, so with one or both to drop points there is an added incentive for Jose and the team to take control of the Premier League summit. 

The struggling Eagles have endured a woeful start to the season and made unwanted history in their 5-0 defeat across town at the Etihad last time out.

That result meant that Palace became the first team in English football history to lose their opening six matches without scoring a goal.
Frank de Boer was sacked after their 1-0 loss at Burnley and he was replaced by much-travelled manager Roy Hodgson, who has been unable to reverse their fortunes so far.

Michael Carrick and Phil Jones missed the trip to Moscow with injury, and the duo remain sidelined for the visit of Palace.
Paul Pogba is still out with a long term hamstring problem, and Marouane Fellaini is doubtful but Antonio Valencia is set to return.
Anthony Martial was taken off in Moscow with a slight thigh problem and will be assessed. 

For the visitors, Christian Benteke has been ruled out for six to eight weeks having picked up a knee ligament injury. 
Ex-Red Wilf Zaha, James Tomkins and Ruben Loftus - Cheek are also ruled out, and United loanee Tim Fosu - Mensah is ineligible. 

United boss Jose Mourinho refused to take Palace for granted and has called on his side to show a strong mentality.

He said: "We played Wednesday night and arrived back in Manchester at 4am Thursday and now we have to play Saturday so our mentality and attitude is very important.
"Roy is an experienced manager, he has good players and Palace are a good club, they have a long time to fight to reach their objectives. 
"Pogba is a long term injury, the same as Rojo and Ibrahimovic, I cannot have hope like with Valencia and Jones who I can see in training and have a positive answer.
"My focus is on the players I have and this game against Palace so I don't speak about the injuries."

Form guide: United D W W W W W Crystal Palace W L L L W L 
Match odds: United 1/6 Draw 6/1 Crystal Palace 14/2 
Referee: Mike Dean 

Thursday 28 September 2017

Red hot Rom has 10 in 9 after CSKA brace

Romelu Lukaku's prolific start to his United career continued apace in the Champions League on Matchday 2.

Lethal Lukaku hit another two goals to move into double figures for the season with his tally now ten in nine matches.
He's only failed to score in all but one of our games, against Leicester, when Kasper Schmeichel denied him from the spot.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is a very good player but he's coming towards the end of an illustrious career and Lukaku has proved something of an upgrade on the Swede.
He looks set to be chasing the Golden Boot and if he stays fit, could even eclipse Zlatan's haul of 28 last season.

Robin van Persie was the last United player to hit the landmark of 30 goals (in all competitions), in United's title winning 2012-13 campaign.
It took RvP 13 games to get to double figures so Lukaku - who scored 68 goals in 141 games at Goodison Park - could and should achieve that rare feat if he continues his current goals-to-game ratio. 

There are traits of another legendary Dutchman, Ruud van Nistelrooy, in the manner in which Lukaku consistently scores simple, vital and clinical goals. 
It is still too early too compare to truly compare him with 150-goal RvN, but Lukaku already looks like a bargain summer buy. 

Having signed for £75m from Everton, many wondered how Lukaku would adapt to the step up with the weight of his hefty price tag on his shoulders.

They needn't have worried, but even the most ardent of United fans could not have predicted that Lukaku would have such an instant and immediate impact.

Red hot Rom has been the epitome of this free-scoring United side: a powerful, pacy spearhead who has tucked openings away with a clinical ruthlessness.
A physical menace, the burly Belgian has been fed chance and chance as part of a devastating United attacking quartet, and the Reds have reaped the rewards.

He scored on his debut in the Super Cup against Real Madrid and then followed that up with a brace on his Premier League bow in the 4-0 win over West Ham.

He became only the fourth United to score twice on his league debut and has not looked back since. 

He netted against Swansea, scored in the draw at Stoke and also found the net in victories over Everton and on his Champions League debut against Basel. 

His most important goal so far came in Saturday's league game at Southampton, when his 20th-minute strike made the decisive difference as United ground out a hard-fought win. 

Ruthless, relentless and clinical United side the best we've had since 2008

Not since the 2007/08 Double-winning side have United had a side as well equipped to challenge as Jose's current rampant Reds.  That was a remarkable team, one of our greatest ever with a world class keeper in Edwin van der Sar and rock-solid defensive lynchpins Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand.

Paul Scholes and Michael Carrick gave United a grit and guile midfield partnership, spearheaded by the rampaging trio of Messrs Rooney, Ronaldo and Tevez. It was a team that went on to win both the Premier League and the Champions League and were only denied a Treble chance by plucky Portsmouth's freakish Old Trafford FA Cup win. It's hard to imagine a United side that will ever emulate or surpass what that team did, but our swashbuckling start to the season has fuelled belief that we're on the verge of something special.

Formidable and free-scoring, the Reds have been ruthlessly clinical and have scored four goals in five of their ten competitive outings so far. A team blessed with potency, pace, power, quality and depth with Jose at the helm, we look capable of going the distance in the league and deep into the latter stages in Europe.

This team possesses a world-class keeper in David de Gea, a strong and watertight defence and an attacking quintet (Juan Mata, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Romelu Lukaku, Marcus Rashford  and Anthony Martial) to strike fear into the very best of opposition.  Granted, it's difficult to assess our longer-term Champions League prospects based on the 4-1 win in Moscow, because CSKA were so lamentably bad. 

We may have won the league in Fergie's final flourish in 2012-13, but that was mainly due to the failure of others and the brilliance of Robin van Persie. In reality, the title win papered over the cracks for an ageing, inadequate squad that was in desperate need of investment and renewal. Although we won by eleven points, it was a side in poor shape that was dragged over the line almost by Ferguson's willpower alone.
That team was one that became adept at scraping wins and just about getting the job done with countless dramatic, late come-from-behind victories.

Not a patch on the vibrant, attacking style that has seen us blow teams away in emphatic style to set the (joint) Premier League pace after six games so far. In the 2015-16 season under Louis van Gaal, United scored a meagre 49 goals in the 38 league games - after two months of this campaign, we've already amassed 29 in all competitions. 

Match report: CSKA Moscow 1-4 United

United took control of Champions League Group A and brushed aside a feeble CSKA side with another ruthless and clinical four-goal haul.

The tie was effectively over as a contest by the half hour mark through Romelu Lukaku - his ninth and tenth goals of a prolific season - either side of an Anthony Martial penalty.

Konstantin Kuchaev's last-gasp goal proved little more than a consolation for the rampant Reds, who scored four for the fifth time in nine competitive meetings this season.

The win sees United sit top of the standings with two wins from two, after Basel responded from their defeat to us last time out to thrash top seeds Benfica 5-0.

Lukaku began the rout inside five minutes when he powered in a trademark header for his ninth goal in as many games after the outstanding Anthony Martial had picked him out.

David de Gea saved well from Alan Dzagoev as the Army Men threatened an instant riposte, but United were in devastating form going forward and quickly moved further ahead.

Igor Akinfeev denied Henrikh Mkhitaryan, but the excellent Armenian was scythed down by Georgi Schennikov when he challenged for the loose ball. 

Martial stepped up and despatched the spot-kick beyond Akinfeev with aplomb for his fifth goal of an impressive campaign.
Aleksandr Golovin flashed a shot wide but United continued to press and put the result beyond doubt three minutes shy of the half hour mark.

Lukaku pounced on Vasili Berezutski's defensive error, from a Martial cross, with the simplest of finishes, as he moved into double figures for the season.

De Gea saved superbly from Fedor Chalov, while Vitinho also went close and the Spaniard was tested again through Dzagoev's speculative strike from distance.

Blind headed over and Lukaku went close to a hat-trick, but Mkhitaryan then got the goal his performance deserved as he made it 4-0 on the rebound 12 minutes into the second half.

Substitute Jesse Lingard was brilliantly kept out by Akinfeev, as the goalkeeper - despite conceding four goals - single handedly prevented an even bigger margin of defeat.

CSKA substitute Kuchaev had the final say with a close-range tap in, but it was only the smallest of blemishes from a very decent night's work in Moscow.

Overall team performance: 9/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Anthony Martial. Scored one and had a hand in the other three. 

Tuesday 26 September 2017

Match preview: CSKA Moscow v United

Marouane Fellaini, Michael Carrick and Phil Jones will all miss the trip to the Russian capital as the top two sides meet in Moscow on Matchday Two.

The injured trio join the hamstrung Paul Pogba on the sidelines with Ander Herrera and Nemanja Matic set to play alongside each other in midfield for the first time. 

Fellaini misses out having suffered a heavy blow on his ankle in a tackle from behind by Shane Long at Southampton. 

Eric Bailly is available again having served a two-match European ban but Marcos Rojo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic are still out. 

Brazilian full-back Mario Fernandes and Aleksandr Makarov will play no part in the game having both being forced off early in the hosts last outing. 

United boss Jose Mourinho believes that this current CSKA side is the strongest one he has faced in his career.

He said: "I play against CSKA Moscow many times with Inter, Chelsea and now with Manchester United.
"It is something normal in my Champions League career, Moscow is a beautiful city and I know it is always a special place for the fans because of what happened in 2008 when Manchester United won the competition here.
"I think it's the best CSKA side that I'm going to play against, I think it's the best team I have faced with CSKA as an opponent.
"We have no Fellaini, I won't have Pogba or Carrick so we lose all three midfield players for this match but I do not expect them to be out for too long.
"But we will have a team with quality, with balance, to try to win the match which is always our objective."

The Russian giants, who finished runners-up to city rivals Spartak in the league last season, picked up a shock 2-1 win in Lisbon over top seeds Benfica last time out. 
Viktor Goncharenko's side have endured a mixed start domestically and currently sit fourth in the Russian Premier League with 20 points from 11 games.

They seem to have saved their best efforts for the European campaign, having knocked out AEK Athens and BSC Young Boys in the qualifying rounds without conceding a goal.

United boast an unbeaten record against CSKA, with two wins and two draws from the four previous meetings.

Form guide: CSKA Moscow D W W W L D  United W D W W W W 
Match odds: CSKA Moscow 9/2 Draw 11/4 United 4/6
Referee: Jonas Eriksen (Sweden) 

Monday 25 September 2017

Jose's United identikit gunning for glory in the boss's second season

Jose Mourinho always wins the league title in his second season at a club.

He has done it at Porto, both of his spells at Chelsea, Inter Milan and Real Madrid and, during his time in Portugal and Italy, he added a Champions League trophy for good measure.

Now the question that we're all asking is: can he repeat the feat again and bring a first Premier League title in five years back to Old Trafford?

Never before has he had to take a team from sixth place to the summit in a single campaign, which is the challenge that he's facing this season. 

His opening term saw United end up 24 points behind Chelsea but, even during his settling-in season, the League Cup and - crucially - the Europa League were both won.

Liverpool, Manchester City and Spurs all finished higher but won nothing while Mourinho again proved that he is a serial winner whose only currency is silverware.

The 2006 League Cup win led to a period of almost unprecedented dominance for Sir Alex's young United side, spearheaded by the blistering young duo of Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo.

It's hard to say at the moment whether the successes of last season will have a similar springboard effect for this team, but the early signs so far are very promising indeed.

In order to fashion a side capable of challenging  for - if not winning - the Premier League title, Jose has built one in his own identikit.

Big, quick, powerful and hard to beat, this United team bears all the hallmarks of a classic Mourinho unit, a blueprint that we've seen so many times before from the Portuguese. 

Jose has had more of an imprint on the squad in a year that David Moyes and Louis van Gaal managed between them in nearly four.

Nemanja Matic was a crucial cog in Mourinho's last title-winning team at Chelsea, and the classy Serbian has looked a £40m bargain so far for United.

Signed to bring extra defensive solidity and steel, Matic has become one of United's most important players already and has given more freedom to Paul Pogba. 

Romelu Lukaku is another example of a textbook Mourinho player: a physical menace who possesses frightening pace, devastating power and is lethal in front of goal.

In many ways, Mourinho may think that he has the nearest player it's possible to have to Didier Drogba. 

Across town, the spectre of his old adversary Pep Guardiola looms large for Jose, but he got past him in his second year at Madrid, and would love nothing more than to do so once again.

Sunday 24 September 2017

United dig in and win ugly to keep unbeaten run going

Having taken the lead through Romelu Lukaku's goal, United dominated the first half and looked set for another routine afternoon on the south coast.

In the end, however, it proved anything but as Saints took control after the break and, in truth, deserved an equaliser on the balance of play.

United have been scoring goals for fun having plundered 24 in all competitions, but this was the hardest fought of victories, and one that came straight from the Jose Mourinho away-day textbook. 

A performance of organisation, resilience and dogged defending to hold out for a huge, if scarcely deserved win, one that keeps United clinging to the coat-tails of free-scoring neighbours City. 

The hallmark of potential champions is the ability to grind out results when not at your best and to win ugly when required.

In a match from which points would have been dropped last season, that's exactly what we managed to do at St Mary's. 

The Reds miserly defence has conceded just two goals this season and was given its sternest examination so far as Southampton piled on the pressure with an aerial bombardment in the second half.

It was testament to the performances of centre-backs Phil Jones and Eric Bailly that, for all the hosts possession and territory, David de Gea only had one save to make.

United's attacking players have, rightly so, been getting the plaudits for a prolific start to the season, but the Bailly - Jones partnership has been just as important.

United have won five out of six league games with the pair having kept a clean sheet in all but one of those, with the 2-2 draw at Stoke the only aberration. 

Jones' ability has never been in question and, in a United career hit hard by injury, he finally seems to be holding down a regular place in the side.

The England man was voted our man of the match and played a huge role in keeping resurgent Saints at bay during a second half in which United had to dig deep. 

Such was the prolonged pressure that Jose reverted to a five-man defence and introduced Chris Smalling off the bench as a third centre-back to play alongside Jones and Bailly.

Throughout his immense performance, Jones kept Shane Long frustrated, as he denied the pacy striker the service that was being pumped into the box from wide as well as from midfield. 

Not pretty, but a win as important as any other this season. 

United roll on..

Match report: Southampton 0-1 United

United survived Southampton's second-half onslaught to hold out for a crucial away win and keep pace with the Premier League leaders. 

The Reds dominated the first 45 minutes and went ahead through Romelu Lukaku's eighth of the season and it was a goal that we were left clinging on to in a backs-to-the wall rearguard.

Saints pinned United deep in their own half after the break but - for all their possession and territory - David de Gea remained relatively untested. 

United manager Jose Mourinho was sent to the stands by referee Craig Pawson as tensions boiled over during the frenetic final moments.  The result means that United have lost ground on City in terms of goal difference, but we remain level on points with Pep Guardiola's men, with Chelsea two points further back.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan fired wide early on before United went in front in the 20th minute.

Ashley Young's cross picked out Lukaku and, after Fraser Forster had parried his initial header, the Belgian snaffled up the rebound from close range.

Marcus Rashford went close with a free-kick soon afterwards, before Mkhitaryan fired wide after he had burst into the box with a mazy run. That proved to be the final action of the half, and Saints soon found themselves on the front foot as United came under heavy pressure.

Oriol Romeu flashed an effort fractionally wide on the turn, de Gea denied Nathan Redmond from distance and Eric Bailly cleared well under the attention of Shane Long.

United substitute Ander Herrera fired over and Forster denied Lukaku with his foot before Steven Davis went close with a 25-yarder at the other end.

Marouane Fellaini headed off the line to keep out the increasingly influential Romeu, who had a superb game alongside the also impressive Mario Lemina in the heart of the Saints midfield. 

Saints introduced the fresh legs of Manolo Gabbiadini - who scored twice against us in the EFL Cup final - and he was quickly involved in his side's push for a leveller.

He exchanged passes with Dusan Tadic, who in turn picked out Romeu, and his first time shot across goal flashed beyond the far post.

Southampton continued to press and forced a succession of corners in the dying minutes, but United's miserly defence stood strong and held out for a hugely important victory. 

Jose was sent off in the final minute after he inadvertently strayed on to the pitch in an attempt to help the team run the clock down. 

Overall team performance: 6.5/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Phil Jones. Stayed strong and was great in the air under a late bombardment 

NB: A special mention to the 3,500 travelling Reds who did the club proud with their magnificent vocal backing throughout on the longest away trip of the season 

Friday 22 September 2017

Match preview: Southampton v United

Free-scoring United make the 470-mile round trip to the south coast for a rare Saturday 3pm kick off at St Mary's.

The unbeaten Reds followed up the 4-0 win over Everton last time out in the league with another four-goal salvo against Burton in midweek, and have now hit 24 in eight matches so far this term.

In contrast, Mauricio Pellegrino has endured an indifferent start to his tenure as Saints boss, having encountered the same problems as his predecessor Claude Puel. 

The Argentinian took over from Puel in the summer, with the Frenchman sacked after a single season at the helm.

That was despite them reaching the League Cup final and an eighth-placed league finish. 

That was a competition in which they fell at the first hurdle this time, however, after a surprise early exit to Championship side Wolves - Saints have failed to score in eight of their last nine home matches. 

Having edged past strugglers West Ham and Palace, Southampton were held 0-0 at newly-promoted Huddersfield and have collected five points from a possible 15. 

Last season's top scorer Charlie Austin is still sidelined, but the hosts managed to keep hold of Virgil Van Dijk, with the classy, in demand centre-back back in the first team fold.

Marcus Rojo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic remain sidelined, as does the hamstrung Paul Pogba, but United have no fresh injury concerns. 
Jose made a raft of changes in the 4-1 Carabao Cup win on Wednesday, with all those rested available and likely to come back into the team for this one.

United's left-hand side will give the boss a selection headache however, following Anthony Martial's man of the match performance against the Brewers. 
Luke Shaw also got a run out in that match in a bid to prove his fitness and will be pushing for inclusion ahead of Daley Blind and Ashley Young at left-back.

Jose said: "I see the match tomorrow as a very difficult one, Southampton are a very good club and they are very stable in the way they see football, and their quality. 
"It was a convincing win on Wednesday against Burton, but we are not thinking of the momentum, not thinking of the next game's importance in the Premier League match.
"It was important because we go into the next draw and the next stage of the competition but we are not thinking about that in this moment. 
"Pogba's injury is a great opportunity for others to play, but I have cover in my squad and I trust my people until he returns." 

Form guide: Southampton D W L D L W United W W D W W W 
Match odds: Southampton 17/4 Draw 4/5 United 8/11
Referee: Craig Pawson

Thursday 21 September 2017

Match report: United 4-1 Burton Albion

Much-changed United hit four again and eased past division-lower Burton Albion to set up a Carabao Cup fourth round tie at Swansea.

The rotated Reds made nine changes from the weekend's win over Everton but still featured eleven international and had too much for Nigel Clough's team - who themselves made wholesale alterations.

Marcus Rashford's superbly-taken brace put United in control inside 15 minutes, before Jesse Lingard's deflected effort was added to by Anthony Martial after the interval.

To their credit, the Brewers became the first side to breach United's defence at home this season, through Lloyd Dyer's consolation at the death. 

The Reds started well and took the lead after only five minutes when Lingard's flick-on fell to Rashford, and he finished smartly beyond Burton keeper Connor Ripley. 

Ben Turner - who played in the 2012 final of this competition for Cardiff - blocked well from Lingard as United threatened to run riot against the second-tier side.

However, the respite proved only temporary as United quickly moved 2-0 to all but end the tie as a contest on 17 minutes.

Daley Blind broke forward from left-back and picked out Rashford, who collected the pass, swivelled and fired in a brilliant 20-yarder via a post.

Juan Mata hit a post and Martial - a constant menace throughout - had an effort blocked, before Burton almost caught United napping in a rare foray forward.

Joe Mason, also in that 2012 Cardiff squad, collected Luke Varney's pass and sent his lob      goalwards, but United's stand-in stopper Sergio Romero saved well. 

Martial was involved again in United's third goal of the night nine minutes before the break.

After he turned Tom Naylor inside out, he found the lively Lingard in space and the winger's  effort took a deflection off Jamie Allen, wrong-footed Ripley and rolled in. 

Martial capped his man of the match performance with a deserved goal shortly before the hour mark, when he fired home a finish from close range, having been played in by Rashford.

The Frenchman flashed a shot wide and Lingard also went close, with United youngsters Scott McTominay and Joel Pereira handed valuable run outs in the second half. 

The visitors did at least go back to Staffordshire with a memento, however, when Dyer - their best player on the night - thumped in an angled effort after a goalmouth scramble in the final minute. 

The draw for the last 16 was made immediately after the full-time whistle and pitted United with Paul Clement's Swansea for a place in the quarter-finals. 

Overall team performance: 8/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Anthony Martial

Tuesday 19 September 2017

League Cup preview: United v Burton Albion

Holders United begin their defence of the newly-named Carabao Cup with a third round tie against lower league opposition for the second season in a row. 

The Reds overcame League One Northampton at the same stage 12 months ago en route to lifting the trophy, sealed with that dramatic 3-2 win over Southampton in the final at Wembley.

Having seen off the third-tier side at Sixfields, United edged out local rivals City and eased past West Ham before an aggregate victory over Hull in the semi finals.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic was our hero in the showpiece as he popped up with the winner three minutes from time after Saints had cancelled his opener and Jesse Lingard's well taken second. 

That success was the first major silverware of Jose's Old Trafford career - and the fourth time he's won this competition - and the boss is set to name a much-changed side for the visit of Nigel Clough's Brewers.

David de Gea, Nemanja Matic, Eric Bailly, Romelu Lukaku and Antonio Valencia will all be rested as Jose shuffles his pack ahead of a hectic fixtures schedule.

Despite the wholesale changes, such is the strength in depth of United's squad that the team selection still looks likely to be a strong one. 
Michael Carrick, Matteo Darmian, Scott McTominay, Victor Lindelof and Luke Shaw are set to feature, but Marcos Rojo, Paul Pogba and Axel Tuanzebe are injured and will miss out. 

For the Championship visitors, summer signings Liam Boyce and John Brayford are injured and cup-tied respectively, but recent absentees Hope Akpan and Matt Palmer could be in line to return.

Following successive promotions, the Staffordshire side struggled in their first ever season in the second tier last term, as they avoided relegation by a single point.

Clough brought in 12 new faces in the summer and after losing their first three league games, they've since picked up eight points from a possible 15 to move up to 19th place. 

This is a tie that will spark memories of 2006 when the two sides met in the FA Cup, when Burton were then a non-league club.

Despite the second half showings of Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney, the first tie at the Pirelli Stadium ended goalless.
Sir Alex's United, however, proved too strong in the Old Trafford replay and ran out comfortable 5-0 winners. 

Burton have seen off League One side Oldham and high-flying divisional rivals Cardiff City away from home to set up their glamour trip to Old Trafford. 

Form guide: United W W W W W W Burton Albion W W D L D W 
Match odds: United 4/1 Draw 11/1 Burton 50/2
Referee: Graham Scott takes charge of his first ever United fixture 

Monday 18 September 2017

Stage is set for North-West title tussle with United and City locked together

It is still early days in this season's Premier League, but United and cross-town rivals City have set the benchmark for others to follow.

Only alphabetical order separates us and them, and we boast identical records: four wins, one draw, sixteen scored and two conceded.

Despite Chelsea's dominance last season that ended with Antonio Conte's side winning the league, many pundits and bookies had tipped this season's title fight to be an all-Manchester one.

Five games in, and we've seen nothing to suggest that won't be the case.

The Stamford Bridge side remain within touching distance of the two Manchester clubs, and Tottenham also lie in wait.
But there is an unmistakeable sense that the major players in this season's title tussle will come from the North-West. 

The arrival of Messrs Guardiola and Mourinho in Manchester sparked the renewal of one of the most captivating rivalries in the modern game.
Perhaps one season later than expected, the much-anticipated showdown between the two men and their teams appears to have dawned at last.

Both sides are blessed with a staggering depth of quality, particularly in attacking positions.

Creator-in-chiefs Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Kevin de Bruyne have sparkled, and Sergio Aguero and Romelu Lukaku have punished opposing defences in a brutal, unrelenting fashion.

Guardiola was able to call upon Leroy Sane, Bernardo Silva and fit-again Ilkay Gundogan from the bench at Watford, while Jesse Lingard, Ander Herrera and Anthony Martial changed the flow of the game for Mourinho as United ran riot late on.

The two sides have been equally as impressive, but have despatched their opponents in different manners so far. 

Guardiola wants complete dominance and control from the outset whereas United, on the other hand, are more pragmatic.

We are prepared to bide our time and then pull away late on - as we've seen against West Ham, Swansea and again against Everton. 

Mourinho is the master exponent of navigating a title race and every time his sides have topped the table at Christmas, they've gone on to win it. 

Of course, Guardiola has done so before in Spain and Germany, but Jose's greater experience of the Premier League and its late-season quirks may give us the edge.

United were top of the league after three games last term and ended up slumming it in sixth, and City's own hopes faded after a similarly blistering start.

Is it too early to write off any of the other contenders?

We'll get our answer in the coming weeks and months but one thing's for sure: this season's title race looks set to go the distance and down to the wire.

Substitutes make the difference again in another late salvo

United left it late to put out-of-form Everton to the sword with three goals in the last eight minutes to record another 4-0 win.

It was the third such scoreline in five league games so far this season, yet this was not always the fluid and dangerous United that we've seen in our brilliant start to the new campaign.

Ultimately though, it was another reminder of this side's firepower, and the ability to ruthlessly and clinically put sides away that proved our chronic undoing last season. 

It is the first time the team have won the first three home games since the 2011-12 season, and we're toe-to-toe with Pep Guardiola's blistering title favourites at the top of the Premier League.

For much of the second half, the Reds toiled and flirted with the idea of allowing the out-of-form visitors - on a run of three successive defeats - back into the match.

There was clear evidence that United missed the energy and ball-carrying ability of the injured Paul Pogba.
Marouane Fellaini has been in fine form himself and deserved his start alongside the again imperious Nemanja Matic, but he cannot offer what the Frenchman does.

United had looked tired and static in midfield, which was odd considering that we had two extra days off than Everton after our European exertions in midweek.

Our substitutes have had a decisive impact in every game so far and the match against Ronald Koeman's side proved no exception. 

The introduction of Jesse Lingard, and then Ander Herrera, increased the team's tempo and gave us the added energy and pace usually provided by the absent Pogba.

Lingard was brought on to shore up the left side - an area that United looked vulnerable throughout - and it was he who was involved in the move that led to Romelu Lukaku's third goal.

Another substitute, Anthony Martial, rounded off the scoring with his injury-time penalty to complete a deserved, but ultimately flattering, win. 

In their six matches so far (not including the Super Cup), United have scored 19 goals and seven of those have now been scored by a player off the bench. 

That statistic goes to highlight the impressive resources, quality and strength in depth that Jose has at his disposal.

It also shows that, despite their disappointment at being left out, the substitutes are determined to give their manager a selection headache and force their way into his thinking. 

Match report: United 4-0 Everton

United hit overdrive in the closing stages again to ruin Wayne Rooney's Old Trafford return with an emphatic victory over the struggling Toffees.

Antonio Valencia's piledriver volley - a goal of the season contender - was all that separated the sides as the clock ticked into the last ten minutes. 

Even though United's lead had rarely come under threat, there was a feeling of relief around Old Trafford when Henrikh Mkhitaryan swept home the match-sealing second on 82 minutes.

Romelu Lukaku (who else) then made it 3-0 before substitute Anthony Martial added further gloss with a late penalty. 

The result saw United go joint top with rivals City - who had won 6-0 at Watford on Saturday - and the two sides boast identical records, with the same number of points, goals scored, conceded and the same goal difference.

United were on the front foot from the off and got off the perfect start when we took the lead after only four minutes, in swashbuckling style.

Man of the match Nemanja Matic picked out Valencia, and he smashed home a spectacular 25-yard volley beyond a helpless Jordan Pickford - his first Old Trafford goal since January 2014.

The Reds continued to press and could have been out of sight against opponents bereft of confidence and any semblance of form.

Juan Mata collected a stray pass from Michael Keane and played in Lukaku but, with the goal at his mercy, the red-hot striker could only pull his effort wide.

Mata himself went close, as did Rooney at the other end, before David de Gea saved well from Tom Davies, who was offside anyway.

After the break, the visitors began to improve and carved out two good chances in quick succession. 

De Gea denied the returning Rooney with a smart close-range block, and the keeper then also saved well from Everton's £45m summer signing Gylfi Sigurdsson three minutes later. 

Mata struck a post from a free-kick, but the result was soon put beyond any lingering doubts when Mkhitaryan stroked home his first goal of the season having been played in unselfishly by Lukaku.

The in-form Belgian got in on the act himself with a minute to play.

His free-kick hit the wall but he remained alive to the loose ball and tucked in past Pickford after substitute Jesse Lingard had flicked on a deflected Matic cross.

There was still time for another sub, this time Martial, to add a flattering sheen to the scoreline when he slotted home from the spot after ex-Red Morgan Schneiderlin had handled.

De Gea preserved another clean sheet - his 100th for the club - with a brilliant late save to keep out Sandro Ramirez's long-range effort, on another memorable afternoon at Old Trafford.

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

Saturday 16 September 2017

Match preview: United v Everton

Wayne Rooney is one of a number of familiar faces to return to Old Trafford in a match between two sides who have started the season in starkly contrasting form.

United have set the early Premier League pace with ten points from a possible 12, whilst Everton - despite a near £200 million summer spending spree - have suffered three straight defeats and are 16th in the table.

Their latest loss came in the Europa League on Thursday when Ronald Koeman's team produced a sluggish, abject performance in a 3-0 reverse away to Atalanta.

Despite the talented and expensive squad at his disposal, they are yet to gel and Koeman has been unable to reproduce last season's form that saw a seventh-placed finish and that European spot. 

Rooney faces his old side for the first time since his return to Goodison Park on a free transfer, with Morgan Schneiderlin and Michael Keane also set to face their former Old Trafford employers.

For United, in-form duo Romelu Lukaku will come up against his old team for the first time since his £75m move in  the summer, with ex-Toffee Marouane Fellaini also set to feature.

Paul Pogba is out for a "few matches" with the hamstring injury he picked up against Basel, but Phil Jones and Eric Bailly will be available having served European bans.

Luke Shaw and Marcos Rojo have both stepped up their recovery but this one will come to soon for both.

Ross Barkley and James McCarthy miss out for the visitors, with long-term absentees Ramiro Funes Mori, Seamus Coleman and Yannick Bolasie all sidelined.

United boss Jose Mourinho expects a difficult match for the team against a strong Everton side, despite the Toffees recent struggles.
He said: "I'm not going to analyse their form, I'm just going to say that they are a dangerous opponent with incredible investment.
"Investment of the teams that want to play for the title, so I think that this is their objective, or maybe the top four.
"They have lots of quality players, a good team with a good manager so it is a very difficult match for us.
"Wayne (Rooney) is clearly one of the most important players in the history of Manchester United, so I hope our fans will show him the respect he deserves before and after the match."

Form guide: United L W W W D W Everton W D D L L L 
Match odds: United 1/3 Draw 4/1 Everton 9/1
Referee: Andre Marriner

Thursday 14 September 2017

United hit by injury blow with Pogba out for four to six weeks

United's in-form French international Paul Pogba will be out for between four and six weeks with a hamstring injury.

Pogba picked up the injury in the early stages of the Champions League win over Basel, and was replaced by Marouane Fellaini after 19 minutes.

He is set to miss league games against Everton, Southampton and Crystal Palace, Wednesday's EFL Cup tie with Burton and the Champions League encounter with CSKA Moscow on 27 September.

The untimely injury has left Pogba in a race against time to be fit for United's crunch clash against Liverpool at Anfield on 14 October. 

Pogba has formed a potent partnership with new signing Nemanja Matic, starting every game for United this season, scoring twice.

In tandem with the Serbian, Pogba has provided the ammunition for red-hot strikers Marcus Rashford and Romelu Lukaku and his inspirational performances have led the charge in United's blistering start to the season.

The question of who should come in for him in the engine room is a headache for boss Jose Mourinho to deal with.

The Reds are blessed with impressive strength in depth in every position with Fellaini, Michael Carrick and Ander Herrera waiting in the midfield wings. 

Fellaini - hailed as a key cog in this United side by his manager - is in superb form himself and seems the first choice go-to option to fill the void left by the absent £89m man.
He was man-of-the match against the Swiss champions despite starting on the bench, and has become increasingly influential for the Reds.
After his impressive performance in a key game, Fellaini could be in line for a start against his former side at Old Trafford on Sunday. 

Carrick has yet to feature this season but could get his chance with a number of fringe players set for a run out in the Carabao Cup third-round match against Burton on Wednesday.

A long-term run in the side alongside Matic seems incompatible, with both players defensively sound but limited going forward - which could potentially make us unbalanced. 
However, Carrick provides a calming presence off the field as much as he does on it, with his ability to bring the best out of those around him still unrivalled. 

Herrera has had to be patient in the first few weeks of the season, having only started in the UEFA Super Cup against Real and at Stoke City last time out in the league. 

He is the most forward-thinking of the trio and exudes and positivity so, despite being on the periphery so far, he's more than capable of finding the form that won him the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year award last term. 

Wednesday 13 September 2017

Rotated Reds return to Europe's top table in style

United made a winning return to the Champions League with an impressive 3-0 victory over the Swiss champions in our Group A opener.

Whoever would have thought that much-maligned duo Ashley Young and Marouane Fellaini would be such influential players for United in the Champions League under Jose.

Yet it was those two who proved the Reds go-to men in the deservedly impressive win over Basel.

Young was a surprise choice to be drafted in at right-back against Basel, as Mourinho elected to put him in at the deep end to give Antonio Valencia a breather.

Before the game, the United manager said he felt "weaker" without the unmistakeable presence  of Fellaini in his squad.
He may not have started this match, but he certainly had the biggest impact on it, as he scored one and made another having replaced the hamstrung Paul Pogba after 19 minutes.

It is a testament to Fellaini's man of the match display that United did not break stride following the loss of the in-form Frenchman.

Fellaini was strong and assertive in the tackle, neat and tidy with his passing and once again showcased his aerial prowess with his headed opener.

Young provided the assist as he picked out the onrushing Belgian who finished the move with a trademark bullet header. 

Fellaini got the ball rolling for United and then turned provider late on with an incisive pull-back to set up Rashford for the third and final goal.

Depending on the severity of Pogba's untimely injury, United may need Fellaini now more than ever. 

Fellaini's goal was his first goal in the Champions League, whilst Romelu Lukaku and Rashford also scored on their debuts in the tournament. 

For Rashford, it was yet another strike on his first appearance in a competition, having also netted on his League, Europa League, League Cup, FA Cup, Manchester derby and England U21 and senior debuts. 

He's making it impossible for Mourinho to leave him out of this United side. 

Having started three of our four Premier League matches so far, he was given a rest to allow Anthony Martial a go from the start.
Seven minutes after his introduction, he latched on to Fellaini's cross and swept in the third to rubber-stamp a professional United win.

It was his third goal in as many games, and another debut strike to further underline his status as one of the most natural finishers in the English game. 

Match report: United 3-0 FC Basel

United opened their Champions League campaign in impressive style with an eye-catching victory over the Swiss champions FC Basel in Group A. 

Substitute Marouane Fellaini capped his man-of-the match performance with a goal having stepped off the bench ten minutes before the break.

Romelu Lukaku continued his rich vein of scoring form with his sixth of the season - and first ever in the competition - before another sub, Marcus Rashford, completed the scoring late on.

It was the perfect way to mark United's return to Europe's elite club competition after a 644-day absence. 

With a congested fixture schedule on the horizon, manager Jose Mourinho made six changes to the side that drew at Stoke, and the rotated Reds started brightly.

Lukaku went close early on, Anthony Martial flashed an effort over the bar from distance and Henrikh Mkhitaryan should have done better with a header from close range.

Stand-in skipper Paul Pogba was then forced off with a hamstring injury, with Fellaini on in his place, but this did little to stop the hosts momentum as the woodwork soon came to the visitors' rescue. 

It was Mkhitaryan who almost continued his impressive scoring run in Europe, stretching back to last season, when he stabbed the ball against a post after Lukaku had picked him out.

Despite being on the back foot, Basel almost made a shock breakthrough when Luca Zuffi pulled his shot wide when well placed after neat build up play.

They were made to rue that chance when the returning Ashley Young crossed for Fellaini, and he powered home his header to give United a deserved half-time lead. 

Seven minutes after the restart, we moved 2-0 ahead when Tomas Vaclik saved well from Martial, and from Daley Blind's resultant corner, Lukaku did the rest with another header.

David de Gea had little to do throughout but remained alert to tip over Mohammed Elyounoussi's rising effort from distance, and Vaclik did well to deny Lukaku at the other end.

United continued to attack and went close twice in quick succession through Martial, who fired wide and Young, whose 25-yarder was pushed out by the busy Vaclik.

Rashford then replaced Mata and the substitute put the result beyond any lingering doubt six minutes from time.

This time, Fellaini found space on the right and, after Mkhitaryan miscued his effort, Rashford pounced to score from close range for his third goal in as many games. 

That meant that the teenage striker had now scored on his League, Europa League, League Cup, Champions League, Manchester derby and England U21 and senior debuts. 

Ultimately, it capped a good night's work with another solid win to send United top of Group A after the first round of matches.

CSKA Moscow had a surprise 2-1 win in Portugal against Benfica in the other match.

Overall team performance: 6/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Marouane Fellaini 

Tuesday 12 September 2017

Opportunity knocks again for summer signing Lindelof

United's £31m Swedish centre-half Victor Lindelof is in line to return tonight in United's Champions League opener.

Lindelof has not been seen in a Reds shirt since his bruising competitive debut against Real Madrid in the Super Cup defeat more than a month ago.

It was an experience not too dissimilar to that of Henrikh Mkhitaryan's chastening first start for the club at home to Manchester City 11 months ago.

He was taken off at half time and then did not play again for eight weeks, placed in cold storage by his manager. 

United boss Jose Mourinho has opted for an almost identical approach with Lindelof as he gives our new centre-half the time to adjust to the demands of English football.

But United's return to Europe's elite competition tonight will also mark the comeback of Lindelof, who will line up in central defence against Basel at Old Trafford.

He will partner another forgotten man, Chris Smalling, as one of only two available centre backs, in the absence of suspended duo Eric Bailly and Phil Jones.

Mourinho candidly pointed out that he probably would have opted to start the pair even if Bailly and Jones had been available - but, at this moment at least, that's not quite true.

It was easy to understand the boss's desire to build up the confidence of two players who have seldom been seen of late.
Smalling has his own point to prove, after a summer in which he might have left the club had fellow England man Michael Keane joined United in addition to Lindelof.

It is a bigger night for the Swede, however, as he bids to get his feet under the table following that £30.7 million move from Benfica. 

Lindelof endured a difficult evening in that Super Cup outing, and his lack of awareness and sharpness led indirectly to both of the European champions goals. 

His difficult start to life at Old Trafford is in stark contrast to that of fellow summer signings, Nemanja Matic and Romelu Lukaku, who have both immediately established themselves as indispensable in this side. 

Unlike Lindelof, however, both Matic and Lukaku boast considerable Premier League experience, and Mourinho has admitted that he will use the Swede sparingly to get him up to speed.

Jose hinted that Lindelof will start the Carabao Cup tie at home to Burton, but the return of Bailly and Jones for Matchday Two at CSKA Moscow will give the boss a selection headache. 

Match preview: United v FC Basel

United's £31m Swedish summer signing Victor Lindelof will make his Old Trafford bow as attention turns to our eagerly-awaited Champions League return against the Swiss champions. 

The Reds will be without suspended duo Eric Bailly and Phil Jones against Raphael Wicky's Basel side, so Lindelof will partner Chris Smalling at the heart of the United defence.

Lindelof has yet to play in the Premier League having struggled on his competitive debut in our Super Cup defeat to Real Madrid last month but will line up for this Group A opener. 

United manager Jose Mourinho revealed that he had always planned to select the pair, regardless of other defensive options.

He said: "They are all the same level, so it is not a problem at all.
"Even if Bailly and Jones were available, I would probably have played Lindelof and Smalling, for Victor I think it is easier for him to adapt because he is used to playing in the Champions League."

David de Gea is set to start in goal, but Marouane Fellaini is doubtful with the calf injury that ruled him out of the trip to Stoke.

This is the Reds first Champions League season since the ill-fated 2015/16 campaign, when the team failed to get out of a relatively kind group under Louis van Gaal (who lost his job at the end of that season).

Mourinho added: "To be humble is to admit that the opponent has the same ambition that we do.
"This opponent can perfectly come here and give Manchester United a bad taste, as they have in the past, but we are strong, playing well and we have good confidence in ourselves.
"In spite of this being a difficult match, we will try to win.
"We have to try and qualify and we have to go to the last 16 and enjoy that special knock-out phase with the best teams in Europe."

In contrast to our own blistering domestic start, the 20-time Swiss champions have started slowly with three wins from their opening seven matches, with two defeats against BSC Young Boys and Lausanne. 
Having won their league for the last eight seasons in a row, Basel - synonymous with United's recent Champions League history - will be looking to catch the eye on the elite stage again.

They knocked United out of the competition at the group stage back in 2011 after a 3-3 draw at Old Trafford and Alexander Frei's winner in the return fixture in Switzerland. 

Form guide: United L W W W D FC Basel W W D D L
Match odds: United 1/5 Draw 7/1 FC Basel 18/1
Referee: Frenchman Ruddy Buquet takes charge of a United fixture for the first time.

Monday 11 September 2017

United set for Champions League return after one season absence

Having missed out on dining at the top European table for two of the last three seasons, United return to action in the Champions League on Tuesday.

As fun and as rewarding as last term's successful Europa League foray proved to be, nothing beats the glitz, glamour, prestige and atmosphere of the continent's elite club competition.

This season's tournament will feature five English sides for the first time, with the Reds set to welcome Swiss champions FC Basel to Old Trafford on Matchday One.

It's our first tie in the competition since December 2015, when United headed to Germany to face Wolfsburg in that do-or-die encounter that would determine our Champions League fate under Louis van Gaal.

A depleted Reds side were beaten 3-2 and crashed out of a group that also contained PSV Eindhoven and CSKA Moscow.

United finished third in the section in a painful European campaign that would end with an unpalatable Europa League KO by Liverpool in the last 16.

The Reds find themselves in a similarly favourable group this time around - with Benfica and CSKA Moscow alongside Basel - and it would again be a major surprise if Jose fails to negotiate safe passage through the group and into the knockouts. 

Any satisfaction at another reasonable draw, however, will be mitigated by the memory of the 2011-12 season, when we again faced Basel and Benfica at this stage but could only finish third.

United have made a brilliant start domestically - checked only by Stoke at the weekend - leading many to tip us to make serious inroads on some of Europe's big name heavyweights in this season's tournament.
It's a belief enhanced by the boss's superb record in the competition, having won it twice during his trophy-laden career (with Porto in 2004 and Inter in 2010).

But, as we saw against Real Madrid in the Super Cup back in August, the Reds have a lot of work to do to be put in the same bracket as Bayern, Bayern and the two-time defending champions.

However, Jose - looking to become the first man to win the Champions League three times with three different clubs - has played down expectations with the more realistic target of a last 26 place. 

A club the size and stature of United naturally belong in this competition, and what better way to return to it than running out under the lights into a fervent OT atmosphere...

Bring it On!! 

Sunday 10 September 2017

Match report: Stoke City 2-2 United

Eric Choupo - Moting scored twice as Stoke ended United's 100% league record in a topsy turvy tussle of fluctuating fortunes at the Bet365 Stadium.

The Reds had also yet to concede a goal, but the backline was finally breached as the Cameroonian international - signed from Schalke - put Mark Hughes' side ahead shortly before half-time.

United turned the game on its head through potent partnership Marcus Rashford and Romelu Lukaku, only to be pegged back once more by Choupo - Moting's second half leveller. 

The Belgian striker squandered an excellent opening to win it, before Jack Butland's brilliant reaction save prevented a Kurt Zouma own goal in stoppage time.

The draw was enough to see United return to the top of the table, albeit only on goal difference following Manchester City's thumping win earlier in the day.

Butland showcased his England credentials throughout and - after Paul Pogba went close with a deflected effort - he was called into action on 25 minutes.

Eric Bailly's pinpoint pass played Rashford through, but his low drive was well blocked by the legs of the advancing keeper.

David de Gea twice saved well from Xherdan Shaqiri in quick succession, and Butland kept out Rashford with a fingertip stop in an increasingly end-to-end encounter.

Stoke looked to go in at half-time ahead, when Choupo - Moting slid in to score from close range after a low cross from the right.

United's riposte was almost instant, though, when Henrikh Mkhitaryan's corner was flicked on by Nemanja Matic, and Pogba's header hit Rashford to wrongfoot Butland on its way in. 

Although a vibrant and lively Stoke side threatened to take the lead, it was United who moved ahead three minutes shy of the hour mark.

Mkhitaryan picked out Lukaku, whose initial effort was blocked, but he followed up to score at the second attempt to complete the turnaround.

As was the case with the hosts opener, though, United's joy proved short lived despite De Gea's best effort.

The Spaniard's stunning one-handed stop kept out Jese, but from the resultant corner, Choupo-Moting ghosted in unmarked at the far post to nod in his second. 

Antonio Valencia had a shot deflected away and Lukaku fired over when well-placed as United upped the ante in search of a fourth successive league win.

It wasn't to be, but Stoke were indebted to Butland once more right at the end when his fine, instinctive save kept out Zouma's inadvertent effort. 

A draw was ultimately a fair result from a entertaining - if frustrating - encounter that sees United edge back to the top of the table on goal difference.

Overall team performance: 6.5/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Marcus Rashford

Friday 8 September 2017

Match preview: Stoke City vs United

The Premier League returns after a two-week hiatus with United set for the toughest test of our season so far in the Potteries.

Having won each of our first three opening league fixtures without conceding a goal, the Reds make the relatively short trip to Stoke in Saturday's evening kick-off.

Managed by former United legend Mark Hughes, Stoke endured their most difficult campaign under the Welshman last term as they finished thirteenth after a run of three consecutive ninth placed seasons. 

They've made a similarly indifferent start this time, having collected four points from their first three matches to sit eleventh in the fledgling league table.

That said, they are always a tough nut to crack, particularly on their own patch, with both fixtures having ended 1-1 last season - in fact, United have not won at the Bet365 Stadium since Sir Alex Ferguson's retirement. 

But this United side are a team in top form, and could welcome Ashley Young and Luke Shaw back into the fold after the pair stepped up their recovery before the international break.

Marcos Rojo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic are still sidelined and not expected to return for at least three months but the rest of the squad have reported back from international duty with a clean bill of health. 

Austrian centre-back Kevin Wimmer looks set for his Stoke debut having signed from Tottenham, while former United men Darren Fletcher and Mame Biram Diouf will both feature. 

Another ex-Red, Stoke captain Ryan Shawcross, will miss out with injury. 

The corresponding fixture last season was notable for Wayne Rooney's late free-kick which saw him notch his record-breaking 250th Reds goal and eclipse Sir Bobby as the club's all time leading goalscorer.

On Stoke and squad rotation, United manager Jose Mourinho said: "Stoke are always a difficult team to play against, they defend with a lot of people and they are dangerous in set pieces.

"It's a stadium where you always feel the pressure, so I think it is going to be difficult again.
"Hopefully we can be better than in previous years but it is going to be difficult, for sure.
"Now we play every three days and that is good because all the players will now feel that they are involved.
"The squad is strong, the players are ready and the hardest decision to make is who to leave on the bench." 

Form guide: Stoke L W W D United L W W W
Match odds: Stoke 11/1 Draw 10/3 United 5/4
Referee: Neil Swarbrick (Lancashire)

International Reds Round up: Race to Russia 2018 (part 2)

We continue the second part of our International Reds round-up in Group D of UEFA qualifying.

In Group D, Nemanja Matic and Serbia look set to finish top and pip the Republic of Ireland, after a 3-0 victory over Moldova and a 1-0 win in Dublin. 

They are currently four points ahead of Chris Coleman's Wales in second place and five clear of Martin O'Neill's side with matches against Austria and already-eliminated Georgia on the horizon.

In South America, Argentina - including Sergio Romero and Marcos Rojo (even though he's still injured) - face an uphill struggle to qualify from their section.
The 2014 finalists currently occupy the play-off position in fifth, after they suffered frustrating stalemates against Uruguay and Venezuela during the latest round of fixtures.
Jorge Sampaoli's side are level on points with fourth-placed Peru, who they play next month in a contest that will go a long way to deciding their fate. 

However, it's a tall order for Ecuador and their captain Antonio Valencia, who are well off the pace after successive defeats to Brazil and Peru.

Those results left them in eighth place - four points off the play-off position - with difficult fixtures to come against Argentina and Chile.

In the African section, Eric Bailly's Ivory Coast side are on track to reach a fourth successive World Cup finals.
With two games left against Mali and Morocco, Les Elephants hold a slender one-point advantage over the latter in Group C, but suffered a setback in a surprise 2-1 home loss to Gabon last time out.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan's dream of World Cup glory is unfortunately over, with his Armenia side  already eliminated after a disappointing campaign in European qualifying.

Captain Mkhitaryan scored in one of their two wins - a 2-0 success over Kazakhstan in March - having collected only six points from their eight matches so far in Group E. 

The qualification picture will become even clearer during the next round of international fixtures next month, as the pressure ratchets up in the race to Russia 2018.

There looks set to be a strong Reds presence for the World Cup itself, with some still dreaming of their participation in the greatest footballing spectacle of them all. 

International Reds Round up: Race to Russia 2018 (part 1)

The first international break of the season saw countries across the globe continue their bid to qualify for next summer's World Cup.

In total, 17 United players left the club to represent their respective nations in the last round of qualification matches, and others will be looking to play in October's and November's matches.

The heat is on to reach Russia, and with 32 places up for grabs, we take a look at the United men who have already made it, who is close to booking their spot and those out of contention.

A star-studded Belgium squad are the only European team already assured of a World Cup berth, having taken 22 points from a possible 24 available so far and look set to top Group H.

Romelu Lukaku has led their charge with 10 goals in the campaign to date, and he continued his superb early season form with a hat-trick against Gibraltar (9-0) and the winner in Greece (2-1).

Marouane Fellaini has played his part with some influential displays in midfield, and - such is the array of talent at Roberto Martinez's disposal - Belgium will be expected to make a real impact at the finals.

There are still a number of countries who have work to do in the games that remain in the qualifying campaign, although some are very close to that place in Russia.

Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Luke Shaw, Ashley Young, Michael Carrick, Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford could all be in contention for England as Gareth Southgate's side took a step closer to the tournament with a pair of wins over Malta (4-0) and Slovakia (2-1) - as Rashford scored the winner in the latter.

Elsewhere, Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial's France are locked in battle with Victor Lindelof's Sweden to finish top of Group A.
Les Bleus sit a point ahead of the second-placed Swedes in the standings with only two matches remaining.

Dick Advocaat's Netherlands side - including United duo Daley Blind and Palace loanee Tim Fosu - Mensah - remain in contention for the play-offs.
The Dutch are three points further back and set to face the Swedes in a potentially decisive clash in Amsterdam in October.

In Group G, 2010 winners Spain are assured of at least a play-off place, and currently lie three points ahead of Matteo Darmian's Italy after they beat the Azzurri 3-0 and thumped eight past Liechtenstein for the second time in the campaign.

David De Gea played in both games while Juan Mata and Ander Herrera will look to earn recalls under Julen Lopetegui for the next round of fixtures. 

Thursday 7 September 2017

Fearless Rashford showcases his world class potential to officially come of age

In England's most important qualifying fixture on their road to Russia, Marcus Rashford proved his class with a superb display after an early error.

Having gifted the Slovaks a priceless third-minute goal, Rashford demonstrated his courage and bravery to claim an assist and went on to score the winner in a man of the match performance.

The United forward replaced Raheem Sterling in Gareth Southgate's line-up and again showed, aged 19, that he's made of sterner stuff than Sterling and many of his other more senior colleagues.

Too often, those in an England shirt would've been gripped by fear after such a mistake, but Rashford recovered from that poor start to show temperament and character - as well as the very obvious quality he possesses.

Rather than going into hiding and letting anxiety get the better of him, Rashford kept looking for the ball and took responsibility.
He continued to run fearlessly at the Slovakian defence and was willing to make bold decisions in a personal bid to drag England back into the match.

Barely 60 seconds after he lost possession and allowed Stanislav Lobotka to score, he nutmegged his way to the edge of the visitors area and lashed an effort narrowly wide.

Maybe it was hearing that United legend Ryan Giggs had compared him to Thierry Henry, or simply the attitude of youth, but Rashford stood up to be counted and was the man who made the difference.

Quite why Southgate felt that Rashford - at his best when coming inside off the left - needed to start on the right of a four man midfield - is anyone's guess.

While Rashford learnt a harsh early lesson, however, so did his manager and the 19-year-old (he doesn't turn 20 until October), was eventually moved into his favourite position and both he, and England, reaped the rewards.

Rashford's quick thinking corner kick led to Eric Dier's swept finish for the leveller and - only two minutes into the second half - he showcased his full repertoire of tricks.

Dele Alli should have done better from his clever flick, but, now with the wind in his sails, it was no surprise that it was Rashford who gave England their precious lead.

Instead of opting for an easier pass, he let fly from 25 yards and the ball whistled beyond Slovakian goalkeeper Martin Dubravka for a lead that the hosts were not to relinquish.

Rashford left the field late on to a standing ovation and a hug from his manager, and there's no doubt that there will be another one from impressed United boss Jose Mourinho.