Saturday, 24 August 2019

OGS needs time and there's no need for panic

We all know that the vast majority of football fans are as fickle as can be, but nowhere does that stand to reason more than with Manchester United. Let's face it, the vast majority of our fans are twats. That's before we even consider the disgusting racial abuse aimed at first Paul Pogba and then Marcus Rashford over the last few days, simply because of a missed penalty during a football match. Most of our fans are selt entitled, spoilt brats who wish for the world and want it yesterday. Nothing will ever be good enough. A home defeat to Crystal Palace shouldn't be good enough, of course, and it isn't, but it hardly warrants such a level of hysteria.

It's not just the fans, but the media too. Chelsea are beaten 4-0 at Old Trafford on the opening day, and are deemed unlucky, we lost to a hard-working but limited Crystal Palace team and it's a crisis. Double standards at their hypocritical finest.

Three games into the season and the Ole out brigade has started already. Ask yourself this: how would it help if we changed manager again?  For what? We need stability - we've lurched from the joker in the pack, the studious tactictian to the proven serial winner and now tried our hand at the club legend. Four different managers but nowhere else to turn. Ole might not be the man for the job, but this club has been run upside down for over a decade now and the plethora of problems run very deep.

 If Sir Alex Ferguson had endured his difficult start at Old Trafford in 2019 and not 1986, he wouldn't have survived in the job for 25 days never mind a quarter of a century. A reminder, we're THREE games into a potentially 50-odd game season. Three. Why are some of you lot panicking? There's nothing to panic about.

We've twice been the width of a goalpost away from going joint top of the table with a 100% record. Instead it's four points from a possible nine and one win in three. Fine margins indeed.
You always get freak results, and Palace have shown to be capable of upsetting the top six apple cart in recent years. They're one of those sides that never really do much but can always catch you cold on their day.

I've seen more than enough positive signs in our first two games to know there's no need to sound the alarm bells and hit the panic button after one defeat. There have been clear signs of improvement already. It's a marathon, not a sprint, you win some, you lose some and won't always get the rub of the green. We will there or thereabouts come May. I'm not worried in the slightest.

Whereas Louis van Gaal and, more pertinently, Jose Mourinho, were brought in with the specific raison d'etre of the big name, quick fix, with Ole it's different. It's a long term building project, and such projects can take months, even years, to complete. You can't just walk into an office, click your fingers and expect everything to fall into place. When he came in last December, the season was as good as done, so it would seem unfairly churlish to judge Ole on those few months when he inherited a mess and a dressing room that was broken beyond repair. In short, it is this season that the hard work starts.
He needs to change the entire ideology, mentality and playing style of the team. That's a daunting task for any manager, but when you're working with your hands tied under a Glazer regime, it is one rendered even more difficult. That won't happen in one season, probably not even two and certainly not just a single transfer window of opportunity. There's a reason why he was given a three year contract.

Solskjaer needs time and patience - two commodities that unfortunately don't seem to be afforded to those in the position of football management. Not just at United, but across the board (pun intended). Jurgen Klopp finished eighth in his first two seasons at Anfield, and didn't have anywhere near the squad he wanted or needed. He didn't do too badly in the end.

How long should Ole get? How long is a piece of string.

 There are going to be bumps along the road, as with any construction job. You would think that most fans would have the brains to realise that, but clearly, for some, his time is already up. This season is a free hit for Solskjaer - or it certainly should be.

Match report: Man Utd 1-2 Crystal Palace

Patrick van Aanholt smashed in a fortuitous injury time winner just when it looked as though United had salvaged a point. Dan James equalised with his second successive Old Trafford goal on 89 minutes, but full-back van Aanholt netted in the 93rd, thumping in under David de Gea as the ball broke loose after Wilf Zaha had burst forward.

The Reds were left to rue another failure from the penalty spot - Marcus Rashford this time the unlucky man when he fired off a post after the interval. Paul Pogba had a spot-kick saved in the 1-1 draw at Molineux earlier in the week. Whilst many will see this as a shock, in reality it comes as no surprise at all.

Jordan Ayew had scored the opener in the first half against the run of play, latching on to Jeffrey Schlupp's flick-on and coolly converting Palace's first goal of the campaign, before the late drama.
James curled in a wonderful leveller a minute from time after equally excellent build up that involved Rashford and Anthony Martial.

Scott McTominay went close with a header, and Rashford had a couple of early sighters from set pieces. Palace had barely threatened but went ahead with their first attack shortly beyond the half hour mark. Ex United triallist Jeffrey Schlupp outjumped Victor Lindelof and flicked on for Ayew, who raced through - unmarked - to roll the ball under the advancing De Gea.

The United keeper made amends when he denied Zaha from close range, although the goal would have been ruled out on VAR due to an offside in the build up.

 Attacking the Stretford End, there needed to be a response after the restart and there was a moment of danger for Palace when Young's deep cross was met by James at the far post, but deflected wide off van Aanholt.

Solskjaer introduced Mason Greenwood for Jesse Lingard but the visitors continued to stand firm until McTominay burst into the box to force a penalty in the 69th minute. Greenwood's pass was laid off by Martial and McTominay was tripped to hand the Reds a spot-kick for a third successive match this term.
Rashford, who scored a penalty against Chelsea, stepped up but, despite sending Vicente Guaita the wrong way, his shot struck the inside of the keeper's right-hand post, to the utter frustration of the majority at Old Trafford.

 McTominay fired wide, off balance and Pogba's header cleared the bar as United just could not muster a decisive effort. VAR threatened to intervene when Rashford latched on to a flick by James to speed past Martin Kelly and was felled by the centre-back's challenge. Referee Paul Tierney's initial decision stood and, with nine minutes left, the Reds were staring down the barrel of a costly defeat.
However, James looked to have earned a point when he curled home beautifully, after Pogba tackled Zaha and combination play by Martial and Rashford created the opening. It came with a minute of normal time left and should have sparked a late siege on Guaita's goal.
Instead, three minutes into the five that were added on due to the numerous stoppages in play, substitute Christian Benteke tackled Pogba to spark a move that culminated in van Aanholt's drive going through De Gea's defences to hand Palace an unlikely winner.

Overall team performace: 5/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Scott McTominay 

Friday, 23 August 2019

Match preview: Man Utd v Crystal Palace

Firstly, apologies for the lack of posts recently but I've been away in Snowdonia with a very iffy WiFi connection for the past week.
Anyway, back to the serious stuff. United enjoy the relative rarity of a Saturday 3pm kick off against a Crystal Palace side without a win over the Reds in the Premier League era.

United's Diogo Dalot has been ruled out until after the international break next month due to injury.
He joins fellow defenders and long-term absentees Eric Bailly and Timothy Fosu-Mensah on the sidelines.
Winless Crystal Palace remain without injured central defenders Mamadou Sakho and James Tomkins.
As a result, summer signing Gary Cahill could make his debut for Roy Hodgson's side.

 Aaron Wan-Bissaka has settled in very well following his £50m summer move from Palace to United, and he could be in for a pretty quiet afternoon if the Eagles shoddy showing in Sheffield is anything to go by. The young full-back has really caught the eye with his pace, power and penetration down the right in the first few weeks of his United career.
You really struggle to see where the goals are going to come from for Roy Hodgson's side, and it already looks like being another tough season ahead for them.
In contrast, Anthony Martial has two in two since getting United's number nine shirt back, and appears to be growing into the role he began his Old Trafford career in.

 The Reds are unbeaten following our opening two fixtures and sit in fourth place in the Premier League table. Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Daniel James scored in an emphatic 4-0 victory against Frank Lampard's Chelsea at Old Trafford, while Martial was on the scoresheet again in our 1-1 draw against Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Palace began the new term with a goalless draw against 10-man Everton at Selhurst Park, before losing 1-0 to newly-promoted Sheffield United at Bramall Lane last week. These two results mean that Hodgson's side lie 14th in the fledgling table ahead of the third round of fixtures.

 Despite the improved Reds encouraging start to the season, with the team already four points better off than last season, United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has stayed grounded.

 He said: "Every single Premier League game gives you a different challenge and, of course, Crystal Palace are a very well organised team.
"They've got pace up front for counter-attacks and they're strong on set-pieces. So we know we'll have to do all parts of the game well."

 The Eagles last won a league game at Old Trafford in December 1989 courtesy of a brace from Mark Bright in a 2-1 victory. They've failed to score in 11 of their subsequent 12 away league games at United, and earned a solitary point - the 0-0 result in last term's corresponding fixture.

Form guide Man Utd W D Crystal Palace D L
Match odds Man Utd 1/3 Draw 15/4 Crystal Palace 17/2
Referee: Paul Tierney (Wigan)
Predicted United XI: De Gea; Wan - Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Shaw; McTominay, Pogba; James, Lingard, Rashford; Martial.

Monday, 12 August 2019

Man Utd 4-0 Chelsea: Three things we learned

Manchester United put fellow top four contenders Chelsea to the sword with a 4-0 win at Old Trafford to condemn the Blues to their heaviest ever opening day defeat. There were times when United looked a bit loose in midfield and the visitors arguably edged proceedings in the first half. There's work to do but lots of positives for the team and Ole. Here's three things we learned from the Premier League opener.

 OGS wins battle of the rookie bosses

This was a match littered with intriguing subplots and as well as the heavyweight tussle on the pitch, all eyes were focused on the two rookie managers in the respective dugouts. Two club legends - one taking charge of his first ever game at this level, and the other under scrutiny after a poor end to last season and another underwhelming transfer window.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer prevailed in the battle of the young and inexperienced bosses as he out-fought and out-thought his opposite number. The scoreline may have a flattering look but there can no doubt that Lampard is now the one under early pressure having presided over Chelsea’s heaviest ever opening day defeat. Both managers turned to youth, but whereas Mason Mount, Tammy Abraham and Kurt Zouma in particular struggled, Dan James, Marcus Rashford and Aaron Wan - Bissaka et al all shone for Solskjaer’s United. Having looked good in pre-season, we carried that form on into the opener. Both managers need time but - particularly in the Blue corner - it’s a commodity not many are afforded these days.

United’s debutants catch the eye

All three of United’s summer signings featured against the Blues, and all three were impressive. After years of United full-backs failing to go beyond halfway, Aaron Wan - Bissaka was absolutely immense on his competitive Reds bow. The 50m man showed exactly why his stock has risen to almost astronomical levels with a lung busting performance of energy, power and poise. Up and down relentlessly, this lad is the real deal. Harry Maguire looked like he’d been at our club for years. The world’s most expensive defender never put a foot wrong, he was faultless and seemed like a magnet to the ball at times. Commanding, physical and strong, he started the move that led to the second goal and both he and Wan - Bissaka indicated years of defensive disorder may be coming to an end. Dan James started on the bench but was not to be denied his moment - and what a moment it was. There was barely a dry eye in the house when James thumped the ball beyond Kepa to make it four and raced away pointing to the sky before being mobbed by his team-mates. His father died just days before his United move, and you could see what it meant to the young Welshman.

A long way to go but promising signs for Ole’s United

United were unbeaten in pre-season, but the question was whether United could carry that form forward to the serious stuff. The final 4-0 scoreline - if not the result - may have been flattering as Chelsea could count themselves unlucky not to go in at half time ahead. But there was a purpose and a precision about how Ole’s United kept it simple, playing on the counter and pressing high. We stepped it up in the second half. A solid defensive triumvirate, an energetic and mobile midfield and a front three that did not struggle in the absence of the Serie A-bound Romelu Lukaku. Marcus Rashford looked revitalised, Anthony Martial was back in his favoured number 9 shirt and Jesse Lingard was quietly impressive. It’s also clear that morale, confidence and spirit in high as the whole team came together after Rashford had made it 3-0. “We keep going” seemed to be the message with Scott McTominay seen encouraging the troops. For a team and a club that hit rock bottom in the dark days of Jose Mourinho, there are positive signs and an upward trajectory as Solskjaer attempts to channel the spirit of 1999.

Harry Maguire the centre-back Manchester United have been crying out for

Harry Maguire looked like he had playing for Manchester United forever. A stunning debut, during which he blocked, tackled, headed and distributed his way to Sky's Man on the Match award, showed exactly why United had made him the world's most expensive defender.

He powered every header ­forward, brought the ball out from the back, won everything in the air, read the ­danger and intervened.
He was pointing, leading and cajoling like a United captain-in-waiting, even though David De Gea wore the armband.
The way he wrestled with Tammy Abraham to win the ball and set United going forward in the 65th minute was typical. That intervention began the move which set up the second goal. Alongside the unheralded but equally as impressive Victor Lindelof, United's fire-and-ice partnership was reminiscent of the halycon days of Messrs Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic. Best of all, there was not a Chuckle Brother in sight. United have not had such a physically commanding presence at the back since Rio and Vida left Old Trafford half a decade ago. He is the centre-back we've desperately needed and be crying out for.

Lindelof continues to go from strength to strength but needed someone alongside him to do the dirty work, to clean up in the air and organise the defensive unit. Maguire is that man. 

Maguire's England team-mate Rashford may grab the plaudits with his brace but the Yorkshireman's authoritative performance underlined why his new boss wanted him above getting the big name midfield or striking reinforcements so many United fans have demanded on social media.
His calmness under pressure helped ensure that when the home side looked shaky in the first half they did not add to their concerns with self-inflicted mistakes.
Maguire was happy to keep it simple in possession and push the ball on to Paul Pogba when he could, and had the awareness to spot team-mates in trouble, something former United boss Jose Mourinho rather churlishly said on TV might be frequently needed in the case of Luke Shaw. Mourinho must have wondered about what have been.

Had he got his way a year ago he might have still been on the touchline at Old Trafford.
He identified Maguire as the man Manchester United needed to move on from the second placed finish the season before.
They did not get him, Mourinho’s mood darkened and never lifted.
Leicester wanted £70million and United thought it was too much.
They have him now at a cost of £80m and he took to life as a Red Devil yesterday seamlessly.
The game was still in the balance when Maguire stepped up to challenge Abraham on the edge of the United box. Maguire calmly took possession, leaving Abraham on the floor in the process, and strode away, setting in motion the attack that ended with  Anthony Martial bundling home.

Maguire's stats against Chelsea make for impressive reading - a pass accuracy of 86%, seven clearances, five out of five aerial duels won, four interceptions, two blocks, a clean sheet and one chance created.

The Premier League season may only be 90 minutes old, there's a lot of football to be played and twists and turns aplenty to come our way, but if Maguire continues to play like this, the question marks over his price will be dispelled quickly.

The Slabhead Cometh.

Sunday, 11 August 2019

Match report: Man Utd 4-0 Chelsea

Manchester United sent out an impressive statement of content with a 4-0 thumping of Frank Lampard's youthful Chelsea on the opening weekend.
Marcus Rashford put United ahead from the penalty spot after 18 minutes, Anthony Martial marked his second era in the number 9 shirt with a goal, and Rashford then made it three as the Blues crumbled. Substitute debutant Dan James slammed in the fourth, and fellow summer signings Aaron Wan - Bissaka and Harry Maguire enjoyed impressive competitive United bows.  It was the Reds biggest Old Trafford win over Chelsea since 1965.

In truth, it was a scoreline - if not a result - that slightly flattered Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side, after the Stamford Bridge side had rattled the woodwork twice through Tammy Abraham and Emerson.
Abraham's chance came after only four minutes when he volleyed a drive off the upright having been picked out by Ross Barkley.
 Another Blues youngster, Mason Mount, who played under Lampard at Derby lasy year, took the wrong option and cut the ball back instead of pulling the trigger. The ball rolled across goal and through to new full-back Wan - Bissaka who cleared the danger from close range.

New Reds captain David de Gea saved well from Pedro but the breakthrough was not long in coming and duly arrived on 18 minutes. Rashford went down under a challenge from the lunging Kurt Zouma and dusted himself down to fire the spot-kick low beyond Kepa with aplomb.

De Gea was called into action again - this time to repel an Emerson shot from distance - and the same player went close again when he struck the crossbar on the angle after Mateo Kovacic had played him in.

The Reds were slightly fortunate to go in at half time ahead, but Solskjaer's side stepped up a gear and quickly put the game beyond doubt with two goals in as many second half minutes.
First, Martial bundled the ball home after Andreas Pereira had picked him out in a move started by immense United debutant Harry Maguire. Then, a defence splitting Paul Pogba pass cut Chelsea open to find Rashford, who raced through and slotted home beyond the advancing Kepa. 

Pogba has been linked with a move away throughout a summer of uncertainty, but showcased his world class credentials with a simply sensational flicked pass to set up Rashford and make the tie safe.

 James, a summer buy from Swansea, replaced the hard-working Pereira on 74 minutes and then, seven minutes further on, he capped his debut with a dream goal. Pogba was involved again as his slide rule pass found the young Welshman and he smashed the ball across Kepa and into the corner. An emotional celebration followed, with James mobbed by his exultant team mates as he pointed to the sky - his father having died just a matter of days after his move to United.

Chelsea's own expensive export, £58m Christian Pulisic was rendered almost anonymous having himself stepped off the bench shortly before the hour mark. N'golo Kante - another sub - went close to a consolation but it proved the last action of comprehensive and massively satisfying opening win.

Overall team performance: 7/10
 United Faithful Man of the Match: Marcus Rashford. Harry Maguire not far behind.

Saturday, 10 August 2019

Match preview: Man Utd v Chelsea

90 days since United's last competitive clash, the Premier League returns in style as two of the top six locks horns in a heavyweight clash at Old Trafford.

 A monster opening fixture with a "fresh start" feel.
Whether by necessity or choice, both clubs are set to give young players more playing time this season - part of the long build, as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has described Manchester United's path.
How long he gets to oversee it may depend on how well United start, and that could be influenced by Paul Pogba's mood and plans for his own future.
Chelsea, meanwhile, have their own main man back, with Frank Lampard having proved himself a fine manager of young men in his one Derby season, which included League Cup success at Old Trafford.
It's a huge day for the Blues legend, who may have come to Premier League management earlier than planned - but somehow it just feels right.

 It's a match littered with subplots and talking points aplenty as Lampard takes charge of his first Chelsea match meaning that there will be two rookie, inexperienced managers in the respective dugouts. Lampard has not been able to add to the squad he inherited from predecessor Maurizio Sarri due to the Blues transfer ban. That means he will likely be forced to turn to the many talented Chelsea youngsters who will now finally get an opportunity in Blue after what seems like an eternity - Tammy Abraham, Kurt Zouma, Kenedy, Fiyako Tomori and Mason Mount (whom both played under Lampard at Derby) are all in contention to start after loan spells at other clubs in the Football League and Championship last season.

This is only the Chelsea legend's second season as a manager after his good work for Derby saw them narrowly miss out on promotion from the Championship - pipped at the Premier League post by Aston Villa in the Play-Off final. Despite this near miss, the Chelsea powers-that-be saw enough to persuade them to bring their all time top scorer (211 goals in 650 games) back for a romantic return to the place where he became one of the all time greats.

Ole begins his first full season at Old Trafford without the financial constraints placed up his opposite number. Summer signings Aaron Wan - Bissaka and the world's most expensive defender Harry Maguire will make their debuts, with fellow new boy Daniel James also expected to feature. With Romelu Lukaku having departed for pastures new, our attack will have a youthful look to it - will Mason Greenwood get his chance? Eric Bailly is out until Christmas and Alexis Sanchez is short of match fitness. Timothy Fosu - Mensah is also unavailable.
Antonio Rudiger and long term injury victims Ruben Loftus - Cheek and Callum Hudson - Odoi will miss out for the visitors, with N'golo Kante (hamstring) and Willian (knee) facing a late battle to be fit in time for Sunday's encounter.

The Reds boast a superb opening day record, winning 20 from 27 at Old Trafford in the Premier League era, and 18 of our previous 27 games around the first weekend of the season. No other club has more wins and points than that. An omen?

 Ole’s men were unbeaten in pre-season, winning five of our six games while triumphing on penalties in the other following a draw. The Reds started with wins against Perth Glory (2-0) and Leeds United (4-0) in Perth, Australia before we beat Inter Milan, Tottenham Hotspur and AC Milan (the latter on penalties) in the International Champions Cup. United ultimately finished second in the 12-team tournament, although we could drop to third should Atletico Madrid beat Juventus on Saturday. The Reds also beat Ole’s hometown club Kristiansund 1-0 in Oslo during pre-season.

 United manager  Solskjaer on the loss of Romelu Lukaku: "Of course Rom has a good record and stats, he's one of the top number nines around when you want to play with that kind of striker, a target man.
"I'm very confident that we'll get goals from (Anthony) Martial, Daniel James and (Marcus) Rashford and Jesse Lingard.
"I believe Mason Greenwood is going to be playing and involved a lot and, when he is, he's going to score goals."

Chelsea are one of our oldest foes and, along with United, are one of just six ever-presents in the Premier League era. Since the league’s inception in 1992, we’ve hosted Chelsea 27 times and have won 10, drawn 11 and lost just six times. The Reds first played the west London side in 1905 and, of the 183 previous meetings in all competitions, we’ve won 75, drawn 55 and lost 53. United have a good recent record against Chelsea at Old Trafford and are unbeaten in our last six encounters with the Blues, the last of which ended 1-1 in April.

 Man Utd v Chelsea, Old Trafford, 4.30pm KO
Referee: Anthony Taylor
Match odds: Man Utd 5/4 Draw 12/5 Chelsea 5/2

Thursday, 8 August 2019

Good riddance and thanks for nothing, Romelu Lukaku

Romelu Lukaku's 73m move to Inter Milan late on Deadline Day finally brought the curtain down on a forgettable two years at Old Trafford.
Lukaku's style was clearly at odds with the fast, incisive counter-attacking ethos that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer wants to implement. That - coupled with the fact he missed training and leaked private data - spelt the end for Lukaku. Juventus had seemed his likely destination but whe a swap with Paulo Dybala failed to materalise, Inter, who have been linked with him all summer, got their man.

He becomes the third most expensive signing by a Serie A club after the Juventus duo of Cristiano Ronaldo (£99.2m) and Gonzalo Higuain (£75.3m).

It represents great value for a player signed from Everton two years ago for only 2 million more than we sold him for, a player and striker supposed to be the figurehead of Jose Mourinho's new-look, new era Manchester United side. Signed as the marquee spearhead of the attack in the wake of Zlatan Ibrahimovic's departure, he arrived with a lofty price tag and even loftier expectations. So how will he be remembered at Old Trafford? Quite simply, as a player who was never good enough to wear the red of United. A catatrosphe, in fact.

Lukaku hit 42 goals in 96 games for the club, but most of these were consolation strikes or tap ins at 3-0 up. He probably missed as many sitters as he did score.
However, 26% of his United goals - 11 out of 42 - came in the first two months of his Old Trafford career during a red hot start in which he scored ten goals in his first nine months. Every new relationship has a honeymoon period.

You can point to his brace against PSG as evidence of his importance to the club as a match-winner, but let's be honest - both were gifts that any striker worth his weight in gold should be putting away. Statistically he outscored everyone else during his time in Red, but then Djimi Traore won the Champions League so it goes to show stats can be misleading. Distorted somewhat further by the fact that he only scored more because he played every week whereas his contemporaries - Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial et al - were in and out of the team through injury.

He was injured tripping over the ball at Southampton, couldn't trap a bag of cement, can't run, doesn't put a shift in and always looked double the size he could be.
 His disaster class away at Valencia last season, albeit one in the final throes of the Mourinho era, came to epitomise Lukaku's time at the club. It was the worse individual performance I've ever had the misfortune to witness. It's also fair to say that Lukaku has not behaved very professionally whilst angling for a move away. He's missed training twice and publicly leaked private data, actions that saw him fined, left Solskjaer incensed and paved the way for his departure. 

He will be remembered as another expensive flop - up there with the likes of Angel Di Maria, Alexis Sanchez, Memphis Depay and Radamel Falcao. The latest in a long line of foreign exports to find the challenge of reinvigorating United one too much to ask.

To celebrate Lukaku's depature from Old Trafford, here is a video of him doing what he does best. Good riddance and thanks for nothing.

Sunday, 4 August 2019

Lessons have been learned as United pull out of Dybala coup

United have finally shown we've learned our lesson after pulling out of the deal for Paulo Dybala with the forward's wage demands deemed excessive. Dybala's heart never seemed to be geared towards Old Trafford, and the Argentine will instead stay and fight for his place under new Juve boss Maurizio Sarri.

The swap deal - which also would have involved Romelu Lukaku - is certainly not the first time United have gone after a big name signing in the final throes of a transfer window. It was in not too dissimilar circumstances that a certain Angel Di Maria arrived as the club's then record signings back in 2014. A superstar Argentine forward interested only in the pound signs in front of his eyes, under a star-struck boardroom regime only wanting the shirt sales and sell on value such a signing can bring. Where have we heard that one before? It seemed like we were walking that road once again with the 25-year-old Argentina international but have come to our senses and, on reflection, made the right decision.

Di Maria came with a hefty price tag and even loftier expectations but turned into a flop during a catastrophic ten months in Manchester. He never wanted to come, was motivated only by the wages and used us a stepping stone to get his move to PSG.
  The Alexis Sanchez saga is further proof of what can happen when a player's demands cause the entire wage structure to become lopsided. Further proof, again, that lessons have been learned and wrongs are being righted.

There is no doubt Dybala would have represented a significant upgrade on Lukaku. A versatile, technically gifted, two-footed player capable of playing anywhere across the front line, it would have been an undoubted and surprising coup had we managed to land him. But I don't want any player at our club that doesn't want us, they need to want to play for the club and that seemed a major sticking point during the talks with Dybala, his agent and the club. Perhaps we've dodged a bullet.
This looked to have the grubby stamp of Ed Woodward all over it, unable to resist the big name, big money commercial signing that has the United CEO's raison d'etre during his reigh of terror.
It is a strategy that has become synoymous with the wider Old Trafford malaise. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has made no secret of his preference for young British talent, Dybala did not seem to fit that philosophy so it stands to reason that United officials concluded further bids for Dybala would be a move away from that.

 Our need for a central midfielder is arguably greater than it is for a forward or winger with the window closing on Thursday. Lukaku has been left in limbo with United having turned down a bid for him from Inter Milan. With the emergence of Mason Greenwood and Angel Gomes during pre-season, United are likely to turn to youth should Lukaku leave
without a replacement being signed.

Saturday, 3 August 2019

Maguire comes with a hefty price tag but no doubt an upgrade

So it's official. Manchester United have finally got their man after agreeing an eye-popping 80m fee with Leicester for Harry Maguire.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had made the signing of a centre-back his top priority this summer and after what has seemed like an eternity, despite Leicester digging their heels in, Maguire is on his way to
Old Trafford. So badly was the 26-year-old needed, United have made him the world's most expensive defender, eclipsing the £75m paid by Liverpool for Virgil van Dijk back in 2018.

If Maguire goes on to have even half the impact of his centre-back cohort down the east Lancs road, then it's money well spent. He may be not worth even half the fee we have paid, but anything to keep Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo as far away from the team as possible is fine by me. A one legged Maguire would be a significant upgrade on the defenders we already have at the club - Victor Lindelof aside. United have been in need of a dominant defensive force since Nemanja Vidic left for pastures new five years ago. Having watched the Chuckle Brothers - Old Trafford's survivors extrordinaire -   stealing a living through our fingers - for the best part of a decade, Maguire will certainly provide that. Calm, composed, strong in the air (no surprise with a head that size!) and a ball-playing centre back, he will complement the grit and guile of Lindelof perfectly. These two have to be our first-choice pairing it is as simple as that. Axel Tuanzebe has done well in pre-season and can provide the cover if needed as third choice.

Finally, after what seems like an eternity, United have a centre back pairing to trust and have confidence in. With the addition of two excellent young English full-backs on either side in Aaron Wan - Bissaka and Luke Shaw, the Reds backline looks in its rudest health for many a year. I'm a big fan of Eric Bailly, he is our best defender, but you can't rely on a player made of balsa wood.
Matthijs de Ligt was a non starter after our previous target went to Juve, and - although we could've had Toby Alderweireld - no doubt considerably superior to Maguire - you can see why Solskjaer plumped for the latter. We were priced out of a move for Napoli's Kalidou Koulibaly.  Alderweireld would have been available for a paltry £25m, peanuts for a player considered one of the finest exponents of his craft. But he's 30, injury prone and would only be a short-term option, albeit a very good one. Maguire, on the other hand, is still only 26, appears a better fit long term and is also in keeping with Solskjaer's transfer raison d'etre of bringing the best of British to Old Trafford.
Maguire's aerial prowess also makes him stand out and he is considered one of the most consistent defenders in the league.

On average, he won an aerial battle once every 22 minutes for Leicester last term, better than both Lindelof and Jones (37 and 27 minutes respectively) and significantly better than Bailly (49 minutes). Smalling, though, won aerial duels slightly more regularly, once every 20 minutes last term, as per BBC.

The rise and rise of Maguire - from Sheffield United to Leicester via Hull and England - to one of the biggest clubs in the world for a gargantuan transfer fee - is undoubtedly a great story. But his move to Old Trafford brings a kind of scrutiny that will be alien to the player. For that price tag, he will be expected to transform our defence in the manner Van Dijk has done for the Scousers.Not just plugging the cataclysmic chasm and the most glaring leaks, but doing so with a sense of calm and authority.
For a young man from England's Steel City who went with his mates to Euro 2016 to cheer on his country, his life has changed beyond all recognition.
The Slabhead Cometh.

Friday, 2 August 2019

The Slabhead Cometh: Harry Maguire to become world's most expensive defender

United finally look set to land manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's priority signing with the deadlock broken in our pursuit of centre-back Harry Maguire.

After having a 70m bid turned down earlier in the summer, United upped the ante and, after a game of tug and war in which Leicester dug their heels in, this time we look to have got our man.
Maguire, subject to the obligatory medical, will become our third summer signing after Aaron Wan - Bissaka and Daniel James. Despite other cheaper, arguably better, options being up for grabs elsewhere (Toby Alderweireld, anyone), the signing of Maguire continues Solskjaer's raison d'etre of bringing the best of British to Old Trafford.

United have not boasted a centre-back worthy of the name since Nemanja Vidic, and - although I'm not for one minute suggesting Maguire is anywhere near that level - he represents a signficant upgrade on what we already have. Maguire, or Marcos Rojo and the Chuckle Brothers? It is a no brainer. With respect, anything to keep those three as far away from the team as possible is good with me.
There is no way on Planet Earth that Maguire is worth the money we have paid, but United's defence in its current state has more holes than a packet of Swiss cheese, so its needs must. It's been common knowledge that we've needed a centre back for what feels like as an entirety, and that desperation no doubt contributed to the eye-watering sum Leicester demanded for the player. It is an epitome of the current transfer market that ten years ago, £80m would have got you Cristiano Ronaldo at his peak, now it gets you a lad from Leicester with the most famous forehead in the land. How times have changed.

After years of watching Chris Smalling and Phil Jones's slapstick antics through our fingers, Maguire provides us with a calm, composed ball-playing centre back to slot in alongside United's "Iceman" Victor Lindelof. With the exciting addition of Wan - Bissaka on the right and double Player of the Year Luke Shaw on the other side, our backline looks to be in its rudest health for many a year.

He will become the world's most expensive defender with the fee to eclipse the 75m paid by Liverpool for Virgil Van Dijk - and let's hope the man affectionately known as 'Slabhead' has a similarly stellar impact for us. If that's the case, then Maguire will represent value for money.

Maguire became an unlikely cult hero during England's run to the World Cup semis last summer and his much-anticipated United move caps a meteoric rise to the upper echelons of the English game for the boy from Sheffield.

Three weeks ago, United were still assessing other options but slowly these had fallen by the wayside, leaving Maguire as the single option.
Solskjaer believes Maguire has not only the playing style but also the leadership qualities United's current squad requires.

 The Slabhead Cometh!

Wednesday, 17 July 2019

Pre-season match report: Man Utd 4-0 Leeds

United turned on the style in our second pre-season tie Down Under to put old foes Leeds United to the sword with a 4-0 drubbing.

Mason Greenwood scored his first goal at senior level, fellow Academy graduate Marcus Rashford added the second before unlikely scorer Phil Jones and Anthony Martial completed the rout against Marcelo Bielsa's men.
Although this was only a benign pre-season friendly on the other side of the world, the first meeting between these two historic footballing Uniteds since 2011 was witnessed by 55,274 fans inside the Optus Stadium.

Energy and intensity were again features of the performance from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's United. Some of the attacking football, particularly on the counter, was really pleasing on the eye.

Once again, the boss handed out valuable playing time to 23 members of his squad and he also started new signings Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Daniel James together for the first time. Axel Tuanzebe was the only unused substitute, while the ill David De Gea and injured Lee Grant, Luke Shaw and Romelu Lukaku were all ruled out ahead of kick-off.

After Rashford had fired off a post early on, United took the lead four minutes later. Aaron Wan - Bissaka latched on to Paul Pogba's perfectly weighted through ball and in turn picked out Greenwood. The 17-year-old has been widely tipped for stardom and definitely looked sharp to slot in his first senior goal with aplomb.

The Reds kept up the early pressure and Pogba was in the thick of it, bending a 25 yard free-kick just wide of the post before stinging the palms of Leeds goalkeeper Kiko Casilla with a rasping drive moments later. The engimatic Frenchman looked hungry and busy in the heart of the Reds engine room.
The Championship side then went close twice in quick succession as Jack Harrison flashed a shot wide and Patrick Bamford was denied by Sergio Romero from close range.

Leeds were made to pay for those missed opportunities on 27 minutes, when a sweeping Reds move culminated in Rashford's smart finish beyond Casilla after Scott McTominay had played him in.

The Reds' pace was proving to be effective on the break and a third goal almost arrived on 44 minutes, via the right foot of new signing Daniel James. He burst forward up the flank and saw his low shot bounce off the post in the last meaningful moment of first-half action.

 Just like he did against Perth Glory, Solskjaer made 11 substitutions at the start of the second half and that fresh side began with the same intentions as the men they replaced – to attack and score. After seeing a shot from range tipped over the bar, Andreas Pereira earned an assist from the resulting corner when his in-swinging cross was powerfully headed home by the much malinged Jones.
Angel Gomes was playing in the no.10 position, just behind striker Martial, and the diminutive Academy graduate showed several glimpses of his natural talent on the ball, most notably having cut inside from the right and dragging a left-footed shot just wide.
 The fourth goal arrived with 21 minutes to play when impressive substitute Tahith Chong was scythed down by Liam Cooper and Martial duly did the rest from the spot.

Solskjaer’s United have now confidently earned two successive wins during Tour 2019 and proudly, all six of the squad’s goals so far have either been scored or set up by an Academy graduate, including the spot-kick earned by Chong and converted by Martial.

The squad is set to fly from Australia to Singapore on Thursday afternoon for the second leg of this hard-working pre-season tour.
Serie A giants Internazionale await on Saturday, in a match that will provide a more detailed assessment of the progress that is being made by Ole and his staff. 
First half United: Romero, Wan-Bissaka, Bailly, Lindelof, Rojo, McTominay, Pogba, Greenwood, Mata, James, Rashford.
Second-half United: J. Pereira, Dalot, Smalling, Jones, Young (C), Matic (Garner 78), A.Pereira, Chong, Gomes, Lingard, Martial.

Monday, 1 July 2019

United’s full-back positions in safe hands again following exciting Wan-Bissaka signing

February 25, 2018. Crystal Palace are preparing for a Premier League game at home to Spurs. They have more players on the treatment table than they have available for selection and a crisis in defence.
Right-backs Joel Ward and Martin Kelly are both out. Reds loanee Timothy Fosu-Mensah is needed in central defence because so many other players are injured. Eagles manager Roy Hodgson hands a professional debut to a player few in the ground had even heard of: an English 20-year-old of Congolose heritage by the name of Aaron Wan-Bissaka.
 You’d have got long odds on that very same young man quickly becoming Manchester United’s fourth most expensive player ever. Only Paul Pogba, Romelu Lukaku and Angel Di Maria have cost us more. Exalted company indeed.

Fast forward a year, and Wan-Bissaka is now among the most sought-after young players in English football. He has the kind of vital statistics that make football’s data analysts drool, and the Croydon boy has burst on to the scene with a stunning breakthrough season in south London, his first full campaign at the top level. ‘Rapid rise’ hardly begins to cover it. Leading the way for tackles, take ons and interceptions, Wan – Bissaka, statistically at least, is the real deal.
The saying goes that you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. Eight years on from the retirement of the last Manchester United full-back worthy of the name in Gary Neville, and following the signing of Wan - Bissaka, the Reds finally look set to once again possess a full-back that doesn’t make cover us our eyes in horror.
From the reckless Rafael, the consigned to oblivion Matteo Darmian via the never-quite-good-enough winger turned full-backs Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young, the United right-back berth has gone from a beautifully maintained, well trodden footpath of Neville and co. to a polluted and abandoned wasteland in recent years.

Consigned to the history books are the days of craned necks as Young’s umpteenth cross ends up ten rows back in the Stretford End, and the howls of derision as another corner trundles tamely into the shins of the nearest opposition defender. Gone for good is United’s penchant for the makeshift, the make do and mend that has epitomised our fall from grace. No disrespect to Messrs Valencia and Young – both loyal and long-serving – but both have become synonymous with United’s dated mentality.

Wan-Bissaka may be, in my view, £20m overpriced after one season at this level but, still only 21, he is both our present and our future. The second summer signing in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s new, fresh transfer policy of recruiting the cream of young British talent, Wan – Bissaka is well equipped to serve United for more than a decade. When you look at it like that, and consider the fact that his fee probably reflects the current going rate for any decent full-back, then 50 million doesn’t look so steep after all. If Juan Bissaka is worth that much, then what’s the demand for two Wan-Bissaka’s (sorry, see what I did there?).

Worlds apart from the moribund mob that masqueraded as their predecessors, the prospect of Wan-Bissaka in tandem with Diogo Dalot (one year AWB’s junior), is enough to have United fans excited again. Regarded as two of the best young attacking full-backs on the continent, the pair – together with Player of the Year Luke Shaw – will ensure that United’s full-back positions are in rude health again. There is lots to admire about Solskjaer’s Old Trafford ideology, now we just need to crack on with getting a midfielder and a centre back or two.

Friday, 28 June 2019

Manchester United sign Aaron Wan - Bissaka

Manchester United have completed the signing of highly-rated Crystal Palace full-back Aaron Wan - Bissaka for £45m plus add ons. 

Although either club are yet to officially announce the deal, Wan - Bissaka had his medical on Thursday and was then pictured in a United shirt before signing a five-year contract. Although the price tag seems hefty for a player with only one full season under his belt, it represents value for money as the going rate for any decent full-back in the modern market. Throw in the fact that Wan - Bissaka is still only 21 and could be at United for over a decade and it looks a bargain.

The thought of him in tandem with Diogo Dalot, one year his junior, is an exciting prospect and the pair of them - together with Player of the Year Luke Shaw - means that United's full-back positions are in the best health since Gary Neville.

Wan - Bissaka becomes United's second summer buy and continues the trend of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's revamped transfer policy in bringing the cream of emerging British talent to Old Trafford. Both he and Daniel James are young, hungry and have everything to prove.
Solskjaer may not be the right man to take United forward, but at least he has a clear plan in mind for the foreseeable future, which is more than can be said for any of his more illustrious precedessors.

So what does A W-B bring to the table - what exactly is it that has persuaded the Old Trafford hierarchy to bring the player to United. An analyst's dream, he is - statistically at least - the best full-back on the continent. Leading the way in tackles, take ons and interceptions, it has been a rapid rise for the Croydon boy of Congolese descent.

Defensively, Wan-Bissaka is one of the most sought after players in Europe. He has made more successful tackles – where possession of the ball is regained or the ball goes out of play – than any other player in the top five European leagues this season, with 129. Every other player who ranks anywhere near him is a central midfielder, with his closest-challenging full-back Leicester’s Ricardo Pereira. On top of this, he was only dribbled past 7 times out of 35 Premier League games he played all season and never more than once in a single game. What United get with the money then is arguably one of the best defensive full backs in Europe. Furthermore, he has an average tackle succession rate of 3.7 per game, again, one of the highest for any defender in The Premier League. Wan-Bissaka therefore, represents to be a stellar defensive signing for United.

 Offensively, he does like to bomb forward, yet this side of his game can improve with more experience. He impressively made 56 crosses into the opposition penalty area in just 35 Premier League matches, creating 14 chances but only assisting 3 goals. However, with better offensive players at United, this will significantly improve his chances of getting better acclaim for his contribution to goals. Along with a passing accuracy of 73%, these statistics are eye-catching, considering he completed this in a mid-table team like Crystal Palace.
Wan-Bissaka represents to be a smart move by Manchester United; Young, hungry and talented, he has all the attributes needed to take his game to the next level and can replicate to Solskjaer what the famous Gary Neville did during his time in that position for Sir Alex Ferguson -  defensively sound with an eagerness to create chances and score goals. A valuable addition to an out-of-date squad.

It is thought that he will don the number 29 shirt at United, just as he did for Palace. Welcome to Manchester United, Aaron Wan - Bissaka. 

Friday, 14 June 2019

United to face fellow heavyweights on opening day

Manchester United will begin the 2019/20 Premier League campaign at Old Trafford for the third season in a row. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side will face Chelsea - with the west London side under yet another new manager - in the last of the ten ties on opening weekend.

The Reds were first up on a Friday night in 2018-19, but will have to wait until everyone else has played before we take centre stage this time.
The clash with Chelsea is always one of the highest profile fixtures on the football calendar, and has already been selected for live television coverage.
It will be the first time we’ve met the Blues on the opening day since the 2004/05 season, a 1-0 defeat at Stamford Bridge with a certain chap by the name of Jose making his managerial debut for the Blues.

Our first away trip of 2019/20 comes the following week when we travel to the Midlands to take on Wolverhampton Wanderers looking to avenge last term's league loss and cup KO at the hands of the men from Molineux.

 Fans will no doubt already be anticipating our meetings with Liverpool next season, which are currently scheduled for Old Trafford on 19 October and Anfield on 18 January.

The first Manchester derby of the new season takes place at the Etihad Stadium in early December and we host our neighbours a few months later, in early March.

To finish the 2019/20 campaign, the Reds will welcome West Ham United to the Theatre of Dreams in the penultimate weekend, before wrapping things up away to Leicester City on Sunday 17 May.

There will be a historic innovation introduced into the annals for the first time next season - that of the "player break". This will take place in February, after the Reds host Wolves at Old Trafford on the first day of the month.

The Reds will then take on Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, in a reversal of 2019/20's opening fixture. The clash in the capital will be staged either on the weekend of 8 or 15 February, with the spare weekend allowing the club a space in our schedule. The exact dates will be finalised around 14 December, when adjustments to that period are announced due to television coverage.

The idea is for these rounds of fixtures to be spread across a fortnight to enable clubs to take a break from the action, akin to other leagues across Europe such as the Bundesliga and La Liga, in a bid to aid the England national team and English clubs in Europe, even if Premier League teams contested both the Champions League and Europa League finals last term.

 The Football Association confirmed when announcing the plan that the February break would be structured to ensure that fans still get their fix of football over this period and to ensure the season concludes on schedule. 
Each weekend during the break will feature five Premier League games on the first weekend and five on the following weekend, they stated on their official website.
To incorporate this, the FA has agreed to move the Emirates FA Cup fifth-round matches to midweek. In addition, from the start of the 2019/20 season, fifth-round replays will be removed from the calendar, being replaced with extra-time and penalties in the first tie.”

Wednesday, 12 June 2019

Daniel James signing bucks Man Utd trend

Manchester United pretty much announced their first signing of the summer on Friday, welcoming Swansea City winger Daniel James to the club. The 21-year-old earned plaudits for his performances in the second half of the season in the Championship, particularly drawing attention after his FA Cup display against eventual winners Manchester City.
Now moving to the upper echelons of the English elite, he fits the profile of a seemingly new vision of young, untapped potential  for the future that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer wants to bring to Manchester United. Players who will fight until the death and strain every sinew for the badge on the shirt rather than the sole motivation of an overinflated pay packet.

While that makes for exciting news when considered alongside the traditions of England’s largest club, it differs with recent signings in the sense that James is unlikely to immediately be a key player for United, but instead offer a tactical threat and more options. For so long, United and Ed Woodward's transfer raison d'etre has been a penchant for the big name, quick fix, don't-really-need X Factor Galactio. Think Memphis Depay, Angel Di Maria, Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao and Bastian Schweinsteiger to name but five. All players that arrived at United with a hefty price tag and even loftier expectations, but all failed to live up to the hype.

 The addition of James bucks this trend as an emerging young British talent for the future - a winger that we've so obviously and clearly have needed now for the best part of a decade. With a deal for Aaron Wan - Bissaka of Crystal Palace potentially in the pipeline, it's a transfer strategy that goes against the grain of how this Glazer-led regime have gone about their business.

Arguably joining the club as the only proper winger in the squad, James boasts all the qualities of an excellent modern winger, with blistering pace and trickery, two-footedness, and the ability to move wide and cross or cut inside and involve himself in plays. This combination of traits could make him difficult for any opposing fullback. Combined with his penchant for heavy work rate and defensive contribution, this will alleviate some of the woeful fitness and distance records recorded by United last season.
In terms of expectations, the Welshman can be expected to feature more than recent young signings Diogo Dalot and Victor Lindelof in their respective debut seasons, but he would not slot into the side as the likes of Paul Pogba and Eric Bailly did when they joined under Jose Mourinho.

With Alexis set to be given the chance to banish his United woe, James will primarily be competing with Anthony Martial for the left-wing berth. The impressive Welshman can also play wide right, as a number ten and through the middle as a striker.

I'm really looking forward to seeing what James has to offer at Old Trafford. His squad number will be announced in due course.

Confirmed: Daniel James is a Man Utd player

So it's official. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has made his first signing as Manchester United manager with the capture of Daniel James from Swansea.

We penned on these pages a few days ago that a deal for the Welsh winger was imminent, and the 21 year old's £15m switch from Championship Swansea was confirmed today. James joins United on a five-year deal, he's certainly one for the future and we can't wait to see him in Red in 2019-20.

Swansea academy graduate James scored five goals in 38 appearances during a breakthrough 2018-19 season.
"This is one of the best days of my life," he said.
 James added: "This is one of the best days of my life and a challenge I am really looking forward to. The Premier League is the best league in the world and Manchester United is the perfect place for me to continue to develop as a player.
This is an incredibly proud moment for me and my family; however, it is tinged with sadness that my father isn’t able to share this experience with us. I am looking forward to working with Ole, meeting the team and getting started.”

James, whose father Kevan died suddenly last month, started both of Wales' recent Euro 2020 qualifying defeats by Croatia and Hungary under Ryan Giggs.
He scored his first Wales goal on his competitive debut in a 1-0 win against Group E rivals Slovakia in March.

Jumping from the second tier to the Premier League could take some adjustment but it's hardly unprecedented. Several of United's greatest ever players - Steve Bruce, Denis Irwin, Roy Keane and Peter Schmeichel came from the lower leagues - and look at Liverpool's Andy Robertson who signed from Hull.

A direct winger bursting with pace and trickery, 2018-19 proved a breakthrough season for the Welsh international. He scored five times and claimed ten assists in a eye catching debut campaign for the Swans, and earned widespread plaudits for his display against Manchester City in the FA Cup quarter finals.

 United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer told the club website: Daniel is an exciting young winger with lots of skills, vision, exceptional pace and a good work ethic. He had a great season with Swansea City and has all the attributes needed to become a Manchester United player.
“We are delighted he has signed with our club and we are all looking forward to working with him. This is the perfect environment for Daniel to continue his development.”

Saturday, 8 June 2019

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to make first signing as United boss

Man Utd have agreed a deal in principle to bring Swansea's wing wizard Daniel James to Old Trafford.
Touted as one of the most exciting and highly rated young talents in the British game, James has emerged into the national spotlight after an impressively eye-catching campaign last time out. Having risen through the ranks of the Swans academy to earn what he has described as a "dream" move, the 21 year old will become Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's first signing of the summer - and as United boss. He almost joined Leeds in January but a deal could not be reached, so he's seen the light and joined the only United worthy of the name.

The move hints at Ole's preferred transfer strategy, with a string of big-name, high profile "X Factor" signings - Bastian Schweinsteiger, Memphis Depay, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao to name but four - having fallen flat. The focus now appears to have switched to young, exciting, hungry British player in lieu of expensive overseas imports. James is, hopefully, the first of many to fall into that category. I'm excited to see what he will bring to a United squad in urgent need of re-inforcements. He can play on either flank or as a number ten from attacking midfield. He's a brilliant young player who will play, fight and give his all for the badge - someone who actually wants to be at the club rather than only an overinflated pay cheque. Exactly the sort of player in our side conspicous by his absence.

Twice capped by Ryan Giggs at full international level for Wales, James has completed his medical at Carrington ahead of a proposed £18 move, after add ons
The deal is expected to go through when Fifa's international transfer window opens next week. He scored the only goal in a 1-0 win over Slovakia on his full international debut in March.

Known for his blistering pace and intricate trickery, James claimed nine assists and scored five times in the Championship during his breakthrough 2018-19 season. Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola noted how "incredibly fast" James is after his side were given an FA Cup quarter-final fright at Swansea in March - it was that game that reportedly swayed United to move for the Welsh talent.

The winger has impressed this season at Swansea, showing electric pace and a willingness to fearlessly take on defenders, an asset that has clearly impressed Solskjaer.
This is the sort of signing United should be getting over the line. James is not a ready-made star, but is an exciting prospect and was bought at a very affordable price. United fans will be hoping to see several more new arrivals before the summer window shuts with a huge overhaul still required.

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Man Utd's jobs for the boys approach is ruinous and has to stop

The news that Darren Fletcher is the leading contender to become Manchester United's first ever technical director tells you everything you need to know about the abhorrent mess we find ourselves in. It should have left me scratching my head in bemusement, but then nothing surprises me with this club any more.  I've got nothing against Fletch, he made 342 appearances for us over 12 years and came through the ranks to win 13 major honours as a solid, reliable, versatile squad player. Very admirable, and I'm sure he's a top bloke but that's about as far as it goes.

But what on earth are the club thinking in possibly making him the main man in such an important role? What qualifications has he got - what does he know about scouting networks, player recruitment, communicating with agents or any technical aspect of the beautiful game? How on earth can a man with no experience in that field reasonably be expected to be the person tasked with driving a broken, dysfunctional, appallingly run and upside down club back on the straight and narrow? He knows the club, granted, but that doesn't mean he's the best person for the job. We need a world class, ready made candidate to come in from day one at set about the task at hand. There is simply no room for error and we're not in a position to have someone such as Fletcher to be learning on the job. Ed Woodward's seven years at the club have been plagued by erratic, fateful and ill-thought out decisions. In a catalogue of catastrophes, this looks set to be his most catastrophic one yet. 

United have spent almost a year on this, and whilst I'd rather that than the customary hurried, knee-jerk appointment, they don't seem to be any further forward. Tottenham's Paul Mitchell and Roma's Monchi were both targets but have disappeared off the wish lish without a trace. Edwin van de Sar is the ideal architect - if the board are looking for a former player, then look no further than our ex stopper. Edwin has received widespread praise for his part in Ajax's re-emergence as a European force, with their recruitment, vision and ideology a key element of the Amsterdam club's giant killing run to the Champions League last four. He has been open to an Old Trafford move, but one suspects that United's powers that be are unwilling to part with the club coffers and open the chequebook. Doing things on the cheap yet again.

There seems to be an obession of filling the club with loyal ex players and died in the wool Reds - it is a worry that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is becoming a yes man and so will the man who eventually gets the nod as technical director. That now seems to be the hierarchy's newly found raison d'etre. We're Manchester United, we can recuit anyone we want to with the financial clout and historic prestige at our disposal. We could have got any of the three men mentioned above but, instead, over the past month alone, we've flip flopped from G-Nev, to Rio Ferdinand to Pat Evra. All have been lined up as Ole's intermediary before pulling Fletcher's name from the Old Trafford hat. Nostalgia FC.

It is a jobs for the boys approach and a clever, strategic game the Glazers are playing, here. They know that the likes of Fletcher and Ole are popular, well-liked members of the former Reds alumni with a lifelong affinity to this great club. They're never going to get criticised or questioned in a way that an outsider would. If club legends hold the two most important jobs at the club, it will be impossible for us fans to protest against as to do so would mean disrespect. It would mean contempt and sacrilege against our own. Thereby the Glazers avoid accountability and cover their backsides. They're playing with fans emotions whilst an old cast list masquerade in the role of the puppet, the yes men, the people to run the club by their whims and fancies just as they want.

 By refusing to let go of the past, United are failing to embrace the future.

Monday, 13 May 2019

Manchester United's 2018-19: Reflections on a season in the Red

So another season comes to a sticky and unsavoury end. For us United fans, it has been another unpalatable one and could yet get worse if a certain other side in red end up with the greatest prize of all next month. City winning the league ahead of the Scousers is the smallest crumb of comfort but hardly a cause for celebration.
We haven't even got the pull of a major tournament - World Cup or a Euros - to help numb the pain amidst the wreckage of a car crash campaign that leaves us, again, stuck in the mud and wallowing in treacle at every turn.

 The dye was cast from day one when Jose Mourinho knocked on Ed Woodward's door with a list of five players, including at least top class centre-backs, on his shopping list. He ended up with a 35-year-old Stoke reject, a 19 year old kid from Portugal and £52m Brazilian you got the feeling he never even wanted. From that moment on, it was the beginning of the end - both for the manager and his players. Mourinho, justifiably so, had his critics, but he was the latest in a long line of United bosses to be let down by his board. He said upon his departure that finishing second with this side was the greatest achievement of his long, decorated and illustrious career but you know what, maybe, just maybe, he was right all along. We went into this season with no expectations and that's likely to be the case again in 2019/20.

This term will be instantly forgettable - with the storm clouds of seven soporific months only briefly punctuated by the longest managerial honeymoon in history. For 16 unforgettable games, United were unstoppable - off came the shackles as players, fans and pundits alike were thrown back to the romance of our halycon days of yesteryear as United could not stop winning with a series of performances that were as stunning and as swashbuckling as the next. The ghosts of the moribund Mourinho were laid to rest with his very anthithesis - a club legend by the name of Ole plucked from the Norwegian backwaters - at the wheel in spectacular style. He had us enthralled by the best run of form for many a year.  It could not last and sadly it didn't. How a team can go from the zenith of one of the best nights in our history in Paris to picking up two points from a possible 15 in the space of only 68 days is beyond me.

Having to witness what many will look back upon as the best title race in the history of the Premier League - one contested between the two teams we hate the most - it was almost as if the football deities joined in with the universal mocking of the mess that our club has become. We finished sixth on 66 points, an eye-popping 32 points behind City. Two seasons ago, we finished in the same position and three points better off but with the caveat of winning the Europa League and getting back into the European elite albeit via the back door. This time around, the Champions League campaign offered hope, with excellent wins against Juventus and the history making away goals progress against PSG. We perhaps got further than many expected, only to fall short against the same Barcelona side who were on the receiving end of Liverpool's climb off the canvas Mission Impossible.

Who's going to be our director of football? Which players are going? Who's coming in? Have the board got a strategy and a plan to take us forward? What about the transfer kitty? What about the tour and the Europa League? Where does all of this leave United? For what feels like the umpteenth time, there's more questions than answers and no one to provide them.

Spare a thought for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. The United boss faces a hectic summer, sleepless nights and not a moment's rest as he attempts the biggest rebuilding job since Romulus and Remus. Six seasons on from David Moyes avant garde inheritance from the greatest manager there ever was and ever will be, this is a far bigger job. Moyes only had subtle tweaking to do but Solskjaer has open heart surgery. We need ten players in and just as many out but that won't happen overnight. I have heard some fans calling for Ole's head already - that is, to put it subtly, frankly ludicrous. What can he be expected to do with this squad in such a short space of time? We need to give him time to build and put his own stamp on things, a la Jurgen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino. These two men have been at their clubs for four and five years respectively and only now are we starting to see the fruits of their labour. It is a project but we have to be patient. It could well turn out to be that Solskjaer is not the right man for the job as we thought he was but it is simply too early to judge. Give the man a chance before casting judgement.

None of the players have covered themselves in glory, but Luke Shaw and Victor Lindelof emerge from a troubled campaign with credit, their reputations enhanced. Mason Greenwood and Tahith Chong have shown flashes of their frightening potential, Diogo Dalot has offered promise  and Scott McTominay has continued to come of age. As United embark on a summer of rebuilding, these players are safe in knowledge that their futures lie at Old Trafford.

As the Smiths once sang, there is a light that never goes out. As the sun sets on Manchester United's season, no matter how dark things get, we will always keep supporting. We've deserved better as fans, but we'll keep the faith and keep the red flag flying high. We'll never die!

Mason Greenwood offers hope for the future as United aim to rebuild

Manchester United's final day defeat to Cardiff brough down the curtain on a dreadful season at Old Trafford. The 2018-19 campaign ended as it began - with the club in a mess, the players not bothered and indisinterested and us fans feeling as disconnected from our club as ever. Granted we had nothing to play for and our 53rd match of the season resembled little more than a glorified expidition tie. That said, it would have been nice to give us something to cheer and to send us into the two-month hiatus on a high. We caan enjoy the break now and put the stresses of this season to one side. Only 89 days until we go again...

 If there's anything positive to come out of a shocking loss to the Championship-bound Bluebirds, it's that it will be the last time a good few of these players ever pull on the iconic red shirt. Ander Herrera and Antonio Valencia are definitely going, but more are sure to follow. Paul Pogba and David de Gea have probably had their United swansongs whilst the future of many others - the likes of Messrs Lukaku, Matic, Sanchez and Mata el al - remain shrouded in uncertainty. Speaking of the future, if there is any crumb of comfort to be taken from a season that started badly, peaked in Paris and then ended in chaos, it's that United's revered Academy looks in as good a shape as ever.

At 17 years and 223 days, Mason Greenwood became the youngest player to start a league game for United, and he more than showed his frightening promise as the sole ray of sunshine in a gloomy United performance. Together with Angel Gomes, one year his senior, the two homegrown talents outshone many of their more experienced and illustrious colleagues. Gomes only played the last quarter of the tie but did more in his brief cameo than most of this shower managed in the preceding 74 minutes. Players such as Greenwood, Gomes, Tahith Chong, Scott McTominay and James Garner should be central to our rebuild.

As the Reds collective form has plummeted, so has Marcus Rashford's. Devoid of any confidence, his decision making, composure and intelligencee has simply fallen off a cliff. But Rashford's loss is Greenwood's gain. He can be proud of his full debut having had a stunning season in the Reserve side, with 26 goals and eight assists in 30 games at second tier level. Thrown into the first-team fray in the midst of an injury crisis, he made his senior bow at the Parc des Princes and went down in the annals as our youngest ever player in the Champions League era, at 17 years and 156 days. A league debut off the bench at Arsenal quickly followed as his devastating form at youth level was rewarded with a long awaited senior breakthrough. Touted for a while now as our next big thing, this kid has all the attributes to be something special. He was responsible for most of our best moments against the Bluebirds, hitting the post and keeping Cardiff stopper Neil Etheridge busy.

If you want to be hyper critical, then he probably should have tucked one of his chances away but he was unlucky and was the best player on the pitch by a distance among those in Red.He's got to be promoted to the senior ranks for next season in the same way that Rashford was.

For one so young, Greenwood belies his tender years and can show his team-mates the way when it comes to playing for the shirt with pride, passion and unstinting honour.

Not for the first time, we're looking to United's next generation to take u
s forward.

Match report: Man Utd 0-2 Cardiff City

Nathaniel Mendez - Laing scored twice as relegated Cardiff won at Old Trafford and ended Man Utd's inglorious season in ignomonioua fashion. The winger scored either side of half-time to ensure Neil Warnock's side returned to the second tier off the back off a memorable last day win.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer looked to have turned our fortunes around as we went 12 games unbeaten after his arrival. But the side picked up two points from the last 15 to finish in sixth place and face a make or break summer of open heart surgery. 17-year-old Mason Greenwood, on his debut Premier League start, was the only bright spot for United as the teenager looked impressive throughout and was unlucky not to score.
The Reds fielded six Academy graduates and saw Antonio Valencia make his farewell appearance after a decade of loyal service to the club with a 15-minute cameo. The players stayed behind to embark on a "lap of honour" in front a sparsely populated Old Trafford at the end of a miserable campaign.

Cardiff travelled to Old Trafford just a week after confirmation of their relegation to the Championship and looked set to bid farewell to the top flight with a whimper as United dominated the opening exchanges.
But it was United who finished the match with their tails between their legs, unable to defy a resolute Bluebirds defence as they rained chance after chance on Neil Etheridge's goal.
Greenwood hit a post, Jesse Lingard was denied by the keeper and Andreas Pereira flashed a shot wide as the Bluebirds had to weather an early United surge.

Greenwood twice went close with headers, but Cardiff took a 23rd minute lead when Mendez - Laing was adjudged to have been felled by Diogo Dalot.  TV replays showed that the striker had swiped and missed his shot and started to fall before the Portuguese full back made contact. Arguments from the Reds camp came to nothing and Mendez-Laing stroked the spot-kick down the middle to make it 1-0.
David de Gea saved superbly from Josh Murphy shortly before half-time, when Anthony Martial came on for Phil Jones and Scott McTominay dropped to centre-half.

United soon fell further behind through a goal that was embarrasingly easy. A simple move down United's non existent left side saw Murphy waltz into space and cut the ball back for Mendez - Laing, who sidefooted in from close range.

Rashford had a header saved and Martial also went close but the Reds struggled to make inroads against an archetypal well-drilled, organised and resilient Cardiff side.  It almost got worse as Bobby Reid stole in behind the defence but lashed his shot wide.

Old Trafford was willing Greenwood to score and at least offer a crumb of comfort, but he was unable to convert Rashford's low cross on 87 minutes. Angel Gomes, another star in the making, also enjoyed an eye catching cameo as he was brought on with Valencia on 74 minutes.

This was an instantly forgettable denoument to a troubled season as we end with six defeats in nine ahead of a summer of reflection and rebuilding before 2019-20.

Overall team performance: 3/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Mason Greenwood. The only bright spot on a dark last day of the season.

Saturday, 11 May 2019

Match preview: Man Utd v Cardiff City

Old Trafford will bid farewell to two departing United stalwarts as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer faces old side Cardiff City in our final game of 2018-19.
Neil Warnock's relegated Bluebirds provide the Reds final opponents of a troubled season, but the fixture is something of a subplot with Ander Herrera and Antonio Valencia set to leave the club after five and ten years at the club respectively. It could also see Paul Pogba, David de Gea and Juan Mata make their curtain calls with ongoing uncertainty over the future of all three men. Herrera has made 189 appearances for the club, and Valencia - who has not featured since 2 January - has played 338 times.

The club captain hopes to be fit enough to make a farewell appearance after a decade at United.
Jesse Lingard could return after injury but Romelu Lukaku, Alexis Sanchez and Anthony Martial are fitness doubts.
Cardiff are without loanees Harry Arter and Victor Camarasa because of a calf strain and dead leg respectively.

United boss Solskjaer has pledged to involve Academy youngsters such as Tahith Chong, Angel Gomes and Mason Greenwood against the south Wales side who return to the second tier after a single Premier League campaign. There may be nothing riding on the result but what happens over the summer and into next season is extremely important for both.

 A week of two incredible comebacks.
A weekend when an epic title tussle will reach its climax.
A season that will see four English clubs meet in European finals... but, for once, instead of writing such headlines, Manchester United are noticeable by their absence.
Second last season and seemingly back in the pack, we're miles off the pace again, faced with the unpalatable situation of being only spectators as our fiercest and most hated rivals compete for the most prestigious honours. 
With a summer of comings and goings predicted, this could represent an Old Trafford farewell for several donning the famous red jersey.
But will it be the denouement in the career of Cardiff manager Warnock?
After relegation at 70, retirement may yet beckon but he would miss football - and football would certainly miss him.

 Ole said: "Challenging for the title next year would be a miraculous season because we are so far behind at the moment, points-wise.
"It's not like when I used to play that it was us or Arsenal that were going to win the league, and then Chelsea came.
"Now it's a very, very competitive competition and we're challenging against the best teams in the world for these trophies. You have five, six, seven sides to get the better of. That tells us that it's going to be a great challenge. We want to get back to where we used to be."

 Form guide: Man Utd W L L L D D Cardiff City L L W L L L
Match odds: Man Utd 2/7 Draw 11/2 Cardiff City 17/2 (Skybet)
Referee: Jon Moss takes charge in game 38 of 38

Sack the board, I am sick of saying it now

Just when you thought the embarrasing, circus act clowns who pose as the Manchester United board couldn't get more inept.
As news broke on Saturday morning of Ander Herrera's immiment departure after five years and almost 200 games at Old Trafford, three thoughts occured to me. Sadness at the departure of a player I love, a player who gets this club and one of the few who has proved himself to be worthy of the Manchester United name. Anger at the way the board have allowed this to happen, and the manner in which they have treated one of our own who deserves better. Then came the wave of resentment towards this poisonous, toxic, clueless, upside down board who have played Russian roulette with our club and ripped its heart out like a banker's plaything. They're making financial, business decisions over the needs of a football club and have increasingly showed they can't even get that right. How else to explain indulging the hangers on Ashley Young, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones with new deals, paying Alexis Sanchez 500k a week for doing less than nothing and letting Herrera leave by allowing his contract to run down. When you take the risk on a decent player and a big club comes in, you've got nowhere to go and of course he's going to leave. It is a disgrace that this has been allowed to happen. Why are contracts allowed to run down?
 It's contradictory - trying to save money by dithering over deals, but then scrimping it away elsewhere trying to please players who shouldn't even be here. Another United manager being stabbed in the back by those above him. We are run so very, very badly, it's embarrasing and amateurish. Herrera clearly never wanted to go, he had it forced upon him by the board who left him with no option but to leave - the latest in a string of ill-fated decisions that lack any basic and tangible nous, knowledge and logic.

You can't blame Herrera for leaving - why wouldn't you when the employers you have served so well clearly don't value you and have done zero to try and keep hold of a good asset?

Allowing Herrera to leave is nonsensical. Even if you agree to the notion that there's better out there - ask yourself this: who, realistically, could we sign. United need many reinforcements but now we're going to have to fork out in upward of £50m to replace a player who didn't need replacing. Even if you feel that we can attract players of better calibre than the man from Bilbao, very few can give us the attributes Ander has done. A leader, he wore his heart on his sleeve, was the master of shithousery and epitomised everything a United player should be. People like that aren't easy to replace. Especially not in a squad full of spineless, gutless babies.This board have made us a laughing stock. Whoever the key person or people behind this decision were, all need to stop interfering and leave footballing matters to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

 I cannot accurately described the levels of risible resentment within me towards this regime. I will never turn my back on the team I love, but it's got to the point now where I feel I shouldn't put any more money into the club. They clearly don't care about us as fans, so why should we continue to fund their cash cow? Support the team not the regime.

Ole ole Ander Herrera.. Adios and gracias

After 189 games in the Red of United, Ander Herrera will run out at Old Trafford as a Manchester United player for the final time tomorrow. Herrera's deal is due to expire, the club have not offered him a new one and he looks set to sign for PSG on a free, having agreed terms with the Ligue 1 champions after five years as one of our club's best post Sir-Alex signings. Arriving from La Liga in 2014 for £29m as Louis van Gaal's first signing, Herrera was the string-pulling heartbeat of our engine room and developed into a key man in a United side that at times seems to be in a constant state of turbulence.
In an emotional farewell message posted on United's Twitter, Herrera made official what has looked likely for some time, after widespread speculation about his future.

So how will the man from Bilbao be remembered? The answer, certainly from my perspective, is with great affection.

Whilst there have certainly been more skillful, edge-of-
your-seat players to don the iconic Red, Herrera was a rare breed - a foreign import who quickly became a fans favourite for his combative, courageous, hard-working and all action style. He reminded me of a Roy Keane-esque identikit and held a love and affinity for our club that you don't very often see in an overseas player. He hated losing and epitomised everything a Manchester United player should be. As Tony Adams once said: "Play for the name on the front of the shirt and they will remember the name on the back."

  Every tackle, every act of bravery, every act of shithousery, every lung bursting rung and every single thing that proves that what Ander Herrera is, is something United currently lack.

Not forgetting that time he spat on the City badge at the swamp.

This United squad is a discombobulated rabble of half arsed players who don't give a shit, but  Herrera is one of the few who is both genuinely good enough and does actually care. Letting him leave looks a massive mistake and one that I hope we don't live to regret.

An expert of "the needle", Herrera was adept at boiling the collective piss of opposition players and fans alike simply through his no nonsense attitude and putting his body on the line. His man marking masterclass on Eden Hazard for Chelsea's visit in the April of 2017 will live long in the memory, and capped a wonderful season in which he was our skipper in all but name and ended up as winner of the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year award. In a United squad where true leaders and out and out captains are conspicous in absentia, Herrera should have been that man. He will be sorely missed and I'm gutted that he won't be a part of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's plans to rebuild United. The mess Manchester United are in, the leadership and authority the club lacks, they are letting go of a proper leader. It might be tough to find another one soon.

A player who forever gave his all, Herrera wore his heart on his sleeve, never put in anything less than 100% and developed into one of the finest box to box midfielders in the land. He perhaps never got the credit he deserved from observers, fans and pundits, but he was crucial. During his five seasons under three different managers, Herrera won both domestic cups and was named man of the match in the Europa League final after he covered every blade of grass in that final against Ajax.

When times were dark, he gave his all to light the fire. When it seemed as though no one cared, he did care every single time. Because of that, he became a player every United fan could relate to and connect to. Someone we could identify with. He became a cult hero, a terrace icon, a fans favourite.

Antonio Valencia will also leave United on a free transfer this summer after the club opted not to trigger a one year extension in his contract, while Juan Mata is yet to agree terms on a new deal at Old Trafford.

Ole ole Ander Herrera. Gracias and adios Ander, good luck at PSG and all the best for your future.