Sunday 30 September 2018

United's 29-year low is only ever going to get worse

I'm not angry, I'm not frustrated, I'm not even upset or annoyed - Manchester United are in the worst mess I've ever seen yet all I can do is shake my head and look on in apathy. United's 3-1 defeat at West Ham was our third in seven games - seven games in which we've cobbled together 10 measly points to slide into the bottom half of the table with arguably the kindest-looking opening fixtures a United side has had in living memory. It's our worst start for 29 years - worse even than it was under David Moyes, whom had the same horrible early season form but with more goals scored and a better goal difference. In the Scot's defence, he had to face Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City early on - this time around, only Spurs have presented our biggest hurdle. Leicester, Brighton, Burnley, Watford, West Ham and Wolves - with all due respect, these should be sides that should never even have a prayer against a club with the resources and financial clout of Manchester United. It looked as though we had turned a corner after three successive away wins, but yet nothing could be further from the truth - those wins merely served to paper over the multitude of cracks permeating through the club - cracks that have left a gaping chasm in the crumbling Old Trafford facade that look impossible to fix.

It's not so much even the results, it's the manner of United's meek surrenders on a weekly basis. An absolute shambles on repeat - board, manager, players and owners at loggerheads, a squad ripped apart by infighting and dressing room toxicity and players either not giving their all or simply not good enough. The few players that are good enough have been alienated by Jose Mourinho, there are no discernible tactics, the team is chopped and changed every week and the most successful manager of his generation looks a man who has lost all semblance of the plot. Three years on from his appointment and the club are in even worse a mess than we were when he took over. The 3-1 defeat at West Ham felt like the end, the ugly parting of the ways and the point of no return for the manager, but it won't be: to sack Mourinho now would fly in the face of the theory of how things are done under this current regime, this slapstick, poisonous. rotten-to-the core Glazer ownership. While the reclusive American family, who never talk to the media about United, can be accused of many things, to their credit being being knee-jerk is not one of them. Moyes was sacked only after Champions League qualification became impossible, and the same happened with Louis van Gaal. Despite a run of nine games without a win at the turn of year in 2015, the Dutchman was only dismissed at the end of the season when United had finished fifth.

As is usual after a result such as yesterday, there have been calls for Mourinho's sacking, but nothing has come from inside the club and it seems likely the Glazers will hold fire when it comes to pulling the trigger on Mourinho. They'll wait, but Mourinho has never recovered from a slump such as this, and it looks like there's no way out. Manchester United are in crisis and a club in complete disarray.

Jose Mourinho's refusal to change could prove costly

Jose Mourinho is still more concerned about what the opposition can do to Manchester United rather than what United can do to the opposition. That underdog mentality was not befitting the club under the dismal David Moyes and it isn't under a two-time Champions League winner. Sir Alex Ferguson's most famous and succinct team talk was 'Lads, it's Tottenham.' Jose, it's West Ham.

A West Ham who had lost their first four Premier League matches, sieved 11 in six and play in maybe the most mutinous stadium in the top flight. Yet Mourinho surreally chose to start three central defenders and that early team news rumour of Scott McTominay, which felt like a bizarre conspiracy, turned out to be true. It took Felipe Anderson five minutes to capitalise on the Scot's hesitancy and flick past David de Gea.
Mourinho will never change. Lost amid the positivity at the start of the month was how he had tailored the team to combat the battering ram Sam Wood. Burnley were ideal opponents yet a resurgent West Ham smelt fear and punished Mourinho's conservative approach. It was an affront to United's ethos and Mourinho's management is developing Moyesian and Louis van Gaal traits.

 This latest debacle is on the manager and United have become a dreary team to watch. United have now lost as many league games as they had after Christmas last season.

Nobody seriously expected them to credibly challenge for the championship and Mourinho may have to revise his prediction that United would know by the end of November whether they could supplant City. That is a pipe dream and the growing expectation is they will drop out of the top two, at least.
It was quite some achievement from Mourinho to make the demotion of Alexis Sanchez look negative. McTominay, Chris Smalling and Victor Lindelof were behind the pedestrian Nemanja Matic and cumbersome Marouane Fellaini, supplemented by the puerile Paul Pogba. Those under six foot need not apply.

Mourinho's preference for power players is outdated. Already he appears uncertain about the £52million Fred and his first defensive signing, Eric Bailly, was overlooked in favour of auxiliary option McTominay. For a manager who justifiably lamented a lack of backing in the summer window, Mourinho is doing himself no favours.
In a soulless stadium United were soulless on an apathetic and pathetic afternoon that was so numbing their usually raucous away following struggled to raise the volume. Many walked out before half-time, goaded with waves and 'cheerios' from the cocky Cockneys. Mourinho said on Friday 'I expect to win' yet few expected that when the team dropped. The surfeit of steel allowed the silk of Anderson, Marko Arnautovic and Andriy Yarmolenko to exploit United's pedestrian plodders.

 That bold prediction set Mourinho up for a humiliating fall against a side he had not previously lost against with United. Quite what he saw in training to suggest United could confidently overcome a team which kept Chelsea at bay the previous week is anyone's guess and the only threat of mutiny inside West Ham's adopted home came from those United supporters who hollered 'Attack, attack, attack' in the 52nd minute. It was certainly an offensive performance.

 The season is in danger of developing into one of United vying for Champions League or Europa League qualification. That Arsenal apathy is humiliating enough, yet the United board were bold enough to think they could get away with vetoing some of Mourinho's summer targets while securing Champions League football for next season. Only Mourinho presided over a sixth-place finish in his first term and was 16th at the time of his 2015 dismissal by Chelsea.

 The days when he could be trusted to always clinch a top four berth are long gone. Out of the traditional top six clubs, United are the only one currently outside that mini league. United are 11 points adrift of Liverpool and have not been this far off the summit in the post-Ferguson era after seven games.

 Romelu Lukaku's knack for costly cock-ups continued in London as he struck the post from Ashley Young's centre in the 23rd minute and two minutes before the interval Andriy Yarmolenko turned and shimmied away from Nemanja Matic. He struck speculatively, the ball ricocheted off the onrushing Victor Lindelof and looped into De Gea's net.

A sobering Saturday started developing parallels with January's capital calamity at Tottenham when Pogba's number flashed up on the fourth official's board with 20 minutes left. The Frenchman petulantly gave a thumbs up to the bench and smiled broadly as he took his seat seconds before the returning Marcus Rashford crowned his comeback with an adroit backheel. Hope sprung for all of three minutes; a bus could have driven through the gap which had widened between McTominay and Smalling and Arnautovic poked the ball past De Gea.
Mourinho gestured angrily at the United bench and engaged in an animated conversation with coach Kieran McKenna. "You're getting sacked in the morning," crowed the West Ham fans. He had every right to be concerned about what the opposition were doing.

Saturday 29 September 2018

Jose Mourinho is a winner but his time is up

All the time Jose Mourinho is Manchester United manager, I will back him and believe in him but this cannot go on. Something has to change - so abject, so apathetic and so anodyne was our performance at the London Stadium that it's becoming increasingly clear that the 'something' might have to be the manager. I believe there is a hierarchy of blame - Mourinho is not 100% to blame for the plethora of problems permeating through the club from top to bottom, and nor is he not to blame at all.
The board are useless, and a good few of these United players aren't good enough but you can't sack an entire squad and - unless anyone has a spare 400 million knocking around anywhere - Ed Woodward and his merry band of men aren't going anywhere either. That leaves only one option - Jose Mourinho has to go. It's a situation that now feels like a matter of when and not if. I'm not one for sacking managers with abandon, but United are broken, battered, a mess and a club on their knees. Mourinho has appeared a man on the brink for some time and doesn't look capable of turning this around. When the rot sets in, he never recovers, he never comes through a bad patch of form and this looks no different.

I'm not sure what the answer is but I do know this: it certainly is not Jose Mourinho. The guy's a winner, his record and career cannot be argued with, but he was never really the right fit for a Man Utd team that needed stability. Two and a bit years into his Old Trafford reign, and Mourinho still doesn't have a clue what his best XI or, indeed, even what his best formation, should be.
It's impossible to say whether the players remain fully behind the boss or not - we can't know that for certain - but the body language and attitude at West Ham was shocking, this ragtag collection of mismatched, discombobulated pieces looked like a side at odds with themselves. Bereft of belief and confidence, Manchester United are mentally weak and failed to even manage the basics at the London Stadium. We struggled to string two passes together, players were jogging rather than sprinting, throwing arms up in frustration rather than attempting to win the ball back, there was no organisation, communication or movement and on one occasion Ashley Young gave the ball straight to Declan Rice from our own corner. The team fell to pieces with fear at the first sign of a West Ham foray, and from the moment Felipe Anderson scored, we never looked like turning things around.

A lack of quality can be excused but what I - and many others - have issues with is not so much the results themselves, but the manner in which United have capitulated. For players to go out and not give 100% in criminal, unacceptable and inexcusable at any level of football, but the fight, hunger and desire to win is just not there in this team.
Too many players aren't giving their all and aren't working hard enough for the shirt. Too many players don't seem interested in fighting for the club, their manager and us fans - disgraceful for any professional player, never mind one at Manchester United. Players would've run through brick walls for Sir Alex under the leadership of Roy Keane and Bryan Robson and even the mere thought of a half arsed attitude in any game would have resulted in a one way ticket out of Old Trafford. How times have changed. It's more evidence - if it were needed - that's something is massively wrong at the club.
Not only that, but United's game management was non-existent as one Mark Noble through pass cut us wide open to put Marko Arnautovic in for 3-1 moments after Marcus Rashford had scored to restore a faint modicum of hope.

Mourinho's team selection, formation and system were simply baffling. I couldn't tell you what the tactics were, what we were trying to do or how we were trying to play. It was quite some achievement from Mourinho to make the demotion of Alexis Sanchez look negative. McTominay, Chris Smalling and Victor Lindelof were behind the pedestrian Nemanja Matic and cumbersome Marouane Fellaini, supplemented by the puerile Paul Pogba in what was the biggest football team ever known to man. Those under six foot need not apply. McTominay has never played in defence in his life and yet, for some inexplicable reason, he was picked ahead of Eric Bailly - an actual, proper, centre-half, whom it's clear Mourinho does not like or trust. Alexis Sanchez and Jesse Lingard were left out completely. There was a complete lack of identity, no clear style, a messy and disjointed system with a back five and three defensive midfielders, and round pegs repeatedly rammed into square holes.

Match report: West Ham United 3-1 United

Manuel Pellegrini's improving Hammers inflicted a third league defeat of the season on a listless and outclassed United side to pile more misery on beleaguered boss Jose Mourinho.
After the Carabao Cup KO at the hands of Frank Lampard's Derby, we were at least expecting a strong reaction from the Reds, but in truth so fragile and bereft of even the basics is this Reds side that - from the moment Felipe Anderson hit his first West Ham goal in the fifth minute to get his side off and running - the result never looked in doubt.
This is United's worst league start in 29 years with a paltry tally of ten points from seven games,  the same as we managed during the David Moyes season in 2013-14, only this time offset by a negative goal difference of -2. This was just as bad - if not even worse - as anything we saw under the Scot. For some reason only he knows, Scott McTominay came in for his first start of the season as part of a back three, with an actual central defender, Eric Bailly left on the bench with Alexis Sanchez and Jesse Lingard left out completely.

The Hammers - with only one win in 19 league games coming into this one - sensed that United were there for the taking and were ahead inside five minutes through club record signing Anderson, whom cleverly back-heeled home from Pablo Zabaleta's cross despite both players appearing to be offside.

Romelu Lukaku headed off an upright but the hosts moved 2-0 in front just shy of the interval in fortuitous fashion through another new signing, Andriy Yarmolenko, as the Ukranian's shot cannoned off the backpedalling Victor Lindelof and looped in over the stranded David de Gea.

Arnautovic - a constant menace throughout - almost put the result beyond doubt when he flashed over the bar on the counter attack, but Mourinho soon turned to Marcus Rashford and the young striker was sent on in an ultimately futile attempt to swing the tie back in United's favour.
Lukasz Fabianski saved superbly from a trademark Marouane Fellaini header, and Anderson went close at the other end after another rapid West Ham counter attack.
Rashford restored a glimmer of hope for the Reds when he halved the deficit with an acrobatic backheeled finish from a Luke Shaw corner, on 71 minutes, to seemingly set up a frantic finale.

Just when it looked as though United had finally found a foothold,  game management went out the window and Arnautovic capped his superb individual performance with a deserved goal. Mark Noble's beautifully weighted slide rule pass carved United's unconvincing and flat footed defence wide open, and Arnautovic raced through to put the ball beyond the advancing De Gea from close range.

Overall team performance: 2/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Marcus Rashford. Came on as a sub but the only player whom looked like he cared.

Friday 28 September 2018

Match preview: West Ham v Man Utd

At the end of a turbulent week that only further added to the club and Jose Mourinho's woes, United make the trip to east London to meet a familiar foe and a lowly but improving West Ham side.

Coming hot on the heels of the Carabao Cup KO to Frank Lampard's Derby, and with Mourinho locked in an egotistical battle with star man Paul Pogba, United's season has quickly unravelled.
Despite being stripped of the vice captaincy, Pogba will start at the London Stadium with Marcus Rashford also available again after suspension. Sergio Romero is suspended so Lee Grant, fresh from his unexpected competitive United debut, will take the Argentinian's place on the bench as cover for David de Gea. Marcos Rojo is the Reds only injury-enforced absentee with the Reds likely to make wholesale changes from Tuesday night.
With Rashford returning from his suspension, Mourinho has a chance to throw a surprise in the works. He could join Romelu Lukaku up top by replacing the struggling Alexis Sanchez, who has now gone 831 minutes without scoring a Premier League goal, and Anthony Martial - the only player to emerge from the Derby debacle with any credit - could also be in contention.

After three successive away wins at Burnley, Watford and Young Boys, the Reds face arguably their toughest test on the road so far in the shape of former City manager Manuel Pellegrini's West Ham side. The Hammers spent big and spent well following his appointment, with Jack Wilshere, Felipe Anderson, Andriy Yarmolenko and Lukasz Fabianski among the new faces added to a new look squad. It was a tough start for the east End side, as despite the vast influx of talent, four successive defeats left them bottom of the table and asked early questions of the Chilean. There are signs that they are on an upward trajectory now though, having won at Everton and held in-form Chelsea to a draw before their biggest win in 35 years in midweek - an 8-0 Carabao Cup tonking of League Two basement boys Macclesfield Town.
Talismanic figurehead Marko Arnautovic missed that match, but the tricky Austrian could return from his knee injury in time for the visit of Mourinho's United. Carles Sanchez also picked up a knock against Macclesfield, and he faces a late fitness test.

Despite the fact Pogba will face the Hammers, Mourinho warned the World Cup winner that no one is bigger than our club, and said: "
"Tomorrow he plays. He is a player like the others, no player is bigger than the club. If I am happy with his work he plays, if I am not he doesn't play. I am really happy with his work this week. He trained really well. The team needs good players. He is a good player,
"The training session was open; you had some cameras with some potential to get some of the words. Maybe you have to change that potential if you want to know everything that is said, because I am not going to comment.
"Nobody trained better than Paul on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday – nobody trained better than him. Tomorrow he plays, so end of the story."

 Man Utd's visit to the London Stadium - where West Ham are without a league win so far this season - is live on BT Sport and is the lunchtime kick off in the Premier League

 Form guide: West Ham L L L W D W Man Utd L W W W D D
Match odds: West Ham 7/2 Draw 13/5 Man Utd 17/20
Referee: Michael Oliver

Thursday 27 September 2018

Why I'm backing Jose Mourinho in egotistical battle of wits

It's the story from which there can be no escape. Whether you're a Manchester United fan or not, the tense, tightrope tug of war between manager Jose Mourinho and star man Paul Pogba is all over the papers and the talk of the town at every turn. It's the dominant topic of fans up and down the country as the two men stubbornly lock horns in an egotistical battle of wits. Manchester United need both to show what they're made of, to ride to our rescue amidst the wreckage of a rapidly nosediving season, but instead it's become a circus, a soap opera, a drama in which the two main characters are trying to get the better of each other. The situation has become so desperate that there's been talk of a divide in the United dressing room, with some of the squad's younger members siding with Pogba and others firmly behind the stance adopted by Mourinho. At times like this, we need everyone pulling together, we need to be United more than we have ever been - board, manager, coaches, players and just about anyone of a Red perusasion. Instead, there's a destructive fault line running right through the core of Manchester United and the club feels more divided than ever. This is a club built on unity. The clue may even be in our name.

In the last few days, United have been knocked out of the Carabao Cup on penalties to Frank Lampard's Championship Derby County, Pogba has been stripped of the vice captaincy for publicly criticising his boss, and their tense stand off is no nearer to being resolved. The entire Old Trafford facade is crumbling before our eyes and no one seems accountable to anyone anymore.
So where do I stand on the issue? I may not agree with everything Jose says or does, but I'm firmly behind him and with him all the way on this. Whether Pogba's comments after the Wolves tie were right, wrong, or somewhere in between, it's the manner in which he said it that's the problem - you simply cannot criticise your manager in public. In what other industry in any other walk of life is it acceptable to undermine your boss with the world a witness - the moment you do that, you're questioning his authority, and in doing so Pogba clearly thinks he's bigger than Mourinho and therefore, the club.
Stripping Pogba of the vice - captaincy was absolutely the right thing to do, it was Jose's way of attempting to wrestle back a modicum of control and, in this era where player power can and has brought down managers - including Mourinho - control is one thing that can't be relinquished.

Sir Alex Ferguson, of course, was no stranger to player bust ups - from Paul McGrath to Ruud van Nistelrooy via Beckham, Keane and Ince to name but five. But, whenever tensions did run high and things spilled over, he made damned sure that the situation didn't linger, didn't affect the dynamic in the team and absolutely always made sure that the argument never infilitrated into the prying eyes of the public beyond the four walls of Carrington or Old Trafford. Roy Keane left the club after a bitter argument with Ferguson when he tried to undermine him, but it was dealt with professionally and privately.
Where's Ed Woodward in all this - the United CEO is keeping an unusually low profile as his two star assets do battle. Woodward may feel it would be a conflict of his interests to get involved in the feud, but you get the feeling that surely he would back Mourinho if it came to the crunch and he had to decide between the two. Pogba is huge commercially for the club but it would be a slippery slope and a very dangerous precedent to set if the club's hierarchy vouch for player ahead of manager - that really would prove that player power is stronger than ever.

Wednesday 26 September 2018

We're a mess and things are very wrong at my beloved club

All is not well in the United camp, I don't even know what to believe anymore and I've given up trying to make sense of the situation - the complete and utter mess as Manchester United lie in a fractured heap of rubble having crashed and burned out of contention of two competitions out of four before the season is even two months old. The Carabao Cup is admittedly a second-rate competition but silverware is silverware and in these troubled times where sustained success is scarce, it's any port in a storm. Before the end of September, United have been knocked out of a competition that represented our best chance of a trophy by division-lower Derby and their rookie boss Frank Lampard. In a season that appeared make or break for the club, the players and manager, we've  hit a new low and things won't get better any time soon. Out of the League Cup and languishing in seventh place after a meagre six league ties, eight points off the dippers at the top - any mometum, any tangible optimism built up after those three successive away wins - have been swept away just as quickly in the midst of a campaign that is sinking fast.

The entire world and anyone who's not a United fan is laughing at us, our manager and star player are at loggerheads and at a seemingly unbreachable impasse, the players have given up the ghost, the manager seems powerless to prevent the plethora of problems and the board are detached, distant and haven't a clue. Ed Woodward remains a man without a plan, as talks of a director of football have, as usual with the Glazer puppet, hit a snag as a result of his dithering. The board has different ambitions from the manager, he has different ideas than what we want as fans, the club is a shambolic mess in a seemingly irreversible downward spiral with a divisive fault line running directly through the middle of the club affecting the dynamic both off the field and on it. There's an argument to say that, five years on, this is as bad as things have been since the ill-fated ten months of the David Moyes experiment. I wouldn't disagree.

To add to all that, we're having to witness the unpalatable stuff of nightmares as Liverpool - early Premier League pacesetters and with a 100% record - have thrown down the gauntlet as early league title favourites, with Pep Guardiola's champions from across town in hot pursuit. Only another eight months of the season left then we can put an end to this torture.

That's before we even get to the heart of the issue - the atmosphere around the club, the results and, more pointedly, the way in which we've been outmuscled, outfought and outmanouevred by opponents that hardly read like a who's who of world football's heavweights: from the brutality of defeat at Brighton, to the whimper of Wolves, via the cataclysmic implosion against Spurs and the debacle of Derby - United's season has lurched from the pathetic to the predictable. We've had our time, it's been fun, but things have changed and it's time to accept it for what it is. We're a laughing stock, it's not nice to stomach but we have to front up to the schadenfraude and accept it for what it is.

I don't know what the answer is but it's horrible and heartbreaking to see the club is such a mess. I'm just going to try and enjoy and endure the ride until, one way or another, things come to a head.

Jose Mourinho and Paul Pogba have hit an unbreachable impasse

Jose Mourinho confirmed on Tuesday he had stripped Paul Pogba of his vice captaincy role
at the club but denied there was a rift between the pair.

This feels like a significant moment for Manchester United.
It has been obvious for a while that Paul Pogba does not see eye to eye with the man responsible for paying a club record £89m to sign him from Juventus. It has also been clear for a while that Barcelona are keen on him.
Now, Mourinho has opened the door and has only succeeded in adding fuel to the fire.
But the big question is, which one of them will go through it?
Letting Pogba go would be viewed as a monumental failure for Mourinho and executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward given it is only a few months since the player impressed as France won the World Cup.
The alternative is to stick with him, but that would almost certainly mean Mourinho's position had become untenable given he was also blocked from signing the players he wanted in the summer.

The Manchester United manager is playing everyone as a fool if he thinks we’re all going to believe everything is rosy between the pair. It’s not and it hasn’t been for over a year.
Mourinho of old had an edge about him that made him great. He would feed on power and with that, his man management would get the best of out a group of players. This was evident at FC Porto, during his first spell at Chelsea and, of course, Inter Milan. Not Real Madrid. Not during his second spell at Chelsea. Not Manchester United.
Then, you throw player power into the mix. Sky Sports pundit Jamie Redknapp argued last night that you can sack your manager, but you can’t sack a player. I’d question him on that because his view would be very different on the toxic influence of some players if his dad, Harry, was the manager.
If United are going to get rid of one, why not get rid of both? Why do we, the fans, need to take a side and settle for such nonsense?
There is nobody doubting Pogba’s ability as a player but it has not worked out at United and we need to seriously consider recouping the £89 million it took to bring him back from Turin. It says a lot, too, that we have it from a good source that Pogba made it clear previously he wanted to join rivals Manchester City.
The constant negativity surrounding Jose Mourinho and Paul Pogba is circus-like and makes a mockery of Manchester United. A sense of pride is lacking.
Moreover, the Mourinho of old wouldn’t settle for being undermined by an egomaniac in the dressing room, which shows a shift in power and what good is he, as a manager, without having control over all of his players? The English media fell in love with a manager, who arrived at Chelsea with an edge and, with that he would become great. This is something very different.
This looks like a manager being held back by a club that prioritises commercialism over on-field matters, whereas the Mourinho of old would have lambasted Pogba for his multiple outspoken interviews rather than cover up their feud and take of us all fools. Mourinho’s edge made him great and now he looks deflated of that.
Hands tied behind his back, perhaps? That is inexcusable and the sign of a weakened Mourinho, who still persists he is blameless.
Fans shouldn’t be forced to take sides, but this is dragging on so long, it’s hard to ignore. Mourinho’s party politics with the fans is likely to reemerge, so be warned it’s only a show as there are no signs to suggest we’re on a path of further progress.
Mourinho will defend himself this week and probably point to how he finished second behind a strong Manchester City side last season, but that’s not good enough for Manchester United. We always aim to be number one.
Isn’t he supposed to be The Special One?
Wolves and Championship side Derby County came to Old Trafford in the past week and both outplayed Manchester United, though a common theme occurred after both games with Mourinho unwilling to take any blame.
So, where has the Manchester United I fell in love with gone? Nowhere. We’ll follow the club no matter what decisions are made, but the days in the sunshine are long gone and there is a need to rebuild on many fronts.
Getting rid of the self-righteous one and the French show-pony ought to be considered. Neither understands what it means to represent my club. OUR club.

Jose Mourinho is not the answer but too many players aren't giving 100%

If a year is a long time in politics, then a week is an awfully time in football. After three successive away wins in which everything seemed to be coming together nicely for Jose Mourinho and the players, I penned - on these very pages - how refreshing it was to see a United side finally playing with a plan and an identity in the wake of the wins at Burnley to Bern and Watford. How wrong I was.

A hungry and tenacious Wolverhampton side arrived at Old Trafford and arguably deserved to pilfer all the points, and as if that wasn't chastening enough, three days later one of the greatest bosses in the history of the game was outplayed and tactically outmanouevered by his apprentice, his former player, and managerial rookie Frank Lampard, taking charge of only his 12th tie as a manager. Lampard brought his division-lower Derby side to Old Trafford and got the better of the man who played such a major role in delivering the major successes of Lampard's illustrious and decorated career.
Lampard's Derby were everything United weren't and is it really any surprise that the club find ourselves in such a mess when the players can't manage to apply the basic and fundamental elements that make up the modern day raison d'etre for players at any level from schoolboy to professionals. Work rate, commitment, passion, heart, spirit, desire, fight, communication, leadership and playing as a team. Everything that I consider - or used to consider - to run deep through the veins in this club's DNA. Derby showed all that in spades and taught our ragged and disjointed side a lesson in teamwork and togetherness. Too many United players were, again, ambling around, not working hard enough for themselves, their manager, their club and us fans. Most of them didn't look bothered, didn't put a shift in and their attitude stank. If that's the case, then I don't care how good the players might think they are, anyone who's going to turn up and not show even a modicum of effort should get out of our club. It's happened too many times.

To pull on the famous, iconic Red shirt is merely a fantastical pipedream for us fans, and it should be an honour for the players idolised and adored by millions. This side is a long way from having the consistent ability and mentality  to challenge for major trophies and you can't expect the players to be what they're not, but what you certainly can expect - the minimum you should ask of your team - is for the players to go out there, give their all, put in 100% each and every week and leave nothing out there in pursuit of victory. The painful truth at the moment is this: too many players either aren't good enough or aren't giving 100% for the shirt.

Marouane Fellaini is limited in terms of ability - he is not a United player and never will be, and the same goes for Ander Herrera. But neither man can be accused of lacking heart - they both give their all, play with desire and passion and, if I was to take any of the squad into battle with me, they both would be by first picks.

I always thought that Man Utd should have moved heaven and earth to bring Mourinho in after Sir Alex called it quits - that he was the only man with a strong enough record and a big enough personality to not baulk at following the great man, to keep United on the straight and narrow to maintan the status quo.  All the time he continues to remain in charge I'll back him to the hilt, but it's abundantly clear that he's not the answer nor the way forward, but it's also apparent that this club's plethora of deep rooted issues do not begin - or end - with him. When the players in your care can't even be bothered to play for the shirt and show what they're made of, and the board are distant and disengaged, then you're on a hiding to nothing.

Match report: United 2-2 Derby County (7-8 pens)

Frank Lampard's Derby County prevailed on penalties to send Jose Mourinho's rotated Reds out of the Carabao Cup despite a late, late leveller from Marouane Fellaini.
In a thrilling, topsy turvy and incident-packed encounter, United started superbly and Juan Mata's first goal for almost a year gave us the perfect start inside five minutes. But the evening nosedived from then on and, to their immense credit, Lampard's busy and impressive Rams were not cowed by fears of a hiding. Liverpool loanee Harry Wilson's gloriously dipping strike from a set piece hauled the men from the Midlands level before a Jack Marriott header - after Sergio Romero had been sent off - turned the tie on its head.

Fellaini popped up with the game's final action to force penalties, and the sides then traded successful spot kicks until Phil Jones failed with the decisive effort to send us out at the first hurdle.

It was the Reds fifth successive shootout loss and capped a chastening night for all in Red, with United now having been outplayed at Old Trafford twice in the space of four days by the rank outsiders of newly promoted Wolves and Championship Derby in league and cup.

Mourinho named a strong if much changed United side with Jesse Lingard and Romelu Lukaku the only men to keep their place from the Wolves tie. Both were involved in the early third minute opener as Anthony Martial began the move that was too swift and clever for the Championship visitors as he raced down the left wing. The Frenchman crossed low and Lukaku cutely dummied the ball on to  Lingard who in turn deftly slipped a pass to Mata. The Spaniard applied the killer touch, a left-footed low curler beyond Scott Carson from close range.

That looked to suggest a rare routine night for the Red but nothing is ever straightforward with this side and Derby quickly responded to their setback. After neat build up down the right, Romero was called into action for the first time to keep out the impressive Mason Bennett. At the other end, United continued to carve out openings and three chances in quick succession soon went our way. Lukaku fired wide under pressure from Fiyako Tomori, Mata also went close again and captain for the night Ashley Young rattled the upright from a corner.

Romero saved from Wilson with his leg on 53 minutes, but he was not to be denied six minutes later with an incredibly well - executed free kick that no keeper in the world could've got near.
Wilson - a thorn in United's side throughout - continued to lead the Ram raid and was involved again in the game's maor talking point when he burst through and beat the onrushing Romero to the ball. The goalkeeper handled outside his area and correctly received a straight red card from referee Stuart Attwell. That meant an unlikely competitive debut for 35-year-old Lee Grant.

Ten-man United immediately rallied as Lukaku struck the post again and Martial fizzed a shot narrowly wide. Derby, as was their wont, came on strong again as Grant had to react quickly from substitute Florian Jozefzoon's header.
The men from the Midlands were now in control and made the Reds pay through Marriott, who scored on the rebound after Mason Mount's effort was pushed out by the substitute keeper.
Fellaini then sent the match to the spot-kick drama and, after 15 brilliantly taken spot kicks, Jones effort was saved by Carson to see Derby through 7-8 on penalties.

Overall team performance: 3/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Anthony Martial

Tuesday 25 September 2018

Alexis Sanchez a man that does everything and nothing

No goals, no spark, no excuses - Alexis Sanchez is simply not justifing his status at Manchester United.

It was exactly eight months on Saturday United announced the X-Factor arrival of Sanchez from Arsenal with a theatricality that tends to accompany their new unveilings these days.
The Chile striker was filmed playing “Glory, Glory Man United” on the piano, with Ed Woodward, the club’s executive vice-chairman, gleefully divulging to investors a fortnight later that the Twitter video and assorted fanfare generated 75 per cent more social media interactions than Neymar’s world record £198 million move to Paris St-Germain.

Presumably, United felt a piano was the most appropriate accompaniement for a player whom would soon have the team's attack dancing to his own tune. The only sound emanating from Old Trafford - after a 1-1 draw with Wolves last time out - were groans of frustrations as Sanchez hit another low note.
Off the field, he may be a record breaker but, on it, shirt sales count for nothing and, as supporters filed out of the ground debating where Sanchez ranks in that rather long list of transfer disappointments in the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era, it seemed fair to wonder if the forward’s troubles have developed into something more serious than simply a sustained slump.

Chris Smalling has scored three times since Sanchez last found the net in the Premier League for United, a drought that now extends to 829 minutes. Since Sanchez scored the first of his paltry three goals for United on Jan. 26, Mohamed Salah has plundered 23 goals for Liverpool, Sadio Mane 15, Eden Hazard has 10 goals for Chelsea in that time and Raheem Sterling eight for Manchester City.
Yet Sanchez’s shortcomings cannot be quantified solely by the dearth of goals. It is the absence of any discernible spark that is most alarming - the lack of creativity, the lack of impact, the lack of stardust he so often gave an alarmingly average Arsenal side.
There can be no questioning his work-rate but he is a man that does everything but yet nothing.
 Indeed, the Sanchez script has become a wearily familiar one: if he is not squandering possession cheaply, he is invariably seen burrowing forward, head down, into an opposition roadblock, the worst kind of single-mindedness in a team yearning for collective fluidity. His highlights reel makes for decidedly slim pickings. Is that really what £500,000 a week buys you?

 There were plenty of occasions last season when Jose Mourinho kept Sanchez on the pitch by virtue, it seemed, of him being his latest expensive recruit, despite many of his performances warranting an early shower. But even the United manager appears to have given up that pretence now. Having been dropped for the Champions League tie against Young Boys on Wednesday after an underwhelming showing in the win at Watford, Sanchez was substituted for the third successive Premier League match on Saturday and, as was the case at Turf Moor against Burnley, he lasted barely an hour against Wolves.

So what is Sanchez’s excuse? For the first time in nine years, he had a full, uninterrupted pre-season. During the last international break, Chile accepted a request from United for the player to stay in Manchester and sit out his country’s friendly against South Korea. Fatigue cannot be cited as a factor. Moreover, Sanchez is 29, with four years of experience playing in the Premier League. He was supposed to represent a quick fix. Nor can our system be blamed for his shortcomings as the 4-3-3 set up favoured by Mourinho is similar to the one he so flourished in at Arsenal. Neither is he a 19-year-old finding his feet in a new league and a new country. Maybe he simply isn't a United player.

The trouble for United is the ramifications extend beyond Sanchez’s own dismal form. Given the pressing need for a fast, skilful right winger, United’s decision to move for Sanchez was odd in the sense that they already had two forwards who, like him, favoured playing off the left when not deployed centrally.
Neither Anthony Martial nor Marcus Rashford have benefited from Sanchez’s arrival and Mourinho now has a situation where he is struggling to get a tune out of any of them. To compound matters, Sanchez’s exorbitant salary is only likely to increase the wage demands of future transfer targets, not to mention existing squad members, who may rightly wonder how a player who is performing so poorly, so regularly, can be paid what he is.

Monday 24 September 2018

Match preview: Man Utd vs Derby County

The Reds welcome high flying, in form Championship Derby to Old Trafford for a League Cup third round tie on Tuesday night as Jose Mourinho bids to win the tournament for a record fifth time.
 Frank Lampard has made a fine start to management, but it will take a masterstroke for his division lower Derby County side to eliminate United at the first League Cup hurdle.

 Mourinho and former Chelsea colleague Lampard won this competition together twice while at Chelsea but the two men will now meet in opposing dugouts as managers for the first time.

Mourinho said: "The attitude must be better, I did not like my team on Saturday, it's difficult to win when you are not there, when you are not in the match with everything you have. I am looking forward to going up against Frank (Lampard), of course we have a great relationship but we both forget that and do our jobs for our teams - it will be nice to see him again and go up against one of his teams, I respect him hugely and we have to make sure that we are better."

Despite the one division difference between the sides, United and Derby have become familiar foes in domestic cup competitions. We last met them at the turn of the year, a 2-0 FA Cup win at OT through Jesse Lingard and Romelu Lukaku, as we did at their Pride Park home on our way to a then-record equalling 13th FA Cup success under Louis van Gaal in 2016, when the Reds prevailed 3-1 in the fourth round. The sides met in both domestic cups back in 2009, with United also running out winners on both occasions - 4-1 in the FA Cup and a 4-3 aggregate success in the League Cup last four - in our most recent meeting against the men from the Midlands in this tournament. So, a good record for the Reds against the Rams, then, and United will start this one as strong favourites but in cup football, of course, we can never take anything for granted.

Mourinho pretty much confirmed that Diogo Dalot will start the game at right-back and following his debut performance last week against Young Boys, United fans are excited about seeing him in action again. Mourinho is expected to name a much changed, but strong, Reds team with Nemanja Matic available again after his one match ban. Marcus Rashford completes his suspension and defensive duo Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo remain sidelined.
Ander Herrera trained on the Old Trafford surface following Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Wolves and is expected to be available again after an ankle injury.
For Derby, George Evans and Curtis Davies are unlikely to feature while Ikechi Anya is definitely ruled out. David Nugent usually starts up front but Jack Marriott is being tipped to start this match ahead of the veteran striker. Former United man Tom Lawrence is also suspended.
While the visitors should give a good account of themselves, we expect United to do enough to progress to the next round. Should things be level after the 90 minutes, the tie will go straight to the lottery of a penalty shootout with extra-time having been scrapped.

Form guide: United  L L W W W D Derby County W W W L D W
Match odds: United 1/5 Draw 11/2 Derby 12/1 

Long serving Antonio Valencia now yesterday's man

There was a time when Antonio Valencia used to be a symbol of consistency and calm in an ever evolving, always changing Man Utd side. Both during the latter days of Sir Alex and afterwards, you knew what you were getting from our Ecuadorian: pace, power and a willing, unrelenting work horse with a penchant for the spectacular. Converted from flying winger to buccaneering full-back, there was a time when Valencia, despite still resembling something of a makeshift right back, was the best in the league.

Opposition wingers used to get very little change out of him, he was equally as adept as defending as he would be providing a valuable array of goals both with his crossing to pick out a team-mate or from his own right boot. His oxygen tank energy, dynamism, devastating pace and sheer power meant he was not only reliable but a manager's dream, from Sir Alex to Mourinho via David Moyes and Louis van Gaal.
 Valencia will hit 300 United appearances by the time he hangs up his boots and this summer he'll have completed a decade of service as our longest serving player and a club captain. Quite rightly he'll receive a testimonial but the fact remains that United's captain has been here ten years and yet still can't speak English, he's not a natural leader and only has the armband because of his loyalty and longevity to our club. Jose Mourinho has never placed much weight on the captaincy and sees it merely as a symbolic role.
Diogo Dalot was signed as Valencia's understudy in the summer but from what we've seen so far, even though Dalot's United career is only one game old, it is he whom should be first choice with Valencia relegated to the periphery as the back up. Dalot did more in his 90 minutes against Young Boys than our number 25 has managed in what feels like an eternity. Valencia now offers us very little, in fact he's become a liability and like all good things, his career as a first team regular must come to an end. Modern football waits for no man and, now of veteran status, time has caught up with the 33-year-old and he simply is not dynamic or good enough any more. The time has come for Dalot to make his mark and for Jose Mourinho to part with sentiment and phase Valencia out.
Granted, there is still the odd flash of match-winning brilliance from him - as we saw with his Exocet-esque finishes in home wins Everton and Stoke last term -  but they are few and far between now, the exception and not the rule.
Whereas Valencia used to resemble United's most potent attacking threat, now he resembles the root cause of the Reds unbalanced, top heavy, disjointed functionality. When he plays, the right hand side remains United's biggest problem. There's no attacking winger or full-back and he doesn't maraud up field, meaning that the constant switching to the outlet on the opposite side makes us not only predictable and pedestrian, but lopsided with all our play coming from the left. I can't remember the last time Valencia actually beat the first man with a cross or, indeed, did anything noteworthy at all. 

United have failed to sign a right winger since a certain CR7 left in 2009 and, with that in mind, it exerts even more pressure on the chosen right-back to meet the first pre-requisite for any modern day wide man: to be agile, quick and most of all, to bomb forward and whip the ball in expertly.
When you can no longer do any of the above, your days are numbered in any first team set-up, never mind that of Manchester United's.

Saturday 22 September 2018

Match report: Man Utd 1-1 Wolves

Nuno Espirito Santo's hungry and impressive Wolves side came away from Old Trafford with a fully deserved draw. Fred had put United ahead in the first half but the in-form visitors hit back thanks to a stunning Joao Moutinho equaliser to continue their strong start to life in the top tier.

Last season's Championship winners were more akin to the Portuguese national team after a influx of stars linked up with compatriot manager Santo thanks to the influential power of agent Jorge Mendes. It was summer signing Moutinho - alongside last season's Player of the Year, string puller and creator in chief Ruben Neves - who inspired the visitors fightback.
With Sir Alex Ferguson watching in the director's box, David de Gea saved well from a Wilfried Boly header and then also denied Raul Jimenez on the turn before the Reds took the lead against the run of play on 18 minutes.
The goal was down to the brilliance of Paul Pogba, who controlled a high ball with his instep and then flicked a no look pass into the path of Fred, who swivelled and fired in beyond Rui Patricio with a 20 yarder for his first United goal since his £47m signing from Shakhtar.

United had to be on our toes against a side who were looking so dangerous on the counter attack. But chances at both ends became very limited after the goal until a late free-kick just before the interval  from goalscorer Fred. Having seen an Alexis Sanchez set-piece wasted earlier, Pogba appeared to take command of the situation and lined up ready to fire in a right footer. But with Wolves' defence and keeper set up for an effort from the French midfielder, it was Fred who nipped in to strike a ferocious drive. Wolves custodian Patricio may have been stunned but he swiftly reacted to paw away Fred’s effort to grab a second.
Helder Costa had negated Luke Shaw by pinning him back and it was who led the charge as the men from Molineaux equalised on 53 minutes.
Costa's run and cross picked out Jimenez, his cushioned touch teed the ball up for Moutinho and he thumped a shot beyond the helpless DDG.
Wolves were warming to their task as Neves went close from distance and De Gea saved well again, this time to keep out Diogo Jota.
Jesse Lingard, otherwise quiet, went close at the other end, and Romelu Lukaku headed wide after Pogba's pinpoint pass had picked him out as both sides pressed for a winner in an increasingly end-to-end encounter.

The visitors continued to show unrelenting ambition and went closest to a winner late on through speedy substitute Adama Traore whom tested De Gea on the counter-attack. That proved to be the last action of the encounter as Wolves extended their unbeaten run to a fifth game and became
the first side this season to take points off both Manchester clubs.

Overall team performance: 6/10
United Faithful Man off the Match: David de Gea 

Friday 21 September 2018

Match preview: United v Wolves

Two of the Premier League's three Portuguese bosses go head-to-head at Old Trafford as compatriots and friends Jose Mourinho and Nuno Espirito Santo pits their wits against each other for the first time. Young Boys were not a problem for Mourinho, but an old boy certainly could be.
Unusually for an newly promoted team, Wolves will not be cowed by the occasion, they will not come merely to sit back and frustrate United and boast an attack-minded side packed with intelligent, technically gifted players. Santo will send out a pumped up and hungry Wolverhampton side with the bit between their teeth.
The visitor arrive at Old Trafford unbeaten in three and with back-to-back wins, so this is a clash of two in-form sides with Wolves draw against Manchester City serving notice of the quality they possess.
The sides are separated by only a point and a place in the table as Mourinho's United go into the game on the back of three successive away wins at Burnley, Watford and Young Boys.

The Reds are without suspended duo Marcus Rashford and Nemanja Matic so Fred will likely start alongside Paul Pogba with Marouane Fellaini probably coming in to fill the void in the Serbian's absence. Andreas Pereira will be in contention, but Alexis Sanchez's place in the side is perhaps more doubtful than ever. Diogo Dalot impressed on his debut in midweek but will miss out here with Antonio Valencia to return at right-back. Dalot is set to start against Derby in Tuesday's Carabao Cup tie but Marcos Rojo and Ander Herrera remain sidelined.

Wolves could name the same starting XI for a sixth consecutive league game.
Ivan Cavaleiro is expected to be their only absentee as he continues his recovery from a back injury but Santo has an otherwise fully fit squad to pick from. Watch out for playmaker Ruben Neves, a cracking bundle to energy, poise, pace and trickery and a player who was the talismanic, string pulling, creator in chief last term as the men from Molineaux ran away with the second tier title.

 Mourinho gave his thoughts ahead of the tie, and said: "I think we are improving as a team, I think the team is more compact, more solid, the spirit, the co-operation is very good, I don't want to say that our improvment has the name of one player, of course we have many players doing well but they are part of a team that has played very well in these matches.
"Dalot will play again on Tuesday, I want him to play totally fresh, it is difficult coming to Manchester United as a kid, from another country and after important surgery, so it is a process of adaption and not playing him in this game is part of that adaption.
"Wolves are a very good team, strong, dominant, consistent last year in the Championship, which even if you have the best side it is not an easy situation. They have had a great transition to the Premier League - getting the points and the performances so I say myself that they will have a very stable season."
Santo's side have been a breath of fresh air so far but let's hope that United's experience and know how will be enough to tame the Wolves nasty bite.

Form guide: United W L L W W W Wolverhampton D L D W W W
Match odds: United 3/5 Draw 7/2 Wolverhampton 19/4
Referee: Kevin Friend (Leicestershire)

Jose Mourinho: The Rebranded One?

When United suffered the ignominy of back-to-back defeats by Brighton and Tottenham at the end of August, Jose Mourinho was a man under siege. The knives were out for the manager, and all sorts of questions were being asked about both him and the team. The curse of Mourinho's third-season syndrome looked to have reared its ugly head once more - the phase in the manager's glittering career that inevitably ends in his acrimonious departure after a long and protracted goodbye.
With Ander Herrera in a banter back three alongside Chris Smalling and Phil Jones against Spurs, the manner - as well as the margin of the result - only increased the feeling of discontent around Old Trafford after an unsatisfactory summer. On that painful night, a top six rival came to our own backyard and inflicted Mourinho's heaviest ever home defeat on a disjointed, desperate and discombobulated United side.

Crisis, what crisis? Jose seemed a man on the very brink of meltdown that night, but - less than a month on - life now appears much rosier in the Old Trafford garden. Of course, it's clear there are still huge problems at boardroom level but all the time the team are winning those issues with the hierarchy can be put to one side. The problems that looked to have engulfed the club feel like a long time ago now - we've got momentum and have responded to those successive defeats with a run of three consecutive wins, all away from home against Burnley, Watford and Young Boys - keeping two clean sheets in the process.
Some may say its long overdue, but Jose's United finally seem to be playing with a system, a plan and a pattern, the manager has hit upon a formation that works and has struck a balance with a starting XI that is not far off what you would consider his best. There have been signs of wonderful attacking play, Jose has showed that he is still a man that can change his ways and the turnaround has even brought about the return of an old terrace favourite. Even against Tottenham, despite the 0-3 scoreline, United were brilliant in patches during the first half. Controlled and comfortable in midfield, strong from set-pieces at both end of the field and lethal on the counter-attack, there is a clear identity to our game at present that has been conspicous by its absence for too long now. There's a structural difference, an altered angle of approach. Not only that, but he's also making a concerted, belated effort to strike a connection with our fanbase, having pointedly and deliberately stayed behind to applaud section of our support in the defeat to Tottenham and win over Burnley.

The song, that has not been heard since the halycon days of last August when 4-0 win followed 4-0 win, features the line: "Jose playing the way that United should" and there have tantalising glimpses that we are. For 20 minutes against Watford, we were given a glimpse of what might be possible.
The scintillating spell before half-time that saw Watford’s defence torn to shreds by the pace and power of United's frontline was a timely reminder that, despite the much-criticised start to the season, he has an attack with frightening potential. Against Young Boys, with Diogo Dalot and Luke Shaw leading the charge on the flanks, two of United's three goals came from devastating break aways down the left-hand side.

To his credit, and however awkwardly, Mourinho is making efforts to unite his base, to create a winning spirit, to re-forge those bonds. Best of all this coincided at Burnley to Bern, via Hertfordshire, and for half a game against Tottenham, with a more José-looking team, a return to the pared-down, hard-running football of his best XIs. Two years ago, Chelsea won the league with the intervention of the season's first international break that allowed Antonio Conte breathing space to reconfigure his side to devastating effect after an indifferent start to the season. It may be too much to expect history to repeat itself here, but at least there is some hope, whatever the outcome of this third season, that Mourinho will not leave United without ever having really wrestled this team into something resembling one of his own. For all the talk of Mourinho's infamous third-season syndrome, the signs are there that he's changing his ways and turning our fortunes around.

Thursday 20 September 2018

Luke Shaw showing that Man Utd didn't need a new left-back after all

Cast your mind back to the heady days of summer. An unprecedented heat wave had the country melting under its spell, the nation was gripped by a bad dose of World Cup fever and, away from the public eye, a solitary figure popped up on social media jogging around Carrington.

As an England side that he should have been in came within 20 minutes of a World Cup final, that figure was Luke Shaw - unwanted, ostracised and out of favour - and seemingly on the brink of a one way ticket out of Old Trafford and into the wildernes on the back of a what-might-have-been Man Utd career.

We were in the market for a new left-back with Juve's Alex Sandro, Tottenham's Danny Rose and Benfica's Alex Grimaldo all in the pipeline to finally solve that problematic position. Two months on, and the transformation in Shaw has been nothing short of incredible -  no one's talking about the urgent need for a new left-back now. Indeed, such has been Shaw's remarkable renaissance that, even though this is his fifth season at the club, it almost feels like he's that new signing. Like he's the new left-back we so yearned for all along even though he's played almost 150 times for the club.
Shaw was maybe the sole beneficiary of United's split transfer strategy when it was decided in early June they would not approach Juventus for Sandro. Sandro is 27 and Ed Woodward's 'long-term' thinking has so far been vindicated by Shaw, while Mourinho clarified on Friday he wants to 'keep' him.

He impressed in the season opener with Leicester - a match in which he scored his first ever senior goal - and was the only bright spark on that torrid day at the Amex. Since then, Shaw has gone from strength to strength and has looked every inch like the player we thought we were getting when he signed for us from Southampton for £27m in 2014. Quick, strong, agile and dynamic, Shaw is playing with a smile on his face and is a world away from the moribund and maligned man whom so often felt the wrath of Jose Mourinho. Shaw has lost weight, he looks sharper both in body and in mind, and is unquestionably in the form of his life. It's great to see and I couldn't be happier for him.

United have slowly begun to address their lopsided attack through full-backs' natural width. Shaw, once anathema to Mourinho, has been United's most impressive player six games into the season. Senior club sources said last November they were still optimistic Shaw would regain the form he displayed three years ago, a surge literally broken by Hector Moreno's brutal tackle on that numbing night in Eindhoven. The 23-year-old has done; he scored his first career goal against Leicester in Aug
ust and has since played key roles in goals at Brighton, Burnley and Young Boys. Ashley Young, now Shaw's understudy, was the architect of United's set-piece strikes at Watford. It was a cruel twist of fate that our number 23's return to the England fold was cut short after less than an hour in that sickening collision with Dani Carvajal.

Not that Shaw needs to worry, if he continues on his upward trajectory then he will surely make the cut for Gareth Southgate's next squad. On this form, it's impossible to leave him out.

 In a league that boasts Marcos Alonso, Benjamin Mendy, Andy Robertson and Rose, Shaw is currently the highest-performing left-back. Shaw and Diogo Dalot cost a combined £46m, less than half the vault-load of cash Guardiola was given to spend on three full-backs last year. And Fabian Delph still started in the defeat to Lyon.
The feel-good factor is back at United.

Ronnie set to cruelly miss Old Trafford reunion

United got our Champions League campaign off to a winning start with a 3-0 win over Swiss champions Young Boys, but the headlines were grabbed - almost inevitably - by a certain Cristiano Ronaldo in the other match in Group H.

The former United and Real Madrid forward was sent off, albeit somewhat harshly, for allegedly pulling the hair of Valencia defender Jeison Murillo in an off the ball clash shortly before half-time at the Mestalla. Despite their numerical disadvantage Juventus still went on to win 2-0 without him, the seven-time defending Italian champions will have to make do without their star man - the record Champions League goalscorer -  for at least the next three European ties. Ronaldo signed for Massimiliano Allegri's domestic kings for £99m in the summer in a bid to help Juve land that elusive European crown.

Ronnie will definitely miss their next Champions League group stage game against Young Boys on 2 October - but a two-game ban would rule him out of the trip to his former side Manchester United for Matchday 3 on 23 October at Old Trafford.
And if he were to be handed a three-match suspension, he would also miss Juve's home game against United on 7 November in the reverse fixture, therefore denying him the emotional reunion with not only United, but also his former Real Madrid boss Jose Mourinho - an occasion that had set pulses racing and grabbed all the headlines from the moment the draw was made. 
Uefa could possibly decide to increase the ban because of the time it took Ronaldo, who was in tears, to leave the pitch. A one-game ban is automatic - with no right of appeal - but given the very harsh nature of the sending off - it wouldn't be a surprise if Juventus appealed the decision in a bid to limit Ronaldo to only the minimum one match suspension.

The UEFA regulations state: "As a rule, a player who is sent off the field of play is suspended for the next match in a UEFA club competition (i.e. UEFA Champions League, UEFA Europa League or UEFA Super Cup). In case of serious offences, the UEFA Control, Ethics and Disciplinary Body is entitled to augment this punishment, including by extending it to other competitions."

Ronaldo has won the tournament five times - more than anyone else except Paco Gento (six) and this was his first red card after 154 appearances in the competition.

Dynamic duo offer United a glimpse of the future

Was I dreaming? Am I hallucinating or did Man Utd last night have not one but two full-backs that can not only fly down the wings at pace but can also beat their man and cross a ball? Not only that, but a left-back with a left foot who can multiple games in a row without getting injured in consistent form. Heady days indeed. We used to take such luxuries for granted, but in an era when United are still somehow refusing to shake off the notion that using two 30-something former wingers is going to get you anywhere, it was very refreshing and progressive to see Diogo Dalot and Luke Shaw bursting down the flanks from full-backs and give Man Utd exactly what we've been missing and crying out for  - width, pace and penetration.
It's the modern day raison d'etre that every other top team seems to have except us. Tottenham have Kieran Tripper and Danny Rose, Manchester City possess arguably the best two full-backs in the land in Kyle Walker and Benjamin Mendy, and now, at long last - United finally appear to have players in the same mould and two young, progressive full-backs worthy of the name.
 Dalot has had to wait to make his United bow having been hampered by a knee injury but he was everything the modern day full-back should be: dynamic, quick, agile, good on the ball, strong in the tackle with an excellent positional sense and he defended intelligently with nous when he had to.
On the opposite flank, Shaw continued his renaissance with another man of the match performance as he stretched Young Boys at every opportunity with his pace. This is Shaw's fifth season in the red of United and he's finally starting to look like the player we thought we were getting when he arrived from Southampton as the-then most expensive teenager in the world. For all the talk of United's urgent need for a new left-back, Shaw has silenced that talk and made a mockery of those claims.

As a 19-year old, what a debut it was for Dalot. Let's not get too carried away and remember that Matteo Darmian was excellent on his first appearance for the club vs Tottenham before he regressed into the realms of mediocrity. But the signs are great for the Portuguese teenager - he was confident and assured at both ends of the pitch with fearlessness and an end product. I'll be the first to admit I'd never even heard of him when he signed, but whoever scouted him has done a job well done. Antonio Valencia remains United's most senior player and, as our captain, you would expect him to play the majority of our matches in the right-back position. But in Dalot, he is more than capable of coming into the side when required and should be the Ecuadorian's natural successor for many years to come.
The Dalot/Shaw partnership may be a fledgling one and still only 90 minutes old, but they've added so much to the team already. It's no secret that United have struggled with a lack of width, but if Dalot and Shaw can consistnely stay fit and firing, both could prove the solution to that particular problem to stand us in good stead and ensure that the future of Manchester United's full-back positions is in safe hands

Wednesday 19 September 2018

Match report: BSC Young Boys 0-3 Man Utd

Captain Paul Pogba scored twice - including a goal of the season contender - as United knocked aside Young Boys to take early command of Group H in the Champions League.

Pogba curled home an exquisite finish after a brilliant one-two with Fred to put the Reds ahead ten minutes before the break before he added a penalty and Anthony Martial a third after the break as we penetrated Young Boys with regularity.
Portuguese full-back Diogo Dalot was handed an official debut by his compatriot manager, and the right-back played well, bombing up the flank on the overlap as well as his defensive positioning and nous as United came under early pressure. 
Until Pogba's intervention, the hosts had enjoyed the better of proceedings as Jose Mourinho's United struggled for fluency on the Swiss champions plastic pitch.
Winning away from home in Europe is never an easy task no matter who you are, and, buoyed by a bouncing, fervent mass of yellow that greeted them at the Wankdorf Stadium, Young Boys started brightly on their group stage debut and certainly did not seem overawed by the occasion. Former PSG forward Guillaume Hoarau headed wide early on, and David de Gea was called into action twice in quick succession as he denied first Mohamed Ali Camara and then Christian Fassnach.

Marcus Rashford clipped a post and then went close again as he cut in and flashed a effort wide beyond the right hand post of the wonderfully named keeper David von Balmoos. Skipper for the night Pogba then took centre stage. Linking with Brazilian Fred, Pogba was inventive and precise for the opener as he opened his body up and curled home a sumptuously dipping finish from 20 yards. The World Cup winner then doubled his tally with his third successful spot-kick of the season after defender Kevin Mbabu was harshly adjudged to have handled Luke Shaw's cross.

United, in the lead and smelling an important victory, began the second half comfortably and attempted to keep possession for long periods, presumably in a bid to keep Young Boys at bay, the hosts who had won six consecutive matches in all competitions prior to this European contest.

With 25 minutes to play, United rubber stamped the result through Martial with another lovely goal that began and culminated down the left, as Shaw and Fred linked up to play in the wantaway forward who fired in a well-taken finish.

That added gloss to a result now beyond any lingering doubt, but the Reds continued to press as substitute Juan Mata drilled an effort wide in what proved to be the last attack of an professional, clinical and well earned European away win as United brushed off Young Boys to leave them hammered and on their knees on their own turf. Elsewhere, section favourites Juventus powered to a 2-0 win in Valencia through two Miralem Pjanic penalties, but the win came at a cost with Cristiano Ronaldo potentially ruled out of Juve's trip to Old Trafford on Matchday 3.

Overall team performance: 7.5/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Luke Shaw

Tuesday 18 September 2018

Opposition in profile: BSC Young Boys

United get their 22nd Champions League campaign under way on Wednesday as we face the unknown quantity of Swiss champions BSC Young Boys of Bern.

It's a first ever competitive meeting between the sides, but just who are the group stage debutants from the Swiss capital? Here's everything you need to know to bring you up to speed in our handy guide.

Formed 120 years ago in March 1898, Young Boys were crowned Swiss champions for the 12th time last season but for the first time since 1986, finishing 15 points ahead of second-placed FC Basel to win the Swiss Super League, breaking Basel's eight-year stranglehold on the title. The club followed up their domestic title success by making some European history of their own, qualifying for the Champions League group stage for the first time after beating Croatian outfit Dinamo Zagreb 3-2 on aggregate in the play-offs. However, with tough tests against Juventus and Valencia to come, they will be up against it to progress to the knockout stage of the competition. It's fair to say that they come into their first ever group stage campaign as rank outsiders in one of the tournament's tougher-looking sections.
 The midweek clash will represent our very first competitive meeting with Young Boys. The two clubs were actually drawn against each other in 1958/59 but, when officials ruled against United's invited participation in the European Cup and gave Young Boys a bye to the next round, the sides played home and away friendlies. The Reds won 3-0 at Old Trafford on 1 October 1958, after losing 2-0 in Switzerland on 24 September.

 Gerardo Seoane guided FC Luzern to third place in the Swiss Super League, which was made more impressive by the fact the team were threatened by relegation when he took over the reins in January this year. Just five months later, the 39-year-old became Young Boys boss, succeeding Adi Hutter, who replaced Niko Kovac at German club Frankfurt following his departure to Bayern Munich. Seoane, who also spent the majority of his playing career as a midfielder in Switzerland, has hit the ground running in Bern and will be hoping his Young Boys can cause an upset or two during their maiden experience of the Champions League group stage.

There's a certain poetry about a team named Young Boys plying their trade at a stadium called The Wankdorf - or, to give it its full name, the Stade de Suisse de Wankdorf. The second largest venue in the country, it has served as the club's home since 2005 and has a capacity of just over 32,000, also serving as a Euro 2008 venue and the Switzerland national side.

Like most Swiss teams who begin to capture the attention of the continent, Young Boys have a habit of losing their best players to the Bundesliga. The most recent example is defender Kasim Adams, who was snapped up by Hoffenheim in the transfer window.
That said, their weapons remain formidable enough to give Mourinho plenty to ponder. Arguably their biggest goal threat is the man who broke the deadlock in that Everton game three years ago game: Guillaume Hoarau.
The 34-year-old former Paris Saint-Germain striker scored 15 times in 20 starts last season in tandem with Cameroonian international Jean - Pierre Nsame.
Rght-back Kevin Mbabu is also one to watch. The former Newcastle United man is improving rapidly in Bern and made his Switzerland debut in the 6-0 Nations League thrashing of Iceland last week, deputising for Arsenal's Stephan Lichtsteiner.
Ex-Ajax and Benfica midfielder Miralem Sulejmani will be a real danger down the left, too. With two goals and five assists in eight appearances this term, Young Boys will hope the Serbia international is fully fit for United's visit.

Against English teams, they have won only one of their last six encounters, which was a 3-2 home win over Tottenham in the first leg of a qualifier for the 2010-11 tournament.
Their last meeting with a Premier League team was in February 2015, when they lost 4-1 to Everton in the last 32 of the Europa League. Romelu Lukaku, the man likely to lead the line for United on Wednesday, scored a hat-trick for the visitors that day.

Colours: Yellow/black
Honours: Swiss Super League titles 12 (most recent 2018, Swiss cup winners 6 (most recent 1987), Swiss League Cup 1976, Coppa dele Alpi (now defunct) 1974.
Last time: FC Schaffhausen 2-3 Young Boys (Swiss Cup second round).

Match preview: BSC Young Boys vs Man Utd

History will be made on Wednesday when Manchester United face Swiss champions Young Boys of Bern for the first time ever.

Jose Mourinho's United will begin their 22nd Champions League campaign against a team who have never before reached the group stage of the competition.
Not a great deal is known in wider Europe about the team from Switzerland's capital and few would give them much of a chance of claiming three points against any of United, Juventus or Valencia in a difficult looking Group H, a group that looks set to be a huge baptism of fire for Gerardo Seoane's side. In April 2018, following a 2-1 home win over Luzerne, Young Boys were confirmed as Swiss Super League champions for the first time in 32 years as they broke FC Basel's eight-year hold on the title in the process. Young Boys have made a blistering start to the new season with nine victories out of ten in all competitions so far, with an eight-point lead already at the top of the Swiss standings. They did, however, need extra-time to see off division-lower FC Schaffhausen in the Swiss Cup last time out, courtesy of a dramatic late winner from Mohamed Ali Camara.

Young Boys will be only the second club from Switzerland to face United in European competition after FC Basel, against whom the Reds have a mixed record. From six previous encounters, we have won two, drawn two and lost two, scoring 11 goals and conceding eight. United did, however, get off to a winning start in the Champions League last season against deposed domestic champions Basel, as Marouane Fellaini, Marcus Rashford and Romelu Lukaku scored to earn Mourinho’s men a 3-0 victory at Old Trafford.

Luke Shaw is set to return to the side having missed the 2-1 win over Watford last time out, presumably in place of Ashley Young at left-back. Nemanja Matic and Marcus Rashford are also available as their suspensions do not apply to European competition and both are in line to start on the artificial surface at the humourously named Wankdorf Stadium. Sergio Romero, Marcos Rojo and Diogo Dalot are still working their way back to full fitness and the latter could come in for a long-awaited debut. The hosts are expected to be without Jordon Lotomba (knee) and Sandro Lauper (ankle) but Serbian international winger Miralem Sulejmani could feature on his return from injury.

 The Reds have responded to back-to-back defeats against Brighton & Hove Albion and Tottenham Hotspur with a steely determination and maximum points from both games played in September so far.
Consecutive, morale boosting away wins either side of the international break has changed the mood with all involved at United, and defender Chris Smalling feels that the team can sustain the new-found feel good factor, and said:
"On the back of two good away wins, I think we can build that momentum at a crucial time in a month where we have so many games in three different competitions. Our mentality has definitely shone through and everything has started coming together in the last few games. Burnley was comfortable for the whole match, the first half against Watford was good but we had to dig in when we knew we weren't going to have it all our own way."

Form guide Young Boys W D W W W W United L W L L W W
Match odds: Young Boys 19/5 Draw 11/4 United 7/10
Referee: Deniz Aytekin of Germany

Monday 17 September 2018

Why talk of Rashford's Reds departure is wide of the mark

Jose Mourinho’s handling of his Manchester United players is never far from the lips and keyboards of seemingly everyone who has the vaguest footballing knowledge. Regardless of who supports which team, or who writes for which paper, everyone is keen to give their two penny’s worth and jump on the bandwagon. Because that is the easy thing to do, right? Add more fuel to the fire that Mourinho is washed up, outdated and his management style is a thing of the past.

During his United tenure, in its third instalment now, multiple players have been subject to the intense debate: Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Luke Shaw, Anthony Martial, Eric Bailly, Victor Lindelof, hell all the centre-backs and, most notably, Paul Pogba have all faced questions over how the Portuguese handles them.
In the next plot of the series, Marcus Rashford is the latest to face similar questions.

 Fresh from two goals in as many games on international duty, many were quick to draw conclusions that the Mourinho bully/talent destroyer theories have more than a semblance of truth to them. The arguments have been flooding in – Southgate is maximising the potential yet to be found by Mourinho, Rashford needs to be tried more centrally and, most bizarrely, Rashford has to leave United to realise his potential.

 Of course, Rashford’s cause has not been helped as he chose to react to Phil Bardsley’s wild lash out and confrontation, leading to a three game ban effective from this weekend. This supposedly stemmed from an inauspicious start to the season and lack of game time.
Let me ask you this, does Marcus Rashford, a grounded, humble, local lad strike you as a man irreparably disillusioned with his ‘situation’ at United? I’m sure your answer would be emphatic in the negative.
Just how catastrophic is this so-called ‘situation’ in that he has been the player Mourinho has turned to the most of his time at United?
Just how catastrophic is this so-called ‘situation’ that Rashford is still a mere 20 years old with the world still at his feet, despite already clocking over 100 appearances and 30 goals for United?
Shortened memories are a classic symptom of football living in the here and present, but remember the times Ferguson had to juggle two lots of world-class striker quartets in Cole, Yorke, Sheringham, Solskjaer and Rooney, Ronaldo, Berbatov and Tevez? If those are two of the most painstaking headaches to remedy in possibly footballing history, how much of a hardship is biding your time and learning from the likes of Lukaku and Sanchez and vying with best mate Lingard and equal wunderkind in Martial?

Every squad has a dilemma of this kind year in year out- you don’t hear Arsenal creating rumblings because one of Aubameyang or Lacazette play out wide, Gabriel Jesus having to leave City when Aguero starts as the sole striker and the boat isn’t exactly rocked at Chelsea, where Olivier Giroud has to be content with a role on the bench.
Top teams require strength in depth and Rashford’s time will undoubtedly come this season and in the years to come.
All this talk needs to quieten down a bit, yes I’m referring to the ex-Scouse pot stirrers Redknapp, Carragher, Souness, Bellamy, Thompson! Notice how no former United players believe Rashford should be agitating for a move anytime soon. That speaks volumes.

I’m not concerned one iota about Rashford leaving United – building on Thompson’s staggeringly nonsensical claim that Mourinho doesn’t trust Rashford, I refer you back to the fact that no player has figured more than the boy wonder. That is trust. Players Mourinho didn’t trust or fancy? We are talking Schneiderlin, Memphis to name a couple. The reality is once Mourinho doesn’t trust a player they are out of the door.

Gareth Southgate has moved to further extinguish any lingering concern from United’s perspective by declaring, in quotes featured on Sky Sports, that Mourinho actually ‘thinks the world’ of Rashford.
Yes, Mourinho called him ‘naïve’ after his confrontation with Bardsley. The fact of the matter is that indeed he was. You should know, as a player especially if you make any sort of contact with your head, it should be a red card. No doubt many will have seen the interview and criticised Mourinho for calling him out in public, but the comments were hardly inflammatory and the player should know the gravity of his actions to refrain from any reaction.

That will not change the reality that Rashford remains an integral part of Mourinho’s plans and, as an academy graduate, he has no intention of pushing for a move away. Why would he? After all, he’s living the dream we all had as a kid.
Jesse Lingard, his brother in arms, made a worthy point on social media on Rashford’s account after his moment of madness, it’s all part of the learning process. Rashford will surely learn from the events at Turf Moor and come back stronger for it. It did appear to just be a momentary meltdown from a man so normally mild-mannered.
Don’t let that blemish sway your opinions on Rashford…
Get behind him, like we are famed for and help him realise his potential.
Like Manchester, Rashford is red.