Wednesday 31 January 2018

Match preview: Tottenham v United

From the humble and inauspicious surroundings of Huish Park, United make the trip to the glamorous stage of Wembley as the Reds head to the capital and Tottenham Hotspur's temporary home as attention switches to Premier League affairs. United are, of course, no strangers to the national stadium, with this our 50th match to be played at the venue. For the first time in our history, though, United will play a league match at Wembley, where Spurs reside this season, while their new ground is built on the site of the old White Hart Lane. 

United maintained our peerless start to 2018 with a comfortable 4-0 FA Cup win at Yeovil last time out - a result that yielded a fifth consecutive victory coupled with a sixth successive clean sheet. That miserly record will be tested to the fore by the exploits of Spurs ever prolific striker, Harry Kane, who again leads the race for the Golden Boot with 30 goals this term in all competitions. It was he who rescued Spurs from FA Cup humilitation at the hands of lowly Newport on Sunday as his late equalier salvaged a replay and ensured the two sides will meet again at Wembley.
Kane missed October's reverse fixture at Old Trafford through injury, a top of the table clash settled by substitute Anthony Martial's late winner. That put United three points ahead of Mauricio Pochettino's men, a gap that has now turned into an eight-point advantage. Having finished third and second in the last two campaigns, Spurs have found themselves off the pace this season and come into this tie in fifth place, five adrift of fourth-placed Liverpool - the Reds will move eleven points ahead of our hosts with victory here.

Alexis Sanchez is in line for his first league start against his former side's fiercest rivals, with the Chilean have impressed on his debut in Somerset. As an ex-Gunner, Alexis is set to receive a hostile reception on a stage fitting for his Premier League bow. Michael Carrick returned to action at Yeovil after almost five months out, and could feature against his former side. There are no new injury worries for United, with Eric Bailly still sidelined and Zlatan Ibrahimovic - linked with a move to the MLS - also not yet ready for a comeback.  Spurs are boosted by the potential returns of key duo Hugo Lloris and Danish playmaker Christian Eriksen. Toby Alderweireld (hamstring), Erik Lamela (muscular injury), Serge Aurier (calf) and Harry Winks (ankle) are all expected to miss out for Tottenham.

Jose said that although Spurs are not title contenders this time around, they will still provide a stiff challenge for United.
He said: "Spurs are one of the top teams in the country, they will not challenge for the league title because they are too far away, but I say honestly that they are a Champions League contender, they for sure can reach that level. They have some of the best players in the country, a very good manager and are a very difficult opponent for any team. 
"It is a really big game, important, the difference between Spurs and us is seven or eight points, but the reality is they are top team in terms of their quality and ambitions, and a team on our level, so it is a big match. It is in an amazing stadium and one for us to enjoy." 

Form guide: Tottenham W D W W D D  United D W W W W W 
Match odds: Tottenham 13/10 Draw 13/8 United 6/5
Referee: Andre Marriner (West Midlands)

Saturday 27 January 2018

Match report: Yeovil Town 0-4 United

A much-changed United side proved too strong for the challenge of League Two strugglers Yeovil as we eased to a comfortable victory and into the FA Cup fifth round. The Reds - for whom Alexis Sanchez picked up two assists and the man of the match award on his debut - maintained our perfect start to 2018 with goals from Marcus Rashford, Ander Herrera and two late strikes from substitutes Jesse Lingard and Romelu Lukaku. 

United had faced the Somerset side at the third round stage of this competition in 2015 under Louis van Gaal, when the Glovers were a League One club, and travelled to Somerset again for the boss's 100th game in charge on the occasion of his 55th birthday. But United never looked in danger of one of the biggest shocks in the FA Cup's history, despite a promising start from Yeovil, the lowest ranked side left in the competition, at a packed Huish Park. Sergio Romero, one of ten changes, saved well from Jordan Green but the Reds soon settled and went close through Scott McTominay, who tested Polish stopper Artur Krysiak with a good low strike from distance. Alexis then had to weather a hefty challenge - perhaps too much so - from Nathan Smith, and the Chilean's resultant set-piece was well held by the watchful Krysiak in the Glovers goal. 

Four minutes before half-time, United broke the deadlock and from then on always looked in control. Alexis was involved as his threaded pass caused a mix-up in the Yeovil defence, they failed to clear their lines and Rashford nipped in and capitalised on the confusion for his tenth of the season. The young striker joins Lukaku, Lingard and Anthony Martial (rested for this tie) on double figures for the campaign.

United started the second half as strong, if not stronger, than we had ended the first and almost put the game beyond reach five minutes after the restart when Rashford flashed a shot wide. Just after the hour mark, the tie was effectively over as a contest as Ander Herrera - who scored on that last visit here - did so again to mark his 150th United appearance with a classic counter-attack goal. Yeovil had pushed men forwards but the move broke down as Sanchez broke and picked out Herrera, who slammed home an expert finish across Krysiak to end Yeovil's lingering hopes of an almighty upset. 

 United looked to have moved 3-0 ahead moments later only for Juan Mata's effort to be flagged offside after a sweeping move. But the Reds were in the mood for more and continued to exert their authority on the match against a Yeovil side who had begun to tire. There was still time for Lingard - as ever - to have his say as he fired in the third after a surging run before Lukaku volleyed in the fourth in the final minute after Marcos Rojo had played him in.

17-year-old Angel Gomes was handed a brief cameo, and the teenager caught the eye as he fired into the side netting with his first involvement before he was also involved for the build up in Lukaku's goal. This was a fifth successive win for the Reds, and a sixth consecutive clean sheet, and the Reds are into round five for the fifth time in six seasons.

Overall team performance: 8/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Alexis Sanchez. Gave the ball away a few times, but took risks, claimed two assists and stood out on an impressive debut.

Thursday 25 January 2018

Jose hits 100 not out on 55th birthday

Jose Mourinho takes United to the humble and inauspicious surroundings of League Two Yeovil in the FA Cup fourth round on Friday as he hits a personal milestone. Having signed a new contract to extend his stay at the club for another three years, the boss celebrates his 55th birthday and marks the occasion as he takes charge of the Reds for the 100th time at Huish Park. Having taken over from Louis van Gaal in the summer of 2016, Jose will become our first manager since Sir Alex Ferguson retired to oversee a third season at the helm, and will also surpass Van Gaal as our longest serving boss since Fergie stepped down.

Jose's record in his previous 99 games at Old Trafford reads: W61 D23 L15 - a win percentage of 61.6. Compare that to Van Gaal's win rate of 52.3 from his 103 matches and the improvement is there for all to see. Progress has very much been the buzzword of Jose's tenure up to this point, with last season's dissapointing sixth placed finish offset by the euphoria of two major trophies in the form of the EFL Cup and a first ever Europa League, a win that brought a much sought-after return to the Champions League. Although a first Premier League title for five seasons looks a big ask, we still look set for our best post-Fergie campaign in what's been a much improved season in which the Reds have hit an upward trajectory.
I've always said that Jose should have been the man we turned to to replace Sir Alex in the first place  - he was probably the only manager with an ego and a CV that were big enough to come in and pick up where the Scot left off for a relatively smooth transition. The reasons for picking David Moyes are well known, but only after two managerial failures and three soporific seasons did we turn to the proven winner with the only ideology that matters - winning trophies.

The Europa League victory was sealed the hard way, as Jose gambled with our domestic fortunes in a risk that eventually proved vindicated with that poignant triumph on an emotional night in Stockholm. But the harrowing 4-0 reverse on his first return to Stamford Bridge was an undoubted low point of his tenure so far, as were the 15 home draws last season and the paltry total of eight home wins.  This season's Carabao Cup KO to Bristol City cannot be ignored and neither can the pair of 2-1 home derby defeats that hit us hard. The good has outweighed the bad, however, and it's indisputable truth that United are going in the right direction under Mourinho. His signings have been shrewdly successful and he's built a United side in his own identikit: strong, powerful, well-organised and resilient, added to with a sprinkling of stardust. Right now, apart from the obvious choice of the Catalan guy across town, there's no manager I'd rather have in the hotseat of the club I love. He and United are a match made in heaven. Of course there have been tantrums, outbursts, meltdowns and rants aplenty, but I actually don't mind that - it shows he cares and it proves how passionate he is. This behaviour is nothing worse than we see from the likes of Messrs Conte and Klopp. Jose comes with excess baggage, but it's something you just have to accept when he's your manager.

If he wants to, I don't see any reason why Jose won't stay at United for the rest of his career. Longevity is not something he's associated with, and it remains to be seen how far into the future he will carry us but he's often spoken of wanting to settle down and build a legacy somewhere. But one thing's for sure, Jose's 100 has been far more memorable than LVG's ever was and long may it continue. Congrats boss, and here's to the next 100.

Match preview: Yeovil Town v United

12 time FA Cup winners United head to Huish Park to take on the lowest ranked side left in the competition in a classic David vs Goliath cup tie. In a repeat of our third round meeting in 2015, the Reds face Darren Way's Glovers - 21st in League Two - for a second time in three seasons with a mammoth 86 place gap between us in the football pyramid. On that occasion under Louis van Gaal, goals from Angel Di Maria and Ander Herrera saw off the challenge of a Yeovil side who were then in League One under the stewardship of Gary Johnson on our first visit to the Somerset side for 120 years. Despite their position near the foot of the fourth tier this time, the Reds cannot take the hosts for granted as we look for a fifth successive win to continue our unbeaten start to 2018.

This match marks a double celebration for Jose, fresh from signing a contract extention until 2020, on the occasion of his 55th birthday and 100th match in charge of the team. He looks set to name a near full-strength side for the trip to Somerset, with Eric Bailly, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Michael Carrick the only absentees. Alexis Sanchez looks set to make his eagerly anticipated debut for United after Jose confirmed that the Chilean will be in the squad. He missed Arsenal's 4-2 defeat at Nottingham Forest and so is eligible for the FA Cup - but the likelihood is that he will begin this one on the bench. For Yeovil, boyhood United fan Otis Khan cruelly misses out through suspension after an altercation with a referee in last weekend's loss to Chesterfield.
Jose said: "We want to win of course. We know what cups are, Manchester United played this team a couple of years ago and won, but they know the difficulties they felt.
"So we will go with a very strong team, we will rest a couple of players and there are a couple of problems we try to resolve, with problems for the next Premier League match and also Champions League. But we will see a strong line - up. In big clubs there will always be responsibility, you have to perform always and go to every competition in a serious way so that is what we will do."

Threatened by the prospect of relegation to the National League, Way's side have already proved to be giant killers on route to the fourth round for only the second time in their history. They've already knocked out Port Vale and division higher duo Southend United and Bradford City to set up this lucrative money-spinning meeting with Jose's United. Their manager Way, in the hotseat since December 2015, said: "I don't think we could pick anyone better to go up against in the world we live in at the moment. It's going to be a magical, incredible day and one that no-one at this football club will ever forget."

Friday's tie at Huish Park gets fourth round weekend underway at 1955 and its live on BBC One.

Form guide: Yeovil Town L L W W D L United D D W W W W
Match odds: Yeovil Town 50/1 Draw 25/4 United 1/4
Referee: Paul Tierney (Wigan) 

Tuesday 23 January 2018

Sanchez to follow greatness and don United's iconic shirt

Alexis Sanchez will follow some of United's greatest ever players when he pulls on the famous number seven as the club's newest star signing. Every club has that one shirt that's not just a number - more an iconic symbol that defines everything the club represents. Think Lionel Messi and Johann Cruyff before him in the #10 of Barca, whilst three of Newcastle United's best ever strikers - Jackie Millburn, Malcolm MacDonald and Alan Shearer - represented the Toon Army with distinction in the number nine jersey. For us, it's our number seven shirt.

The number has always held that special affection in the hearts of us fans, and some of our most revered and iconic players have plied their Old Trafford trade with the number shining like a beacon on the back. For me, it will always be synonymous with two players that were head and shoulders above their peers - a duo that will go down as among my favourite all-time United players as the talismanic figureheads in two of United's greatest ever sides. David Beckham and his replacement - a braid-headed, showboating and tempermental teenage tyro by the name of Cristiano Ronaldo. Both came as boys and left having made the number their own.

I'm not old enough to remember George Best, but the list of legends to have donned our seven is an endless roll-call of some of this club's finest ever players and extends beyond the exploits of  Messrs Beckham and Ronaldo -  Bryan Robson, Steve Coppell, Eric Cantona and the fulcrum of Sir Matt Busby's second great side Johnny Berry, not to mention the flawed genius Best himself. If Alexis goes on to achieve even half of what that group managed, then he'll have done well. It's a special number and a shirt that's often reserved for that spontaneous, brilliant, edge-of-your-seat, something-out-of-nothing and once in a generation player that takes the collective breath away to send any Red into a misty-eyed stupor.

Sanchez will have illustrious footsteps to follow, but let's hope he's more successful that the more recent exponents to have donned the symbolic seven in the red of United. Since the days of 'BC' (that's before Cristiano), we've not had anyone who's done the most prestigious shirt of all any justice. Four have tried but all have failed, as if to crumbe under the expectation borne out by the pressure of wearing the shirt with the legendary, totemic number on the back.

Free transfer Michael Owen picked up the mantle following Cristiano's departure in 2009, and scored 17 goals - including his famous winner on Manchester derby debut - in 52 appearances across three-injury hit seasons at United. Antonio Valencia was next, but he ditched the jersey and reverted back to his preferred number 25 at the end of a single, undistinguished campaign in 2012-13.

Expensive exports Angel Di Maria and Memphis Depay both arrived with big price tags and much expectation but both failed to live up to the hype having inherited the seven. Di Maria in particular - unplayable during the peak of his career at Real under Jose - was always at odds with Louis van Gaal's dour philosophy and never settled in Manchester. He was moved on after a single soporific season. So too was Memphis who showed only flashes of his PSV form but generally underwhelmed during his two season stay at the club.

So, it's fair to say that the fortunes of those to don the iconic number have dwindled markedly since Ronnie.... over to you, Alexis. No pressure, lad..

Monday 22 January 2018

Mkhitaryan seals Arsenal switch in Sanchez swap deal

Henrikh Mkhitaryan leaves United for Arsenal after 18 months - and he'll leave behind a nagging feeling that Old Trafford never saw the best of our first Armenian player. So what went wrong?

Cast your mind back to July 2016 when everything seemed so different. Controversial agent Mino Raiola railroaded Dortmund to sell their talismanic to United and £30m later, Mkhitaryan became Jose's third United signing as his revamped side began to take shape. He arrived on a wave of expectation after a series of blistering performances for the German giants during a season in which he was voted the best player in the Bundesliga, and we got an early glimpse of that quality, albeit in a pre-season friendly at Wigan.

Within two months, that early promise faded and things quickly started to go south. After three cameo appearances as a sub, Mikki was handed his first start in the Manchester derby. In a dissapointing team performance, Mkhitaryan was taken off at the interval and would not feature again for three months. There's an argument that, from that moment on, the narrative of his United career as a whole was set.

There have been moments of high class brilliance - his superb individual strike in Luhansk, that scorpion kick finish against Sunderland and his red-hot form in front of goal during United's run to Europa League glory last term. His goal in the final, which sealed the 2-0 result against Ajax, was his sixth of the tournament. It looked to have been his redemption and a turning point in his hitherto indifferent career with the Reds - the moment he won over his sceptical boss.

But in reality, he never really recovered from those difficult early months at United. It's always felt like he was operating under a shadow, knowing any small lapse would be seized upon by a manager who quickly lost faith in him. The final straw came in a woeful performance in a damaging defeat at Chelsea in November and that set the fire for Mikki's United future. He was hooked after an hour in which you barely even noticed he was there, and would start only more Premier League game. In the FA Cup game against Derby, in what turned out to be his final match in a United shirt, his confidence was shot to pieces. When he was again taken off at half-time, it was an act of mercy. Any remaining faith Jose had in Mikki had gone. When that happens, there's no way back and it's irrepairable.

On form, Mikki is a wonderful player - a swift, agile and technically gifted creator-in-chief, he's controlled in possession, neat and tidy with the ball at his feet and a highly effective playmaker. There's no doubting the talent's there but what's missing is his confidence.
It's almost certain that we've got the best from this deal, as for those of us that watched Mkhitaryan in Manchester, the idea of him being equal to Sanchez is very hard to believe.

Mikki will be fondly remembered for his pivotal role in us winning the Europa League last season and we wish him well in this new chapter of his career at Arsenal.


How we signed Alexis... and where he'll fit in

With Alexis Sanchez's contract up at the end of the season and Manchester City the only suitors, it always looked nailed on that he'd up across town in the blue of the neighbours. United and Jose, however, had other ideas.

In signing a player from a major rival, there are echoes of when City turned the tables to capture Carlos Tevez following his departure from us in 2009 - a move that prompted the ever noisier neighbours to erect the infamous "welcome to Manchester" banner. The stunning swoop is even more reminscent of when we signed Robin van Persie from Arsenal to United, from right under the noses of the mob across town. RVP joined for a paltry £24m and it turned out to be a title-winning transfer. This time we've gone one better and got a younger upgrade for nothing, but had City played their cards right back in August it would never have come to this.

Although their £60m bid for Sanchez on deadline day matched Arsenal's asking price, it did not give the Gunners enough time to sign the Chilean's replacement, Thomas Lemar, of Monaco. Sanchez stayed put, City waited, confident of landing their man. United watched, bided their time and pounced. The result is probably the greatest free signing this club - and the Premier League - has ever seen. It's one that no one could ever have imagined.

City and Pep Guardiola felt that the mid-season arrival of Sanchez could disrupt their dynamic, and buying in January is always a difficult process. For us, that's secondary to having a winning environment. In Henrikh Mkhitaryan, we had a player surplus to requirements that Arsenal wanted but City did not. In mid-season, it meant the club who really needed Sanchez more got him ahead of the club for whom he would have been no more than just a useful addition. When he takes his place in the embarrasment of attacking riches that Jose has at his disposal, then the hope will be that we can push closer to City - or even beyond them.

Sanchez is so versatile - he can play left, right, down the middle as an out-and-out striker or in the hole as a number ten. This is a simply incredible coup for the club. Jose likes to tinker with his team and shuffle his attacking players around, so where he fits in could depend on the form of the other forwards. One thing we've probably lacked - although Jesse Lingard has been good - is supporting Romelu Lukaku and coming from a little bit deeper to score. This is where I think Sanchez will come into his own.

He'll likely play in and around Lukaku in a 'floating' role as a ten, ahead of Paul Pogba and Nemanja Matic. I can also see him on the left hand side as, even though he's right-footed, he's equally as adept on the left and can cut inside. But Anthony Martial and Lingard are both in form and it would be harsh to drop either so at the moment I'd probably say that Alexis is better suited to a position on the right.

Either way, we know he can play anywhere across the front and we've seen how good he is in an Arsenal shirt - there are few better on the continent when this lad's on the top of his game.


Click below to watch Alexis' official unveiling as a United player. Yes, that really is him on the piano..

Welcome to Manchester United, Alexis Sanchez.

So it's official... Alexis Sanchez is a Manchester United player.

In one of the most stunning, out-of-the-blue transfers in the history of this great club, the Reds have completed the sensational swoop for Arsenal's star man on a four-year contract. The Chilean will be available to make his debut in the quaint and inauspicious surroudings of Yeovil's Huish Park in Friday's FA Cup tie. For so long linked with the blue of mega-rich City, this was a raid that no-one - not even the most ardent United fan - would have seen coming a week ago. City tried to sign him back in the summer but their bid for him collapsed on deadline day after Arsenal failed to get a replacement. The Etihad again seemed his only destination when the window opened at the beginning of this month. Instead, Sanchez saw the light and joins the biggest club in the world where he'll not only play every week as first choice, but he'll do so at a club with the tradition, history, ambition and fanbase that the mob across town can only ever dream of.

Sanchez will don United's iconic number seven shirt and follow in the footsteps of some of our greatest ever players by pulling on that jersey - legends of the ilk of Bryan Robson, Eric Cantona, David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo. If his impact is even half as good as any of those, then he'll have done well. This is a signing reminiscent of the £24m move we made for Robin van Persie back in 2012. Let's hope that Alexis has the same impact that 30-goal RVP did as he fired us to the title in his debut season. The prospect of him playing in the same forward line as Romelu Lukaku, Juan Mata, Anthony Martial, Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford - with Paul Pogba supplying the ammo - is one to make every one of us drool.

There's no money involved in the deal, it's a straight swap as Henrikh Mkhitaryan moves the other way to Arsenal after one and a half seasons at United - where he showed only flashes of the form that persuaded us to buy him from Borussia Dortmund.  Both Alexis and Mkhitaryan will be available to play in Europe - Sanchez in the Champions League for us and Mikki in the Europa League for Arsenal. Even though both have featured in Europe already this season, us and the Gunners are in different tournaments which allows both Alexis and Mikki to represent their new clubs in continental competition.

As a United fan, Sanchez was always the player you were most worried about when we played Arsenal. A considerable upgrade on Mikki, he's a bundle of guile, pace, energy and creativity who can play anywhere across the front. In contrast to Mkhitartan's ability as a deep-lying playmaker, Sanchez is direct and always to create, whether that be through assisting others or scoring himself. A multi-talented striker equally adept with either foot, he was always the one Arsenal player you felt could conjure something out of nothing. Arguably his best game in a Gunners shirt came against us when he inspired his rampant team-mates to a 3-0 win over United in 2015, a game in which he scored twice. Sanchez is a player born to wear the Red of United, and I've not been this excited about a signing since we got Angel Di Maria back in 2014. He was one of our less successful number 7s, and we've not had a player who's done that iconic shirt justice in a while. Let's hope this is the start of something truly special.

Welcome to Manchester United, Alexis Sanchez.

Goodbye Mikki.... welcome Alexis

Well, what a mad week it's been for us United fans as we watched with baited breath to seal  one of the most earth-shattering transfers we've ever witnessed. We've been reluctant to publish anything Alexis Sanchez related on these pages, in case the deal fell through, but last night pictures circulated of the man himself in the red of United as our new number seven. That surely means that it's now official - Alexis Sanchez is a Manchester United player, with the announcement set to be rubber-stamped on Tuesday. This is a deal to rival that of Zlatan's free transfer as the greatest such coup this club has ever seen. It's looked for months as though Alexis would end up across town at City but it's classic Jose to swoop in and hijack the deal - a stunning raid for Arsenal's best player from right under the noses of the 'noisy' neighbours - now, where have we heard that before?

One door opens and another closes as we say goodbye to our popular Armenian Henrikh Mkhitaryan who has moved in the opposite direction in a swap deal. It's a shame that we only ever saw flashes of the Mkhitaryan who was so consistently brilliant at Borussia Dortmund, but his role in us winning the Europa League should be fondly remembered and never forgotten. In his season and a half at Old Trafford, he played 63 times for the club - 22 of which were in this campaign - and scored 13 goals. When he started this season in such blistering fashion, with seven assists in his first seven games, few would have predicted that, by January, he'd no longer be a United player. Ironically, it was the Reds who beat Arsenal to Mikki's signing for a fee of £26.3m in 2016. Mkhitaryan created a rare slice of Red history during last season's Europa League win, when he became the first man ever to score in five different European away games in a single season. It's hard to pinpoint exactly why Mikki's form went south after such a brilliant start to the season. The nadir came when he was substituted after an anonymous hour in the November defeat to Chelsea. He never recovered from that and made only one more start for the club, the recent home draw with Southampton. It's rumoured that he never saw eye-to-eye with Jose and the pair were at odds over the difference in each other's ideologies. Either way, it's a sad parting of the ways for a player who arrived with such excitement after his dazzling days at Dortmund.

For all Mikki's undoubted quality, there's no doubt that the arriving Alexis offers a significant upgrade on the departing Armenian. Mkhitaryan prefers to create from deep with agility and intricate link-up play whereas the talented and skillful Chilean is more direct and a blistering bundle of energy, pace and guile. He can score and create with either foot from anywhere across the front and possesses wonderful technical ability. We witnessed at first hand the brilliance of Sanchez in full flow when he inspired his rampant Arsenal team-mates to a 3-0 win over United at the Emirates in 2015 when he scored twice in the opening 20 minutes to cut us to ribbons.

The prospect of him in tandem with Paul Pogba - not to mention Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford and Romelu Lukaku - is one to set the pulses racing of every United fan.
Welcome to the biggest club in the world, Alexis Sanchez...

Sunday 21 January 2018

Last man standing Carrick an under-rated great of his generation

Michael Carrick is set to take up a coaching role in Jose's backroom staff after his retirement as a player at the end of the season - ending one of the most decorated English careers of all time. 
After Wayne Rooney left for Everton in the summer, Carrick was United's last man standing from the Double-winning team of 2008, and will bow out having won every available domestic and continental club honour during a wonderful trophy ladened 12 years at Old Trafford. There have certainly been more creative and skillful players than Carrick to pull on the red of United, but few have served the club with as much longevity and distinction than a player who will always forever be remembered as a key component of one of the best sides this club has ever seen. Carrick may not have the energy of Ander Herrera or the combination of pace and power that Paul Pogba possesses, but his intelligence, awareness, reading of the game, passing range and ability to dictate the tempo, along with his leadership qualities, marked him out as a massively important player in his prime. 

Much like Pogba now, he gave us balance, and in a similar way that the Frenchman does, his importance to the team was only further underlined when he was absent. The contrast is United's fortunes with and without Carrick in the team is stark. Perhaps due to his unassuming style, Carrick never got the recognition he deserved with England and accumulated a paltry 34 caps for the country - often being overlooked in favour of lesser lights such as Gareth Barry, Scott Parker, James Milner and Owen Hargreaves. Determined to shoehorn the incompatible pairing of Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard into the middle, many an England manager made the wrong choice by overlooking him.

After his arrival in 2006, Carrick formed a briliantly effective grit-and-guile partnership with compatriot Paul Scholes in midfield. Carrick played in a holding role with Scholes pushing forward as a deep-lying playmaker. This pairing enabled a more European style of play which relied on possession and ball retention in contrast to the more traditional high energy, direct and all-action style favoured by many of our high profile Premier League rivals at the time.
Signed from Spurs for a mere £18m ahead of the 2006/07 season, Carrick was seen as a replacement for the departed Roy Keane and will go down as one of Sir Alex Ferguson's best ever buys.

Let's take a look at Carrick's remarkable United career: 460 appearances, 24 goals, five Premier League titles, one FA Cup, three League Cups, six Community Shields, that 2008 Champions League success and then the FIFA Club World Cup the following season. The second-tier Europa League was the only major trophy missing from Carrick (and United's) glittering haul of silver, but our never-to-be-forgotten victory over Ajax in last season's final completed the set and added the final tick to the only thing absent on the CV. 

Forever under appreciated and under-rated, 'Carras' will always be fondly remembered at Old Trafford as a player who was superb at what he did. There may not have been a 30-yard screamer, a sublime piece of skill or a breath-taking surge of pace, but he had the ugly side of the game down to a T. His subtle brilliance and under-stated influence made him so crucial as the heartbeat of Sir Alex Ferguson's third great team. Carrick brought a calm and composed head as the leader of a ship that threatened to veer wildly off course during the turbulent days of the post Sir-Alex era.

He's Carrick, you knowwwww, never believe he's not Scholes.

Match report: Burnley 0-1 United

United prepared for the imminent arrival of Alexis Sanchez as Anthony Martial's early second half goal earned a hard-fought win over out of form Burnley. It was the Reds fourth consecutive victory and clean sheet of 2018 and put us - albeit only briefly - nine points behind City, who re-established their twelve point cushion later in the day.

The result extended the Clarets winless run to eight games, but United were made to work hard for the win against Sean Dyche's side at a sold out and vibrant Turf Moor. The trip to east Lancashire has proved a difficult one for United in recent years, and this was no different, but Martial's 54th minute winner, the first time he's scored for three successive league games - settled the contest and consolidated the Reds second-placed position in the table.

Clear cut chances proved few and far between during the opening 45 minutes. Paul Pogba hooked over the bar having been released by the recalled Ashley Young, whilst Burnley centre-backs Ben Mee and James Tarkowski both went close with headers from set-pieces. Young, who returned to the side in place of Luke Shaw after a three-match ban, then slalomed his way into the box and flashed a shot wide, and Martial fired wide after neat link-up play with Pogba five minutes before the break. 

The first half had proved frustrating and largely unproductive, but the visitors had ended it strongly and the decisive moment came nine minutes after the resumption. Romelu Lukaku, impressive throughout, demonstrated superb hold-up play as he beat Mee to the ball, turned Tarkowski and picked out the onrushing Martial in space. The young Frenchman did not have much room to work with, but he wrong-rooted Clarets keeper Nick Pope and fired in a clinical finish via the underside of the bar. 

Burnley responded well to going behind as Johann Berg Gudmundsson struck the top of the bar with a free-kick. De Gea saved well from Mee's header, Gudmundsson's whipped cross clipped off Smalling and the Clarets then had an optimistic appeal for a penalty turned down with United now at full stretch. 

The Reds remained a threat on the counter-attack, though, as Jesse Lingard shot wide from distance, Lukaku nodded off target and Pogba was crowded out by the solid Burnley backline.

Ashley Barnes and substitute Sam Vokes were both narrowly off target with a pair of headers, but Pope was the busier of the two keepers and denied Martial superbly with a one-handed stop to prevent the match-sealing second. Despite five added minutes, the Reds comfortably saw the game out - aside from one Vokes header that failed to trouble DDG.

Overall team performance: 6.5/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Anthony Martial. In a solid all-round team performance, Martial's moment of quality made the difference. 50 million down the drain 

Friday 19 January 2018

Match preview: Burnley v United

United turn their attention to on-field matters as the Reds make the short 28-mile journey up the M6 to east Lancashire neighbours Burnley. At the end of a week which has seen us make a stunning swoop for Arsenal star Alexis Sanchez, United head to Turf Moor gunning for a fourth consecutive win of 2018, in Jose Mourinho's 99th match in the dugout. Clarets counterpart Sean Dyche will take charge of the hosts for the 100th time in the Premier League.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan will not be involved as doubts continue over his Old Trafford future, with the Armenian set for his move to Arsene Wenger's side as part of the swap deal for Alexis. Daley Blind will miss out through a minor knock sustained in training, and Jose also confirmed that Eric Bailly and Zlatan Ibrahimovic are still sidelined as they recover from injuries. Ashley Young is available again after his three-match suspension, but he faces competition to win back his place with the in-form Luke Shaw having started five of the last six matches. Michael Carrick, meanwhile, is edging closer to a return. Injury-hit Burnley are still without ex-Reds Tom Heaton and Robbie Brady, left-back Stephen Ward, forward Jonathan Walters and top scorer, record signing Chris Wood. Scott Arfield could return after a three-game absence with new addition Georges - Kevin N'koudou in line for his first start.

After they comfortably avoided relegation in their first season back in the Premier League last term, Burnley have gone from strength and strength and are punching far above their weight as the surprise package this time around. Despite the fact they boast the third best defensive record in the division, Burnley's early season momentum has been halted of late and the Clarets are without a win in seven. But it's testament to the superb work of Dyche and his players that they sit pretty in seventh place in the table with over half the season gone. The Turf Moor side briefly rose into the top four after a 1-0 win over Stoke in mid-December which was the last time they picked up a league win. This is the second time in less than a month that we've played Burnley having met at Old Trafford in the reverse fixture on Boxing Day and the hosts have an impressive recent record against us. The Reds were frustrated and fell 2-0 down through Ashley Barnes and Steven Defour, but we showed good powers of recovery and rescued a point through substitute Jesse Lingard who scored both goals including a last-gasp leveller. The visitors proved that they will be dangerous opponents despite their recent winless run of form. 

Jose is expecting a tough challenge against our Lancashire neighbours, and said: "Burnley are doing very well, you look at the points and the table and they are stable, high in the competition and far from relegation. They play well within their style, whether you like or dislike it, they're good at what they do and will be very dangerous, difficult opponents. They have not had such a good run recently but we know to expect a tough match and Burnley will cause us problems."

The United manager also confirmed that the club are in talks with Chilean Sanchez, and said that there was no point to deny or hide the speculation surrounding the futures of both players. 

Form guide: Burnley L D D L L L United D D D W W W 
Match odds: Burnley 11/2 Draw 13/5 United 6/10
Referee: Mike Dean (Wirral)

Tuesday 16 January 2018

United's Mission Improbable with 15 games left

We can't..... can we? Logic, history, common sense and downright realism would suggest that the Premier League title is already in the bag. It will indeed be coming back to Manchester, but surely into the hands of Pep Guardiola and his City side as United's quest for a first post-SAF title looks set to extend into a sixth season.
As the old saying goes, it's the hope that kills you. It takes a huge leap of the imagination to see City not winning the league from here. But United's win over Stoke coupled with City's defeat at Anfield - their first of the season - may just plant the smallest of pyschological doubts into the minds of Guardiola and his players. 12 points behind with 45 still to play for and 15 games to go.
Suddenly it doesn't sound quite so impossible after all. We're Manchester United - a club who pride ourselves on refusing to give in, fighting to the bitter end and making the impossible dream possible. A club that won an unprecendented treble in the dying embers of a Champions League final we had not played well in.
 The league is not over yet, so why give up. Until it becomes a mathematic certainty, we have to believe. If we do win the league from this position, it will be a never to be forgotten, talked about forever, against the odds victory that will be regarded as the greatest of all our Premier League titles. Of course, we're realistic enough to know that City are still red hot favourites and despite their defeat at Anfield, they remain in pole position 12 points clear at the summit. But history suggests that it would be foolish to count out United completely.

We've been both the victors and the victims in dramatic title collapses in the past. In the 1995-96 season, Kevin Keegan's Newcastle United side had stormed into a 17 point advantage in January, with 15 games to go. Que the most famous of all Premier League implosions. A run of five defeats in eight games enabled Alex Ferguson's United to catch and then overtake the Toon and we went on to win the title by four points. In the 2002-03 season, Arsenal led by eight points with seven to go and blew it to us. Then of course there's the season that we'll never be allowed to forget - no matter how hard we try. In the 2011/12, the Reds held a seemingly insurmountable eight point lead with six games left. The unthinkable happened as we lost to Wigan and City, and squandered a 4-2 lead to draw 4-4 with Everton. For the first time in Premier League history, the title was decided on goal difference, with the Reds pipped to the post by our neighbours in the most dramatic denouement of all.

Looking at their run in, City's next four games are at home to strugglers Newcastle and then West Brom before they travel to Burnley and then host Leicester. But then things get interesting for them with back-to-back ties against fellow top six sides Arsenal and Chelsea. Ever tricky trips to Everton and Spurs with our revenge mission to the swamp for the return meeting in early April. Pep's never had experience of the twists and turns of a Premier League run in, and stranger things have happened. Our upcoming trip to Spurs and the Etihad derby are our only remaining away visits to the other "top six" sides with Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal all to visit Old Trafford.

It will be tough and a huge ask from here, but crazier things have happened - all we can do is keep winning, do our own job and ensure that our own house is in order.

String-pulling Pogba United's heartbeat and the best in Europe

United's win over Stoke was solid but unspectacular collectively, but Paul Pogba again took centre stage to be voted our man of the match with a simply brilliant individual performance. The Frenchman picked up two assists for Antonio Valencia and Anthony Martial, showcased his full armoury of passing and ran the show with his trademark buccaneering surges from deep. It was a magnificent midfield masterclass and one that was a joy to watch. Pogba offers everything you want from a modern-day midfield player - goals, assists, pace, power, a link between defence and attack with close control and intricate ball-carrying skills that bely a man of his frame. The ultimate box-to-box player, not since Paul Scholes have United had anyone as complete as Pogba. Any team would struggle to replace a player as supreme as Scholes, a one club man who amassed 500 appearances for the club in one of the greatest careers the Premier League has ever witnessed. If Pogba goes on to achieve even half of what Scholes did, then he's done very well.
After the dark days of Tom Cleverley, Eric Djemba - Djemba, Kleberson, Anderson and countless others, United finally look set to have a player up to the task of replicating Scholes. Still only 24 and now in his prime, Pogba has all the attributes to be the heartbeat of this side for many years to come, hopefully until the end of his career. 

When the Frenchman plays well, so do we and he's at the heart of a remarkable record that gives Pep and City a run for their money. The Reds have not lost a league game in which Pogba has been involved since that 4-0 defeat at Chelsea back in October 2016 - a run that spans 35 games. An incredible unbeaten run that shows just how important Pogba is to this United side. Having re-signed for the club from Juventus in a head-spinning transfer, he started slowly and had to deal with unfair criticism during the early months of last season. It's fair to say that those doubters have been spectacularly silenced.

Pogba's importance and influence was only demonstrated further against the Potters with his  brace of assists for Valencia and Martial - his eighth and ninth of the season. A tally accrued in 13 games, that's the best games-to-assist ratio in Europe's top five leagues. Kevin De Bruyne and Leroy Sane have had all the plaudits for their impressive seasons as the key creative cogs for Pep Guardiola's dominant juggernaut.  The City duo have totted up the same number of assists as Pogba, but have only done so in 23 and 21 games respectively. To further highlight his impressive contribution, PSG's Neymar has nine assists in 14. Let's not forget either, that Paul leads the way despite a two month absence through injury. Had he been fit for the whole season, not only would he be outperforming the rest of the continent comfortably, but United would also be a lot closer to City.

Match report: United 3-0 Stoke City

A Paul-Pogba inspired United cruised to a solid if unspectacular victory over struggling Stoke to maintain our winning start to 2018 and keep alive the Reds slim hopes of reeling in Pep Guardiola's City. 
The Frenchman claimed two assists and ran the show from deep as United - after three successive festive stalemates - won for the third game in a row to move 12 points behind the leaders, who saw their unbeaten record ended at Anfield on Sunday.

Jose went into the game looking for a first win over the Staffordshire side since he took charge of the Reds, having picked up three consecutive draws in his 18 months at the helm. This time around, though, the result never looked in doubt from the moment Antonio Valencia put United ahead inside ten minutes.
Stoke, who sacked manager Mark Hughes last week, were under the caretaker stewardship of coach Eddie Niedzwiecki for their trip to Old Trafford with new boss Paul Lambert, who was watching from the stands, to take full-time charge having been named as Sparky's successor in a bid to maintain Premier League status.

United started strongly and had a penalty appeal waved away early on when Anthony Martial went down under a challenge from Stoke debutant Moritz Bauer. Nothing was given, but the Reds stayed on the front foot and took the lead on nine minutes with the next attack. Pogba picked out Valencia and the returning Ecuadorian marked his comeback in style when he cut inside Josh Tymon and fired home a stunner from 16 yards for his third goal of the season. 

Stoke, firmly embroiled in the congested battle for survival, carved out chances of their own. Stephen Ireland - on his first league start since 2015 - fired wastefully wide when well-placed, and Xherdan Shaqiri then tested David de Gea from distance. Following the Potters best spell of the game, Juan Mata and Valencia linked up well but the Spaniard's appeals for a spot-kick were waved away by referee Anthony Taylor. 

United moved 2-0 ahead eight before the interval with a goal that was made in France. Pogba surged upfield and cut the ball back for Martial who applied a superb 20-yard finish with aplomb for his tenth of the campaign. Stoke almost halved the deficit in first-half stoppage time when the ball fell to Shaqiri inside the box, but De Gea saved superbly before Peter Crouch's follow up was snuffed out by Chris Smalling. 

After half-time, Jack Butland denied Martial and Romelu Lukaku in quick succession, and Mata also went close before the Reds put the result beyond any lingering doubt on 72 minutes.
Top scorer Lukaku added late gloss to the scoreline when he rifled home on the turn for his second goal in as many games. Substitute Marcus Rashford almost the fourth with a nice back-heel, but Butland denied him as the Reds eased to a routine win despite never hitting top gear. 

Overall team performance: 7/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Paul Pogba. A (nother) string pulling masterclass and a joy to watch. Magnificent again.

Friday 12 January 2018

Match preview: United v Stoke City

United return to action on Monday after a rare week without a fixture as we welcome a Stoke City side who are struggling and managerless. Whilst the Reds were enjoying a well-deserved ten days of warm weather training on the desert beaches of Dubai, the Potters sacked their now former boss, and ex United legend Mark Hughes. 

The decision to dispense with 'Sparky', after four years and 200 games in charge, came with the club in the relegation zone after a poor run of five defeats in seven games. The final straw came in the 2-1 FA Cup loss to League Two Coventry at the Ricoh Area, when Stoke's famously patient owners dismissed Hughes. With a new manager unlikely to be appointed in time for this one, first team coach Eddie Niedzwiecki is expected to take charge of the Staffordshire side at Old Trafford. Former Watford and current Espanyol boss Quique Sanchez Flores in their first choice to succeed Hughes with ROI manager Martin O'Neill also high on their hitlist.

They suffered a 5-0 thumping at champions Chelsea in their last league away game. However, United are yet to get the better of their visitors since Jose Mourinho's arrival, with each of the three contests having ended all square. But the Reds, buoyed by their Dubai trip, will be refreshed and raring to go in a bid to pick up a hat-trick of wins to open 2018.

The Reds could be boosted by the return of skipper Antonio Valencia after a hamstring injury, with Tony V having not played since the West Bromwich Albion fixture on 17 December. Michael Carrick also took part in the training session in the UAE, while Chris Smalling and Marouane Fellaini are set to feature after both made their comebacks in the win over Derby County. Ashley Young will complete the last of his three-match ban, but Eric Bailly and Zlatan Ibrahimovic remain sidelined. Defenders Bruno Martins Indi and Erik Pieters are both doubts for the visitors, but their captain and ex-Red Ryan Shawcross could return after injury. The Potters have bolstered their team with the signing of Austrian centre-back Moritz Bauer from Rubin Kazan on a four-

On the sacking of 'Sparky' Jose said: "I was on the outside but I think Mark is a great guy with qualities who can do the job for them. For the players I don't think it is too difficult - probably they train the same way and it's not a dramatic change that isn't good at this time in the season.
The boss added:"Dubai gave us unbelivable conditions to work, great facilities, great weather, and three days of really, really good training. The team are fresh and prepared and hopefully we can improve our level because it was very good."

Jose remained tight-lipped when asked about United's reported move for Arsenal's Alexis Sanchez, and said: "I cannot say, I don't think it's ethical or correct to be speaking about other clubs players - he is a phenomenal player but is with Arsenal at the moment. We don't believe in signing a player just to do something and to weaken an opponent."

Form guide: United L D D D W W Stoke City L W D L L L 
Match odds: United 1/4 Draw 6/1 Stoke City 14/1
Referee: Anthony Taylor (Wythenshawe)

Tuesday 9 January 2018

Opposition profile: Yeovil Town

United will travel the length of the country to face a side from the opposite end of the football league pyramid after we were paired with Yeovil Town in the FA Cup fourth round. The Reds will be red hot favourites against the Glovers.
Yeovil are bidding to reach the fifth round for only second time in their history. A plum, money-spinning tie for our League Two opponents - the lowest ranked side left in the competition - it's a classic Cup contest that pits United's Goliath against Yeovil's David. But, as we saw with Newport County, Coventry and to a lesser extent Nottingham Forest, the 'romance' of the FA Cup is alive and well and we cannot take any side for granted. 

Despite the Somerset side's nomadic existence in the lower leagues, they have strong links with United and this will be the fourth meeting between the sides. The most famous of those previous encounters came in the 1948-49 when Yeovil - then a non league side - stunned Sunderland's "Bank of England" side to reach the fifth round for the first, and so far only, time in their history. There, the Glovers historic run was ended by, yep you guessed it, Matt Busby's United who emerged 8-0 winners at Maine Road - our record margin of victory in this competition. This is only the third time that Yeovil have got this far, but - for the second time in the space of three years - they will face 12 time winners United at their quaint and atmospheric ground in rural Somerset. The Green and Whites were our opponents at the third round stage of the competition in the 2014-15 season under Louis van Gaal, and on that occasion goals from Ander Herrera and Angel Di Maria set us up for a 2-0 win. 

Nicknamed the Glovers because of Yeovil's history as the centre of glove-making, Yeovil were a Championship side as recently as 2014, but following two consecutive relegations, they now ply their trade in the fourth tier and currently sit 21st in League Two. Huish Park, the club's home since 1990, has a capacity of just over 9,000 - 9,264 witnessed our last trip there, that third round encounter in 2015. Surprisingly, that game was not a record attendance, with the visit of Leeds in 2008 breaking that figure with a crowd of 9,527. 

Former midfielder and fan favourite Darren Way is the club's current manager. Having represented Yeovil with distinction in over 300 games for the club, he then moved on to the Glovers coaching staff after his retirement as a player. He was Yeovil's first team coach for that visit of United and then served as assistant under Terry Skiverton and Paul Sturrock after Gary Johnson was sacked. Initially appointed as interim boss, Way was given the job full time on New Year's Eve 2015 - his first managerial post. 
Due to the lack of other large clubs in their area, Yeovil have few major rivals. Geographically,  Weymouth, Bournemouth, Exeter, Swindon and both Bristol clubs are considered rivals but Yeovil rarely face these sides due to their status as a League Two club. United will face Yeovil in the fourth round on the weekend of 27 and 28 January. 

United to face lowest ranked side in FA Cup fourth round

United have been handed a favourable tie in the FA Cup after former Red Rio Ferdinand paired us with the lowest ranked side left in this season's competition. The Reds were drawn with League Two outfit Yeovil Town - who sit 21st in the fourth tier - and will travel to the Glovers Huish Park home on the weekend of 27/28 January. 

 This will be the fourth meeting between clubs at the opposite end of the football spectrum - and unsurprisingly given the gulf between the two, United have won all of them. We don't have to look far for the last time we faced the Somerset side. In January 2015 under Louis van Gaal, United made the 700-mile round trip at the third round stage and saw off Gary Johnson's side 2-0 through goals from Ander Herrera and Angel Di Maria.  

The Glovers - so called because of the town's history of glove making - have already pulled off two minor upsets so far in the competition having knocked out League One sides Southend, 1-0, and Bradford City, 2-0 on Saturday. They overcame divisional rivals Port Vale after a replay at the second round stage to set up the money-spinning glamour tie against Jose's United, one of two fourth-round matches that pits a League Two team with Premier League opposition. Newport County, conquerors of Championship giants Leeds United, will host Tottenham in the other in the pick of the ties at this stage. 

Former midfielder and fan favourite Darren Way is the club's current manager. Having represented Yeovil with distinction after over 300 games for the club, he then moved on to the Glovers coaching staff after his retirement as a player. He was Yeovil's first team coach for that visit of United and then served as assistant under Terry Skiverton and Paul Sturrock after Johnson was sacked. Initially appointed as interim boss, Way was given the job full time on New Year's Eve 2015 - his first managerial post. Way will get the chance to pit his wits against Jose in a head-to-head meeting that the Yeovil boss has described as a dream come true. 

Looking back at those previous aforementioned meetings, all of which have come in this competition, and United won 3-0 at home in round three in 1937/38, before our record FA Cup win, 8-0 at Maine Road in the last 16 in the 1948/49 season, with Old Trafford still out of action due to bomb damage. 

Coventry City were the biggest giant-killers of this year's third round as they stunned Premier League strugglers Stoke 2-1 at the Ricoh Arena. One former United legend - Mark Robins, the man who supposedly saved Sir Alex- saw off another in Mark Hughes, who paid for the result with his job. The Sky Blues travel to League One MK Dons and Notts County will host the winner of the Wolves v Swansea replay. The other fourth-tier side in the draw - Steve Evans Mansfield Town - will face Cardiff in a replay with the incentive of a home draw with Pep Guardiola's in-form Manchester City side. There are definitely two all-Premier League ties, with Southampton to host Watford and Liverpool at home to West Brom. Chelsea will play Newcastle United at Stamford Bridge should they overcome Championship team Norwich in their replay. 

Holders Arsenal, who have won the FA Cup three times in the last four seasons to become the competition's most successful side, are out after a shock 4-2 defeat at Nottingham Forest. 

Saturday 6 January 2018

Messi Lingard in the form of his life as hot streak continues

Lionel Jesse (or shall we just call him Messi now) Lingard continued his hot streak of form with another man of the match performance in the FA Cup win over Derby, and capped his latest individual showing with yet another stunning goal. United's results may have been indifferent over Christmas, but Lingard is in the form of his life and again proved United's match winner. When the pressure is on and inspiration needed, Lingardinho is increasingly becoming our go-to man to provide it.

He broke the deadlock against Derby with yet another exquisite strike to add to ever-lengthening repertoire of screamers, his eleventh of the season and eighth in his last ten matches. He simply does not score tap-ins and is making his own goal of the season collection. From his superb double at Arsenal, his length of the field solo finish against Watford, timely Burnley Boxing Day brace and Everton opener to this rasper: every one of Lingard's goals have not only been beautiful, but crucial. 

United's homegrown Academy talent has developed from promising youngster into a player at the peak of his powers this season. So good is his recent form, that he's now at the front of Gareth Southgate's queue to start behind Harry Kane for England at this summer's World Cup. Dele Alli is a superb player but has struggled to hit the heights this season and, on current form at least, Lingard must have put himself in contention to not only make the squad, but also to be on the team sheet as a starter in Russia for the Three Lions. 

Lingard's talent has clearly been there for all to see. Sir Alex Ferguson always rated Jesse highly, and his technical ability and football intelligence is a rare asset for a young English player. But Lingard has been something of a divisive figure for United's global and unforgiving fanbase and he always seems to be the player who attracts the most criticism. Some of his behaviour off the field has been deemed immature and unprofessional, but in truth it's nothing more than a young man enjoying life with his mates and showing his human side away from the high-pressure environment of living under the microscope at one of the world's biggest clubs. Surely there's nothing wrong with that. Many have felt that Lingard - who started out as a wide man - lacks the maturity and consistency to ever become a player on a par with the traditional 'flying winger' in the mould of a Kanchelskis or a Giggs. Having his found his niche as an all-action number ten, Lingard's made a mockery of those claims to prove his many legion of doubters wrong with every passing week. 

This club has always been one to pride ourselves on the quality of our home-grown talent, and for all the expensive imports in the side, at present it's one of our own who's doing the business to lead the Reds charge in what we hope will be a successful second half of the season. Long may it continue. 

Match report: United 2-0 Derby County

United left it late to secure a fully deserved victory over their Championship opponents and ensure progress to the fourth round of the FA Cup. A frustrating replay looked on the cards with the Reds repeatedly repelled by a combination of the woodwork and the Rams in-form stopper Scott Carson. That was until Jesse Lingard - again - broke the deadlock with a stunning strike, his eighth in ten games.

Substitute Romelu Lukaku put the result beyond doubt with a late counter-attacking clincher to send United safely through to the next round of a competition we won two seasons ago. The Reds started strongly and went close early on as in-form duo Paul Pogba and Lingard almost linked up for the opener, but the latter fired narrowly over the bar. Pogba then went close himself from distance but Derby, second in the Championship and pushing for promotion, had not come merely to defend and sit back. 
Former United Academy graduate Tom Lawrence was impressive throughout and soon tested  Sergio Romero with a drive, but the stand-in stopper saved well.

Marcus Rashford went close and Juan Mata's 20 yarder was tipped out by Carson, before Romero did likewise at the other end from a looping Marcus Olsson header. In truth, United should then have made the breakthrough courtesy of Rashford, but he could only head against a post having been picked out by Henrikh Mkhitaryan's pinpoint cross.

Carson had been the busier keeper and was called into action again shortly before the break, this time from a Pogba free-kick, which he acrobatically tipped over the top at full-stretch to ensure the tie remained finely poised at the interval.

Tom Huddlestone went close with a deflected effort for the visitors, before Mata shot straight at Carson and Pogba flashed a shot narrowly wide at the other end. In an increasingly end-to-end encounter, Lawrence tried his luck from 30 yards and Romero saved down low, and then Pogba had a shot well held by Carson as both sides were restricted to efforts from range. 

United continued to press with Derby again indebted to their four-time capped England keeper, who denied Lingard and substitute Anthony Martial, before Rashford hit the post again for a second time. The Reds had laid siege to the visitors goal without success but, with an unwanted replay a real possibility, the long-threatened breakthrough finally arrived six minutes from the end.

It needed something special to beat the heroic Carson, and Lingard - in the form of his life - duly obliged with a dipping drive from 25 yards having been picked out by Lukaku for his eleventh goal of the season and eighth in his last ten matches. Lukaku himself then put the game to bed in the final minute on the counter-attack, as, with Derby pushed up in search of an equaliser, the Reds broke from deep. The substitute Belgian pulled the ball down on the halfway line, played a nice one-two with Martial and slotted beyond the advancing Carson to rubber-stamp the result. 

The draw for the fourth round takes place on Monday. 

Overall team performance: 7.5/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Messi Lingardinho

Thursday 4 January 2018

Match preview: United v Derby County

United face Championship opponents for the second time in three weeks as our FA Cup campaign gets underway with the visit of Derby County on Friday. Having been knocked out of the Carabao Cup by high-flying Bristol City, the Reds face Gary Rowett's promotion-chasing Rams in the third round of the other domestic cup at Old Trafford. United have not lost to two different sides from outside the top flight in a single season since 1983/1984 (Oxford United and Bournemouth). 

Despite being a division apart, Derby have been regular - and tricky - opponents for the Reds in recent years as we played them in both cups during the 2008/09 season and, more recently, at the fourth round stage of this competition in 2016, when we won 3-1 at the iPro Stadium on our way to a then record-equalling 12th FA Cup success. 

Sergio Romero will start in goal for United, with Romelu Lukaku and Marouane Fellaini also both available again after injury. Michael Carrick, Eric Bailly and Antonio Valencia are still sidelined with Ashley Young to serve the second of a three match ban. 
Derby forward and former United man Tom Lawrence (hip) is doubtful, as are midfield duo Joe Ledley and Bradley Johnson (both back injuries). Both Jose and counterpart Rowett look set to rotate and freshen up their selections after a busy hectic period of fixtures. 

The United manager said: "Of course the FA Cup is special, more than the League Cup and I always try and give a lot of respect. Any cup is a beautiful competition, let's go and try to win it. I've only won it once, so I would like to win it again and we are going to try and do that. The draw was difficult for us because we are not going to play against a Premier League team - you look at Derby's players and they are not Championship players. Many of them are Premier League players in a Premier League team, I have been against many of them before, we know the quality of Derby and it will be a difficult, dangerous tie."

Having suffered semi-final heartache in the play-offs in that 2015-16 campaign, last season was one of disappointment for Derby as they finished ninth after a season of flux in the Midlands. This season looks set to be different, however, with the Rams currently second in the Championship after an eight-match unbeaten run, two points clear of closest challengers Cardiff City in a congested battle for the second automatic promotion place. In 15-goal Czech striker and top scorer Matej Vydra and a number of former top flight players including Scott Carson, Tom Huddlestone, Curtis Davies and Darren Bent, the Rams certainly have the quality and threat to cause United problems. 

Form guide: United W L D D D W Derby County W W W D W D 
Match odds: United 2/9 Draw 9/2 Derby County 13/1
Referee: Kevin Friend (Leicestershire)

Monday 1 January 2018

Match report: Everton 0-2 United

The Reds ended a recent indifferent run of form and moved back up to second in the Premier League with a much improved display at Goodison Park on New Year's Day. United suffered a poor Christmas, with three successive draws and a mounting injury list, but the Reds made light work of Sam Allardyce's rejuvenated Toffees, and inflicted the hosts first home defeat under the tutelage of the much-travelled manager. 

There were three changes to the United side that had been held by Southampton only 48 hours previously, as Marcos Rojo, Ander Herrera and Anthony Martial (who started up top), replaced the suspended Ashley Young, injured Romelu Lukaku and rotated Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Everton, meanwhile, lined up with three former Reds in the team, in the form of skipper and United legend Wayne Rooney, Michael Keane and Morgan Schneiderlin. 

In an evenly-contested encounter, both sides began brightly without really threatening a breakthrough. Paul Pogba tried his luck from distance with a drive, while Nikola Vlasic sent a header off target in a rare opening at the other end. In a flat and uneventful first half, clear cut chances were at a premium with the usually intimidatory Goodison Park atmosphere somewhat subdued.

The second half was in stark contrast to the first, however, as United started on the front foot and Everton soon found themselves pinned back. Jordan Pickford saved superbly from the impressive Juan Mata, and then - three minutes later - the diminutive Spaniard went close again when he beat Pickford but not the post. His 25-yarder thumped back off the woodwork and rebounded to safety. 

The Reds had significantly upped the ante and it was no surprise when, on 57 minutes, we made the breakthrough that had been coming since the interval. It was a lovely goal brimming with pace and power that came at the culmination of an incisive team move. Lingard found Pogba whom in turn picked out Martial, who took a touch and curled in from 20 yards for his ninth goal of the season. 

To their credit, Everton responded strongly to the setback of going behind, and should have equalised in their best spell of the game as United had to dig deep. Oumar Niasse headed wastefully wide when well placed, and Mason Holgate had a shot deflected behind as the Reds briefly came under pressure. 

We weathered the storm, though, and there was to be no repeat of the late lapse that saw us squander a lead at Leicester. With nine minutes remaining, United put the result beyond doubt when Pogba's surging run saw him find the red-hot and in-form Lingard who despatched a clinical finish beyond Pickford for his seventh goal in nine games. 

It was another excellent goal to add to Jesse's ever-lengthening showreel and ensured that the Reds put recent disappointments behind us for a welcome return to winning ways. 

Overall team performance: 7.5/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Paul Pogba. Two assists in an advanced role, a position he should make his own every week. Pulled the strings in another top quality performance. 

United's best of 2017: Part Two - Individuals

As we welcome 2018 - Happy New Year to all United fans around the world - we looked at United's collective showing in the first part of our best of 2018 series. In this second part, the focus shifts from the team to our individual stars.. 

Best player: Paul Pogba
Honourable mention: Antonio Valencia

It was a tough call to separate this powerful and supremely consistent duo, but the French international gets the nod because of his game-changing abilities. After a slow start to life back at United, he flourished during the second half of last season and scored a crucial goal in the Europa League final against Ajax. He won the Player of the Year award for that competition. He hit the ground running this term, with the arrival of Nemanja Matic bringing out the best in him. A recent period of absence - through first injury and then suspension - only further emphasised his importance and role in the team.

Best goal: Jesse Lingard v Watford
Honourable mention: Antonio Valencia v Everton

Tony V was again in contention for this one, thanks to his rocket-powered, net busting volley against the Toffees back in September. But the technical qualities of Jesse's wonderful individual effort at Vicarage Road in November gets the nod. The in-form Academy graduate - enjoying the best season of his United career so far - collected the ball in his own half, ran the length of the pitch, rounded several back-pedalling Hornets defenders before he skipped beyond Heurelho Gomes and slotted in. It rounded off a brilliant 4-2 result in the league, and - whisper it  - but there were echoes of his idol Ryan Giggs' famous FA Cup winner over Arsenal in 1999.

Best save: David de Gea v Arsenal
Honourable mention: David de Gea v Stoke

There were an embarrassment of riches to choose from for this one, with the best keeper in the world defying belief and gravity on a seemingly weekly basis (and that was just from that one game against Arsenal in which he made 14 saves, all of them jaw dropping). We've plumped for the Spaniard's spectacular double stop that thwarted efforts from dangerous Gunners duo Alexandre Lacazette and Alexis Sanchez from point blank range - the second of which saw DDG turn the ball over the bar with his foot two yards out with scarcely believable reaction reflexes. Of all the match-winning displays we've seen from De Gea over the years, this was the greatest of them all. #DaveSaves

Best individual display: David de Gea v Arsenal
Honourable mention: Ander Herrera v Chelsea

United's immense 2-0 win over champions-elect Chelsea was one of the best United moments of the year as we put Antonio Conte's side to the sword. A brilliant all-round team performance was memorable for Ander Herrera's magnificent individual showing when his man-marking job on Eden Hazard forced one of the league's best playmakers to the fringes and never allowed the Belgian to have an impact. Herrera went on to win the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year award. It was a performance that would need something special to usurp it and said performance duly arrived in north London in December. Dave's world-class talent and cat-like reflexes were displayed in glorious, acrobatic and match-winning fashion.

Best breakthrough: Scott McTominay 
Honourable mention: Axel Tuanzebe

Academy graduate Scott McTominay made his senior United debut at the Emirates in May - albeit in a dead rubber with United eyes on the imminent Europa League final in Stockholm. That earned him a place on the pre-season of the States and since then he's retained a regular place in the first-team squad to provide valuable and vital backup in the engine room. He's gone on to make a Champions League debut and, still only 20, looks set for a bright future at Old Trafford. He's featured in nearly every matchday squad this season, and also signed a new long-term contract. Team-mate Tuanzebe has had to make do with more sporadic senior games, but has shone when called upon and these two look to be the best of the next crop of emerging young United talent. Here's to a promising and prosperous 2018..