Wednesday 29 November 2017

No Silva lining for Watford as the master usurps the apprentice

In January of this year, Hull City appointed a young, charismatic and unknown Portuguese manager who arrived in England with big ambitions having being hugely successful in his homeland. 

I'm sure we've heard that narrative somewhere before...

The now Watford boss Marco Silva has followed the same managerial path as his compatriot Jose Mourinho to become the Premier League's most sought after boss. Silva announced his arrival in style when the two met for the first time in a League Cup tie only a few weeks after his appointment - Hull's first win over United in any competition since 1974.

It was reminiscent of that night at Old Trafford when Jose's Porto came to Old Trafford in the Champions League last 16 in the 2003-04 season and knocked us out - an achievement celebrated by Mourinho's touchline dash and knee-slide in front of the Stretty: a defining moment that catapulted Jose into the international spotlight.  The two men are good friends, but it was a friendship that had to be put on hold for 90 frenetic minutes on Tuesday at Vicarage Road and - this time - Silva failed to get one over on his countryman as Mourinho proved he's still the master to cut the apprentice down to size: the young upstart was beaten by the experienced old stager. 

Despite the fact that he failed to save Hull from relegation, Silva's stock rose to an all time high and his reputation has continued to soar as he's picked up 21 points from 14 games since he took over at Vicarage Road in the summer - so much so that he became Everton's first choice to replace the sacked Ronald Koeman. Watford, however, held firm and rejected the Toffees admiring glances: understandably they wanted to hold on to a superb young manager working wonders again. 

The pair sit at opposite ends of the managerial spectrum - with Silva's 253 games to Mourinho's 851, and the former's three trophies in comparison to Jose's 25. The two have very different personalities  with Mourinho's controversial and often confrontational style in stark contrast to Silva's measured, philosophical and understated manner. 

But they also share many traits and similarities: for starters, Messrs Mourinho and Marco hold the distinction of being, at present, the only two managers from their country in the Premier League.  Both had unremarkable playing careers before cutting their managerial teeth in Portugal, with Silva winning the Portuguese Cup at Sporting, just as Jose did at Porto the season before that Champions League win. 

Like Jose, Silva is a hard taskmaster and a superb man-manager who gets the best out of his players, commanding the utmost respect and trust of his squad. Watford were disappointing last season under Silva's predecessor Walter Mazzari, but Silva has had more of an impact in three months than the Italian managed in nine - a similar upturn in fortunes that we've experience since we replaced LVG with Jose. 

Silva has lesser expectations to deal with at Watford than Jose does with us, but it will be intriguing to see how his path develops ahead of many more battles with the top brass in the future. 

Lindelof finds his feet to put early struggles behind him

It's no secret that summer signing Victor Lindelof has endured early struggles since he arrived at United, but there are signs that the Swedish centre-back is starting to find his feet. 

He was voted as our Man of the Match during the weekend win over Brighton, and brought the Old Trafford crown to their feet for one bone-shaking - but fair - challenge on Seagulls winger Anthony Knockaert.

That seems to be have sparked something of a turnaround for Lindelof who turned in another impressive performance at the heart of the Reds three-man defence at Vicarage Road on Tuesday. 

A defence of an erratic Chris Smalling, a rusty Marcos Rojo (on his first start after seven months out) and a suspect Lindelof would not have filled many of the travelling Red Army with much confidence - particularly against a lively, vibrant and energetic Watford side.

But Lindelof confounded his critics with a calm, composed and confident showing and would probably have collected a second successive MOTM award, if not for the match-winning exploits of Ashley Young and Jesse Lingard. 

The young defender kept Watford's Brazilian forward Richarlison, one of the league's in-form players, in check throughout and then also did well when faced with the physical presence of Troy Deeney when he came on later in the match. 

The nadir of Lindelof's brief United career came in the shock defeat at Huddersfield last month, but he was rushed into the side when possibly unprepared after Phil Jones went off injured. The Reds were poor collectively as a squad and it would be unfair to pin the blame for the loss solely on the shoulders of a player new to the hustle and bustle of the Premier League.

Many players have struggled in their early days at the club, and have gone on to become United legends - Patrice Evra (who was subbed at half-time on his debut), Nemanja Vidic and David de Gea (both of whom underwhelmed to start with)  to name but three. All endured difficult first seasons at Old Trafford but later blossomed and developed into title winners and became the spine of Sir Alex's last great team. 

I'm not suggesting that Lindelof will ever become as key as those three - that will take some doing -  but he needed time to settle and has started to look far more like the cultured centre-back that impressed at Benfica last season and swayed Jose to sign him. 

One swallow does not make a summer, of course, but it's a positive upturn in fortunes for Lindelof, who had long been coveted by Jose before he made to switch from Benfica for £31m in the summer, and I'm pleased for a young player who had to take heavy criticism whilst trying to adapt to life in a league he's not used to. 

When a player comes with a hefty price tag, expectations are high - sometimes too high - and it seems Lindelof had been written off before he had the chance to prove himself.

But Jose rarely makes bad signings and again demonstrated good man management to stick with the Swede despite his patchy early form - and the absence of Phil Jones and Eric Bailly also enabled him to get a run of games under his belt and build some momentum and confidence. 

Lindelof looks set to keep his place until the Ivorian returns, and with Arsenal and City on the horizon, there will be tougher tests ahead for him and United. 

Young guns down old side in new lease of life

Like London buses... you wait ages for one to come and, when it does, they all arrive at once. Having not scored since May 2016, Ashley Young followed up his (albeit heavily deflected) winner against Brighton with a delicious double on his old stamping ground at Watford, for three goals in as many days.

The first was nice: a well-hit volley from 20 yards that came after clever play from Jesse Lingard, but the second was a huge surprise. When United won a free-kick 25 yards out, most expected Paul Pogba to take responsibility but instead Young surprised everyone inside Vicarage Road - including his manager and maybe even himself - with a brilliant, stunning set-piece that Roberto Carlos would have been proud of (some say the Brazilian has pictures of Young on his bedroom wall!). 

Against Brazil at Wembley 15 days ago, winger-turned-full-back-turned wing-back Young played for England for the first time since 2013, a richly deserved recall for a much maligned - and often derided - player, given a new lease of life under Jose's tutelage. For all the talent, depth and quality in the boss's new-look United identikit, old stager Young - this side's third longest serving player - has ripped up the formbook and rolled back the years. It looked certain that Young's career at Old Trafford would come to an end and that he would be moved on as Jose overhauled the squad - instead he's become one of the manager's most trusted and reliable players.

For all the talk of United's need for a new left-back, it's testament to Young that he's keeping Luke Shaw - a specialist full-back ten years his junior -  in the wilderness. Such has been the turnaround in Young's fortunes, it would be very harsh to drop him for a player who has had just 17 minutes of game time this season. Young is, for now, at least, proving to be more than capable of filling the position - and, on the occasions when Antonio Valencia is given the night off, Young is also as equally comfortable as a right back (as we saw when he played there, got an assist and was captain for the night against Basel in the Champions League in September).

Young was an out-an-out winger under both Sir Alex and his predecessor David Moyes, but it was under Louis van Gaal that he first played as a full-back -  through a combination of an injury crisis and the Dutchman's often head-scratching rotation policy. He often struggled for consistency as United laboured through two soporific seasons of LVG, but it's under Mourinho that Young has truly come into his own.

United have scored five times this term as a result of whipped crosses from the boot of Young, including possibly the best assist of the season for Chris Smalling, in the recent home win over Newcastle. 

He's looking back to his best, form which we haven't seen enough since his first season, when he was signed by Sir Alex in the 2011/12 campaign. If he continues on this current trajectory, what price on Young pushing for a surprise place in Gareth Southgate's squad for the World Cup in the summer. 

Match report: Watford 2-4 United

Ashley Young scored twice in six first-half minutes as United hit four on the road at Watford and kept up the pressure on unbeaten leaders Manchester City.

Anthony Martial also scored before the interval as the Reds raced into a three-goal lead only for Watford to hit back - but Jesse Lingard's sublime individual goal rubber-stamped the result and moved United back to within five points of City, who host Southampton on Wednesday.

Young continued his superb recent form when he put us ahead with the first attack of the game on 19 minutes. Having scored with a heavily deflected effort against Brighton on Saturday, it was a far more conventional finish this time, when Lingard's cross picked out Young and he half-volleyed in beyond Heurelho Gomes.

Five minutes later, Young stepped up to the mark with a stunning free-kick that would not have looked out of place in the Cristiano Ronaldo blueprint. Paul Pogba went down under a challenge from Abdoulaye Doucoure, and Young beautifully blasted home the set-piece with aplomb from 25 yards.

Marco Silva's side had come into the match on the back of two successive wins which had lifted them to eighth in the table, but the Hornets were left stung when Martial looked to have put the result beyond doubt just after the half-hour mark.
United broke from midfield and Romelu Lukaku flicked the ball on into the path of the Frenchman, who fired in his eighth goal of the season from close range.

The hat-trick hunting Young had a chance to seal his unlikely treble, but this time Watford held firm as another free-kick from an almost identical position failed to clear the wall. United would have gone in at half-time even further ahead if not for the strong reactions of Gomes, who twice saved well from Lukaku and then the lurking Lingard in quick succession. 

Richarlison headed over the bar for the hosts, but United managed the game superbly and rarely looked in danger of squandering the lead, until we were stung by the Hornets in an unwelcome twist in the tale.

Marcos Rojo, on his first league start for seven months, clumsily felled Roberto Pereyra and Watford substitute Deeney - back after a three-match ban - sent David de Gea the wrong way from the spot.

For the first time in  the contest, United were pegged back and the three-goal advantage had soon been reduced further as Watford moved to within a goal of the Reds when Abdoulaye Doucoure poked in the loose ball from close range, but any hopes of an incredible comeback proved to be short-lived.

Two minutes later, Lingard re-established United's two-goal lead with an incredible solo goal (are you watching, Messi), when he collected the ball deep inside his own half, slalomed beyond the back-pedalling Watford defence and smashed in a composed finish to seal the points.

United Faithful Man of the Match: Ashley Young 
Overall team performance: 7.5/10

Sunday 26 November 2017

Result wasn't pretty but United win ugly to grind it out

It wasn't pretty and certainly wasn't vintage from United, but this could be a win as vital as any in the final reckoning come May. 

Ashley Young scored his first 'goal' since the final league game of the 2015-16 season, but his heavily deflected strike will probably go down as a Lewis Dunk own goal.

United had breezed past another newly promoted team in Newcastle last time out, but this proved to be a much more testing examination against the south coast side. 

The 4-1 win over the Magpies was the seventh time that United have scored four goals in a game this season, but you're not going to get that every week in this league.

The ability to 'win ugly' and grind out results is the true test of any side with lofty ambitions, and when your team can do so, it's often more satisfying as a fan than a comprehensive win. 

That's exactly what United had to do here as we were frustrated for long periods by Chris
Hughton's brave Albion side.

The visitors defended stoically, and had their moments going forward too but - in the end - United probably just about merited the win. 

Brighton were dogged, determined and resilient, and the Seagulls showed all the endeavour and team spirit that sent them soaring from the Championship and into a first ever Premier League campaign. 

On this showing, it will be enough to keep them there. 

Jose praised the efforts of the visitors, and said that Brighton gave United our hardest game of the season - high praise indeed considering our recent away trips to Anfield and Stamford Bridge. 
With unbeaten City the next league visitors to Old Trafford in a fortnight - after two away games at Watford and Arsenal - we'll need to produce a better performance than we showed here.

Romelu Lukaku looked flat throughout and his recent struggles in front of goal continued - but it was not for the want of trying though. 
Having scored against Newcastle, he was only denied again here by the impressive reflexes of Brighton keeper Matt Ryan shortly before half -time.

It's been a season of feast followed by famine for our big Belgian striker - he scored eleven goals in his first ten games, but has now found the net only once in his last nine - and that came against Newcastle with the game won. 

Paul Pogba completed the first 90 minutes since his comeback and Zlatan Ibrahimovic came on for the last half an hour as he continues his rehabilitation back up to full fitness. 

United travel to Watford on Tuesday before arch rivals Arsene Wenger and Jose renew their bitter feud at the Emirates next weekend.

Then comes the small matter of that first Manchester derby at OT a week later, on December 10th. 

City may have been picking up the plaudits for their thrilling style but there's more than one way to win a match and United have proved that substance can be just as important as style.

As the season enters its most pivotal point, you get the feeling there will be plenty of both as the Reds look to ramp up the pressure at the top. 

Match report: United 1-0 Brighton&Hove Albion

United edged past the challenge of brave newly promoted Brighton through Ashley Young's fortuitous second half winner to extend our unbeaten home run to a 39th game. 

The Reds were stifled by Chris Hughton's Seagulls for over an hour, until Young's 25-yarder hit Lewis Dunk and looped over Matt Ryan to earn United an eighth successive Old Trafford win.

The strike will probably go down as a Dunk own goal - but that would be very harsh on the Albion centre-back who had an otherwise excellent game at the heart of their defence.

United started strongly and went close inside the opening ten minutes, when Romelu Lukaku fired over the bar after neat link-up play with Anthony Martial. 

Brighton arrived at Old Trafford on a five-match unbeaten run and in the top half of the table after a very steady start to their first ever Premier League season. 

Pascal Gross tested David de Gea with a 20-yarder while last year's Championship Player of the Year Anthony Knockaert flashed an effort across goal that evaded everyone.

Glenn Murray failed to get on the end of a set-piece, but, just before half-time, Albion were indebted to their efforts of their Australian international keeper.

Ryan kept out Lukaku's point-blank range header with his foot, before he then somehow superbly denied Paul Pogba on the rebound when the Frenchman looked certain to score. 

Following a half of frustration, the second period came to life after Victor Lindelof's crunching - but fair - challenge on Knockaert.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic then stepped off the bench on the hour mark, and United finally found the breakthrough six minutes after his arrival - albeit in a fortunate manner. 

A corner, awarded when Lukaku and Duffy were involved in a coming together and disputed by Brighton, fell to Young and his speculative shot from distance struck Dunk on the knee and looped over the back-pedalling Ryan. 

Knockaert went close when he fired across goal again, and Bruno Salter did likewise moments later as Brighton mounted a late push for a leveller, even though David de Gea had little to do.

Ibra almost put the result beyond doubt late on when he volleyed wide after superb link-up between himself, Lukaku and Pogba. 

The result means United are now unbeaten at Old Trafford in 39 matches across all competitions, with our last home loss a 2-1 defeat to Manchester City in September 2016.

Next up at OT in the league? Yep, you've got it.... that lot from over the road on December 10th.

United Faithful Man of the Match: Victor Lindelof. THAT tackle on Knockaert alone makes him worthy of the MOTM award
Overall team performance: 6.5/10

Friday 24 November 2017

Match preview: United v Brighton&Hove Albion

So I've finally got around to putting up this preview... it's taken me a while to get over the midweek defeat.. nah just kidding I've just been crazily busy with my University assignments.

Anyway, this is strange for me as my boyhood club  meet my hometown team in the Premier League, a sentence that I never thought I'd write but it's now reality.. 'little Brighton' plying their trade in the elite of English football. 

This is Albion's first season in the top division since 1983 and the South Coast side have surprised many with their impressive start to life in the Premier League. 
Tipped to be among the favourites for relegation, Chris Hughton's Seagulls have instead adjusted well and are flying high in the top half of the table, soaring into ninth place after a recent five-match unbeaten run.

They've beaten West Brom, Newcastle, West Ham and Swansea so far this season and have picked up recent draws with Southampton, Everton and last time out against Stoke at The Amex. 

United remain without sidelined centre-backs Phil Jones and Eric Bailly, but Marcos Rojo could keep his place having started in Basel.
Michael Carrick, meanwhile, revealed his recent absence through a minor heart condition which saw him have a Cardiac Ablation procedure. 

Antonio Valencia, Juan Mata, Ashley Young and Henrikh Mkhitaryan did not travel to Switzerland, and all are likely to return to the squad for this one as Jose looks set to shuffle his pack ahead of Tuesday's trip to Watford. 

Paul Pogba wil start against Brighton, but manager Jose Mourinho said that the Frenchman is not yet fit enough to play a full 90 minutes. 

He said: "Paul is still on this process where he cannot reach the limit so we give him 65/70 minutes and that's when the fatigue normally arrives, and with so many matches consecutively, we need to protect such an important player for us.
"It is an interesting week because I think it's the first time this season where we have three Premier League matches in one week."

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is likely to be on the bench again, but there are no new injury worries for the Reds who will go in search of an eighth successive home league win - the best such Old Trafford form since the title winning season of 2012/13. 

Brighton have a fully fit squad to pick from, with the exception of midfielder Beram Kayal who is on the way back from a broken leg, and Steve Sidwell is also a doubt. 

Boss Hughton said: "These are the days that we worked so hard for as a team last year, everyone knows what United means - the stadium, the club, the fans, the history, it's a wonderful day for us.
"There aren't many clubs at our level that are going to go there and win, we have to be realistic.
"It's a nice place to come away if you can give a good account of yourselves and if we got a result that would be extra special for us."

Form guide: United W W W L W L Brighton L D W D W D 
Match odds: United 5/1 Draw 15/3 Brighton 35/2 
Referee: Neil Swarbrick 

Thursday 23 November 2017

Match report: FC Basel 1-0 United

United were dominant for much of the game but were hit by a late Michael Lang sucker punch and made to wait for qualification.

The Reds are still in a strong position to seal their place in the last 16, and only need a point from the final match at home to CSKA Moscow to go through.

Indeed, the only way United cannot qualify for the knockouts would be if Basel beat Benfica and we lost by a margin of six goals or more - a very, very unlikely scenario. 

Sergio Romero and the much-changed Reds had held firm until the final moments when Raoul Petretta's cross evaded everyone and Lang nipped in to score from close range.

United, who welcome back Marcos Rojo at the heart of the defence, had been in control virtually from the off, with the hosts restricted to the odd effort from distance.

Captain for the night Paul Pogba was again commanding, and it was from his intricate build-up play that the Reds carved out the first opening.

The Frenchman's pinpoint through pass picked out Romelu Lukaku on 12 minutes, but Tomas Vaclik was out smartly and saved well.

Marouane Fellaini headed wide, Pogba went close with a set-piece and Dimitri Oberlin's free-kick drifted a long way off target at the other end.

The Reds should have taken the lead shor
tly before the interval when Anthony Martial's cross found Fellaini, but the big Belgian only made minimal contact and the ball struck a post, when heavier contact would surely have taken it in.

Rojo cleared well from Renato Steffen's dangerous inswinger, Lukaku headed wide from a Martial centre, before Serey Die thumped wide from distance as Basel started to up the ante.

Vaclik saved superbly from Martial before United almost moved ahead through the boot of an unlikely source, when Rojo almost marked his comeback with a goal after seven months out.

The Czech keeper had been impressive for the shots but this time he could only watch on as the Argentinian's deflected 30 yarder left him grasping at thin air, only for the crossbar to come to Basel's rescue. 

Tricky winger Steffen had a shot parried by the recalled Romero, then he cut inside Daley Blind and bent an effort narrowly wide. 
At the other end, Pogba had a well-struck effort held by Vaclik and Lang came within inches of the elusive breakthrough when he powered against the bar from a corner. 

Basel had a penalty appeal waved away, Oberlin went close and substitute Marcus Rashford fired into the side netting on the angle as the tie opened up in search of a winner.

Knowing they had to win after CSKA's victory over Benfica in the other game, Basel continued to press and came on strong in the closing stages. 

Die forced a flying save from Romero, while substitute Zlatan Ibrahimovic headed over and then blasted a speculative effort wide. 
Then came Lang's late sting in the tail as United were beaten in Basel again, but, this time the qualification picture still looks pretty for the Reds.

United Faithful Man of the Match: Paul Pogba
Overall team performance: 6/10 

Tuesday 21 November 2017

Match preview: FC Basel v United

Despite an exemplary record in Group A, the Reds require a solitary point from the final two games to seal qualification to the knockouts.

The Reds have won four out of four in Europe so far this season, including a 3-0 win over Wednesday's opponents on Matchday One (with goals from Marouane Fellaini and tournament debutants Marcus Rashford and Romelu Lukaku). 

Basel's fate, however, is still in the balance as they sit second with six points from four games, level on points with third-placed CSKA Moscow in a tight tussle for the other last 16 place - having lost 2-1 at home to the Russians last time out. 

The Russian side host a Benfica side who remain without a win, a point and even a goal, in the other game and will end the night in a strong position to qualify should they and the Reds both win. 

Raphael Wicky's side, Swiss champions for a remarkable eight successive seasons, lie second in the Super League and head into this one off the back of a dominant 5-1 over struggling Sion.

Basel are a familiar foe in European competition, with the Reds having endured mixed fortunes against them in recent years.
The last time we made the visit to St Jakob Park was in 2011, which ended in a 2-1 defeat for injury-hit United, who were demoted to the Europa League at the expense of the hosts.

Four of the eleven who started that ill-fated match are still at United, with three of them - David de Gea, Chris Smalling and Ashley Young - all set to feature this time around.

Michael Carrick remains sidelined along with centre-back pairing Eric Bailly and Phil Jones, both of whom have a chance of a return in the weekend's game with Brighton.

Ibrahimovic will be on the bench again and Marcos Rojo - an unused substitute against Newcastle - is in contention to start. 

Basel will be without midfielder Taulant Xhaka (brother of Arsenal's Granit), with Omar Gaber, Germano Vailati and Ricky van Wolfswinkel also sidelined. 

Jose spoke about Basel's pitch, which has been the subject of some concern, and said: "I want to see after 20 minutes what it is doing, but at the moment it looks OK. "I respect the effort into trying to make a positive pitch after it was so bad during the qualification play-offs for the national team.
"Zlatan goes on the bench tomorrow, and normally he plays. He needs to play and he is useful for us. He can keep the ball and if the team is not winning, he is a good presence for us. 
"Against Newcastle he played 15 minutes, perhaps now 20 or 25, I don't know, but he is not in a position to start." 

Form guide: Basel W W D L D W United L W W W L W 
Match odds: Basel 16/5  Draw 23/10 United 12/3
Referee: Daniele Orsato (Italy)

Sunday 19 November 2017

Remarkable return for Zlat man Ibra

Let's all just take a moment to applaud and admire the God-like status of the man that is Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

When he went down in a crumpled heap against Anderlecht in April's Europa League quarter final, it was the worst possible news. 

Ibra had ruptured his ACL. 

The injury denied Zlatan the rare landmark of 30 goals in a season and also robbed him of a fairytale finish in his home city in the Europa League final.

Not only did that look to have spelt the end of his brief career at United, but it also left us wondering if we'd ever see him on a football pitch again. 
To suffer a career-threatening injury at the age of 35, with the prospect of a year long lay-off, would be enough to push most players to thoughts of retirement.

For one of the most supremely talented players of the modern era, it would have been a sad end to a highly successful and decorated career. In the 77th minute of Saturday's 4-1 win over Newcastle, those thoughts were nothing more than a distant memory. 

Zlat man was back - indeed, it seems that lions don't recover like humans. 

But, then again, sometimes you wonder if Zlatan is human. 

Ibra had defied logic, medical science, age and seemingly his own body to make a remarkable return to action after seven months and 212 days. 

He almost scored too, in typical Zlatan style, as Rob Elliot pushed away his acrobatic scissor kick from close range.

Danny Welbeck suffered the same injury and spent over a year on the sidelines, and Chelsea's Kurt Zouma - 13 years Zlatan's junior at 23 - was out for 14 months when he injured his ACL in a match against us.

The fact that a 36-year-old striker in the twilight of his career has returned to action earlier than his much younger peers, many of whom are in their peak, speaks volumes of his character. 

You wouldn't blame Zlatan if he had decided to call time on his career having suffered such misfortune (it's not like he has anything left to prove), but there was no way he was ever going to go out on crutches.

Having won the league with every club he's played for, his hunger for a Premier League winners medal remains undimmed - not to mention the prospect of that elusive Champions League prize.

It was his work ethic, professional attitude, dedication and unstinting determination that shone through during his rehabilitation and persuaded United to re-sign him - having initially released him. It wouldn't surprise me if he reversed his decision to come out of retirement to play for his beloved Sweden at next summer's World Cup finals.

Zlatan has had a turbulent year, but to go from the lowest moment of his career to the biggest stage of all in Russia would be truly remarkable - even for a man such as him. 


Pogback with a bang as stylish United rediscover swagger

After two months out with a torn hamstring, Paul Pogba returned against Newcastle and played like he'd never been away.

The Reds have lost of the two of the last three league games and have struggled for fluidity during a patchy run that has seen City open up an eight-point lead.

Against Rafa Benitez's side, however, this was the team of August and September: the free-scoring United who started the season in such impressive fashion. 

It's no co-incidence that, on the day the Pog returned, so did United's swagger, style and goalscoring touch. 

The match did not get off to the best of starts as Dwight Gayle put Newcastle ahead on 14 minute - the first goal by an opposition player against United at Old Trafford this season.

But from the moment Anthony Martial headed us level eight minutes before half-time, there was only ever one winner.

Pogba picked up the man of the match award and epitomised his team's performance with an immense display of pace, power and purpose - he was absolutely magnificent and received a deserved standing ovation when taken off after 70 minutes. 

He set up Martial for the equaliser and grabbed a goal himself, as he finished off a wonderful team move for 3-1 early in the second half.

We are a team and no player should be considered more important than any other, but the influence of Pogba on this side has only become more enhanced during his two-month absence. 

As Jose has suggested, Pogba affects United's dynamic and style in a way that perhaps no one else can. 
He is the cog and engine around which this side is built, and his injury enforced lay-off has clearly had a negative impact on not only results, but also performances.

Ander Herrera is a capable deputy and a good player himself, but he's not good enough to fulfil such a crucial role in the team.
Nemanja Matic, too, looks visibly more composed in the presence of the Frenchman - and, in turn, the signing of the classy Serbian is the main reason why Pogba has been in such impressive form.

Matic's job as the team's pivot and shield in front of the back four allows Pogba, freed of any defensive duties, to roam freely in attacking positions higher up the pitch. 

It was impossible not to view United's resurgence solely because of Pogba's return to the team ahead of Herrera. 

Pogba endured a slow start to life back at United after he re-signed for an eye-popping £89m, and was quickly written off as a flop, and made a scapegoat, during those difficult early months.

Those critics have been forced to eat their words, and Pogba is now showing the world class ability we've always known that he's had. 

David de Gea may have a fair argument, but even Jose himself could not claim that Pogba is now United's most important player. 

Match report: United 4-1 Newcastle

A Paul Pogba inspired United came from behind against Newcastle as the rampant Reds went unbeaten at Old Trafford for a club record 38th game. 

The Frenchman proved just what a huge miss he's been during his two months out, and capped a magnificent man of the match showing with an assist and a goal of his own.

In a further fillip for Jose and United, Zlatan Ibrahimovic stepped off the bench for a 13-minute cameo, to make his return after seven months out with a serious knee injury.

Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Romelu Lukaku were all picked to play together for the first time, but we did not start well as the visitors took control early on. Before the game, United were the only side in Europe's top five leagues yet to concede a goal at home this season, but that record was ended as Rafa Benitez's side took a shock lead.

DeAndre Yedlin skipped past Ashley Young on the touchline and cut the ball back for the onrushing Dwight Gayle. 
Victor Lindelof's unfortunate slip saw the ball drop kindly for the Magpies striker and he made no mistake with a low finish off a post in the fourteenth minute.

Yedlin fired a shot wide but United finally upped the ante and went close through Lukaku, who headed over the bar after Lindelof had picked him out. United continued to press and by half-time had turned the tie on its head with two goals in eight first half minutes.

Pogba turned two Newcastle defenders and whipped in a superb stand-up cross for Martial, who applied a simple headed finish from close range for his seventh of the season. That came on 37 minutes, and, with the interval approaching, the Reds took the lead with their next attack. 

Young's superb delivery to the back post picked out Chris Smalling, who rose highest to power home another header via the outstretched leg of keeper Rob Elliot. Newcastle were almost level seconds later, however, as Isaac Hayden's shot was saved by David de Gea, before Matt Ritchie's rebound deflected off Gayle and ricocheted wide.  United started the second half on the front foot and it did not take long for us to put the result beyond doubt, with an out-of-this-world team goal ten minutes after the restart. Pogba began and finished the move as he linked with Nemanja Matic to release Lukaku, who crossed for the onrushing Rashford. 
In turn, the young striker showed his intelligence and awareness to nod the ball back for the quickly-arriving Pogba, who tapped home from close range.

United, brimming with pace and power, went close to a fourth through Lukaku, whilst Jacob Murphy tested De Gea with a speculative shot from distance at the other end. Pogba was given a standing ovation as he left the field and he watched on as Lukaku - fresh from becoming Belgium's record scorer - rediscovered his goalscoring touch for us.

He cut inside, played a neat one-two with the impressive Juan Mata and smashed high beyond Elliot on 70 minutes. The Newcastle keeper denied Ibra a dream return when he tipped wide from the Swede's acrobatic effort on an almost perfect day for Jose and United - but it's Pogba who will take the plaudits.

United Faithful Man of the Match: Paul Pogba. Got an assist, scored himself and changed the whole dynamic of United's play on his return. Simply immense. 
Overall team performance: 8/10

Friday 17 November 2017

Match preview: United v Newcastle

Zlat man is back! 

After seven months and 211 days, Swedish hero Zlatan Ibrahimovic is expected to feature for United at home to Newcastle as we return to action after the international break.

Jose confirmed Zlatan's availability for the visit of the Magpies, in a quite remarkable return to fitness for the veteran striker.

Kurt Zouma, 12 years Zlatan's junior at 23, was out for 15 months with the same injury, and Ibra was not expected to be back until 2018 at the earliest. 

But, in a manner befitting of the man and his ego, Zlatan has shown incredible strength and work ethic to return to action far sooner than we had expected. 

He is unlikely to play the full 90 minutes against Newcastle, and will probably start on the bench. 

In a further double injury boost, long term absentees Paul Pogba and Marcos Rojo are also set to be named in the squad to face Rafa Benitez's side in the tea-time kick off. 

Pogba has missed the last twelve games with a hamstring tear and his absence has been a notable one, and co-incided with United's dip in form.

For the visitors, Jamaal Lascelles (ankle) and tricky winger Christian Atsu (thigh) are set to be sidelined.

Jose said: "Zlatan made a full recovery, amazing - but we cannot expect too much of him to play 90 minutes or consecutive matches.
"Marcos Rojo feels ready, he is confident, he was very big miss for us also, he played with the young team last week so he is fine, I can consider him for Newcastle.
"I know the way that Newcastle will play and I know how Benitez prepares his team.
"It is going to be difficult but we have to try and give everything to get back the points that we need. "

Despite several fiery run ins with the Spaniard during their time at Liverpool and Chelsea respectively, Jose insisted that he has no beef with Benitez.

"I respect him as a person and as a professional" Mourinho added.
"He is with me in privilege as one of very few managers in Europe that has won the Champions League and the Europa League, so I have immense respect for him.
"I will be more than happy to see him and to say hello, and then to play one more match against him because that is all it is - just one more match." 

Following their return to the Premier League at the first attempt last season as champions, Newcastle arrive at Old Trafford in eleventh place and punching above their weight. 

They've picked up 14 points from their opening eleven fixtures but are among the lowest scorers in the league having hit only ten goals so far. 

Benitez's side fell to a late defeat at home to struggling Bournemouth in their last match before the international break.

Form guide: United W L W W W L Newcastle L D D W L L 
Match odds: United 1/4 Draw 9/2 Newcastle 10/1
Referee: Craig Pawson (South Yorkshire)

Rojo steps up recovery and plays first match since April

Marcos Rojo will soon be available for the first team after he played a half for the Reds Under 23 side on Wednesday.

He played the opening 45 minutes in United's 2-1 win over Athletic Club in the Premier League International Cup - his first appearance since 20 April.

Rojo suffered his season-ending knee ligament injury in the second leg of the Europa League quarter final against Anderlecht seven months ago, when he fell awkwardly in a challenge.

He made his comeback in midweek, and showed good progress in his first half cameo before he was withdrawn, as planned, at the interval.

Although this weekend's fixture with Newcastle will probably come too soon for him, Rojo has continued to rebuild his fitness and has returned to training with his first-team colleagues. 

Rojo struggled to adapt to life at United, and was disregarded as a flop under Louis van Gaal in a difficult start to his career at the club after signing from Sporting in 2014.

At the start of the 2016-17, we wouldn't have been bothered had he left - but now, he's considered one of our most important and influential players. 

Like Marouane Fellaini and Ashley Young to name but two, Rojo has been a player reborn since Jose's arrival and has had a new lease of life under the boss. 

Improbably, Rojo went from whipping boy to fans favourite during the best season of his Old Trafford career so far last term.
He won many plaudits and turned his United fortunes around with a series of committed, tenacious and brave performances - so much so that there was even a mention that he could be touted as our player of the year. 

He played 41 times and struck up a dependable, solid, grit-and-guile partnership with Ivorian Eric Bailly at the back, until his campaign was cruelly cut short by that horrible injury. 

Up to now, Jose has gone with Phil Jones and Bailly as his preferred defensive axis and, having been out for so long, Rojo will have to work hard to break into the league's best defence. 
He could be the answer to United's inconsistency at left-back, and could also slot into a back three, as Jose has used in recent high profile matches against Spurs and Chelsea. 

Fellaini and Rojo are both back from injury and fit to play, two players who have gone from derided to desired in the space of a year.

Injuries have been a factor in the team's recent stumble, but the players - including Zlatan and Paul Pogba - are nearing full fitness once again. 

Two must win home games as United attempt to keep pace

United return to action after the international break with two home games in a week, both against newly promoted sides.

It's only November, and to label matches as "must win" at this stage of the season may seem premature, but our back-to-back home fixtures with Newcastle tomorrow and Brighton next week are ones that we simply cannot afford to drop points in. Both the Magpies and the Seagulls have soared higher than expected so far this term, sitting in eleventh and eighth in the table respectively. 

Both have found goals hard to by but have proved difficult to beat, so the onus will be on us to break them down and we'll have to be patient.  With the Reds blistering start to the season having been checked in recent weeks, and with City threatening to storm into the distance, there's no margin for error. Second place in the league, in the knockout stages of one cup and the quarter finals of another: most of us fans would have settled for that at this stage of the campaign.

Yet, the overriding feeling is one of disappointment.

After our best start to a season for five years fuelled belief of a genuine title challenge, we're eight points off the top and could find ourselves in fourth place (and eleven points off the pace) come kick off on Saturday.

A Chelsea win at free-falling West Bromwich Albion - coupled with a Spurs victory in the North London derby - would see both those sides leapfrog the Reds in the table ahead of the tea-time clash with Rafa Benitez's side.

As painful as it's been to stomach, there's no disgrace in being eight points behind City, such has been the relentless juggernaut of Pep Guardiola's free-scoring team. 

Despite having suffered back-to-back away defeats to Huddersfield and Chelsea (again), Old Trafford has become a fortress - United haven't lost at home in any competition for 14 months, and have conceded only one goal at OT this season. 

Co-incidentally, that came against our cross-town rivals in September, and City visit OT for the first Manchester derby of the season on December 10. 

At present, the league looks to be a scrap for second place, but we've overturned bigger deficits than this before, notably when we came from 15 points back to pip Saturday's visitors to the title in the 1996-97 season.
City have been lucky with injuries so far and it will be intriguing to see how they cope with the heavy demands of the festive schedule - an acid test for any title-chasing team.

Wednesday 15 November 2017

Fellaini could leave for nothing with no new deal reached

Marouane Fellaini's United career looks to be in doubt with his contract up at the end of the season.

The Belgian has yet to agree a new deal and the club could be prepared to let him leave for nothing in the summer, rather than sell him in the upcoming transfer window.

Fellaini rejected United's latest offer last month with both player and club yet to reach an agreement over his future.

Fellaini became David Moyes only marquee summer signing in the summer of 2013, when he joined from former club Everton for £27m.

In part because of the stigma of being a Moyes buy, and in part because of his often clumsy and unconventional style, Fellaini's fortunes have fluctuated wildly at Old Trafford.

Fans always need a scapegoat, and for a long time with us, it was Fellaini. 

He quickly became the epitome of that turbulent and traumatic campaign under the Scot, but has since found his niche in the side under Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho. 

An often divisive, and even derided, player, he was booed by a section of the Old Trafford crown when he came on against Spurs last December, having given away a late penalty in the previous match.

But the big man has proved a lot of people wrong - he's felt a strong bond with Jose from the start and is respected and trusted by his manager. 

As a result, his confidence and form has risen and he's enjoyed the best form of his career at United over the last year, turning into a key big match player. 

He scored in two cup semi-finals last season, against Hull in the EFL Cup and Celta Vigo in the Europa League, and went on to star in the final of the latter as United beat Ajax 2-0 in Stockholm. 

The lack of clarity surrounding his contract comes as a surprise, with Mourinho full of praise for his much-maligned midfielder. 

The two men enjoy a good relationship, and Jose's influence looks to be a key factor in the decision over whether he stays or leaves. 

The Belgian has continued that goalscoring form from last term into this campaign, with four goals in nine games - including a first ever brace for us, against Crystal Palace. 

Having worked hard to resurrect a United career that was only heading one way, Fellaini has developed into one of this side's most important players.

He's been injured for some of this season, but made his return against Chelsea last time out after three weeks out with a knee injury.

Fellaini was strongly linked with a move to Turkish club Galatasaray in the summer, which led Jose to joke that the Istanbul side had more chance of signing HIM than the player. 

Some United fans would no doubt be happy to see Fellaini leave, but with negotiations ongoing, his future remains unclear. 

International Reds round up: Rashford stars and Rom sets record

Marcus Rashford and Romelu Lukaku were two of the Reds who impressed for their country in the latest round of international fixtures. 

Lukaku became Belgium's all-time top goalscorer at the age of only 24 as he grabbed the winner in their 1-0 friendly victory over Japan.

Having also scored twice in a draw with Mexico, the Reds number nine nodded in the winner on 72 minutes to eclipse Paul van Himst and Bernard Voorhoof at the top of the Belgian goalscoring charts. 

It was his 31st goal for the other Red Devils, and with many years still ahead of him, Lukaku will continue to plunder the goals for Belgium - his is a record that may stand unsurpassed for decades to come.

Roberto Martinez's dominant men - with Marouane Fellaini also key - won nine out of their 10 qualifying games and will be dark horses for a strong showing in Russia. 

Rashford, meanwhile, played the last half an hour in England's 0-0 draw with world champions Germany on Friday.

Selected to start in Tuesday's meeting with Tite's top-ranked Selecao, Rashford did himself huge credit on a night of experimentation for England and Southgate. 

Rashford showed the fearless streak for which he is so admired, with his constant willingness and determination to run at Brazil's defence, and went close with two first-half efforts in an otherwise attritional affair. 

His pace, skill and fleet of foot would not have looked out of place in the ranks of England's illustrious and star-studded opponents. 

Jesse Lingard also featured in both games, and Ashley Young made his first appearance for the national team since 2013 with an appearance as a late substitute against Brazil. 

Elsewhere, Victor Lindelof played in both ties as Sweden edged out Italy in the play-offs for a slender 1-0 aggregate win, a result that means the Azzuri (and Matteo Darmian) will miss a first World Cup finals since 1958. 

Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial ensured that France pipped the Swedes to the automatic place, but the Netherlands, with Daley Blind and recent Dutch debutant Tim Fosu - Mensah, failed to make it. 

2010 winners Spain - with David de Gea, Juan Mata and Ander Herrera - comfortably qualified from Group G under Julen Lopetegui and will head to the World Cup as one of the favourites.

In the South American group, Lionel Messi rescued Argentina with a hat-trick in Los Albiceleste's final game against Antonio Valencia's Ecuador to ensure that they - with Sergio Romero and Marcos Rojo in their ranks - qualified for a 12th successive time. 

Thursday 9 November 2017

Pogba set for United return after two months out

Hamstrung midfielder Paul Pogba has returned to training and is set to return after the international break after twelve games out. 

The Frenchman sustained the injury against Basel in the Champions League on 12th September, and his absence has proved a telling one.

United were toe-to-toe with leaders Manchester City at the top of the Premier League at the time of Pogba's hamstring tear, but are now eight point behind Pep Guardiola's men after eleven games.

But Pogba is set to make his comeback when the Reds host Newcastle at Old Trafford on Saturday 18th November, on our return to action following the latest international matches. 

After a difficult run of fixtures that have seen us face Liverpool, Spurs and Chelsea, we host Rafa Benitez's side, then Brighton at home before the trip to Watford - three games from which nine points is a must. 

United have struggled for energy, control and fluency in his two-month absence, and his availability will come as a massive boost to our wobbling title ambitions.

We earned many plaudits for our prolific and free-scoring start to the campaign, with Pogba's devastating form in an advanced position a key factor.

With the defensive shield of Nemanja Matic sitting effortlessly in front of the back four, Pogba was given licence to roam high up the pitch.

No one benefited more than Romelu Lukaku, as - with the Frenchman supplying the ammunition - he scored 11 goals in his first ten games for the Reds.

Pogba suffered a slow start back at Old Trafford last term having re-signed from Juventus, and was often made a scapegoat at the first available opportunity.

But he's proved his importance, and world class ability, in these early months of the season and has quickly become one of this side's go-to players.

Marouane Fellaini, who enjoyed an equally impressive start, was an able deputy for Pogba, until he too picked up an injury on international duty with Belgium.

Bereft of our midfield heartbeat, the Reds blistering start has tailed off and City have threatened to run away into the distance.

Fit-again Fellaini came on against Chelsea after a three-week absence and almost salvaged a dramatic late equaliser at the Bridge.

With Pogba not far behind - and Marcos Rojo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic set for returns sooner rather than later, United will have a fully fit squad for the hectic run of festive fixtures. 

Pogba's return cannot come soon enough, and we'll need him to be back to his best quickly if we're to reel in City - and get our faltering title challenge back on track.

Monday 6 November 2017

Match report: Chelsea 1-0 United

Alvaro Morata's early second-half header condemned United to another defeat at Stamford Bridge and a second successive away league loss.

Morata headed home the decisive goal from Cesar Azpilicueta's cross as the Blues responded from their midweek mauling in Roma to move one point behind us in the table.

United certainly had their moments and almost salvaged a point in a spirited late rally, but the long winless run in west London now stretches into a sixth year. 

Many predicted a tight and cagey affair, but, on Bonfire Night, the contest quickly exploded and sparked into life as both sides started strongly.

The fit-again N'golo Kante gave David de Gea an early sighter, before Phil Jones bizarre own goal was ruled out after a tussle with Morata from a Marcos Alonso cross.

Marcus Rashford spurned United's best opening with a header from close range, and - at the other end- Tiemoue Bakayoko should have done better when well placed.

Two former Blues then linked up as Nemanja Matic played in Romelu Lukaku, but Thibaut Courtois did well and pushed away the Belgian's snap shot.

De Gea had to be alert to a rocket from Hazard, while Cesc Fabregas headed into the side netting on the follow-up as Chelsea started to take control.

The impressive Andreas Christensen, drafted in to replaced David Luiz, went close with another header from a corner shortly before the break.

The second half started as the first had ended, with Antonio Conte's side carving out most of the openings.

Ten minutes after the interval, Chelsea moved ahead.

Hazard swept a volley straight at de Gea, but from their next attack, Azpilicueta picked out Morata and he drifted into space to power home a superb header into the top corner.

The returning Marouane Fellaini was introduced along with super sub Anthony Martial as United attempted to turn the tide and put to an end the miserable run of form at the Bridge.

In fact, it was Chelsea who went close again through Bakayoko, who fired wide, and Hazard, who was denied by a smart save from de Gea on 72 minutes. 

The Reds mounted a late surge, and had three good chances to snatch a late equaliser in the closing stages.

Rashford flashed a shot narrowly over the bar from distance, Martial fired wide and Fellaini had an excellent effort tipped away by Courtois soon afterwards.

But that proved to be the Reds last opportunity as Chelsea held firm to leave United with a familiar sense of frustration at our biggest bogey ground. 

Overall team performance: 6/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Antonio Valencia. Solid and the source of United's main supply line 

Saturday 4 November 2017

United must overcome psychological scars to end Stamford Bridge hoodoo

28 October 2012. 

That was the last time we won a league game - in fact ANY game - at Stamford Bridge, ahead of our latest trip there on Sunday.

It was a match sealed by Javier Hernandez, a player who so often proved the scourge of the Blues, late on.

Chelsea had fought back from 2-0 down, only to have Branislav Ivanovic and Fernando Torres sent off before Chicharito's intervention. 

Since then, our record in west London does not make for pleasant viewing, and reads as follows: L  L  L  L  L  D  L  L 

One win in nine - and one win in 15 in the Premier League - is an awful record that stretches back five years and makes Stamford Bridge the unhappiest of bogey hunting grounds. 

It's true that we've not been helped by refereeing decisions over the years, but for whatever reason, we just always seem to struggle at Chelsea more than at any other ground. 

Last season, we were thumped 4-0 on Jose's first return as United boss, before a controversial FA Cup exit at the quarter-final stage in March.

Those defeats were tempered slightly by the fact that the Blues comfortably surged to the league title and narrowly missed out on a domestic double, after a shock loss to Arsenal in the final.

To face the champions of England on their own turf is a difficult proposition for any team, but for the first time in a long while, United are possibly marginal favourites.

We come into this one second in the league and clinging to the coat-tails of City, having conceded only four goals all season.

Chelsea, by contrast, are already nine points behind Pep Guardiola's side (and four behind us), and suffered a chastening 3-0 defeat to Roma last time out.

Defeats to Burnley, City and Crystal Palace have seen manager Antonio Conte come under the first signs of pressure in his tenure at the club amid reports of a fall out with the hierarchy.

If there's ever such thing as a "good time" to play Chelsea, then this is surely it.

Chelsea's weaknesses and vulnerability have been there for all to see, so this looks our best chance since that 2012 result of finally breaking our elusive hoodoo.

But, such has been the nature of Chelsea's almost freakish stranglehold over the Reds, that a fair amount of psychological damage must have been inflicted on United during the barren run.

Man for man, we're superior to Chelsea at present so, if the players can overcome those mental demons, we've every chance of a first win on their territory for five years.

It's a battle of minds as well as the scrap for supremacy on the pitch.

Match preview: Chelsea v United

United head to west London on November 5th with Jose Mourinho plotting and scheming the downfall of Antonio Conte's champions.

Stamford Bridge has been an unhappy hunting ground in recent years, with United not having won there since 2012.
That was a 3-2 victory against nine men, secured late on by Javier Hernandez, and is our only win in the last nine visits. 

But, if there's ever a "good time" to face the champions of England on their own turf, then this is surely it, with the Blues having endured a difficult start in the defence of their title.

Conte's side come into this one nine points behind pacesetters City with three defeats from their opening ten games, and on the back of a heavy Champions League defeat in Rome last time out.

Rumours of unrest between the Italian manager and his board, injury problems, a heavy fixture schedule and a lack of depth in their squad have exposed cracks in the Blues facade that were absent during their relentless march to the title. 
The Blues currently sit fourth, just as they did at this stage last season, before a perfect November saw them go top, a position they never relinquished. 

They could welcome back key midfield man N'golo Kante after six games out with a hamstring injury, while wing-back Victor Moses remains sidelined but Gary Cahill could return after he missed the win at Bournemouth. 
Marouane Fellaini and Marcos Rojo have travelled with the squad and look set to feature after injury lay-offs, but Jesse Lingard (back) is out. 
Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young are likely to come back in after the pair were rested for our European exertions on Tuesday. 

The boss returns to Chelsea as United manager for the third time, with Romelu Lukaku, Nemanja Matic and Juan Mata also expected to be involved against their former side. 

Jose said: "It isn't a big thing. One day you are in one club, and the next day you are in another so I think this is a normal situation.
"I have to admit that it's a little bit different for me, but in the end I want to win just like I did with Inter - they also want to win like last season and it's just one more day.
"I fight for the club, I give everything I have, to get as much support for my players - because we are fighting hard and working hard. 
"That's the only thing I can do and that's the only thing we can promise."

Form guide: Chelsea L D W W W L United D W L W W W 
Match odds: Chelsea 6/4 Draw 11/5 United 9/4 (Bet365) Ant
Referee: Anthony Taylor (Cheshire)

Wednesday 1 November 2017

3,883 games.... and counting.

Another Jose Mourinho myth busted and blown firmly out of the water.

United have now named an Academy graduate in every first team squad for 3,883 consecutive games, a run that stretches back to October 1937.

An incredible statistic that's unlikely to be equalled by any other club anywhere, under a manager who supposedly never gives youth its chance. 

Against Benfica, Mourinho gave a full Champions League debut, and a third senior United start, to 20-year-old Scott McTominay in midfield.

McTominay came on against Burton in the EFL - sorry Carabao - Cup and started in the Reds 2-0 win at Swansea in the same competition a week ago. 

But the Champions League represents a significant step up in importance, class and quality. 

He certainly didn't look out of place whatsoever against the Portuguese side, particularly towards the end of the first half, when he seemed to grow in confidence immeasurably. 

The Academy graduate was strong in the tackle, won the ball back more times than anyone else and demonstrated an impressive range of passing throughout. 

Jesse Lingard also started and Marcus Rashford, on his 20th birthday, came off the bench and had a crucial impact on the game.

With Ander Herrera rested, and Paul Pogba, Marouane Fellaini and Michael Carrick injured, McTominay was given his opportunity alongside the metronomic Nemanja Matic.

Born in Lancaster, McTominay has been at Old Trafford since he was five, and made his senior debut as a substitute against Arsenal three games from the end of last season.

A first start followed when he was part of United's youngest ever Premier League XI in a 2-0 win over Crystal Palace in an end of season dead rubber. 

He made the briefest of European bows in United's 1-0 win in Lisbon on Matchday Three, when he replaced Henrikh Mkhitaryan in injury time. 

All well and good being given a chance when there's no pressure on you, but the glamour and high pressures of Europe's elite competition is another matter entirely, and McTominay certainly made the most of his opportunity. 

Recently rewarded with a new contract, McTominay admitted it was a dream come true, and said:

"As a young boy, you dream of two things: playing for Manchester United and to be able to play in the Champions League
"I've done both, all those years coming up through the academy, watching the first team, it's a dream come true... I am made up."

A bright future beckons for the latest product of United's conveyor belt of emerging young talent. 

Four wins from four but United made to wait for qualification

United are on the verge of a place in the knockout stages of the Champions League for the first time in four years.

The Reds 2-0 win over Benfica - who have lost all their games and scored only once - saw the Reds make it four wins from four, and 12 points from 12, in Group A.

CSKA Moscow won 2-1 in Switzerland against Basel in the other game, leaving United six points clear but still waiting to go through.

United need a solitary point from our last two fixtures - away to the Swiss champions and at home to CSKA - to mathematically confirm our place in the last 16.

This is only the fourth time that we've boasted a 100% record after the first four Champions League ties - having done so in 1997/98, 2002/03, 2007/08 (when we won it), and 2012/13.

In the latter of those campaigns, the Reds were knocked out of the competition at the last 16 stage, in contentious circumstances against Real Madrid.

With United on course for a famous win and a place in the last eight, Nani's controversial sending off swung the tie in favour of the Spanish giants - managed by a certain Jose Mourinho.

The following season under David Moyes, United came back from 2-0 down to edge past Olympiakos before a quarter-final KO at the hands of the holders Bayern. 

Then came was the ignominious early exit from one of the competition's easiest groups in the 2015-16 campaign under Louis van Gaal.
United were demoted into the Europa League after a third placed finish in a section that also included Wolfsburg, PSV and CSKA again (what is it about them, us and the Champions League).

Although this was from a vintage performance against the Portuguese champions and the group's top seeds, it was another solid result.

The Reds have only conceded a single goal in the competition so far - and that came in the 4-1 win in Moscow - and United have been tipped to make an impact at the latter stages.

A watertight  defence will certainly help, and David de Gea again underlined his importance with two brilliant saves, one in each half, to secure an eleventh clean sheet in 15 games.

The Reds are showing all the hallmarks of a classic Jose side: a miserly backline the ability to grind out results and an imposing record at home. 

Old Trafford looks to be the fortress it was once famed to be - this was a 37th match unbeaten at home for United in all competitions, stretching back to September last year.

Match report: United 2-0 Benfica

United made it four wins from four in the Champions League to all but seal qualification to the knockout stages. 

The Reds require a solitary point from the two remaining Group A fixtures after Mile Svilar's luckless own goal and Daley Blind's late penalty maintained our 100% record. 

CSKA Moscow won 2-1 away to Basel to boost their own hopes of qualification and force United to wait a little longer in the process. 

This was far from a vintage United showing, as a much improved Benfica forced David de Gea into two world-class stops, one in each half.

Anthony Martial was rewarded for his decisive impact against Spurs with a starting place, but his evening did not get off to the best of starts.

In the 15th minute, the Frenchman went down under a challenge from Douglas, who handled the ball and referee Gediminas Mazeika pointed to the spot.

Unfortunately, Martial's resultant penalty was a poor one and 18-year-old Svilar pulled off a comfortable save.

David de Gea was soon called into action in spectacular style at the other end, when he tipped away Diogo Goncalves dipping effort from distance.

Romelu Lukaku was denied by Svilar who saved well from close range, but the keeper - whose error proved so costly in the reverse fixture - saw luck desert him again on the stroke of half-time. 

Nemanja Matic collected the ball in space and thumped his shot goalwards from 25 yards, which struck the post and ricocheted in, off Svilar's back.

The Reds started the second half strongly and went close through Martial, who fired wide after neat link-up with Lukaku. 

Benfica continued to pose a threat and went close twice in quick succession on the hour mark.

First, de Gea thwarted Goncalves with an excellent low save, and then Raul Jimenez clipped his shot against the post after Eric Bailly's uncharacteristic error.

Marcus Rashford, on his 20th birthday, was introduced in place of man of the match Martial and made an immediate impact three minutes after coming on.

After a mazy run into the Eagles penalty area, he earned United a second penalty of the match on 78 minutes.

Despite discussions between Ander Herrera and Lukaku, Blind took responsibility for the kick and despatched it with ease to put the result beyond any lingering doubt. 

On Hallowe'en night, there were no late scares for United, who avoided a horror show and travel to Basel on Matchday Five needing one point to progress.

Overall team performance: 6.5/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Anthony Martial. Provided a threat down the left with his pace and trickery.