Thursday 26 July 2018

Match report: Milan 1-1 United (8-9 on penalties)

United prevailed after a marathon shootout of 26 penalties to win our ICC opener after a much improved performance against Gennaro Gattuso's Rossoneri in Carson, California. United looked fitter, sharper and more fluid than they had in their first two ties against Club America and MLS side San Jose last time out, as Alexis Sanchez stood out with an impressive individual showing.

The Reds, who lined up in a lesser spotted 3-5-2 formation, made a bright start to the match and moved ahead inside 12 minutes through the Chilean. Sanchez, superb all evening, had already had an effort saved by Gigi Donnarumma but the young keeper was powerless to prevent Sanchez from opening the scoring. Juan Mata's pinpoint volleyed pass picked out Alexis and he finished well from close range.
Our lead lasted only three minutes though, as a long ball from Leonardo Bonucci found ex Liverpool  man Suso in space and he fired in a finish beyond the advancing Lee Grant.
Sanchez went close once more from a corner and the impressive Andreas Pereira - who has really made a name for himself during pre-season - flashed a shot wide. The Reds looked dangerous with every attack and a blistering break - started by Scott McTominay's and also involving Alexis - culminated with Ander Herrera's effort from distance which was tipped behind by the diving Donnarumma. The keeper was being kept busy by United's potency, as he was called into action again to deny Juan Mata before he smothered McTominay's looping header on goal.

At the other end, Davide Calabria fired straight at Lee Grant and Eric Bailly blocked bravely from Franck Kessie in the final action of an action-packed first half.
McTominay then forced Donnarumma into another save and his replacement - ex Liverpool stopper Pepe Reina - was called upon straight away when he denied Luke Shaw and then Mata twice in quick succession. Fabio Borini struck a post, Pereira went close again and Suso headed off target in a frantic finale to proceedings.
Penalties were needed to decide the content, and a seemingly low-key shootout instead turned into an epic, sudden death, topsy turvy tale. After both sides traded successful spot kicks - Pereira, Alexis, Ander Herrera, Chris Smalling, Axel Tuanzebe, Matteo Darmian and substitute Timothy Fosu - Mensah all scored for us, as Reina and Joel Pereira made three saves apiece. After Pereira's second put United 8-7 up, Calhanoglu levelled and Herrera scored for the second time. That paved the way for Franck Kessie, who blasted over the bar with the 26th spot kick of the shootout, to bring a marathon and exhausting contest to an end.

United: Grant (J.Pereira 46); Bailly, Smalling, Tuanzebe; Darmian, Herrera, A Pereira, McTominay, Shaw (Fosu - Mensah 74); Mata (Hamilton 89), Alexis Sanchez.
United Faithful Man of the Match: Alexis Sanchez.

Wednesday 25 July 2018

A storm is brewing after Manchester United's summer of discontent

As painful as it is to be writing this - it gives me no pleasure whatsoever - there are massive problems bubbling in the corridors of powers at Manchester United. Jose Mourinho is grumpy and miserable, Ed Woodward is a man without a plan or a vision, and the squad still lacks depth and quality. There are all the ingredients of the classic Mourinho third season meltdown - the unwritten tale that has been as much a part of our manager's decorated and illustrious career as the numerous successes and various trophies for which he has become synonymous. I hope I'm wrong but there seems a certain inevitability about where all this is heading, and I know I'm not the only one who doesn't fancy our chances in the slightest this season.

 I have tried to be positive, and I believe that it's not all doom and gloom. Some of our club's brightest young talents have looked very impressive indeed in pre-season, Fred's signing should release Paul Pogba from his shackles, and Alexis Sanchez will be all the better for his first full season at Old Trafford. Romelu Lukaku is only going to continue his upward trajectory, and Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard will be brimming with confidence after England's run to the World Cup semi finals. But even these cannot mask the pessimistic undercurrent that has plagued our preparations for 2018-19 - that things will come to a head one way or another and a storm is brewing.
Jurgen Klopp's hypocritical stance may not have done himself any favours, but you can't deny the reality that he not only identifed Liverpool's area of strengthening, but went out and got what he needed with plenty of time to spare. Unai Emery has barely been in the Arsenal job for two months but has already made his mark in the transfer market.
United, on the other hand, appear to be dithering and floundering without a clear plan of who our primary targets are. Everyone can see that we are in urgent need of a top quality centre back (of the defenders we've currently got, only Eric Bailly is good enough), a left-back and a natural out and out winger. The incessant rumours appear to be exactly that - all talk and nothing remotely tangible. In short, Liverpool have been ruthless, clinical and got their players in - a masterpiece in how to operate today's world of miserly agents, stubborn owners and overinflated fees.
In contrast, United have ambled aimlessly, linked with a combination of Woodward's cloud cuckoo land fantasies like Gareth Bale, bang average rejects like Marko Arnautovic and the downright unattainable like Raphael Varane and Willian.

Recruitment has always been a huge Achilles heel - even in the Sir Alex Ferguson days - and that brings us to Jose Mourinho himself. Instilling confidence and belief into your side is a pre-requisite for success, but can anyone really say Mourinho has done that. His 'my way or no way' attitude may spur some on to greater heights, but knocks or even alienates others. It was this that caused him to lose the respect of his players during the dying embers of both spells at Chelsea and also at Real Madrid.

In what seems a do or die, make or break season for Jose, he is getting his excuses in early and setting himself up to fail. I've learned to never to write off a Manchester United team too early, but something has to give eventually. When you hear your manager say he is worried about his team's season - before it's even begun - how is that meant to inspire us as fans, or his own players, even if there is an element of truth in his words. We're Manchester United - we believe anything is possible.
At the minute, all that seems possible is unrest, in-fighting, disappointment and a familiar end for Mourinho.

Tuesday 24 July 2018

Three top targets to solve United's transfer shortcomings

With 16 days to go until we get the 2018-19 season underway at home to Leicester, the transfer window closes a day before that. United are worryingly quiet, despite our need for a centre-back, a left-back and a top class winger. The squad is still someway short of the standard required for a title challenge, but with the clock ticking towards deadline day, we pinpoint three players United should sign to strengthen the Reds ranks as the missing pieces of Jose Mourinho's jigsaw.

Centre back: Toby Alderweireld. Alternative: Harry Maguire

United are in a need of a solid, reliable and top quality centre-back to partner Eric Bailly. Chris Smalling and Phil Jones may remain Jose Mourinho's favourites, but they are simply not good enough and should not continue as first choice. We've also been linked with Leicester's Harry Maguire, fresh from his starring role as one of the unlikely heroes of England's run to the World Cup semis. It's telling that despite his status as a relative rookie, Maguire was favoured by Southgate ahead of Smalling and Jones for his reading of the game and ability on the ball. Bailly is our best defender and the Ivorian brings a similar ball-playing style that Maguire gives you. His absence from the team at the end of last season did not make sense.
At 29, Alderweireld is four years Maguire's senior and would represent a shorter-term option at the back. Twelve months ago, Alderweireld was regarded as one of the finest central defensive exponents in Europe, in a commanding and solid partnership with countryman Jan Vertonghen. But a combination of injury and the arrival of Dav. Maguire would probably be easier to sign given the notoriously difficult negotiating style of Spurs chairman Daniel Levy.
inson Sanchez saw him slip down the pecking order with limited game time. However, the Belgian enjoyed an impressive World Cup for Roberto Martinez's semi finalists, and has been the mainstay of the Spurs defence during their rise to prominence under Mauricio Pochettino. A prized asset for the north London side, United were linked with the centre-back - who is equally as adept as a right-back, earlier in the summer to the point where we reportedly had a £55m bid for him turned down

Left back: Alex Sandro. Alternative: Danny Rose

Despite last season's improvement, it's clear that United still have serious issues in defence, especially at left-back. We cannot go on with a 33-year-old inverted right winger in this position. Luke Shaw is a viable option but under Mourinho he's never going to play every week. Despite injuries hampering his progress, Rose still has incredible quality. Equally as impressive surging forward as he is defensively, Rose has been a subject of interest from United for a long time, ever since the days of David Moyes. Mourinho is known to be an admirer of the player and a swap with Shaw, who worked for Spurs boss Pochettino at Southampton, would be astute business.
Widely regarded as one of the best full-backs in Europe, Sandro would fit the bill perfectly for Jose's United. He's quick, agile, versatile and an excellent crosser of the football - in short, everything this current defensive quartet are not. The Juventus man can also be deployed as a wing-back and, in true Brazilian style, is a dead ball specialist. He's class, would make a world of difference to our back line and exactly the sort of player we're crying out for. United have been linked with him all summer but, frustratingly, appear no closer to getting their man.

Winger: Ivan Perisic. Alternative: Willian 

United flirted with old flame Perisic throughout last summer but a deal failed to materialise and the player stayed put at Internazionale, however following an impressive World Cup, our interest in the Croatian may be rekindled. Perisic was immense in Russia as one of the stars of Croatia's run to the final, in which he scored the equaliser against France. He was also man of the match in his side's semi-final win over England having levelled the tie before he set up Mario Mandzukic for the winner. A bundle of pace and energy, Perisic - equally adept on either flank - is strong and direct. The mould of the traditional flying winger may be a dying art, but Perisic is a must if United are to challenge for the major honours this season. Wantaway Brazilian Willian has been angling for a move away from west London after a difficult season for the Stamford Bridge with Barcelona seemingly his most likely destination. However the Catalan club's signing of Malcolm has stirred United's interest and, although the player's stance may have changed with the arrival of new boss Maurizio Sarri, Willian became Mourinho's go-to man during his second spell at Chelsea. Lethal from distance and from set-pieces, he's two footed, agile, and technically gifted. His adaptability and versatility, able to play anywhere across the front line, makes him ideal for Jose's United identikit.

Monday 23 July 2018

Understrength tour far from ideal preparation for 2018-19

I know its only pre-season, I know the results of these friendlies don't matter, and as fans its great to see the next generation of our club's youth prospects being given a chance to show what they can do. In United's two US tour games so far, it's been great to see the likes of Angel Gomes, Tahith Chong, Mason Greenwood, Demetri Mitchell, James Garner and Andreas Pereira get run outs. For a club that prides itself on bringing through homegrown young talent, it's heart warming to see. But with so many first team players missing due to the World Cup, to have such a weakened and under-strength United side offers far from ideal preparation for the start of the new season which begins for us on 10th August. By the time 2018-19 rolls around, the senior players that will prove our key men are in danger of being undercooked and someway short of the fitness levels required. It's a delicate balance: they need a break and a breather like everyone else but also need to be playing and building match sharpness.

We shouldn't be reading too much into the two draws on Tour so far - the 1-1 with Club America and the goalless stalemate with San Jose in game two. After all, in 2015-16 we won every game in pre-season in swashbuckling style to hint at brighter things to come under Louis van Gaal. The Reds 3-5-2 formation was the talk of the town - but things fell flat and the Dutchman would be gone less than a year later. So it stands to reason that we shouldn't be too concerned by an underwhelming tour so far this time around as the team that runs out at Old Trafford for that curtain raiser with Leicester in 18 days time will be very different from the one that stuttered to a 0-0 draw against a lowly MLS side last night in the 30 degree heat of Santa Clara. There was little rhythm, pattern or tempo to United's play, but - missing Messrs Lukaku, Lingard, Fellaini, Rashford, Young, Fred, Matic, De Gea and Pogba to name but nine - is that really any surprise? Travelling Stateside with a jumbled mish-mash of fringe players, reserve/youth players and players that should be nowhere near Manchester United, there was always a risk that things would look equally as ragtag and incohesive. That's definitely showing to be the case.
  I don't care about the results, but the one thing I'm worried about with this pre-season is that with the World Cup, the lack of transfer business, with the way we are as a club at present, are we learning anything and getting in the best possible shape we can be ahead of the season. There's no signs of improvement so far, Jose does not seemed to have worked things out or tried anything different. We've known that this would be the case but nonetheless it's still frustrating and a bit worrying. Although the results are insignificant, you want to be looking for positive signs but there has been little to go on in the first two run outs. It's all been very underwhelming so far.

Tour 2018 match report: San Jose Earthquakes 0-0 United

United completed another pre-season run out with a second draw in as many Tour fixtures with MLS side San Jose Earthquakes in Santa Clara. In front of a sparse crowd, United - boosted by the delayed inclusion of returning Chilean Alexis Sanchez - fell flat as the tie petered out after a bright start.

Eric Bailly headed against the bar early on, before Antonio Valencia limped off with a knee injury three minutes later to be replaced by Matteo Darmian. With Diogo Dalot currently sidelined, wantaway Darmian - set to leave the club for Juventus - has been pressed into service as our only fit right-back despite his imminent departure.
 Alexis flashed a free-kick narrowly wide, but the Quakes - in the middle of their competitive season - started to come on strong. Joel Pereira saved well from Joel Qwiberg in the last action of the opening half.

A raft of changes inevitably followed at the break - with the Quakes changing their entire XI and Juan Mata, Timothy Fosu - Mensah, Lee Grant, Axel Tuanzebe and Scott McTominay all on for United. Georgian Vako Qazaishvili almost put Quakes ahead, but a lunging Fosu - Mensah brilliantly cleared off the line from the winger's strike from distance with Grant beaten.

Moments later, Grant was called into action as a free-kick from the same player was headed goalwards by Yefferson Quintana. At the other end, Alexis and Anthony Martial showed some neat link-up play but it came to nothing with neither man able to find the killer moment of quality to break the frustrating deadlock.
Grant was called into action again on 71 minutes with the save of the match, when he superbly tipped over the bar to deny substitute Tommy Thompson's dipping 25 yarder. From the resultant corner, Quintana headed against the bar and Eric Calvillo lashed a shot wide from close range moments later.

Angel Gomes, Mason Greenwood and Demetri Mitchell joined the fray late on, as Mourinho gave further run outs to younger squad members, but proceedings ended all square in Santa Clara. From here, United will face AC Milan, Liverpool and Real Madrid in the International Champions Cup, representing a step up in quality as a more competitive element to our pre-season preparations.

Friday 20 July 2018

The future's bright..United's young starlets shine in Tour opener

It's a golden ethos interwoven in the very fabric of Manchester United as one just of the many characteristics that makes this club what it is. As a fan, there's nothing that warms the cockles more than seeing a batch of exciting and fresh-faced Academy graduates straight off the ever-turning homegrown production line straight into the thick of the first team set-up. For all Mourinho's naysayers as a man who doesn't nurture youth, the United manager has continued to prove those critics wrong.

With United's World Cup stars enjoying a well-deserved spot of R and R, there's a younger-than-usual look to the youthful and inexperienced squad that have travelled Stateside for United's pre-season Tour. The average age of our starting XI in the opener with Club America, a tie that ended 1-1 on Thursday, was just 25 with only two players - Antonio Valencia and Lee Grant - over 30. An unfamiliar looking team acquitted themselves well and we saw a promising glimpse into the future with the second-half introductions of seven Reds youngsters. The tour provides a golden opportunity for the Class of 2018 to shine and perhaps even stake a claim to challenge the first team status quo.

Timothy Fosu - Mensah and Axel Tuanzebe have recently returned from impressive loan spells at Palace and Villa respectively, and both came off the bench to feature against the Mexicans. Of this new batch of talented young prospects, these two are the ones most likely to challenge their senior colleagues in 2018-19, having already broken through and not looked out of place in their fledgling first team careers. Fosu - Mensah enjoyed an eye-catching 2015-16 in his debut season at Old Trafford as one of the rare bright spots in an otherwise terribly dull and dreary campaign under Louis van Gaal. Tuanzebe, meanwhile, rose to prominence having shackled his now team-mates Alexis Sanchez on his full debut in May 2017. Two weeks later, an enthralled Old Trafford witnessed the beginnings of a story that has the makings of true United fairytale. At 16 years and 263 days old, Angel Gomes became the club's youngest debutant since Duncan Edwards when he came on as a late substitute against Crystal Palace. A wonderfully gifted midfielder with intelligence, vision, pace and an impressive range of passing, Gomes has continued his upward trajectory and looks set to eventually take the first team by storm.

So too Tahith Chong. With good reason, us United fans have grown increasingly excited about the Curacao-born winger with the Marouane Fellaini-esque hairstyle. With a dearth of wingers at the club, Chong's cameo against Club America was by far the major talking point of an otherwise mundane friendly. He created the goal for Juan Mata and looked at home in the first-team environment, showing several touches and turns of pace, playing with composure and confidence. His rangy appearance and physicality should be attributes that appeal to Jose Mourinho. Having already trained with the first team, this could be Chong's time to shine. Demetri Mitchell also made his senior bow in the same game as Gomes at home to Palace before going out on loan and played an hour in Phoenix. 16-year-old forward Mason Greenwood, the youngest of the travelling party, was handed a late cameo as a substitute. United's immediate priority is to challenge for the major honours again, but you've always got to be looking to build for the future, and that future is one that appears to be bright.

Tour 2018 match report: Club America 1-1 United

Juan Mata's second half header ensured that the depleted Reds opening match of our US Tour ended all square after Henry Martin had put the Mexican side ahead in Phoenix Arizona.
Lee Grant enjoyed an impressive debut in goal for Jose's United, but with all of the World Cup stars missing, the 35-year-old was by far the oldest player in an otherwise youthful-looking XI. United started strongly, and went close early on through Anthony Martial - left out of the victorious France squad - as he flashed a shot narrowly over the bar in the twelfth minute after neat link-up play with Ander Herrera.

Moments later, the woodwork came to Club America's rescue as Mata made space inside the box and let fly through a posse of players, only for his effort bounce away to safety off a post. Agustin Marchesin saved well from Martial, before Grant was called into action for the first time at the other end to deny Club America right-back Paul Aguilar. The Mexican side were growing in confidence and Grant soon made another top stop, this time from Roger Martinez, before he then did well to claim the loose ball ahead of the onrushing forward Martin.

Joel Pereira and Timothy Fosu - Mensah both came on for the second half, but both were powerless to prevent Martin's header as he nipped in to nod home a fine cross from substitute Antonio Lopez on the hour mark. Luke Shaw - yet to score a senior goal - almost equalised instantly as he flashed an effort across goal, and Scott McTominay fired wide from distance on 68 minutes. A flurry of changes from both sides followed, including the introduction of 16-year-old Mason Greenwood, who joined Grant and 18-year-old Tahith Chong in making their first team bows. Chong looked hugely impressive during his half an hour in Red, and it was the exciting young Dutchman who set up the equaliser twelve minutes from the end.

Herrera was at the back post to meet Chong's whipped inswinging delivery, but his header rebounded back off the upright and fell to Mata who volleyed in through the legs of substitute stopper Oscar Jimenez from close range. The keeper then saved well to deny Greenwood his big moment, as he reacted well to beat away the teenager's strike from distance.

That proved to be the last action of a promising first run out for the Reds, who travel to Santa Clara to face San Jose Earthquakes on Sunday.

United: Grant (J.Pereira 46); Valencia (Fosu - Mensah 46), Bailly, Smalling, Shaw (Greenwood 76); Herrera, McTominay (Tuanzebe 87); A.Pereira, Mata (Gomes 87), Mitchell (Darmian 61); Martial (Chong 61).

Thursday 19 July 2018

Shameful summer epitomises United's lack of ambition

With exactly three weeks to go until United's opening Premier League tie with Leicester (hooray!), our lack of activity in the summer transfer window has been nothing short of shameful. The window for transfers will be open until the 9 August, so there's still time for Ed Woodward to pull a worldie out of the bag, but all the signs are that the powers that be - if not Jose Mourinho - are happy with business. After a trophyless season and with a lightweight squad in urgent need of reinforcements, bridging the 19-point gap in 2018-19 to champions Manchester City looks a big, big ask. I can't see us being even close to challenging for the major honours with our squad the way it is at the minute, indeed I fear we're going to be even further behind unless something drastic happens between now and August. Even the boss himself has admitted that the club's transfer plans are up in the air - a damning indictment of the Old Trafford hierarchy's indecision and way of thinking.
United are the living proof that throwing big money at a transfer window doesn't guaruantee you success, so the opposite is also true - a lack of spending doesn't automatically doom you to fail, but we're already being left behind by our rivals, with City having signed £60m Riyad Mahrez. I hate to lavish praise on Liverpool, but you can't help but doff your proverbial cap in their direction, with Fabinho (£40m), Naby Keita (£52m) and Xherdan Shaqiri - £13m - all having signed for the men from Merseyside, with Roma's Brazilian international keeper Alisson set to smash the world record fee for a keeper in the coming days, an eye watering £70m. Throw their free-scoring front three into the mix, and they're sadly looking strong. Liverpool identified their weaknesses, knew what they needed and have gone out and rectified it. If only we could have done the same.

In contrast, all we've got so far is an unknown and unproved full-back, 19-year-old Diogo Dalot, who's now injured and out until September. The midfield looks significantly stronger with the acquistion of Fred from Spartak Moscow, but Daley Blind has been sold for more or less the same that we signed him for. As for the goalkeeping situation, don't get me started. It made sense to get a back- up third keeper, with Sam Johnstone moved on to WBA and Joel Pereira to be loaned out to play regularly - but Lee Grant. Lee.Grant. A 35-year-old Stoke City reject. He probably won't play but it sums up this club's lack of ambition and a lack of ability in forward-thinking when you're signing a veteran journeyman in the very twilight of his career to sit on the bench. It's bizarre at the very least. Then we come to the attack - on paper the most potent area of the team, an embarrasment of riches at Jose Mourinho's disposal.
But when you actually look at it, there's no natural width, all the players do the same job, there's an imbalance to the forward line and only one out-an-out striker in Romelu Lukaku. When the big Belgian was injured at the back end of last season, United were toothless and didn't look like scoring in his absence.  Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Alexis Sanchez are neither natural forwards nor wingers. Ivan Perisic's wonderful World Cup may have re-ignited Jose's interest as a solution to the lack of width in this team. A new centre-back partner for Eric Bailly wouldn't go amiss and Chris Smalling and Phil Jones can't be relied upon, and at 33 Ashley Young shouldn't be starting week in week out. A right winger, possibly a back up striker, a centre back and a left back need to be top of Woodward's shopping list, but with time running out, whether he will act remains to be seen.

Tuesday 17 July 2018

Blind completes Ajax transfer after four seasons in Red

Daley Blind has completed a £14m move from United back to his hometown team AFC Ajax after four years at Old Trafford. The versatile, dependable and technically gifted Dutchman - capped 54 times by his country - re-joins the club he signed for United from in 2014. The fee could eventually rise to the region of £18m, meaning that United will have suffered  a £5m deficit on the player.

Having started his Reds career primarily as a defensive midfielder or left-back, Blind became first choice centre-half as a key man in 2015-16, where he struck up an unlikely brains-and-brawn partnership with Chris (or should that be Mike) Smalling during the 2015-16 season, Louis van Gaal's ill-fated second, and last, campaign in charge. A regular under his compatriot, Blind has slipped down the pecking order since Jose Mourinho's arrival at the club, and played in a paltry seven Premier League ties last term, only 17 times in total throughout United's 56-match campaign.  Blind does not fit the mould of the typical Mourinho identikit, and his lack of regular first-team playing time has undoubtedly contributed to his departure back to his native Netherlands. He played 141 times for the Reds and scored six goals for us  - a useful, dependable and multifunctional utility player quicker in mind than body, but nothing more. That describes Blind to a 'T'. 

 There are two standout moments from his time at United - the Europa League win against his then former, and now current, club Ajax in the Europa League final on that emotional night in Stockholm in May last year - one of four trophies he won whilst at the club - and his well-taken goal against Liverpool in a 3-1 win at Old Trafford in 2015.

Blind made the move to Old Trafford having been one of the unsung heroes of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, famously supplying Robin van Persie's diving and laser guided header in a 5-1 win over holders Spain. Under LVG, Blind's Netherlands team finished third in that tournament, which paved the way for van Gaal to take over at Old Trafford and he made Blind the first post David Moyes signing.
Following the announcement of his transfer, Blind posted a lengthy statement on Twitter, in which he thanked everyone connected to United for supporting him, expressing how proud he has been to play for this great club. He becomes the club's first outgoing transfer of the summer.

Everyone at United would like to wish Daley all the best for the future.

Monday 16 July 2018

Pogba's France are crowned world champions

Paul Pogba joined an illustrious list of decorated Reds to become a World Cup winner as his France side won the 2018 tournament with a thrilling 4-2 win over Croatia in the Moscow final. Pogba became only the fourth player to have won the greatest prize in football while at our club, and the first in 52 years, after England 1966 heroes Sir Bobby Charlton, Nobby Stiles and John Connelly. Juan Mata was part of Spain's victorious 2010-winning campaign, and there have been many other former United players to have won the World Cup whilst at other clubs - Fabian Barthez, Laurent Blanc, Kleberson, Gerard Pique and Bastian Schweinsteiger. Incidentally, Pogba and France claimed their World Cup title at a venue forever synonymous with one of the greatest nights in United's history, the Luzhniki Stadium in the Russian capital, where we won the Champions League ten years ago.

Pogba also became the first United player to score in a World Cup final - a rasper from the edge of the box to put his side 3-1 up in the second half - and the first Premier League player to do so since Emmanuel Petit, then of Arsenal, when Les Bleus last won it on home soil in 1998.
It has been a memorable tournament for our Academy graduate, who will go a long way to silencing his critics as he once again showed he can handle the pressure and expectation of a major tournament - having claimed the Best Young Player award at the last World Cup in Brazil and impressed throughout his country's run to the Euro 2016 final on home soil. Pogba played a part in all three of his side's goals in the group stages, as he was involed in the build-up to Antoine Griezmann's penalty in their opening win over Australia, teeing up the late winner. He also set up Kylian Mbappe's solitary strike in the second match, a 1-0 victory over Peru. In a France side boasting a watertight defence, a powerful and energetic midfield and devastating counter-attacking prowess, spearheaded by the golden talent of 19 year old Mbappe, Pogba has been superb.

 His display in the final against Croatia encapsulated his fine tournament as the heartbeat of Didier Deschamps side, a dominant figure and the driving force in Les Bleus engine room, superb both in defence and attack, linking the play and demonstrating his impressive array of passing - a string of brilliant showings that went a long way to silencing his critics and proved that Pogba has all the attributes of a world class midfielder. We've not seen this Pogba often enough at United, with only fleeting glimpses of his true ability, so I'd hope the confidence and swagger he has shown in Russia will light up the league in his third season as a United player.

Tuesday 10 July 2018

Huge week for our boys culminates in biggest game of all

The minds of football fans everywhere are centred on Russia and the FIFA World Cup, but this is also a massive week for United, as ever - there's never a dull or quiet moment at the biggest club in the world.

Hard-working wing back Ashley Young has started four of England's five games at the tournament and, having celebrated his 33rd birthday on Monday, is expected to feature in the semi-final tie against Croatia for Gareth Southgate's side. He picked up an assist in the 2-0 quarter final win over Sweden and an appearance in the final would surely be the perfect birthday present.
Tuesday sees the first of the last four ties, a match with plenty of Reds involved as Paul Pogba's France team face tournament favourites Belgium - spearheaded by Romelu Lukaku (who signed for United one year ago this week) and the much maligned Marouane Fellaini who has been quietly impressive for the 'other' Red Devils in Russia so far.
Then on Wednesday, Phil Jones, the aforementioned Young, Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford will all play their part in that historic semi final for the Three Lions in Moscow, the England national team's most important match for 28 years. If they win, we will definitely have United players on both sides during Sunday's showpiece denouement.

At the start of his fifth season at Old Trafford, out of favour left-back Luke Shaw turns 23 on Thursday, with his future at United under Jose Mourinho, a vehement critic of his player, still uncertain.The defender has been putting in the hard yards in a bid to get himself into shape ahead of the start of the new season next month.
Then on Saturday, attention turns to the game that history often forgets - and the game that no one really wants to play in. The World Cup tie for the consolation prize of third place takes place in Saint Petersburg at 3pm and - like the final itself - there is guaruanteed to be at least one United player involved in the fixture.

With the eyes of the world honed on Moscow, United fly out of Manchester Airport on the same day  to officially begin their pre-season tour Stateside, where the Reds will play MLS sides Club America and San Jose Earthquakes, before Champions Cup fixtures with European giants AC Milan, Liverpool and Real Madrid, with the three-time defending Champions League winners now under the tutelage of Julen Lopetegui.

Academy starlets Tahith Chong, Angel Gomes, Mason Greenwood and James Garner did not travel with the reserves and academy to Austria and have stayed at Carrington to train with the first-team, suggesting they are set to be included in the travelling tour squad. New signings Lee Grant and Diogo Dalot will also fly across the Atlantic.