Friday 30 March 2018

Match preview: United v Swansea City

Just like our blog, the Premier League returns after an enforced absence through other commitments afar, as we finally resume the business of 'proper' English football after the latest mind numbingly dull international break. It feels like an age since United were last in action, but it is in fact a mere 13 days since our 2-0 win over Brighton that sent us through to the FA Cup semi - finals.

The Manchester derby may be looming large in the rear view mirror, but first the Reds need to take care of business against opponents at the opposite end of the Premier League table in the shape of lowly but improving Swansea. Eyebrows were raised when Carlos Carvalhal was appointed as Paul Clement's successor in the south Wales side's hotseat in December - but it's proved to be an inspired move as Jose's fellow countryman has overseen a remarkable reversal of fortunes for the Swans, having lost only two league ties so far including back-to-back home wins over heavyweight duo Liverpool and Arsenal since the turn of the year. The Swans looked doomed to the drop before the Portuguese's arrival but ahead of their trip to Old Trafford, whilst not safe yet, they sit in the relatively lofty heights of 14th, albeit only three points above the drop zone in the compelling and captivating fight for survival. United have faced the Swans twice at the Liberty Stadium this term in league and cup, winning 4-0 and 2-0, but the visitors are a completely rejuvenated proposition this time around.

Jose expects a difficult encounter against his compatriot's in-form side, and said: "We face a team that is very well organised, especially from the defensive point of view. They are dangerous on the counter-attack with fast people and they are dangerous in the set pieces because they have big, strong players in the aerial football. They are difficult team.
"They have improved a lot, they had a difficult situation but since Carlos has come it is different. They were below the last-three line for weeks and weeks and weeks, but with Carlos it has been point after point and now they are in good position, so we know it will be tough. Carlos is a good guy, my friend, but of course I hope he is not so happy tomorrow."

There is mixed injury news for United with Marcos Rojo and Phil Jones having regained full fitness, and both are available for selection. Ander Herrera is also back in contention. Sergio Romero is set for a few weeks on the sidelines having picked up an injury on international duty, and Ashley Young is also a doubt after he sustained a knee problem late on against Italy. Leroy Fer, Wilfried Bony and Angel Rangel are all doutbful for the visitors, but Bayern Munich loanee Renato Sanches could return. Striker Jordan Ayew serves the second of a three-match ban after being sent off at Huddersfield.

Form guide: United D W W W L W Swansea City D L W W D L
Match odds: United 2/9 Draw 5/1 Swansea City 13/8
Referee: Bobby Madley (Wakefield)

Thursday 22 March 2018

Zlat's your lot: Ibra's LA adventure after Old Trafford exit

Zlatan Ibrahimovic looks set to call time on his decorated and illustrious career in the gltiz and glamour of LA after his United contract was ended early. Upon arrival as Jose's second signing in 2016, he initially signed a one year deal but then extended his stay after an impressive recovery from a potentially career ending knee injury. But the mercurial Swede has played his last game in the Red of United, having struggled to regain fitness in an injury plagured campaign in which he has made only seven appearances. His last game came back on Boxing Day against Burnley, and since then he's failed to regain the fitness required to return to action. The move to Los Angeles and LA Galaxy - former club of United legend David Beckham - will surely be his last hurrah until the curtain comes down on the career of one of the great strikers of the modern era.

Despite his status as a centre-forward of world renown, Zlatan arrived for his first taste of English football surrounded by doubts over his ability to adapt to the pace and intensity of the Premier League.  Those questions were emphatically answered during his sole campaign as the Reds talismanic figurehead, during which he scored 28 goals in 42 appearances, an extraordinary return for a 36-year-old on his debut season in the top flight. The prospect of Ibra becoming United's first 30-goal striker since Robin van Persie looked a matter of certainty, until that painful blow against Anderlecht in the quarter finals scuppered those ambitions and  robbed Zlatan of a fairytale homecoming in the Europa League final against Ajax in Stockholm. The Reds lifted the trophy without the Swede in one of the most successful seasons in our history, but there remained a sense of unfinished business. It's a shame he never got the proper send-off he truly deserved.

Having won the league title at previous clubs Ajax, Inter, Barcelona, Milan and PSG, hopes were high that Ibra would be the man to spearhead United's charge for another league title. Things did not work out like that and English football's biggest domestic prize remained out of reach, but Zlatan still more than made his mark when it mattered as his two-goal salvo saw us win the EFL Cup against Southampton at Wembley - a tie in which he headed the late winner after Saints had recovered from 0-2 down. 

That towering, inch-perfect header, from Ander Herrera's cross three minutes from time, came in a cup final that United were second best in, but again demonstrated the iconic striker's penchant for the big occasion. As he had done so many times before, Zlatan was United's go-to guy when the team were in need of inspiration. Despite the Reds indifferent league season as a collective, as we stuttered and spluttered to a disappointing sixth placed finish, the big man provided goals, drama and subplots aplenty. He started as he would go with a Wembley winner in the Community Shield vs Leicester,  there was his first and only Reds hat-trick against Saint Etienne to set us on our way to glory and the decisive intervention in our come-from-behind victory at Blackburn in the FA Cup. 

Thanks for the memories, Zlatan and good luck Stateside.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic, he is a Swedish hero.
On a free from PSG he cost United zero.
Six foot five, hard as f**k, he gets the Reds excited
Stick Man City up your a**e cause' we are Man United! 

Sunday 18 March 2018

The myth of Sir Alex and the "United Way"

It's weird being a United fan these days. Second only to the most dominant side the Premier League has witnessed for many a year, and ahead of Liverpool and Spurs (who according to some experts, are two of the best attacking sides in Europe). This Jose Mourinho side has been described as one of the worst United teams in recent memory - a rich man's West Brom as I heard one hater say. Of course, our goal difference - superior to 18 of the 19 clubs - doesn't matter much. Nor does the fact that we're averaging 2 goals a game. After all, the Sir Alex Ferguson years provided us with much more than that - we blew every team away 5-0 didn't we. No, in fact we did not.

I can't read anything about United these days with reference being made in some way to the Sir Alex era. "The legacy of Sir Alex Ferguson", the "United Way" - goals, attacking football, entertaining sides. Then how come Sir Alex was often called a pragmatist - especially when compared as inferior to Arsene Wenger and Arsenal? It's only five years since our legendary manager retired - but many people seem to have forgotten what his United teams were all about. Resilience, determination, and above all, winning - three hallmarks we have seen more often that not under Jose. There were of course magnificent victories, memories that will forever be cherished and the enjoyable days out at Old Trafford - from 4-0 to 7-1, 8-2 and 9-0, they were undoubtedly amazing times. But the odd game - the exception rather than the rule - shouldn't determine a legacy that lasted for more than 25 years. Many seem to have forgotten how life actually was in the days when we were spoilt with success.

I love Sir Alex Ferguson to the bottom of my heart - he was the greatest manager in our club's history and has my endless respect and affection for turning United from also rans into the pre-dominant force in English football. But his myth has begun to surpass his legacy, to the point where it's impossible for any United manager to be deemed successful. I may not agree with everything Jose says or does, but on the pitch he's as close to Sir Alex Ferguson as you can get. I can understand the fans frustration over Jose's pragmatism, as football has become an entertainment business, that thrives on match-going spectators getting involved. People are entitled to their opinions. But saying that it isn't the "Manchester United Way" or that "Sir Alex would never have gone to Anfield for a point" is self-deprecation at its best.
Clearly they don't remember the two-legged Champions League semi-final with Barcelona in 2008, when a defensively magnificent United made it through to Moscow with that Paul Scholes wonder goal after a rearguard action in the Nou Camp. We've always sat back and played on the counter-attack against the top teams, and anyone who tells you differently is deluded. That league and Champions League double-winning side from 2007/08 remains the last free-flowing, attacking United team we had. We may have won the league the following season, but that was a triumph built on defensive fortitude and the brilliance of the Edwin van der Sar/Rio Ferdinand/Nemanja Vidic triumvirate. That back five kept 14 consecutive clean sheets, including four 0-0s and eight 1-0s.
Then there was the Etihad in 2012, even Highbury in 2006 or the FA Cup final in 2007 to name but three, so this ideology of us blowing every opponent away on a weekly basis just does not hold sway.

I will remember Sir Alex for winning trophies, getting us over the line almost by his own willpower alone, and for squeezing every last drop of passion, desire and determination out of players he made proud to don the red of United. That's the Manchester United "way" - people just choose not to remember it like that.

Match report: United 2-0 Brighton&Hove Albion

Headed goals from the in-form Romelu Lukaku and Nemanja Matic sent United past the challenge of spirited Brighton and into a recqord equalling 29th FA Cup semi final, to be played at Wembley at the end of April.

The Reds had reached the last eight for the fourth consecutive season, and continued their Cup run of clean sheets with a deserved, if unspectacular win, over Brighton - whose main priority remains Premier League survival. An FA Cup win would be United's 13th in total and remains the Reds only realistic chance of silverware.

The Reds had suffered Champions League agony and, in the wake of that shock midweek defeat to Sevilla, manager Jose Mourinho had come under fire but defended his record in an extraordinary 12-minute monologue on Friday, in which he criticised United's 'football heritage'.
Lukaku nodded home the first - his 25th goal of the season - after a cross by Matic, who sealed victory himself late on with another header, this time from Ashley Young's free-kick.

Juan Mata had a shot deflected wide and Chris Smalling almost made the breakthrough from the resultant corner when he stabbed his shot against a post in a goalmouth scramble.
Sergio Romero saved well from Lewis Dunk in Brighton's first attack but United went ahead eight minutes before the break. Matic picked out Lukaku with a swinging cross to the far post which the Belgian met with a well-placed header to beat Krul for his sixth goal in seven games.

Chris Hughton's Seagulls had been neat and tidy and set up with the plan to contain United and hit on the counter. Lukaku left that blueprint in tatters but the visitors showed more threat after the interval, and went close twice early on through Pascal Gross and Jurgen Locadia. Romero was forced into action again as he kept out the latter from distance, before the Dutch striker headed wide when well-placed on the hour mark.

United, perhaps in part due to the wintry conditions that affected the tie, struggled to test Krul, although Anthony Martial went close when he flashed an effort wide on the angle.

Nerves were beginning to creep in with clear cut chances at a premium, but - as the temperatures dropped even lower - Matic relieved the stress with a match-sealing second seven minutes from time.

The Serbian was United's most impressive performer and capped his superb individual showing with a goal just as important as his last - that strike of the season contender at Selhurst Park two weeks ago.

Half-time substitute Young, who had replaced Luke Shaw, whipped in a free-kick to the far post and Matic did what Lukaku had done and met the delivery with a powerful header beyond Krul to put the result beyond doubt.

Que sera sera!

Overall team performance: 6.5/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Nemanja Matic

Saturday 17 March 2018

Criminally under-rated Carrick deserves to be remembered as a United legend

Michael Carrick, United's English Pirlo, will call time on his long and his decorated career at the end of the season and he deserves to be remembered as a legend. Carra will join Jose Mourinho's coaching staff upon retirement, showing just how highly Jose rates the 36-year-old.

During an illustrious 12-year tenure at Old Trafford since signing from Spurs for a meagre £18m, Carrick won every available honour in the English game and proved an under-rated yet vital string pulling heartbeat in one of the greatest sides in the club's history. Eyebrows were raised when Sir Alex signed Carrick - mainly due to the fact he didn't fit the profile of a typical United player. But he's gone on to be one of the best buys Sir Alex ever made. It's true that he wasn't a prolific scorer, or a snapping, snarling ball of human emotions that made Roy Keane such a titan, but his importance to United cannot be disputed.
Ten years on from that glorious night in Moscow, Carrick's curtain call marks the end of an era as he becomes the last player from that swashbuckling side to hang up his boots. In seven seasons under Sir Alex Ferguson, Carrick won five Premier League titles and missed out on another two by a combined total of a single point. He was the lynchpin, the driving force behind the most successful period of the Ferguson era. Throw in an FA Cup,  three League Cups, six Charity Shields, the Champions League, a Europa League and the World Club Cup and you have one of the most decorated players of all time.
 Imagine what might have happened at the 2006 World Cup, had Sven Goran Eriksson sent Carrick out to scuttle behind Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard, mopping up the danger to let the other two roam with freedom.

Yet despite having won everything there is to win at club level, Carrick has never truly received the plaudits he deserves. His final tally of 34 England caps is frankly criminal, especially when you consider some of the players that he got overlooked in favour of - Scott Parker, Gareth Barry and, latterly, Jordan Henderson to name but three.
Defining Carrick's qualities isn't easy, largely because he did everything well. An outstanding tackler and header of the ball, Carrick saw things in slow motion, ghosting subtly into space to make an interception or play a clever no-look pass on the turn, gliding around the pitch with a telephatic and intelligent understanding of the rhythms of a game. He is probably most comparable with Sergio Busquets - although being English and playing in England when he did, Carrick never got the praise bestowed on the Spaniard. As the focus shifted away from the surging and explosive spearheads of the engine room and towards trequartistas, Carrick's deep- lying abilites were never utilised to their full potential. That nearly 65% of his international caps came in friends prove how undervalued he has been.

 It's Carrick, ya knowwww, hard to believe he's not Scholes.

Friday 16 March 2018

Match preview: United v Brighton&Hove Albion

Jose Mourinho's pre-match press conference was overshadowed by a remarkably honest and passionate outburst from the under-fire United manager. After being pilloried by all-comers in the wake of the Reds Champions League defeat to Sevilla, Jose launced into a 12-minute monologue in which he defended his record, blasted his critics and spoke about the club's football heritage in comparison to cross-town rivals City.

"I am here, I am alive, and I am not going to run away and hide, cry, because of a few boos, I am not afraid of my resposibilities. The fans have a right to their opinions and reactions but there is something that I call football heritage.
"Seven years with four different managers, once not qualify for Europe, twice out in the group stage and the best was the quarter-final, in the league the last victory was 2013 and since then seventh, fifth, fourth and sixth, so in the last four years the best was fourth and this is football heritage.
"Every match is different and every match is important, some fans I am sure would not change a victory against Liverpool for victory over Sevilla even if the defeat to Sevilla means we end the competition, but for me, I am not very objective and I treat every match the same."

Chris Hughton brings his Brighton side to Old Trafford with a place in a Wembley semi final up for grabs for a strange 7.45 kick off on Saturday evening - in a repeat of the famous 1983 final between the sides. Before Tuesday night's aborration against Sevilla which knocked United out of Europe at the last 16 stage, United had won three on the bounce and will target the visit of the high-flying Seagulls to return to winning ways in the third of four consecutive home ties. Mourinho looks set to name a strong side, with Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial in contention to start after injury. Phil Jones, Marcos Rojo, Daley Blind, Ander Herrera and Zlatan Ibrahimovic have all missed out recently, and none of the quintet are likely to feature. Brighton will be without the suspended Anthony Knockaert, sent off in last weekend's loss against Everton. Steve Sidwell is injured, with fellow midfield man Dale Stephens and full-back Gaetan Bong also touch and go with minor injuries. Tim Krul could start in goal ahead of regular number one Mat Ryan.
 This is United's fourth consecutive last eight tie, with the Reds now favourites to go all the way and lift the famous trophy for a record-equalling 13th time after Manchester City's quadruple charge was ended by League One Wigan. We've seen off Derby County, Yeovil Town and Huddersfield to set up this tie with the south coast club - who have defied expectations in their first ever Premier League campaign. Brighton sit eleventh in the table and are into a first quarter final since 1986.There are no replays from the last eight onwards, meaning the tie will be played to finish on the day with extra-time and penalties if required.

Form guide: United W D W W W L Brighton&Hove Albion W D W W W L
Match odds: United 1/3 Draw 12/5 Brighton&Hove Albion 11/3
Referee: Andre Marriner (W
est Midlands)

Wednesday 14 March 2018

Arrogant, blase and muddled Mourinho needs to buck his ideas up quickly

Watching Jose Mourinho standing motionless on the Old Trafford touchline, he carried the body language of a man who already thought the hard work was done. Vincenzo Montella stood a few yards away, clapping and cajoling his Sevilla side whilst Jose failed to react to the dog's dinner being served up in front of him. Not once was there a flicker of emotion on the face of the famously firebrand Portuguese. He was as flat as everyone else in Red.
It was the tie in microcosm: a hungry, fired up and motivated underdog against a muddled, lifeless, indecisive and passive heavyweight.

There have been disappointments under him of course, but last night was the first time I genuinely felt a sense of anger and resentment since his arrival. Anger at the attitude of the players, who seemed to think that strolling through a Champions League last 16 tie without barely trying was acceptable. Resentment at the worst perfomance I have seen from a United side in a long while. Then there's the post-match comments of the manager, who single handedly insulted each and every one of United's 650 million-strong global fanbase with his blase and arrogant soundbites. By suggesting the performance was not bad, he had no regrets and that the team gave everything may have been a stance to protect the players, but what made things worse was the notion that the result was not the end of the world and that a last 16 exit in Europe was nothing new for Manchester United.
He seemed to revel in the fact that he was the man responsible for two of those exits - with Porto in 2004 and Real Madrid in 2011. Taking a dig at the club you now work for with a snidey sideways swipe thrown in for good measure will only add fuel to the fire as tensions and unrest begin to gather pace. Does this man have respect for anyone but himself?

Mourinho has always been a divisive - and often derided - figure with a colourful and controversial personality, but, although I will always back my club and the manager to the hilt, no one is bigger than the club. I'm not at the point where I want him gone because there's very few men out there who could do better, but his arrogance last night felt like he was kicking us all in the balls when we'd already been poleaxed. How dare he - how very dare he - come out and question the intelligence of us fans by saying that he effectively wasn't bothered by the outcome. That may not have been what he meant, but it's certainly how it came across. Not since David Moyes fatefully said that we should aspire to be like City has there been such an outrage at comments made by a Man United manager. 

His selection was confusingly muddled and set the tone for what was to follow. Marcus Rashford, who terrorised Liverpool from the left, was for some reason switched to the right. Scott McTominay, having performed so well in recent high profile fixtures, was kept on the bench. Paul Pogba may have been injured recently, but he's a better footballer in every conceivable way than the rusty Marouane Fellaini, who was thrust into the team against Sevilla. In what world did Mourinho think it was ever going to work with a rusty Belgian, on his first game back after four months out, in midfield instead of the pace and power of the Frenchman or the youthful industry of McTominay. Even Michael Carrick, with his experience and guile, would have made more sense. Fellaini was a passenger, bossed by man of the match Steven N'Zonzi. Mourinho left it too late to make his substitutions, and Alexis Sanchez - who flitted around between all three attacking positions - was almost anonymous. Our two most creative attacking players, Juan Mata and Anthony Martial, got 13 minutes when both should either have started or come on much earlier. 

From start to finish it was embarrasing and the manager needs to buck his ideas up quickly.

Woeful United everything this great club should not be

Oh to be a Manchester United fan. After the euphoria of Saturday when we felt on top of the world, I'm feeling rock bottom - gutted, frustrated and fuming after witnessing one of the worst 90 minutes in recent memory from a United team. How we can go from the euphoric high of beating our biggest rivals in the most important game of the season, to the desperate low of defeat against modest Spanish outsiders, simply defies logic and explanation and is beyond me. 
As Wissam Ben Yedder inflicted the knockout blow with his quickfire double and condemned a shambolic and disjointed United to an earlier than expected European exit, I had to remind myself that I was indeed watching the very same Manchester United team that were so impressive against Liverpool. Never have I seen two such vastly contrasting performances in such a short space of time. Having slept on it, I still cannot explain how we tried to approach this game, tactically. It was a muddled and confused mess with no clear game plan or strategy.

With the tie finely poised at 0-0 and knowing that Sevilla needed to score, the longer the tie stayed goalless, the more it would play into the hands of Vincenzo Montella's men. You kept expecting United to up the ante and intensity, but the Red tide never came. Mourinho and the team were content with the goalless draw in Spain and had backed themselves to overcome Sevilla on the hallowed turf, adamant that the occasion - and our vastly experienced squad - would overawe the visitors. Such hubris.
 We tried to defend a lead that we never had. Once Ben Yedder broke the deadlock with 17 minutes to play, it was game over for a shell-shocked and punchdrunk United. 
We needed the early cushion of a goal to settle the nerves, but instead played with the pace and tempo of a pre-season friendly. It seemed as if we were sitting off them and waiting for the inevitable before we spluttered into life. Only when Sevilla hammered the final nail in the coffin did we look anything like a Manchester United side. By then - 2-0 down with ten minutes to go - the damage had already been done.

Jose had attracted criticism for his cautious, safety-first approach in Andalusia, but although not ideal, that was away from home and not too bad a result. Pragmatism is understandable away from home in Europe - but only if you finish the job in the second game. 

The lack of an away goal was not ideal but would prove vindicated if Jose and the team got through at home. Having gone out with merely a whimper, it's backfired spectacularly and the manager will - justifiably so - come under the harshest of criticisms. But the players should take responsibility too. The boss did surely not send them out to walk around the pitch and play with so little desire or effort - instead of hiding behind him and letting Jose cop all the flak, they need to take a long, hard, look at themselves. This miserable and moribund performance was everything United should not be - especially not at home and especially not in a European tie. The players looked like rabbits caught in the headlights: timid, naive, lethargic, tactically terrible and terrified of a side sixth in La Liga and with a modest record in this competition. Where before there had been courage, desire and character, now there was fear and anxiety. The tie was lost in Manchester because United were pedestrian, lacklustre and didn't perform, but the Reds looked devoid of inspiration and ideas throughout the entire 180 minutes of this knockout tie.  Sevilla are nothing special but fully deserved their win.
Twice a winner with Porto and Inter, Mourinho looked the man most capable of turning United into the heavyweight European force we aspire to be.
Great strides have been made this season, but this was a night in which we looked further away than ever.

Insipid, timid and shocking United crash out with a whimper

It's very hard for me to sit down and write this with a cool head and without expletives, but I'm probably still going to put more effort and energy into this blog post than every single one of those players did at Old Trafford last night.
Take nothing away from Sevilla, they fully deserved to go through and the better team won over the two legs. But what on earth was that? In my 20 years as a fan, that has to rank as the most lifeless, lethargic, lazy, timid, naive and downright disgraceful performance from a United team. Ever. I'd go so far as to say it's arguably our most insipid and embarrassing home defeat in Europe. Ever. It was absolutely shocking, and every single one of those players - with the exception of Romelu Lukaku, Eric Bailly and Marcus Rashford - should be made to come out and apologise to the fans who spent their hard earned money to watch a pathetic and borderline criminal showing that left an ugly stain on this club's proud and illustrious history. We were woeful, horrendous and played as if consumed by fear and anxiety. That was a wretched and unwatchable horror show - and that's being polite about it. Strutting around like the overpaid individuals they are, there was so sense of cohesion or collective responsibility. No one took the tie by the scruff of the neck. I shudder to think what the watching Roy Keane would have thought. The one tiny silver lining that we can lift from the shattered remnants of our Champions League campaign is that don't we have to suffer another tie like that against a Barcelona, a Bayern or a Real Madrid and face even an bigger humiliation. 

In a season defining tie with a place in the last eight on the line, certain players in the red of United were walking around the pitch as if out for a Sunday morning kick about. Walking. Around the pitch. In a knockout tie of Europe's elite competition. That attitude is simply not acceptable no matter who you are, let alone in the red shirt of England's biggest and most successful club, one that has produced some of the finest sides this country has ever seen. Can you imagine this happening during the tenures of legendary knights of the realm Sirs Matt and Alex. Those players would be lucky to make it out Old Trafford alive, forced to train with the reserves and sold in the next available window. Pulling on the famous and iconic red shirt of Manchester United should be the greatest honour bestowed on a professional footballer, instead for some it looks like an irrefutable burden. Can there be a more damning verdict on the very name and reputation of this great club when players start strolling through a match.
Would we ever have won the Champions League? Being realistic, no we probably wouldn't - not with the might of Barcelona, Bayern, Juventus and Real Madrid standing in our way. But I - and most of the football world - definitely expected us to get past Sevilla. But we didn't lay a glove on a side we should have sent packing. They're fifth in La Liga with a negative goal difference, shipping goals left right and centre and have only ever reached the last eight once before. Yet they came to Old Trafford and played like the home team. The quarter finals were probably the best we could have hoped for, and the semis looked a leg too far. But even so, the manner of this KO hurts like hell. I've had breakups that haven't felt as painful as this..

If you're going to lose a last 16 tie, there's a dignified manner of doing so. This certainly was not it. If you are beaten, you have a go. The way United went out with a whimper was the total opposite of that. There was no fight, passion, energy, desire or commitment - the very least you can ask for from your side. After such a superb and top class performance against Liverpool on Saturday, it's baffling. I'm embarrassed and ashamed - and I hope the players feel the same. But why should they when they continue to earn millions and drive around in their flash motors with top of the range clothing. They still pick up their pay cheques and will be picked for the next tie as if nothing has happened.  Old Trafford was the quietest I have ever heard it - but the players have to help the fans by the performance they put in on the pitch. From start to finish, it was a messy, disjointed and unfathomable shambles. This club have given me some of my best moments and memories to last a lifetime as a football fan, but this was one of - if not THE - worst. There's simply nothing else I can say.

Match report: United 1-2 Sevilla (Agg: 1-2)

United were knocked out of the Champions League at the last 16 stage by Spanish side Sevilla after a strangely subdued showing at an equally bemused Old Trafford. After the hard fought 0-0 draw in the first leg three weeks ago, the away goals rule was tilted in favour of Vincenzo Montella's side, and a quickfire brace from second half substitute Wissam Ben Yedder put the tie out of reach. Romelu Lukaku pulled a goal back on 84 minutes but it proved too little, too late.

This was our first knockout tie in Europe's elite competition since the nerve shredding quarter final with Bayern in 2014 under David Moyes, but unlike then, we came in to this as favourites against a useful but out of form Sevilla side, who sat fifth in La Liga with a negative goal difference, with a place in the last eight at stake. 

Coming into the tie after Saturday's magnificent win over Liverpool, most expected United to set about their task with vim and vigour, in the knowledge that only a win would do. Lukaku - the only United player who could emerge with any credit - almost put his side ahead inside five minutes. The busy Belgian collected the ball, linked up with Jesse Lingard, played a one-two and burst into the box, but he could only lift the ball over the bar.

Sevilla quickly recovered from that early let-off and soon started to pose a threat. Joaquin Correa headed wide and Franco Vazquez shot wide before Montella's men served further warning to United when Luis Muriel went close with an angled effort on the half hour mark.
Sergio Rico saved well from the recalled Marouane Fellaini but the visitors came on strong again with United indebted to an immense challenge from Eric Bailly moments later as Correa shaped to shoot. The Reds response saw Lingard's drive pushed away by Rico shortly before the interval.

A sloppy and sluggish United struggled to find the fluency or fervour on show against Liverpool and, after Paul Pogba was introduced for an almost anonymous Fellaini, Sevilla landed their first sucker punch in the 73rd minute. The Reds lost possession on halfway and substitute Ben Yedder - on for barely a minute - capitalised on the loose ball when he slotted beyond the helpless David de Gea and leave United in desperate trouble. With United still reeling for the shock, Sevilla struck again five minutes later, through Ben Yedder once more. Pablo Sarabia picked out the Frenchman with a deep cross to the far post, and his close-range header spun over the line and in despite the best effort of De Gea.

The tie was over, but United belatedly hit back and reduced the deficit through Lukaku, who blasted in after a goalmouth scramble. But the task set by Ben Yedder - and United's timidity - proved too much.

A miserable night for everyone at the club and one that will want to be forgotten in a hurry.

Overall team performance: 0/10. Abysmal.
United Faithful Man of the Match: Romelu Lukaku. The best of a (very) bad bunch

Monday 12 March 2018

Match preview: United v Sevilla

Hot on the heels of the rousing victory over the Scousers, United return to action 48 hours later in another massive and season defining fixture. The tie is delicately poised on a knife edge after the 0-0 draw in Andalucia three weeks ago, with in-form United bidding for a place in the Champions League quarter finals for the first time in four years.

Juventus, Real Madrid and Premier League duo Liverpool and City are already through, with the draw for the last eight to be made on Friday after the round of 16 is completed. Victory over United would put Sevilla into the last eight for the first time since 1958, that most fateful of years that started with United gunning for glory but ended in tragedy on a slush covered Munich runway.

Jose Mourinho has confirmed that Anthony Martial is fit to face the La Liga side, but it remains to be seen if Paul Pogba will feature. United defenders Phil Jones, Marcos Rojo and Daley Blind are all sidelined, while Ander Herrera will also miss out with a muscle problem. Marouane Fellaini could be pushing for involvement having come on and played a key role in United's 2-1 win over Liverpool. Vincenzo Montella's Sevilla will be without former City man Jesus Navas, who has been struggling with a calf injury. The visitors will be without Sebastien Corchia, while Daniel Carrico is also doubtful.
 Los Rojiblancos - Europa League winners for two of the last seasons - have had an indifferent season, and currently sit in fifth place in the Spanish top flight. Since the first leg, there's been a 5-2 defeat to Atletico Madrid, followed up with back to wins over Malaga and Athletic Club before their 2-0 home loss to place above Valencia last time out. 

Jose said: "Sevilla is more important than Liverpool because Saturday was a match for points but this one and the next one (against Brighton) are the matches where, at the end, you go to the next draw or don't go to the next draw. So of course knockout becomes more important than league matches. I don't think we are one of the best teams in the competition, but when a team arrives in the last eight, anything can happen. You are among the best, but I think this is a very difficult match. Sevilla is a very good team, and the result of the first leg is a result that leaves everything open so the reality is that in this moment we have no advantage at all." 
Sevilla make their first ever visit to Old Trafford to face United in a competitive tie - with the only other meeting between the sides Rio Ferdinand's testimonial in August 2013 (they won 3-1). 
Having negotiated the not insignificant hurdle of Jurgen Klopp's side, this is the second of three home games in a week for Jose's United, with Brighton the next Old Trafford visitors on Saturday with a place in the FA Cup semi finals on the line. 

Form guide: United L W D W W W Sevilla W D L W W L 
Match odds: United 8/13 Draw 11/4 Sevilla 9/2
Referee: Danny Makkelie will take charge of his first United game with an all Dutch team of officials.

Jose's evolving United on an undisputed upward trajectory

The win over Liverpool was United's third in succession and came off the back of consecutive come-from-behind victories over champions Chelsea and struggling Crystal Palace. Both of those results were extremely satisfying - and very different - in their own way, but it was the win over Jurgen Klopp's in-form side with their supposedly unstoppable front three that offered the clearest indication yet that Jose Mourinho's Reds revolution is going from strength to strength. The project is coming to fruition.

Despite the underachievement of a sixth placed Premier League finish during his debut, settling in season (even though only five league games were lost), Jose still put two major pieces of silverware - the EFL and Europa Cups - on the sideboard, a fantastic achievement for any club no matter their size or stature.
Since then, there have been real signs of progress with the team on an undoubted upward trajectory. Sitting pretty in second place in the table - albeit 13 points off the Premier League pace - and still in contention for a record equalling 13th FA Cup and a first Champions League quarter final since 2014, United look well set for a post-SAF high. Victory over Sevilla on Tuesday would seal that place in the last eight -  a stage the Reds last reached in 2013/14 under David Moyes, when we went out to Bayern Munich despite a spirited showing over two legs. All things considered, that wouldn't be too shabby a season for a side supposedly in decline.

Our problem this season is that judgement of this evolving side has been compared to the incomparable, in the shape of Pep Guardiola and his sky blue juggernaut - such is City's overwhelming superiority that no one could ever have even got close to them this season. As painful as it is, metaphorical hats must be doffed to City, who only need four more wins to be crowned as dominant champions in one of the most flawless title-winning campaigns the Premier League has ever witnessed. No, we don't play the same brand of football that Guardiola's side have done, but then find me a team anywhere in the world that do? I rest my case. It's difficult to imagine that City can repeat the feat next term so, although Jose's record of never failing to win the league in his second season at a club will come to an end, the strides during taken this campaign will surely stand us in good stead. In any other season, take City out of the equation and it would be us sitting atop the table and on our way to the title. There is no disgrace at all in being runners-up to such a brilliant outfit.

The Liverpool tie had a bit of everything. Many expected Jose to sit tight and stifle from the off, but instead the Reds took them by surprise. The first half display of attacking pace and potency was one of the best we've seen all season from a United team. You only have to look at the stats from last season in contrast to this to know that Jose's United are growing by the week and building a platform for the future.

Sunday 11 March 2018

Like Manchester, Rashford is Red.

It was two years ago last week that the world was first introduced to Manchester United's 18-year old wildcard striker by the name of Marcus Rashford. The kid from Wythenshawe was thrown in at the deep end as Anthony Martial - at the time our only other recognised striker - dropped out in the warm up in the midst of an injury crisis. What followed was a story that most script writers would struggle with.

Enter, Rashford. He netted twice on his debut and followed that up three days later with another double, this time against title-chasing Arsenal on his league bow at Old Trafford. The Theatre of Dreams indeed: a star was born. Since then, he hasn't looked back and proved to be far more than just the flash-in-the-pan one season wonder that many thought he would be. Since then, he's developed a penchant for debut goals: the Manchester derby, England U21 and senior team, FA Cup, Champions League and League Cup. Add to that list now the net-busting and match winning brace against our fiercest and oldest rivals in the biggest game of them all, capped with a man of the match performance.

Whatever the occasion and no matter the stage, Rashford has always risen to the occasion. That can only bode well, for United and England.

Having not started a league game since Boxing Day against Burnley, amid the usual rumours about his unhappiness over lack of game time - particularly with the World Cup on the horizon - Rashford showed why he has to be in the starting line-up in Russia. With Martial absent through injury, his inclusion on the left of United's attacking quartet proved a masterstroke. After biding his time on the sidelines, Rashford was unleashed on the unsuspecting Scousers. Alexis Sanchez may have arrived a few weeks ago with the present in mind, but Rashford is still very much the future. Still only 20, his quality is there for all to see. Louis van Gaal - justifiably so - had his critics from his largely unsuccessful time at the helm, but his faith in youth, none more so the breakthrough of Rashford, remains his overriding Old Trafford legacy.

 His lack of playing time clearly hasn't affected his confidence or ability, and he took to his task with aplomb. Given the job of taking on Liverpool right-back Trent Alexander - Arnold at every opportunity, the young defender was bamboozled time and again as he had no answer to Marcus' pace, penetration and direct running. His two goals were exquisite, the first one in particular. He latched on to Romelu Lukaku's flick on, pulled the ball down, dragged it back inside T A-A like he wasn't there and curled a sublime finish beyond the reach of Loris Karius. His second had an element of luck about it as he seized on a loose ball in the box, but he still had a lot to do and did so with aplomb, to apply an almost carbon copy finish past the stranded keeper. Two goals in ten minutes and the game almost won. This has probably been the most challenging and turbulent season of his fledgling career so far, but it was always going to be impossible for him to maintain his level after the pressure and expectation placed on his slender shoulders after that blistering start. After all, form is temporary, class is permanent.

In front of the watching national manager Gareth Southgate, there couldn't have been a more apt afternoon for Rashford to throw down a marker and send out a message.

Immense United show class and then character to silence the Scousers

Get in! There is quite simply no feeling like getting one over on the Scousers in the biggest game of all.

Any win against our most hated rivals is special, but this one was even more sweet as it was sealed with two world class finishes from the right boot of local lad Marcus Rashford. This was a perfectly balanced performance that showcased both aspects of the Reds tactical identikit.
United's first half performance was one of our best of the season as we set about Liverpool from the off with devastating power, pace and intensity. We showed class to race into a 2-0 lead after 24 minutes, an advantage that should probably have been more.

In the face of the anticipated Liverpool fight back after half-time, it was United's character and game management that shone through. David de Gea would have been expecting a busy afternoon at the office, but - despite their superior possession and territory - he found himself a virtual spectator as Liverpool barely had a shot of note. This was a classic Jose Mourinho performance of grit, organisation and resilience, only breached through Eric Bailly's fortuitous own goal which came as he attempted to clear.

This was Rashford's first brace since he sank Arsenal on his league debut, as he picked up the man of the match award for a relentless display of direct running, in which Liverpool right-back Trent Alexander - Arnold suffered a torrid time. But there were immense individual showings all over the pitch in a terrific and tenacious team performance. Ashley Young again got the nod over Luke Shaw and magnificently shackled 32-goal winger Mo Salah -  Player of the Season for many - to such an extent that the Egyptian didn't muster an effort on goal until stoppage time. Eric Bailly - outstanding on his first start since the November defeat at Chelsea - played like he'd never been away and forced Roberto Firmino to the fringes. Sadio Mane was also on the periphery as Liverpool's much vaunted front three were nullified brilliantly. Credit too to the much-maligned Chris Smalling, who flourished with the composure of Bailly alongside him. Smalling kept a cool head and stood strong under pressure to keep Liverpool at arm's length throughout.
United were bereft of the services of Paul Pogba, the Frenchman pulled up injured during training on Friday. That saw Scott McTominay deployed in a slightly deeper defensive role alongside the string-pulling Nemanja Matic. It was testament to McTominay's coming-of-age performance that Pogba was not missed, and Scott caught the eye with his work rate, temperament and passing range. In this most high profile of fixtures, McTominay did not look out of place and is growing by the week in the Red of United.

After we took the big name scalp of champions Chelsea and then snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in vintage style against Palace, Jose's tactical acumen again ensured United delivered when it mattered. He outmanouevred Klopp and exploited Liverpool's weakness to bypass the visitors pressing through the middle and went aerial to leave Dejan Lovren exposed. In the centre back's battle with Romelu Lukaku, there was only ever going to be one winner. The Belgian bullied his opponent and profited with two assists for Rashford, who had a field day against the youth and inexperience of Alexander - Arnold. Eyebrows were raised when Marouane Fellaini came on in place of the hat-trick hunting Rashford in the face of the fire with 20 minutes to play. But the Belgian, on his return, did his job well and helped his side to disrupt Liverpool's rhythm and see the tie out.

This got the most pivotal of weeks off to the perfect start and our challenge now is to keep the momentum going with Sevilla on Tuesday and the FA Cup quarter final with Brighton on the horizon.

Woke up this morning feeling fine, we certainly did!

Match report: United 2-1 Liverpool

Like Manchester, Rashford is Red! United's local lad was at his unplayable and brilliant best as two exquisitely-taken goals silenced the Scousers and fired the Reds to a deserved and more-comfortable-than-it-sounds victory. In an Old Trafford thriller, Rashford ripped Trent Alexander - Arnold apart to open the scoring with a world class finish on 14 minutes, before he capitalised on a loose ball ten minutes later. Eric Bailly's unfortunate and inadvertent own goal reduced the deficit after the break but - despite the visitors superior possession and territory - Liverpool barely threatened. This was a dominant and fully deserved win and, in truth, United should have won by more.

United were bereft of the services of Paul Pogba, absent through injury having pulled up in training on Friday. Rashford - on his first start since Boxing Day - ensured the Frenchman was not missed as the Reds earned reward for their early vim and vigour with the lead on 14 minutes. Romelu Lukaku easily beat Dejan Lovren in the air and flicked the ball on for Rashford, who pulled the ball down, turned Alexander - Arnold and rifled an emphatic finish beyond the helpless Loris Karius. Liverpool's prolific strike trio of Mo Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane were on the periphery, but centre-back Virgil Van Dijk went close with a header shortly before United cut through their visitors again.
Lukaku's powerful doggedness was key again as he beat Lovren once more and scrapped to keep the ball alive, the ball was cleared under the attentions of Juan Mata but sat up perfectly for Rashford, who fired in a right-footed, carbon copy finish beyond Karius as Old Trafford erupted.
Mata's acrobatic effort flew narrowly wide and the mercurial Spaniard then went close again from distance as the Reds could easily have added to their lead by half-time.

Liverpool must have needed smelling salts at the interval, but they did recover and started to take the game to United. However, David de Gea remained a virtual spectator and the Reds terrific and tenacious resistence kept them at arm's length as their high octane pressing game failed to make any inroads.
After 66 minutes however, they got a lifeline out of nothing as Bailly, who was otherwise immense on his return to the side, inadvertently turned the ball into his own net. The Ivorian attempted to clear Mane's whipped in cross, but he went with his wrong foot and the ball crept beyond de Gea.

That prompted more pressing from Jurgen Klopp's side but the Reds stood strong and introduced Marouane Fellaini back to the first team fold in place of the excellent Rashford.
United continued to look a threat on the counter attack as Chris Smalling headed wide from an Ashley Young free-kick, but despite six added minutes we held out in relative comfort to claim another hugely impressive big name scalp.

United Faithful Man of the Match: Marcus Rashford. A superb performance brimming with pace and penetration. Back to his best.
Overall team performance: 8.5/10

Friday 9 March 2018

Match preview: United v Liverpool

This is a tie that needs no introduction as the Reds of Manchester and Merseyside lock horns at Old Trafford in the 200th competitive meeting between English football's two most successful sides.
Our storied, historical and long-running rivalry with the men from down the East Lancs Road stretches back to 1884, in a fierce feud that transcends two cities and captures the attention of the football world. That said, the last three ties have ended all square and the recent pattern is one of a tightly-contested encounter that fails to live up to the hype and expectations that precedes it. It's a game that stands out as the biggest and most important of all.

Jurgen Klopp's in form Liverpool side make the 35-mile trip to Old Trafford in third place in the Premier League, a place and two points behind United as the battle for second place intensifies.When Barcelona-bound Philippe Coutinho left in January, doubts were raised over how Liverpool would cope without their wellspring of Brazilian flair and creativity. But, spearheaded by the man they call 'the Pharaoh' - 32-goal winger Mohamed Salah - only Manchester City have scored more league goals. Part of a free-scoring, potent and prolific front three in tandem with Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino, it's been an impressive debut season for the Egyptian. United will have a job on their hands to keep him quiet again as he leads the race for the Golden Boot jointly with Spurs Harry Kane.

The Reds didn't exactly receive positive acclaim for our trip to Anfield in October's reverse fixture - when we earned a hard fought draw based on discipline and organisation. That extended our unbeaten run against the Scousers to an eighth game but this will be a stern test of our credentials. Anthony Martial looks set to remain sidelined after missing Monday's thriller at Selhurst Park - one of seven players who were absent. Marouane Fellaini could return to the squad and Eric Bailly is fully fit and is expected to feature but there are no other injury concerns for the Reds. For Liverpool, Andy Robertson, captain Jordan Henderson and Georginio Wijnaldum are in contention to return after recent injury setbacks, whilst right-back Nathaniel Clyne is edging towards full fitness. This game will come too soon for him, however.
The boss played down the historical context of the rivalry, and said: "In my mentality, every match is the same. I've never been very good on that culture - this match is special, this rivalry is special. I never look at one team as the biggest rival. For me it is just a big match, because we are talking about two very big clubs, not just in England but in the world also. In this moment, there are important points for the top four, for the second position which is better than third or fourth place."

This titanic tussle marks the start of a crucial three ties in a week for United, with the second leg against Sevilla on Tuesday hot on the heels of this one and the FA Cup quarter final with Brighton to follow next weekend.

Form guide: United W L W D W W Liverpool D W W W W D
Match odds: United 7/5 Draw 12/4 Liverpool 12/5
Referee: Craig Pawson (South Yorkshire)

Reds of Manchester and Merseyside set for 200th competitive meeting

Ask any United fan and we'll tell you that Liverpool is always the game we want to win the most: the clash against our bitter and most hated rivals has historic and tribalistic connotations that make it stand alone as the biggest game of all. The derby is special in its own unique way, but no matter the circumstances, the clash with the clan from down the East Lancs Road is always massive at any level.

On Saturday lunchtime, the Reds of Manchester and Merseyside lock horns for the 200th time in a competitive fixture, in the latest instalment of a historic and storied rivalry between these two industrial, iconic North West cities and the teams that represent them with distinction: English football's two most successful, divisive and well supported sides. Neither side are the all conquering force of old, but this is always a fascinating feud that transcends football and captures the attention of the world. All eyes will again be on Old Trafford as Messrs Mourinho and Klopp do battle with both bidding to return their respective sides to former glories.
Of the 199 previous encounters, United lead the head-to-head with 79 wins to the Scousers 65, with 55 draws. Between them, the two clubs boast a staggering haul of 84 major honours, United having usurped Liverpool with our double-winning cup exploits to lead 43 pots to 41 when it comes to dishing out the trophies.

We didn't exactly get positive appraisal for our efforts in a hard-fought draw in October's reverse fixture at Anfield, but recent history suggests another tightly contested tussle with the sides separated by the narrowest of margins in the table - United sit second in the table, two points and one place above Klopp's men, with the chance to open up a five point gap. Both matches last season ended all-square but - without wishing to tempt fate - they've not beaten us in a league game since the ill-fated campaign under David Moyes in 2013-14. Louis van Gaal steered us to four successive wins over the Scousers - albeit with the unwanted memory of a Europa League KO in between - but things have been nip and tuck since then. In most cases, the match itself has failed to live up to the hype that precedes it: let's hope this proves to be the exception rather than the norm.

There are more than merely three points at stake: this is about bragging rights, geographical supremacy and the chance to get one over on - and silence - a set of supporters who despise us as much as we despise them.  The hatred is intrinsic and deep rooted, and I loathe everything about them: their fans, their players, their stadium, their manager and even their mascots. After all, I despise Manchester City, Leeds and Chelsea because they're my rivals but I despise Liverpool because I'm a normal human being. I'm sure every United fan would agree.

Let's do this - what better way to mark the double century with our fiercest and oldest rivals that by well and truly rubbing their noses in it. Bring it on!

Tuesday 6 March 2018

I love our club but United will be the death of me

Where to begin after a rollercoast, harum scarum and topsy turvy 90 minutes such as that. I think I need to get my heart rate checked! We certainly have a tendency to do things the hard way don't we - not that I'd have it any other way! 

Having risen to the occasion and beaten desposed champions Chelsea at OT last time out, United looked in danger of undoing all our hard work as we fell 2-0 down against Roy Hodgson's hard working, organised but limited Crystal Palace side. With the ever atmospheric Selhurst Park rocking to the beat of a two-goal lead, United were ragged, reeling and on the ropes. Make no bones about it: this was not a good performance from our team, at least not until Chris Smalling's header in the 55th minute awoke us from our slumber. We'll certainly need to be much better from the start when Liverpool come to town on Saturday lunchtime. It looked set to be going the same way as recent trips to Tottenham and Newcastle but this time there was a welcome - and gloriously unexpected - twist in the tale.

To paraphrase the October comments of a Watford striker - the Reds certainly did not lack any "cojones." Not one individual stood out, Nemanja Matic's screamer aside, but the team showed stomach for the fight and grabbed the match by the collective scruff of the neck, just as we did against Antonio Conte's side on Sunday, to grab an improbable win in dramatic style befitting of the United vintage.

Jose again got his substitutions spot on - the half-time introduction of Marcus Rashford undoubtedly made a difference and the decision to bring on the pace of Luke Shaw and the craft of Juan Mata, with Jesse Lingard pressed into service as an auxiliary right-back, proved inspired. For the second time in a week, the boss's changes worked whilst his opposite number's certainly did not. With a tiring, lightweight and injury-hit Palace tiring in the face of a grey-clad United onslaught, midfielder Jairo Riedewald was the hosts only sub when he joined the fray with ten minutes to play. It was not enough to stem the tide. Admittedly, Hodgson's options were limited with a wafer-thin squad, but it was clear that an injection of energy and fresh legs were needed.

This was a result secured in strikingly similar circumstances to that Chelsea win, with the obvious difference the trip to a relegation-threatened side rather than a home game against one of the elite. But everything else about this was similar. We started slowly and fell behind, but played much better in the second half - without ever really playing at our best level. Once we got a foothold, the team dug in and showed character and fighting spirit to turn things around and seal an important and hugely satisfying result that will have a potentially pivotal impact on our season. If anyone was in any doubt that Jose's United had lost the ability to dig in and battle, then these last two games will go a long way to proving those critics wrong.
I'm certainly not complaining, but it doesn't do much for the rudimentary health of many a Red.

Character and courage still burning brightly in Jose's United

Get in! There is quite simply no better feeling than a last minute winner away from home, especially when you've gone 2-0 down and not been at your best. It's even more epic when it comes from the unlikeliest of scorers with a goal of the season contender, and takes you above your biggest and most hated rivals with the potential to transform the entire dynamic of a season.
When Nemanja Matic hit the back of the Crystal Palace net with a worldie from 25 yards at Selhurst Park on Monday, the scenes were reminsicent of days gone by. To see Jose race from his seat, arms aloft and embracing those around him whilst our exultant squad ran over to celebrate with the jubilant travelling fans amid a backdrop of crestfallen Crystal Palace players, this was a throwback to the vintage United of yesteryear and just like the old days.
It left me with a sense of something very special and a feeling inside me that I've not felt after a United game in a very long time.

Of course, there have been many wins under Jose, but few as dramatic and as improbable as this. Not since August 2016 have we won a tie with an injury time goal, and you have to go back to the Boxing Day of 2013 - at Hull City - to find the last time we won any game from this position. United have rediscovered a precious commodity that makes this great club what we are. A commodity that many felt had left us forever and one that had ridden off into the sunset alongside Sir Alex in 2013. The very attribute that remains ingrained in the DNA of Manchester United. Our once famed attribute of the never-say-attitude,  the unyielding refusal to never give in, to snatch increasingly improbable and unlikely victories from the jaws of almost certain defeat. To never know when we're beaten and turn one point into three. This side may lack the panache of some of our greatest ever teams, but there can be no doubting that we possess courage, character, desire and fighting spirit in abundance.

For an hour in south London United were shocking - unable to string more than a few passes together, Wayne Hennessey left relatively untested and a struggling Palace side playing with the scent of a first ever Premier League win over us in their nostrils. United were sluggish, ragged and pitifully off the pace. Chris Smalling's header early in the second half belatedly kicked us into life, and from then on, we were tremendous. That goal turned the tide and with Palace pinned back by the pace of substitute Marcus Rashford, the Reds found a foothold, earned an equaliser and eventually the latest, most priceless of leads to complete a magnificent, climb-off-the-canvas victory.

Before the Chelsea game at the weekend, the Reds had completed come-from-behind wins on only four previous occasions in nearly two full seasons under Jose, in contrast to the seemingly weekly acts of escapology under SAF. For all the improvement we've seen under the boss, there haven't been enough ties where we've turned a game on its head, but we've now done so twice in as many games. It's the first time in the post-Ferguson era that we've mounted back-to-back comebacks and offers further promise of good times ahead for this evolving United side.
This one - sealed with a mighty swing of Matic's left peg - tastes very sweet indeed! What a result! Bring on the Scousers.

Match report: Crystal Palace 2-3 United

An injury time wonder goal from Nemanja Matic capped a classic United comeback as the Reds reclaimed second place in the table in a superbly see-sawing thriller in south London.

Matic's dipping half-volley from distance in the 91st minute- his first goal for the club - was reminiscent of the Serbian's strike in the FA Cup semi final against Spurs last season, and put the seal on a turnaround that had looked improbable with half an hour to play. After a shocking first half showing, United had gone 2-0 behind as Palace scored early in each half through Andros Townsend and Patrick van Aanholt as we looked set to be condemned to a third successive away league defeat. But the Reds stormed back to snatch an incredible victory after Chris Smalling's header, Romelu Lukaku's untidy finish and Matic's thunderbolt to spark scenes of wild celebration in the away end of Selhurst Park.

James Tomkins was off target early on and Wayne Hennessey blocked well from Alexis Sanchez as the two sides traded chances before Roy Hodgson's struggling and injury-hit Eagles took an eleventh-minute lead. Christian Benteke picked out the onrushing Townsend and his shot took a hefty deflection off Victor Lindelof to loop over David de Gea and in.
Jesse Lingard dragged a shot wide when well-placed but the Reds struggled for clear cut chances as Alexander Sorloth went close and Martin Kelly's header drifted narrowly off target from a corner.
Marcus Rashford was introduced at the interval in an attempt to kick-start below par United, but instead Palace struck again three minutes after the restart. Jeffrey Schlupp's quickly-taken free kick caught our defence flat-footed and found van Aanholt, who raced through and fired home a clinical finish beyond de Gea.

The Reds were reeling but quickly rallied and halved the deficit seven minutes later through the much-maligned Smalling, who headed in his second of the season after Antonio Valencia's whipped delivery. As Palace sat deeper, United started to turn the screw and went close to an equaliser twice in quick succession. Paul Pogba was denied by a superb save from the stretching Wayne Hennessey, before Benteke cleared off the line from a Matic snapshot.
The equaliser was not long in coming however, as the Reds got reward for their pressure on 77 minutes. A deflected Alexis effort came back off the bar but dropped for Lukaku, who pulled the ball down and slotted in through a posse of players to set up a frantic finale.

United laid siege to the Palace goal but it was the Eagles who threatened next, as DDG came to the Reds rescue yet again with five minutes remaining. James McArthur picked out Benteke who headed goalwards, but de Gea's incredible reaction save tipped the ball to safety and paved the way for Matic to get the winner in vintage United fashion.

Team performance: 6/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Nemanja Matic. Special mention to the 2,000 United fans who never stopped singing throughout and did the team proud once again. Simply magnificent.

Monday 5 March 2018

Match preview: Crystal Palace v United

The Reds are back on the road for the fourth time in five fixtures as we face the ever-tricky trip to Selhurst Park and Roy Hodgson's lowly but much improved Crystal Palace side. Having suffered back-to-back away defeats to Tottenham and Newcastle, the Reds come into this one third in the table but buoyed by that excellent win over Chelsea last time out. Another victory in this one would not only build momentum ahead of two massive home ties, but would also take us back above Liverpool and into second place in the table. 

United will be without six players in south London, with Marcos Rojo, Phil Jones, Daley Blind, Marouane Fellaini, Ander Herrera (muscle) and Zlatan Ibrahimovic all sidelined. Palace will be missing Timothy Fosu - Mensah, on loan from us and therefore ineligible. The Eagles star man and former Reds winger Wilfried Zaha remains absent with a knee injury, whilst Scott Dann, Mamadou Sakho, Jason Puncheon and Ruben Loftus - Cheek all miss out. 
Martin Kelly and Jeffrey Schlupp could return for the hosts, however. 

A dreadful start to the season saw Palace set an unwanted 129-year old record when they lost their first seven games without scoring, including a 4-0 loss at Old Trafford in September. Frank de Boer was sacked after only four matches at the helm, and eyebrows were raised when he was replaced by veteran Hodgson. To his credit, the much-travelled former England boss has managed to steer Palace out of the bottom three and they will be a vastly different proposition for us this time. They sat as high as 12th at the turn of the year, but a five match winless run has seen them slip back into trouble again. Other results didn't go their way over the weekend, so they come into this one having dropped into the relegation zone once more, albeit only a point behind fourth-from-bottom Southampton.

The title may be gone, but Reds manager Jose Mourinho said the side will fight for the best possible league finish with ten games to go. He said: "The gap is very short - six points between the second and fifth teams is not much and really open for everybody. But all four are in the Champions League still, so we have other focuses and targets - all of us. There will be four very good teams and one out of the Champions League. If you ask me second or fourth, it doesn't make a difference financially or for the prestige, but from the personal point of view if you can finish third, we are not going to be fourth. If we can finish second, we are not going to be third. The top four is very difficult - but we will do everything to finish strong and finish as high as possible." 

Form guide: Crystal Palace W L D D L L United L W L W D W
Match odds: Crystal Palace 6/1 Draw 10/3 United 4/7
Referee: Neil Swarbrick (Lancashire) 

Saturday 3 March 2018

Zlat's your lot: Ibra looks set to leave United

United manager Jose Mourinho appeared to confirm the end of Zlatan's Old Trafford career. Jose said that the club expect the Swede to leave, with Ibra having only made seven appearances this season, the last of which came in the draw with Burnley on Boxing Day.

Having seen his initial one season stint at United cut short prematurely through injury, the Swede was released by the club but then re-signed by the Reds in August. He returned to action in November ahead of schedule but things didn't go to plan. He's made only six appearances since, the last of which came in the Boxing Day draw with Burnley. 

Jose said that the striker's recent absence is down to a lack of fitness, rather than a recurrence injury. It was always going to be hard for him this season,  with the pace of our forward line bolstered by the additions of Romelu Lukaku in the summer and the January swoop for Alexis Sanchez. That's before you factor in the form of Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial, so opportunities for Ibra to hold down a first team place have looked limited from the outset.

Having played under Jose during their time together at Inter, Ibra was reunited with his former boss for a first taste of English football. He arrived on a free transfer from PSG, at 35 years of age, with doubts surrounding his ability to adapt to the pace and relentless nature of the Premier League.

So how will his brief United career be judged and looked back upon?
Ultimately, he lived up to those expectations that were on his shoulders upon arrival and arguably exceeded them. In Jose's transitional settling-in season, the Swede ended the campaign as top scorer with 28 goals in 46 appearances. If not for that cruel ligament injury - sustained in the Europe League quarter-final tie with Anderlecht - he would have reached the rare landmark of 30 goals in a season - a feat that only Robin van Persie, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo have managed in the Premier League era. The injury also robbed him of a fairytale denouement in his home city as United - without him - won that tournament for the first time with victory over Ajax in the Stockholm final, our 64th game of a gruelling and mammoth season.

Yet Ibra was so much more that just a veteran centre-forward. He injected fear back into the Reds attack, and carried an aura and arrogance about him that we've not had since Cantona. A talismanic figurehead in the mould of the enigmatic Frenchman, his personality and influence rubbed off on the younger members of the squad and his man of the match performance in an EFL Cup final United were fortunate not to lose typified his penchant for the big occasion.

His future remains unclear, but having been linked with a big-money move to MLS in the summer, an American club look set to be his final destination before he calls time on his decorated career. Thanks for the memories, Zlatan, it was certainly fun while it lasted.

On a free from PSG, he cost us f-g zero!