Saturday 30 March 2019

Match report: Man Utd 2-1 Watford

Man Utd celebrated Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's appointment as permanent manager by seeing off Watford to go fourth in the table.
With Ole announced as the new long term man at the Old Trafford wheel on Thursday, there was an air of optimism upon the Reds return to action, despite back-to-back defeats before the two week international hiatus.

This was a victory of substance rather than style, but the result is all that matters and United got it through goals from fit-again strike pairing Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial either side of half time. The lively, in-form visitors wouldn't lie down, though, and made things nervy late on when Abdoulaye Doucoure scored. If hadn't been for some heroic defending and a succession of missed chances, Javi Gracia's FA Cup semi finalists may have taken the point - or even all three - that their play deserved.

 The Reds were lethargic as Gracia’s impressive footballing side took command with their slick play. While Watford found their rhythm immediately with sweeping moves that created untold problems for United, the Reds, on the other hand, just couldn’t string any passes together. Doucourse flashed an early shot wide and talismanic capta
in Troy Deeney was denied by De Gea, who beat away his shot after the striker had wriggled free.
It took until shortly before the half hour mark for United's first chance to come, but we made the most of it when it duly arrived. Luke Shaw's swashbuckling surge upfield and found Rashford with a sublime pass on 28 minutes. The returning striker, fresh from a much needed breather, waited for ex Red Ben Foster to commit himself and then slotted beyond the advancing Hornets keeper.

Martial almost made it 2-0 four minutes further on, but this time Foster did well to deny the Frenchman with his leg.
De Gea saved well from the impressive Roberto Pereyra but the chances kept on coming for the Hertfordshire Hornets after the interval. Daryl Janmaat should have done better but fired wide when well-placed, whilst Will Hughes went close with a 20-yarder.

Solskjaer had seen enough and made a double change with Andreas Pereira and Jesse Lingard on for Ander Herrera and Juan Mata. Ten minutes later, the substitutes linked up to devastating effect as Andreas fed Lingard on the overlap and his cross was met by Martial, who bundled in on the rebound after Foster had saved.

That came in the 72nd minute, but Watford are made of stern stuff and refused to buckle. In the 89th minute, our defence was opened up too easily and Doucoure's effort found its way in.

It meant a frenetic finale which United survived and Solskjaer puffed out his cheeks in relief at the final whistle.

Overall team performance: 5/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Luke Shaw 

Friday 29 March 2019

Three jobs in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's in-tray

The leap between being a caretaker boss and permanent manager is one that very few achieve. Even Roberto Di Matteo only lasted four months as full-time Chelsea boss before he was sacked despite winning the Champions League the previous season. For Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, making the most of this bold show of faith is his number one task at United and so far he has shown he is not daunted or overawed by the task at hand.

Make no mistake about it, Ole deserves the job and has restored key elements of the Manchester United DNA to the dressing room. He has grown into the role and hopefully leads the club to success.

Nobody saw this decision coming when he was given the caretaker role. Many wanted Mauricio Pochettino, who in the past month has now lost out on jobs at Real Madrid and United. We'll never know how much CEO Ed Woodward wanted or even pushed to get Pochettino, but in the end the decision was made for him such was the demand to make Solskjaer permanent.
It’s going to be difficult for Pochettino to stay relevant on such a scale unless he starts delivering trophies at Tottenham.
But back to Solskjaer who now holds the biggest job in football.
Here are three immediate tasks for the Norwegian after being confirmed Manchester United manager.

First and foremost, the here and now. United's April looks busy and increasingly vital with a gruelling eight-game run incorporating clashes with top six rivals Chelsea and Manchester City along with a European quarter final double header against Barcelona.
United are fifth, two points off place above Arsenal and three behind Spurs, in third.  It would be a kick in the teeth to miss out on the Champions League next season having come from nowhere to get so close.
We handled the injury crisis but those players haven’t fully recovered yet, and some were away on international duty with Paul Pogba playing two sets of 90 minutes for France. Having lost to Arsenal, there was an expectation that we'd bounce back against Wolves only to turn in the worst performance of Ole's tenure. The blip cannot become a collapse as Watford arrive at Old Trafford on Saturday.

But Solskjaer has passed all tests so far with green lights. We have plenty of reasons to believe he will continue getting the best out of his players, even those on the fringe of the team as seen against PSG.

Fail to prepare, prepare to fail. Manchester United's summer cannot be any worse than the last one.  With Ole tied down as permanent boss, the job of getting the out of contract players to follow suit can begin. They include David de Gea, Ander Herrera and Juan Mata and with potential signings also in the pipeline, it will be much easier to get deals done now that everyone knows what's happening with the manager.

Ole must also plan how he wants his side to look next season, with the help of the summer transfer market.
United need a centre-back, full-back, right winger and possibly two central midfielders.
Unlike last summer, we must get this transfer window right in order to start next season in the best possible way. 

We don’t see what happens behind the scenes, but there have been suggestions that, underneath his positive, calm exterior, Ole isn’t afraid to use the hairdryer. 
Right now he’s in everyone’s good books, but that won’t always be the case. Not at a club the size of Manchester United.
It will be interesting to see how he handles the squad over the next three years. I have no doubt that there will be challenges, though I’ve really enjoyed his demeanour thus far. He seems approachable, understanding and in favour of being mates with his players.
Mourinho was too cold, unwilling to put his arm around players who I felt needed it at times. Solskjaer seems to be an excellent man manager.

The hard work starts now for Solskjaer and co.

Old Trafford truly is the Theatre of Dreams for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

David Moyes was useless, Louis van Gaal was arrogant and Jose Mourinho was, well, Jose Mourinho. There is a tinge of irony that, where two of the greatest managers of their generation had baulked at the job of Manchester United manager, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer - a relative managerial rookie - has made everything look easy. Despite his CV paling into insignificance compared to his two more illustrious predecessors, Solskjaer has turned from short term make-do-and-mend to the man to lead Manchester United forward.

Of course, it is a risk and if this turns out to be yet another false dawn, then so be it. Ole can leave with his head held high safe in the knowledge that he will forever be synonymous with this club's rich tradition and history. A tradition and a history that is ready for him to write his name into as our 21st permanent manager. It is one that he understands and embraces to a 'T' having plied his trade under his mentor and the greatest of them all in Sir Alex Ferguson, and an ideology stamped all over his United side in a manner conspicous by its absence as the club has lurched from one mistake to another. He's only been in the job for three months but his vision is clear.

The club had fallen into the trap of going for the big name, throwing money around and gambling on instant success. History suggests that is not the way to run any football club, never mind the biggest in the world.
We thought that the United hotseat would prove to be Mourinho's true calling after years of admiring glances and a softening of his egotistical demeanour whenever the question popped up. But instead it just ended in achingly familiar fashion. It wasn't his dream job, indeed for the most part he looked as if he never wanted to be there.

From the moment a misty-eyed Solskjaer, the Mourinho antithesis, sent his captivated audience into an enthralled stupor in his first presser as permanent United gaffer, it felt different this time. You felt that this really was the realisation of a lifelong ambition for a man who must have thought this moment would never come. Especially after his first foray into senior English management ended amid calamity at Cardiff, but it appears dreams really do come true for a humble, happy go lucky and softly spoken guy from Kristiansund on Norway's westernmost tip. An upbringing that has taken him, however improbably, to arguably the biggest, best but most difficult job in football.

 Never has the Sir-Bobby Charlton christened moniker of the Theatre of Dreams seemed more ethereal and appropriate.

Finally, six years down the line, United have a manager who just simply "gets us" as a club. Someone who is, above all else, one of us. A Red. A Manchester United fan through and through. He loves us, we love him, and even rival fans have been queuing up to wish Ole good luck in admiration.

 By travelling back in time, Manchester United have reset the clock and paved the way for a brighter future. With the UK Government in a mess, mayhem and a permanent state of unrest and flux, those gunning to be caretaker Prime Minister in Westminster's crumbling corridors of power should take notes from Ole.

Match preview: Man Utd v Watford

After a two-week domestic hiatus, United return to action and welcome FA Cup semi finalists Watford to Old Trafford in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's first game as permanent boss.

Solskjaer was named as Jose Mourinho's long-term successor on Thursday after 14 wins in 18 games during a fruitful three-month spell as interim manager. The clamour to appoint the Norwegian had only grown despite a blip of back-to-back losses before the international break, and the United board duly obliged with a three year deal.
Having been given the keys to the Old Trafford kingdom and with his future resolved, Solskjaer will now continue to maintain the push for Champions League qualification.
At two years Solskjaer's senior, Ole's opposite number Javi Gracia has done an excellent job in Hertfordshire since his appointment 14 months ago. His in-form Hornets sit eighth in the Premier League and look set to seal a top half finish for the first time. With an FA Cup last four tie against Wolves - who sit a place and a point above Watford - to come at Wembley next weekend, Gracia's men are on an undoubted upward trajectory.

Marcus Rashford, Luke Shaw, Nemanja Matic, Romelu Lukaku and Nemanja Matic all missed international duty and Jesse Lingard was also absent from England's double success. There has been no update from the club on the status of the walking wounded with pre-match talk dominated by the news of Ole's appointment. Alexis Sanchez (knee) is definitely out, but Ashley Young is available again after suspension. Antonio Valencia is back is contention although unlikely to feature whilst Eric Bailly could return having played for Ivory Coast.
Gracia has a fully fit squad to pick from, with the exception of former Reds midfielder Tom Cleverley, who will miss out with a calf problem. Andre Gray has recovered from a knock, but depsite the clean bill of health Gracia could rest several key men with one eye on next Sunday's Cup tie with Wolves. With Fulham to visit Vicarage Road in midweek, this is the first of three games in a busy week for the in-form and high flying Hornets.

The last meeting came back in September, when we held on to a 2-1 win, despite Nemanja Matic’s sending-off late in the game. Goals from Romelu Lukaku and Chris Smalling proved too much for Gracia’s men, and cancelled out Andre Gray's strike in the second half. United have lost only once to Watford since the inception of the Premier League, during the 2016/17 season.

In his first presser since becoming United's permanent boss, Solskjaer said: "This has been my ultimate dream, all the time, maybe a naive dream but I've always had that ambition in my mind.
"I'm honoured and privileged to be given the opportunity to lead this fantastic family of a football club long term. It is the start of something new, and wonderful to be able to have the chance to take us forward.
"Now the hard work starts, it's enjoyable but we know there is a lot of work still to do. I'm just going to be myself as I have always been - I know the expectations, the history and the traditions of the club. Of course I want us to be successful and to lift trophies but I can't wait to get started on the challenge of improving this fantastic group of players."

Form guide: Man Utd D W W W L L Watford W W L W L W
Match odds: Man Utd 2/5 Draw 7/2 Watford 13/2
Referee: Stuart Attwell (Warwickshire)

Thursday 28 March 2019

Thank you Ole, from the bottom of my heart

Whatever had happened during Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's temporary tenure as Manchester United's caretaker boss, there would have been nothing but gratitude and thanks towards the affable Norwegian.
Even if things hadn't worked out since replacing Jose Mourinho in December, Ole would have returned to his native homeland at the end of the season as a legend - the man forever synonymous with the most famous goal in the history of United. With one flick of the left foot at the Nou Camp, Solskjaer wrote himself into Old Trafford folklore. But that's only half of this man's story - a fairytale that even Solskjaer himself would never have scripted.

His rise to become the 21st permanent manager of the club is as heart-warming as it is unlikely. United CEO Ed Woodward has garnered a reputation of breaking from tradition by going for the big name, the Galactico, and the star-struck approach to both player and managerial recruitment.

In appointing  Solskjaer, he and his cohorts in the Old Trafford corridors of power bucked that trend and took a gamble - there was certainly an element of sentiment in making Ole Mourinho's interim successor.
There is no sentiment here, though - Solskjaer has built a compelling, irrefutable case for the defence during the best few months we have seen from United for many a year. This is a decision based on sense, logic, merit and a stack of evidence that simply could not have been ignored. In the end, there was no decision to be made - it was impossible not to appoint him.

There would have been a full scale riot through Salford Quays with placards, banner and effigies of Woodward if Solskjaer HADN'T been given the job. It should have been a no brainer, but then nothing is ever as it should be with this board.  Like with Mourinho's sacking, perhaps only the timing of the appointment has come as a surprise. Initially, it seemed United weren't set to make any official announcement until the end of the season. With eight league games left and a two-legged Champions League quarter-final with Barcelona to come, consensus was that the club would hold fire and see what panned out. But I can see why we've done it now. Coming off the back of the international break, there are still contracts to be signed and potential signings to be sorted, so it's always easier to make these negotiations if everyone know what's happening with the manager.

Ole, you're never going to read this, but I'm sure I speak on behalf of 650 million United fans across the globe when I say thank you. Thank you for taking us from rock bottom to giving us back the club we know and love. Thank you for breaking the curse of Stamford Bridge, for the 14 wins from 17 games, the attacking football, the smiles, the songs and of course, for Paris. We're enjoying watching our club again and we feel like you're one of us. You've given us the best days and nights of our United-supporting lives since mentor, maestro and manager extraordinaire Sir Alex rode off into the Old Trafford sunset.

 When was the last time it felt this good to be a Manchester United fan? Yes, there have been a couple of blips and there will undoubtedly be more, but something special is building here. All thanks to the baby faced assassin from Scandinavia - a man who left an indelible mark on the history of this club during his playing days and who has already done so in just a few short months as our manager.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer: From no hoper to certain shoo-in

In October 2018, shortly after an erroneous story appeared stating Jose Mourinho would be sacked that weekend regardless of the result against Newcastle, Zinedine Zidane was favourite to become United's next boss.
Thirteen names appeared on the bookmakers' list of potential candidates. Brendan Rodgers and Roberto Martinez figured prominently. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was not listed.

 Five months later, on the day United were beaten at Wolves in the FA Cup quarter finals, Zidane was still third favourite. Given the Frenchman had just been given a three-year contract by Real Madrid, it said everything about how certain Solskjaer was to get the job.
To reach that position took a while.
After Mourinho's sacking, United wanted someone who understood the ethos of the club. Someone who knew the importance of attacking football, the development of young players and a collective spirit. That person also needed managerial experience.
Solskjaer had all this. In addition, he had experience of managing at United thanks to two and a half years spent in charge of the reserve team from 2008. Executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward made the call.

With Ole appointed as interim boss, at the very least, Woodward knew getting through to the end of the season would not be a problem.
None of us could have envisaged what would happen next.

Eight successive wins, including victories in the league at Spurs and the FA Cup at Arsenal. The run had been bettered only once since Ferguson retired. The feel-good factor was back at Old Trafford, and suddenly Solskjaer was being talked about as a potential successor to Mourinho.
Battling back from two goals down to snatch a home draw against Burnley was seen as a positive, despite the winning run coming to an end.
The doubts about Solskjaer did not come until we were well beaten by classy Paris Saint-Germain in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie on 12 February.
What followed got him the job.
There was an FA Cup victory at Chelsea and a home draw with leaders Liverpool - a game in which United lost three players to injury in the first half, while Rashford limped his way through the final three-quarters.
That result came on the same weekend Tottenham lost at Burnley, which triggered a furious post-match outburst by Mauricio Pochettino at referee Mike Dean that earned him a two-match touchline ban and gave away his true feelings at the cost of a defeat that began a run of one point from four games.
Solskjaer was no longer Mourinho's potential successor. He was the likely one. When he and United made Mission Impossible Mission Accomplished in Paris, any lingering doubts were gone. In the eyes of many, it was the best night of the post- Ferguson era and the dye was cast.

It was not only Solskjaer, it was also what he had assembled behind him. United men in Mike Phelan and Michael Carrick, plus Kieran McKenna, who had moved north from Tottenham to coach the club's age-group teams but had made a successful transition to the seniors.
David Moyes was lambasted for sweeping out Ferguson's backroom team in 2013. The idea Woodward would sanction the same thing again, which would have to happen if Pochettino got the job, was ridiculous.
There is more. Woodward has his critics but is a very successful and astute man. While he retains the complete faith of United's owners, presiding over a fourth failed managerial tenure would be a personal embarrassment.
Even if the decision to appoint Solskjaer backfires, the damage to him will be minimal because it is an appointment the majority of United's vast fanbase demanded.
If he appointed Pochettino and the Argentine failed, the responsibility would land squarely at Woodward's door.

 Even Solskjaer must be stunned at the speed with which he has gone from interested observer on the travails of Manchester United to the man in the manager's hot seat.

By doing what comes naturally, he has brought a sense of calm to United after the chaos of Jose Mourinho's latter days.

Solskjaer has shown tactical acumen, he has made key decisions - shown faith in Paul Pogba, eased Alexis Sanchez to the fringes, sold Marouane Fellaini - and ended the internal conflict Mourinho seemed to revel in. Most importantly, he has got results.

It has given Solskjaer a proper shot at his dream job. Yet, in abandoning their stated aim to wait until the summer, United have left unanswered some fairly key questions.

Firstly, can Solskjaer finish this season's job? Can he, either through a top-four finish or winning this season's competition, steer United back into the Champions League, something that looked impossible when he took over and they were 11 points adrift?

What has happened to the technical director idea that the club were so keen to push in the wake of Mourinho's dismissal, without which many people - including Louis van Gaal - feel any United manager, including Solskjaer, will struggle?

Will big-name players want to sign for Solskjaer, as they did for Van Gaal and Mourinho?
These questions will be answered in the fullness of time and are key to Manchester United becoming a force in the English game again.
For now, Solskjaer deserves huge congratulations at landing himself a job virtually everyone felt would be Pochettino's in the immediate aftermath of Mourinho's exit.

 Solskjaer's dream has become reality. His appointment is the correct decision. But he is not the only one with the responsibility for ensuring this does not turn into another managerial nightmare.

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

The worst kept secret in football became official this morning with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer appointed as Manchester United's 21st permanent manager.
Ole was named as the club's next full-time boss on a three-year contract after overseeing a stunning reversal of fortunes since replacing predecessor Jose Mourinho in December.

When Solskjaer took charge, United were sixth in the Premier League and 11 points off the top four.
But we have lost only once in 13 league games since - at Arsenal this month - and are now two points behind the London club, who occupy the final Champions League qualifying spot.
Solskjaer is the first United manager to win his first six league games, beating a record held by Sir Matt Busby. Clamour to announce him on a full-time basis has markedly risen along with his stock after a remarkable run - including that never-to-be-forgotten night in the Parc des Princes.

 Any caretaker who delivered the results he has since replacing Mourinho would feel they had a pretty decent claim on the job, even without the back story.

Solskjaer was manager of Molde when he returned to United on a temporary deal.
The Norwegian club, whose season had finished, said Solskjaer agreed agree a new deal with them in December and they were only "lending" their manager to United.
However, that story has since been removed from the club's website and this month Solskjaer said his deal with Molde had expired.
United are expected to make a "gesture of goodwill" to Molde in the form of a payment and a possible future friendly fixture.

Solskjaer has won 14 out of 18 games to take United from a season that was going nowhere into the Champions League quarter finals and the fight for the league's top four. No team has won more Premier League games in Ole's time at the wheel. Simply by being who he is and doing what he has, Ole has made our club United again.
A thumping 5-1 victory in Solskjaer's first match at Cardiff - where he was relegated from the Premier League during an eight-month spell as manager in 2014 - immediately raised morale.
That was swiftly followed by victories at Tottenham, Arsenal and Chelsea with a return to a style of play synonymous with the halycon days of yesteryear of which Ole was such a significant part of. He knows the club, our history and how things should be done - for once Ed Woodward has made the right decision after a strong of managerial appointments that simply proved a poor fit. It's not always about going for the big name, throwing money around and gambling on instant success. Solskjaer may be relatively unheralded compared to his immediate and more illustrious predecessors, but, in Ole, Manchester United have found their man.

 Beyond simply results, though, Ole has given us our club back and transformed the toxic, moribund mood of Mourinho's latter days to make the club a happy, winning place to be once more. Mauricio Pochettino was widely regarded as the next Reds manager-in-waiting and the apple of the club's eye, but there can be absolutely no doubt that Ole is the man for this job. Mike Phelan has been just as important and United now need to sign him up permanently, get in a Director of Football and give Solskjaer the financial backing he needs and deserves.

Ole's at the wheel! Congratulations.

Tuesday 19 March 2019

Why Jadon Sancho is the perfect fit for Man Utd

The Beatles honed their stagecraft and global hits on the streets and stages of Hamburg where Kevin Keegan and his infamous perm would later grace the pitch. Now, there is a new English invasion with some of the country's unpolished diamonds optings for the Bundesliga as the stage on which to best ply their fledgling trade.

The German top flight's burgeoning reputation as a breeding ground for the brightest  young talents in the European game has been well documented. But up until this season, it has largely been an ethos of promoting from within - with Borussia Dortmund's soon-to-be Chelsea man Christian Pulisic the notable exception to the rule.

It is not just the occupant of the Dortmund left flank who has attracted admiring glances, flirtatious advances and fluttering eyelids from the bright lights, the glitz and the glamour of the Premier League. There's a kid on the other side who's meant to be half decent too. The name's Sancho, Jadon Sancho.
Sancho has become the apple of United's eye amid reports of an eye-popping £70m bid for the talented teenage tyro.

Sancho has won plenty of plaudits at Dortmund and, having already won three England caps at the tender age of 18, ticks all the boxes for Manchester United (ignoring the obvious link with a certain team from across the city, that is).
Sancho never made a senior appearances for City, and left in 2017 to follow in the footsteps of contemporaries Ademola Lookman, Reece Oxford and former Tottenham man Keanan Bennetts by swapping Blighty for Bratwurst. His search for first team football soon began to bear fruit and 2018-19 has been a breakthrough season.

United have made an unwanted habit of paying over the odds for players that have merely gone on to become expensive flops. Poor recruitment and going for the big name over a player we actually need has become the epitome of Ed Woodward's transfer raison d'etre. But Sancho is different. Granted he would not come cheap, Dortmund would not want to part with a player who has become their star asset and City have a buy back option.
But he is a player who ticks all the boxes and not merely just another Angel Di Maria or Radamel Falcao-esque Galactico.
Ten years on, the Reds have still failed to replaced Cristiano Ronaldo, and we've been crying out for a right-winger to fill that CR-7 shaped void ever since. It's criminal that such a pivotal position has been so chronically undermanned for all this time.
The Gareth Bale ship has long since sailed, and United's plans for Ivan Perisic have come and gone. United's pursuit of a right winger is no secret, and has been as protracted as it has proved pointless. Jose Mourinho had a penchant for the short-term fix with boths of those players undeniably talented if ageing thirty somethings.
Thoughts of signing someone like Sancho under Mourinho would have been nothing more than a pipdream.
But young meister Jadon is a Manchester United player in all but name. Young, English (that always helps) and a winger blessed with a bundle of pace, energy and attacking flair, Sancho seems the perfect answer to the problem that United have struggled with for so long.
Throw in the fact that's he already won more trophies in his two years abroad that Liverpool have in the last decade, and it seems as though Old Trafford is Sancho's true calling. Exactly the sort of player we need and exactly the kind of precocious talent who has the tremendous, world class potential to make the Manchester United right flank his own.
Whether that be under  the tutelage of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer or not.
But would he join? A return to England would be hard to resist and he's said to be open to a return to these shores. There's a debate that he's better off staying in Germany and staying somewhat under the radar.
But Manchester United is a happy place to play once more and when the biggest club in the world come knocking at your door, can you really refuse to open it?
Manchester United is perfect for Jadon Sancho, and he for us.

Sunday 17 March 2019

Two crucial weeks to get back on track

If ever there's such a thing as an international break coming at the "right time", then it is now for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Manchester United.
 After Arsenal handed our interim manager his first defeat - albeit United were unlucky - there was no luck involved here. We were decisively and damningly outplayed both technically and tactically as United's hopes of a third successive trip to Wembley were deservedly dashed by Nuno Espiritio's brilliantly belligerent Wolves. Granted, Wolves are no mugs, they're in the midst of a superbly impressive season and are leading the way as the league's "best of the rest" but this defeat hurt.

Although third on the list of priorities for the club, this season's FA Cup is the most open it has been for years - and having knocked out both Arsenal and Chelsea in previous rounds - United's path to a 13th title looked favourable. It looked our best chance of stopping quadruple-chasing City in their tracks, instead United became another top six name to fall by the wayside. Remarkably, upon their first semi final in 21 years, the men from Molineux and United's vanquishers in the old Gold are the second highest ranked side left.

There's now a two week hiatus as domestic matters give way to the first international fixtures of 2019, and it comes at the perfect time after a bad week with two bumps in the road. The Reds can recharge batteries, take stock, words can be said and Solskjaer will throw himself into preventing this blip becoming a fully blown crisis.

Solskjaer and United have deservedly been showered in praise for their dramatic rejuvenation since Jose Mourinho was sacked in December, the highlight of which was the stunning Champions League turnaround against Paris St-Germain in France earlier this month.
This, though, was a performance that rolled back the months to the Mourinho era and was arguably worse than some of the displays turned in under the Portuguese. United were ponderous, laboured, did not look bothered and lost their heads - epitomised by Victor Lindelof's overzealous challenge on
second goalscorer Diogo Jota. Although his red card was later overturned on VAR and downgraded to a yellow, it summed everything up. As Wolves gradually took control and mauled a United side that looked lambs to the slaughter, Solskjaer did not respond. His bench options were admittedly limited, but he kept faith with a system that clearly wasn't working. Ole has barely put a foot wrong in his three months in the job, but he and the team failed to answer almost every question thrown at them by a Wolves side that simply wanted this cup tie more.

Paul Pogba was restored as captain as another Mourinho move was wiped away but he was poor - although he was not alone there. The excellent Sergio Romero aside, no United player covered himself in glory. Marcus Rashford has not been right since he bravely soldiered on through injury against Liverpool, and it appears as though that may have done him more harm than good. Nemanja Matic looked the pedestrian passenger that he was in the nadir of Mourinho's tenure, and Anthony Martial was anonymous. Ander Herrera and Jesse Lingard - between them the influential heartbeat of Ole's Reds identikit - struggled.

United barely threatened Wolves keeper John Ruddy and, slowly but surely, their performance crumbled to almost shambolic levels in the second half as Wolves were all over us and ran us ragged.
Solskjaer will hope it is just a temporary slump but the fight is now right on for the top four and Champions League opponents Barcelona will not lose a wink of sleep after watching United here.

Saturday 16 March 2019

Match report: Wolves 2-1 Man Utd

Wolves produced an outstanding second half showing to overpower a strangely subdued Manchester United side at an atmospheric Molineux. United crashed out of the FA Cup in our worst performance under the interim tutelage Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as Nuno Espirito Santo's tenacious and technically brilliant side reached the last four for the first time in 21 years.

United goalkeeper Sergio Romero, in for David de Gea, had kept United level with brilliant saves from Diogo Jota and Raul Jimenez either side of the interval, before the Mexican striker swivelled in the area to finally give Wolves the reward their domination merited with 20 minutes remaining.
Wolves were rampant and it was no surprise when the dangerous Jota doubled their lead six minutes later, shrugging off United's Luke Shaw on the break before shooting low past the exposed Romero.

United defender Victor Lindelof was shown a red card by referee Martin Atkinson for a touchline challenge on Jota, but it was downgraded it to yellow after a VAR review and, even though Marcus Rashford pulled one back very late on, Wolves - best of the rest in the Premier League - were worthy winners.

With Wembley on offer for the semi finalists, and having beaten Arsenal and Chelsea to get this far, the shot at FA Cup glory looked favourable and United had been tipped to go all the way as momentum built under Solskjaer. After this chastening defeat, fresh questions will be asked ahead of a two week domestic hiatus for the first international fixtures of 2019.

The first half was poor with the only noteworthy action an effort from distance by Rashford. Paul Pogba also tried his luck but Wolves, tentative up until then, began to grow into the tie. Joao Moutinho had a half chance, but Romero was then called into action for the first time as the Reds cup keeper saved superbly from the onrushing Jota when he came racing out to stifle the striker. Diogo Dalot appealed for a penalty after Jonny Otto appeared to handle, but referee Martin Atkinson instead gave a corner.

Romero's world class save from a Jimenez header underlined his status as the best stand in stopper in the English game. He came to United's rescue again moments later when he shovelled Moutinho's long-range strike over the top as Molineux sensed an imminent breakthrough.

As United struggled to find any rhythm, Nuno Espirito Santos’s side became increasingly confident. With the pressure increasing on the Reds, Jimenez came up with the opening goal. There were plenty of red shirts in the box but after initially blocking Jimenez, the striker was able to spin and squeeze in a finish on 70 minutes.
The Reds threw men forwards but, six minutes later, Wolves had moved further ahead to put the game beyond even  Solskjaer's United. Jota burst clear one-on-one and outpaced Luke Shaw who slipped, and the Portuguese slammed in under Romero.

The nightmare almost became worse for United in the 81st minute as Wolves threatened to race away for a third. Goalscorer Jota sped down the right flank and Victor Lindelof stormed across to cover but slid dangerously into the rescuing tackle and floored the Wolves man.
Referee Atkinson initially showed the Swede a red card but VAR overturned his decision, reducing the offence to a booking, and United remained with 10 men on the pitch, much to the fury of the Molineux crowd.
Juan Mata and Scott McTominay came on in a late bid by Solskjaer to find a late answer to the dire situation, adding to the earlier addition of Andreas Pereira.
United did snatch a consolation when Rashford turned to convert a cross by Shaw but a club noted for so many delirious and improbable comebacks had left it far too late to add to our catalogue of remarkable finales.

Overall team performance: 4/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Sergio Romero

Man Utd face another daunting hurdle in Champions League

Manchester United certainly can't be accused of having things the easy way this year. Arsenal, Chelsea and now Wolves in the FA Cup... Juventus (twice), PSG and now five time winners Barcelona in Europe. If we go on to win one or both of the cups, it would go down as the hardest earned in history.

The Reds 'reward' for getting past one of the favourites in such gloriously unexpected fashion is a meeting with a side forever synonymous with the beautiful game... five time European champions Barcelona. The draw in Nyon, Switzerland, pitted Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side with Ernesto Valverde's La Liga leaders and 4/1 second favourites to go all the way to lift the famous jug eared trophy in the backyard of their heavyweight divisional rivals on June 1 - Wanda Metropolitano, home of Atletico. It's the most difficult tie we could have got, a daunting challenge, but it's these matches we live and breathe for as United fans. Bring them on!

 For those worried about the size of the task facing Ole and his team, though, remember how we were written off completely at the time of the draw with Paris Saint-Germain. Yes, Lionel Messi and co are firmly on course for another La Liga title - seven points clear at the top of the Spanish standings -  but some pundits feel they are not at the all-conquering level of the Pep Guardiola teams who defeated United in both the 2009 and 2011 finals. That Barcelona team will forever be widely regarded as the finest club side the world has ever seen - Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets, Gerard Pique, Dani Alves et al and of course the best of them all... Messi himself, to name but six. That wonderful team ran rings around Sir Alex's Red in Rome and two years on at Wembley, chastening setbacks that rank among the worst the Boss suffered in his long and glorious tenure at United. Having also won the trophy in 1992, 2006 and 2015 as part of a treble, Barcelona are firmly entrenched in the upper echelon of the game's elite.

 Throw in the stars-aligning notion of Ole returning to the Nou Camp 20 years on from his greateast triumph as our no.20, and the stage is set for a clash of two of the greatest clubs in the world who truly belong on the biggest stage. 
Originally drawn away from home first, United will instead face Barca at Old Trafford on Wednesday 10th April followed by the return in Catalonia a week later on the 16th. The switch is due to an agreement between both clubs, UEFA and the GMP that United and City cannot play at home on the same, or even consecutive, nights in the competition.

Elsewhere in the last eight, there will be an all-English tie between Tottenham and Guardiola's City, with the first leg to be played at Spurs' new stadium. Liverpool face Porto whilst
Cristiano Ronaldo and co. face Real Madrid's conquerors Ajax.

If the Reds progress to the last four, we will take on the winners of that quarter-final tie between Liverpool and FC Porto. 
The first leg would be played on Tuesday 30 April or Wednesday 1 May, a few days after our Premier League match at home to Chelsea.
Like in the quarter-finals, the second leg will be played in the following week on Tuesday 7 or Wednesday 8 May, between our weekend league games against Huddersfield Town and Cardiff City.

Match preview: Wolves v Man Utd

United visit Molineux for the first time since 2012
United's penchant for difficult cup draws continues as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side must beware of the Wolves in the FA Cup quarter-finals.
Off the back of a first domestic defeat under the Norwegian, the Reds face Nuno Espirito Santo's marvellous men from Molineux with a place at Wembley in the last four at stake. It is one of two all Premier League quarter finals at this stage

Top seven of the Premier League, last eight of the FA Cup - it's not the sort of season that sides coming up into the top flight generally experience.
In-form Wolves, though, aren't your normal newly-promoted club, and those on the inside are presumably merely enjoying 'progress as planned'.
Nuno Espirito Santo will have a plan to beat Manchester United too, having been unlucky not to get the better of his old boss Jose Mourinho at Old Trafford in September - the Reds know all about the nasty bite this Wolves team can possess.
From Mourinho to the surprise of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, United's season has been anything but 'as planned' and yet could end incredibly well. The spectre of Pep Guardiola's quadruple-chasing City aisde, this is the trickiest tie we could have got - away to a top six league team for the third consecutive round. Santo's side have impressively staked a claim to be regarded as the best promoted club the Premier League has ever seen.

They began their cup run with a 2-1 victory over Liverpool in the third round, before being taken to a replay by League One strugglers Shrewsbury in round four, which they eventually won 3-2 at Molineux. A single goal from Ivan Cavaleiro in the fifth round saw them beat Bristol City 1-0 to make it through to the quarter-finals.

One for all to enjoy, Jose included, then.

Solskjaer said: "Last season you were impressed with them to go through the Championship as they did convincingly.
"They had a clear plan - didn't get Championship players in, [but] players above the Championship level - and you can see that now, in seventh, they trust their own way of playing.
"They defended fantastically well against Chelsea but at home they take the game to the opponent with the great passing ability in the team."

Wolves centre-back Ryan Bennett is available, despite currently serving a two-match Premier League ban, and could replace Romain Saiss.
Head coach Nuno Espirito Santo has no fresh injury concerns.
 United's in-form forward Romelu Lukaku is a doubt because of a sore foot.
Ashley Young is suspended but Phil Jones is fit after illness, while Jesse Lingard and Ander Herrera have returned to training and could be involved. Diogo Dalot is likely to come in for the suspended Young and Anthony Martial is also in line to feature.

Form guide: Wolves D W D L W D Man Utd W D W W W L
Match odds: Wolves 9/4 Draw 11/5 Man Utd 5/4 (Bet365)
Referee: Martin Atkinson

Monday 11 March 2019

Match report: Arsenal 2-0 Man Utd

Unai Emery's Arsenal won a ninth successive home game, inflicted Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's first league defeat and leapfrogged United in the table.
 Before this setback, Solskjaer boasted an incredible record of 14 wins from his first 17 matches, going unbeaten in the league. After it, the Reds sit fifth on 58 points, two adrift of Arsenal and three of third placed Tottenham, in a thrillingly congested battle for the Champions League that looks set to go down to the wire.

Following the miracle of Paris in midweek, this was a case of after the Lord Mayor's Show, with a physically and emotionally drained United struggling to get into their stride for much of the contest.
The Gunners took the lead after twelve minutes as they profited from an uncharacteristic error of judgement from David de Gea. It came from an unlikely source as Granit Xhaka collected the ball, and let fly.  His low shot from outside the area wrong-footed De Gea who took a step to his left, the ball swerving wickedly to the right and past him.

Before this defeat, Solskjaer boasted an incredible record of 14 wins from his first 17 matches, going unbeaten in the league. But with a number of players still out injured - including Jesse Lingard and Ander Herrera, who both started in the 3-1 Emirates FA Cup victory in January - and a physically and emotionally draining performance against PSG still fresh in the memory if not in the legs, United initially struggled to get going on a cold and blustery day in north London.

The Gunners took the lead 12 minutes in, having dominated the early possession. Alexandre Lacazette and Aubameyang had opportunities to give the hosts the lead inside the opening ten minutes, the latter trying his luck from distance as well as attempting an overhead kick; both shots went high and wide. Sead Kolasinac was a constant threat on Arsenal’s left wing too, his first cross of the match after two minutes evading everyone and luckily also going just wide of De Gea’s post.

The breakthrough goal came from an unlikely source in Xhaka. The Swiss international, urged to shoot by the home fans, did just that. His low shot from outside the area wrong-footed De Gea who took a step to his left, the ball swerving wickedly to the right and past him.
Moments earlier, Romelu Lukaku had United’s first real chance of the game, getting on the end of Luke Shaw’s cross. His close-range effort hit the bar, Paul Pogba retrieved possession but couldn’t find anyone in the box with his cross and Diogo Dalot’s follow-up effort was blocked.
Pierre Emerick - Aubameyang flashed a shot wide and strike partner Alexandre Lacazette also went close before wing-back Sead Kolasinac saw his cross evade everyone and drift wide.

Dalot - in for Eric Bailly as one of three changes to the side that won in Paris on Wednesday night - took up an advanced role on the right as he did against Crystal Palace. He was involved just before half-time; a lightning counter-attack initiated by a signature Pogba long-ball taken down brilliantly by Lukaku just outside the area. Dalot, played in on the overlap, pulled a pass back in the direction of Marcus Rashford but goalscorer Xhaka got to it just before the striker.

Bernd Leno saved well from Lukaku and Fred struck a post from distance, but Arsenal capitalised and moved 2-0 ahead with 20 minutes to play. The award of the spot-kick looked soft, when Lacazette went down under minimal contact from Fred, but referee Jon Moss pointed for a penalty.
Aubameyang had missed in the north London derby but made no mistake this time, and he slotted the ball down the middle for his 20th goal of the season.

 Mason Greenwood came on to make his Premier League debut with ten minutes remaining, replacing Nemanja Matic, but his chances to make a dramatic impact were limited.

Overall team performance: 6/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Luke Shaw.

Saturday 9 March 2019

Match preview: Arsenal v Man Utd

Manchester United look to end this historic week with a 15th win in 18 remarkable games under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
The Peter Pan of football has taken the club from looking like lost boys to a magical land of endless possibility. To be in the last eight of the Champions League is a terrific achievement. Now we need to make sure we're in the competition again next season. Having done what seemed impossible by snatching a late, late away goals victory against all odds at the Parc des Princes, United - still technically unbeaten under Solskjaer - locks horns with the Gunners for the 231st time. A storied, historical and at times fierce rivalry played out in front of the watching world once again.

There is a joy and togetherness in United's football. In contrast, Arsenal remain inconsistent as they lurch from the brilliant to the bizarre. This looks a hugely significant tussle in the three-way battle for the Champions League places. United currently sit in the coveted fourth spot but would move joint third and level on points with a Tottenham side faltering fast. Such is the congested, thrilling battle for the top four, Solskjaer's side could drop to sixth should Arsenal inflict his first league defeat and Chelsea prevail over Wolves. You could throw the proverbial blanket over the four teams with the race set to go all the way to the wire.

Prior to Thursday's 3-1 first-leg defeat at Rennes in the Europa League, the Gunners were showing signs of recovery from an indifferent winter period. They have brought themselves back into top-four contention after taking ten points from the last twelve on offer, only dropping two in last weekend's entertaining North London derby against Tottenham Hotspur. After that 1-1 draw at Wembley and the Reds' subsequent win over Southampton, Unai Emery’s men are fifth in the table and one point behind United. We're on a club record high of nine successive away wins whilst Arsenal have notched up eight consecutive victories at the Emirates. Something has to give here.

Arsenal's Lucas Torreira begins a three-game ban after losing an appeal against his dismissal in the north London derby.
Striker Alexandre Lacazette returns after missing Thursday's Europa League defeat in Rennes through suspension. Hector Bellerin, Rob Holding (both knee) and ex Red Danny Welbeck (ankle) are long term absentees for Emery's team.  Stephan Lichtsteiner is back in full training and could return. 
Speaking of which, Anthony Martial is available after a groin injury for  United, who were without ten players against Paris St-Germain in midweek. Eric Bailly has recovered from a heavy challenge in that game, while Nemanja Matic (ankle) and Ander Herrera (hamstring) could be fit.
Paul Pogba is available and will play having served a European suspension.

 United caretaker manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer on his future: "I love managing these boys, I love working here. As I said so many times, I am just doing the best I can every single day, and if and when... if it comes to a decision to be made, we've got to think about that.
"I am not here to get excited or carried away, I am here to do my job. I am contracted to Man United until the end of June. After that, we can sit down together with the board and have the discussions. Until then, I will keep working hard - I am enjoying every minute of this job."

Form guide: Arsenal L W W W D L Man Utd L W D W W W
Match odds: Arsenal 13/10 Draw 5/2 Man Utd 12/4
Referee: Jonathan Moss (Yorkshire)

Thursday 7 March 2019

Solskjaer channels the spirit of 99' on best night for years

Not since we last won the thing have Manchester United seen anything like this. Certainly not in Europe, and certainly not since Sir Alex Ferguson called it quits in 2013.

Moscow in 2008 will forever be remembered as a night when United delivered a third European Cup triumph in dramatic style as we vanquished Chelsea in a ding dong drama that rolled into the early hours of a sodden Moscow morning. In the year of the fiftieth anniversary of the Munich tragedy, there seemed a sense of fate and destiny as United paid tribute to those we lost in the most fitting manner of all. I've been fortunate enough to see the club I love win titles, trophies and glittering honours aplenty that many can only dream of.  But this will go down in the annals as one of the greatest nights of all. No matter that it was 'only' a last 16 tie and not a final - United had no right to go to Paris and do what we did last night. Especially not with a team with an average age of 24 and with five teenagers on the bench. It was history in the very making, with a legendary player turned caretaker manager returning to a competition in which both us - and he - enjoyed our greatest triumph. Ole's at the wheel and he's leading this club back to the glory days. Even if we had gone out, the sense that something special is building is inescapable. Ole is clearing every hurdle, climbing every mountain and throwing down every gauntlet.

PSG were 2-0 up after the away leg. No side had ever lost a Champions League tie from that position before. They were playing a United without 10 players, with a bench full of teenagers. As second legs in European ties go, it should have been as easy as it comes. Sit back, wait and use Angel Di María and Kylian Mbappé’s ability and pace on the break, as they had at Old Trafford. Yet still the French side were beaten as United confounded hubris and defied the odds.

In part, it’s true, that’s down to the frankly inexplicable magic of Solskjær, Dorian Gray as the Milky Bar Kid, living his eternal 1999. But it’s also down to the fact that PSG are the opposite of what Ole represents. He is romance and fun and loyalty and doing your job even if it frustrates you; open them up and where the heart should be you’ll find a fetid roll of banknotes. When it comes to the crunch, doing it to enhance the reputation of a faraway state seems not to stir the loins. We’ve seen this before, of course, most notably when a 4-0 lead was squandered two years ago. PSG, just as much as Solskjær, will always have Barcelona.

More than a decade on, the sight of Ferguson sitting next to executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, sitting high up in the Parc des Prince posh seats as the seismic events unfolded below was, perhaps, the most significant sign a club that has struggled so badly to find its identity over the past six years has reconnected with its glorious past.

Solskjaer has restored the team ethic and speaks positively about the club and its challenges, both immediate and long-term. In allowing Ferguson and Eric Cantona into the dressing room, Solskjaer was reinforcing the pillars on which the club used to stand. In his own understated way he is forcing them back into position.

With three time defending champions Real Madrid and now Thomas Tuchel's Parisian heavyweights having bitten the dust, the tournament has arguably never been more open. Why can't we win it - I'm not saying we definitely will - but last night showed that nothing is impossible.  When you get as far as the quarter finals it's anyone's game. If you can beat Juventus and PSG away from home in Europe, you can beat anyone, One thing's for certain, Europe's biggest clubs will not fancy the prospect of a last eight tie with Solskjaer's Manchester United team.

When Solskjaer answered Woodward's SOS, we felt his responsibilities extended no further than putting smiles back on faces and addressing a toxic situation before the summer, when Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino could come in and be the next man to have a stab at returning United to the top.
Yes, if he somehow got United into the top four, or won something, or beat Paris St-Germain in the Champions League, he would become a contender. But those scenarios were so far-fetched they weren't worth thinking about. It was merely a pipe dream that has somehow now become a reality.
That is not even three months ago. Now, the only scenario to be considered is the timing.

And Solskjaer has won it!!

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's whirlwind romance in the city of love

So this was the night Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was confirmed as the Manchester United manager. Ole is now, most definitely, at the wheel for good.

And to do it in a manner befitting his mentor Sir Alex Ferguson was almost too good to be true.
But that's what this remarkable, infectiously positive man can do.
Co-owner Avram Glazer will fly back to Florida with tales of a club transformed by the man who delivered them their greatest moment when he was a player.
Real Madrid are privy to try to prise Mauricio Pochettino away from Tottenham – United have found their ideal candidate to lead them back to summit of European football. And after an absolute thrill ride in Paris that simply beggared belief and logic, who would bet against him doing it before his caretaker reign is even up?

The result came 20 years on from United's most memorable triumph when they claimed the treble of Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League, the latter after Solskjaer's own injury-time winner in the final against Bayern Munich.
The Norwegian has overseen a remarkable turnaround which has seen the side become the country's most in-form team, including away wins at Tottenham, Arsenal, Chelsea and now PSG.
The former United striker has not only brought back the smiles to a side that was so abject before Christmas, but done so with outstanding tactical awareness and without the services of 10 first-team players.

With Ole at the wheel, anything seems possible.
To put this 3-1 win into perspective, it must be remembered the circumstances in which United headed into this Champions League round of 16 second leg against Paris Saint Germain.

Wembley 68', Barcelona 99', Barcelona and Moscow 2008. Added to that exclusive list now is Paris in 2019. Manchester United have had no shortage of historic, magical, never-to-be-forgotten European nights but this one is right up there.

The odds were stacked against United in Paris, but they became the first team in Champions League and European Cup history, at the 107th time of asking, to overcome a 2-0 or greater home first-leg deficit. If he was to do it, he'd have to do so without 10 first team players.
Included in his travelling squad were five academy starlets – one, Mason Greenwood, who only turned 17 in October.
By the end of the match, United had four home-grown talents on the pitch – two of them teenagers.
Marcus Rashford, with nerves of steel, struck the decisive goal – a last minute penalty with the weight of the world on his shoulders.

An Englishman from 12 yards – we've heard this story before. But the 21-year-old is one of those players so dramatically rejuvenated by Solskjaer's uplifting brand of management.
So too Romelu Lukaku – that flat track bully who struck twice against one of the favourites to lift this trophy to set up the most improbable of wins.
But this win was Solskjaer all over... dare we even begin to dream. Are we seeing shades of Roberto Di Matteo, the Chelsea legend who rode to the rescue of the Stamford Bridge side in 2012 and led them to an improbable Champions League triumph as caretaker manager.

That's now 14 wins from his 17 games in charge – his only defeat coming in the first leg to PSG, which he so dramatically expunged in front of the French champions' stunned fans.
United's, meanwhile, were singing long after the rest of the stadium had emptied – refusing to be drowned out by the Paris downpour.
When Ed Woodward made his SOS to Solskjaer, he could never have dreamed of it becoming his masterstroke as executive vice chairman. 
He has the unwavering support of the Glazers due to his genius methods in maximising United's commercial potential. But even the American businessmen cannot fail to have been caught up in the romance of Solskjaer's triumphant return to Old Trafford.
Avram's presence in Paris is evidence enough of that.
He has been a rare attendee of United games, but has now watched four in less than two months of Solskjaer's reign. That say a lot.

The man brought in to put a smile on the face of players and fans, while Woodward went about the business of luring Pochettino away from Spurs, has certainly lived up to his end of the bargain.
You would be hard pressed to find a single United fan who would swap the Norwegian for anyone right now.
Woodward cannot fail to ignore that.
Solskjaer has passed every test put before him and more.
The job is his – all that's left is to announce it.

Solskjaer's heroes become Man Utd legends

This was a night in which Manchester United made the Impossible dream possible again as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's heroic young team became the stuff of Old Trafford legend.
Heading to Paris 0-2 behind and seemingly down and out, it seemed a case of damage limitation rather than any genuine belief that we could manage a task akin to climbing Everest in slippers and without oxygen.
 Solskjaer's supporting cast become the first side ever to lose by two goals in the home leg and yet still make it through. Make no mistake about it, this is up there as one of the best results ever in our club's proud and illustrious history given everything that had gone before. 

 With Paul Pogba suspended and an injury list as long as your arm, United went to the daunting surroundings of the Parc des Princes with effectively a reserve side against a club widely regarded as among the favourites to go all the way. A team with £400m spent on it, and one that even without Neymar and Edinson Cavani, are star-studded, strongly fancied and genuine heavyweights - United were underdogs and had been written off.
Yet this was 100 extraordinary minutes that defied all logic as the unthinkable - Mission Impossible - only went and happened.The moral of the story: never, ever, count Manchester United out.

 A night in which Scott McTominay - for whom the jury remains very much out - came of age before our eyes. Tasked with keeping tabs on Marco Verratti and Marquinhos who were so impressive in the first leg, the young Scot was courageous, full of energy and stood strong. He visibly grew as a Man Utd player as other more established names wilted. Fred turned in the most impressive performance of his fledgling Old Trafford career so far -  he played at a good tempo, looked good on the ball, tackled well and pressed effectively.  On a big night for many of United’s fringe players, the Reds £52m Brazilian stepped up. Chris Smalling and Victor Lindelof were again imperious at the heart of the defence as they shackled Kylian Mbappe superbly and forced the hottest prospect in the game to the fringes. Andreas Pereira did his job, and from David de Gea to Romelu Lukaku, United - to a man - were absolutely immense. Every player had the match of his life - we were brave, put a shift in, dug deep and refused to be cowed in the face of adversity. Defensively magnificent, organised to a T and clinical when the chances came. Say what you like about the late penalty - given with the intervention of VAR - but fortune favours the brave.

As for Marcus Rashford, what else can we say about this young man? Rashford had threatened intermittently in the match but, with United in need of one more goal, step forward the Academy graduate. Of course he took a pressure penalty unerringly in the World Cup shootout with Colombia for England, but here that pressure racheted up tenfold. His first ever Man Utd spot-kick, it was arguably the biggest and most pivotal moment of Rashford's United career so far. This is only his third full season as a fully-fledged Red but there was never any doubt in his mind as he faced what seemed like an eternity before pitting his wits against one of the greatest goalkeepers of all time. It was a death or glory moment, a moment that will now forever be remembered as the crowning glory on one of THE great European nights.

 To step up with the weight of 659 million people on your shoulders, still only at the tender age of 21, with the chance to write yourself into Old Trafford folklore, tells you everything you need to know. Had he missed, it could have changed the course of his career. Smashing the spot-kick high beyond the helpless Gigi Buffon, United completed the turnaround and did what no one thought possible, all thanks to the intervention of one of our own. If that doesn't epitomise what this club is all about, then I don't know what does.

If we had lost, I don’t think I would ever have felt more pride in United in defeat. Ole threw on Tahith Chong and also Mason Greenwood, handing the 17-year-old a debut on the biggest stage. This was Manchester United; this is everything we want to see from the club we love.

Ole's at the wheel!

Match report: PSG 1-3 Man Utd (3-3 agg)

Marcus Rashford wrote himself into Man Utd folklore with a late VAR-assisted penalty as Ole Solskjaer's side did what had seemed impossible.
The Reds became the first side to overturn a two-goal first leg home deficit to gloriously and historically progress to the quarter-finals on away goals after Rashford nervelessly thumped home the spot-kick in the fourth minute of stoppage time. Referee Dario Skomina had initially given a corner but reviewed the video technology after Diogo Dalot's shot had deflected off the arm of Presnel Kimpembe.

Missing ten first team players and going to the formidale setting of the Parcs des Princes 0-2 behind after defeat at Old Trafford, few - if any - had given Ole's side even a prayer of getting through. PSG, after all, were widely considered as among the favourites for the Champions League crown.
They had reckoned without this club's famed powers of recovery, and it took United only two minutes to halve the arrears. A waywardly loose backpass from Thilo Kehrer was seized upon by the lurking Romelu Lukaku, and the in-form Belgian raced through, rounded the advancing Gigi Buffon and slid the ball in from the tightest of angles.

That shook Thomas Tuchel's side into life and thereafter came a period of sustained pressure as United were forced to dig deep and hang on. United  survived a couple of close calls but were unable to prevent Juan Bernat levelling the proceedings; the Spanish left-back arrived at the far post to convert a low cross from Kylian Mbappe, who had got in behind the Reds’ defence on PSG’s right.
Angel Di Maria flashed an effort wide and then had a goal correctly chalked off by the linesman. David de Gea saved well from Bernat after Dani Alves had played him in, before speedster Kylian Mbappe went close with a snapshot.
Having weathered the predicted Parisian storm, and despite the hosts boasting 86% of the ball, United went ahead again on the half-hour mark. Rashford's speculative effort should have been easy for Buffon, but the legendary veteran instead spilled the ball straight into the path of Lukaku who gobbled up the chance for his six goal in three games. United now only needed one more to go through, as hope had turned to belief and then a semblance of expectation.

Lukaku became the first Red since Ronaldo in 2006 to score a brace in three successive matches.
Diogo Dalot replaced the hapless Eric Bailly and the Reds looked more comfortable and at ease.
Ashley Young switched to a more familiar right-back role and made  hugely important interception on the hour mark when the always dangerous Mbappe tried to find Di Maria.

 Ole insisted all his young players were ready should they be needed and Tahith Chong, fresh from coming on against Southampton, joined the action 10 minutes from time in place of Andreas Pereira, while 17-year-old Mason Greenwood made his United debut soon after in place of Young.
De Gea blocked from substitute Thomas Meunier, a last ditch challenge from Chris Smalling thwarted Mbappe and Bernat then fired off a post.

Time had begun to run out for the Reds, with PSG clinging to their slender 3-2 aggregate advantage and seemingly on course for the last eight.
Then came the moment United had been looking for when Dalot's shot struck Kimpembe's arm and deflected away for a corner. After the referee agonisingly deliberated for what felt like an eternity, he gave the spot-kick. Rashford showed nerves of steel and guts aplenty to take responsibility for the kick, and he smashed it high beyond Buffon to prompt wild celebrations on the pitch, on the touchline, in the stands and all the way back to Manchester. United were forced to survive an inexplicable ten added minutes before the miracle of Paris was remarkably complete.

Overall team performance: 9/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: There were fourteen Herculean heroes pretty in pink out there but we're giving this to Romelu Lukaku. He can't stop scoring. 

Tuesday 5 March 2019

Match preview: Paris Saint-Germain v Man Utd (Agg 2-0)

A confident and defiant Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has emphasised his in-form Manchester United side will travel to France with the belief that a successful comeback can be staged against Paris Saint-Germain, continuing the club’s rich history of fighting back against the odds.
Thomas Tuchel’s Ligue 1 champions earned a 2-0 win from last month’s UEFA Champions League last-16 first-leg tie at Old Trafford and, as a result, they are now the favourites to go through. The heavyweight Parisian giants are widely tipped to go all the way in Europe, despite never having progressed beyond the quarter finals of the competition.

The Reds must win by at least three clear goals in Paris to secure an aggregate win, which is a tall order with so many players currently unavailable due to injury – and with Paul Pogba suspended. 
That means that all of United's first choice midfield - Pogba, along with injured Nemanja Matic and Ander Herrera - will miss out, as well as two thirds of the front line in Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial.
 Scott McTominay, Fred and Andreas Pereira will all be in contention for a place. Ahead of them, Alexis Sanchez looks likely to miss Wednesday’s match after he picked up a knee injury during the 3-2 win against Southampton with the Chilean ruled out for up to six weeks. Juan Mata is injured, as are full-backs Antonio Valencia and Matteo Darmian. However, in more positive news, the Reds will be able to call upon Marcus Rashford at the Parc de Princes after the striker recovered from an ankle injury to play 90 minutes against Southampton on Saturday. Solskjaer's stretched-to-the-limit, threadbare squad of 20 players contains eight Academy graduates and six teenagers.

Tuchel's side  remain without talismanic striker Neymar due to a metatarsal injury suffered during their Coupe de France victory over Strasbourg in January. Fellow forward Edinson Cavani missed the game at Old Trafford due to a hip injury and, while the Parisians hope to have the Uruguayan back in training before the clash, it remains unlikely that he will start on Wednesday night. Thomas Meunier was out between 9 and 26 February with a head injury but returned to score the third goal in their 3-0 French Cup quarter-final win over Dijon.

Despite the almost impossible nature of United's task, mountains are there to be climbed and Solskjaer remains adamant that a victory can be secured.
He said:  “We know it is going to be a very, very tough game. We know that are we playing against one of the best teams in Europe with some absolutely quality players.  “Who knows? It has happened before. This club has had so many great comebacks. The Champions League in the last few years has also given quite a few of those comebacks - PSG against Barcelona, even though it is the other way around now, because we have to do it away from home. 
“But we have got straight eight straight away wins so we are confident away from home. If we are in the game with 20 to 30 minutes to go then who knows.” 
United may still have plenty to play for as we move into March, but it's safe to say that Tuchel's team will be crowned Ligue 1 for the sixth time in seven seasons, even at this early stage. They currently sit 17 points clear of second placed Lille with a game in hand having lost only three of 40 competitive ties in 2018-19. The Champions League remains the apple of the owner's eyes however, and it is that on which their success, or otherwise, is measured by. 

Travelling United squad: De Gea, Romero, Grant; Bailly, Dalot, Lindelof, Rojo, Shaw, Smalling, Williams, Young; Fred, Garner, Gomes, McTominay, Pereira; Chong, Greenwood, Lukaku, Rashford.
Form guide: PSG W W W W W W Man Utd W L W D W W 
Match odds: PSG 3/1 Draw 19/5 Man Utd 11/2
Referee: Damir Skomina (Slovenia) 

Saturday 2 March 2019

Let's ride the Solskjaer train all the way to Wembley and the top three

It may be of those tired, well-worn lazy cliches that have unpalatably crept into the football dialect with the saturation of the TV deal, but never has the phrase "take one game at a time" been more apt.
Such was the nature of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's interim appointment, that the manager's remit didn't - not initially at least - seem merely about results.
When he came in, it literally was a case of looking no further that the end of your own nose for Messrs Solskjaer, Phelan, Carrick and McKenna.
That may seem unusual for a club the size and stature of Manchester United, a club that exists as a relentless winning machine, but it was more about the rediscovery of the club's identity, creating harmomy, instilling team spirit and a five-month free hit in which to get the fans back onside.
As it's transpired, we're in a position that if you had told us was possible two months ago, we'd have laughed with in credulity. If I told you that, with ten games left, we'd be pushing not only for a top four finish but in the mix for third place, no one would have believed me. Just another deluded Man Utd fan, they'd have muttered.

There was widely considered to be only one man the Old Trafford hierarchy had their hearts and eyes set on to become Jose Mourinho's long term successor at United. Even when Solskjaer was appointed, there was only one name on everyone's lips. Who ever would have thought that Mauricio Pochettino would be a man under far more pressure, and facing far more questions than answers, than Solskjaer at this stage. The pendulum has swung so dramatically that it now seems merely a case of when, rather than if, King Ole of Norway gets the coronation he so deserves. There still remains one man we all now want - but instead it is Solskjaer, not Pochettino. Don't get me wrong, Poch is not a bad manager by any stretch, but how can we do anything other than, indeed, make Ole permanent.

It is a scarcely believable chain of events that have seen not only the stars align for our 20LEGEND but an entire galaxy of stars. He is moving the planets and the earth in a run that has seen him, and the team, eclipse even the greatest managerial maestro of them all. Not even Sir Alex Ferguson pulled off eight successive away wins. Never has the mood, form or entire raison d'etre of a football club been flipped on its head so dramatically and emphatically.

United have resembled an unstoppable, runaway locomotive since Solskjaer arrived to take the wheel. Derailed and taken wildly off course by the previous train crew, chief conductor Ole has got everything back on track (pun intended) with the Solskjaer express steaming up the line whilst those ahead of us hit the buffers and grind to a halt. The train named United is rapidly storming into the rear view mirror and has shows no sign of slowing down.

 Closer to the bottom three and with Wolves, Everton and even West Ham and Watford in hot pursuit, United were on a journey going nowhere when Solskjaer took the reigns. Eleven and thirteen points behind Chelsea in fourth and Tottenham in third, there seemed no way back. Train cancelled due to emergency engineering works. A gap - no, a chasm - that seemed insurmountable as the 21st century rolled into its 19th year, has been bridged in a meagre 73 days. Now, three points shy of a teeteting Tottenham, that journey has rapidly changed direction into an undisputed upward trajectory.

 This particular train is one that I never want to get off of, and I hope that this is a journey that continues all the way to Wembley for the FA Cup final, and then on to the destination marked third place. And then on to next season's title, and, from there, overseas to Istanbul for the Champions League final in 2020. OK, I'm getting carried away, but it just goes to show that Ole and co have given us back that most precious commodity of all. Belief.

King Ole's United win Southampton thriller in vintage style

When Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was appointed interim manager in December following Jose Mourinho's dismissal, third place looked a distant dream for United.

They're now three points behind third-placed Tottenham and will move four points ahead of fifth-placed Arsenal with eight matches remaining if we beat the Gunners in their own backyard (again) next weekend.
United's 10th win in 12 top-flight games under Solskjaer was perhaps their most entertaining match of his reign so far.

 United, who had failed to win their previous three home games, looked like they would have to settle for a point after James Ward-Prowse's free-kick made it 2-2. For a while, it even looked as though Ralph Hassenhuttl's dogged, resilent and determined Saints would upset the Old Trafford apple cart and claim their third victory here in five years. United had only beaten Southampton twice at home since the south coast side were promoted back to the Premier League in 2012.  Once again, struggling Saints (although you wouldn't know it from this showing) forced United to dig deep and pushed them to the very limit.

 Here's the strange thing: despite the frantic, tense, topsy turvy nature  of a thrillingly unpredictable tie - coupled with Southampton's impressive recent record against us - I never feared for United. Call it arrogance, call it confidence, call it whatever you will. I always felt that Man Utd were going to win this, one way or t'other. How many times have we been able to say that over the past few years. It speaks volumes of the confidence, belief and unstinting determination that Ole has instilled in not only our team, but us fans too. I always knew we'd somehow find a way, as we have done so many times before. It felt like the vintage United from the halycon days of yesteryear.

The fear and nervous trepidation of the Mourinho 'era' are as much a pipedream as a top four finish was upon Ole's appointment. We've got our club back and there's only one man (or perhaps two) responsible for that.

 However, there is a never-say-die spirit about Solskjaer's United - the epitome of the great sides he was such a key part of - and Lukaku whipped off his shirt in celebration after hitting the winner - the 113th Premier League goal of his career. As Lukaku spun and rifled home, Old Trafford erupted but, for Solskjaer, there was no great fanfare. Stood on the touchline applauding calmly, he is a man aiming for more than merely a top three finish. The title may be beyond us this season, but it begs the question: what could have happened had he started his rescue mission earlier. For a man brought up with and accustomed to winning, Solskjaer has the long term vision of putting this club back on top in his sights. As ever, Ole strikes the right chord with the fans.

If ever there was a game that summed up what our club is and should be about, this was that game. It had everything - Old Trafford's very own Goal of the Season competition, chances galore, a crackling atmosphere, excitement aplenty, drama, and most satisfyingly of all, a classic late United comeback. I've enjoyed the last few months more than the past six years combined.

There was still time for Pogba to miss from the penalty spot after Stuart Armstrong had fouled Marcus Rashford, but even that failed to dampen the mood of the home fans.
Surely it can only be a matter of time before United's hierarchy make Solskjaer's appointment permanent. If - no - WHEN, he is announced as our next permament manager, Mike Phelan simply must stay at his side.

 This is what it means to be United. Edge of the seat, sweaty palms, heart pumping. God I’ve missed those days. Thank you for giving us our club back Ole, Mike. There is nothing, and I mean nothing, like being a Red.

Match report: Man Utd 3-2 Southampton

Romelu Lukaku popped up with a potentially pivotal and priceless winner as United won a superbly see-sawing contest two minutes from the end. In a five goal thriller at Old Trafford, United fell behind, went ahead, got pegged back again before we finally prevailed,
Ralph Hassenhuttl's brave but ultimately beaten Saints belied their lowly league position with an impressive display of resilience, determination and flashes of quality in their quest for a third Old Trafford victory in five seasons.

Yan Valery - the latest in a long production line of homegrown Saints talent - opened his account in style and that was to be an advantage that the south coast side held until the break. Back came United through Andreas Pereira and Romelu Lukaku, only for the in-form James Ward - Prowse to make it 2-2.
But just when it looked as though United were set to drop points for the second weekend in a row at home, the Reds refused to lie down as the much-maligned Lukaku spun and slammed in the winner and Old Trafford erupted. Paul Pogba could have put the result beyond doubt even later, but United were made to sweat right to the end after his spot-kick was saved by Angus Gunn.

The result takes United back above Arsenal, who we play in a totemic-looking tussle in north London next week, and into fourth place. Not only that, but we're also somehow hot on the heels of a faltering Tottenham side, now only three points behind Mauricio Pochettino's out of form team.
All this seemed merely a pipe dream upon Solskjaer's appointment back in December amidst a season that was going nowhere.

From the outset, it had looked as though this would be one of those that we occasionally encounter against supposedly inferior opponents. Gunn saved well from Lukaku inside five minutes, then tipped over Pereira's dangerous cross-shot. Within minutes, Gunn continued to earn his corn as he blocked bravely to keep out Lukaku from point blank range.

Southampton rallied quickly after the early intense pressure and had an appeal for a penalty turned down by referee Stuart Attwell after an untidy tangle between Chris Smalling and Ryan Bertrand. Following United’s lively start, the Reds went somewhat flat but, completely out of the blue, found ourselves a goal behind

Southampton swept the ball from left to right and full-back Valery stormed forward to receive the ball 30 yards out. It takes some doing to beat David De Gea from there but the 20-year-old French-Tunisian surprised everybody with an explosive thunderbolt that shot past the helpless Spaniard.
United were struggling to get any rhythm back but Luke Shaw almost undid his former club with an inviting cross that both Marcus Rashford and Lukaku contrived to miss completely in the penalty area. The Belgian then failed to make full contact with an enticing Pereira delivery.

 The Reds recent injury crisis continued when Alexis Sanchez - anonymous again - was forced off six minutes after the restart. Step forward Andreas. The Academy graduate turned the game on its head with a strike that will surely sit right up there as a Goal of the Month contender. He thumped in a curling piledriver and then, with Saints resolve broken, fed Lukaku who turned and drilled in the second six minutes later to put us 2-1 ahead.

This was a game increasingly holding its own internal Goal of the Season competition but, unfortunately, it was Southampton's turn next. Ashley Young was penalised for a foul, perhaps harshly, and, from 30 yards out, Ward-Prowse thundered in a screamer of a set-piece beyond De Gea to make it 2-2.

It took the sting completely out of United’s second-half comeback and it was now Southampton’s turn to take up the threat in a match that was swinging violently from one side to the other as the teams slugged it out for victory.
But the attacking mode was then grabbed back by the Reds as Old Trafford overflowed with excitement again. Substitute Fred managed to slip a ball to Lukaku and the hitman rolled round defender Jan Bednarek and fired the ball low past Gunn for the third. He took his shirt off in celebration but you can be sure he'll happily take the booking.
Pogba had the chance to end any chance of a nail-biting finale when he was handed the opportunity of a fourth goal from the spot after Rashfird was brought down by Stuart Armstrong inside the box, deep into injury time.
However, the Frenchman’s penalty was saved by early hero Gunn who had the final say by kicking out a leg to divert it to safety, but not the winning one as United triumphed in a see-saw entertaining bout to go fourth in the table. 

 Overall team performance: 8/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Andreas Pereira. Magnificent coming of age showing.