Monday 31 December 2018

A penny for Jose Mourinho's thoughts right now

A penny for José Mourinho’s thoughts right now. What must he be thinking watching this supercharged, re-energised and resurgent Manchester United side? A cavalier United team that have offered a glorious throwback to the iconic and halcyon days of yesteryear, free from the trouble and strife left behind by the departed Portuguese.
In front of the watching Sir Alex Ferguson – 77 today – United were everything we wanted – but failed to be – under Mourinho. This was a performance in which the Scot would have been proud. The type of showing that he was synonymous with and one that became United’s trademark for a quarter of a century on his watch. It was almost like he was there in the dugout, such was the relentless, poetry-in-motion swagger that the Reds overwhelmed Bournemouth with. Fast, fluid, ruthless and rampant.  In the ascendancy from the off, feet only came off United pedals with the flash of Lee Mason's red card to Eric Bailly eleven minutes from the end.
Only Sir Matt Busby and Mourinho himself have won the opening three matches of their spells in charge, but neither of the decorated coaches have completed the streak with quite the same level of entertainment as Solskjaer has already imprinted. The style, the tactics, the mentality, the belief and the feeling around the club – the difference between Ole’s effervescent United and the torrid tenure of the moribund Mourinho is night and day. Chalk and cheese. Fire and ice. Just about any other sublime-to-the-ridiculous comparisons you can think of.

Across the trio of games against Cardiff, Huddersfield and Bournemouth, United have plundered 12 goals, conceding three, having been given a new lease of life under Solskjaer. We most likely would have won all three under Mourinho but the difference comes in how we’re doing so.
In the multimillion-pound industry that football has become, substance is often put ahead of style to ensure that competitors keep up to speed and ahead of their rivals. The job of a Manchester United manager is to marry those two seemingly incompatible elements together. So far, Solskjaer has done so to perfection. After Mourinho’s famine has come Ole Gunnar’s feast. He is making this management lark look easy. Mike Phelan – a man who knows this club like the back of his hand, should never have been let go when Sir Alex left and David Moyes came in. It is his return that has had a massive impact on the rediscovery of United’s missing-in-action DNA.
Marcus Rashford’s injury time winner saw the Reds squeeze past the Cherries in the reverse fixture, whilst United discovered the Terriers nasty bite away from home last term. Scores of 5-1, 3-1 and 4-1 – albeit even against fodder – used to be a routine business for a Manchester United side in the dominant days of yesteryear but these are different times and under Mourinho it was anything but.

His record against the league’s lesser lights was poor. This is still a side with flaws yet to be exposed, but we deserve a bit of enjoyment after everything that’s been before. Life as a Manchester United fan is fun and enjoyable once more and I look forward to watching us again now.
In Busby’s maiden campaign at United he won his opening three games, with the team scoring eight times, while Mourinho’s side yielded six goals. The run is also the first time United have netted 12 goals across any three-game run for seven years.
What must Mourinho be thinking seeing the rampant and rejuvenated Paul Pogba at his destructive and bullying best – a player, like many of his team-mates, transformed after just a few short weeks under the arm-around-the-shoulder management of United’s new caretaker boss. The very same Pogba that Mourinho spent £89 million on and failed so miserably to get the best out of has now spread his wings and emerged from the cocoon that he has been trapped and entombed within for the past two and half years. And how. He is a free-spirited enigma, at his best when given licence to roam. When given a restrictive role, Pogba loses his edge. At Juventus, he had the metronomic Andrea Pirlo alongside him allowing him to rampage forward at will. There is of course, no such luxury at Old Trafford, but Solskjaer’s message has been simple: go out, express yourselves and play for the fans, the badge and the club you represent. How refreshing that we finally have a manager who simply “gets us” as a club.
Mourinho called Pogba a ‘virus.' It is now, indeed, alarmingly clear who the real virus was. For anyone who may not have worked it out yet: he is not in the dressing room any longer. United have been cleansed, cleared and are well on the road to recovery. There will undoubtedly be some bumps in the road, some re-opening of old wounds, but for now the adhesive plaster has been applied and the symptoms have gone. A cloud has been lifted and Solskjaer’s megawatt glow has lit up the place.
United are brimming with confidence and have won three straight Premier League matches for the first time since March. As 2019 rolls around, it brings the prospect of a brighter future where there once appeared none. Even the tangible, ever-growing threat of a Liverpool title triumph cannot temper the newly found positivity flowing around Old Trafford.

Sunday 30 December 2018

Growing sense of optimism amid Ole's Reds resurgence

It is only two weeks since Manchester United slumped to the 3-1 loss against Liverpool which saw the axe come down on Jose Mourinho. Two weeks since they allowed their old rivals a scarcely believable total of 36 shots on goal in one of the most staggeringly passive displays in United's recent history. But the unhappy memories from the Groundhog Day of Anfield are already fading amid a growing sense of optimism.

Since Solskjaer replaced Mourinho, the Reds have enjoyed a spectacular resurgence - albeit against the bread and butter of three of the league's lesser lights. Under our Solskjaer inspired renaissance, the Reds have reverted to type, playing a style familiar to those who watched attack-minded teams sweep to 13 league titles under Sir Alex Ferguson.
This side is someway off that level but the watching Ferguson, who turns 77 on Monday, would have been impressed with the way United went about opening up the Cherries' defence from the first whistle.

 It is now three wins out of three and 12 goals scored under caretaker-manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Following the victories over Cardiff and Huddersfield either side of Christmas, Sunday's demolition of Bournemouth put them just three points behind Arsenal and added to a growing sense of optimism that a top-four spot might yet be salvageable.

More than anything, though, their latest victory added to the feel-good factor which had ebbed away under Mourinho. Solskjaer took over with a promise to allow a previously stifled squad to express themselves, and the approach has paid off. The mood around the club is transformed and so is the football. Eric Bailly's red card was only a minor blot on the evening.

Paul Pogba, of course, has been the biggest beneficiary of the change of management. His relationship with Mourinho had become toxic, but with four goals already under Solskjaer, he has now scored as many in his last two Premier League appearances as he managed in his previous 19. He was only the width of the post away from completing his hat-trick.
For the third consecutive game under Solskjaer, Pogba was at the heart of everything United did. The Frenchman only had more than 100 touches in three of his 15 appearances under Mourinho this season, but he has managed it in every game since his departure. His dancing celebrations spoke of a player who is enjoying himself again.

He is not the only one.
Both Rashford and Anthony Martial have been given licence to play on the shoulder of the last defender under Solskjaer and their speed and movement were too much for Bournemouth. Rashford was outstanding in those circumstances for the opener, and it was the same story with Martial for United's third. Having sprung the offside trap, he had the guile to dig out an inch-perfect cross for Rashford with the outside of his boot.

 The intensity of United's forward players ran right through the team. Solskjaer had called on them to make it a "high-tempo" game in his pre-match interview with Sky Sports and they certainly managed it. At the end of the 90 minutes, the tracking data showed United had outsprinted Bournemouth, one of the most hard-working sides in the Premier League, by 131 sprints to 127.

It was their second-highest total of the season and continued a trend of Solskjaer's reign so far. Manchester United have gone from averaging 102 sprints per game under Mourinho to 116 under the new man. It represents a dramatic increase of intensity from a group of players who have embraced the change of approach.
The caveat, of course, is that United are yet to come up against truly testing opposition under Solskjaer - that does not come until their trip to Wembley to face Tottenham on January 13 - and it would be foolish to pretend there are not areas still in need of improvement.

Most notably, United remain vulnerable in defence, with Nathan Ake's header before half-time ensuring they are yet to keep a clean sheet under Solskjaer. The Norwegian will wonder how Ake was able to rise so easily above his marker for that goal - and he will also question how David Brooks found the time and space to dribble through United's box to provide the assist.

Bailly's impending suspension is another concern for a backline already depleted by injury, but none of that can take away from what was another cathartic 90 minutes. The Mourinho era is well and truly over. Solskjaer has thrown off the shackles and Manchester United are looking up again.

Match report: Man Utd 4-1 AFC Bournemouth

The rejuvenated Reds continued their renaissance as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer maintaned his 100% record as interim manager with an impressive win over out-of-form Bournemouth.
Paul Pogba laid the spectre of his troubles with Jose Mourinho to rest as he scored his second successive double, added to Marcus Rashford's early opener and substitute Romelu Lukaku's late fourth. United's third consecutive win in our last game of 2018 was only marred by the returning Eric Bailly's errant sending off for a reckless lunge on Cherries substitute Ryan Fraser.

The Reds remain sixth but are now only three points behind place-above Arsenal in the congested battle for the fourth and final Champions League place. It's been a fruitful festive period for the team, with twelve goals in three games and three wins on the bounce for the first time since April. Meanwhile, Eddie Howe's injury-hit side have lost eight of their last ten matches in all competitions.

United were on the front-foot from the off and threatened to unpick the Cherries from the very first attack of the tie. In stark contrast to the team's constant late flurries under Jose Mourinho, it took only five minutes for this unrecognisable United side to move in front.
Pogba scored it, but he was heavily indebted to the pace and skill of Marcus Rashford. His lightning footwork bamboozled both Nathan Ake and Diego Rico right under the noses of the Stretford End and Rashford’s cross was seized upon by Pogba as he sprinted in to slide home the first opener from close range.

David de Gea saved superbly from the dangerous Ake but United were relentless going forward and were rewarded again in the 33rd minute when Pogba stretched the lead as he scored his second of the match. The recalled Ander Herrera provided the assist as his floated cross was met with the  Frenchman's powerful header from six yards.

Rashford had been a thorn in Bournemouth’s side with his pace, constantly unsettling Howe’s back line. He got himself onto the scoresheet in the 45th minute. The striker lunged and stretched onto a cute cross delivered by the outside of Martial's right boot and connected at the far post to make it 3-0.

United were left still searching for the first clean sheet of Solskjaer's temporary tenure when the visitors pulled a goal back right on half-time through Ake, who headed in.
Pogba was a man reborn and was again involved as the Reds stormed forward once more on 65 minutes. Nemanja Matic - another playing feeling the full force of the Solskjaer effect - pinged a pass into the Frenchman who in turn flicked on for the onrushing Rashford. He attempted to round the advancing keeper, but Asmir Begovic did well as he saved superbly at the feet of the terrific forward.

Rashford was replaced by Lukaku soon afterwards, and the substitution reaped dividends for Ole as Pogba lifted the ball into the path of the burly Belgian and he did the rest from ten yards.
The Reds were rampant and ruthless and almost scored again as Pogba came within inches of his hat-trick when he rattled a shot against a post with 12 minutes to play.

United were coasting and it was all going smoothly until Bailly was sent off in the 79th minute as the Ivorian launched a scything straight-red tackle on sub Fraser.
Solskjaer had been preparing to bring on Marouane Fellaini at that point with the Belgian midfielder stripped and ready on the touchline to come on.
However, Bailly’s exit changed the substitution and Phil Jones instead replaced Martial.
Even when reduced to ten men, United still eased through the rest of the game to the final whistle to keep the feelgood factor going.

Overall team performance: 8/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Paul Pogba

Friday 28 December 2018

Match preview: Man Utd v AFC Bournemouth

Man Utd will aim for three consecutive league wins for the first time this season as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side face Bournemouth in our final match of 2018.

The fixture is our latest in the packed festive schedule, and comes hot on the heels of a confident 3-1 win over Huddersfield Town on Boxing Day, when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took charge of his first home match as caretaker manager to great acclaim.

The Treble winner will be hoping United's positive momentum can be further extended after eight goals in two matches and a pair of entertaining attacking displays.

Romelu Lukaku, Alexis Sanchez and Anthony Martial have all returned to training and are in contention to return against the south coast side on Sunday. Marcos Rojo and Scott McTominay aren't far away from returns, but Chris Smalling is out with a foot injury. The centre-back is not expected to return until the Tottenham tie on 13 January.

With United's next match at Newcastle following just three days after the Bournemouth clash, the caretaker manager will be keen to use the depth of his squad wherever possible.
Out-of-form Bournemouth shared some early team news of their own on Thursday, when they confirmed they will be without their captain Simon Francis at Old Trafford, after the centre-back was stretchered off during the 5-0 defeat to Tottenham at Wembley on Boxing Day. Scans later revealed a rupture to the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. The defender joins midfielder Lewis Cook on the sidelines, who suffered a similar injury earlier in the month. Both men - key cogs in the Cherries rise to Premier League prominence - will miss the remainder of the 2018-19 season.  Dan Gosling and Adam Smith are also expected to miss out, after playing no part in recent games due to knee complaints.
Despite a recent dip in form, in which they have lost four away games in a row and seven in nine league games, only Everton have scored more goals than Bournemouth's 27 outside of the top six.
Solskjaer said: " When you win, everyone is happy so let's just keep that run going. We've got to focus on our performance against Bournemouth and get three points because the last two games have been fantastic.
"My job has been to speak to the players, to get to know the feelings and know how their confidence levels are and how they feel about their own situation because every single one has a responsibility to improve.
"It is up to them to use their imagination, creativity & just enjoy playing for this club because that's the best time of your life. My job is just to help them do that." 

The Dorset club did not reach the top flight until 2015, so we've faced the Cherries relatively few times. The teams met for the first occasion in 1949, when United ran out 6-0 winners in the FA Cup third round while still playing home games at Maine Road after the war. United have dominated the encounters, winning 10 of the 15 matches, drawing three times and losing just twice. However, Eddie Howe's men won the first-ever league match between the clubs - a 2-1 victory at the Vitality Stadium in 2015, when United were managed by Louis van Gaal. But Old Trafford remains unconquered territory: Bournemouth have lost five of their six games here, with a 1-1 draw in 2016/17 being their best effort to date. In last season's equivalent fixture, Romelu Lukaku scored the only goal on a bitterly cold and wet midweek evening in December.
Howe said: "“We are in a key stage of the season and we have to make sure we keep our focus and not get too down on ourselves. We have Manchester United away in our next match so we can’t spend too much time dwelling on the defeat to Spurs."
Form guide: Man Utd D W L L W W  AFC Bournemouth W L L L W L
Match odds: Man Utd 1/3 Draw 4/1 AFC Bournemouth 9/3
Referee: Lee Mason (Bolton)

Thursday 27 December 2018

Five jobs on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's Man Utd to-do list.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United renaissance is gathering pace but, despite two wins from the two games of his temporary tenure, there remains a lot of work to do for the interim United boss between now and May.
The Reds are like the best ever laptop money can buy. With José Mourinho, United were the best laptop with the AC adapter permanently plugged in. It’s only going to go ten metres or, if you keep on the move, it will run out of battery and die. With Solskjaer, we’re still the best laptop but it can be taken anywhere. It’s portable, wireless you can show it off and take it on a world tour. Night and day.
United should not be judged on performances and wins against Cardiff and Huddersfield – two sides who will be relegation fodder and sides that the rest of the other top six clubs should be beating with eyes closed. But even so, there have been huge signs of improvement.

Fix the defence

Only three clean sheets from 26 games in all competitions remains a huge concern. Although the defenders – Phil Jones and Victor Lindelof in both of Solskjaer’s first two matches – appear to be playing with a bit more confidence, the former instills none of the latter whatsoever. Playing Jones is like going away for the holidays but later realising you’ve told everyone you’ve left your house unlocked and the door open.
Solskjaer has said that every player will get a chance in the coming weeks as he continue to learn the qualities of his new squad. Rui Faria, Mourinho’s long time assistant, left in the summer and contributed to José’s eventual downfall. The Portuguese did a lot of the defensive work and analysis, and perhaps United are suffering from the absence of a coach to specifically work on drilling the defence. It must become Solskjaer and Mike Phelan’s number one priority.

Making the team fitter is also a must

It’s no secret that, under the previous regime, the Reds were statistically the laziest team in the league. Every team bar Fulham had outworked the Reds and the players looked out on their feet every time they tried to press. Some players have looked exhausted after 30 minutes – that is how unfit this team are. Solskjaer won’t admit it, but privately it must be a huge concern to have inherited a team that tire so easily.
For a Manchester United side to be so deficient fitness-wise is criminal, as Solskjaer himself said: “No Manchester United team should ever be outworked.” This was, I think, partly due to Mourinho’s stifled and strangulating set up, expanding the bare minimum of energy levels by sitting back. The team outworked Cardiff and also ran further than Huddersfield. Solskjaer has been far more fluid, switching between 4-1-4-1, 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1. The key to United’s success so far under Solskjaer has been the pressing, counter-pressing and fluid attacking play. Solskjaer has asked the team to press high up the pitch and disturb the opponent early. The signs are good but there is a long way to go and tougher tests on the horizon.

Continue the upward trajectory

Granted, Solskjaer has ‘only’ faced the fodder of Cardiff and Huddersfield, but he didn’t decide the fixture list and can only beat what is in front of him. He has done so emphatically. It’s not so much about the scorelines of 5-1 and 3-1, but about the style of play and the newly found confidence and belief. There are tougher tests to come, with Newcastle and Tottenham away in the coming weeks a far more sterner examinations of credentials. Not to mention the daunting looking obstacles of Arsenal, Liverpool, Paris Saint-Germain and City in February and March. But that’s in the future. Solskjaer couldn’t have done anymore to get United back on track at the minute. United were battered and broken when he arrived but have now started to climb off the canvas. We need to put a winning run together and keep this early momentum going

Faith in ‘da yoof’

I’ve got nothing against Marouane Fellaini. But you can’t help but feel that had Mourinho still been in charge, he would have turned to the substitute Belgian as his go-to default setting again vs Huddersfield. But one small decision showed that, in OGS, we finally have a manager and a man that “gets us.” In giving 18-year-old Angel Gomes nine minutes from the bench, he showed more intent and ambition in two weeks to tap into one of this club’s greatest traditions than his predecessor did in two-and-a-bit years. The one young player that Mourinho consistently put his faith in was Scott McTominay, who has not been seen since the former manager’s sacking.
Lack of development in youth players was given as one of the reasons for Mourinho’s sacking. He played a plethora of the next generation of Manchester United talent on last summer’s pre-season tour, but – as ever – that now looks to have been merely the making of an elaborate point rather than any tangible attempt to blood youth once the serious stuff got underway.
Mourinho may have named United’s youngest ever Premier League XI on the final day of his first season in charge but that was out of necessity when he had effectively given the league up in pursuit of Europa League glory. It was the exception and not the rule. The FA Cup tie with Reading gives Solskjaer the opportunity to try highly-rated Academy starlets such as James Garner and prolific youth team player Mason Greenwood.

Make United four-midable

What does Ole Gunnar need to do to make the club’s hierarchy consider him for the permanent job? Has he been told there’s a chance he could get this if it goes well? If he can get fourth place – or even miss out by one or two points – from this position then it’s surely impossible to ignore him when it comes to appointing Mourinho’s ‘full time’ successor.
Don’t forget that this season was our worst ever opening to a Premier League campaign. Top four, putting up a fight vs PSG and a shot at a 13th FA Cup and the gig is yours, Ole! Eleven points off Arsenal two weeks ago, United are now breathing down the necks of Unai Emery’s side. The gap to fourth placed Chelsea sits at eight – improbable and unlikely but it no longer looks insurmountable. But more important than the results is restoring the positivity as well as United’s identity and image. All Ole, the team and Messrs Phelan, Carrick and McKenna can do is keep winning and let other results take care of themselves. This could be the longest ever job interview for our caretaker (perhaps next permanent) manager…

Wednesday 26 December 2018

Pogba stars as Ole brings back feel good factor

What a difference a week makes.
The change of mood for both Manchester United players and supporters since club legend Solskjaer took charge of the Red Devils last Wednesday has been quite remarkable.

Playing stodgy football without any real plan or direction under Jose Mourinho, and having run-ins with a number of players, Solskjaer has already lifted the gloom by putting smiles back on faces with a free-flowing approach that has liberated the players.

The Norwegian said in his programme notes that "this club is built on entertainment and excitement" and United have scored eight goals in their last two games, showing movement and attacking flair that has been evidently missing under the past three managers Mourinho and his predecessors Louis van Gaal and David Moyes.

 Avram Glazer might wonder what all the fuss was about.
Then again, he might ask himself why he didn’t act sooner.
It was a rare visit to Old Trafford for the American, but he will travel back across the Atlantic with positive tales after Ole’s 100 percent start as Manchester United interim manager rolled on with a 3-1 win against Huddersfield.
He will also regale the rest of United’s American-owners with stories of their record signing Paul Pogba and assure them their £89million investment remains as sound as ever.
This particular member of the Glazers is not a regular visitor to these parts – and you wonder if any of the family would have been eager to show up had Mourinho still been at the helm.

 Mourinho still retained the support of us fans even after such a desperate final few months in charge.
The bulk of the ire was directed towards the board – and any sign of United’s owners would have been sure to spark angry reactions from sections of the crowd.
Instead Glazer was virtually anonymous, sat alongside Ed Woodward in the directors’ box, as all eyes were on the pitch and another spirit-raising performance from Solskjaer’s team.
In two games, the Treble-winning hero has recorded a return of six points, eight goals and a style of front-foot, progressive football that has rarely been seen in this calendar year.

 Then there is Pogba. A man intrinsically linked with Mourinho’s troubled final months at United. France World Cup winner Pogba has been restored to the starting line-up after falling out-of-favour under Mourinho and has repaid the faith shown by his former youth team manager Solskjaer with another highly impressive performance.
Man of the match against Cardiff, the 25-year-old ran the show once more against Huddersfield with more touches on the ball (117), more passes (90) and more shots (5) than any other player on the pitch.
His two goals were well-taken, while England international Rashford was unlucky not to get on the scoresheet with his constant threat in the final third and saw two shots saved by Lossl, though both were comfortable for the Huddersfield goalkeeper.

Having spoken about the traditions of the club and the 'United Way', Solskjaer brought on 18-year-old Angel Gomes with 10 minutes remaining for only his second first-team appearance and he almost scored, but curled his strike straight at Lossl.
Solskjaer was on his way to a perfect start but still has plenty of work to do with his defenders as Jorgensen's late strike meant the side have kept just two clean sheets in 19 leagues games this season.

It was Mourinho’s failure to get the best out of the World Cup-winning midfielder on a consistent basis that was a backdrop to all the problems at the club.
Solskjaer, who embraced the 25-year-old at the end of this win, is making it look easy.
After providing four assists against Cardiff, Pogba scored twice against Huddersfield and ensured Old Trafford was in unison in their support.
Both finishes in the second half, were outstanding – picking out of the corner clinically.

In two-and-a-half years in Manchester, the points difference between Mourinho and Pep Guardiola was 46 in Manchester City’s favour.
In two games under Solskjaer, it’s six points to none in United’s favour. Mourinho's premature departure is having the lovely side effect of making City's title hopes crumbles.
No one will be getting too carried away inside Old Trafford – least of all Solskjaer. But the roar that greeted news of City’s 2-1 defeat to Leicester was unmistakeable.
The less said about Liverpool, the better.

Match report: Man Utd 3-1 Huddersfield

United kept up the pressure on the chasing Champions League pack with a comfortable and convincing Boxing Day win over struggling Huddersfield.
In caretaker manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's first home game in charge, United followed up the stylish win over Cardiff with another eye-catching victory. It condemned the basement boys from across the Pennines to a sixth successive defeat and ensured the Reds remained in touch with fourth placed Chelsea and place-below Arsenal.

The team had stormed to a ruthless and clinical win in south Wales on OGS's debut, and the club legend continued the Reds renaissance and made it two wins from the first two ties of his temporary tenure.
There is still work to do for Solskjaer, particularly in defence, but the mood around Old Trafford has been transformed for both players and fans since the Norwegian's appointment last week.

The banner honouring the Norwegian - 20 LEGEND - still hangs from the second tier of the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand and the welcome he received – from everyone, including the travelling Huddersfield Town fans – was very special, even by Old Trafford’s lofty standards. There was an almost tangible feeling of optimism as the teams readied themselves for the kick-off and the volume was raised a few decibels as Solskjaer’s charges looked to go on the offensive from the get go.
The dogged Terriers began brightly and carved out the first chance of the game inside the opening ten minutes when Terence Kongolo fired over from close range when well placed.
The visitors were by no means a distant second best, but United upped the ante when it mattered and drew first blood shortly before the half hour mark. Nemanja Matic had been much maligned for his sluggish showings under the now departed Jose Mourinho, but made the decisive difference here when Victor Lindelof flicked on a Marcus Rashford corner, Jonas Lossl saved and the rangy Serbian swept home on the rebound from ten yards

Rashford twice went close himself and Diogo Dalot volleyed wide but Huddersfield soon showed that 1-0 is a slender lead as they served a warning on the cusp of the interval when Phillip Billing hit the side netting on the angle.

David Wagner's tenacious team were producing some top-quality football and looking nothing like a team that are currently in the Premier League’s relegation zone, seeming certain to score, in the 61st minute, when Laurent Depoitre sent a great header goal bound. It looked certain to find the net until De Gea took flight to push the ball away for a corner.

Their revival was nipped in the bud moments later, however, as United moved into an unassailable 2-0 lead.  It came from a sweeping team move that heavily involved compatriots Juan Mata and Ander Herrera and culminated in the rejuvenated Paul Pogba thumping a 20 yarder beyond the helpless Lossl in the Huddersfield goal.

The mercurial Frenchman put the tie beyond any lingering doubt on 78 minutes with his second of the afternoon. Rashford found Jesse Lingard whom in turn picked out Pogba, and he whipped the ball home to put United 3-0 up and continue the visitors wretched recent run.

Highly rated teenage Academy graduate Angel Gomes came on for the closing stages, and there was still time for the visitors to grab a consolation through Mathias Jorgensen and deny United just a fourth clean sheet of the campaign.

Overall team performance: 7/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Paul Pogba

Monday 24 December 2018

Match preview: Man Utd v Huddersfield

Eleven and a half years after he scored his final goal at Old Trafford as a player, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer returns for his first home game as United's caretaker manager.
After his dream start in the hotseat in which the ruthless and rampant Reds swatted aside lowly Cardiff, United face the Bluebirds fellow strugglers on Boxing Day in the shape of David Wagner's second bottom Huddersfield.
 The Norwegian will be no doubt met by a rapturous reception from the Old Trafford crowd when the Reds look to build on our first five-goal haul since 2013.

This fixture has a very different look about it than it did a week ago from the Terriers point of view, as they head across the Pennines on the back of five successive defeats. Damaging home defeats to relegation rivals Newcastle and Southampton have left Huddersfield rooted firmly in the mire of the five-way fight against the drop, separated from basement boys Fulham by goal difference only.
 For United, Ole will be looking to keep the feel good factor going as the season enters it most hectic and frantic stage.

On chasing the teams above United in the race for fourth, Solskjaer said: "We have caught teams up before at this club. I don't want to look too far ahead but Manchester United teams always play well in the second half of the season. It is a common saying, but it is important to take things one game at a time, look to get as many points as we can and see where it gets us. Huddersfield need a win also for different reasons so it is important to continue our work against Cardiff.
"It's going to be very emotional to be back at Old Trafford, a great occasion and a very special moment for me."

No fresh injury worries were reported after an excellent team performance away from home, although it remains to be seen if any of those not involved are available, such as full-back Antonio Valencia, centre-backs Chris Smalling and Marcos Rojo, midfielder Scott McTominay and striker Romelu Lukaku. The Belgian striker remains absent on compassionate leave, while Alexis Sanchez is not expected to have recovered from a hamstring injury.

For the visitors, midfielder Jonathan Hogg could feature after missing Saturday's loss to Southampton with a knee injury.
Winger Rajiv van La Parra may also return after nearly three months out because of a back problem. Tommy Smith, Danny Williams, Abdelhamid Sabiri and Aaron Mooy are all doubtful.

United have been involved in some Boxing Day blockbusters, including 6-3 wins over Nottingham Forest (1961) and Oldham Athletic (1991), a 4-4 draw at home to Derby County (1970) and a 4-3 triumph over Newcastle (2012). It’s also two years since Henrikh Mkhitaryan’s outrageous scorpion-kick goal against Sunderland.

In United's penultimate tie of 2018, 19th-placed Huddersfield make the 29 mile journey to Old Trafford entrenched firmly in a five-way fight to avoid the drop. Ole has hinted that he will rotate the Reds and he added: "Everyone in the squad knows: ‘I will get a chance now’.
"Whatever has gone, whatever has happened, has happened. Everyone starts with a clean slate. We want players to perform, given the chance.”

Hot on the heels of Huddersfield, Man Utd host Bournemouth on Sunday followed by a midweek trip to St James Park for a midweek fixture to kick off 2019.

Form guide: Man Utd D D W L L W  Huddersfield W L L L L L
Match odds: Man Utd 4/6 Draw 11/4 Huddersfield 29/10
Referee: Jonathan Moss (Sunderland)

Sunday 23 December 2018

United find the cure for virus Mourinho

Well, now it appears we know who the real virus was in the Manchester United dressing room. Little about Jose Mourinho's controversial tenure at Old Trafford kicked up a storm quite like his treatment of Paul Pogba.
Mourinho spent £89m on the World Cup winner to bring him back to the club but the two men spent the final months of the manager's time at United locked at unbreachable impasse.

During 2018 alone, our club record signing was dropped, recalled, made captain, stripped of it, criticised and finally dropped again. For the defeat at Liverpool, the Frenchman sat on the bench in the rain throughout what turned out to be Mourinho's final game in charge. He sat as an unused sub, powerless to prevent United's pitiful and pathetic capitulation that finally spelt the end of his manager.

There have been rows, rumours and a war of words between the pair. Mourinho tried - and spectacularly failed - to get the best out of his marquee signing. His man management of a player who needed an arm around him was abhorrent.

With a new man in charge at the dawn of a new era, there was little likelihood of that exile lasting. After being omitted from the XI by Mourinho - the man who called Pogba a virus behind the scenes - for three of his last four outings, the Frenchman was included on Ole Solskjaer's first team sheet at Cardiff. Pogba came to the party and showed why he is such a frustrating player. This was Pogba at his bullying best in the kind of performance that has been all too fleeting under the previous regime. There were also signs that Pogba is willing to shake off the tag of being selfish after allowing Lingard to take the spot-kick to put us 4-1 ahead despite Pogba's status as United's regular penalty taker.

Getting more, much more, from the enigmatic Frenchman is one of the major tasks facing Solskjaer over the coming months. He thinks the World Cup winner can be "a six, an eight or a 10".

At Cardiff in OGS's first game at the helm, Pogba was part eight, part 10. He won the free-kick for Rashford's opener with a nimble dart through midfield, though a combination of his team-mate's deceptive shot and Etheridge's failure to read it were the crucial elements.
He teed up Ander Herrera for the second and played a delicate pass to Jesse Lingard for the visitors' fifth.
In doing so, Pogba made as many assists in one game as in the previous 17 top-flight matches this season combined.
Solskjaer said: "Paul has got the quality to play in so many positions. He was excellent."

Twice during the first half, Solskjaer urged Pogba to get the ball wider. It was not quite a return to the days of marauding wingers - United simply do not have the personnel for that. It was an attempt to make the pitch bigger. On a bigger pitch, better players have more chance to impose themselves, which is exactly how it turned out.

 For the first time in recent memory, Pogba ran with the ball, beat men and dribbled, a surge that took Jesse Lingard into the area and over for a penalty. Lingard smashed it home to further ease the pain caused by the troubled Mourinho reign.

It's been obvious that Pogba was not happy with Mourinho's pragmatic, safety-first set up and that was part of the reason why the two men fell out. It's in this environment, with the shackles off and playing on the front foot, that Pogba is at his best. Solskjaer managed to get a tune out of him and usually, when he plays well, so do United.

Solskjaer has won it!! Ole's United throw off the shackles

What is this? What on earth did I witness in south Wales last night. A Manchester United side playing with freedom and without fear, that's what. If Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had written the script for his first game in charge, even he could not have come up with this. This was much more like it. Night and day, and the Manchester United we know and love. 
There's a long way to go,  there are still problems at Old Trafford and stiffer examinations await our team and new caretaker manager but let's enjoy this while it lasts. One swallow does not make a summer but it is a start for Ole, Mike Phelan and the new look backroom boys in charge of new look United.
The litmus test will come in February and March when United face Liverpool, Manchester City, Arsenal and a Champions League double header with PSG. But that's in the future. For now, let's just enjoy a new era and the new hope it brings.

For the first time since Sir Alex's retirement, a Manchester United side rolled back the years and scored five goals in a league game - including one of the finest strikes I can remember from a Reds team for many a year. If Anthony Martial's swashbuckling goal - which came at the culmination of a sweeping team move and a lesson in one-touch football - has thrown down the gauntlet as the blueprint for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's United then we may as well give him the job full-time. For the first time in what seems like an eternity, there was a discernible pattern, a clear plan and an attacking purpose to everything United did.

The team threw off the shackles and lifted the gloom of the Jose Mourinho era with a throwback to the halycon days of yesteryear. What a joy it was to see a ruthless and rampant United side cutting a swathe through a retreating opposition defence in a manner that has been all too conspicuous by its absence. This was a day when United - for 90 minutes at least - rediscovered their swagger, our mojo and our identity. An identity that had seemingly vanished for ever during these turbulent times when we've lurched from one catatastophe to another, from the days of the miserable Moyes to the moribund Mourinho. 

 It was certainly a version of Manchester United that looked much closer to the ideal that they have of themselves and even Mourinho, if he could watch, would have to admit that this was an evening when the country’s most successful club performed as they once did routinely.

The appointment of Mike Phelan - one of Sir Alex's most trusted right man men - looks the key. It seems we finally have someone who "gets us" as a club. Someone with not only the know how, but the way in which to implement it. On a day when the performance was arguably more important than the result, this was a display with our history and tradition written all over it. It really was a joy to watch. When was the last time we said that when it comes to watching our side?

Under Mourinho, we would have made heavy weather of this - but the team showed more drive, ambition and effort in Ole's first game at the helm than we did for what felt like an age under the Portuguese with his default setting of strangulating pragmatism. Barely two days into Solskjaer's temporary tenure and United were fast, fluid, free-flowing and, above all, fun. 
Free from being stifled and suffocated with the handbrake on, the flamboyance and flair returned to a group of players brimming with a new lease of life. This had all the hallmarks of the United of old. The players seemed to be enjoying themselves again, football with a smile as Ole had promised.

 This was football with pace, power, panache and a purpose. All the ingredients that have been missing. United pressed and had 17 shots on goal - nine on target - more in one game than we've probably put together all season. But it is important not to get carried away - despite good recent form Cardiff are fodder and any team worth their weight in gold should be brushing them aside. But this was a day of shocks with underdogs Palace and Leicester getting the better of heavyweights City and Chelsea away from home.

For only the second time in 2018-19, United ran more and worked harder than the opponents. Fulham were the only team we had outworked prior to this but Solskjaer has certainly grasped the rhetoric of a United manager, telling his players to out-work the opposition but also to be unafraid of losing the ball – as long as they were prepared to win it back.

If nothing else, that's already more than Mourinho ever did.

Match report: Cardiff 1-5 Man Utd

Man Utd scored five goals in a league game for the first time since Sir Alex as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer got off to a perfect start as caretaker manager.
This was a result - and more importantly, a performance - as far removed from Jose Mourinho's stodgy and stifling approach as it's possible to be. Marcus Rashford's free kick was added to by Ander Herrera from distance, albeit with the aid of a deflection, before Victor Camarasa briefly gave Solskjaer's old side hope before the break.

Anthony Martial's fabulous team goal and a Jesse Lingard brace ensured that rampant United - with the much maligned Paul Pogba at the heart of things - avoided the type of shock result inflicted on rivals Manchester City and Chelsea earlier in the day.
Ole's appointment as Mourinho's temporary successor caused raised eyebrows in South Wales after his disappointing eight-month spell at the helm of the Bluebirds in 2014, which included a relegation from the Premier League.

Neil Warnock's side came into the game having won their last three at home and the veteran boss had talked about whether this would be a good or bad time to face a United team in the midst of our worst ever start to a Premier League season. He soon got his answer.

After only three minutes, United were ahead when Pogba went down 25 yards out and acted as the decoy for Rashford, who fired the resultant set piece over the wall and beyond the stranded Neil Etheridge.
The Reds continued to dominate and a quick one-two between goalscorer Rashford and Martial almost led to another goal for the former but his shot was well blocked by a lunging Sol Bamba.
But we got a deserved second on the half hour mark as a lovely ball inside by Pogba picked out Herrera in space, and his 30 yard piledriver deflected off Greg Cunningham on its way in.

Cardiff were handed - quite literally - a lifeline as Rashford was adudged to have handled a Junior Hoilett cross on 37 minutes. Camarasa made no mistake from the spot to give Warnock's men renewed hope of an upset.

That hope lasted only three minutes though as United responded in swashbuckling style with one of the best goals we've scored for years.
Pogba collected the ball on the edge of the box and found Lingard whom, in turn, back-heeled to Martial. Our no.11 then played a one-two with Jesse, who flicked on for the French forward to finish in to the far corner at the culmination of a wonderful sweeping team move. One that Ole himself would have been proud of.

Etheridge saved well from Rashford and then went close again having been put through by the immense Pogba. But the Reds didn't have to wait long to turn constant pressure into another goal as a surging run from Lingard saw him scythed down by Bamba. Pogba was expected to take responsibility for the penalty, but instead Lingard dusted himself down and stroked the ball beyond Etheridge for his second goal in as many games.

Etheridge was a man under siege and he did well to deny Rashford again, who on another day could have had a hat-trick. Cardiff, to the credit, did not give up and forced David de Gea into a rare save as Josh Murphy had his low effort pushed away by the keeper. Callum Paterson headed over the bar from the resultant corner.

 Pogba tried his luck from distance but Etheridge was equal to it, expertly tipping over, before Jones' volley from the resulting corner was saved down low. Bamba headed Cardiff's best chance of the second half wide before substitute Kenneth Zohore tested De Gea at his near post.

 Lingard put the icing on the cake in the 90th minute, latching onto Pogba's lovely ball in behind to round the goalkeeper and slot the ball into the empty net. He celebrated in the corner with the travelling United contingent who will return to Manchester with big smiles on their faces.

Overall team performance: 8/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Jesse Lingard.

Friday 21 December 2018

Cardiff v Man Utd match preview

Caretaker manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer takes United to his former club Cardiff for his first match in temporary charge as we begin life after Jose Mourinho.
It's been a remarkable and turbulent week at Old Trafford - one which began with the sacking of Mourinho on Tuesday and ends back at the club where our Treble winning striker had an eight month managerial spell in 2014.

Solskjaer took over in south Wales during Cardiff's last foray into the Premier League, and by a quirk of the fixture list, he returns to his old stamping ground as United's new temporary boss having left Molde to steer our club through to the end of 2018-19. He only picked up nine wins from 30 games but his stock has risen markedly since then off the back of league and cup success back in his homeland.
 Solskjaer scored 126 goals for United, including the winner in the 1999 Champions League final - and worked on the coaching staff for three years after his retirement as a player in 2006, taking up his first managerial job with our Reserve team in 2008.

The Norwegian - forever synonymous with our Treble win in 1999 - has already said that he will give a number of players the chance to impress over the frantic festive fixtures. This is the first of five ties in 15 days, as the Old Trafford legend prepares to name his first squad against Neil Warnock's lowly but improving Bluebirds.

Alexis Sanchez is still unavailable and Chris Smalling pulled out in the warm up at Anfield with injury. Romelu Lukaku has been absent from training this week, but Diogo Dalot, Victor Lindelof and Anthony Martial are all available again. Luke Shaw and Phil Jones remain doubtful for the 5.30 kick off at Cardiff City Stadium. All eyes will be on whether Paul Pogba is recalled after being dropped in Mourinho’s final weeks in the job.
 As for the hosts, forward Danny Ward (knee) and full-back Jazz Richards (hamstring) are expected to miss Saturday's game, but left-back Greg Cunningham could return from a knock to feature against United.

Warnock's side were strongly tipped for an immediate return to the second tier following promotion from the Championship last season, as the serial promotion winner led them to a second Premier League campaign. The belief they would go straight back down was only fuelled after a winless first eight games but - since then - Cardiff have slowly started to find their top flight feet. Three successive home wins have lifted them out of the bottom three, and they sit two places and two points above the relegation zone. 

Solskjaer said: "I want to get the players to understand how I want to play as a team, then let's take the results after and see how many points we can gather.
"This club has made up many points before, but I am not going to set that target now.
" I didn't think twice when they called me to sign me as a player and this is an honour and privilege to be helping the club for a few months. We need results but, then again, every player needs to know that they're probably going to get their chance in this period, because that's just the nature of the game over here in England, that we have to rotate."

It's a new era at Manchester United. Solskjaer has a big job on his hands to halt our slide - let alone reverse it - but let's give him a chance, bring back positivity and enjoy the ride over these next five months.

Form guide: Cardiff City W L W L W L Man Utd W D D W L L
Match odds: Cardiff City 4/7 Draw 16/5 Man Utd 11/2 (Odds courtesy of Bet365)
Referee: Michael Oliver (Northumberland)

Wednesday 19 December 2018

Treble winning hero becomes United's unlikely saviour

20 years ago this season, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer wrote himself into Man Utd folklore and became a club legend as the scorer of arguably the most famous goal in our history.
It was the 26th May 1999- a night when this great club rewrote what was possible, defied all logic and became the first - and so far only - English club to win a league, cup and European treble. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is a name forever synonymous with the greatest triumph of them all.

The landscape now, two decades on, could hardly be more different. United are sixth in the league, facing the prospect of missing out on next season's Champions League and 19 points off fierce rivals Liverpool after our worst ever start to a Premier League season. A last 16 fixture with Paris Saint Germain offers no comfort whatsoever. Jose Mourinho was sacked on Tuesday as the club pulled the trigger on the Portuguese with the 2018-19 campaign almost at the halfway point.
The Reds fourth permanent manager in five years will take over in the summer, but until then we'll be under the temporary tutelage of a club legend, an icon who has now become our unlikely saviour.

Step forward Solskjaer. The Norwegian has been announced as our new caretaker boss until the end of the current campaign. He will be joined by Mike Phelan, who returns as first team coach having previously worked under Sir Alex only to be let go when David Moyes came in.
Michael Carrick and Kieran McKenna - both part of Mourinho's coaching staff - will continue in their role.

This is a five month gig to get everyone onside, put smiles back on Red faces and, hopefully, re-strike a connection among a disillusioned group of players who had downed tools under a manager who had failed spectacularly to get anything out of them. If it goes well, our season can still be saved. If it goes wrong, then we'll end with a hug, a handshake and no hard feelings, safe in the knowledge that a new man will come in. It is a win-win for Ole, and for us. Let's give him a chance, we love him and re-establishing what makes this club so special is the most important thing. Things can hardly get any worse than they are now.

In a delicious quirk of the fixture list, Solskjaer's temporary tenure will begin at the home of Cardiff City on Saturday - where he endured a difficult eight months as boss back in 2014.
He was relegated from the Premier League with the Bluebirds, then sacked after a poor start to the Championship campaign.

That marked his solitary foray into England as a first team manager having started his coaching career at Old Trafford with our Reserves. Since then he has been plying his trade at Molde in his homeland, winning the league twice and the cup once.

Their season does not start until early April, and it is unknown whether Ole will return to Molde once the Premier League season comes to an end.

Welcome back, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer - one of the few men to serve United both as a player and now as a manager. This is going to be fun.

You make us happy, when skies are grey...

Tuesday 18 December 2018

With Jose Mourinho gone we might get our club back now

Beyond the Lowry Hotel’s accounts department, there can be few mourning the departure of Jose Mourinho at Manchester United. The woeful defeat at Liverpool was indicative of a manager at odds with the traditions of his club, a manager at war with his board and his players, a manager apparently motivated by little beyond the maximisation of his pay off.

How things have changed. When he first arrived at Old Trafford, Mourinho promised so much. Here, we fans thought, after the shambles of the David Moyes and Louis van Gaal eras, was the grown-up taking charge. In a survey for the fanzine United We Stand, some 80 per cent of respondents welcomed his appointment. Sure, we all knew he was not exactly addicted to attacking football, nor was he renowned for his promotion of youth-team players. But we knew he was organised, smart, brilliant in his one-off game management. Above all, watching from a distance as he carried all before him at Chelsea, Inter and Madrid, we knew that this man was a winner.

Indeed he proved as much in those early days, scooping up two trophies in his first season, suggesting that the golden years of bullion accumulation could be making an imminent return. There was something else about him too which appealed to the hard core of United support: he fitted their self-image of the permanent outsider, distant and aloof. They loved his sneery dismissal of the press, loved the curled lip and finger to the ear that greeted victory, loved the fact everyone else hated him. And to the last, the away following chanted his name to the echo.

 But even they would concede that this season has been one of relentless decline, with the team locked in a perpetual fandango of one step forward, two steps back. While rival clubs seemed to be presided over by a coherent development philosophy, United’s transfer strategy looked scattergun and panicked. And those that were signed hardly delivered on their inflated fees. Paul Pogba, Alexis Sanchez, Eric Bailly and Fred all became shadows of the players they were before.
The performance at Liverpool, following on from equally wretched outings to Manchester City, West Ham and Brighton, undermined any confidence that remained in the manager. This was the very nadir of caution. Anxious and cowed, from the start United looked purposeless and adrift. For United fans, schooled in the never-say-die fearlessness of the Ferguson era, brought up to believe in the primacy of attack attack attack, it was not defeat that hurt, it was the manner of it.

And the truth is, there was no sense of any imminent change in the Mourinho methodology. Back in 1974 when the club was faced with relegation, Sir Matt Busby took the manager Tommy Docherty aside and said if we are going to go down, we owe it to the fans to do so in glory. Until then, Docherty, fearful of being forever branded as the man who demoted United, had been ultra-cautious, presiding over a string of tight 1-0 defeats. His conversation with Busby changed everything, resulting in a three-year splurge of uninhibited attacking football.

Sadly, with Mourinho there seemed no chance of any such Damascene moment. He appeared intent on developing a self-destructive spiral of decline, torpedoing the club as much as his own reputation. There wasn’t going to be any attack. There was never going to be any swash or buckle. Now at least we might look forward to some of that. Even if the board that has presided over three botched appointments remains intact, even if the men who own it are as distracted as ever by the bottom line, now out on the field at least there is a chance we might get our club back.

Jose Mourinho and Man Utd: Where did it all go wrong

935 days ago, there was a new name in the Manchester United hotseat. 27 May 2016. Striding into one of the highest profile jobs in world football came an equally high profile man - a man who came with excess baggage but an undoubted reputation as one of the best bosses of his generation. He came on a wave of expectation, excitement and anticipation. Most of us, me included, wanted him. Finally a Manchester United manager worthy of the name.
Now, two and a half years on from the appointment that seemed certain to return both Jose Mourinho and Manchester United to former glories, United are on the hunt for our fourth permanent manager in five years and Mourinho's stock has fallen further than it ever has before.

He arrived at Old Trafford with a point to prove having left Chelsea under a cloud but history has repeated and Mourinho is facing an uncertain future. His days as an elite top level manager look almost certainly over after a tumultuous 30 months that started well, peaked earlier than expected before crashing to earth in familiar fashion. But where did it all go wrong?

Although United won only 18 Premier League games - there were 15 draws but only five losses - in his first season in charge, Mourinho delivered two trophies as United went on to win a double of Europa League and Carabao Cup. Two pieces of silverware and a return to the Champions League.
It seemed like merely the start. Instead it proved to be as good as things would get. A settling in season in which he bettered Pep Guardiola's debut campaign in charge of City in the latest instalment of a compelling managerial rivalry between the two men.

He was the first man ever to win a cup in his first United season, and appeared to have laid the bedrock for 2017-18 - the season where, history showed, it all came together and he cut a swathe through his domestic rivals to bring the league title. Mourinho had never failed to win the title in his second season at a club.
That belief was only fuelled by a magnificent start in which the team stormed to the top of the table. 4-0 win followed 4-0 win as United caught the eye in a manner which we hadn't seen since the vintage of our 2008 Double winning side. United - and Mourinho - were back....or so we thought.

In fact, Mourinho had already hit his Old Trafford ceiling. Our best start to a season in years soon faded, and he reverted to type as dissenting voices began to swirl and circle around the Old Trafford corridors.
City took the derby honours, and then came what now looks a major turning point in Mourinho's relationship with the United fanbase.
13th March 2018. The Reds had performed heroics to beat Liverpool three days previous, but - after an overly negative performance in the first leg of the Champions League against Sevilla - a torrid and tepid tactical showing sees our side humiliated at the hands of the limited Spanish outsiders. Mourinho launches into an impassioned 12-minute rant to defend his record, and from then on the dye was cast. That night, the nadir of his Old Trafford tenure, saw Mourinho lose control - control that he was never able to wrestle back.
Mourinho had failed to pull off a win against arguably the weakest team left in the competition. An early sign that he and Manchester United were incompatible. It was a night when many lost faith totally in Mourinho.

His signings have, in the most part, been questionable, with the form of Romelu Lukaku, Nemanja Matic and Eric Bailly in particular falling off a cliff.
The narrative surrounding Mourinho's decline at both Chelsea and United has involved friction - and often friction with star players.
Rui Faria - the brains behind Jose's brawn and his loyal, career-long sidekick - left in the summer. Faria was thought to be the man to do a lot of the analysis and defensive work. Mourinho saw several high profile transfer targets slip through his fingers and slowly, inexorably lost not only the fans but the players and those above him in the boardroom too. It marked the start of a long and painful goodbye.

Run ins with the media, the fans, the board and many of his players meant that Mourinho was living on borrowed time. It's appeared for a long while now that he has been a man sleepwalking towards his own fate. A fate that has now inevitably come. In his defence, he won more in two and a half years that his contemporaries Jurgen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino - both of whom are still waiting for silverware.

On reflection, his tenure was hardly a disaster - Europa League, League Cup, 2 x CL qualifications, FA Cup final & last season league runners-up. But the football was joyless, he lacked a plan, bought badly and failed to improve players. There was nowhere else to turn.

Mourinho may not have promised fast flowing football at Old Trafford, but he did guarantee domestic success. Neither has happened and, added to the typical Mourinho recipe of trouble and strife, the inevitable has happened.

Goodbye, Jose, thanks for the memories. Thanks for what you did in your first two seasons, I wanted you and really hoped it was going to work. It hasn't. Good luck for the future.

Another failed manager and another black mark for Ed Woodward

The problems at Manchester United have not disappeared with Jose Mourinho's sacking. It's impossible to argue that he wasn't part of the plethora of deep rooted issues permeating through the club, but nor is he the only man to blame.

Ed Woodward has appointed two managers at Manchester United. Technically, he sanctioned the move for David Moyes when the Scot got the biggest job in the country despite having no credentials whatsoever. But in reality, Sir Alex Ferguson hand picked Moyes when Woodward was a only a matter of days into his new role as executive vice chairman of United. He wouldn't have had a say so its harsh to put that one on him. He did however, oversee a pitiful summer that left Moyes doomed beyond all hope before he had even barely started. In a recurring theme throughout Woodward's time at United, he didn't deliver when our manager came calling with a list of reinforcements.

It was Woodward who appointed Louis van Gaal, and it was Woodward who appointed the Dutchman's successor Jose Mourinho. At the time, both seemed not only sensible, but the only feasible options: both were proven winners, men who had managed all over Europe at some of the world's biggest clubs. But both failed when it came to the mightiest of them all at Manchester United.
In hindsight, neither man - despite their reputations and records - were good fits for United. Both proved catastrophic for United and, in turn, reflected just as badly on the man who hired them. When a succession of managers fail, invariably you have to look at the people above him. Woodward's decision to hand Mourinho a new contract was short-sighted, deluded and downright nonsensical given that this man has never lasted more than three seasons at any club. A black mark for old Big' Ed. It's a mess for all concerned - the club for sacking another manager to leave us searching for our fourth in five years. Mourinho for another bad dose of third season syndrome. Woodward for making the wrong call and leaving him with egg on his face. As for the Glazers, they remain elusive and  conspicuous by their absence.

Questions have to be asked of the powers that be. Woodward is a commercial man, a banker, and is no doubt very good at his job of making money for United. But he's not a football man and repeatedly undermined Mourinho. He should no longer be allowed to have an influence in the football decisions at this club.

The dust is only just beginning to settle on the events of Tuesday morning when Mourinho's sacking was confirmed. Woodward's blueprint has been to dispense of his bosses when it's too late. Moyes lasted ten miserable months before he was sacked in April and LVG went after the FA Cup final in 2016 - when the season was over.
The departure of Jose has bucked that trend and proved that maybe, just maybe, this time the board have belatedly learned their lessons. They've taken swift, decisive action and are willing to bide their time in appointing the next man rather than grabbing the first person available. Installing a caretaker in the meantime makes sense and allows the club to put a proper plan in place whilst searching for Mourinho's successor.

The trouble is, with Woodward's track record in recruitment far from flawless, I'm not sure I trust him to get this appointment right as well.

Jose Mourinho sacked: 5 contenders for the Man Utd hotseat

Manchester United are searching for their fourth permanent manager in five seasons following the departure of Jose Mourinho after two and a half years in charge.
United will appoint a caretaker manager in the next 48 hours and he will take charge for the rest of the 2018-19 campaign whilst the search for the next permanent boss is carried out.
Former player Laurent Blanc is the early favourite for the job at 4/6 and here are the other four men we think could replace the Portuguese at Old Trafford.

Laurent Blanc
Laurent Blanc - 4/6
My first choice for the job, the French defender ticks all the boxes. A former United player, he "gets us" as a club, and has managerial experience at the highest level having been in charge of PSG and the French national team. He's never taken over anywhere outside of his homeland, but is a serial winner having won Ligue 1 four times during his career in the dugout - once with Bordeaux and three times in a row at the Parisian giants. Four French League Cups and two French FA Cups, Blanc has been out of work since he left PSG in 2016. Would be a popular choice with the fans, he is proven at managing big egos and dominant personalities and  - perhaps best out of all - would get a tune from fellow countrymen Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial.

Zinedine Zidane - 5/1
Definitely among the favourites having been hotly tipped to come in ever since doubts over Mourinho's future were first thrown into question. It is thought that United have already held talks with him. Would be something of a risk having only ever managed a star studded Real Madrid side, spearheaded by a certain Cristiano Ronaldo scoring two goals a game. Managing a team with world class players in every position isn't too difficult, but it would be a different job specification at Old Trafford to try and revitalise an underwhelming squad more accustomed to sitting off the pace than challenging for honours. Zidane won three Champions Leagues in a row so you can't question his credentials, but he's unproven in England and would come with an air of uncertainty given the resources at his disposal in Spain.

Michael Carrick - 7/1
Carrick will take training as United's interim manager in the immediate aftermath of Mourinho's sacking whilst the search for a successor is found. Having only retired as a player in the summer, he was appointed on to Jose's backroom staff but has no experience and might be better filling in as a short term option rather than a long term choice like Ryan Giggs did after Moyes. Another man who knows the United way having played under Sir Alex in a decorated career. A quiet yet under-stated presence around the club, Carrick has been a magnificent servant but as we know that does not mean he will be a great manager. How much of a say did he have under Mourinho? I think he'd be a risk at this point in time but then again things cannot get much worse than they are now. Manchester United is no place for a managerial rookie but if it means that Carrick can get a reaction from the players, then United may be tempted to take a risk and go with him.

Mauricio Pochettino - 7/1
Ed Woodward is known to be an admirer of the Tottenham Hotspur manager but it would be hard to prise him away from north London, even for a club like Manchester United. Daniel Levy would not want to lose him and, in fairness, would Pochettino even to leave N15 for Old Trafford and a job that has now become a poisoned chalice. Despite lack of silverware, Pochettino ticks many boxes befitting of what we want our manager to be. He plays an exciting and progressive style of football, would be a long term option and is proven at developing young players such as Harry Winks, Dele Alli, Kyle Walker - Peters and Kieran Trippier to name but four. He is adored by the Tottenham faithful and has won nothing but plaudits for the sterling work he's done in taking Tottenham from also rans to over achievers. Lack of silverware is a concern however but he would have money at United whereas at Spurs he does not.

Antonio Conte - 12/1
Seems an outside bet for the job. Similar to Mourinho in many ways as a former Chelsea man who is divisive and confrontational. He was sacked by the west London club after finishing fifth in the league amid concerns over style of play and fractured relationships with his players. Sound familiar? Conte would not be widely accepted by the United fanbase, and it would be a risk to bring him in given the fact he seems to be at odds with the characteristics of a United boss. Wouldn't be progressive, and even though he won the league in his superb debut season at Stamford Bridge things quickly took a turn for the worse. Again, where have we heard that before? Not an option for me but with Woodward and this board, who knows. They're made a string of bad decisions and Conte cannot be ruled out.
Other options: Leonardo Jardim 16/1 Eddie Howe 20/1 Ryan Giggs 25/1

Jose Mourinho sacked by United after two and a half seasons

So it's official. Manchester United have sacked Jose Mourinho after two-and-half seasons in charge at Old Trafford. Only the timing came as a surprise. History tells us that the club don't sack managers mid season with David Moyes relieved of his duties four games form the end of the 2013-14 campaign and Louis van Gaal going only after the FA Cup final. But United have taken decisive action in an attempt to refloat our rapidly sinking season.

This is unchartered territory for United, coming as it has in December, and the club will appoint a caretaker manager until a new permanent boss - our fourth in five seasons - is found. Michael Carrick will take charge in the meantime but the new man will be an external appointment, ruling out Carrick and head of youth Nicky Butt.  The likes of Zinedine Zidane, Mauricio Pochettino and Laurent Blanc - my choice for the job - will no doubt be in the frame.

The decision comes with United in sixth place after our worst ever start to a Premier League season in which we've lurched from one catastrophe to another. The meek surrender at Anfield was the final straw as the club's hierarchy finally lost the last ray of hope that the Portuguese could turn things around. A toxic atmosphere in the dressing room, poor form, a non existent style, a lack of development in youth and a string of failed transfers proved fatal for Mourinho's future at United.
Crushing defeats at the hands of our two fiercest and most hated rivals Manchester City and Liverpool in the space of five weeks simply has to be the death knell for any Manchester United manager - even if you're Jose Mourinho.

It's a familiar end for Mourinho after a season of unrest and tumult, and his departure comes off the back of a traumatic five months eerily reminiscent of his final days at Chelsea three years ago almost to the day. Third season syndrome has struck once again. He arrived at Old Trafford as the man we all thought would put us back on top. A short term fix, maybe, but one that would end our title drought. He leaves with us looking further away than ever. In hindsight - a wonderful thing - Mourinho was a poor fit for Manchester United. I really wanted it to work and he was my choice to become Sir Alex's immediate successor but it became increasingly apparent that Mourinho had lost control and his relationship with the squad was broken beyond repair.

United's haul of 26 points after their first 17 Premier League games, is the worst tally in the top flight at this stage since 1990-91.
We're 11 points off the top four and closer to the relegation zone than the top of the table.
Mourinho's sacking comes after a fall-out with £89m record signing Paul Pogba, who was an unused substitute for the defeat at Anfield on Sunday.

He was brought to United 2016 as the overwhelming choice to replace Van Gaal having never failed to deliver the title in his second season at the club. As it turned out, things peaked during his debut campaign in charge as United went on to win a double of Europa and Carabao Cup.
Whilst last term brought us our best Premier League finish since the retirement of Sir Alex, a trophyless campaign ultimately left Mourinho and United empty handed. That paved the way for a chain of events that have led us to this point and his dismissal.

Had Mourinho been Sir Alex's immediate successor, I believe things would have been different. The transition would arguably have been easier, not caused as much damage and United wouldn't have been in the mess we are now. A mess not entirely of Mourinho's own making but one that proved too great even for him - one of the best bosses of our generation - to coach his way out of.

The problems at Manchester United run far deeper than simply the manager - the club's hierarchy have a lot to answer for and we need a vast overhaul of playing staff to get back to where we belong.
Mourinho leaves Old Trafford after 144 games - winning 84, losing 28 with 32 draws and a 58.33% win rate - better than Messrs Moyes and van Gaal and only marginally worse off than SAF's 59.7% 

United's new caretaker manager will be announced in the next 48 hours.Thanks for everything Jose and good luck in the future.

Monday 17 December 2018

Man Utd and Mourinho face daunting European challenge

Such is the scale of the mountain facing Manchester United in the Champions League last 16, perhaps Jose Mourinho should speak to Theresa May about how to negotiate a quick and painless exit from Europe.

A major European capital certainly won't make things easy for its British counterpart, Mourinho - like the embattled PM - is fighting for his future amid a crumbling cacophony of discontent. Mourinho, like May, has received a vote of no confidence from those working under him. May survived, but there will be such no vote to settle Mourinho's Old Trafford future. The end appears nigh when it comes to Manchester United's future in Europe.

Paris Saint Germain are a team that need little introduction. That side's attacking trio - a much vaunted front three that are arguably the best in the world - against the mess of the worst back four in the country has the potential to cause unmitigated carnage. So much so, it's enough to want to write to UEFA to give the French heavyweights a free passage to the quarter-finals. That's certainly preferable to witnessing the bloodshed that PSG will leave in their wake as they cut a swathe through the worst Manchester United side in living memory. It is impossible to give United even a prayer in the two legged tie that will be played out in front of the world in February and March.

Kylian Mbappe, Edinson Cavani and Neymar against Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Victor Lindelof and Ashley Young has the look of one the biggest mismatches the competition has ever seen. Marquinhos may as well don his flip flops against the Belgian Mark Henry. Dani Alves will force Marcus Rashford to left-back, and Marco Verratti will ghost past Marouane Fellaini by walking under his legs. Angel Di Maria, who came to Old Trafford and left again in a heartbeat, will no doubt turn in the world beater he showed only glimpses of during his solitary season of unfulfillment  at United. A side of star studded talent wherever you look, it almost seems like an unfair fight.

United’s best hope is that the two-month gap between now and the first leg at Old Trafford brings about a change in fortunes for both sides. While the Reds have struggled all season long and are 19 points off the Premier League pace, PSG’s campaign has been almost the exact opposite so far.

 Having won their first 14 league matches the Parisians remain 10 points clear at the top of Ligue 1 with two games in hand, and the multi-angled approach to attacking which has been evident in previous seasons has now been added to with a greater solidity and better attitude than has been on display in recent times.

United have already conceded more league goals in 2018-19 than they did in the entirety of last season, while they have shipped 35 in 24 games in all competitions. Compare those numbers to PSG's scary scoring statistics - 49 league goals in 16 games, as well as 17 goals in a tough Champions League group - and things could get very ugly.

In Neymar and Mbappe in particular, PSG also have two of the most fearsome attackers in the game who could turn the tie in a split second, leaving United with plenty to consider.
Despite their domestic dominance, Thomas Tuchel's side have been underwhelming in the competition they crave above all others in recent seasons, failing to progress beyond the last eight in each of the last six campaigns. That said, they are again among the favourites to go all the way to the final in Madrid in May.

The beginning of the end for Jose Mourinho at Manchester United?

United's negative, lame performance in their 3-1 defeat at Liverpool carried all the ominous hallmarks of a broken team and the unmistakeable sense of Jose Mourinho's managerial reign reaching an inevitable conclusion. Three years ago to the day - 17 December 2015 - Mourinho was sacked by Chelsea in a chain of events that led him to the job he is believed to have always wanted.

Mourinho's job may not be in imminent danger but it takes a huge leap of imagination, or a transformation that currently looks impossible, to see the decorated Portuguese manager at Old Trafford beyond the end of this season.

Mourinho and United are judged when placed alongside Liverpool and in games like this. On this occasion, the whole mood, performance and attitude of the two teams and managers were light years apart.

His morose demeanour is the sharpest contrast to Jurgen Klopp's driven, animated style and it is the German who currently possesses the managerial Midas touch.

These are two clubs heading in very different directions. The contrast could hardly be greater.

The ambition, the pace, the quality, the work ethic and the spirit of Klopp's Liverpool against a United side lacking in all those departments. A slick, cohesive, unified force against a rudderless mess.

The tables have well and truly been turned – underlined by the 19-point gap that now separates Klopp's title contenders from Mourinho's expensively assembled also-rans.

Mourinho, who hadn't tasted defeat at Anfield since 2007, tried to park the bus, but this time it got blown away by the Liverpool juggernaut. Battered by Spurs, ripped to pieces by City and Liverpool and played off the park by the lesser lights of Wolves, Derby, Brighton, Palace, Young Boys and Valencia. This terrible manager's 2018 identikit.

The statistics make for damning, brutal reading - 26 points from 17 games (our worst ever start to a Premier Legue season), 29 goals conceded - more than in the entirety of 2017-18. 19 points off Liverpool, eleven off fourth placed Chelsea and closer to the bottom three than the the top two.

We've got one win in six league games and a goal difference of zero. A fractured dressing room and a cliqued group of players whose relationship with Mourinho appears broken beyond repair.

 It is worse than the David Moyes season. Louis van Gaal, Mourinho's predecessor, only lasted two season but at least his United side had an identity - albeit a mind numbingly boring one. He bloodied youth and didn't divulge into petty squabbles with his players. At least van Gaal spoke of a project and a vision that are now conspicuous by their absence.

 United's current ambition is now reduced to tilting at the top four and a cup run, but their stock has fallen so far they are now a side other clubs will want to be paired with in Monday's draw for the last 16 of the Champions League.

The succession of sub-plots swirling around Mourinho only add to the growing conviction he is now simply marking time until the end of his reign.

The biggest one surrounds Paul Pogba, an £89m signing who was not trusted to start in a game that has long been the acid test of the character and ability of United's players.

Pogba has not delivered in the manner expected but it is a brutal reflection of his current standing that not only did he fail to start a game of such importance but that he also remained glued to his seat once the tide had swung against United late on.

Nemanja Matic and Marouane Fellaini, when he came on for the second half, provide the sort of muscle and physical presence Mourinho believes he needs but they also sum up a United stripped of all imagination, only posing a danger when it was presented to them by Alisson.

Pogba must have watched mystified as to how he cannot win a place in this team with the static Matic and incompatible loose cannon of Fellaini ahead of him.

These are the sort of games he was signed for, the sort of games he will have wanted to shape when he returned to United from Juventus, and yet his manager did not feel this was an occasion for him. It is a damning verdict but also begs questions as to why Mourinho cannot bring more out of an unquestionably gifted individual with a World Cup winners' medal with France to his name.

Mourinho's United were a shambolic mess, at the home of a Liverpool side heading on an upward trajectory, creatively bankrupt and shackled to a spoiler's gameplan alien to the club's traditions.

And the responsibility must lie with a manager who no longer looks like he is enjoying life at Old Trafford.