Friday 30 November 2018

Match preview: Southampton v Man Utd

Man Utd make the 225-mile journey to the South Coast to face struggling Saints and former player Mark Hughes. Both bosses have been under pressure this season after stuttering starts to the campaign with Hughes - affectionately known as 'Sparky' - in particular under siege after a torrid run of one win in 13 that has seen the St Mary's side slip into the bottom three.
The wily Welshman enjoyed ten trophy laden years at Old Trafford. He scored 163 goals and won two Premier League titles, three FA Cups, the European Cup-Winners' Cup and the League Cup once. This is the sixth club he has managed against United, after coaching Blackburn Rovers, Manchester City, Fulham, Queens Park Rangers and Stoke City. He actually netted nine goals for the Reds in 22 appearances against the Saints, where he also played for two years - scoring twice in 61 games between 1998 and 2000. Having kept the Saints marching on to Premier League survival last term, it's beginning to look like history may be repeating itself.

This will be the third visit to this corner of the country having endured mixed fortunes on the previous two excursions to these parts - a 3-2 defeat to Brighton but a narrow win at the Vitality Stadium against Bournemouth three weeks ago.

Mourinho has also come under a heavy barrage of fire but, having guided United into the last 16 of the Champions League in midweek, and only four days before the visit of Arsenal, he is a man - for now at least - with breathing space.
There's mixed team news for the Reds ahead of this one, with Alexis Sanchez ruled out until the New Year with a hamstring injury sustained in training on Thursday. Marcos Rojo is still sidelined, but Luke Shaw should return from suspension against his former club. Victor Lindelof (muscle) and Matteo Darmian (ankle) are also both out. On the positive side, Diogo Dalot looks set to make his Premier League debut after Mourinho said "it is his time now" in his post-match presser on Friday. Paul Pogba and Romelu Lukaku are set to be recalled.

For Saints, on-loan Liverpool striker Danny Ings will be ruled out for the third successive game with a hamstring injury, while fellow forward Shane Long has been experiencing an ankle problem It also remains to be seen if left-back Ryan Bertrand will be fit enough to play as he has been struggling with a back issue.

Mourinho said: "People question but nobody can say about our mentality and desire in the last part of a game. I don't think many teams in England or anywhere win so many points in extra time.
"In December we can focus on the Premier League, we need points and wins. We want to improve our position in the table, we want to close the gap to the top four and we want to be smelling those positions."

Southampton vs Manchester United is Saturday's tea-time kick off as the action gets underway at 5.30 at St Mary's with the tie live on BT Sport.

Form guide: Southampton D D L D L D Man Utd W W W L D W
Match odds: Southampton 16/5 Draw 5/2 Man Utd 10/11
Referee: Kevin Friend (Leicestershire)

Thursday 29 November 2018

United's late winner met with complete apathy

Any football fan will tell you that nothing beats a late winning goal. 4-0 wins are all well and good, but is there really any fun in that - the raw, visceral, pure emotional roller coaster  that only football can bring comes when your team have put you through the wringer and transformed the mood in an instant with a dramatic late intervention.
Whether it be through a goal that caps a comeback, or one that pilfers three precious points at the death in a game you have not played well in after 90 plus minutes of toil, it's the best moment for any
self respecting supporter. 
As United fans, we're no strangers to a late goal - we've witnessed more of our fair share, all met with varying levels of relief, joy and euphoria from Michael Owen against City, Robin van Persie's free-kick into the top bins in another derby, even Sanchez against Newcastle last month, and the most epic of them all. The night when Manchester United hit football immortality with a flick of Ole Gunner Solskjaer's foot into the roof of the Bayern Munich net on a balmy spring evening in Barcelona in 1999. All gold-tinted moments that make the very name of Man Utd stand out above all others. The thrill of a late show leaves you absolutely buzzing for days, but I - and many others come to that - will instantly forget the debacle of Tuesday night.

When Marouane Fellaini fired into the Young Boys net in the 91st minute, of course I was happy. My team had won, we had gone through to the last 16 in the Champions League and avoided a nerve shredding denouement on the final matchday in Valencia. But there was no celebration, no Ole-esque knee slide, no bouncing around the room. Despite the obvious scoreline to the contrary, so disjointed and discombobulated was the performance that this felt an exact carbon copy of the Palace game. There was nothing to be excited about.
There was instead complete apathy and only the feeling that United had horribly, undeservedly squeaked out of jail. An injury time winner against the brave but limited Swiss outsiders of Young Boys - a team you feel would have been bashed up handsomely by anyone worth their weight in gold (like Liverpool and City ) - should not be cause for celebration. Especially not when it could well prove to be the goal that - for seemingly the umpteenth time this season - keeps Mourinho in his job.
With all due respect, you shouldn't need a late, solitary strike to win a tie such as this.
It tells you everything you need to know about the state of Mourinho's moribund Manchester United.

The manager may have let all his emotions out by sending a crate of water bottles into oblivion, but that's more than could be said for the rest of us. As usual with Mourinho, you felt he was vastly overdoing things to make the most elaborate of points. I very much doubt the 'celebration' was genuine. For me, the goal was met by no emotion at all.

Tuesday 27 November 2018

United squeak into last 16 of the Champions League

Manchester United have qualified for the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League thanks to a late 1-0 win against Young Boys.
Ahead of Tuesday’s clash at Old Trafford, the Reds knew a place in the next round would be sealed with a win against the Swiss side, as long as Juventus beat Valencia in Turin.

While Young Boys made it tough throughout, that scenario is exactly how things panned out on the night thanks to Marouane Fellaini's injury-time clincher and Juve's 1-0 victory via a second-half Mario Mandzukic strike. Fellaini scored from close range after a knockdown from substitute Romelu Lukaku - who had latched on to Luke Shaw's pass - in the first minute of added on time.
The Reds final Group H tie, at home to Valencia, will therefore have no bearing on the complexion of the group, although United could still win the section if we win and Juve unexpectedly slip up.
Along with Juventus, United were one of six sides who ensured qualification for the next round on Tuesday.

In Group E, Ajax kicked off the fifth round of group games by beating AEK Athens 2-0 in Greece, meaning they will definitely finish in the top two spots. Bayern Munich did likewise later in the evening with a convincing 5-1 victory against Benfica.
Manchester City could only manage a draw away to Lyon, but that result also means they will be in the last 16, and only need a point in their final game against Hoffenheim in a few weeks to top the group.

Meanwhile, in Group G, Real Madrid’s 2-0 victory against Roma ensured the reigning European champions will also be in the draw for the next round. They are the second Spanish side to qualify along with Barcelona, who were the only team to achieve the feat with two group games to spare.
The draw for the last 16 will take place on Monday 17 December in Nyon.

Match report: Man Utd 1-0 Young Boys

Marouane Fellaini's late, late winner lifted United from their slumber and, kicking and screaming, sealed qualification for the last 16 of the Champions League.
The Reds had looked on course for a terse, decisive winner-takes all- showdown at the Mestalla on Matchday Six after another insiped showing against the spirited but limited opposition of rank Swiss outsiders Young Boys.
But Jose Mourinho's go-to man rode to the rescue again as substitute Romelu Lukaku flicked on Luke Shaw's diagonal pass and Fellaini slammed home on the turn in the 91st minute - the Reds goal in Europe at Old Trafford all season proved a very important one. The goal brought a delirious reaction from United boss Mourinho, who flung a basket full of water bottles to the floor in celebration.

The result sends the Reds - just - squeaking into February's knockout stages with a game to spare and ensures that Gerardo Seoane's side are eliminated from European football completely, meaning that Los Che go into the Europa League after losing 1-0 at Juventus.
United had 21 shots on goal and actually started brightly, only to squander every clear cut chance that fell our way, with Marcus Rashford the biggest culprit.

The young striker set the tone for the evening, when he burst clear one on one but put the ball wastefully wide with the goal at his mercy. The Reds were to see more golden opportunities go begging, as the luckless Rashford slipped in front of goal and Fellaini hooked over the bar from four yards.

The returning Fred, bright and busy on his recall, flashed a shot wide and Rashford's effort from distance flew narrowly off target as, despite looking the more likely, United were unable to trouble the wonderfully named David von Balmoos in the visitors goal.

David de Gea had been a virtual spectator up until the hour mark, but as we have been on so many occasions, proved indebted to the gravity-defying heroics of the Spaniard. De Gea has had his critics this season but underlined why he remains the best in the business with a scarcely believable stop.
Big Dave tipped a Jean - Pierre Nsame effort over the top but even better was to follow from the resultant corner when Michael Aebischer's deflected shot looked to have found its way in, only for a sprawling De Gea to lunge across and somehow claw the ball away from danger.

Lukaku, who had earlier come on for Jesse Lingard, headed wide and fellow sub Paul Pogba volleyed over the bar as the Reds belatedly applied late pressure in the closing stages. That said, there still appeared a lack of urgency and it seemed as though United's trip to the Mestalla in a fortnight would be decisive.

That was until Fellaini's dramatic intervention not only sent United through, but also maintained slim hopes of winning the section. Not pretty and damn ugly, but bring on the knockouts!

Overall team performance: 5/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: David de Gea

Match preview: Man Utd v Young Boys

Despite struggling in the league, Jose Mourinho's United will qualify for the last 16 with a win provided Juventus also beat Valencia on Matchday Five.
The Swiss side - in their Champions League debut season - cannot progress beyond the group stages but still have faint hopes of earning Europa League football in the new year.

It looks like United will be without in-form centre back Victor Lindelof, with the Swede out for some time having picked up a thigh injury in the dreadful draw with Crystal Palace.
Luke Shaw is available again after suspension forced him out of the Palace match, and out-of-favour Ivorian Eric Bailly, who hasn't featured since 6 October, is also expected to return to the squad. He could well start in Lindelof's absence despite dropping down the pecking order under Mourinho.
Lindelof's injury leaves Bailly, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones as our only fit centre backs with Marcos Rojo also sidelined.
In the opposition dugout, Gerardo Seoane should have no fresh injury concerns for his Young Boys side, making their first ever visit to these parts in a competitive tie. Jordan Lotomba remains sidelined as the right-back recovers from a knee injury while centre-half Gregory Wüthrich has a muscle problem. The visitors have won eight of their last 13 fixtures and are currently 16 points clear of closest challengers Basel at the summit of the Swiss Super League. But the standard is shown up by their status as Group H whipping boys having picked up only one point so far albeit in a difficult section.

 The last time both teams faced one another, two months ago, marked their first competitive encounter. United were victorious visitors winning 3-0 at the Stade de Suisse, which should give Mourinho’s men a lift for the home fixture. The Reds of course are fresh from a memorable win over tournament favourites Juventus in Turin, and - in stark contrast to our ridiculously leaky Premier League defence - only Schalke and Bayern Munich have let in fewer goals in this year's competition.

Mourinho said: " I want to play from minute one against Young Boys like it is the last chance. I want to play this match like it is a knockout one,- intensity and pressing - like we have to win.
"I want the team to start strong, I want them to have to have a go immediately, so it (Saturday's draw) was very frustrating.
"This is a very important match for us because we can clinch qualification."

Young Boys of Bern are United's 75th different opponent in the European Cup and Champions League at Old Trafford.

Form guide: Man Utd L W W W L D Young Boys D W W L W W
Match odds: Man Utd 2/7 Draw 9/2 Young Boys 11/1 (Ladbrokes)
Referee: Felix Brych (Germany)

Sunday 25 November 2018

Mourinho's third season and we're worse than David Moyes

With the benefit of hindsight, there was no way that Jose Mourinho was ever going to be a success at Manchester United. Had he been Sir Alex's immediate successor, he may well have been but when he took over the rot had well and truly set in, the squad are damaged goods, and he looks a man increasingly out of touch.

He was supposed to be the man to awaken the sleeping giant of Man Utd, but instead he's signed £350m worth of dross and somehow assembled an exorbiant collection of mismatched bits and pieces who don't play as a team. We still look every bit as bad, if not worse, under a two time Champions League winner as we did under a dismal Scot with no credentials whatsoever. It's football from the stone age - embarrassing, abhorrent and absolutely inexcusable. Ask yourself this, when was the last time we watched United and came away with a result that we actually deserved? I can't remember the last time we put a team to the sword.

 It's clear that Mourinho has his favourites - Marouane Fellaini, Nemanja Matic, Romelu Lukaku and Ashley Young to name but four. None are good enough but will always be picked week in week out regardless of form and fitness. Others - Fred, Eric Bailly, Diogo Dalot, Paul Pogba (four of his buys) along with Andreas Pereira - are good enough but have been ostracised, alienated and find themselves outcasts simply because the manager doesn't like or trust them. You have to do what's best for the team. Mourinho does what's best for himself. None of his signings have worked out, the team are bereft of confidence and it's impossible to work out how Mourinho wants us to play. Beyond simply staying in a game, relying on the odd piece of individual magic, and using Fellaini to try and nick a 1-0, that is.
 He could be David Moyes or Louis van Gaal re-incarnate. In defence of the latter, at least he wasn't afraid to mix it up and try a few different things. Mourinho repeats ad naseaum from week to week. We can't even park the bus because he persists with tripe such as Chris Smalling, Young and Matteo Darmian. 0-0 at home to Crystal Palace with half an hour to go and he took off the three attacking players who had at least tried to make something happen. Pogba wasn't great yesterday but can win you a game in a moment, Jesse Lingard was bright and Juan Mata the only man who moved and tried to make space. Yet on came Fellaini as all three were hooked. The little impetus we had went with them as the midfield fell apart. Matic, a player who simply not been good enough, played the full 90 again when it's blatantly obvious he needs a rest. It's true that a good few many players simply aren't, and never will be, good enough for this great club, but this is Jose's THIRD season in charge. It's not like he's new in the job. He's had ample opportunity to shift the deadwood but won't.

Chelsea's Maurizio Sarri and Unai Emery at Arsenal have had more of an effect on their respective sides in four months than Mourinho has had in two and a bit years at Old Trafford.
 It's impossible to detect Mourinho's Man Utd raison d'etre. It took Jurgen Klopp two seasons but he's turned Liverpool - unpalatably so - from also rans to genuine contenders. All three bosses arguably have a lesser standard of players to work with.

Mourinho has always been a boom or bust manager - trophies, success and silverware have sat hand in hand with pragmatism - he craves control by suffocation and containment. Compare that to Pep Guardiola who craves complete domination by monopolising possession and starving the opponent of the ball. The complete antithesis of Mourinho.
That's all well and good, but if you strip the success away and Mourinho can't deliver trophies, then what are you left with. There's nothing to fall back on and no middle ground. Him and his sides are either at their zenith or their nadir. That zenith was reached in his first season at the club. Last term offered tangible progression and undoubted improvement. We look worse now than we did when he first arrived. At least we could say he looked to be building something with the runners up place off the back of two trophies and Champions League football during his settling-in season. He was bought in to win us the title as a short term fix. Instead, we're seventh in the league on a negative goal difference and as close to the relegation positions as we are to City. We're going backwards, there's no optimism and I can't see a future.

Saturday 24 November 2018

Our season is over and it's not even December

I simply do not know where this is going to end. It's November - barely a third of the way through the 2018-19 football season - and Manchester United's campaign is more or less already over and done with.
After 13 games, we're seventh in the league, closer to Cardiff City than we are to Manchester City. 21 points - six wins, three draws and four losses. A negative goal difference having been knocked out out the cup by a second tier side amidst the wreckage of a season that has hit the rocks and is sinking fast. You would have to go some to be worse than David Moyes, yet this is United's worse start to a season in 30 years, and the only two sides we've played of any considerable stature are Chelsea and Manchester City. Seven points off fourth, out of the Carabao Cup and with about as much chance of winning anything this season as me becoming the new Brexit secretary. One trophyless season is a major disappointment for any United side - two in succession is borderline dereliction of duty. We've still got the FA Cup to come, but as we somehow saw in Turin, you can get lucky and shithouse your way to a win in a one off game. The league is the bread and butter. The league title is what we all want. There was undisputed progress last season as United's second placed finish was our best since Ferguson. It seemed to lay the bedrock of a campaign that was make or break for the manager. With City already cutting an unstoppable swathe through the league, we're sandwiched between Marco Silva's improved Everton and Eddie Howe's upwardly mobile Bournemouth. Leicester and Watford are hot on our heels. A reminder that it is November. It's not even Christmas yet - the first trees are only just going up - and we've got nothing to play for. Already.

It also would have taken some doing to outdo Moyes' successor Louis van Gaal when it comes to somehow managing to reach similar levels of stifling, strangulating and soporific football. It's ironic that during the Dutchman's darkest days in the Old Trafford hotseat, the same set of fans who had to sit through the sleep-inducing s**tshow that was Saturday's goalless draw with Palace were actively and unashamedly singing for Jose Mourinho. Such ironic hubris. So desperate was that 2015 winter of discontent, the quick fix of Mourinho seemed the only obvious solution to the mess.

As we all know, LVG paid for the pragmatism with his job. Surely the man many - if not all of us - wanted as his replacement cannot survive beyond this season, barring a miraculous upturn in form. There may have been different faces on the dugout and on the pitch, but the dynamic was eerily similar. This was a performance and a result straight from the Louis van Gaal copybook. It was a case of deja vu.
Indeed, this could have been any one of the many moribund Manchester United messes from the last few years. The personnel may have changed with the club in a seemingly permanent state of flux - from Moyes to Mourinho via LVG and Giggs - but United remain out dated, out of touch and out of ideas. We're so far behind not just City or even Liverpool, but even any club in Europe with the vaguest idea of what direction they want to go in and what type of club they aspire to be.
 Much has been written about the way the club is being run and the fact we're rotten from top to bottom. All I would say is that if there is anyone - anyone - out there who can possibly still be behind the manager, then ask yourself this: what justification can there be for keeping him here other than the obvious one of the ineptitude of the hierarchy. The board have made three poor managerial appointments so can we trust them to get it right this time? You can't see it.

On the eve of the game, the manager claimed United could break into the Premier League by the end of December. The top six by May - never mind anything else beyond that - is quicky looking like nothing more than a pipedream.

Mid table mediocrity should come as no surprise

Manchester United's seemingly irreversible backward slump continued apace as the Eagles came to Old Trafford and could count themselves unlucky not to fly off with the points. I'm fed up of this, I can't take it anymore and I've completely had enough. At home to a Crystal Palace side who look set to be in the thick of a battle for survival, it was a familar pattern. A stuttering, laboured, plodding, modern day mediocrity assembled at exorbiant cost but with absolutely no idea whatsoever. We don't demand to win the league every season - we don't even ask or expect to win every game. What we do want is to have a team that plays better football, a team that plays without inhibitions and a team that does not get outplayed in six out of nine games at home. At a ground where opponents used to be beaten before they even ran out the tunnel, Palace were the latest in a long line of visitors to come here and consider themselves unlucky not to have won. Battered by Spurs and Juve, held by Wolves, Valencia and Palace before we even consider that Carabao Cup KO at the hands of Derby. Any team that can keep the ball moving for more than a minute will hurt us because this side simply cannot - or will not - do it. Not having the quality is one thing, not even managing to do the basics is quite another.

I'm not coming on here to rant - I'll be wasting my time, what's the point - we've seen it so many times before. It's got to the point where I'm not even surprised any more. This could have been any Manchester United performance from the past ten years. Cross, shot, hopeful hoof up to Marouane Fellaini. Repeat ad naseaum. No cohesion, no tempo, no movement, no discernible pattern or identity. Players taking an age to deliver the ball - which is invariably the wrong one - and permanently looking slow and sluggish.

 There's an old saying that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and over again and expecting a different result. It's a well worn phrase that almost seems to have been invented for this particular period in our club's illustrious history.

It wasn't until the 70th minute that this pathetic excuse of a so called Manchester United side coughed and spluttered into life. By then, most inside Old Trafford needed life support. If anything can sum up this miserably depressing season, then it was the sight of Matteo Darmian and the equally as useless Ashley Young trying - and failing - to complete a simple cross. You feared more for the Saturday afternoon pleasure boat users on the adjacent Bridgwater Canal than you did for Wayne Hennessey and his Crystal Palace backline. Why did we even bother buying Diogo Dalot when a proper full-back who actually has pace and can whip a ball in can't get in an awful side ahead of a garbage Italian who must rank as one of the worst signings in United history? Nemanja Matic was again picked ahead of Fred (or anyone else who can actually pass the ball for that matter), despite his seemingly permanent slump in form. A defence that can't defend, a midfield that can't pass, create or indeed do anything remotely useful, and in Lukaku, a £75m striker whom cannot score. Welcome to Manchester United in 2018.

Against a hard working but limited Palace side - one which will likely be embroiled in a battle for survival - we could have played until Christmas and got nowhere.  Marouane Fellaini came on as Plan B yet again and pushed up front alongside the once again ineffective figure of Romelu Lukaku. Both were simply waiting for crosses that never came.

This was reminiscent of the infamous David Moyes era game against Fulham in February 2014 - the game of 81 crosses. There were two survivors from that game out there today - Chris Smalling and Ashley Young. Both are absolutely useless. Young attempted eleven crosses against Palace. None found their intended target. Yet he continues as a mainstay of the Manchester United defence when he wouldn't even be first choice for Palace. Same goes for Smalling. It's a damning epitome of this side's collective struggles.

 The man in the dugout might be of different repute from that fateful day, but it certainly feels like we're back there again. It wasn't supposed to be like this but in many ways it should come as no surprise.

Match report: Man Utd 0-0 Crystal Palace

United failed to win at Old Trafford for the sixth time this season as despite late pressure the team were unable to break down Roy Hodgson's resilent and well organised Crystal Palace side.

Romelu Lukaku had an effort ruled out for offside - as did Cheikou Kouyate - in a game that only livened up late on as the Reds applied late pressure that ultimately proved in vain.
Wayne Hennessey saved well from Jesse Lingard and Lukaku but the visitors had several chances of their own to piler a first win at Old Trafford during the Premier League era.

Patrick van Aanholt twice went close, Andros Townsend slotted wide when well placed and only David de Gea's smart double save after half-time preserved a second clean sheet of the season.
This is now United's worst start to the season in 29 years - seventh in the league with 21 points out of a possible 39 and negative goal difference. Add to that the unpalatable Carabao Cup KO at the hands of Championship Derby County, and several not-good-enough players in contract talks, and it's fair to say that Manchester United are a complete mess.

Palace had lost on their past 11 league visits to Old Trafford and arrived at the venue flirting with relegation after seven top-flight matches without a win. Former United man Wilfried Zaha is the most dangerous and creative outlet, and it was he who was involved as they carved out the first big chance on 20 minutes.

He zipped a shot just wide and was part of a rapid breakaway five minutes on that caught United cold. Only a miscued shot from Patrick van Aanholt saved the Reds from going behind. Jesse Lingard was United's most threatening player for spells and he forced Hennessey into his first action of the encounter with a first time snap shot from close range. He teed up Anthony Martial - on the lookout for six goals in as many games - but the Eagles keeper was there again to block.

There was an almighty scare for United two minutes before half-time when it looked in real time like Palace had taken a shock lead. Kouyate and Victor Lindelof both appeared to get a glance on Milivojevic’s free kick but, as the Palace player ran away celebrating, he was confronted by the referee’s assistant flagging for offside.
It was a very close call and could have gone either way. 

History was to repeat itself just shy of the hour mark as this time the Reds had a strike chalked off in front of the Stretford End. 
  Ashley Young's dipping effort from distance was parried out by Hennesey, Lukaku reacted to follow up and tap home, but the Belgian striker was judged to be marginally offside.

Andros Townsend squirted a one on one opening wide, before Lukaku went close with a header at the other end. The Reds launched a late rally in search of a trademark winner at the death, but Palace deservedly held firm to ensure the points were shared.

Overall team performance: 3/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Jesse Lingard 


Thursday 22 November 2018

Marcus Rashford chalk and cheese for United and England

Marcus Rashford's Manchester United career is one that can be split neatly down the middle. The pre-Jose Mourinho Rashford - the young, fearless, fearsome local boy who catapulted himself into the national spotlight with four goals in his first two games.

Then there's the Rashford we are seeing now - he is still one of the brightest talents in the game but has lost his edge. He is missing the ruthlessness that he had in abundance in those first two ties. Rashford has spent so much of his time out wide that his megawatt glow has dimmed. Of course, plenty of players have gone out wide and still remained prolific - Kylian Mbappe the obvious example - but it's the role that Rashford has had to play - far too much is being asked of him. Too much defensive work. Mourinho's obsession with the demand for his players - no matter in what position - to track back, has taken it out of him.
Sure, he does it because he’s just that kind of kid who wants to please, but is it any surprise that he then has nowhere near enough air left in his lungs to finish clinically? The joy, the instinct and the cutting edge have slowly but inexorably dripped from his 24-carat talent.
It would be churlish to lay this all at the feet of José Mourinho, but let’s be realistic for a minute here because what the hell has been done to Rashford? It’s ridiculous that one would take such a bright and vibrant attacking talent and drain so much of the explosive creativity from his game.

 Here was a young striking prospect that England could rally behind. Here was someone who could become a devastating partner for Harry Kane (who back then was busy proving he was no one season wonder) in time.

 Watching him for United, he looks like a player that will get through on goal and, more often than not, panic and miss his shot. He appears to be a player overthinking things. But we musn't forget how very, very young he is. Still only 21, there's so much more from him to come. He's not become a terrible footballer overnight. He's just struggled to adapt to

an unfamiliar job in a strangulated side.

Many will rush to Mourinho’s defence here, but the simple retort to those people is: look at Rashford for England. Is that the same player you see every week for Manchester United? Or does that look much more like the Marcus Rashford who ended his first season with eight goals in 18 games? Anyone with an ounce of truth in their soul will answer the latter.
Rashford looks overjoyed to play for England. He plays wide, sure, but he does so with less defensive responsibility and more trust in attack. He's left to do what he's so good at - running at opposing full backs with the ball at his feet. He’s also playing for a team that keep the ball on the ground and get it moving.
With Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane, Rashford has like-minded forwards who are all about interplay and ball movement. No one hogs the ball, no one dithers, and no one is there trying to play a completely different style of football to him.

In the Uefa Nations League group stage, England scored four goals against Spain and Rashford scored or assisted three of them. His role running off the ball was key to the Three Lions ripping Spain to pieces on the break in a display more full of verve and intent than any in United red since his debut season. Even against Croatia, where he failed to score, he produced a pulsating performance that stirred the soul. If this was the kind of player England have at their disposal then just imagine the great things that could be achieved.
Now we whiplash back to the club game, and await to see Rashford’s mild-mannered alter ego either sat on the bench waiting for a late cameo or starting in a defensively constraining role. Either way, even with the No.10 shirt on his back, it will be decidedly underwhelming and leave us all asking when will Rashford escape Mourinho’s tyranny and be able to live his whole footballing life as the superhero we all know he can be?

Monday 12 November 2018

Problematic Pogba still Man Utd's most vital player

Make no mistake about it, I don't for one minute think that Paul Pogba is worth the eye watering transfer fee that United paid for him back in 2016. I've been his biggest critic, and its clear that he is a free-spirited enigma that in many ways is Jose Mourinho's antithesis.
But yet despite his flaws and attitude issues that have consistently undermined both player and manager Mourinho, there can be no denying that this Manchester United side is a much better one with the World Cup winning Frenchman at the heart of it. The stats almost inconclusively prove this.
Pogba started 25 Premier League games in 2017-18, with United winning 16 of those, drawing five and losing four times.
Of those remaining 13 matches, United won nine times, drew once and lost three – at Huddersfield, Chelsea and against Manchester City at Old Trafford. United’s win % with Pogba in the team is over 65%. Pogba played a starring role as we improbably turned the tide in the corresponding derby fixture last season, without him there was never a hope this time.

Instrumental in recent recoveries against Newcastle (where he played as part of an unorthodox back three), Chelsea, Bournemouth and Juventus - everything went through Pogba. Yet in the stagnation of the first Manchester derby of the season, everything slumped to a stuttering, static and stifling halt, with an £89m faultline in the middle of the team. I'm not for one minute suggesting that we would have beaten City with him or not, but the fact that he would have been the one player City didn't want to see on our team sheet speaks volumes.

City monopolised possession and had 65% of the ball, no surprise for a side that treat the ball like a baby under the tutelage of a manager who demands total superiority. Whilst United did sit back, in Pogba's absence there was no one to break up play to disrupt City's irrepressible rhythm, no one to pass the ball and drive with it and no one to start attacks from deep and link the play. His surging runs, rapier like passing and pace, power and mobility were conspicous by their absence and allowed City to win the midfield battle and take control of the match. City were also without their star man Kevin de Bruyne, but whereas Pep was able to bring in a like for like replacement in Bernardo Silva, we had to go with the cumbersome battering ram of Marouane Fellaini whom, to his credit, stuck to his task amirably. But he, along with Ander Herrera and Nemanja Matic, aren't fit for purpose.

With his creative, string-pulling abilities Mourinho’s men are more adventurous and prepared to get onto the front foot.
They see more of the ball when Pogba is around, with his qualities helping to both win it back and keep it moving, while their passing accuracy in the final third – where it really matters – also improves noticeably when a key creative cog is present.

Pogba has had a lot of stick - some of it justified, some of it not - but he remains Man Utd's key man. We better hope he's fit for the Palace game in two weeks time.

City and United a complete mismatch on and off the field

The 176th Manchester derby in April may have gone down as one of the all classics to live long in the memory as the Reds completed a never-to-be-forgotten,  climb off the canavs victory to ruin City's coronation day.

Seven months on, and its immediate successor is one we'd all rather forget as quickly as possible. United were one of only two sides to get the better of Pep Guardiola's side as they stormed to a record smashing 100-point title. The mob from across the city once again threw down the gauntlet and showed that they are going to take some stopping. United were bereft of the injured Paul Pogba with Marouane Fellaini, Nemanja Matic and Ander Herrera reduced to rubble as City's slickers took control as early as the 12th minute - a control that they were never to relinquish.

This was one of the most one-sided derbies in recent memory - even the infamous 6-1 in 2011 at Old Trafford was not as bad as this. On that day, United created chances right up until the closing stages when a ruthless, rampant City inflicted maximum punishment against ten men. This could quite easily have offered up a repeat - whilst the Reds effort and determination cannot be faulted, and all the players tried their best and gave 100%, City were far too good.
In many ways, there's no shame in losing to this side - a side who continue to make the Premier League look easy, a side who can toy with you and leave you chasing shadows before striking at any moment. That's what this team can do under Guardiola, and they came into this game having put six past Southampton and Shakhtar. But United struggled to even make it difficult for them. Looking at the starting link up before the game and you felt a sense of foreboding even before the kick off. A team of slickers versus a team of slackers. Without Paul Pogba, there was no creativity, no movement, no pace and no pressing. We never had a hope. At the back, it's baffling that Chris Smalling - a man that continues to hit new levels of haplessness week in week out - kept his place. Eric Bailly has his flaws but he is a better defender than Smalling in every way, yet the Ivorian is jettisoned after one bad game. Smalling has been poor all season but still keeps his place. It just does not make sense. Same goes for Nemanja Matic - more on him later.

The tie between the Manchester clubs was full of contrasts.
The smallest team in the division took on the tallest. The arch proponent of progressive passing and pressing football, Pep Guardiola, versus its very antithesis, Jose Mourinho, a coach who considers possession of the ball to be more of a threat to his own team than his opponents. Mourinho craves control by containment, Guardiola demands complete superiority by denying the opponent the ball and smothering them when they do get it.
The contrast between the two sides was summed-up by their respective midfield trios. The match was won and lost here and the two coaches' respective views on the game were embodied by these players.
United opted for three plodders - Fellaini, Matic and Ander Herrera. Fellaini was our man of the match, but Matic and Herrera were sluggish, off the pace and ineffective. Neither had a hope of even laying a glove on their diminiutive but dynamic counterparts, with David Silva the conductor of an orchestral symphony alongside his namesake Bernardo and the under-rated but no less important Fernandinho. There was only ever one winner there. Matic's usefulness as a central midfielder, like Mourinho's reactive tactics, has arguably been bypassed at this level of the game.
Again, like Smalling, how he continues to keep his place is beyond me.

During Mourinho's peak-years as a coach, central midfield was the land of the giants. Physicality reigned supreme until Spain and then Guardiola's Barcelona turned football on its head between 2008 and 2012.
Players like Matic are arguably obsolete when there are smaller, skilful, creative midfielders who can control the game, create chances and win the ball back as effectively as a giant like Matic or Fellaini.
Mourinho is still using a Nokia 3310 while Pep has long moved onto a sleek multi-functional smartphone.
Matic is arguably the embodiment of Mourinho's rigid style of play, a lumbering presence who brings very little craft to proceedings. The gulf in class between the Serbian and City's trio of midfield magicians was almost uncomfortable to watch at times. As for how us Reds are feeling, watching this City team batter and brutalise all comers into submission must have been how the rest of the league felt watching Sir Alex's United at the peak of their considerable powers.

Even at 2-1, when Anthony Martial had given us hope of yet another unlikely rescue mission, City did not yield. Instead, they looked more threatening at that point than at any other time in an already one-sided contest. Ilkay Gundogan's goal was synonymous of the clear gulf in class between the sides - a gulf in class than runs deep throughout both clubs from the pitch to the dugout and via the board room.

When Messrs Pep and Jose arrived in Manchester, it was supposed to spark the sequel to a compelling managerial rivalry between the two men. Instead, like City versus United, Guardiola versus Mourinho is proving to be a mismatch.

Sunday 11 November 2018

City 3-1 United match report

Pep Guardiola's City offered up a chastening reminder of the gaping chasm in class as, despite briefly threatening another famous comeback, United were second best in the derby.
The champions replaced Liverpool at the summit of the Premier League and, on this evidence, City's rampant team of slickers will take some stopping as they bid to defend a title for the first time.

Last term's corresponding fixture was a memorable one for the Reds as we improbably stormed back from 0-2 down to win 3-2 and - with Paul Pogba pulling the strings - ruin the hosts title party in front of a disbelieving Etihad.
This time, Pogba was forced into a watching brief with United's midfield three - the incompatible trio of Marouane Fellaini, Nemanja Matic and Ander Herrera - given the job of stifling their opposite numbers, undoubtedly the best pound for pound passers anywhere.
After a poignant Remebrance Sunday tribute, it took only twelve minutes for City to open the scoring. A whipped cross from Raheem Sterling picked out Bernardo Silva at the back post, and he rolled the ball back to his namesake David, who took a touch and rifled in an unerring finish.
Herrera blocked well from Sterling on the stretch, but the Blues fleet of foot and sharpness of mind proved very difficult to deal with. Sergio Aguero - so often the scourge of Manchester United - fired into the side netting and Chris Smalling headed over at the other end.

The Reds have made a habit of going into half-time behind, but our hopes of mounting another climb off the canvas victory were hit harder - if not quite completely extinguished - three minutes after the break. City's all time top scorer and his strange new haircut punished United from our free-kick as the diminutive Argentine pounced on a Jesse Lingard loose ball and surged forwards. He exchanged passes with Riyad Mahrez and thumped beyond a stranded David de Gea into the roof of the net from a tight angle.
Sterling went close again before Jose Mourinho turned to returning Belgian Romelu Lukaku just before the hour mark in at attempt to stem the City tide. It worked a treat straightaway, as Anthony Martial picked out Lukaku, and the onrushing Ederson scythed down the striker. Martial continued his fine recent run in front of goal as he converted the resultant spot kick to halve the deficit and spark home of another rescue mission. It was the Frenchman's seventh goal of an impressive season.

Fernandinho stung the palms of De Gea before Juan Mata - who scored the vital equaliser in Turin - entered the fray along with Alexis Sanchez. Martial flashed an effort off target but that was as good as it got for United.

There was to be no famous comeback this time, though, as City substitute Ilkay Gundogan added a third from close range with five minutes to play.

Overall team performance: 6/10. City were too good but the players gave everything and never gave up.
United Faithful Man of the Match: Marouane Fellaini

Saturday 10 November 2018

The Special One has rediscovered what made him special

After three years of moans, negativity, tantrums and turmoil, the real Jose Mourinho has stood up to be counted. The saying often goes that teams should be an on pitch identikit of their manager, and that's true when it comes to this Manchester United side.
Which United will we see on Sunday - the team that can still strike the fear of God into the most mighty of opponents - the team with the courageous, never say die attitude - or the jumbled ragtag of broken bits and pieces that we saw collapse under the slightest pressure earlier this season.

More pertinently, which Mourinho will come to the fore. The mischief-making, soundbite-spouting Special One with a neat line in wind-up celebrations and a regular standing order to football's authorities?
Or the one we saw for much of a stodgy opening to Manchester United's season - a surly Mourinho apparently picking fights with his own players and club.
Much as there has been a seismic shift in momentum and belief in recent weeks, so has there be a notable change in Mourinho. He's recently resembles the Mourinho that everyone fell in love with when he first arrived in England - the raw, visceral, me-against-the-world manager with the CV, record and huge personality and ego befitting of only the best. The mojo that made the Special One special does, indeed, appear to have returned.

Mourinho's facial expressions and gestures have often been the stuff of dreams for gif-lovers, meme makers, and those who just like poking a bit of fun.
He was at it again on Wednesday - cupping an ear to the Juventus fans and infuriating defender Leonardo Bonucci in the process.
It's not the first time this season the Portuguese has made his feelings known to rival supporters.
Cast your mind back to October's 2-2 draw with Chelsea - a game memorable in the wonderful world of Jose for more than one reason (but more on that later).
Mourinho wasn't best pleased at being taunted by home fans throughout the game. His response? Raising three fingers - one for every Premier League title he won with the Blues - in their direction after the final whistle.

From losing four games in all competitions across August and September, United have been beaten just once in October and November.
Now Mourinho is pacing the touchline, shouting instructions to his players, and even getting involved in scrapes with opposition coaches. It's exactly what I want to see from a Manchester United manager. This is exactly why he was my choice to become Sir Alex's immediate successor at United. There always seemed a sense of destiny that Mourinho would end up at Old Trafford. Taking on entire crowds with his wind-up celebrations, showing passion, living life through the sharp end of a lens, catching the eye of the football powers that be and eve being funny again - the old Jose is alive and well.

Most would keep their mouths shut but Mourinho wasn't afraid to make a dig at the FA in a post-match interview after Wednesday's win over Juventus.
When questioned by a reporter about his celebration, he replied: 'Do you speak Italian?' When the interviewer answered 'no' he told her to ask the FA as "they would translate".
But that wasn't all. He then burst into a laugh the kind of which you can't help but respond to in exactly the same way.
Mourinho is once again looking sharp. He's got a smile on his face (sometimes) and things are starting to look up for United.
All it needs now is for him to re-establish a bitter feud with a rival manager, like the Wenger years,
Pep Guardiola and the Manchester derby anyone?

Manchester derby match preview

United go into the 177th Manchester derby meeting as underdogs as Pep Guardiola's unbeaten champions look well equipped to successfully defend the title this season.
Having smashed every record in the book on the way to the most dominant title win the land has ever seen last time, City have ominously picked up where they left off having already moved two points clear in the league, winning their last two ties 12-1 on aggregate. Last season's corresponding fixture will live long in the memory as we ruined City's coronation day with a climb off the canvas 3-2 win despite trailing 0-2 at half time in April.

United head into the game in much improved form, though, and off the back of superb win in Turin. will set out to nullify City, similar to how they approached the match against Juve, but even more emphasis will be on our defensive shape. Guardiola’s side will dominate possession and wait patiently for gaps to appear, so each and every United player will need to be disciplined throughout. The players will believe that if they can go to Juventus and turn over one off the best sides in Europe on their own patch, then they can beat anyone in world football.

Reds boss Jose Mourinho has no fresh injury concerns to deal with, but  there is a chance that Romelu Lukaku could return from his recent lay-off having trained on Friday. With Juan Mata, Marcus Rashford and Marouane Fellaini all helping to turn the tide at the Allianz Stadium, Mourinho has plenty of options as he considers how to shock our all-conquering neighbours.
City will be without string-puller in chief Kevin de Bruyne after he suffered another knee problem, with centre-half Nicolas Otamendi (knee) and Ilkay Gundogan - a scorer in this game last time - set to be sidelined. Long term absentees Claudio Bravo and Eliaquim Mangala are both out.

Mourinho lauded his United side as ‘a team that always finds a way to fight back' in the wake of a series of  recent comeback wins against Newcastle, Bournemouth and Juve.
He said: “If you want to go in a positive way, we are not a team that gives up,”
“We are a team that always finds a way to fight back. We can also go to the other side: why do we always concede before the opponent?
 “Sometimes changing results, sometimes not, we are a team that has that collective spirit to fight back. But it is not always possible so if we keep conceding goals before the opponent, the day when we cannot come back will arrive.”
Mourinho played down allegations over City's illegal financial activity that has cast a shadow over the blue side of Manchester in the past few days.
He added: "I cannot say what is behind but in this moment I am only focused on the four lines of football, if you want to speak about their football potential we can speak and football potential starts with investment." 

Form guide: Man City W W W W W W Man Utd W D L W W W 
Match odds: Man City 2/5 Draw 19/5 Man Utd 8/1
Referee: Anthony Taylor (Altrincham) 

Thursday 8 November 2018

Strange United delight and despair in equal measure

This was the not the Jekyll and Hyde United that has become our trademark under the boom or bust tenure of Jose Mourinho. But there was more late drama, even later goals and - extraordinarily - an against-the-odds win in fortress Juventus. This was United's greatest European Cup night since Sir Alex Ferguson retired, perhaps even since we last won it in 2008.
Two months ago, Mourinho looked a dead man walking. A 3-1 defeat at West Ham - featuring moonlighting from makeshift centre back Scott McTominay - followed hot on the heels of a Carabao Cup KO at the hands of Mourinho's former student Frank Lampard and his Derby side. Wolves had come to Old Trafford and dominated, with Valencia following suit a few days later. Talk of unrest, irreparable damage to dressing room reportedly shattered beyond repair, a toxic and divided fanbase and a series of useless, dross, discombobulated performances had seemingly spelt the end for the man brought in to restore a sleeping giant to former glories.

If that black September has
been the nadir of Mourinho's Manchester United, then what's followed since has undoubtedbly been the zenith. Some would argue - with total justification - that April's climb off the canvas victory at the Etihad is our greatest result - if not performance - under the firebrand Portuguese. For me, that honour falls to last night's unbelievable, against the odds, smash and grab win over the mighty Juventus as a ground where they have lost twice in 36. This was a Juventus side with ten wins out of eleven in the league, unbeaten in 19 competitive ties and yet to concede a goal in Europe until last night. A side that has won seven succesive Serie A titles and has made it to two out of the last four Champions League finals. A side who remain as favourites to go all the way in this competition. Yet our Manchester United - a United side that had been dubbed than worse that the David Moyes 'era' after our worst league start for 29 years - produced something so spectacular that I wondered if I had dreamed it.

The question remains: how can this team go from the low of defeats to Brighton, Tottenham, West Ham and Derby to this - our greatest, most memorable, never to be forgotten European night for over a decade. A night when we took on an undeafeated heavyweight boxer in his own backyard, played him at his own game, and left him punchdrunk, on the ropes and gasping for air. Manchester United became famous through defying all reasonable logic, yet this side have taken that to extremes and done so in a way that cannot be expected or predict. One of the best managers of all time tactically out-manouevered Max Allegri - potentially his successor - but yet got shown up by a rookie boss four months into his first managerial job. In a season during which Mourinho has got a lot wrong, here he turned the game as two of his substitutes - Marouane Fellaini and Juan Mata - turned the tie upside down.

But then, we live in a world when Marouane Fellaini can frighten the life out of a Juventus central defence widely regarded as the best in the business - even if Messrs Chiellini and Bonucci do have a combined age of 65. Football wouldn't be fun it it was predictable - and life as a Manchester United fan is anything but these days. What's most difficult to fathom is that we are not a 90-minute Manchester United side. We're Second Half FC - sometimes even ten minute FC.
On our day, we've proved we can beat anyone in world football. We've also proved we can get beat by anyone in world football, too. From losing at West Ham to passing the toughest test in Europe in two short months. This Manchester United side is the strangest I have known.

Victor Lindelof coming of age at Manchester United

Manchester United thrive on proving people wrong and so too, increasingly, does Victor Lindelof. Known as the Ice Man, the young Swede endured a difficult start to his United career and question marks were raised over the credibility of Jose Mourinho's £31m signing. In today's modern era where judgements are made and verdicts passed far too quickly on a player, it seemed as if Lindelof would forever be tarnished with the memories of his disastrous debut across the Pennines at Huddersfield. After he came on as a substitute, everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong as Lindelof looked like a scared rabbit in the headlights during United's infamous defeat at the John Smith's Stadium. Many had already consigned him to the proverbial scrapheap but, a year on from that desperate nadir, Lindelof is outperforming every one of his central defensive cohorts. Improbably, he's gone from liability to a certain starter and one of the first names on the team sheet. You get the feeling that this is his coming of age season.

There were signs at the end of the 2017-18 season that he was starting to grasp exactly what it takes to become a success in the red of United. After a consistently strong World Cup in which he helped Sweden to reach the quarter finals - and despite his early season blemish at Brighton - Lindelof has hit an undoubted upward trajectory. Hopes were high that he and Eric Bailly - both expensive Mourinho additions - would prove to be the fire-and-ice pairing that the Reds have been missing since the departures of totemic figureheads Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic. Since that bleak day on the south coast in which no United player covered himself in glory, the two have experienced vastly contrasting fortunes. Bailly has fallen foul of his manager and - ostracised and alienated - cannot get a look in.

Lindelof, meanwhile, has continued to reap the rewards of a consistent run in the team and has gone from strength to strength. He's improving and growing into his role as a Manchester United centre back by the week. For all the furore over further defensive recruitment over the summer, so much has the Swede improved that maybe United now only need one new centre back instead of two. Mourinho's recruitment during his Old Trafford tenure has been questionable at best, but Lindelof is beginning to justify his hefty price tag.
Where Romelu Lukaku, Nemanja Matic and Alexis Sanchez have largely flattered to deceive since they were brought to the club by the boss, Lindelof - despite his inauspicious start to life at the club - has shone.
Man of the match in the home game with Juve, Lindelof was again a contender in the reverse fixture at the Allianz Stadium, where he enjoyed a calm, composed and confident game at the heart of a solid and organised defence. Chris Smalling - only four years his senior but a relative veteran of over 300 games - struggled again. Lindelof still has the odd mistake in him (which player doesn't) and could have arguably reacted quicker to Leonardo Bonucci's ball forwards that led to the opener, but he reads situations well, is deceptively quick and no slouch on the ball. Having faced Ronnie and co twice in as many weeks, he's acquitted himself well in both games. Visibly brimming with confidence, he did little wrong and stood out as one of our best players in an eye catching all round display.
Since the 3-1 defeat at West Ham in September, there have been signs of improvement for Mourinho and Man Utd. The epitome of that is Lindelof's resurgence.

United defy the odds again to rekindle the spirit of 1999

The stadium may be different – all strobe lighting, booming PA system and remarkable steeped stands – but Juventus away was the setting for one of the defining performances of Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United.
It's 20 years since the season that catapulted United into the annals of footballing immortality, a season that culminated in the greatest single achievement ever by an English team during ten manic months in which the Reds redefined what was possible.
That night, the night in which Ferguson's team remodelled the club's modern day raison d'etre, United looked down and out - 2-0 down (3-1 on aggregate) against a team that looked simply unbeatable, the team of all the talents that had reached the last three Champions League finals and swept aside all comers en route. Serie A sides, even back then, simply did not relinquish such a strong advantage, especially not at home. Yet, spurred on by the lung bursting and Herculean efforts of a man possessed in Roy Keane, the Reds - somehow - defied the odds and all reasonable logic to spark a series of events that culminated in that never to be forgotten treble.

As an eight year old quickly falling in love with United and the beautiful game, my recollections of that night at the Stadio delle Alpi are vague to non existent. I have relied simply on fond memories of misty eyed Reds to tell the story of one of the greatest twists of fate in this club's revered and illustrious history. I will never forget last night. The circumstances were eerily similar. The Reds, for once the underdog, travelled to an all conquering Juventus side, seven time defending champions of their country and a team that have reached two of the last four finals. Juventus gazing at the cup with the big ears, United gazing longingly at a Juventus side that are everything they aspire to be. Yet one of the favourites to win this year's tournament have become our kryptonite.

Having been outclassed and second best to the very same team a few short weeks ago at Old Trafford, there was nothing to suggest the scarcely believable events that would follow.
When former Red Cristiano Ronaldo fired a dagger through the hearts of a fanbase that used to idolise him, our fate seemed sealed. Surely, Juventus - masters of the defensive arts - would only now go on to an even more dominant victory. You'd have got long odds on any other outcome. You'd have reckoned without the spirit and courage of this far from vintage United side. This was 'only' a group game and not a final - but it was a victory in keeping with our club's greatest of them all. We rode our luck, Juventus struck the upright twice, the result was better than the performance and there was a late, great, twist in the tale, as the Reds heroically snatched an improbable, seemingly impossible victory, from the jaws of defeat to one of the finest club sides on the continent. Every United fan I spoke to would have been happy with a draw at fortress Juventus, but the team - and Mourinho - pushed for a winner. Alex Sandro inadvertently provided us with one and gave everyone of a Red persuasion a night to remember.
Again, we showed that on our day and when the stars align, we can compete with the best in the business.

Sir Alex or not, there is something ingrained in the very fabric of this great club that we never, ever give up. Mourinho's side look a long way from winning a competition we made our own all those years ago, but for 90 minutes in Piedmont, Manchester United made us believe again.

Match report: Juventus 1-2 Man Utd

Another stunning late smash and grab raid saw United turn a potentially damaging defeat into a hugely improbable victory.
Trailing through a goal of the season contender from former Red Cristiano Ronaldo, United sent on Juan Mata and Marouane Fellaini and both men proved pivotal as Mata's free-kick levelled the tie before Fellaini caused chaos from Ashley Young's free kick which found its way in off Alex Sandro for an incredible win.
Once again the Reds made a habit of climbing off the canvas to turn a tie that had looked lost on its head and move two points clear of third place Valencia into a strong position to qualify from Group H.

Unbeaten in 19 games in all competitions, and having suffered only one defeat in 36 Champions League home group stage games, Juventus - yet to concede a goal in this season's tournament before Mata's strike - had outclassed United in the reverse fixture at Old Trafford and few would have bet against a repeat.

Max Allegri's seven time defending Serie A champions had rattled the woodwork either side of half time, as Sami Khedira struck a post and Paulo Dybala curled an effort off the bar. David de Gea had earlier saved superbly from Juan Cuadrado and Juventus twice went close through Miralem Pjanic before Ronaldo's stunning over-the-shoulder volley from Leonardo Bonucci's long ball forward.

United were compact and resolute but struggled to create anything clear cut.  A dinked through ball from Nemanja Matic to Alexis - from which the Chilean was narrowly unable to turn home - was the main highlight.
Wojciech Szczsny was then called into action shortly before half-time when Paul Pogba curled an effort towards goal, but the keeper gathered with ease.
Pogba had been laboured in the first half, but after the interval he was involved in the Reds best move of the game. He flicked the ball on to Luke Shaw, who controlled and let the ball run into the path of in-form Anthony Martial, but the forward was unable to get his effort on target.

Ronaldo's sensational volley broke the deadlock on 65 minutes, and he almost set up a second soon after when he laid a pass off to Pjanic, but De Gea reacted well to save.
Cuadrado went close from distance, before Mourinho's double change - Mata and Fellaini in place of Ander Herrera and Jesse Lingard - and it took only seven minutes for the former to make an impact. Just as he did against Newcastle, Mata curled home a superb 20 yard set piece after fellow substitute Blaise Matuidi had scythed down Martial.
That looked to have salvaged an unlikely point, but - gloriously - things got even better when another free-kick, this time from Young, bounced in off a despairing combination of Bonucci and Sandro.

Substitute Marcus Rashford could even have added a third on the break during injury time, but for Szczesny's desperate low save, and the home crowd could barely believe the late turnaround. The final whistle sparked memories of ’99 when the Reds so famously came from behind to win on the way to the Treble. It may still be early days in this season's Champions League, but this result sees the Reds march on, and how.

Overall team performance: 8/10. Immense all round
United Faithful Man of the Match: Victor Lindelof. Excellent again just as he was in the first game.

Wednesday 7 November 2018

Juve the standard bearers on and off the field

Turin, northern Italy: famous for its history, music, art galleries, chocolate and for being the home of the most successful club side ever in Italian football. It's here that United - in the unusual position of the plucky underdog - face our stiffest Champions League examination since the knockout tie with the then-all conquering Real Madrid team in 2013. Not since Sir Alex Ferguson stepped down have United had the opportunity to test ourselves away from home in Europe against one of the best. Pound for pound, player for player, and on a run of 19 matches without defeat in all competitions stretching back to April, are there any finer exponents of football anywhere on the planet right now than Juventus? An agile, strong, organised, streetwise, tactically astute team from goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny, miserly centre backs, a grit and guile midfield combination to a devastating front three of Messrs Ronaldo, Mandzukic and Dybala, Juve are the blueprint for any side with European aspirations of their own. From what I've seen so far, they have every chance of going all the way to Madrid and the final in May.

Few will give United more than a puncher’s chance of unseating a Juventus side who have lost just twice in seven years of Champions League competition at their new Allianz Stadium. And even if United are coming off two spirited wins over Everton and Bournemouth, even if Juventus did occasionally look sketchy in seeing off Cagliari 3-1 on Saturday, even if Max Allegri has doubts over Pjanic, Douglas Costa and Blaise Matuidi, the smart money remains on the side who are already six points clear at the top of Serie A, and for whom the domestic arena seems to hold few remaining threats. In an attempt to crown this glittering era in the Old Lady's history, one title - the biggest trophy of them all - has remained agonisingly beyond them. Despite two Champions League finals in the last four years, Juve have not won the cup with the big ears since 1996. Proof if it were needed that domestic dominance does not always - rarely in fact - sit hand in hand with European supermacy.
You do not fork out close to £200 million for a 33-year-old striker - even one as talismanically gifted as Cristiano Ronaldo - purely to secure an eighth successive Scudetto. That tells you everything you need to know about where Juve's ambitions lie.

Off the pitch as well as on it, Juventus are everything manager Jose Mourinho - and us - want United to be. In our long running, protracted search for a much needed director of football, it's no secret that we've been pursuing sporting director Fabio Paratici and outgoing chief executive Beppe Marotta - both men have been vital behind the scenes cogs in Juve's serial winning machine under boss Allegri. Unlike in the Old Trafford corridors of power, Juve carry a strong and clear line of authority: from chairman Andrea Agnelli and his deputy Pavel Nedved, to Paratici and Marotta, their business model is superb, they have football men on their board and Allegri is sure to come into the frame when the time comes for Jose to jog on.

And so, with United’s Champions League progress still in the balance, these two giants of the game meet in familiar stance: Juventus gazing at the stars, United - European fate at a crossroads -
gazing at Juventus. “Enjoy it,” were Sir Alex Ferguson’s last words before sending them out to battle in Turin two decades ago. Ferguson knew that if you dream big, someday you could win it all. Mourinho knows that if you dream small, you’ll never be disappointed.

Match preview: Juventus v Man Utd

A fortnight on from the Old Lady's Old Trafford victory, United make a first visit to Turin in 15 years to face a Juventus team who will win the group with victory.  They only need a point to qualify for the last 16.
Jose Mourinho's men currently have a two point cushion over closest rivals Valencia, but will slip to third spot if the La Liga side beat Young Boys coupled with our defeat in Italy.

Max Allegri's side sit top of Champions League Group H with three wins from three. They also lead Serie A by six points after a record-breaking start to the campaign, winning their first 10 matches in all competitions.
Our first visit to the  Allianz Stadium - home of Juve since 2011 - marks the beginning of a huge week with two daunting away assignments. United face two unbeaten league leaders in four days, with the first Manchester derby of the season at the Etihad hot on the heels of this Champions League tie against one of the best Europe has to offer. Following back to back wins for only the second time this season, the team could easily end the week with consecutive losses, typifing this side's consistent inconsistency. Mourinho’s side still look unconvincing at the back and are uncomfortably at their best when trailing in games.
But against the best teams you can’t really afford to be trailing as they’re experienced enough to close up shop and win games. None more so than streetwise Juventus, masters of the classic Italian catenaccio. Juventus and City are not Newcastle or Bournemouth.

Romelu Lukaku looks set to miss the derby after he was let out of the travelling party for this one. Having been dropped in the win over Everton, he missed the win at Bournemouth due to injury. Antonio Valencia is fit and available again, and Marouane Fellaini could also feature. Paul Pogba will be involved against his former side.
Juve forward Mario Mandzukic missed the reverse fixture but is fit again after an ankle problem ruled him out of the fixture against Cagliari at the weekend.
Midfielders Douglas Costa and Emre Can, winger Federico Bernardeschi and forward Moise Kean are not available.
 Allegri has said he might select Juan Cuadrado, Paulo Dybala and former United player Cristiano Ronaldo in a three-pronged attack.
Despite the looming spectre of Sunday's showdown with City, Mourinho said that minds are focused solely on the visit to Turin. He said: "
"I don't even want to think about what's next [at the weekend]. Okay, it's Man City, but it could be Crystal Palace or whatever, it doesn't matter. We just focus on tomorrow. It's a big opponent, the super favourites to win the competition, and I think in this press conference we are speaking less about the game and more about generalities. I think we should focus a bit more on tomorrow."

The Reds Turin test will not seal our fate, and Mourinho added: "
"It's a match we want to win of course but independent of tomorrow's result, our matches against Young Boys and then Valencia are the ones that will determine our qualification. I think we will fight to qualify until the last match."

 Form guide: Juventus W W D W W W United D W D L W W 
Match odds: Juventus 6/10 Draw 31/5 United 11/2 
Referee: Ovidiu Hategan (Romania)

Saturday 3 November 2018

50 million down the drain, Tony Martial scores again

Is there a better and more in-form Premier League player than United's Anthony Martial at present. The Reds are making a tasty habit of dramatic, late, climb off the canvas victories this season and again turned around a tie that had looked under threat on its head with a strong second half performance at Bournemouth, with the young Frenchman once again leading the charge.

It's easy to forget that here is a player whom was not wanted by his manager a few short months ago, and seemed certain to move out of the door marked 'Exit' after an insipid start to the season - a start that reached its nadir with his abysmal, lazy and lackadaiscal performance at Brighton. Three months on, as United returned to the south coast and started with the same line up apart from Chris Smalling ahead of the exiled Eric Bailly, the tables - and the form book - have been dramatically flipped on its head. After that game at the Amex in which you forgot he was even out there, it seemed unlikely that he would ever run out again in the red of United. Now he's a man in the form of his life, and is proving that his £50m transfer certainly was not down the drain. First Luke Shaw, then Victor Lindelof and now Martial, this becoming a season of resurrection and redemption for some of Manchester United's much maligned men.

In a season where United manager Jose Mourinho has seemingly ever only been one game from the sack, there's a delicious irony in the fact that it's Martial who has done more than most to keep his manager in a job. Let's not forget that Mourinho laid bare that he did not want Martial and, having alienated and ostracised one of Europe's finest, young, genuine 24-carat talents, he was prepared to let Martial leave. We can only be thankful that fate, circumstance or maybe even the powers that be, intervened and he stayed put at Old Trafford.

If Luke Shaw has been United's Player of the Season in the opening ten games of the season, Martial is not far behind. Since he burst on to the scene and brilliantly lit up an otherwise tepid and anodyne season under Louis van Gaal in 2015-16. No matter what he goes on to achieve in his career, he will go down in United folklore forever after THAT dazzling and devastating debut goal against Liverpool. Since then, Tony's United career has plateaud and become a frustrating case of what might have been.
His talent and ability has never been in question, but his attitude and work rate has sometimes let him down. It's impossible to know what's been going on behind the scenes, but someone or something has sparked his Old Trafford career into life. United's top scorer this term, Martial has five goals in four games - all them crucial in turning the tide or converting one point into three. His equaliser at the Vitality Stadium followed his stunning strike against Newcastle, brilliant brace at Chelsea and trademark winner against Everton. Since the West Ham game, United have enjoyed a slow and steady upturn in form and it's Martial who has been leading from the front.

The transformation in his trajectory has been nothing short of remarkable. Tony Martial he came from France, the English press said he had no chance..

Match report: Bournemouth 1-2 Man Utd

Marcus Rashford scored deep into injury time as United staged another dramatic comeback and completed back to back wins for the second time this season.
Callum Wilson punctured United's porous and shoddy defence after eleven minutes during a first half in which the Reds, once again, were off the pace, sluggish and second best. Anthony Martial's fith goal in four games restored parity and that paved the way for substitute Rashford to nick the winner in the 92nd minute when he scored on the rebound from a Paul Pogba cross.

Ahead of kick-off, the stadium fell silent out of respect for the victims of last week’s helicopter crash at Leicester City, and The Last Post was played to mark Bournemouth’s closest home match before Remembrance Sunday. Following this sombre period of reflection by both sets of fans, the crowd roared into life as the contest commenced.

Eddie Howe's high flying Cherries started the day in sixth, three points above United, and carved out three clear chances in the opening ten minutes. David de Gea saved well from Bournemouth's lively winger Ryan Fraser before he was called into action again to keep out Wilson. Junior Stanislas had an effort deflected wide, but the hosts weren't to be denied for long as Wilson this time took his next opening emphatically. The resultant corner was only half-cleared, Stanislas whipped the ball back in and his cross was met by the lurking, in-form Wilson who knocked in his sixth of the season from close range.

United found themselves under siege as Bournemouth - scenting only a second ever win over us - went close again through Adam Smith,  and referee Paul Tierney then waved away their shouts for a spot kick when David Brooks went down under a challenge from Luke Shaw.

The Reds grew into the game and were level ten minutes further on, when Martial continued his unstoppable scoring streak. The Frenchman's run was picked out by the returning Alexis Sanchez, and - unmarked in the area - he fired in a finish beyond the wrong footed Asmir Begovic on 35 minutes.

As is so often this side's wont, the Reds found another gear after the interval, with Martial instrumental and leading the charge. Begovic cleared well under pressure before Sanchez and Shaw were both denied in quick succession by smart stops from the increasingly busy Cherries keeper.

The Reds barrage continued as Ashley Young rattled the crossbar from a free-kick, Rashford was thwarted by a lunging Nathan Ake and Pogba's snapshot was hacked off the line by Brooks.
Begovic saved from Ake's inadvertent miscue before Bournemouth sprung forward at the other end, only for De Gea to save well from Brooks when one on one.

With four minutes added on, the match could still have gone either way and it was to be United’s victory as Pogba crossed low and hard from the left and Rashford kept his composure when the ball bounced up inside the six-yard box to bury it in the net and send the travelling fans wild.

United Faithful Man of the Match: Marcus Rashford
Overall team performance: 7.5/10

Match preview: AFC Bournemouth v Man Utd

United make our second longest away trip of the season to an in-form and upwardly mobile AFC Bournemouth side sitting in the top six after their best ever Premier League start.
Jose Mourinho's side are three points and two places behind the Cherries, and Eddie Howe - long tipped for a bigger job - has his Bournemouth side improving year on year. He has them playing a fine style of football and does not sway from that philosophy even against more illustrious opposition. They score goals, take risks, run through brick walls for Howe and having an unstinting desire and determination.

As Bournemouth have overachieved, there is no doubt that United have done the opposite. Although, the ship has been steadied since the 3-1 defeat at West Ham in September amid steady signs of improvement.

The hosts are again without former United striker Joshua King, who is nursing an ankle problem.
Captain Simon Francis is doubtful with a groin injury and will be given a late fitness test.
Manchester United boss Mourinho must decide whether to recall striker Romelu Lukaku, who began on the bench against Everton.
Jesse Lingard, who made his comeback from injury as a late substitute in that game, will also hope for a recall to the starting line-up.
Captain Antonio Valencia is still absent with a knee injury, while Marouane Fellaini and Diogo Dalot also remain sidelined. United will turn to the in-form talent of an on fire Anthony Martial as our go-to match winner on the south coast.

 The fact that the first match of November sees Bournemouth in the top six, on the back of three consecutive Premier League clean sheets, and above Manchester United in the table says everything about their respective seasons so far.
The continued positivity and consistency in Dorset from Eddie Howe's team makes this another tricky examination of United's current state of mind.
 Mourinho's team are the last visitors to win at the Vitality Stadium, back in April, and to do so again they will have to hit the standards set in their second-half performance at Stamford Bridge recently.
It would be another small step if they could, in a campaign where they have yet to find any significant momentum.
In the first of three successive away fixtures, and despite  Juve and City looming large on the calendar, Mourinho believes his side will start to climb the table.
He said: "I think we will be in a better position, I always say that by the end of the season you play 19 games at home and 19 away and it doesn't matter when, but the reality is that sometimes when the fixtures are coming they can carry an influence.
"In this part of the season we play against possibly the three biggest candidates for the title - Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool - and Juventus twice - so the calendar is not good to us.
"But I think by the end of December, which is the end of the first half of the Premier League, I think we are not going to be in the position we are in now. We are going to be in a better position."

Let's hope that United begin that march into a stronger position with a much needed win - which would be only the second backto-back victory of the season, at the Vitality Stadium

 Form guide: AFC Bournemouth W W W D W W Man Utd L D W D L W
Match odds: AF Bournemouth 9/4 Draw 13/5 United 11/10
Referee: Wigan official Paul Tierney takes charge of his sixth game of the season