Wednesday 30 January 2019

Divisive Fellaini offered delight and despair in equal measure

Marouane Fellaini will end his five year career at Old Trafford having agreed a deal to sign for Chinese club Shandong Luneng. The burly Belgian will move to pastures new for a fee in the region of £15m, bringing to an end a United stay that will be quickly forgotten.

The first major signing of the post Sir Alex era, Fellaini has been a divisive - and often derided - figure at Old Trafford. Synonymous with the torrid ten months of the man who signed him from Everton, Fellaini never won over the United fans despite his limitations. Clearly, he enjoyed adulation and trust of three consecutive United managers - David Moyes, Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho. In that respect, he has been lucky to survive as long as he has at the club. There's no way he'd have been afforded that luxury at any other so called top club. We also cannot forget the manner in which he held our club to ransom last season during attempts to pen a new deal.

There has been the good, the bad and the ugly from a player that has offered delight and despair in equal measure. Fellaini has scored at Wembley, bossed a Europa League final, run the show against City and kept this season's Champions League run going. He proved to be a useful option off the bench as a Plan B, and - to his credit - always did the job he was asked to do and gave 100% each week when called upon.

Despite those commendable efforts, Fellaini will be a player and a man whose face never really fitted at United. He had no technical ability, no skill, no pace and often proved a liability with his flailing elbows and ill-discipline. His qualities are not what we expect - or want - from a United player. Particularly as a midfielder at a club blessed with the metronomic talents of yesteryear in Messrs Paul Scholes, Michael Carrick, Bryan Robson and Roy Keane to name but four.

Perhaps unfairly, Fellaini will forever be synonymous with failure, and the epitome of the chaotic state of flux and turbulence that has enveloped Old Trafford in the post-Ferguson years. I don't think we under-appreciated Fellaini, he just became a symbol of United's lost identity. He became a tool for playing horrible hoof ball tactics up to him when United had to grind out results and win ugly against opponents that would have been beaten with a more positive approach. It's not his fault, just what he was asked to do in a conservative and cautious side - but mud sticks.

To give him credit, I cannot fault his dedication and willingness to fight for the team where others had downed tools. He's flourished in ungainly fashion to do a job, but - still - feels like an unwanted side effect of the Moyes era.

Unless he’s an idiot, Fellaini knows his time at United had hit a dead end with the club looking to move away from conservative managers with the appointment of a forward-thinker. Ole Solskjaer may be interim boss, but even if the club get Mauricio Pochettino in the summer it would also have signalled bad news for Fellaini. The Reds finally seem willing and able to right five years of wrongs, so it makes sense for the Belgian to move on having made only two brief appearances as a sub under Solskjaer.

There is a different mood at United now and Fellaini represents the old. Solskjaer has built on team spirit and togetherness and it doesn’t feel like the big man is part of that.

Best wishes in your move to China, Marouane.

Match report: Man Utd 2-2 Burnley

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer lost his perfect Old Trafford start but remains unbeaten as United boss after a late Victor Lindelof leveller.
The Swede bundled home his first Reds goal in the second minute of injury time to salvage a dramatic late point after Burnley - for the second year in succession - had taken a 0-2 lead.

United were facing their first defeat under the temporary tutelage of Solskjaer, until Paul Pogba scored from the spot on 87 minutes. That paved the way for Lindelof to scramble home the equaliser and ensure that Ole - despite seeing the end to our winning run - become the first Premier League manager not to lose his first seven games in charge.
Sean Dyche's lowly but improving Clarets have a wont to make life difficult for their more illustrious Lancashire rivals, as proved by their previous two visits to this parish in which they had emerged with creditable draws. They looked set to go one better this time when Ashley Barnes capitalised on a mistake by Andreas Pereira, and Chris Wood headed in Barnes cross on 81 minutes for 2-0.
That was until the thrilling, frantic and frenetic Old Trafford finale.

The slick, free-flowing and fluid United we've seen in the first month of Ole at the wheel was missing. But United still almost got the first goal in the ninth minute when the in-form Marcus Rashford exchanged passes with Romelu Lukaku and burst clear. The Belgian cut the ball back on a plate for the striker and it looked easier to score, but - despite the space he had - Rashford could only pull the golden opening wide.
Pogba had a goal chalked off and Juan Mata went close when he flashed a shot wide after a rapid counter-attack.
Tom Heaton, a thorn in our side so often, saved comfortably from Mata and Pogba but, just when it looked as thoguh United had upped the ante, the Clarets drew first blood.
Phil Jones played a ball out of defence to Andreas Pereira who seemed caught out by the pass and was robbed instantly by Jack Cork. He then fed Barnes, who slammed the ball past the stranded David De Gea before Lindelof could rescue the situation with a tackle.
Behind under Solskjaer for the first time, United had a penalty appeal waved away by an unmoved Jonathan Moss as Ashley Westwood seemed to have handled.
Heaton continued to channel his inner De Gea with a superb reflex save to repel a Lukaku volley,  but as we struggled for calm and composure, Burnley went into a stunning 2-0 lead.

After United pressure, Dyche’s side went forward and Westwood dinked a ball onto the head of Wood, who glanced easily past De Gea, while the defenders waited for an offside flag that never came.
Rashford had another penalty claim turned down, but - four minutes later - Moss pointed to the spot when substitute Jesse Lingard went down under the attentions of Jeff Hendrick. Pogba smashed the resultant penalty into the roof of the net to set up a grandstand finale.
 Ex Red Heaton again looked as if he would be the hero of a magnificent Burnley reargaurd, as he pulled off another superb save to keep out Pogba. He also denied substitute Sanchez, but United weren't to be denied as Lindelof bundled in an untidy finish on the rebound for the latest of late salvos.
The Reds ran out of time as they swarmed forward in search of an unlikely winner but - ultimately - a draw was probably a fair result.

Overall team performance: 7/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Victor Lindelof. His goal capped another impressive showing.

Tuesday 29 January 2019

Match preview: Man Utd v Burnley

United were 11 points adrift of the top four when Jose Mourinho was sacked a week before Christmas.
But a victory against Burnley will take a resurgent United level on points with fourth-placed Chelsea, albeit maybe for only 24 hours as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer aims for a slice of Old Trafford history.
No United manager has even won his first seven league games in charge of the club but Ole will achieve that feat with victory over struggling but improving Lancashire rivals Burnley.

Regardless what occurs in this next round of matches, Champions League qualification through the league is now a distinct possibility under Solskjaer, who continues to enhance his claims to take charge permanently. The obdurate Clarets have proved a tough nut to crack in recent seasons having drawn on their last two visits to Old Trafford. Only Jesse Lingard's 91st minute leveller denied them a famous win in last term's corresponding tie. The reverse fixture at Turf Moor earlier this campaign ended 2-0 in our favour with a brace from Romelu Lukaku.

Ole said: "What it is about now is to put the club and to put the team in a good position at the end of the season - how do we look like, what do we look like next season?
"With or without me, it doesn't really matter because I'm here now as part of that, to prepare the team for next season. But, of course, that means doing well now.
" We can only do our own job, keep doing what we’ve been doing, keep pressing all of the right buttons. We’re going to lose a few games, which happens in football, but at this moment in time we’re winning a few as well. Our aim is to try and do even better, to try and push the players further.
"I go into every single game as a Man United manager thinking we can win this game."

The boss looks to have a selection headache - albeit one in the best manner possible - as he looks to take the team to a ninth win from as many games in all competitions since he took charge.
Chris Smalling is back in contention for United having recovered from a foot problem, but Marcos Rojo and Marouane Fellaini remain sidelined. David de Gea is set to return after he sat out the Cup win at Arsenal.
There are a number of familiar faces among the 16th-placed visitors alumni. Ex Red Robbie Brady is doubtful for Burnley after being forced off against Manchester City with a groin problem.
Johann Berg Gudmundsson and Phil Bardsley - another on United's books as a youngster -  face late fitness tests ahead of Tuesday's match.
The Clarets made seven changes for Saturday's FA Cup defeat and will recall a number of key of players to the starting line-up.

Tom Heaton, also a former member of our Academy, looks favourite to get the nod in goal, although Nick Pope played at the Etihad Stadium and Joe Hart is another option. Matt Lowton and Aaron Lennon appear unlikely to be involved. Sean Dyche's men currently sit fifth-from-bottom in the table on 22 points, as one of four clubs looking nervously over their shoulders amid a congested five-way scrap to avoid the final relegation spot. Things have improved for the Turf Moor team of late after a four match unbeaten league run lifted them out of that dreaded drop zone and into 16th.

 Form guide: Man Utd W W W W W W Burnley W W W W D L
Match odds: Man Utd 7/2 Draw 5/1 Burnley 12/1
Referee: Jonathan Moss

Form guide: Man Utd W W W W W W Burnley 

Saturday 26 January 2019

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer: the Manager Man Utd never knew they needed

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's perfect audition to become Manchester United's next manager continued with him taking a curtain call in front of their jubilant followers after making it eight wins from eight in the FA Cup fourth round at Arsenal. It has been, so far, the greatest audition in football history.

If the Norwegian hero had dreamed up his own Old Trafford managerial raison d'etre after his interim appointment as the Jose Mourinho antithesis, then his script could have not have been mapped out any better.

 Solskjaer - effectively whistled up on loan from Molde in his native Norway with Old Trafford deep in crisis after the resentment and discontent of the Mourinho era - has overseen a remarkable transformation in mood and performance.

And with executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward wearing an expression of satisfaction that looked like it might have to be surgically removed as the final whistle approached at Emirates Stadium, the questions being asked about Solskjaer are now being framed in a very different context.
The discussion has travelled from "can United really give it to Solskjaer?" into the direction of "can United actually give it to anyone else other than Solskjaer?"

There would still be a huge element of risk given Solskjaer's previous Premier League experience at Cardiff and the suspicion remains that if there was an easy path to appointing Tottenham's Mauricio Pochettino, this would still be the preferred option for United's decision makers.
This question was posed before the meeting with Spurs at Wembley after Solskjaer's arrival had coincided with a soft landing cushioned by a relatively comfortable fixture list. This job at the minute is effectively a free hit for Ole but the pressure and expectation would ratchet up tenfold if the caretaker became the permanent incumbent.

Solskjaer engineered a victory in that game, his biggest test up to that point, before overseeing this impressive victory at Arsenal, another significant win at the home of a close rival.
And with every win, the body of evidence that strengthens Solskjaer's case grows.
Solskjaer has exceeded expectations and met every demand that would have been made on him by Woodward and his colleagues in the Old Trafford hierarchy when he answered their emergency call.

The first job in his in-tray was to metaphorically pick the players up off the floor and make them happy again. He made that his starting point, but it is on the pitch that he had to throw down a marker and he has succeeded.

He has formed a close-knit management team with the return of wise old head Mike Phelan to work alongside Michael Carrick and Kieran McKenna.
And, most importantly, Solskjaer's Manchester United have been playing in a manner - a victorious one - that had been mislaid in the last 18 months under Mourinho.
Solskjaer has proven to be tactically astute and flexible in his two biggest games.

 He utilised the pace and mobility of Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford at Spurs - after setting the physicality of Romelu Lukaku aside - the young England striker scoring the winner in a first-half performance of verve that set up the platform for David de Gea's second-half heroics.
Solskjaer may have been planning to shuffle his pack for the FA Cup, but he did it with a gameplan that produced rich rewards at Arsenal.

He used Jesse Lingard through the centre of his attack with Romelu Lukaku on the right - an unaccustomed position where he actually performed with devastating effect against Arsenal while at Everton - and Sanchez on the left.

It worked like a charm. Lukaku superbly set up Sanchez and Lingard for the two quick goals after the half hour that wrecked Arsenal's hopes. The trio were simply too much for the Gunners' reshaped defence, hit by injury to Sokratis and, later on, to Laurent Koscielny.

And if anything summed up the mood of positivity and progression sweeping around Manchester United, it was when Solskjaer made his second-half changes.
He replaced Sanchez and Lukaku with the new danger of Martial and Rashford. The midas touch was there again as Martial scored the late goal that wrapped up the win.

Would Mourinho have been so bold? Very unlikely. Phil Jones may have been his preferred option.
Solskjaer has fired up key players such as Paul Pogba and Martial, while releasing the huge potential of Rashford - that midas touch again.

Yes, the reservations expressed here about the notion of Solskjaer as full-time manager remain.

Would Solskjaer have the same impact if the players knew he was their full-time boss? Would the sheen and novelty wear off? How would they react when he disappointed them with bad news?
This is a huge decision for those in Old Trafford corridors of power.

Did they really anticipate they would be discussing Solskjaer as the permanent successor to Mourinho when they took the decision to dispense with The Special One?
It would be a courageous move but Solskjaer is giving them that choice to make and adding weight to his claims with every game.

Solskjaer has moved United to within three points of Chelsea in the Premier League's top four and has now taken United into the FA Cup fifth round after a potentially hazardous away draw.

Since the desperate failure of the hapless David Moyes, Woodward has sought out managerial big-hitters in the shape of Louis van Gaal and Mourinho. Trophies, if not the ones United crave most, may have come but ultimately they failed and the fare on offer was deadly dull.
Solskjaer, in contrast to that trio, looks comfortable in his own skin at Old Trafford. He knows the club, how it works and what is expected. It is almost as if he's been the man we've been crying out for all this time. The man - and the manager - that Man Utd never knew they needed. And the presence of Phelan - Sir Alex Ferguson's trusted right-hand man for so long - will reinforce the old messages and standards.

Woodward must decide whether what he is seeing from Solskjaer makes the most compelling case to drag him away from his starstruck approach to managerial appointments.

It is by no means a done deal, nor should it be at this stage, but Solskjaer has got two huge opportunities coming up to make himself close to indispensable in the eyes of United's supporters and those charged with making that next appointment.

We face Paris St-Germain in the Champions League last-16 first leg on 12 February and then face Liverpool at Old Trafford shortly afterwards.
If Solskjaer can guide us past PSG over two legs in the Champions League quarter-finals and throw in the sort of victory that always towers above all others - damage Liverpool's title ambitions - the bandwagon may gain unstoppable momentum.
And if he carries on in this fashion and wins those games, how can even those who still harbour the doubts about whether he should be the next full-time manager of Manchester United argue against his right to be at the head of the queue?

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's magical mystery ride

John Legend once sung about perfect imperfections and magical mystery rides. You feel that's where we are with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and this scarely recognisable Manchester United side now. All of me loves all of you. The players certainly are giving their all for Ole, and he's giving it back.
Solskjaer - and United - may have flaws waiting to be exposed - but there can be no doubt that he is, indeed, taking us all on a magical mystery ride. Who knows where it will take us and where we'll end up when the red train arrives at the station. For Solskjaer, not only does he share the moniker of the "Get Lifted" singer's surname, but it's increasingly beginning to look as if it could be destination Carrington and the office with the door marked: "manager." for this particular Legend. For United, it's a ride that we don't want to get off of. Eventually, there will be a bump in the road but, for now, it's one that I'm enjoying again and then some.
It's a journey that has taken us to within touching distance of that coveted Champions League spot, the last 16 of the FA Cup and a date with PSG that, at this rate, United have more than a fighting chance in. No one will want to face this red hot, rejuvenated Manchester United in this mood and in this rich vein of red hot form. Ask yourself this, when was the last time we were able to say that?
Ole's opening victories may well have been explained as the new manager bounce against relegation fodder for a team that could hardly have done any worse. Anyone can beat Cardiff, right? Perhaps.

But that's been followed by another win, and another, and another. It's now eight in a row, and you don't do that just on a whim. It's achievement whoever you are. Ole has combined his own knowledge and philosophy with that of his mentor's, and has shown tactical nous too. In recent weeks, he's tactically outclassed Mauricio Pochettino - the man still considered favourite to be his successor - and Unai Emery who, until recently, took Arsenal on a 22 match unbeaten run. Against both, he set United up to contain and counter-attack, using Jesse Lingard as a false nine and Paul Pogba as the brutal, bullying ball carrier we know he can be.

 Game management, man management, selections calls, tactical awareness and ability to listen to others. He's thinking, talking and acting like a Manchester United manager.He's maybe perhaps even beginning to flower the green shoots of recovery in a player who was nothing short of a dogs dinner  under Jose Mourinho. A year ago almost to the day, Alexis Sanchez arrived to much fanfare. He's been one of number of failed high profile signings but something in Solskjaer has seemed to reawaken the Chilean.
If  Solskjær can find the Sánchez on-switch, a player who until now has seemed gripped by a strange shadow of yesteryear, maybe it really is time to find out how far he can take this magical mystery tour.
This man can do no wrong and is making light work of a job that looked impossible.It's becoming harder and harder to rule him out of the running to replace Jose Mourinho. A penny for the Portuguese's thoughts right now. What must he be thinking?

Friday 25 January 2019

Match report: Arsenal 1-3 Man Utd

United served up a counter attacking masterclass to sweep aside Arsenal and notch up an eighth successive win under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. The Old Trafford caretaker manager can do no wrong, having outmanouevred his supposedly more illustrious contemporaries Mauricio Pochettino and Unai Emery in sweeping all before him.
The heavyweight FA Cup fourth round tie pitted Emery's 13-time winners against a Reds side looking to go all the way and equal that tally. A combined total of 25 FA Cups between them, two old rivals slugging it our hammer and tong under the Friday night lights. This was never going to be a clash for the faint hearted.

Just as they did on this ground last season, the Reds laid bare a counter attacking blueprint as, for all of Arsenal's greater possession and territory, they never really looked like scoring.
Alexis Sanchez has struggled to reproduce his best form since swapping the Emirates for Old Trafford almost a year ago to the day, but was at his sharpest and most clinical best as he latched on to Romelu Lukaku's superb reverse ball to round Petr Cech and clip home from a tight angle on the half hour mark.

Two minutes later, and the much maligned Lukaku was at the heart of things again. Ander Herrera played in the Belgian and he in turn released the onrushing Jesse Lingard - so often the scourge of Arsenal - who did the rest with a neat one-on-one finish.

But just when United appeared to be coasting towards the half-time interval, the Gunners fired into life and hit back through Pierre - Emerick Aubameyang who tapped in from close range after Aaron Ramsey had picked him out.
David de Gea's absence in such a crucial game may have raised eyebrows before kick-off, but in Sergio Romero, United have one of the best back ups in the business and he proved his worth again with a superb stop from Ramsey shortly after the restart.

Aubameyang also went close, Lukaku flashed a free-kick over the top and Granit Xhaka tried his luck from distance as the tie opened up into an increasingly end to end encounter.
Romero saved well again from Alexandre Lacazette with his foot and Ramsey fired wide from distance but, as Arsenal started to turn the screw, United re-established the two goal advantage with the fourth of the game.

Substitutes Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford - on for Lukaku and Sanchez - were involved as Pogba went on another driving run at Arsenal's depleted and backpedalling defence. The Frenchman opted to shoot and was thwarted by Cech but the retiring keeper parried his effort. The ball dropped into the path of Pogba's compatriot Martial who rolled the ball home from close range on 82 minutes.

Laurent Koscielny's nastly-looking injury, received after an accidental tussle with Lukaku, led to a mammoth ten added minutes. But there was to be no further drama and United negotiated the most significant hurdle of Ole's tenure to become the first team into Monday's draw for the last 16.

Overall team performance: 8/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Romelu Lukaku.

Sunday 20 January 2019

Red-hot Rashford is reborn and in the form of his life

A month ago exactly to the day, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer arrived at Old Trafford as Man Utd's new caretaker manager with a plan: to restore belief, identity, to get everyone singing from the same hymnsheet and turn around the flagging fortunes of a talented but troubled group of men disillusioned with the negative and toxic shortcomings of the previous - failed - managerial regime.

It's time to talk about Marcus Rashford. He is in the form of his life, playing the best football of his career in his third full Old Trafford season and has become a player reborn under the watchful gaze of a manager who can do no wrong.
Ever since the boy - and at the tender age of 21 he is still only a boy - from Wythenshaw burst into the national spotlight and shot to prominence literally overnight back in those madcap days of 2016, we've known he's special.  Now we are seeing just how special indeed under a manager that has improved almost every player in the space of a month. In his 150th Man Utd game, Rashford's 41st goal was more than any other player in the red of United since he thrillingly and so unexpectedly burst onto the scene under Louis van Gaal.

Rashford's wonderful turn and finish just before half-time against Brighton was a measure of the confidence of a striker who cut a forlorn figure just weeks ago. Mourinho attempted to shoehorn Rashford into the role of archetypal no.9 target man - he wanted him to be something that Rashford simply can never be - a battering ram centre forward to bully defenders and bulldoze his way to goal. His primary asset - his searing, blistering pace, was criminally under-utilised.
 The most glaring example of that came in the absence of the injured Romelu Lukaku in the FA Cup final defeat to Chelsea. It was a day in which the young striker endured a torrid time as he toiled in vain to turn the final his side's way. His decision making, sharpness, confidence and directness all dropped off a cliff and at times he seemed to be trying too hard to impress Mourinho. Rashford became a shadow of the player we know he can be and is.
 Solskjaer has improved the form of nearly ever Man Utd player and none have benefitted more than Rashford. It tells you everything you need to know that the previously undroppable Lukaku has lost his place in the team and doesn't look like getting it back any time soon.

 Kieran McKenna's reaction said it all in the dugout. Cheeks puffed out, the Man Utd coach could barely believe it as Rashford produced another stunning finish.
It was a world away from Mourinho turning away and folding his arms after Rashford missed a one-on-one against Young Boys in November. Two poles apart differences in mentality, its almost as if we are seeing two completely different players.
What was all the more encouraging, against Brighton, was how Rashford curled a chance over the bar earlier in the half but it did not play on his mind and he did not think twice about shooting from a similar position again. Again, hard to imagine that happening a few weeks ago.
Rashford has now been directly involved in 10 goals in his last 10 games and there is just no stopping him in this kind of form. For the first time in his career, Rashford has scored in four consecutive league games and is playing at a world class level. 

Eight months on, and with Harry Kane injured, is there a better centre forward in the league than Rashford right now. The goal against Brighton was his fifth in seven games under Ole as the spearhead of Solskjaer's fluid attack.

Like Busby, Solskjaer has made Manchester 'United' again

Sunday marks the 25th anniversary (where does the time go) of the passing of United's pioneering, trailblazing and visionary manager Sir Matt Busby.
Busby died aged 85 on 20 January 1994, and the Mancunian football pulse he helped quicken continues to beat strongly even in absentia. 48 hours after Sir Matt's death, a 21-year-old Academy graduate by the name of Ryan Giggs scored the only goal of the game to set in motion a chain of events that would lead to the club's first league and cup double. From then on, the Reds have never looked back and the path to greatness was set - a fitting tribute indeed.

Sir Matt laid down the unwritten code - his blueprint for success in football's distant, black-and-white era a sense of expectation, of style, of youth - of swaggering, coruscating attacking brilliance. A blueprint enshrined for all of time.

The Manchester United he agreed to take over in 1945 couldn't have been in starker contrast from the grandiose, palatial, global monster enjoyed by visitors the world over today. Broken, cash-strapped and homeless, United were a club deep in the abyss plying their trade in exile a short distance across the city at Maine Road - Old Trafford having been splintered and cracked by German bombs. Enter Busby. Two-and-a-quarter decades may have passed but - just like Sir Alex Ferguson - Busby's presence and legacy is everywhere. Even now, fans walk down the road that bears his name, chants paying homage to the great man echo through the Stretford End, to this day we sing about "playing football the Busby way" and "take a lesson you will see football taught by Matt Busby". Even if immortalised only in bronze, United's founding father will forever maintain a watchful eye over the club he quite literally built from rubble and made his own.
Sir Alex proved to be Sir Matt reincarnate - a fiery but loyal Scot with an eye for young talent and a raison d'etre for fast, fluid football built on dynamic wing play. Where Frank O'Farrell, Tommy Docherty et all had baulked at Busby - who still had an office at the club - Ferguson was inspired by the presence of the great man.

Ferguson hoped, when he retired after a glorious 26-year tenure, to have the same kind of influence on his successor, but David Moyes could not measure up to that task and was gone within nine months. Louis van Gaal lasted two seasons, José Mourinho two and a half. Results were disappointing, but performances even more so. The football was too ponderous, too laboured, too inhibited. Once again, it was as if those Old Trafford values had been lost.

All of which brings us to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. The affable Norwegian - like Busby did - has a modest coaching record but, also akin to Busby, that does not matter. He "gets" the club and is already sounding and acting like a Manchester United manager should. Far more so that Moyes, Van Gaal and Mourinho ever did. Solskjaer - with a dollop of Sir Matt's man-management and a drop of Ferguson's kindred spirit - has, like the two knights of the Old Trafford realm, adopted the fabled and foolproof Manchester United mantra of: "go out there and express yourselves". It would be churlish to directly compare the two when Ole's refloated the ship and Busby rebuilt it, but there are similarities, at least in their treatment of players and championing of youth.

When both took over, the Reds needed a flash of inspiration, a rediscovery of a lost vision and - above all - a shining light to emerge from the darkest of clouds.
Solskjaer has, for now at least, retrained the minds of a cast list to thrill and enthrall. He's showed his players warmth, has showered them with praise and made them believe. As Sir Matt himself once said: "At United we strive for perfection - if we fail then we might just have to settle for excellence."
Together, the son of an army major and his generals wrote a script that reminds us of what Manchester United are and do. He may have won everything there was to win, but that surely was the greatest gift of all. Thanks to Ole, it is one that continues to keep on giving.

Match report: Man Utd 2-1 Brighton&Hove Albion

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer became the first Man Utd manager to win his first six league games at the helm as the team held on against Brighton.
It was United's seventh straight win since the Norwegian took over at Old Trafford on an interim basis a month ago and they are now just three points off fourth-placed Chelsea, who lost to Arsenal in the late kick-off.

Paul Pogba - the epitome of United's recent upturn in form - put us ahead shortly before the half hour mark after he won and then converted a penalty.
Marcus Rashford doubled the lead just before half-time with a beautiful solo goal on his 150th appearance for the club.
Pascal Gross halved the deficit for the visitors when he scored in off the bar with just over 20 minutes remaining.
Brighton improved in the second half but their wretched away record continued as they fell to a fifth defeat in their last eight Premier League games.

Solskjaer had originally named an unchanged team - United's first since December 2017 - only for Luke Shaw to drop out in the warm up having gone down ill. That saw a late alteration with Diogo Dalot coming in to the XI.

The last time these sides met was in August, when United's season under Jose Mourinho began unravelling with a 3-2 defeat. But United's first-half performance at Old Trafford on Saturday was worlds apart from that game last summer.

On the weekend United are commemorating 25 years since Sir Matt Busby passed away, Solskjaer was on the brink of overtaking the legendary post-War Old Trafford boss, who began his tenure as manager with five straight victories in 1946.

 The rekindled spirit of energy and fight was evident from the start as United set about Brighton like a pack of terriers, biting into tackles and snapping up every loose ball. The visitors were penned back and hardly able to gain possession. United’s dominance brought a free-kick from Pogba, which smashed into the wall, the Frenchman then superbly opened up the goal to create space for a shot but his effort sailed over.

To their credit, Chris Hughton's side are nothing if not resilient and well organised and began to settle into the game as they manfully withstood the early onslaught.
But the Reds continued to press and made the breakthrough when Pogba burst into the penalty area after 25 minutes and was scythed down by the ragged left-back Gaeten Bong. Pogba dusted himself down and duly despatched the spot-kick beyond the dive of the Seagulls stand-in stopper David Button.

Three minutes shy of the interval, it was the red-hot Rashford - in his 150th game - that put further distance between United and the south coast side. Pre-match SOS Dalot set it up for the local lad as he burst clear, cut inside his marker and slid Rashford through. The in-form forward's footwork was neat and tidy and his finish even better as he wriggled his way into space and curled a stunning strike into the far corner. It was his fifth strike in seven games as Solskjaer’s spearhead.

 Rashford was simply and superbly unplayable as he went close twice in quick succession shortly after the restart. He flashed a free-kick wide and then came within inches of turning home a Jesse Lingard cross on the stretch.

United were certainly keeping the heat on and Anthony Martial and Pogba both displayed neat trickery to set up chances that came close to extending the Reds lead.
 The game went into a quiet spell and Solskjaer prepared to inject new life into his side as he sent Romelu Lukaku and Juan Mata to the touchline, stripped and ready to come on. But before the Belgian and Spaniard could be released into the action, Brighton stunned the Reds by clawing a goal back in the 72nd minute.

It came out of nowhere as Davy Propper's cross picked out the onrushing Pascal Gross and the German pulled the ball down on his chest before he poked in off the bar.
The match had suddenly been thrown a totally different dimension as the Seagulls - now brimming with belief and confidence - started to sense an upset.
It was a whole new test for Solskjaer's side as Brighton launched a flurry of late attacks in a bid for the equaliser albeit without creating an opening of any note. The Reds were forced to swap verve for grit but Rashford picked up an injury and a booking in the closing stages.

David De Gea and co held out in stoppage time relatively comfortably, despite a few nerves, to keep the successful run going.

Overall team performance: 7/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Marcus Rashford.

Friday 18 January 2019

Match preview: Man Utd v Brighton&Hove Albion

After slipping to successive defeats at the Amex Stadium last May and August, United have a score to settle with Chris Hughton's Seagulls. Last season bore two home wins for the Reds over the south coast side at Old Trafford, with brave Brighton beaten 1-0 in the league and 2-0 in the FA Cup quarter final.

 Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's smile is widening as the weeks pass by. But he will know the Wembley win over Spurs would soon be forgotten if they drop points at home to Brighton as he attempts to become the first Manchester United manager to win his first six league games in charge.
The biggest difference in the change of the Old Trafford atmosphere is that United truly believe they will win a fixture like this.  Under Jose Mourinho, this would have been a potential banana skin, but such is the newly found confidence and belief in Ole's in-form and rejuvenated Reds, the feel-good factor is clearly evident around the club and the upcoming league matches give United a real opportunity to continue that.

Caretaker boss Solskjaer said: "As I've said before, you go into every single game as a Manchester United coach, player or manager thinking you'll win the next one - that's just the nature of this club. You might not always win it, that's no guaruantee, but you expect to be able to.
"We've had six good games but the next one is the most important one."
Alexis Sanchez is expected to be fit, and Eric Bailly is available again after his sending off against Bournemouth. Marouane Fellaini (calf) will be out for a month and he will join defenders Chris Smalling and Marcos Rojo on the sidelines. There are no other injury concerns to contend with.

Brighton midfielder Yves Bissouma will be assessed, having missed last weekend's defeat by Liverpool with a hip problem.
Left-back Bernardo and winger Jose Izquierdo remain absent with hamstring and knee injuries respectively. The Seagulls will once again be without goalkeeper Mathew Ryan and winger Alireza Jahanbakhsh, who are at the Asian Cup with Australia and Iran respectively. David Button is again expected to deputise in goal.

In contrast to the reverse fixture in east Sussex when Brighton faced a ragged United side entering the misierable final months of the moribund Mourinho, now we're flying. Six points off fourth-placed Chelsea, the Reds will leapfrog place-above Arsenal with a win in this one. Unai Emery's men face Maurizio Sarri's side in the late kick off.
In form United are gunning for a seventh consecutive victory,  and - against a well organised but limited Brighton side that struggle away from home - should be red hot favourites for another win.
The Seagulls, of course, sealed survival in their debut Premier League season with that win over United that lifted them to the magic 40-point mark back in May. Of those 40, 29 of them came at home and it's been a similar story this time around, too.
 Hughton’s team currently sit 13th in the table with 26 points from 22 games so far and are eight points clear of the relegation zone. Only eight of those points have been pilfered on the road with form at the Amex again looking set to form the bedrock of staying up.

Brighton made life hard for the league leaders Liverpool last time out and they will likely have the same approach at Old Trafford. United might have to be patient but it's hard to see anything other than a home win.

Our prediction: Man Utd 2-0 Brighton
Form guide: Man Utd W W W W W W Brighton L D W D W L
Match odds: Man Utd 1/4 Draw 9/2 Brighton 21/2
Referee: Paul Tierney (Wigan)

Monday 14 January 2019

An apology from United Faithful

As all you lovely lot have no doubt noticed, there has been a few issues with our site over the last 48 hours. This resulted in United Faithful strangely going off line and much head scratching among ourselves and the powers that be. But we had a word with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, he made a few tactical tweaks and thankfully the gremlins appear to have left the field of play and we are back up and running.

We thank you all for your patience and look forward to continue giving you all the latest from Manchester United.


The United Faithful team

Sunday 13 January 2019

Ole's at the wheel, tell me how good does it feel!!

If the timing, rather than the decision itself, of Jose Mourinho's sacking came as a surprise, Man Utd's choice to replace him came as an even bigger one. Few would have predicted Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as a serious contender.
Even fewer people would have predicted the complete reversal of fortunes that Ole has overseen already at the club after just a few short weeks. A team that couldn't manage even the basics under the moribund Mourinho - a side that couldn't string a pass together - now cannot stop winning.
Mighty as a player but simply modest as a manager, forever - and perhaps unfairly - associated with a torrid and ill-fated tenure at broken-beyond-repair- Cardiff in 2014, Solskjaer's appointment at Man Utd raised eyebrows and posed many questions.

Those questions had not been shrugged off despite the best start of any Man Utd manager since the first great legendary boss of this parish - then just plain old Matt Busby. That was mainly due to the friendly nature of the fixture list that saw Ole's opening gambit take in a tour of the league's lesser lights. There's no easy game amid the brutality of the Premier League - but Cardiff, Huddersfield, Bournemouth, Newcastle, Reading  and Brighton are hardly the slaying of giants that's needed to throw down the gauntlet for any new United manager - caretaker or otherwise. But, in winning those games, he proved to be everything that his predecessor was not. Bright, breezy, and brimming with positivity - never has the mood changed so quickly. Not just winning, but doing so in a manner that us - and him as an exponent of Sir Alex's genius - had become accustomed to. Dangling the carrot of youth whilst instilling what we perceive as the "United Way" - Solskjaer just gets us. Put it down to luck if you wish, but Ole's shown tactical nous to outmanoeuvre two of his illustrious contemporaries in Messrs Pochettino and Emery. He's not been afraid to let Michael Carrick and Mick Phelan do the talking and has built up the players where Mourinho only knocked them down. Every player has been transformed to levels not seen since the halycon days of yesteryear, there's an identity, a vision and a plan now. Whatever Man Utd are supposed to be, this is it.
More than any of that, Solskjaer has given a disaffected squad unity of purpose once more, with Paul Pogba seemingly the epitome of a side rejuvenated by Mourinho's departure, and this run of wins has rebuilt fractured confidence and belief.

The odds on may yet be against Ole claiming the job permanently as other names, such as England manager Gareth Southgate and Atletico Madrid's Diego Simeone, are mentioned, but if he is undertaking an audition, wins like this do his chances no harm.

 The acid test would arrive in the form of a team who had inflicted Mourinho's heaviest home defeat as a manager back in August. A team who had beaten the Reds three times in a row at home and who had again pooped the party to throw their weight around at the upper echelons of the table. But Ole passed that test, too, as he has every examination he has been asked to sit. The man can do no wrong and has made 659 million men, women and children believe in their football club once more.

That table looks a lot healthier now than it did after the debacle of Anfield that finally put Mourinho out of his misery. That day, the Reds were miles off the pace and closer to 18th-placed Burnley than Jurgen Klopp's leaders. The gap to place-above Arsenal was eight points. Chelsea, as they still do, sat fourth and eleven ahead of United. Ahead of the two teams heavyweight encounter at the weekend, it's mad how quickly things change. Separated only by goal difference from Unai Emery's men, Chelsea and Spurs are faltering fast and looking nervously over shoulders at Ole's runaway Old Trafford express, appearing ever nearer all the time in the rear-view mirror.

And while Solskjaer may not be the front-runner yet, he has done everything asked of him and this victory against a team in title contention - and with a manager in Mauricio Pochettino who many regard as favourite to be next in the chair at Old Trafford - was the biggest statement of his credentials yet. Test passed with flying colours.

 Of course, there will - eventually - be a bump in United's road somewhere, but Burnley, Leicester and Fulham on the league horizon before PSG come to town - and with the might of Arsenal vanquished in the FA Cup - Solskjaer can only continue the momentum that he's built up.

All together now, Ole's at the wheel, tell me how good does it feel....

Match report: Spurs 0-1 Man Utd

United made it six wins out of six under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer but were again indebted to David de Gea who made a string of superb saves as the Reds claimed victory at Wembley.
Marcus Rashford's eighth goal of the season gave United a slender half-time lead but it was one we had to dig deep to preserve as Tottenham laid siege to our goal after the break.
It was a clinic from De Gea, who almost single handedly kept Mauricio Pochettino's wasteful side at bay with stunning stops to deny Harry Kane thrice, Dele Alli and one-time Old Trafford target Toby Alderweireld.
The build up to this heavyweight encounter was dominated by the tale of the two managers - with unbeaten Ole facing his first litmus test against the man widely tipped to succeed him at the club. Solskjaer has well and truly thrown the cat amongst the proverbial pigeons after this result.

In a frantically frenetic opening foray, Spurs carved out the first chance of note when Heung - min Son collected the ball from deep and burst clear. He picked out the onrushing Harry Winks, but his low effort was saved by De Gea.
Jesse Lingard went close with a drive, and Rashford then called Hugo Lloris into action for the first time when he fired straight at the stopper after a swift counter-attack.

He saved well from compatriot Anthony Martial soon afterwards, Kane had a goal chalked out at the other end and Nemanja Matic flashed a shot wide from distance.
United had been dominant and snatched the lead in the dying embers of a half that had not disappointed. Pogba's perfect pinpoint pass picked out the red hot Rashford, and he did the rest with a superb angled finish that flew across Lloris and in.

Within minutes of the restart, it was Dave who was soon the busier of the two keepers. He made a routine save from the impressive Son, excellently thwarted Kane with his foot and produced a spectacular diving save to deny Alli's goalbound header.
Soon, Lloris was called into action once more as Pogba followed up his own deflected effort with a second attempt that the Tottenham captain blocked with a toe.
Erik Lamela and Kane went close in quick succession, but De Gea was proving unbeatable and showed just why he's the best keeper in the world. After a rapid Tottenham counter attack on 65 minutes Kane slipped the ball inside Luke Shaw to find Alli and as he broke into the area the Spanish stopper nariowed the angle and made another great save with his feet.

 His feet were called into action again five minutes later as he somehow managed to prevent Alderweireld from a Spurs corner and he held the ball moments later from Kane’s curling free-kick.

De Gea continued with his incredible antics, firstly from Alli’s side-foot shot inside the box and then once producing another save with his feet to deny Kane.
Spurs continued to storm forwards, but the Reds defence brilliantly held firm to keep the increasingly desperate hosts at arm's length.
With the clock ticking down, Spurs weren't finished and fashioned yet another opening through substitute Fernando Llorente. This time, DDG beat away his countryman's header before the final chance of the game when the same player almost released Kane, but his whipped cross narrowly evaded the sliding striker.

Overall team performance: 8/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: David de Gea. Simply magnificent. Again.

Saturday 12 January 2019

Match preview: Tottenham Hotspur v United

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer faces the most difficult examination of his temporary Old Trafford tenure so far as he takes in-form United to Wembley.
Lying in wait, its Tottenham Hotspur, who looked in contention for the title until a shock 3-1 home defeat to Wolves in their last league game at the national stadium four days after Christmas. That left Spurs in third place but six points adrift of the leaders Liverpool. Despite not spending in the summer and a delayed move to the new ground, Mauricio Pochettino - widely tipped to become the new, long-term choice at United  - has overseen another impressive campaign for the capital club.

Sunday's encounter is Solskjaer’s first duel with any of the league’s top four clubs during his short stint as caretaker manager, but the Norwegian has made a fine start by winning all five of his matches so far. Should he extend that run this weekend, he would become the first United boss to win away at Tottenham Hotspur since Sir Alex Ferguson in March 2012 (Wembley was classed as a neutral venue for last year’s semi-final).
United's first home defeat of the season was inflicted by Spurs when the teams last met in late August, due to Harry Kane’s guided header and a double from Lucas Moura, in what was Jose Mourinho's heaviest home loss as a manager.
 However, the Reds were triumphant during the most recent clash between the clubs at the national stadium, coming from behind to win 2-1 in last season’s FA Cup semi-finals.
 Sunday's encounter is Solskjaer’s first duel with any of the league’s top four clubs during his short stint as caretaker manager, but the Norwegian has made a fine start by winning all five of his matches so far. Should he extend that run this weekend, he would become the first United boss to win away at Tottenham Hotspur since Sir Alex Ferguson in March 2012 (Wembley was classed as a neutral venue for last year’s semi-final).
Paul Pogba has been declared fit by the caretaker boss, but Marcos Rojo is injured again and Fred is currently on paternity leave as his partner prepares to give birth. 
 Chris Smalling is working towards full fitness and Victor Lindelof is set to return having been rested for the FA Cup match against Reading. 
For Spurs, Eric Dier (appendicitis) and Victor Wanyama (knee) are expected to miss out again this weekend, while Jan Vertonghen and Mousa Dembele have overcome recent complaints to return to training. Impressive and in-form forward Son Heung-min is set to join up with South Korea for the Asian Cup after this fixture.

One of these two managers definitely wants to be the next permanent Manchester United boss, the other is saying nothing.
There's no question that when United appointed Solskjaer they had chosen their moment carefully: four supremely winnable games lay ahead, and the Reds
have duly won them.
But Solskjaer has done more than just win - it's the way United have played and the sight of a couple of youngsters being given their chance. Solskjaer can really do no more.
Mauricio Pochettino's credentials are beyond question. Spurs are certainly London's top side just now, and have achieved that without spending in the summer and without a working stadium to call their own.
Chairman Daniel Levy will understand that, if they are to keep the popular Argentine, then both the new stadium and Levy's wallet had better be open soon.

Pochettino’s men have been in fine fettle for large chunks of the season, with Watford and Wolves being the only two Premier League sides outside the top five to take any points from them. Spurs have won 15 of their last 18 matches in all competitions, and have scored 23 goals in the six most recent fixtures, including the thumping wins over Everton (6-2), Bournemouth (5-0) and Tranmere (7-0). Harry Kane is of course their leading marksman with 20 goals to date but five of his team-mates have also netted more than five goals each this season - Son, Moura, Dele Alli, Christian Eriksen and Eric Lamela - to prove their potency in attack. All that said, four teams have beaten the Lilywhites at Wembley this season: Liverpool, Barcelona, Manchester City and Wolves.
Solskjaer said that he intends to continue with the attacking approach we've seen so far despite the step up in class. 
"You always adapt to any opposition we play, we know we're not going to have as much as the ball as we have done, you know all the best sides in the league and of course we have to be aware of their strengths.`
"But I've been brought up in a way that we need to attack teams. I think that's our strength as well, going forward and attacking, as a team when you look at us now the way we've played. 
" We're not going to get as many chances to attack against these [Spurs] as we've had before, not as much of the ball, so we've got to be ready for when we get hold of the ball and play well with it to make sure we use the whole pitch because Wembley is a decent-sized pitch as well.
 "You get tested in every single game in the Premier League, no doubt about it. But of course, this is against a top, top side and, of course, if we want to get closer to them and get past them, we need a good performance and a good result.”
Form guide: Tottenham W W L W W W Man Utd L W W W W W 
Match odds: Tottenham 11/10 Draw 12/5 Man Utd 5/2 (Bet365)
Referee: Mike Dean (Cheshire)

Friday 11 January 2019

Ole's first litmus test could tip the balance in battle of the bosses

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will be aware of the importance of Sunday’s game against Tottenham. He will know a win will take Manchester United right back in the race for a much-needed top four finish. He will also know that a triumph over opposite number Mauricio Pochettino will increase his chances of retaining his dream job in the Old Trafford hot seat come August.

 Solskjaer - an interim anti-Jose Mourinho - has emulated the great Sir Matt Busby by winning his first five games, but his beaming charm offensive has been aided by a relatively friendly introductory fixture list that could have been hand-picked by the 45-year-old Norwegian.
The talk that Solskjaer might land the job full-time has got louder and louder - but surely no truly convincing evidence has yet been presented to back up that theory?

Now, however, it gets serious.
When Solskjaer takes United to face Spurs on Sunday, we will discover more about his credentials, his credibility as a potential full-time successor and whether the smiles can be backed up with a big result rather than some early, if admirable, flat-track bullying.
The run of games faced so far has comprised Huddersfield, Bournemouth and Reading at home, and Cardiff and Newcastle away.
The statistics are impressive: five from five, 16 goals and only three against and an average of 61.63% possession over those matches. He could not have done any more. But the caveat has come  in the kindness of those fixtures - with all due respect, any Manchester United manager and side should be winning those.
Throw in the constant claims that the clouds rolled away once Mourinho paid his extras and drove away from the Lowry Hotel after the limp loss to Liverpool and everything at Old Trafford is coming up rosy.
Solskjaer has got the results required, unified a squad previously at odds with its manager, reintegrated the huge talent of Paul Pogba and formed a sound coaching team with Michael Carrick, the returning wise old head Mike Phelan and Kieran McKenna.
He has a bottomless pit of goodwill among everyone connected with Manchester United after 11 seasons at the club, which brought 126 goals in 366 appearances, including the dramatic winner in the 1999 Champions League final against Bayern Munich in Barcelona.
And, crucially, he is naturally more comfortable in his surroundings at the 'Theatre of Dreams' than any of the three successors to Sir Alex Ferguson: the out-of-his depth David Moyes, the death by a thousand passes Louis van Gaal and the confrontational, divisive Mourinho.
So far. So good.
The true test comes now.

If Solskjaer can prove this is a serious rejuvenation by fashioning a result at Spurs - a team still right in contention for the Premier League title, and handsome winners at Old Trafford in August - then all the positivity might actually acquire substance.
And Solskjaer has the opportunity to strike a real blow for his profile if he can outmanoeuvre Mauricio Pochettino, the favourite to be the next manager at Old Trafford, on Sunday. What would that do for his long term prospects at the club? If the caretaker beats the contender, then what?..
 This is the first real test for Ole as boss and it will be fascinating to see how it pans out. Many fans and outsiders have reserved judgment so far as we ‘haven’t played anyone good yet’ but the outcome of this one could help make their minds up.

The odds, however, must still be on United going for an experienced manager of proven quality rather than a personality, no matter how engaging or ingrained in the foundations of Old Trafford he might be.

And as and when the run of victories comes to an end, there will be other tests.
What happens when he delivers bad news? The history of this season suggests Manchester United's players are not quite as smiley when the going is rough or when they are receiving messages that are more hardline, which led to so much discontent under Mourinho.
United's squad, and star players such as Pogba and Alexis Sanchez, were able to use Mourinho as their shield. How will they, and others, react when Solskjaer tells them something they do not like?
And what about United's hierarchy who, with the best will in the world, were unlikely to have had Solskjaer in mind as the man to drive them into a golden future post-Mourinho?

 Remember the cautionary tale of Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich and Roberto di Matteo.
The Italian succeeded Andre Villas - Boas with Chelsea on their knees in March 2012 and in two months had won the FA Cup and the trophy the Russian wanted most of all - the Champons League.
It was the greatest interim manager audition in history, yet Abramovich never seemed convinced but was in a corner.
He eventually gave Di Matteo, a manager of modest previous attainments, a two-year deal. He was sacked in November and has since reverted to modest mode.
And yet Solskjaer, if he can prove these early results are not simply a soft landing, has the capacity to give executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward a similar dilemma.
The top four and the Champions League places are only six points away and key dates are also coming at Arsenal in the FA Cup fourth round and against Paris St-Germain in the last 16 of the Champions League.
If Solskjaer can steer United through those two assignments, the bandwagon will be rolling at high speed.
One thing is certain - we will know a lot more about how good Solskjaer and this miraculously rejuvenated Red Devils team are on Sunday night.
And a lot more about whether Solskjaer can really be taken seriously as a future Manchester United manager.

Tuesday 8 January 2019

United to face old rivals Arsenal in huge FA Cup tie

The draw for the fourth round of the FA Cup was made on Monday and pitted United with old rivals Arsenal in the undisputed tie of the round.
The clash pits the competition's two most successful clubs against each other, with the Gunners having won 13 FA Cups and the mighty Reds 12-time winners - a remarkable 25 triumphs between us.

Just three points separate Unai Emery's men and Ole's resurgent Reds in the league table with the north London side holding a slender advantage. That will count for little in the cup, however.

It was honours even last time the two clubs met, with Jesse Lingard equalising for United in an entertaining score draw at Old Trafford in what turned out to be one of Jose Mourinho’s last games in charge of the club.
This will be the 230th installment of one of the English game's most fierce and storied rivalries, a feud that has admittedly waned in recent years with the emergence of Chelsea and Manchester City breakng the two sides domestic duopoly. Both sides have slipped down the pecking order and the departures of both clubs legendary managers in Sir Alex and Arsene Wenger have meant a new era in the illustrious history of both clubs.

Perhaps the most famous Arsenal v United FA Cup tie of all was the semi final in 1999, when Ryan Giggs scored an unforgettable solo goal to win it, in the famous Treble season.
We've not played Arsenal in the Cup since 2015 when the eventual winners prevailed 2-1 in the quarter-final at Old Trafford through ex Red Danny Welbeck's second-half strike and left Louis van Gaal's men empty-handed.

You have to go back to 1988 to find the last time United faced Arsenal away from home at the Gunners ground in this competition (2-1 to the home side at the fifth round stage). Brian McClair missed a late penalty in that one.

United enter the fourth round after a convincing 2-0 victory over Reading at Old Trafford, thanks to goals from Juan Mata and Romelu Lukaku. A second-string Arsenal won 3-0 at Blackpool to ensure their place in the draw.
Fourth-round ties will take place between 25 and 28 January.

 The match will be sandwiched in between the Reds’ Premier League games at home to Brighton & Hove Albion and Burnley.

Before the game against the Royals, caretaker manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer expressed his desire to win the competition this season as the Reds look to go one better than last term, when we were narrowly beaten by Chelsea in the final at Wembley Stadium.
United beat League Two Yeovil 4-0 at the fourth-round stage a year ago, as Alexis Sanchez made his eagerly awaited debut for the club at Huish Park. Marcus Rashford, Ander Herrera, Jesse Lingard and Romelu Lukaku scored on the night in Somerset.
The Reds were ball no.6 in Monday night’s draw, which was conducted by former Wolverhampton Wanderers players Robbie Keane and Carl Ikeme at Molineux immediately after the club’s third-round victory against Liverpool. As it unfolded, it became clear the Reds were set to draw a big gun with Tottenham and Crystal Palace also in the frame as the last four balls were selected.

 Elsewhere in the draw, the sole remaining non league club - Vanarama National side Barnet - are rewarded with a home tie having knocked out Championship promotion-chasers Sheffield United. They face another second-tier team, Brentford, in the battle of "The Bees" at the appropriately named Hive Stadium.
Newport County beat Leicester in the shock of the round and travel to Championship high-flyers Middlesbrough next.
 There are two other definite all-Premier League encounters as Manchester City host Burnley and a London derby at Selhurst Park in Crystal Palace's meeting with Tottenham.

Swansea City v Gillingham
AFC Wimbledon v West Ham United
Shrewsbury Town or Stoke City v Wolves
Millwall v Everton
Brighton & Hove Albion v West Brom
Bristol City v Bolton Wanderers
Accrington Stanley v Derby or Southampton
Doncaster Rovers v Oldham Athletic
Chelsea v Sheffield Wednesday or Luton
Newcastle or Blackburn v Watford
Middlesbrough v Newport County
Manchester City v Burnley
Barnet v Brentford
Portsmouth v QPR
Arsenal v United
Crystal Palace v Tottenham

Saturday 5 January 2019

Match report: Man Utd 2-0 Reading

Tahith Chong made his senior United debut as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side cruised past the Championship strugglers and into the FA Cup fourth round.
Jose Gomes' Royals - 23rd in the second tier -  had plenty of spirit and endeavour but lacked quality as Ole's rotated Reds began our quest for a 13th cup win with Juan Mata's VAR-dominated penalty and Romelu Lukaku's third goal in as many games on the stroke of half-time.

Chong's big moment arrived just past the hour mark when he came on for goalscorer Mata, and the Curacao-born Dutchman enjoyed a lively and crowd pleasing debut full of flicks, energy and dangerous running. There's certainly more to come from the latest product of United's Academy conveyor belt.

The result means that Solskjaer joins Sir Matt Busby as the only Reds manager to win the opening five matches of his managerial tenure.
It wasn't the best United display of the Norwegian's caretaker era but following a hectic Christmas and New Year period, the much-changed Reds came through comfortably enough, despite some harum scarum moments that threatened a second successive clean sheet.
Perhaps understandably with a side showing nine changes that had never played together before, and featuring many fringe players, it was a ragged start to the third round tie, a repeat of the Reds vs Royals encounter from the same stage of this Cup two seasons ago.

The first chance of the contest fell to Reading on 17 minutes, when the impressive right-back Andy Yiadom burst through one-on-one with the recalled Sergio Romero, but the golden moment got the better of him and he ballooned the shot over the bar. Alexis Sanchez then went close to United's opener when he flashed his effort over the bar after a trademark run from deep.

Then came the main talking point of the half and indeed the match. Mata was scythed down in the box by the lunging Omar Richards, only for referee Stuart Attwell to play the advantage as he waved play on. Fred picked up the loose ball and fired in a finish, but - the Brazilian having been flagged offside - the ref, as replays were viewed and VAR checked and double checked, eventually awarded the spot-kick for the original foul on Mata. He dusted himself down and slotted in beyond Anssi Jaakkola for his fifth goal of the season.

 It should have settled United and deflated Reading, who hadn’t won in their last previous ten games, but instead the visitors came at the Reds again. They had another glorious chance when Danny Loader was put clear. The striker rounded Romero but dallied and allowed the Argentinian to recover and put the ball out for a corner.

The Finn foiled Lukaku before bold Reading went close at the other end through Callum Harriott and Yiadom once more, as this time the advancing full-back was denied by the increasingly busy Romero.

Four minutes into added-on time, Lukaku put distance between his side and the plucky visitors.
Mata was again involved in the build-up and Alexis picked out a pinpoint pass for Lukaku to dart into the box. The Belgian’s touch took him around the keeper and he slid the ball in left-footed on the angle as he moved level with Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial on nine goals at
the top of the Reds scoring charts.

 That effectively ended the tie as a contest allowing Ole to introduce Chong for Mata and Marcus Rashford for Sanchez, who picked up a knock. To their credit, Gomes' men continued to press and could have turned United's picnic into a panic when Romero tipped wide late on from half-time substitute Sone Aluko. In the end, though, the Reds saw out the closing stages in comfort and secured our place in the fourth-round hat thanks to those two first half goals. 

Overall team performance: 6/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Matteo Darmian. Solid and safe in an unfamiliar centre-back role.

Friday 4 January 2019

Man Utd v Reading FA Cup preview

The Reds face the Royals at the first FA Cup hurdle for the second time in three seasons as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer looks to maintain his faultless start as interim Manchester United boss with victory in Saturday’s lunchtime kick off at Old Trafford.
In-form United will start as red hot favourites against the Championship strugglers and Ole is set to make a whole raft of changes including starts for recent sub Romelu Lukaku and the fit-again Alexis Sanchez.
Man Utd last faced Reading at this stage in 2017 as Jose Mourinho's side beat the second tier visitors - then under the command of United legend Jaap Stam - 4-0 through Anthony Martial, a Marcus Rashford double and Wayne Rooney's record-equalling goal.

A Portuguese named Jose returns to Old Trafford but not in a way that you might think. Like United, Reading are also under the tutelage of a new man having made a managerial change after a poor start to the season. Jose Gomes is the new boss in the hotseat as he attempts to overturn the Berkshire side's slump that sees them sit second-from-bottom in the Championship and facing a fight to avoid a first ever League One season.
 United will be looking to maintain the winning start under caretaker manager  Solskjaer, by earning a fifth consecutive victory in all competitions, while the ultimate aim is to go one better than last term in the FA Cup. If the Reds can go from being runners-up to Chelsea in the final to winners at Wembley this May, it would see the club equalling Arsenal's all-time record of 13 triumphs.

Solskjaer confirmed that recent sub Romelu Lukaku and the fit-again Alexis Sanchez will both start the third round tie.
Eric Bailly is suspended whilst Marcos Rojo and Chris Smalling (knee) both remain sidelined. Paul Pogba is a doubt having picked up a knock against Newcastle in midweek. This game could give Ole a chance to give youth its chance, with the likes of Angel Gomes, Tahith Chong, James Garner and Ro-Shaun Williams pushing for involvement. Sergio Romero, Diogo Dalot, Marouane Fellaini, Fred and Matteo Darmian are all set to feature.

The visitors will be without Leandro Bacuna and former United defender Tyler Blackett – both of whom are suspended following red cards against Millwall. Chris Gunter and Liam Moore could return and ex Red John O'Shea - who played just shy of 400 games for us -  will hope to start.
Long-term absentees Paul McShane (another former United man), Saeid Ezatolahi and Jordan Obita will also miss the game through injury. 

Solskjaer said: "They'll get a chance, some of them that are itching to play. Lukaku will get a start, Sanchez will get a start. That's important for them because they need more game time.
"We're about winning trophies and the FA Cup final is such a fantastic final to play in.
"If we end up winning, that's what we hope for. Whatever competition you're in, you want to win. It's more or less what you expect at a big club like this."

 Form guide: Man Utd L L W W W W Reading L D L L D L
 Match odds: Man Utd 1/10 Draw 17/2 Reading 24/1
Referee: Stuart Attwell

Thursday 3 January 2019

Rejuvenated Reds reignite top four challenge

If a week is a long time in politics, then two weeks must feel like a century in football management. Just ask Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. When the affable Norwegian was appointed as interim successor to Jose Mourinho on 19 December, the challenge seemed impossible, so much so that United's chances of making a meaningful impact on the season had been written off by almost everyone - pundits, other players, rivals and us United fans alike. Solskjaer's solitary remit seemed to be to make everything fun again, to get the players smiling and - above all - to make us what we should always be - United. After all, it literally is in our very name.

For probably the first time ever in the career of any Manchester United manager, this five-month free hit of a gig seemed more than simply about results. Ole spoke of taking things game-by-game. Normally, that just would not be acceptable. But then again, so desparate, so seemingly hopeless, was our plight, that anything was an upturn.  Hanging on the new Old Trafford manager's every word like a flock following their shepherd, we followed. The man simply known as 20Legend has already got the band dancing to his tune. He managed only nine wins in eight wretched months at Cardiff City but, four matches and 15 days into arguably the biggest job in the land, he boasts a 100% record and has already dispelled the pantheon of doubters that seemed determined to judge him solely on his time in south Wales. In truth, there was not a single man elsewhere at the time that could have saved the Bluebirds from the mess the Tan ownership had dragged them headlong into. Like Mourinho, it is irrelevant history.

Much has been spoken and written about the damning 3-1 defeat at Anfield and its aftermath on a day that saw Mourinho's inglorious fall from grace crash to a nadir shortly after 9am the following Tuesday, but it paved the way for Solskjaer's Red Devils rejuvenation over an indulgent festive run that has seen United catapulted back into contention. In came the Baby-faced Assassin. A move that few saw coming and one that would have been laughed out of Manchester and all the way down the east Lancs Road. But one that already looks to be a masterstroke. So far,  we can't have asked for much more than the first four games under OGS at Man Utd. Four games that I would dread under Mourinho were dispatched as you'd expect during the Fergie years. Mourinho may well have won all four, but one thing's for sure - he would not have done so in such a proactive and prolific fashion.
At this rate, Ole is going to force Ed Woodward and his merry band of men into a difficult decision in May. It's too early to tell, but if we get top four and win the FA Cup, then what? It's impossible to count him out.

At the time of Ole's appointment, United were eleven points behind fourth-placed Chelsea and eight off of in-form place above Arsenal in what looked a two-team tussle for the one remaining place in next season's Champions League. Hit the fast forward button, press play, and take stock. Three days into a new year, a new dawn and a new chapter, and the landscape couldn't be more different. United may still be sixth, but are now looking up the table and not over our shoulders. That gap now sits at six and three respectively. Our goal difference briefly dropped into the red, then stuttered back to zero at the time of the Anfield car crash. Now it is a much healthier +11.
It is the London duo who will be nervously sweating as the resurgent Reds race ever close into view through the rear-view mirror. Mission Impossible has become Mission a bit-more-likely. To coin a favourite saying of a certain former boss, United's "little horse" remain rank outsiders in the race with the thoroughbreds of the capital, but Maurizio Sarri's men are faltering just when the pressure begins to ratchet up. Unai Emery's Arsenal are wildly inconsistent and you'd tip them to stumble at any moment. To continue the equine analogy, Mourinho's ponies were left tied up in the stables, but Solskjaer's wild horses are running freely once more.

There is a caveat of course. Solskjaer and the side are yet to face any opposition of serious clout, and any United manager should be expected to pick up 12 points out of 12 from a fixture list that read: Cardiff (17th), Huddersfield (20th), Bournemouth (12th) and Newcastle (15th). The litmus test looms large on the horizon in the shape of Tottenham at Wembley in ten days time - as Solskjaer faces his toughest hurdle yet and the man tipped by many to become his permanent successor at Old Trafford in the summer. But you can only beat what's in front of you, Ole did not hand-pick his opening opposition and, don't forget, under Mourinho it was in ties against the league's so-called lesser lights
that United often came unstuck. 

The race for the top four is well and truly on and the resurgent Reds are right in the mix now.

Match report: Newcastle 0-2 Man Utd

United made a winning start to 2019 as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer emulated Sir Matt Busby with victory in each of his first four games in charge.
Ole's Reds kept up the pressure on the Champions League chasing pack, with United now just three points behind place-above Arsenal and six off fourth-placed Chelsea who were held by battling Southampton. That gap was eight and eleven respectively when Solskjaer took charge three weeks ago.

The trip to St James Park has not been a happy one for United in recent years but, this time around, the Reds passed their real test of Solskjaer's temporary tenure with flying colours capped by only a third clean sheet of the campaign in the league.

Ole knows a thing or two about substitutions and his changes off the bench proved pivotal as Romelu Lukaku scored with his much-maligned first touch to break the deadlock a matter of seconds after he had come on.
Alexis Sanchez also returned to action after injury and played a part in the in-form Marcus Rashford's match sealing second in the closing stages as Solskjaer's side started 2019 in the best possible way.
In contrast to the Reds new-found run of form, Rafa Benitez's Magpies are in worrying shape at the halfway stage of the season, having picked up only seven points at St James Park all season long.

United had not won there since 2015 but rarely looked under threat this time around with Martin Dubravka - immense in his side's 1-0 win in the corresponding fixture last time - an increasingly overworked keeper.
He saved well from a Rashford free-kick before his opposite number David de Gea was soon called into action at the other end to deny Newcastle's impressive and lively winger Christian Atsu.
Soon afterwards, Phil Jones atoned for an error in the build-up by making a perfectly timed tackle on Salomon Rondon inside the area, with no margin for error.

Anthony Martial hit the side-netting after a lightning break but Atsu remained a threat as he wastefully dragged an effort across goal, following a superb through ball by Ayoze Perez.

 Rashford met a pass by Victor Lindelof but collided with Dubravka as he made a block, while Martial sliced onto the top of the net, after nice play by Paul Pogba and Juan Mata, as he lost his balance with the goal in his sights.
Dubravka blocked at the feet of Mata before top scorer Rondon went close again, as he nodded over the bar from close range in first-half stoppage time.
Despite their poor record in front of their own fans, Newcastle gradually grew into the game with Atsu again at the heart of everything they did. He collected the ball and flashed a shot wide before sub Jonjo Shelvey forced the lunging De Gea into a smart stop.

The Spaniard stole the ball away from the breaking Atsu as the Magpies continued to ruffle feathers, but Solskjaer then flexed his bench muscles in style with a double switch as Messrs Lukaku and Sanchez came on for Martial and the largley ineffective Mata.
The changes reaped dividends within a minute as Rashford's fierce free-kick was parried by Dubravka into the path of Lukaku, who gobbled up the loose ball on the rebound the break the deadlock.

Shelvey tried his luck from distance and Atsu went close again as Newcastle belied their lowly status with a flurry of openings. United needed another goal to make the game safe and it duly arrived 10 minutes from the end.
Rashford and Lukaku broke as the Belgian managed to make tracks unchallenged down the right. He slipped the ball inside to fellow sub Alexis and, in turn, the returning Chilean flicked on to the advancing Rashford. The red-hot striker did the rest with a clinical finish beyond the stranded and unsighted Dubravka for his sixth goal of the season and third in four games under Ole.

The combative Shelvey was then fortunate to escape censure after he lunged in on Paul Pogba, who should then have added a late third when Jesse Lingard - another sub - played him in. The in-form Frenchman skipped beyond the Slovakian keeper only to fire into the side netting.
Lukaku had a shot saved but 2-0 it stayed as rejuvenated United made a winning start to the year and maintained our superb 100% record under Solskjaer.

Overall team performance: 7/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Marcus Rashford 

Wednesday 2 January 2019

Match preview: Newcastle v Man Utd

2019 promises to be a year of change for these two famous football Uniteds both on and off the field. Or does it? If we keep winning under 'caretaker' manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer...

Solskjaer scored four Premier League goals and played in some comprehensive wins against Newcastle - but it wasn't all sunshine and roses when meeting the Magpies.
His only Premier League red card came against them (for scything down Rob Lee at Old Trafford in 1998), and he started in the famous in October 1996.
Summoning up the spirit of Philippe Albert and co is surely beyond Newcastle 22-plus years on, and just becoming the first team to stop Solskjaer's Red Devils from winning would be a fine achievement.
Magpies manager Rafael Benitez has continued to keep the cash strapped club punching above their weight , insisting it would "be a miracle" if he kept them up in the Premier League for the second season in a row. A near-miraculous tenth placed finish last term - their first back in the top flight - only proved what a great job Benitez has done under difficult circumstances.
United thumped Solskjaer’s former club Cardiff City 5-1 in his only away game in charge so far, before recording equally comfortable wins over Huddersfield Town (3-1) and Bournemouth (4-1) at Old Trafford.
Much like Cardiff and Huddersfield, Newcastle are embroiled in the battle to avoid relegation but have made life tough for top-half teams already this season on Tyneside – running Manchester City, Tottenham and Arsenal close in narrow 2-1 defeats.

The Toon are one of a cluster of clubs hovering in and around the dreaded drop, as they sit three places and three points clear of trouble heading into the first match of the New Year. However, with the partisan crowd in full force, Newcastle will be intent to cause problems at a ground where United lost last season.

Benitez - November's Premier League manager of the month after three straight wins - will be slightly upset his side only managed a point against Watford. Rafa will set his team up to stop the visitors, but they win very few games at home.It's not in Benitez's DNA to 'have a go'. He'll want our United to find a way to try to unlock his team.

Benitez said: “We have to be realistic and understand that we will be in the bottom half during the whole season.
“For me, it is almost clear and if we can be better than three teams, it will be another miracle."

Newcastle defender Federico Fernandez suffered a hip injury at Watford and will be assessed, while Ciaran Clark remains a doubt with an ankle problem.
Ki Sung-yeung is away at the Asian Cup but Jonjo Shelvey made his return from injury as a substitute at the weekend.

 United forward Alexis Sanchez has recovered from a hamstring injury and will be involved for the first time since 24 November. He was the man to inspire United's climb off the canvas in our thrilling 3-2 win in October's reverse tie, heading the 90th-minute winner after the Reds had been 0-2 down early on at Old Trafford.
Eric Bailly is suspended, Chris Smalling and Marcos Rojo remain out but Marcus Rashford should be fit despite limping off against Bournemouth.

The in-form Reds will be looking to record a fourth successive Premier League win under Solskjaer's stewardship as caretaker manager, when up against Newcastle United this evening (Wednesday).
The team travel to St. James’ Park for our first match of 2019 in confident mood and Ole is looking forward to seeing what can be achieved in the months ahead: I’ve got to say, going into the new year the way I've done, I've never done before, I'm so excited about the new year,” the Norwegian told MUTV.
 I'm just going to enjoy my time here now. Working with players of this quality, when you're a coach or a manager, you think 'this will be enjoyable.

Form guide: Newcastle D L W D L D Man Utd W L L W W W
Match odds: Newcastle 11/2 Draw 16/5 Man Utd 4/7 (all odds courtesy of bet365)
Referee: Andre Marriner (west Midlands)