Wednesday 31 October 2018

Chris Smalling's longevity an epitome of Man Utd's struggles

As debate rolls on over the players to have regressed under Jose Mourinho, one Old Trafford figure has undeniably hit his Man Utd ceiling.
It’s mad to think that Chris Smalling’s United career now spans eight years and – after the Everton game – now over 300 appearances.
Smalling, 29 in a few short weeks, has carved out a longer United career than defensive lynchpin Nemanja Vidic and is closing in on Gary Pallister and Steve Bruce. Despite Jose Mourinho’s insistent pleas for a centre-back, and the signings of Messrs Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof, out of our last 48 league matches Smalling has only failed to start 12 of them. He has started in all four of United’s major cup finals under Louis van Gaal and Mourinho, enjoying and enduring mixed fortunes on the way to winning a Europa League, a League Cup and tasting the joy of winning and the bitter disappointment of losing in two FA Cup finals under the two managers.
Smalling’s passing is errant, his distribution questionable, and even Pep Guardiola would struggle to convert him into an exponent of tiki taka. Spurs Lucas Moura made mincemeat of him in August’s showdown and our number 12 struggles against quick forwards who beat him with pace. But yet, in the strange post Sir Alex Ferguson era, Smalling has been the closest player we’ve had to a reliable and durable centre back. In an ever changing back four that is still to discover any consistency or regularity despite being in the throes of Mourinho’s third season, Smalling – justifiably or not – has been the one constant.

His 2015 annus mirrabilis was so immense that he was voted our Player of the Season and Wayne Rooney lavishly proclaimed him as one of the world’s best centre backs. That comment may have been over the top and wide of the mark, but Smalling obviously has  something in his locker to have made both van Gaal and Mourinho not only stick with him, but continue to show faith in him as a regular when he could – arguably should – have been jettisoned. It’s a damning indictment of our defensive deficiencies that an often much malinged player has remained a mainstay in a banter back four for so long.
As much as ‘Mike’s’ longevity can only be admired, United cannot expect to challenge for the major titles with Smalling as a starter week in, week out. In his two title-winning campaigns, he was only ever a bit part player with 11 games in 2010-11 and one less in 2012-13. Jonny Evans started more than twice as many matches in the latter campaign and equalled Smalling’s figures for the former.
There are two sides to the Maidstone Maldini – his brainless decision making that has jeopardised United in recent years, costing games and points in high profile fixtures, and the Smalling that can provide moments of brilliance at both ends of the field. He scored a goal of the season contender at Watford back in September and four of his 18 strikes have come from 2-0 behind in climb-off-the-canvas victories, notably in the same game at the same end in which Kompany out-jumped him from a corner at the Etihad in April’s derby. He gave away the penalty for Richarlison on Sunday when already on a yellow, a daft foul similar to the one that led to Newcastle’s winner last season. He is a player that can delight and despair in equal measure.

That Smalling has surpassed Vidic and is likely to emulate Bruce and Pallister’s longevity is deceptive. Those three were steady starters in title-defending, never mind winning, teams and that is a level beyond Smalling.

Khun Vichai everything a foreign owner should be

United's win over Everton paled into insignificance at the end of the darkest weekend in the history of the beautiful game. A club, a city and a sport is in mourning and shock after the death of Leicester City owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha and four others in the crash of his helicopter moments after take off following the 1-1 draw with West Ham on Saturday. It followed the death of a Brighton fan at the game with Wolves and Glenn Hoddle's medical emergency at the BT Sport studio.

Not much was known about the life and work of a man known simply to all at the King Power as "The Boss" but it's clear from the mass outpouring of grief and the hundreds upon hundreds of tributes left in remembrance over the last few days that "Khun" Vichai was a football club owner like no other. For a club owner - particularly an owner not from these shores - to be universally loved by everyone he came into contact with is a very rare thing indeed. He was the exception and not the rule, and in this era of distant, money grabbing and parasitic owners who don't give a sh*t, many can take the lead from his example. Thai billionaire Srivaddhanapradha purchased then Championship side Leicester in 2010 and he quickly came to represent everything that a foreign football club owner should be. He donated his own money to the club and the community, paid off their crippling debts, socialised with and cared about the fans and attended every match home and away. A far cry from the hands off, disinterested approach favoured not only by the Glazers but by Arsenal's Stan Kroenke and most other overseas owners.
It was under his leadership and thanks to his amazing generosity that Leicester - lowly, little, 5,000/1 Leicester - did the unthinkable and ripped the Premier League status quo to pieces. Thanks to him, Claudio Ranieri and his side, a side hotly tipped for relegation, produced the single most incredible achievement in sporting history. In winning the title in 2015-16, they did the impossible and, even though it came at the expense of our United, as a football fan with a love of the unexpected, that never to be forgotten season holds a special place in my heart. The following campaign, he backed them all the way to a Champions League quarter final as Leicester defied the odds again. For that, we will forever be entirely grateful. Former United players Danny Drinkwater (now of Chelea), Danny Simpson and Barnsley loanee Matty James were three of the Foxes alumni in the title triumph that shocked the world. The trio were one of countless players to pay tribute to the Leicester boss on social media in the hours and days after his tragic death.

Not only did Vichai transform the fortunes of this small, sleepy East Midlands club, Leicester as a city became a better, united place through the input of Mr Srivaddhanaprabha. From giving out beer, cakes and scarves, paying for away travel and donating millions to local hospitals and charities, Vichai quickly became an adopted citizen of the city.

The thoughts, love and prayers of everyone at United Faithful are with Leicester City FC and the families and friends of the victims of Saturday's tragic events at this very sad time. United are a club that knows the anguish, pain and heartache of losing one of your own. RIP Khun Vichai.

Sunday 28 October 2018

Match report: United 2-1 Everton

United's UK French connection earned the Reds a first win in eight games and sent us above Marco Silva's Toffees into eighth in the table, five points off fourth placed Arsenal.
However, the football paled into insignificance after a truly black, sad day for the game we all love after a weekend in which Glenn Hoddle - one of the greatest players and coaches of his generation - was rushed to hospital having suffered a heart attack. A Brighton fan died during their tie with Wolves and Leicester City owner Vichai Srivaddhanapradha was among five people killed when his helicopter crashed in the King Power car park after the draw with West Ham. Our thoughts and prayers are with all those involved.

It was two players that have been the subject of much fierce and frenzied speculation over their futures that did the damage for Jose Mourinho, as Paul Pogba's fortuitous opener was added to after half time by in-form Anthony Martial with his fourth goal in as many games.
Mourinho mixed things up as Fred came into midfield and, with Romelu Lukaku dropped after his barren run, Marcus Rashford was moved into a central role for the first time this season. The Reds had started brightly and, after Juan Mata went close early on, took the lead shortly before the half hour mark.
Referee Jonathan Moss pointed to the spot after he adjudged Idriss Gueye to have fouled Martial. It looked harsh, and saw Gueye escape further censure, and after a trademark long, slow run up, Pogba saw his penalty saved by Jordan Pickford. He could only parry the Frenchman's effort, though, and Pogba accepted the gift from six yards on the rebound at the second time of asking.

Martial was at his mesmeric best and picked out Mata after a mazy run, but the Spaniard nodded wide. Rashford had a goal chalked out for offside, but Silva's side responded with two efforts of their own in quick succession shortly before the break. David de Gea easily held Gylfi Sigurdsson's header, and he then also dealt with Theo Walcott's drive from distance on the cusp of the interval.
1-0 had started to look like an increasingly precarious lead but United were given breathing space with a goal made and finished in France on 49 minutes. Pogba collected the ball from deep and, with everyone inside Old Trafford expecting a shot, he instead fed his compatriot Martial who did the rest with a lovely curling finish from 20 yards.

Bernard fired into the side netting having rounded DDG, and Everton proved they would not go quietly when Richardson fired wide before Sigurdsson scored from the spot after Chris Smalling had scythed down the Brazilian forward.

Haunting memories of Chelsea's late Stamford Bridge salvo came flooding back when six minutes were once more added, but - this time - the Reds saw out the tie in relative comfort to secure a much needed victory. Pickford saved well from Martial in the final throes of the contest, but Mourinho's men had done enough.

Overall team performance: 7/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Anthony Martial

Wednesday 24 October 2018

Streetwise Juve expose gaping chasm in class

The counter argument in the wake of United's 1-0 defeat to Juventus is that is there really any shame in a narrow defeat to a side who have won their league seven times in a row and made two of the last four Champions League finals? It's Juventus - European heavyweights who have their wits about them, they're streetwise, have the know how and are masters of the art of game management and the catenaccio. Did anyone really expect any better given the fortunes of the two sides and the manner in which our respective seasons have panned out so far?

That may be true, and there's no debating that Max Allegri's side are a brilliant team, but if ever there was a 1-0 thrashing then this was it. Don't be fooled into thinking that this was a closely contested encounter, in reality it was anything but. 60% of the ball, 14 shots and five on target compared to our six and two respectively. One of those was a token Anthony Martial daisy cutter in added time. You got the feeling that Juventus had several more gears to click into if the need arose.

Damning evidence, if it were needed, of the gaping chasm and the gulf in class that there now is between this Manchester United side and the decorated elite perched loftily atop the upper echelons of the European game. We're miles away, a fact that can at now be accepted for what it is after a chastening 90 minutes on Tuesday at the hands of top class team with every chance of going all the way. United are a world away from the Champions League superpower we once aspired to be.

Juventus were simply a different level, a cut above and barely even broke a sweat. Aside from a belated 10 - 15 minute spell of pressure after the break, United were unable to compete with the class and quality of Allegri's all conquering Old Lady. Even when the Reds did up the ante, Juve were never really troubled and Wojciech Szczesny was a virtual spectator between the sticks. Paul Pogba's hit from distance was our only proper shot in anger. Don't get me wrong, I was never expecting United to play a experienced and erstwhile Juve side off the park or even to beat them, but was it too much to ask for us to press them, prise them open and make life difficult? We did none of those things - instead, Juve came to our stadium - a stadium that used to be an impenetrable fortress - and approached the match like a home game.
This was our seventh Old Trafford tie of the season. Of those, two have been won - and even then only just. Even then, we needed a climb off the canvas comeback to turn the tie on its head with a late, late winner over a struggling Newcastle side who remain rooted to the foot of the table. It's now one win in seven, we're tenth in the table, out of the Carabao Cup and facing a fight to get out of an admittedly difficult Champions League section.

Tottenham, Wolves, Derby, Valencia and now Juventus. Hardly a who's who of mighty footballing heavyweights but yet all have come to Old Trafford this season and avoided defeat. Not only that, but avoided defeat whilst thoroughly outplaying United in the process. Those sides have come to Old Trafford and outfoxed us by doing the basics - pressing, passing, working hard and taking their chances when they come. It's not even taken a lung-busting and superhuman effort to prevail against Mourinho's moribund United side. Three years into his tenure, and it's impossible to detect any signs of progress and direction. You get the feeling that Mourinho wants this side to be everything Allegri's
Juventus are but - as we saw the other night - we're about as far away from that as it's possible to be.

If listless Romelu Lukaku is the answer then what's the question

We often hear about a player or maybe a club suffer from "second season syndrome" - a mythical condition that seems hard to diagnose but easy enough to recognise the symptoms. Whether it's a legitimate condition or merely a figment of the fickle football fan's imagination, there can be no debating that - whatever it is - Romelu Lukaku is suffering a nasty dose of it at present.

After an excellent first campaign in the red of United, Lukaku looked set to have carried on where he left off after a superb World Cup for a star studded Belgian side that finished third. After four goals in five games at the start of the 2018-19, Lukaku has now not scored in eight games since he found the net at Watford five weeks ago. Beyond merely his struggles in front of goal, Lukaku is worryingly off the pace in all aspect of his game. His touch is poor, his movement non existent and his link-up play conspicuous by its absence. Against Juventus, his game was epitomised by as early as the eight minute. Having drifted out wide, Lukaku hit an aimless 30-yard pass to no one in particular, inevitably recycled the ball to a black and white shirted player and then meandered sluggishly back into the position as Juventus countered. His game did certainly not improve after that. At times, it was almost like United were playing with ten men. Without wishing to sound too harsh on last term's top scorer, he has become more of an hindrance than a help. Lukaku is struggling to find any of the basic pre-requisites of a centre forward. Dry spells are an occupational hazard for any striker but in the absence of finding the net, a no.9 has to diversify. Right now Rom is failing to compensate in any way.

It's becoming increasingly difficult to justify Lukaku's continued inclusion in United's starting team. But therein lies in the problem: to drop a £75m striker would be to admit failure, and so lacking in depth is this squad that there's a lack of options elsewhere. Marcus Rashford hasn't developed enough to play as a nine, and Anthony Martial is at his best when the ball is played into his feet rather than with his back to goal. Maybe Lukaku is simply exhausted and Alexis Sanchez should get a run through the middle. 
In the eight games since the 2-1 win at Watford on September 15, the United forward has neither scored nor created a goal for anyone else. Lukaku can hardly put it down to poor finishing on behalf of his team-mates. He's managed a mere four shots in four Premier League games, none of which have been on target. 
Harry Kane has attempted four times that number and Sergio Aguero even more, but it's not just the elite level strikers that have been a greater threat to the opposition goal - 95 players have attempted more shots than red Rom since his last goal. He is struggling badly and desperately needs an upturn in form and fortune. 

Match report: Man Utd 0-1 Juventus

Juventus outclassed United to seize control of Group H as Cristiano Ronaldo marked his Old Trafford return with an assist for Paulo Dybala's winner.
The former United star helped to set up Juve's winner in the 17th minute, with his cross reaching the Argentine striker who swept home a clinical finish from close range.
The seven time defending Italian champions - who dropped their first points of the season in the league on Saturday - maintained their 100% record and showed why they are considered as strong favourites to go all the way in this season's Champions League. The two sides meet agai  at the Allianz Stadium on 7 November, when a win will send Juve into the last 16.

United remain in second place, with their hopes of making the knockout stages boosted by Valencia's draw with Young Boys earlier on Tuesday.

Max Allegri's men took the lead with the first attack of the game with Ronaldo - almost inevitably -involved.
His cross from the right saw a coming together between Juan Cuadrado and the stretching Smalling, but the loose ball broke for Dybala to snaffle up the gift of a simple finish from eight yards.
Paul Pogba - also against his former employers - headed wide from an Ashley Young free-kick, but the continuous flow of black-and-white clad traffic continued to pour towards the Stratford End.

David de Gea came to United's rescue seven minutes before the break when he beat away a trademark  gunslinger Ronaldo set-piece, before the stopper also reacted strongly to thwart Blaise Matuidi on the rebound.
United had become a second-half team in the last two matches and the stadium was hoping the Reds might be able to respond after the interval. Juventus had other ideas, though, and the break did nothing to quell their superiority.
Once again it was thanks to De Gea that the Italians were still within reach. The ‘keeper got a touch on a typical Ronaldo thunderbolt after 52 minutes to stop the no.7 celebrating a goal at Old Trafford again. Dybala went close with a header and his replacement, Federico Bernardeschi, fired wide shortly after he had come on. 

Despite a brief flurry of United pressure, Juventus and their keeper - former Arsenal man Wojciech Szczensy - were never seriously tested. Pogba, one of only three United players to perform well on the night, came closest when his drive from distance struck a post, bounced off Szczesny and went for a corner. A weak Anthony Martial effort offered up the Reds only response from then on, as the Italians did what they do best and managed the tie to perfection. 

Overall team performance: 6/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Victor Lindelof 

Tuesday 23 October 2018

Man Utd v Juventus: Five key battles to watch out for

Manchester United and Juventus are to meet for the first time since 2003 as they go head-to-head in Champions League Group H on matchday three of this season's competition.

This contest and the reverse fixture in Turin next month is likely to go a long way to deciding which side finishes top of the group, while there are also intriguing personal stories as both Paul Pogba and Cristiano Ronaldo face their former clubs.

Here's a look at five key battles to look out for that could prove decisive...

Paul Pogba vs Blaise Matuidi

The battle of the World Cup winners as Pogba faces his former side for the first time since his then world record transfer to Old Trafford in 2016. There will be plenty of eyes on him to see how he handles the occasion and ultimately whether he has justified that price tag by stepping up in big games. 

To do so here, the Frenchman will have to do battle with international colleague and compatriot Blaise Matuidi, the man who eventually replaced him in Turin and a player who was reportedly a backup target for United in case they failed to land Pogba.

Despite a much less high profile reputation, Matuidi has achieved more than Pogba in the last two seasons, winning trophies with Juve and Paris Saint-Germain. He is very effective, a tidy and under-the-radar deep-lying playmaker and Pogba will have to be focused from kickoff to the final whistle, which is not always a guarantee.  

Romelu Lukaku vs Giorgio Chiellini/Leonardo Bonucci 

With Lukaku struggling for form, his task on Tuesday could hardly be any more difficult in the individual battle with two of the best centre-backs of their generation. Italians Chiellini and Bonucci have been defensive figureheads for both club and country for the best part of the last decade and, although the latter spent last season on loan at Milan, he has played in both of Juve's recent European near misses. 
It could well be an old fashioned battle and Lukaku will have to win balls in the air, as well as hold up possession to bring teammates into play. If the ball keeps bouncing off him when he receives it United will have little in the way of a central output.

To take pressure off his team, Lukaku has to take the proverbial bull by the horns here and go toe to toe with his opponents. What he cannot afford to do is shy away from the battle and drop deep or pull out wide as it would leave the team unbalanced.  

Anthony Martial vs Joao Cancelo 

Anthony Martial gave his best  performance for a long time in the 2-2 draw against Chelsea at the weekend and manager Jose Mourinho has already confirmed that he will keep his starting place for this one as a result of that.

The Frenchman has the talent to be United's biggest attacking threat on the night, cutting in from the left and asking serious questions of his opponents. He will be faced by Juve right-back Joao Cancelo, tasked with keeping Martial under wraps.

If United's number 11 can relentlessly go at his man it will not only create chances but also pin Cancelo back and stop him supporting Juve attacks as freely. Equally, if Cancelo has the upper hand and does get forward at will it might force Martial to think about defensive duties.  

Cristiano Ronaldo vs David de Gea 

Perhaps the most intriguing duel of all, this pits two of the world's best against each other on Ronnie's second return to Old Trafford as an opponent. 
After an initially slow start to his Juventus career, Ronaldo has now scored five goals in his last six Serie A appearances and will be hoping that his on-field display will take some of the spotlight off the ongoing rape allegation against him that he strongly denies. With United's leaky and creaking defence, chances to score won't be in short supply for a player who honed his craft at United for six wonderful seasons. Go easy on us, CR7.

Douglas Costa vs Luke Shaw 

Costa - in tandem with Paulo Dybala on the opposite flank - will provide pace, guile and firepower behind Ronaldo in Juve's attack. It’s not easy to predict how Massimiliano Allegri will assemble his frontline. Dybala, who played upfront against Young Boys and bagged a hat-trick is just back from a minor injury. The Argentine is accustomed to his role as a number ten, just behind the striker but can be destructive on the right wing too. Luke Shaw has been one of the most consistent players for United this season and will be unfazed by the attacking threats. Should Juan Cuadrado start instead, Shaw might have to deal with tons of crosses targeted at Ronaldo.  
Costa on the other hand prefers to cut in and the United left-back’s approach to this will be different. In both cases, Shaw needs to win his battle if United are to take something from the game. The individual head-to-head between their wide men and our full-backs will go a long way to determining the outcome.

Match preview: Man Utd v Juventus

United face the Old Lady of Italian football for the first time in 15 years as the seven time defending Serie A champions arrive at Old Trafford with ten wins from 11 ties in all competitions in 2018-19.
Hot on the heels of the trip to Stamford Bridge, in which United plundered a heroic point, the Reds face another litmus test against a side who have reached two Champions League finals in the last four seasons. Star studded Juve - also know as La Biaconeri (the Black and Whites) - are undisputed kings of Italy, they're favourites to land yet another domestic title and have also been widely tipped to go all the way again in Europe.

Already a heavyweight encounter, the homecoming of a certain Cristiano Ronaldo - the former United man now plying his trade for Massimiliano Allegri's men - is an intriguing subplot to a tie already full of a stellar cast list. CR7 enjoyed six memorable seasons in the Red of United before he left for Real Madrid in 2009, and he signed for Juve for £99 million in the summer in a deal no-one saw coming. Sent off in the Group H opener against Young Boys, Ronaldo started for Juventus at the weekend and scored 18 minutes into the game at home to Genoa. The Serie A giants were unable to hold onto their lead and conceded an equaliser through Daniel Bessa in the second-half for the only blot on their otherwise perfect domestic and European copybook so far this season.

Allegri's Juventus lead Group H by two points after winning both their opening game away to Valencia (2-0) and Young Boys (3-0). United are two points behind after beating Young Boys by the same scoreline and 0-0 with the Spanish club last time out.

United, who face Juve in a competitive fixture for the first time since 2003, are two points behind.
Alexis Sanchez has been ruled out of the tie through an unspecified injury, but Antonio Valencia is available again after an operation on his mouth. Diogo Dalot, Phil Jones, Marouane Fellaini, Jesse Lingard and Scott McTominay were not spotted by the cameras at Monday's training and could also be absent when the Serie A champions provide the opposition in front of a capacity crowd. Under-23 players Tom Sang, Zak Dearnley and Tahith Chong did train with the main group but are unlikely to be involved. Emre Can, Sami Khedira and Mario Mandzukic are all absent for the visitors. Paul Pogba is also set for a reunion with his former employers.

Jose Mourinho said: "Juventus have a lot to offer and an extra year with the same coach and structure
"They have won seven titles on the trot and a really special player who makes a real difference.
"They are more than a contender for the Champions League.
"We have shown our form in the last two matches, the way we want to play and the way we can play in the past two matches, it will be very difficult but let's try to do it again."

A daunting fixture against one of the best in the business, then, but no one gave us a prayer at Chelsea and look what happened there. Let's do this!

Form guide: United D D L D W D Juventus W W W W W D
Match odds: United 12/5 Draw 12/5 Juventus 8/7
Referee: Serbian official Milorad Mazic is the man in the middle

Monday 22 October 2018

United youngsters train with first team but big name misses out

Preparations for the visit of European giants Juventus continue apace as United trained at Carrington on Monday ahead of tomorrow night's Group H tie.
Alexis Sanchez was the most notable absentee but the Chilean international is not believed to be injured. The in-form Anthony Martial seems set to again get the nod following his man of the match showing at Stamford Bridge, in stark contrast to Sanchez's struggles since his much anticipated arrival from Arsenal in January.

Sanchez stepped off the bench against Chelsea but did not make an impact, becoming wasteful in possession and putting the team under pressure when United were 2-1 up. Last week, the Daily Mail claimed that Sanchez's United future is already in doubt after a combination of poor form and personal issues after only nine months in Manchester. Sanchez has split with his girl and that has surely only contributed to the negativity of his downward spiral.

He may well be available to face the Italian champions, but even he is it's hard to make a case for him to start such is the contrasting fortunes of him and the player most likely to start instead, Martial. Jose Mourinho looks likely to go with the Frenchman on the left as he continues to work his way back in the manager's good books. It remains to be seen if Marcus Rashford will retain his place or if Jose shuffles his pack again to effectively manage his squad ahead of a manic run of difficult fixtures.

A number of United's youth and Academy players trained with the first team, although it is unlikely any of them will feature against the seven-time defending Serie A champions. Zach Dearnley, Tom Sang and Marouane Fellaini lookalike Tahith Chong all took part in the training season, the latter having caught the eye with a series of impressive performances on the US pre-season tour.

Speaking of Fellaini, he was another absentee having struggled with injury, with Mourinho also without the services of Jesse Lingard, Diogo Dalot, Phil Jones and Scott McTominay. The full extent of the Reds injury list will be revealed when the manager gives his media briefing ahead of the match with Juve later on Monday.

Sunday 21 October 2018

Anthony Martial delivers for the manager who did not want him

Anthony Martial delivered again and is making a mockery of talk that his face no longer fits at Old Trafford. Perhaps even more decisively, he's also showing that, just maybe, for once, Ed Woodward and the United board were right to refuse his sale when Jose Mourinho wanted him out. There's a sense of delicious irony that it's Martial whom has done more than most to save the job of his manager and injected new life into the fraught United tenure of a man who clearly did not see Martial as a key part of his future, long-term identikit.

Martial has often cut a discontended figure at Manchester United this season - and his relationship with Mourinho has been the subject of much debate.
The 22-year-old France forward has been marginalised on occasions this campaign, but has now proved his worth and quality in successive games.
Martial's snapshot finish played its part in the comeback from two goals down to beat Newcastle United before the international break, and on Saturday at Stamford Bridge he was the spearhead for United's revival after Chelsea controlled the first half.
He equalised with a finish of superb technique on the turn, then coolly completed good work by Juan Mata and Marcus Rashford by steering a low shot into the bottom corner for his third goal in two games.
Martial was also willing to do the dirty work and was rewarded with a warm embrace and words from his manager that brought a smile to his face when he was substituted.
United's hierarchy clearly see Martial as a key element of their future and hope he will commit to a long-term contract. Mourinho will certainly be grateful for his contribution in the past two games.

Jose went from dreaming about stopping Eden Hazard to whispering sweet nothings to his player.

Well, not quite whispering. Rather emphatically bawling 'Yes!' into the Manchester United winger's ear as they embraced on the touchline.
There are still wounds to be healed in this relationship – but this felt like the beginnings of a blossoming bromance, even if Mourinho was ultimately denied a hugely satisfying win by Ross Barkley's injury time equaliser.
After gushing about Hazard on the eve of his return to Stamford Bridge, Mourinho was reminded of the quality at his own disposal.
Reminded of a talent he was prepared to wash his hands of just months ago. Reminded why the board were so keen to keep Martial at the club.
Hazard, he claims, is a one-man title-winning machine. If the brilliant Belgian is at his best, Maurizio Sarri's Chelsea will be Premier League champions.
Martial has a long way to go to emulate Chelsea's talisman – but when United agreed to spend £36m on the then-unknown teenager three years ago, it was in the belief that he was destined to become the next superstar of world football.

Saturday 20 October 2018

I'm absolutely gutted but so proud of Man Utd

United had lost on eight of our last nine visits to Stamford Bridge, and coming into this latest trip to unbeaten and high flying Chelsea, there was no reason to think that this would be any different. United have made our worst ever start to a 38-game season and, although the climb-off-the-canvas victory over Newcastle offered a brief respite, in reality it merely served to paper over the cracks. The pure, visceral, emotional joy of Alexis late winner did little to change that but sent us into the international break with the feeling that maybe a cloud had been lifted.

When Antonio Rudiger headed the Blues ahead on 20 minutes, we were hit by an achingly familiar sense of deja vu - oh, joy, here we go again - already on our way to our annual defeat at our least favourite hunting ground of them all. A hunting ground where we haven't won for more than half a decade. Had you offered me a point at that stage of the game, I'd have snapped your hand off for it. That feeling only increased during a first half in which Jose Mourinho's United failed, once again, to come to the party. We weren't awful - not West Ham awful, anyway - but nowhere near at the level required to stifle and subdue a talented and agile Chelsea team.

It would have taken a very strange set of circumstances to foresee a situation in which United had come out with a hard fought, deserved and well-pilfered point at the potential champions and leave me crestfallen and bitterly disappointed indeed. That's the situation we find ourselves in. It really is a funny old game.
As the dust begins to settle on Saturday lunchtime's late and gut-wrenching drama in SW16, there's no doubt that this was - is - a very good result for United, one in which the positives certainly outweigh the negatives. At the same time, never has such a superb fightback to earn a draw felt like such a horrible defeat.
I'm absolutely gutted - gutted at Ross Barkley's equaliser in the sixth added minute that snatched victory away from a United side a matter of seconds away from our first win at Chelsea in more than half a decade. We were so close to a win that may well have transformed the entire complexion of our season.
 But I'm really proud too, proud of a second half performance in which the Reds dominated away from home against a very, very, good side that are widely expected to challenge for the title. Not many teams will get anything from Stamford Bridge this season, and we went there and almost won it with as good a showing as I can remember. The players were brave, they stood up to be counted, responded magnificently and took the game to Chelsea. We showed spirit, passion, fight and character and certainly did not resemble a side not playing for their manager. Questions remain - why can't United play like this consistently every week, and why are we reactive to a situation rather than proactive, but there were hugely promising signs. Juan Mata was majestic in his favourite number 10 role, Paul Pogba may have been at fault for the opener but was otherwise excellent, Romelu Lukaku improved after half time and Anthony Martial - surely our man of the match - has done more than most to ease the pressure on his manager with three goals in two games.

Bring on Juve on Tuesday night!

Have Mourinho and Man Utd turned a corner?

Jose Mourinho called it an "awful result" for Manchester United at Stamford Bridge and you knew what he meant. Chelsea needed a 96th-minute goal to snatch a 2-2 draw and retain their unbeaten record. In doing so, they denied United what would have been only their second win in 17 attempts in this fixture. This was far from 'awful' from Mourinho's men, but the manager meant it in the context of this being two points dropped right at the end when United had been agonisingly close to all three.
Importantly, this was the second game in a row in which we have come back from behind to get a result, both in wildly contrasting circumstances. While it did not have the positive ending of the Newcastle match in which the team came from two down to win, it was all the more encouraging to see United fight their way back against a side that has not lost rather than against one that has still not won.
Any accusation these players were not playing for their manager did not ring true. The identity of the key performers was a positive too.
As early as the morning of the match there were reports in the media speculating that Anthony Martial wants to leave Old Trafford. But it was two flashes of brilliance from the often out of favour Frenchman that helped to turn the tie on its head.
Luke Shaw, fresh from signing a new five-year contract, did well. His fellow full-back Ashley Young, given the unenviable task of marking Eden Hazard, was named man-of-the-match by Sky Sports, although Martial gets the nod for me. Paul Pogba was culpable for the first goal, failing to stay with Antonio Rudiger from a corner, but he was one of the driving forces behind United's second-half resurgence. It remains an issue that United's identikit tends to be reactive, not proactive.
Romelu Lukaku, whose involvement was non-existent in the first half, was another who improved.
Those names are an indication of the quality that's available to Mourinho if he can just get them to click, something that Sarri had alluded to in the build-up. "Maybe player by player they are the best team in the Premier League," said the Chelsea boss. "At the moment, I think City are better as a team but player by player they really are very strong." Mind games, or a valid observation?
Perhaps that was designed to heap pressure on his counterpart but the events that followed did raise the possibility of a more complete turnaround in fortunes for United under Mourinho. The problem is that while the lack of attacking cohesion has been a concern, at the same time it is the team's defensive difficulties that are threatening to scupper the season.
That's what cost United the points against Chelsea. For the second goal, David Luiz won the first header from Cesar Azpilicueta's cross but Rudiger had far too much space to get to the follow-up and Ross Barkley was still free to score at the third attempt. Organisation at the back is a big issue. Only Fulham have kept fewer clean sheets than United this season.

When the final whistle blew, there were only three teams - Fulham, Huddersfield and Cardiff - that had conceded as many Premier League goals. It is so unlike Mourinho, a man who has built his career on defensive solidity. Nine games in and United have already conceded more than his Chelsea side did in all 38 games of the 2004/05 season. Last season, we only let in 28 across the entire league campaign, but - this time around - that figure is 16 already.
In fact, in the 14 full seasons of his managerial career, Mourinho has had one of the best three defensive records in the league in each of them. Now his United find themselves with a recurring problem from set pieces. "Everybody knows with closed eyes which man is their man and which zone is their zone," Mourinho told Sky Sports. But it is not working. The constant chopping and changing of his defensive personnel surely hasn't helped matters either.
What is clear is that a solution is needed if this mini-revival from Manchester United is to amount to something more substantial. But the last two games have shown Mourinho that his players are still listening. That should be enough to encourage him that he still might just be able to coach his way out of this, one of the trickiest times of his managerial career.

Match report: Chelsea 2-2 Man Utd

A 96th minute equaliser from substitute Ross Barkley salvaged a late, late point for Maurizio Sarri's side to preserve their unbeaten run and cruelly deny United a first Stamford Bridge win for six years.
Barkley bundled home an untidy leveller at the culmination of a frantic passage of play, after David Luiz had struck the post with a header and David de Gea saved superbly on the rebound from Rudiger, whom had earlier put the hosts in front and threatened to extend the Reds woeful record in west London. In truth, a draw was probably a fair result over the 90+ minutes but the result is a tough one to take for Jose Mourinho's United, coming so late as it did after Anthony Martial had flipped the match on it head with two superbly-taken second half goals.

In a thrilling, action packed and end-to-end encounter, Barkley's goal was greeted by ugly scenes as Chelsea assistant Marco Ianni celebrated in front of him before then pumping his fists in Mourinho's direction again.

The Portuguese jumped from his seat and was then held back by a mixture of stewards and United staff as he attempted to get down the tunnel at Ianni.
The Blues looked in control when Rudiger took advantage of Paul Pogba's poor marking to head home Willian's corner on 20 minutes, but United responded superbly after the break and Martial's double - a smart, swivelling finish and a composed, low effort - put the visitors on the brink of three points until that frantic finale. United had lost on eight of the last nine visits to the Bridge, and rarely looked like improving on that record during a first half in which Sarri's side underlined their title credentials. Coming into the game level on points with Liverpool and City, Chelsea started strongly and went close time early on through a Willian free-kick and Jorginho, who slammed a shot wide from distance.

Romelu Lukaku was unable to steer a header on target, but it was a header at the other end that saw Chelsea move ahead through Rudiger, who planted the ball beyond De Gea having been left unmarked. De Gea saved well from Morata, before he was called into action again to keep out Eden Hazard from distance.
Then came the equaliser on 55 minutes as Lukaku and Pogba linked up to play in Mata, his shot was parried by Kepa but the ball was recycled to Martial via Ashley Young, and the former smashed in emphatically via a deflection off Jorginho. United's tails were up but Chelsea went close again when David Luiz headed narrowly wide from another set-piece. De Gea then saved superbly from the always impressive N'golo Kante, but the Reds were in control with Pogba pulling the strings and Mata - in his favoured number 10 role - a constant menace.

The little magician was involved again as the Reds stunned Stamford Bridge and took the lead with 17 minutes to play. Mata skipped clear of Luiz and found Marcus Rashford, whom in turn picked out the onrushing Martial who cut inside and curled a brilliant finish beyond the despairing Kepa for his third goal in two

Despite the late equaliser, United will take much confidence and belief from another immense second half performance, away from home against a very very good side, with Ronnie and co's Juventus next up on Tuesday.

Overall team performance: 8/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Anthony Martial

Thursday 18 October 2018

Match preview: Chelsea v Man Utd

The Premier League returns in style after the international break as United return to action with a daunting looking trip to Maurizio Sarri's unbeaten and high flying Chelsea.
Can Jose Mourinho's men build on our dramatic, late, climb-off-the-canvas victory over Newcastle last time out or will this once again prove to be a (Stamford) Bridge too far for the Reds? Our recent record at the home of the Blues makes for messy, ugly and unwelcome viewing with United having picked up only a solitary point since our last win on the ground in 2012, having lost eight of nine ties in all competitions at what has become a horrific, far from happy hunting ground for the team. The visit to SW6 marks the beginning of a brutal run of fixtures for Jose's United, with a Champions League double header against Juventus, an away trip to another in-form side, Bournemouth, and Pep Guardiola's champions from across the city all looming large in United's rear-view mirror.

Anyway, enough doom and gloom, there is some reason to be optimistic. Luke Shaw has signed a new five year deal, and the aforementioned win over the Toon lifted some of the clouds that have enveloped Old Trafford for much of the season. Alexis Sanchez stepped off the bench to nod home the winner last time out and is likely to start in attack ahead of the benched Anthony Martial. Nemanja Matic withdrew from Serbia's international ties and is set to miss out against his former team, which could mean a recall for Ander Herrera to recall his long-running tussle with arguably the best player in the league at present, Chelsea's top scorer and their talismanic figurehead Eden Hazard. There are fitness concerns over several first team Reds, with Jesse Lingard (groin), Scott McTominay (ankle) and Marcos Rojo (knee) all expected to miss out but Marouane Fellaini is also in contention. For Chelsea, Antonio Rudiger and youngster Ethan Ampadu are the only absentees.

What Jose would have ideally wanted after the team's dramatic comeback against Newcastle was another home game in quick succession to try and build some much-needed momentum and form.
Instead, after a fortnight's wait he has a return to Stamford Bridge, where he has lost on every visit since he left Chelsea for a second time.
It will be fascinating to see if United can use the remarkable second-half performance at Old Trafford in any way to dent Sarri's hugely impressive start to his tenure in west London.
Chelsea are seven points better off under the Italian than they were 12 months ago under his compatriot Antonio Conte and have implemented their new manager's philosophy instantly, sitting level on points and throwing down the gauntlet as the closest challengers to fellow early pacesetters Liverpool and Manchester City at the top of the table with six wins and two draws so far.
The first managerial meeting of Messrs Sarri and Mourinho adds a fascinating subplot to this always anticipated battle between two of English football's heavyweight sides.

Form guide: Chelsea W D W D W W Man Utd W D D L D W
Match odds: Chelsea 3/4 Draw 27/10 Man Utd 15/4
Referee: Wirral whistler Mike Dean is the man in the middle at the Bridge

Monday 8 October 2018

Jose Mourinho's 36-hour rollercoaster ride

Even in the tumultuous world of Manchester United, the 36 hours between 08:00 BST on Friday and 20:00 on Saturday were bordering on the unbelievable.
Manager Jose Mourinho went from surly and monosyllabic, straight through the centre of a whirlwind of rumour, speculation and denial - and came out the other side victorious and vindicated.
Quite how long the euphoria lasts given the next set of fixtures between international breaks includes visits to Chelsea and Manchester City, plus back-to-back Champions League encounters with Cristiano Ronaldo and Juventus, is open to debate.
But for now, Mourinho appears to be a man with breathing space.
No official explanation was offered as to why Mourinho decided to hold Friday's pre-Newcastle news conference at the unusually early hour of 08:00.
Later in the day, a rumour began to circulate that he had done so because he had to fit in a trip to London where he was going to meet United's executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, together with his agent Jorge Mendes.
The rumour, it turned out, was false. Mourinho remained in Manchester.
Whatever the reasoning for his early date with the media, there was no positivity in his mood. When the presser did get underway, there was the stench of defeatism throughout the vastly truncated three and a half minutes.
When a newspaper report emerged late on Friday saying Mourinho was to be sacked over the weekend no matter what the outcome of the Newcastle fixture, only the timing came as a surprise.
Although United had consistently indicated a preference to stick with the 55-year-old Portuguese in private, numerous sources had described the atmosphere around the club as "toxic".
The news vacuum created by the absence of an immediate response from Old Trafford was filled by former Red Devils captain Gary Neville who, qualifying his comments by saying "if the story is true", then waded in, saying some decisions at his old club were "rotten to the core" and laying the blame squarely at the feet of Woodward.
Others, who have long-standing associations with United, were stunned at how the club appeared to be descending headlong into a mess of its own making.
It was not until early on Saturday that the robust denials filtered out - no matter what happened against Newcastle, Mourinho was not going to be sacked and would, for now at least, remain firmly in the Old Trafford hotseat.
A bit like a pair of brothers who bicker constantly in private but defend each other to the death against outsiders, United fans traditionally respond to crisis by adopting a siege mentality and it was anticipated that would set the tone for the game - but Newcastle had other ideas.
Their fast start rocked Old Trafford to its core as the Magpies took a 2-0 lead in at the break. The response from the stands was sporadic, until United's second-half comeback changed all that.
As Alexis Sanchez raced away to celebrate his 90th-minute winner, Mourinho's name was sung once more. Loudly. By the whole stadium. He could not have missed it.
And neither could have Woodward, sitting in the directors' box some way above the manager's technical area. He is the man who would have to swing the axe should Mourinho's time in charge be brought to an end.
In contrast to recent games, when he looked impotent and out of touch, it was impossible to ignore Mourinho's behaviour on the touchline.
With his side two goals down, he became almost manic - maybe not Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola manic but, for him, wildly expressive.
Watching his behaviour - waving, urging, complaining - it was impossible to know that much earlier in the day he had received a text from the United hierarchy, telling him to ignore all the speculation around him. This was the raw, visceral, me-against-the-world Mourinho.
So much has been written about Mourinho and his players over the past few days, it is impossible to pick apart fact from fiction.
Paul Pogba, Martial and Sanchez have been identified as three of the players who have major issues with their manager.
Pogba was outstanding, especially in the second half when he played so deep a reporter referred to him in a post-match question as being part of a back three.
Martial terrorised the Newcastle defence after half-time, dragging United level by finishing off a brilliant interchange with Pogba.
And Sanchez, the £400,000-a-week man, whose performances have been so far short of expectation he started the game on the bench and was the last substitute Mourinho used, headed home the winner as Old Trafford erupted.
Did these performances come as payback to the man they have let down? Were they for the fans who help pay their wages? Were they from a sense of personal pride?
Again, it is impossible to know the answer.
Mourinho - and United - can only be grateful they delivered.

Sunday 7 October 2018

Jekyll and Hyde United epitomised in Newcastle thriller

If ever there was a game to epitomise the infuriating Jekyll-and-Hyde nature of this consistently inconsistent United side then the win over Newcastle was it.
The scenes that followed Alexis Sanchez late, late winner at the death were reminscent of a bygone era tempered both by the strength of opposition and for the fact that United, not for the first time, only turned up at the party when all seemed lost and the chips were down. 0-2 down, the team threw off their inhibitions, played with freedom and climbed off the canvas in magnificent fashion, a fashion akin to the dramatic victories we witnessed at Selhurst Park and, most memorably of all, the recovery from an identical position at the Etihad to stop City's title party. The players have justifiably so come in for heavy criticism this season in the midst of United's 29-year low, but deserved huge credit here. In a season during which Mourinho has got a lot wrong, here he turned the game as two of his substitutes - Alexis and Juan Mata - turned the game.

A 0-2 comeback to salvage a win or even a point in the Premier League takes some doing, regardless of opponents, status or form. It is becoming United's trademark, but one that provides more questions than answers. The common denominator in United going gung ho under Mourinho is when they are forced to do so. Only then does the handbrake come off.

Why can't we start games in this way instead of only coming to the party in 15, 20, 45 minute spells, and how is it possible for a team to lurch to the inept to the inspired and back again in the space of 90 topsy turvy, rollercoaster minutes? Answers on a postcard. The first half against Newcastle was in keeping with so many of United's recent showings - insipid, lifeless and absolutely dire. The second was a throwback to the great sides of yesteryear as we ripped into the visitors with energy, desire and purpose playing much quicker and more direct. The result aside, it was a reverse of the Jekyll and Hyde showing we saw in the Tottenham game back in August. A microcosm of Mourinho's United - inconsistent not from one game to the next but from one minute to the next. Old Trafford was a picture of discontent for much of the match, but by the end it was Mourinho's name being sung as we all pulled together and lived up to our name in the final 25 minutes. We are United.

It would churlish to pretend that this club's plethora of problems, the dark cloud hanging like an inescapable spectre over the shadow of the stadium were swept away on the solitary flick of an Alexis header that he nodded beyond Dubravka and in. But it was a rare bright moment, a flicker of light and a euphoric moment to savour in a darkly depressing season. It's amazing how one goal can change the mood so quickly but the fact remains - this is likely to only be a stay of execution for Mourinho and the club is still embroiled in the thick of continued unrest both in the dressing room and high up in the corridors of power. One last gasp win against a struggling, winless side may have felt mighty good, but it was merely papering over the multitude of cracks. With away trips to Chelsea and Manchester City looming over the turn of the month - plus a double header with Juventus - things are set to get a whole lot harder. But for now, we go in the international break on the back of a vintage United comeback. Get in!

Match report: United 3-2 Newcastle

A dramatic late Alexis Sanchez winner turned the tables on Rafa Benitez's struggling Newcastle as United completed a remarkable climb off the canvas victory.
In scenes reminiscent of last season's wins at the Etihad and Selhurst Park, the winless Magpies had raced into an early 2-0 lead, through goals from Kenedy and Japanese international Yoshiniro Muto, to seemingly pile the pressure on beleaguered boss Jose Mourinho.
Listless and ragged in a first half in which United were again lethargic and lifeless, the team were rejuvenated after half-time, as substitute Juan Mata swept home a free-kick before Anthony Martial levelled. The Reds lay siege to the Newcastle goal and were finally, improbably, rewarded through Alexis Sanchez - another substitute whom has been much criticised in a dire run of form that has come to epitomise United's collective shortcomings.
The Chilean rose to nod in Ashley Young's whipped-in delivery right on the 90 as Old Trafford erupted and Mourinho lived to fight another day.
The match had been dominated by talk of Jose's imminent departure, and that talk was only further assuaged as Newcastle hit United with a brutal one-two punch inside the opening ten minutes. A lunging Nemanja Matic failed to intercept in midfield before Young allowed Kenedy to turn, run the ball on to his left foot and fire in a well-taken finish.
Three minutes later, United were gripped by panic again as Jonjo Shelvey raced clear and teed up Muto, on his first league start for Benitez's men, to once more turn the hapless Young and bury the visitors second from close range.

Mourinho reacted quickly amid the carnage, sacrificing Eric Bailly after 19 minutes with Scott McTominay again pressed into service as a makeshift centre-half. Mohamed Diame flashed a shot wide from distance and the visitors also saw a penalty shout fall on deaf ears when Young handled in the box. David de Gea saved well from the dangerous Muto before the United keeper was soon called into action again, this time to beat away Shelvey's 25 yarder.

De Gea's opposite number Martin Dubravka denied Paul Pogba before half-time, and Jose made another change at the break as Marouane Fellaini came on to replace McTominay and Pogba dropped into an unfamiliar back three alongside Matic and Chris Smalling.

Marcus Rashford headed of target and Pogba went close again in a spell of United pressure - pressure that was rewarded as United found a foothold and set up a frantic finale. Sub Mata curled in a superb 20 yard free-kick and from then on we were in the ascendancy as Newcastle lost all semblance of belie and shape. Dubravka kept out a Fellaini header and then denied Smalling with his foot, United's tails were up and the visitors suddenly found themselves under siege. On 76 minutes came an equaliser made in France as Martial and Pogba linked up for the latter to find the former with a back-heel and he slammed home beyond Dubravka to bring United level.

Newcastle were hanging on now but were unable to resist as another sub played the decisive hand in the final minute. Sanchez was the Land of the Giants from six yards as he rose to plant Young's cross beyond the scrambling Slovakian for timely, match winning intervention.

Overall team performance: 6/10. Woeful in the first half, wonderful in the second.
United Faithful Man of the Match: 'Special Juan' Mata

Saturday 6 October 2018

Match preview: Man Utd v Newcastle

Jose Mourinho retains the full backing of the United board, despite the build up to the home game with out of form Newcastle dominated by talks of the Portuguese manager's imminent departure.
Strong reports emerged on Friday that Mourinho would be sacked regardless of the result against Rafa Benitez's struggling Toon, but the club have denied any immediate threat to his future and it seems likely that Mourinho will keep his job for the foreseeable future.

Mourinho's United welcome winless Newcastle to Old Trafford in the day's late kick off looking to avoid a fifth successive tie without a win for only the second time in 20 years. This is United's worst start to a season since 1989 with the team languishing in tenth place with as many points.
Benitez worked a minor miracle to guide his side to a tenth-placed finish last term, their first back in the big time after winning the second tier title, despite having to operate on a shoestring budget. In a match between two sides in the midst of a dire run of results, Newcastle's 0-2 home defeat to Leicester last time out left them third-from-bottom having pilfered only two points from their seven games so far.
In mitigation, four of those seven games came againt sides in last season's top six in a difficult start to the campaign.

Ashley Young is back in contention for United after he missed out against Valencia through injury. Phil Jones, Andreas Pereira and Diogo Dalot are pushing for recalls and could all feature, but Marcos Rojo, Ander Herrera and Jesse Lingard will miss out. The Reds have no other injury concerns.

Newcastle are again without striker Salomon Rondon, who will not return from a thigh problem until after the international break.
Defenders Paul Dummett and Federico Fernandez are nursing hamstring injuries and will be assessed, while full-back Jamie Sterry is ruled out.

Messrs Mourinho and Benitez have history on the touchline, but all histrionics between the two men need to be put to one side as far as the former is concerned, he has far too much on his plate to concern himself with sparring with his old rival. Frankly, there has been enough internal civil war for any more shenanigans.

On the visitors, Mourinho said: "Very, very, very good coach, a team that is always very well organised against especially the teams of the first part of the table, where their manager is very bright on his analysis of the opponent's qualities.
"The results they had against the top teams didn't get them points yet this season but gave them very, very close results and [were] very difficult matches for the opposition, so we expect a difficult match."

Man Utd v Newcastle gets underway at Old Trafford at 5.30 and will be live on BT Sport 1.

Form guide: United W W D D L D Newcastle L L L L D L
Match odds: United 9/20 Draw 7/2 Newcastle 8/1
Referee: Anthony Taylor

Thursday 4 October 2018

Only three Man Utd players are playing for the badge and with any credit

Crisis, noun: "A time of intense difficulty, disruption or danger." A sentence that surely sums up better than any the banter club, the circus, the diabolical and shambolic entity that has come to represent Manchester United. No one likes us at the best of times, and you get the feeling everyone that's not a United fan is sitting back and laughing their heads off as this great football club, this iconic institution of ours, a club once feared, revered and reviled implodes and unravels before their eyes. The rest of the football world must be loving this. Yes, ladies and gents, what we're witnessing is a full blown crisis engulfing every corner of Old Trafford, permeating through the club from the pitch, the dugouts and swirling up through the stands into the corridors of power. No one is accountable, no one can escape and no one knows what to do or where to go next. If Man Utd are a circus, then Ed Woodward's the puppet and the G****s are the head clowns.

As long as the days of the week end in ‘y’ there seems to be a story revolving around United and player unrest: From Sanchez confiding in an ex-Arsenal player that he regrets his move (don’t we all) to Marcus Rashford getting a dusting down for not doing a serious warm down in Bern, United fans have to endure negativity on a daily basis and it is as guaranteed as light and dark. That's before we throw in the shameless soap opera of the egotistical tug of war between Jose Mourinho and deposed vice captain Paul Pogba, and our club captain - whom can barely mutter a word of English after a decade in Blighty - supposedly mistakenly endorsing an Instagram post calling for his manager to be sacked after not reading the text. Then there's the worst league start for 29 years, very public fall outs between Mourinho and seemingly everyone, fights and arguments between sections of our own fanbase and a ragtag collection of jumbled playing pieces not pulling their weight and drifting aimlessly through the motions.

It may be in our very name to be united, but this is a club that is currently anything but: the squad are divided, dissenting, powderpuff and about as far removed from what is expected of a Manchester United side as it's possible to be. A squad that have downed tools, given up the ghost, waiting for the inevitable and clearly what they want to see happen.

Amidst the darkness, there has been one shining light - a ray of hope thrust upon this depressing season where there appeared to be none. This time last year, the odds of Luke Shaw becoming Manchester United's star man - becoming a player and a man whom carries the embodiment of what it takes to ply your trade at Old Trafford - seemed almost as remote as Mourinho surving the season.

Shaw was in the wilderness last year, his place at left-back was assigned to a makeshift in Ashley Young and a half-time substitution against Brighton and subsequent condemning from Mourinho seemed to have his fate sealed.
Shaw just goes to show what happens when you don’t conform to the modern day prima donna stereotype, put the hours of graft in and play for pride.He's looking like a new signing and has been the only positive to take from Man Utd's season of discontent. David de Gea has shrugged off early struggles to become a symbol of serenity and calm, but it's a sign of where we're at that I can only count the number of United players performing to anywhere near the expected standard on one hand alone. Shaw and de Gea are joined by aguably only Marouane Fellaini as red shirted men who have not disgraced themselves this season.
How scary is that? De Gea aside, two players who were close to being out of the door, two who many would not have lost sleep over leaving as last season drew to a close, are actually the only ones serving the club with distinction and effort. Two whom many felt were some distance down the pecking order, now the first two names on any Man Utd team sheet. When Fellaini becomes a player Manchester United cannot afford to be without, it epitomises the sorry state of affairs.

The rest need to put aside any animosities or beef they have with the manager, remember their duty, which many would sacrifice a lot for, of playing for United, pulling on the famous red shirt with a modicum of respect, pride and honour and arrest a slide that is gathering serious momentum.
Of course, we all know the far deeper rooted cancers crippling the club and United are a long way away from being in remission from their parasitic owners.
Surely that makes it doubly important to avoid an on-field rot infecting the club further?
Something has to change… That thing increasingly looks like Mourinho.
However, the players need to look at themselves and how embarrassing this has all become.
They are not immune or exempt from this mess, this circus, this sham.
I believe in the old adage ‘put up or shut up’.

 These United players cannot be afforded the choice. They need to do both.

Wednesday 3 October 2018

Plenty of perspiration but no inspiration - Man Utd have all the gear but no idea

Four points from two Champions League ties may shine a brighter light on the bigger picture, but despite flashes of improvement, the team were very underwhelming once again against Valencia. Then again, after setting the bar at an all time low against West Ham on a miserable and soporific Saturday in East London, things could hardly have been worse. There was perspiration and effort aplenty - itself an improvement from the weekend - but there was no inspiration.
Football of match winning quality, high-octane, high tempo, energetic and swashbuckling football befitting of an Old Trafford Champions League night, was again conspicous by its absence.There were positives to take in the shape of a clean sheet, only our second of the season, and the performances of Luke Shaw and Marcus Rashford - but it's becoming clearer by the day that this is a United side shockingly short of any idea whatsoever. United sit second in Group H and look set in a reasonably strong position, but Valencia should and probably will pick up six points from their double header with Young Boys and United haven't a prayer against Ronnie and co's Juve, so there's every chance we'll go into matchday four in third place in the section.

This was a match in keeping with most of our others this season - the Reds started strongly and, in the opening 15 minutes, pressed high up the pitch and posed problems down the left with Rashford and Shaw linking to promisingly effect. But things soon lapsed into an achingly familiar pattern, with United taking an age to move the ball forwards and our defence looking constantly troubled by the pace and guile of Goncalo Guedes on the counter attack. Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez
were poor again and Rashford fitful. Antonio Valencia offered nothing, and although David de Gea was a virtual spectator, opposite number Neto was hardly overworked either. Lukaku looks like he needs a rest, he's been struggling all season and the impact of his influence on this side continues to fluctuate. At times he resembles a world beater, a player who looks every inch the £75m man we know he can be. Off the back of a brilliant World Cup for Belgium, he should be brimming with confidence but instead he's lethargic, off the pace, his touch is poor, there's no movement,
and, against Valencia, he was isolated and a peripheral figure. He failed to make the most of the one clear opening that came his way when he headed over the top from a corner late on, five yards out and unmarked.

Valencia, a side 14th in La Liga and with only one victory to their name so far. Yet, just as Wolves and Derby had done before them, a visiting team came to Old Trafford, comprehensively outplayed United and could count themselves unlucky not to win it. The stats may reflect favourably on Jose Mourinho's men, with 18 shots compared to their 8, and four on target to their one, but in truth we never looked like winning the game. Well drilled and organised at the back, Los Che dominated the midfield against the cumbersome Marouane Fellaini and nondescript Nemanja Matic, with the impressive Geoffrey Kondogbia pulling the strings alongside the guile and mobility of captain Daniel Parejo. It tells us everything we need to know about the state of this club at present that we persisted with the irksome and awkward pairing of Messrs Fellaini and Matic, two of the slowest footballers known to man, at home in a must win Champions League game against a useful but limited La Liga side. Where have we heard that before..

If not for the lack of a genuine 24-carat attacking threat, we'd be sitting here conducting another post mortem after a second defeat in three days and Jose Mourinho may be out of a job.
Man Utd have all the gear but no one - not the manager, not the players, not the board and not the owners- has any idea.

Match report: Man Utd 0-0 Valencia

Man Utd went a fourth game without a win despite flashes of improvement as Marcelino's men held out for a deserved draw at a far from full Old Trafford. It was the Reds third draw in four ties, off the back of Saturday's West Ham woe and left United in second place in the group on four points after the win over Young Boys on Matchday One.

With an 11-player United team huddle just before kick-off, Old Trafford crackling on a Champions League night and a bright start from the Reds, that dismal Saturday at West Ham seemed to have been consigned to history.
A European atmosphere was just what Jose Mourinho’s side needed after the struggle in east London. There was certainly a response from the team seeking successive Group H section victories as United started purposefully and promisingly.
Marcus Rashford was United's most creative attacking threat, and he went close twice early on as he fizzed a shot wide and then forced a smart save from Valencia keeper Neto during a bright opening 20 minutes for Mourinho's United.

Goncalo Guedes curled narrowly wide from distance and former Arsenal man Francis Coquelin was booked along with captain Daniel Parejo in a scrappy half that at times resembled a battle of attrition.  

Chelsea loanee Michy Batshuayi fired over from close range before Paul Pogba's free kick was tipped over by Neto, a flurry of corners raising the temperature and threat level. The French midfielder - in the thick of things on and off the field - almost unlocked the lowly La Liga side when he released Romelu Lukaku, and it needed another good save from the Los Che custodian to ensure that parity remained intact. 

Guedes was impressive throughout and let United off the hook again when he wriggled free but cut the ball back instead of pulling the trigger, we scrambled clear and the chance was gone. 
In an increasingly end to end encounter,  Rashford thumped a free-kick off the top of the bar, Lukaku headed wastefully over from a corner and substitute Kevin Gameiro was snuffed out by Eric Bailly as Valencia looked to nick a late win on the counter attack. 

That proved to be the last action of a largely uneventul encounter as the hosts picked up the first point of their European campaign ahead of a double header with Young Boys - as for the Reds, the small matter of Group H leaders Juventus at Old Trafford on October 25th.

Overall team performance: 5/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Marcus Rashford

Tuesday 2 October 2018

Match preview: Man Utd v Valencia

Los Che are back in the Champions League for the first time in three years and Marcelino's men from the Mestalla make the visit to Old Trafford with United in turmoil.
The Reds sit top of the fledgling Group H table, with the La Liga side in third after defeat to Ronnie and co's Juventus team on Matchday One. It's been a torrid time for eveyone in Red, with talks of unrest and infighting offset by our first start to a league season since 1989. Coupled with a Carabao Cup KO against Derby, and our 3-0 win Bern two weeks ago - our last victory in any competition - feels like an awfully long time ago.

Jesse Lingard, Ashley Young and Ander Herrera will all miss the Group H tie through injury, and Marcos Rojo also remains sidelined. Diogo Dalot could feature in Young's absence, and Antonio Valencia may get a recall at right-back. Sergio Romero is available again after he missed Saturday’s trip to the London Stadium through suspension.
A genuine European powerhouse at the turn of the century, the visitors could be without striker Santi Mina, but otherwise have a fully fit squad to pick from. Expect to see them line up in a traditional 4-4-2 system, with star man Rodrigo - who featured for Spain at this summer's World Cup - their main attacking threat. While perhaps not quite as familiar as our Matchday Three opponents Juventus, their are still a number of familiar faces among Valencia's alumni. On loan Chelsea striker Michy Batshuayi, ex-Gunners Francis Coquelin and Gabriel Paulista and captain Daniel Parejo all ply their trade at the Mestalla. Andreas Pereira spent last season on loan at the club, and Juan Mata still speaks fondly of his four years at the club between 2007 and 2011. Valencia have endured a turbulent period in their history in recent times but, under Spanish manager Marcelino -  their 12th boss in only six years - they are a club on an upward trajectory again.

Valencia sit 14th in the La Liga table on eight points after seven games and already have become the division's draw specialists with five of those matches ending all square (one win and a defeat from the others). Their first victory of the season came last time out, a 1-0 win at Real Sociedad. A win tonight would give everyone at United a lift after a troubled season and put us in a strong position at the summit of the group. In many ways, this looks to be United's most important fixture of 2018-19 so far.

Jose said: "A Champions League week is always a good week, even if you expect a difficult match, a difficult opponent with Valencia.
"Everyone wants to play Champions League, not everyone can do it. So we are here and we have the chance to play a big match. So, big match, big week.
"I prefer to say that the players’ attitude is the most important thing and then from the supporters I cannot ask for any more. I cannot ask for more than they are giving at home. Away with bad results, I cannot ask for more. I think it’s time for the people on the pitch to show them [the fans] that they love the club as much as the fans. We have to remember that, the fans are always with us and we win, lose or draw together as a club."

Form guide: United W W W D D L Valencia D D L D D W
Match odds: United 4/6 Draw 5/1 Valencia 29/10
Referee: Slavko Vincic (Slovenia)