Monday 29 April 2019

Luke Shaw should be United's Player of the Season

It's that time of year again when the topic of discussion turns to contenders for a club's Player of the Season awards. United's annual end of year bash which sees the gongs given out will be held at Old Trafford on Thursday May 9.

David de Gea has been a shoe in for the Reds pick of the bunch in recent years, having won the award named in honour of Sir Matt Busby for four of the last seasons - only the soon to depart Ander Herrera has broken his compatriot's stranglehold on the crown. With an atrocious, error-strewn De Gea in the midst of the worst goalkeeping crisis of his career, and United's season potholed by inconsistency, there is no clear winner this time around.
It's fair to say that no one in Red has covered himself in glory, but there's one man who has been a picture of consistency, calm and composure, a steady hand on the tiller in the roughest of seas. Step forward, Luke Shaw. Our number 23 has enjoyed a stellar season having finally achieved what he threatened for so long and made that left-back spot his own. He has become the player we all hoped he one day would be. Notably leaner, meaner, fitter and faster, and still only 23, Shaw has come of age. Liverpool's Andy Robertson aside there have been few better full-backs in the country this season.

Shaw's troubles with form and fitness at United have been well documented, but Luke has emerged from the cocoon of the Jose Mourinho era to spread his wings and fly into a new era as one of the few to emerge from 2018-19 with any tangible credit. Victor Lindelof runs him close and Marcus Rashford would be right up there if not for the last two weeks, but for me, Shaw gets the nod as our Player of the Year. Winner of three player of the month awards, I struggle to think of an occasion where he's had a bad game or not performed well. You could argue he should have done better for City's second, decisive goal in last Wednesday's derby but in truth the fault was minimal.

He prepared better than ever, rearranging his diet and workout plan, and eventually became United’s best full-back. There is no longer uncertainty surrounding Shaw and he’s been consistent all season, hence why I’d give reward him with the Player of The Year award. Next season I expect him to kick on again.

It has been great to see Shaw develop into one of the league's best full-backs  and long may it continue. Kudos, Luke.

Sunday 28 April 2019

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer faced with the mother of all rebuilding jobs

Perhaps missing out on the Champions League is a blessing in disguise for Manchester United. Not only to save us from future embarrasment at the hands of Europe's true elite, but to jolt the board - the poisonous, cancerous. leeching, penny pinching parasites who are supposedly running this club - into action. If moonlighting in the Europa League for the third time in five seasons doesn't make them act, then simply nothing ever will. Sack the board. I'm sick of saying it now. This is their mess, and theirs alone.

Maybe now, the elusive Glazers and the headless chicken Ed W******d will wake up, smell the coffee and set about restructuring this great club of ours. By scraping into the top four at the last, it would have merely papered over the multitude of cracks in the crumbling Old Trafford facade. That is the zenith of this regime's ambition and would have persuaded the merry band of men that all is rosy in the United garden despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. As long as we've got the Champions League to keep sponsors happy, revenue ticking over and the club coffers continuing to swell, they're happy.

It feels like we've said this every year for the last I don't know how long, but a crucial summer awaits for Manchester United. Faced with the mother of all monumental rebuilding jobs, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is the right man for us, but he needs time, money and help. If he doesn't, then he faces the prospect of the same fate that befell his illustrious predecessors - becoming just another victim of United's rancid and rotten regime.
Faced with the cold reality of Thursday night football in faraway Baku, there is nowhere else to turn. No longer is this side's inadequacies masked by the lure of PSG, Juve and Barcelona et al under the Old Trafford lights. There has to be a transfer kitty available in the summer. But the problem is, I don't trust the board to get rid of the deadwood and bring in good enough replacements. This is the same board that replaced Cristiano Ronaldo with Gabriel Obertan, Michael Owen and Antonio Valencia. The same board that thought we didn't need Toby Alderweireld or Harry Maguire because Chris Smalling and Phil Jones were good enough. They just won't spend the money needed, the likes of Jones, Smalling, Ashley Young, Valencia, Marcos Rojo, Alexis Sanchez and co will remain clogging up the wage bill and the same vicious circle will begin all over again. Deja vu. I don't want to compare United to our two most hated rivals City and Liverpool but can't help doing so. Not only are both cutting a swathe through the league, but the way they are run are poles apart. Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola went to their respective boards with transfer requests to make them competitive and lo and behold, they got what was needed with minimal fuss in a matter of weeks. If only - our board could learn a thing or two.

United - owned and exploited by the Glazer family and run by Woodward - are floundering in every department. Yet if we needed a model for how to do things much better in their challenge - albeit fraught - of restoring the equilibrium - they don't have to look far. United need a right-back, a right winger, two centre mids, a centre back, a left winger, a keeper and a striker. That's before we even get to the notion of a technical director and someone on the board who knows what they're doing from a football perspective. That should be the first priority and then, at least, we can avoid the kind of soporific summer that marked the beginning of the end for Jose Mourinho. Woodward refused to sanction signing another centre-half and instead brought in a 35-year-old Stoke City reject, a kid and a not good enough, overpriced Brazilian.

Solskjaer cannot have the same problems as he's faced with a task akin to fighting a forest fire with a water pistol.

Match report: Man Utd 1-1 Chelsea

Another howler from David de Gea gifted Chelsea a fortuitous equaliser and all but ended United's hopes of Champions League qualification. With United 1-0 up and on course for a priceless victory against direct top four rivals in a must win game, De Gea spilled Antonio Rudiger's speculative shot from distance and allowed Marcos Alonso to sweep home the leveller.

United went into the game three points behind Maurizio Sarri's west London side in a top four tussle that no one has taken charge of or, indeed, even seems to want. Things remained that way after a draw that was, in truth, probably a fair result. United have two games left against relegated Huddersfield and surely-gone Cardiff.

 With Tottenham losing at home to West Ham on Saturday and Arsenal's heavy loss at Leicester earlier on Sunday, this result means none of the teams placed between third and sixth won over the weekend.
Five points separate Tottenham, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United with 180 minutes of the Premier League season remaining.

 Rudiger let fly from 30 yards with Chelsea's first shot on target two minutes before the interval.
It looked a routine save for a player of De Gea's ability and quality, but the ball spilled from his grasp and Alonso reacted quickly to tuck home his first Premier League goal since 18 August. It was the latest in a series of high profile blunders in recent weeks.
He was culpable for at least one of Manchester City's two goals in the derby loss at Old Trafford, having been at fault for Lionel Messi's second in the defeat at the Nou Camp in the Champions League on 16 April. That's before you throw in him getting stuck in the mud for Wolves winner in the league and Granit Xhaka's effort at the Emirates which should have been a straightforward stop.

It was a costly error by the desperate Spaniard, whose form has come under scrutiny in recent weeks, although De Gea did come to his side's rescue deep in stoppage time to deny Gonzalo Higuain a dramatic winner.
In a feisty, uncompromising tie, Rudiger was forced off through injury before Marcus Rashford and the luckless Eric Bailly - on his first start for six week - followed suit.
Continuing the recent trend, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side came flying out of the traps and started well. Romelu Lukaku had an early effort saved by Kepa, before the Belgian was involved in United's eleventh-minute opener. His flick over the top found the excellent Luke Shaw, who cut the ball back for the onrushing Juan Mata to score against his old side.
Bailly flashed a header wide and Kepa saved a Marcus Rashford set-piece, before Alonso's gift restored parity at the break.

Chances were at a premium after the break, although N'golo Kante flashed a shot wide and substitute Marcos Rojo had a header cleared off the line by fellow replacement Pedro.
Rojo was then fortunate to escape censure when he clattered into Gonzalo Higuain and then scythed down Willian with a two footed lunge.

Overall team performance: 6/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Luke Shaw. My Player of the Season, superb again

Thursday 25 April 2019

Manchester United simply do not deserve Champions League football

Here we go again. Emmerdale Cup. Thursday nights. Macedonia, Belarus, Azerbaijan. All hail the pitfalls of the Europa League. For that's surely now where, for the third time in six seasons, Manchester United are going to end up. True, we're not completely out of the running for a top four finish with three games left against Chelsea, Huddersfield and Cardiff, but that's mainly because the sides around us are just as bad as we are. Whoever is least s**t will get that fourth spot.

If we do, by some miracle, limp to fourth place, we could still miss out if should Arsenal or Chelsea win this year's Europa League which looks very likely. It is no more than we deserve. We have - barring three months from mid-December to early March, been absolutely woeful this season. We've spent only two weeks of the season in the top four after wins over Fulham and Southampton in the midst of our sensational, record breaking 15 match unbeaten run.

Jose Mourinho was merely a smokescreen masking the plethora of problems from top to bottom at United. Problems that transcend what goes on on the field and run far deeper than the manager. Let's look at the stats. We've conceded 50 goals (FIFTY!), a club record high in a single season. We've lost seven of our last nine and have gone over ten hours without a goal in open play. Paul Pogba's pair of penalties against West Ham aside, Scott McTominay's goal in the 13th minute at Wolves on April 2 was the last time we found the net.
 The players don't look bothered, the whole place is dilapidated, ageing and outdated and the playing side of the club needs major renovation, the mother of all overhauls and open heart surgery. Only Victor Lindelof and Luke Shaw have been consistently anywhere near good enough, and the likes of Fred and Paul Pogba have simply not been good enough for two expensive foreign imports. Pogba's inclusion in the PFA Team of the Year is controversial. Our coaching structure and squad are c**p, the stadium is leaking, results are at a 57 year low and the club is in freefall. The only ones that seem to care are us, the long suffering United fans.

Having won the Europa League during Jose Mourinho's first season in charge - an achievement that turned out to be as good as things got under him - I never wanted to be back in it. Once you've won it once, you're done with it. It's not like the Champions League where its magic, prestige and atmospheric goldfish bowl is unrivalled. You can't get enough of it. But in the Europa League, you stack up the air miles, play at ridiculous times on a Thursday against sides you've never even heard of. Oh joy.
You can also forget about any semblance of a title challenge next term - not that we're anywhere near close to competing for it, never mind winning. The schedule forced upon us will put paid to that. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer should use the competition as a springboard for the next generation of talent fresh off the Carrington conveyor belt. Tahith Chong, Mason Greenwood, Angel Gomes and James Garner to name but four. Solskjaer has, himself, already achieved a minor miracle to even get us into top four contention, but it seems like results and performances fell off a cliff as soon as there was a chance we might make it. It's hard to argue that anything other than the industrial backwaters of Europe's second tier competition being our level at this moment in time.

Match report: Man Utd 0-2 Man City

Manchester City took the derby honours and inflicted an important blow in their pursuit of back-to-back titles with victory at Old Trafford.
Pep Guardiola's side knew anything but a win would leave Liverpool at the top of the table and in charge of their own destiny with only three games left.
United matched their illustrious visitors in the first half and could even have counted themselves not to be ahead at half time, but City moved slickly through the gears after the interval with goals from Bernardo Silva and substitute Leroy Sane.

 Silva's low drive went inside United keeper David de Gea's near post after 54 minutes and the keeper was at fault again when Sane's drive went straight through him and in.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had demanded a response after the abhorrent capitulation at Goodison Park and he did, at least, get a much improved performance. 
There was a bite and confidence missing at Goodison as we flew into the opening exchanges with the Reds' intensity forcing the Blues into errors and the momentum also had City making unforced mistakes as well.
Vincent Kompany and Kyle Walker both looked unhinged and the City captain was given a 10th minute yellow card by referee Andre Marriner for a cynical body-check on Marcus Rashford as the striker threatened to speed past the Belgian defender.
Paul Pogba had the first telling effort on goal of a frantic opening as he sent a dipping shot just in front of City keeper Ederson but the keeper comfortably held the effort.
A deflected Raheem Sterling effort almost wrong footed De Gea, Fred flashed a shot narrowly over the bar at the other end and Jesse Lingard volleyed wide in a flurry of first half openings.

De Gea pushed out Silva's 20 yarder before Ederson bravely denied the impressive Marcus Rashford when one on one with the advancing striker.

City began to douse United’s fire as they got into their possession game and, as they continued with their control, they carved out their best chance of the match.
Quick passing in the home penalty area presented Sterling a chance to dance his way into some space and his low shot from close range was saved by De Gea as the Blues threatened to make a breakthrough under the noses of the Stretford End.

Guardiola's men upped the ante in search of a crucial win and, despite losing key enforcer Fernandinho to injury, made the breakthrough on 54 minutes. 

An Ilkay Gundogan pass got Bernardo Silva on the ball on the right flank and he took on Luke Shaw, cut inside and fired low into the net under De Gea at his near post. The Reds responded immediately and should have restored parity but Lingard completely miskicked five yards out with the goal gaping after Rashford had picked him out. 

Pogba had a free-kick chance square on goal from 20 yards out but could only batter his set-piece into City’s stoic wall.
City, though, were dangerously rising through the gears and United could ill afford errors but Fred gave away the ball to Kompany, the defender quickly set Sterling free and he raced at pace into the Reds' half and fed substitute Sane to thump in a finish that beat De Gea for City’s second after 66 minutes.

There was to be no comeback as Old Trafford emptied quickly with United left to lick wounds again after a better showing but another defeat. On the plus side, at least this means that Liverpool now look likely to miss out on the title.

Overall team performance: 5/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Marcus Rashford 

Tuesday 23 April 2019

Manchester derby preview: Man Utd vs Man City

The last thing Manchester United could do with right now is a meeting with Pep Guardiola’s title-chasing Manchester City. The men from across the road arrive at Old Trafford having won 14 of their last 15 in the league but still smarting from the death of their unprecedented quadruple. With Chelsea to come on Sunday in another heavyweight meeting, United need to quickly forget the traumatic events of the past week which has seen an unwelcome throwback to the nadir of Jose Mourinho's ill-fated tenure.

Form and fitness has dropped off the cliff since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer got the permanent job, leaving the United manager with an uphill battle to save a season that he had done so well to turn around. In stark contrast, City are in the finest of fettles despite the lingering heartache of their dramatic European exit. Guardiola's sky blue juggernaut have won ten league games in a row and make the four mile journey to Old Trafford locked toe to toe with Liverpool in the best title race the Premier League has seen for many a year. With the Carabao Cup already in the bag and an FA Cup final against Watford in which they will start as strong favourites, the domestic treble is very much still on. The two sides meet in a clash that looks decisive, but unfortunately United are only the envious bystanders watching on once more. With Ole at the wheel, can the Reds push Pep's juggernaut off the road and reignite our own ambitions with only three games to go? Here's the odd thing. I shouldn't be, it defies logic, the form book and my own senses, but I'm actually strangely confident. Having lost six in eight, United always perform when there's no pressure and put a performance in when you least expect one.

The 178th cross-town clash comes amid a benign backdrop because of that title picture. United need the points to get a fast faltering season back on track, but - in doing so - it would effectively hand the title to a certain team 30-odd miles down the road. That is itself is a prospect no one wants to ever dare consider, but the fact that we would have helped them do it makes the whole thing tinged with a bittersweet irony.
United will make changes in defence after Phil Jones was forced off through injury in the loss at Everton.
Paul Pogba produced a critic-silencing performance as United claimed a huge victory over their neighbours last April.
He and the rest of the United squad need to repeat that trick to not only keep their hopes of a top four finish alive, but to ease some of the considerable strain that has fallen under Solskjaer since he was appointed permanent manager.
But such have been the dismal nature of their performances in the last few weeks, it is difficult to envisage any sort of turnaround before Solskjaer has the chance to wield the axe this summer.
 Solskjaer’s has been glowing in his praise of 17-year-old Mason Greenwood again, a player he insists will be given the opportunity to shine while he is in charge.
Anthony Martial could be among the clutch of players at risk of losing their place after his anonymous performance against Everton – just days after his manager name-checked him among the group who simply must offer more. Antonio Valencia and Eric Bailly remained sidelined but Alexis Sanchez is in line to feature.
 Ander Herrera is expected to be available after four weeks out with a thigh injury, while Luke Shaw returns from a three-game suspension.
 Kevin de Bruyne will miss the derby after sustaining a muscular problem last weekend,  the latest setback in an injury ravaged season for Man City's midfield maestro. Keeper Claudio Bravo is the only other absentee through injury.

Solskjaer said: " I would like to say that I am what this club needs to move forward but it is not down to me to say that. Of course, I am confident in my team and myself. I am ready to take this challenge on. I know it is a big challenge. That is why I came. I don't like losing but it is a great challenge.
"But when you have bad results you have to be confident enough to say this is the way we are going to do it. We have to be brave and stick to what we believe in."

Form guide: Man Utd W L L W L L Man City W W W W W W 
Match odds: Man Utd 6/1 Draw 4/1 Man City 11/4
Referee: Andre Marriner

Predicted United line-up: De Gea; Dalot, Lindelof, Smalling, Shaw; McTominay, Matic, Pogba; Rashford, Lukaku, Sanchez.

There's no game quite like the Manchester derby

Ask any Manchester United fan and we’ll tell you that Liverpool is always the one we want to win the most. It’s the fixture you look for first when they come out in June. I’m sure they would say the same. But there’s nothing quite like a local cross-city derby to stir the senses, get juices flowing and conjure up emotions like no other game can.

Merseyside may be a tribal feud of mutual hatred and loathing, and a rivalry that transcends far beyond football, but the derby is about bragging rights, local pride and the chance to claim the city as your own. If anyone ever asks who you despise more, just remember this:  I hate Man City because I’m a Man Utd fan, I hate Liverpool because I’m a normal human being.

 As a former United legend once said, it’s like choosing which of two men gets to nick your missus. The two sides meet on Wednesday with the title up for grabs in a tie that looks decisive. Unfortunately, United are only the superfluous third wheel. The 178th all-Manchester meeting is one tinged with bittersweet irony.

By getting points from City, we’ll reignite our own ambitions, denting theirs in the process but go a long way to handing Liverpool a first Premier League title. An unpalatable Catch 22 situation that no one ever really wants. Welcome to life as a United fan in 2019.

The derby used to be irrelevant, in part due to City’s years in the industrial backwaters of the lower leagues and United’s all-conquering domestic dominance. City were merely a stepping stone, a footnote, an anomaly, an afterthought. Like the annoying younger brother who used to walk in your shadow at the playground because he had no one else to look up to. He never did anything to hurt or disrupt you, but he was always there clinging to your trouser leg, hoping to be thrown a few scraps of attention and affection every now and then. The Abu Dhabi takeover in 2008 marked a watershed moment in the battle of power. United retained the initial early honours, but a new force was coming and it was here to stay.

Since that Aguero moment (my therapist says I’m not allowed to talk about it), our stranglehold has been on the wane. City have claimed three titles to our one and have a business model, a manager, a team and a boardroom structure we can only dream of. Times indeed, they are a changing. The noisy neighbours have become the biggest and best sports car money can buy, whilst United have been reduced to that ring rusty older model that used to be the envy of the world, but is now unreliable and past its best. But, like that trusty old Subaru, United can still occasionally rediscover their old magic when the two go head-to-head.

I suppose, in a strange way, we should be grateful. We need them as much as they need us. It’s good for the city and, after all, the two clubs are linked by triumph just as much as tragedy more than you might think. Matt Busby played more than 200 games for City before transforming United across a 24-year managerial tenure. One of City’s own, goalkeeper Frank Swift, was killed on a snowy runway at Munich in 1958. As painful as it might be, you’re hard pressed not to doff your proverbial cap in the direction of the Etihad.
Despite the undisputable fact that City now sit in the proverbial driving seat, and without wishing to tempt fate, they have not doubled United in the same league season since the David Moyes debacle in 2013/14. With Ole at the wheel, can United push Pep’s juggernaut off the road and stay on track for the destination marked “Champions League?” Even if the fans of a certain team 30-odd miles away would never let us forget that we helped them win the league…

Five things to watch out for in 178th cross town derby

The last thing Manchester United could do with right now is a meeting with Pep Guardiola’s title-chasing Manchester City. The men from across the road arrive at Old Trafford having won 14 of their last 15 in the league but still smarting from the death of their unprecedented quadruple. United often perform at their best when backs are pushed firmly against walls, so without further ado let us set the scene with what to look for at Old Trafford.

 Benign backdrop to high stakes derby

This promises to be one of the strangest nights Old Trafford has witnessed for years. Usually, the Theatre of Dreams would be rocking to the beat of an atmosphere baying for (sky blue) blood, but these are strange times. Guardiola’s side is neck and neck with Liverpool in the most exciting title tussle for years. By getting our own top four chances back on much-needed track and silencing the noisy neighbours, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side could well hand the league to the unthinkables. Than in itself is unpalatable, but imagine ‘them’ crowing that we helped them do it… Liverpool fans will be roaring us on, whilst there could well be a fair few of a United persuasion happy to take the ‘L’ for the first time ever in a derby if it means stopping the Scousers at all costs. It will be a weird night with no one quite sure who to support.

Problems mounting for United’s rookie boss

Just about everything that could have gone wrong has done in the last few weeks. Old wounds have reopened, form and fitness have fallen off a cliff and the dressing room is reportedly at war again. Since Solskjaer got the permanent job, United have reverted to type and it’s back to the nadir of the Mourinho tenure. In stark contrast, Manchester City are in fine fettle and a picture of serenity. It takes a huge leap of the imagination to see how Solskjaer and his side have the equipment to cut City down to size, but for some reason, I’m feeling oddly confident. If United play as we did at Everton – surely we can’t be any worse – then it will be brutal.

Man Utd’s Shaw-flank redemption

Luke Shaw has been widely tipped to get United’s Player of the Season award and the last three games have illustrated exactly why, even in absentia. Shaw has made the left-back spot his own but as United have lurched from Marcos Rojo and Ashley Young to Diogo Dalot, he has been a massive miss and will return to the fold on Wednesday, tasked with the significant hurdle of keeping tabs on one of Raheem Sterling, Leroy Sane or Bernardo Silva in Guardiola’s fluid and interchanging front three. Shaw is back after a three-game suspension. Here’s hoping he will give United the injection of energy and pace that has been sorely conspicuous by its absence. It has been wonderful to see this lad enjoy such a superbly stellar season.

A titanic tussle for top four and title

No matter the occasion or setting, the Manchester derby always matters. Liverpool may be the game above all others, but there’s nothing like a local showdown to stir the senses and get juices flowing. Not only that, but the two sides meet in the midst of separate need for bragging rights. City to keep on course for a second successive title, United for a top four spot that no one seems to really want. Arsenal, Chelsea and ourselves are taking it in turns to drop points meaning that somehow, despite six defeats in eight games, we’re still only three points off third spot. The high profile fixtures continue to come thick and fast with Chelsea next after this one.

Can United restore some pride?

There is always an over-reaction when United are beaten, but it was nothing less than justified following the 4-0 Easter crucifixion on Sunday. United were a mess, as bad as we have been, and showed no response at all from the Champions League KO. At the very least, the players have to put a performance in against City. Despite their apparent superiority, City haven’t won both league games in a season against the Reds since 2013-14 but, having taken the honours in the return fixture, they will look to inflict further woe on a United side in turn bidding to avoid drawing a third successive blank. Solskjaer will have learned a lot about his threadbare, inadequate squad in the past few weeks and to be fair to him he has not made excuses or shied away. Ole has told it like it is and you admire his honesty. He has great pride in this job and now it’s time for his players to follow suit. If you can’t even play with pride in a derby that defines the very name, then you have no future at Man United.

Sunday 21 April 2019

What has happened since Ole got the permanent job?

Remember when Jose Mourinho said that last season's second place finish with this United side was the greatest achievement of his decorated managerial career? We all laughed, but now it appears that he really was right after all. I've given up trying to work out what's going on at this football club of ours. For three glorious months, three wonderful months when United threw off the self-imposed shackles to return to the halycon days of yesteryear, everything was rosy in the Old Trafford garden. Fans, players, management and board living side by side in perfect harmony.

Feeding off the Ole Gunnar Solskjaer feelgood factor and revitalised by the Midas touch of the Baby faced assassin, United could do no wrong. Nine successive wins, an unbeaten run of eleven games and players arising from their slumber to cut a swaggering swathe through all comers both at home and in Europe. Tottenham, Arsenal and Chelsea all fell under the spell of our caretaker manager, and PSG were sent packing against almost impossible odds on one of the greatest night's in United's long and proud history. Ole was at the wheel and it was the best we had felt as Reds for many a year.

If the miraculous events of the Parc des Princes presented me - and I'm sure many other Reds - with the recent zenith of our United supporting lives then what happened on Sunday at Goodison Park was the nadir. It takes some doing to pick out the low points from the last ten years of perjury, but this was surely it. Anyone can get beat, but what you simply cannot do is get beat by giving up. By not even trying. By stabbing your manager, and 650 million United fans worldwide, squarely between the shoulder blades. Work rate and effort cannot drop below the minimum standard expected of any United player. No one should ever lose 4-0 at Everton. Since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer got the permanent gig 24 days ago (and even in his last game as temporary boss in the FA Cup at Wolves), we have gone back to the dark days of the moribund Mourinho. But why? It is a question that no one really knows the answer to, probably not even Solskjaer himself. Was his sensational run as interim boss just incredibly lucky? Was it having a fully fit squad to choose from, a happy team with no worries over loss of form or contract shenanigans? Was it the players throwing off the shackles and reinventing themselves with a point to prove playing under the positive guidance of a bona fide club legend? Or maybe Paul Ince's notion that merely not having Mourinho there any more was a weight off the shoulders? Or a combination of all of the above.
Whatever the reason, something has happened that has seen a steady dip in first results, then performances, since Solskjaer was announced as boss on a full time basis. Ole's at the wheel? He is, but on a road that is leading nowhere. Previously flawless, Ole's inexperience is coming to the fore and selection and tactical errors have crept in. The players have reverted back to their old ways. The Barcelona aggregate loss was just about acceptable, and an argument can be made that, even in defeat, the Reds have not been playing badly. But on a ground where David Moyes was sacked five years ago to the day, United were limp, lifeless and woefully abject.

It was clear that the plethora of problems that eventually proved too much even for Mourinho never went away, instead bubbling menacingly under the surface waiting to be exposed and rear their ugly heads again.

It is just Solskjaer's luck that at the moment he is looking ill equipped to deal with them.

Spineless, gutless, pathetic, heartless and fucking embarrasing (RANT!)

At least Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will avoid an Easter Monday execution. Five years on from their Easter Sunday humbling at Everton, Manchester United were as defeatist and listless as they were under David Moyes in a week they were ejected from the Champions League to ensure a trophyless season. Only they were worse. Solskjaer will not meet the same fate that his predecessor but two did back on this day in 2014, but the plethora of problems were once more exposed to the full by a rampant Everton in damningly brutal fashion.
City and Liverpool are going for the Premier League, United are outside the top four, unlikely to secure Champions League football, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones are still starting, there are no leaders and the manager is starting to look out of his depth. Just like five years ago. United have come full circle.

 The problem at United is not the manager. How can it be when we're four bosses down the line but no further forward. We tried thinking outside the box with the Moyes experiment and failed. We tried the proven, world class big hitters in Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho and failed there, too. Now we've got one of our own. Solskjaer faces the same rancid, rotten structure and the same not good enough, mentally weak players. The sulphurous dressing room rallied for three months in the wake of Jose Mourinho's removal but Solskjaer's predecessor had sussed many of them. Whatever characters there are in the squad, they are not good enough and those deemed good enough do not have the required character. Jose Mourinho was right after all.
United have not reached the expiry date of that six-year Moyes contract and they are in the same position as they were in the first post-Ferguson season. If the board did not just consist of Glazer siblings and economics graduates - and also had a football presence - then change would be inevitable. Instead we've got a useless, ragtag jumbled collection of discombobulated pieces in the corridors of power. Disinterested Yanks and a glorified banker in Ed Woodward (or should that be w****r). They have lurched from knee-jerk decision to knee-jerk decision on a bi-annual basis and their complacency and incompetence is unmatched among the elite. Astonishingly, the structure is expected to remain unchanged for the upcoming summer transfer window. Poisonous leeches killing this club, bleeding it dry and ripping its heart out. If Manchester United are to improve, the board must be sacked. I'm sick of saying it now. Spineless, gutless, pathetic, embarrassing and a shambles. How can you go into a must win game like that and not even bother to put in a performance. Everton ran 4k further than United.. With top four on the line, Everton were simply stronger, fitter, quicker, faster and wanted this more. I can accept losing but I simply cannot accept a bunch of lazy, can't be arsed players not putting effort in. Disgraceful.

This was the season's nadir and Woodward was fortunate the United supporters were housed in the opposite stand at Goodison Park. There were chants of 'Attack, attack, attack' and it wouldn't have been a surprise had they restarted 'Jose's right, the board is s***e' six months on from the intense Newcastle encounter. The lack of a football presence on the board and the players are the bigger problems than the manager, just as they were in August.
United have fallen so far their following had to resort to heckling Vincent Kompany over City's failure to win the Treble. City have won something, just as they did last season, and they might complete a unique domestic treble. The irony is the highlight of United fans' run-in might be City extending Liverpool's championship drought by another year.

 United are destined for a sixth-place finish and Europa League football. Solskjaer needs to preside over his own squad cull. Antonio Valencia and Ander Herrera, back in training but not back in the squad, are both going and Matteo Darmian and Marcos Rojo were omitted from the squad again at Everton. Plenty of those involved should not be at the club next season. Nemanja Matic, starting for the first time in three weeks, moved as though ploughing through quick sand. Fred and Phil Jones were replaced by Ashley Young and Scott McTominay at the pause, which was tantamount to rearranging deckchairs on the Titanic.

 United were reduced to being ironically cheered by their own supporters for merely stringing three passes together with Everton 4-0 up and in cruise control.
And, yes, it was that bad.
Solskjaer's side were quite simply over-run and did not even show the heart or fighting spirit to escape from a joyous Goodison with any dignity on a desperate day.
There was simply nothing good about this United performance. Indeed, given Everton's superiority, they were fortunate the scoreline did not have an even more embarrassing appearance.
Paul Pogba walked around midfield while Idrissa Gueye, Morgan Schneiderlin and Gylfi Sigurdsson snapped into challenges, and it was a nightmare return to Everton for striker Romelu Lukaku.
Taunted throughout, he could not do a thing right and his afternoon simply went from bad to worse.
He was not alone. De Gea may have saved well from Richarlison early on but he was slow to react to Sigurdsson's shot and it was his punch that fell at Lucas Digne's feet to score. The Spain keeper is having an awful season and is finished at the top level. Another game, another costly high profile error.
It was five years ago to the day since a 2-0 loss here ended David Moyes' calamitous ten month tenure - and this United performance was even worse than that.
Solskjaer has inherited a mess, the early gloss from his arrival has worn off and players like Pogba and Lukaku, who were revived after Mourinho was sacked, look back to their bad old ways.
Now there is the small matter of the derby against title-chasing Manchester City at Old Trafford on Wednesday. Oh what fun that's going to be...

Match report: Everton 4 (FOUR) Man Utd 0

Marco Silva's rampant Toffees inflicted further woe on the ragged Reds as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side were brutally put to the sword at Goodison. United face an increasingly perilous plight to secure a quickly fading top four place after 90 minutes which were nothing but torture.
In-form Everton had beaten Chelsea and Arsenal in their last two league home fixtures and rose to seventh in the battle to become the league's best of the rest after exposing the plethora of problems facing Solskjaer.

Much maligned United keeper David de Gea had saved superbly from Richarlison before the Brazilian hooked in an excellent 13th-minute opener. De Gea was then beaten by Gylfi Sigurdsson's 25 yarder, Lucas Digne volleyed in a third and substitute Theo Walcott slammed in the fourth after half time.
United have lost six of their past eight games in all competitions, while a fifth successive away defeat - for the first time since 1981 - leaves them facing the prospect of Europa League football next season. Oh, happy days. But the truth is, if by some miracle we do manage to scam a place in the top four, we'd have stolen a Champions League status that we simply do not deserve.
With Sigurdsson pulling the strings in midfield and Richarlison proving a real menace to the United defence, the Reds were forced to retreat early on, thanks to a series of Everton set-plays. From one of those, the ball dropped to Idrissa Gueye, who sent the ball back in and only a brilliant reaction save from David De Gea prevented Richarlison from firing the hosts ahead.

Two minutes later, the Brazilian scored. A long throw-in from the left by Digne was flicked on and Richarlison spectacularly volleyed home into the roof of the net.
The Reds were struggling to get a foothold in the game but got a first glimpse of goal on 19 minutes when an excellent Paul Pogba ball over the top was flicked over the bar by Marcus Rashford.

 United had another chance to apply some pressure on 28 minutes after winning a corner, but Rashford’s ball in was cleared, allowing Everton to break forward. Sigurdsson collected from Gueye and led the charge over the halfway line before taking aim, unopposed, from 25 yards and firing into the bottom corner past De Gea.
A slight mix-up in the United defence – when De Gea attempted to find Dalot with a throw – led to another chance as half-time approached but the Spanish stopper recovered well to prevent a second for Richarlison.

Unfortunately, the Toffees further extended their lead on 56 minutes when De Gea’s punched clearance from a corner fell to the unmarked Digne outside the area and the Frenchman fired home low in the corner.
Minutes later, Sigurdsson almost scored directly from a corner, but De Gea stuck out a foot to clear it. The Spaniard could do nothing to stop Everton netting a fourth just after the hour-mark as the outstanding Sigurdsson slipped the ball into the path of the onrushing Walcott on the left touchline and the forward skipped towards goal before slotting home. Spineless, gutless, pathetic and f******g embarrasing.

Overall team performance: 0/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Fucking no one they're all shit

Saturday 20 April 2019

Match preview: Everton v Man Utd

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's Manchester United face another tricky test in the remaining aim to secure a top four league finish. After the disappointment of Champions League defeat to Barcelona in Wednesday, attentions now turn to sealing a return to that competition next season. However, with top four rivals Arsenal and Chelsea both still going strong in the Europa League semi finals, even fourth place might not be enough. If one of the London clubs win that competition and we finish fourth, they would take our place among the elite with United consigned to another Europa League season. Doesn't bear thinking about.
Goodison Park is always a difficult place to go, but this is not a good time to be facing an in-form Everton. Until their defeat at already relegated Fulham last time out, Marco Silva's rejuvenated Toffees had put together three successive wins, including home victories over Arsenal and Chelsea. This looks another tricky hurdle for the Reds to clear. Three points on Easter Sunday is an absolute must with the visits of title chasing Manchester City and top four chasing Chelsea to Old Trafford in the next two league fixtures.

Everton are without Andre Gomes, who has been handed a retrospective three-match ban for a challenge on Aleksandr Mitrovic in the defeat at Fulham. Tom Davies and ex-Red Morgan Schneiderlin are vying to replace him, while Yerry Mina is still sidelined through injury.
Manchester United may rotate their squad following the midweek Champions League exit, with Ander Herrera back in training after a thigh injury. Nemanja Matic and Alexis Sanchez are available but Luke Shaw is suspended so Diogo Dalot is likely to start at either right or left-back. Anthony Martial will be relishing the chance to take a bite out of the Toffees having scored five goals in seven games against the men from the blue half of Merseyside. Romelu Lukaku is set to make his first return to Goodison Park in the Red of United having missed last season's 2-0 win there.

Solskjaer said: "We know we have to be realistic here and we know we have a job to be done.
"There's no quick fix, it's not like we buy seven players and suddenly we're in the right shape, we are where we are.
"We have to take it step-by-step and of course there will be signings made in the summer.
"The players are in a good state mentally," the boss adds. "We know it's going to be a hard game at Goodison — I think other teams have shown that.
"It's great to have games to look forward to and the focus has changed straight away, of course we spoke after the game on Tuesday] but now we've got a fantastic week to look forward to."

 Everton are currently embroiled in a four way fight for seventh and the Europa Cup, along with Leicester, Wolves and Watford. The Toffees currently sit ninth, level with the other two sides in the battle to become the Premier League's "best of the rest". After a largely indifferent season in which Portuguese manager Silva has struggled to convince the doubters, securing European football would go some way to silencing his critics.

 Sunday's clash will be our 199th competitive meeting with Everton - the first of which dates back to 1892. Overall, United have won 88 of the previous encounters, drawn 44 and lost 66. The Reds beat Everton 2-1 at Old Trafford back in October thanks to goals from Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial. We were also victorious on our last trip to Goodison Park, winning 2-0 on New Year’s Day in 2018 with goals coming from Martial and Jesse Lingard.

Form guide: Everton D L W W W L Man Utd L W L L W L
Match odds: Everton 9/4 Draw 5/2 Man Utd 5/4
Referee: Paul Tierney (Wigan)

Predicted Man Utd XI: De Gea; Young, Lindelof, Smalling, Dalot; McTominay, Matic; Rashford, Pogba, Martial; Lukaku.

Wednesday 17 April 2019

Perspective needed after Barcelona loss

Man Utd's Champions League run came to a painful end at the hands of Ernesto Valverde's Barcelona in the quarter finals. The reaction to the defeat may have been blown out of all proportion as usual, but at times like this, a little perspective is needed.

Firstly, let's look at the opponents. This is a side that hadn't lost at home in Europe since 2013, with a star studded line up on course for a second consecutive La Liga title and the favourites to go all the way to win the cup with big ears for a fifth time. A side admittedly some way short of their Pep Guardiola 2009 - 2011 peak, but a team nonetheless always there or thereabouts in Europe and equipped with all the tools to do so again this time around.
 A side blessed with a plethora of talent from goalkeeper Marc - Andre ter Stegen, the planet's finest left back in Jordi Alba, string pulling creators in chief Sergio Busquets and Ivan Rakitic, not to mention Luis Suarez and some Argentinian bloke by the name of Lionel Messi. I don't know of anyone who actually thought United would ever get past them, even after the heroics of Paris in the last 16. It was always going to be a huge, gargantuan ask and a tie that the Reds took on more in hope than expection. Of course there was belief (you have to, don't you?) but even the most ardent Red would admit they never really thought we could do it.
On the face of it, United never should have made it as far as the quarter finals, and there's absolutely no shame at all in going out to a team with the calibre and class of Barcelona. The 4-0 aggregate result, in truth, reflects the gap between the two sides at present at this moment in time. There was a clear gulf in class. The ability, talent, mentality and quality of the two squads simply do not compare. A compelling case can be made that United have overachieved in the competition simply by making it to the quarter finals. Above everything that emerged last night, there was one stat that proved the most damning. In 2011 United were beaten 2-1 by Basel to get knocked out at the group stage. Of the starting XI that night EIGHT years ago, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and Ashley Young all played in that tie. A reminder, it was eight years ago. As United ran out at the Nou Camp last night, those same three players - Smalling, Jones and Young - lined up in defence.
 Which other so called top club would have kept the same not-good-enough players for so long? Its a tale that tells you everything you need to know about recruitment and strategy.

Many thought we'd never even get out of a difficult group section containing Juventus and Valencia, and there were even more doubters when United - then in the final throes of the Jose Mourinho era - were paired with PSG. Everyone was laughing but having already defied the odds once, it always seemed too big an ask for United to repeat that feat this time. But there have been great memories to take away from our Champions League journey - the late climb-off-the-canvas victory to complete the unlikeliest of victories in Turin, and of course the miracle to end all miracles at the Parc des Princes. Truly a "where were you" moment. Whereas last year's loss to Sevilla in the first knockout round ended only in ugly ignominy, this time we bow out with heads very much held high.

David de Gea finished as a top level keeper

There's no denying just what a brilliant keeper David de Gea has been for Manchester United, at times winning games almost on his own with his gravity-defying agility. He has already left a mark on our club that needs no embellishment. Shot stopper supreme, last line of defence extraordinaire, a master of his trade and the one player at the club to be regarded as a genuine world class talent.
United's Player of the Season for four out of the last five years, including the first man to ever win the award three times in a row, De Gea has thrown down the goalkeeping gauntlet and underlined his status as the best in the business.

This season, though, it has become increasingly apparent that, at 28, De Gea's prime years are well behind him. This may prove controversial, but I believe De Gea is finished at the top level. How else to explain a slump in form that is no longer merely a blip, but a full blown crisis. His howler for Barcelona's second goal - when Lionel Messi's daisy cutter should have been a routine save but squirmed under him - was mounting evidence of a season too far for the keeper. He is useless at the minute and has become a liability. His blunder in the Nou Camp was the latest in a long line of howlers, gaffes and mistakes that are costing us not only games, points and goals week in week out but also denting his own reputation. His ambigious contract situation surely hasn't helped his cause or ours, but if that's the reason for his error-strewn game, then that shows a weak mentality. He's certainly not alone there. Then there's the World Cup shenanigans when he was unfairly singled out as a scapegoat for Spain's earlier than expected exit after he let in six of the seven shots he faced. All this and you have De Gea's 2019 raison d'etre.
Of course, even the very best make mistakes and no one is infallible. But the charge sheet for De Gea is stacking up. At fault for West Ham's equaliser on Saturday, he can also be held accountable for Wolves winner in the league, Granit Xhaka's goal for Arsenal at the Emirates, the own goal that settled the first leg of the Barcelona quarter final, and Abdoulaye Doucoure's strike for Watford at Old Trafford. Six games, six big errors, and that's just in the last month alone. There are several others that I can think of this season alone. As good as he has been, he should be not be allowed to escape criticism. To put into perspective, Ashley Young gets a rough ride every week - justifiably so - but De Gea has been just as poor as him. The malaise has become a maelstrom.

Where De Gea could once be relied upon to bail United out every week, now there's only a lack of confidence, poor distribution and a failure to command his defence. His stock has fallen so far that when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer begins his summer overhaul, De Gea is no longer irreplacable. Atletico Madrid's Jan Oblak and Milan's highly rated young keeper Gianluga Donnarumma, to name but two, would be more than adequate to fill the gloves.

De Gea thanks for the memories but it's time to say goodbye.

Match report: Barcelona 3-0 Man Utd (Agg: 4-0)

A Lionel-Messi inspired Barcelona ended Man Utd's Champions League run at the quarter-final stage as they finished the job in style at the Nou Camp.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side have done well to get as far as the last eight, but after the miracle of Paris in the last round, this tie, in truth, proved a step too far for the Reds.

Trailing 1-0 from the first leg, United started brightly but were then undone by Messi's brilliance and the latest in an increasingly long list of howlers from David de Gea.

 Messi put the hosts ahead with a fine curling effort from 20 yards in the 16th minute and four minutes later De Gea let a weaker shot from the edge of the area squirm under his body for the Argentine's second.
Philippe Coutinho added a third for Barca in the 61st minute, curling a stunning effort into the top corner from distance.
United hit the bar inside the first 40 seconds through Marcus Rashford but were dominated after going behind.
Alexis Sanchez's diving header, which was spectacularly saved by Barca goalkeeper Marc Andre ter Stegen in the 90th minute, was as close as the visitors came in the second half.

It was a sobering night for United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer on the ground where he scored his most famous goal, the stoppage-time winner in the 1999 Champions League final.
Barca now meet either Liverpool or Porto in the semi-final, with the Reds taking a 2-0 lead into Wednesday's second leg.

 United were always facing a difficult task as they attempted to overturn a first-leg deficit for the second round in a row.

Just like in the last 16, when we stunned Paris St-Germain at the Parc de Princes, United started the game fast, looked dangerous on the counter-attack and had opportunities - a poor touch from Scott McTominay in the area saw a chance wasted shortly after Rashford's first-minute effort.
That start raised hope of an improbable comeback but Barcelona soon took charge and were awarded a penalty in the 11th minute for Fred's clumsy challenge on Ivan Rakitic in the area only for the decision to overturned after the referee consulted VAR.
United survived that scare but their hopes were effectively ended when they allowed Messi to score twice in four first-half minutes.

The Argentine dazzled for his first goal with a nutmeg of United midfielder Fred and a perfect finish into the bottom corner, but Ashley Young gave the ball away in the left-back position and the visitors' defence backed off rather than attempt to stop the shot.
Then De Gea, so often United's star player, made a huge mistake by allowing Messi's tame shot from 20 yards to slip under his body and in.
Unlike in the first leg, Barcelona looked as though they could could cut their opponents open at will.
Messi was at the centre of that attacking threat with Jordi Alba also marauding forward from left-back and the Barcelona midfield outplaying their United counterparts, both in terms of their control of the ball and pressing to win it back.
No United player made any real impact on a match that proved how great a rebuild is required under Solskjaer if we are to compete with the European elite.

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

Monday 15 April 2019

Match preview: Barcelona v Man Utd (Agg: 1-0)

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer returns to the scene of his greatest triumph looking to plot another improbable victory against all odds. Solskjaer is no stranger to unlikely glory in the face of adversity, having scored the most famous goal in our club's history on this very ground 20 years ago next month.

United have not had the luck of the proverbial draw in Europe this season, having already negotiated a tough group section and then climbed Everest without oxygen to get past PSG. United put up a brave fight in the first leg of this quarter-final at Old Trafford, and can count ourselves unlucky not to be going to Catalonia at least on level terms after being the better side for 70 minutes. Having mounted the mother of all comebacks in the French capital in the last round, United will need something special again to repeat that feat against Ernesto Valverde's Barcelona. But a tie is never over at 0-1, and, as fans, we must believe that Solskjaer can squeeze every last drop of this club's never-say-die attitude out of his players in the palatial and grandiose surroundings of the Nou Camp.

By no means is the tie dead. It’s just very unlikely that we’ll see United pull off exactly what they did against Paris Saint-Germain, albeit with a greater deficit after losing the first leg 2-0.
Manager Ole knows all about pulling off miracles at Camp Nou. We, as fans, fondly recall his late winner against Bayern Munich in the same stadium, which saw United crowned European champions in 1999, the treble-winning season.
He will demand similar spirit and courage from his players on Tuesday night — to not give up and to make life difficult for Barcelona. The fact Barcelona weren’t at their best and still won the first leg puts a bit of a downer on this… United were encouraging but lacked a cutting edge in the final third and it felt like a massive opportunity missed.
United will try to keep Barcelona out for as long as they can, but we must take risks and win the game however difficult it may be. Barcelona haven't lost at home in Europe for almost six years, and it just seems too big an ask for this United side.

 Ousmane Dembele started in Barcelona’s 1-1 draw with Huesca on Saturday and is expected to feature on the bench against United. A number of star players were rested for the game, including Lionel Messi, Philippe Coutinho, Nelson Semedo, Clement Lenglet, Sergio Busquets, Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba and Luis Suarez. For United, Luke Shaw serves the second of a three match ban after his booking in the first leg. That means that Ashley Young will be shoehorned in to the left-back role with Diogo Dalot keeping his place on the right. Alexis Sanchez has been tipped to feature by Solskjaer, who didn’t include the Chilean in his weekend squad. Nemanja Matic has also travelled with the team. Scott McSauce will come back in, with Romelu Lukaku, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial likely to lead the United line.

Solskjaer says he will not be distracted by nostalgia as he attempts to channel the spirit of 1999:
"I don't think so. I will be so focused, I will be so concentrated. I will have my last little gut feeling on who to play - sometimes you do get those hunches. Against Paris St-Germain I had a team in mind when I travelled in the morning, walked out into the stadium, saw the stadium and thought: 'No, I will change.'
"I can't wait."

A draw would take Barca through to the last four for the first time since 2015. United have not got that far since 2011 when we lost in the final at Wembley against.... yep, you got it. Barcelona.

Form guide: Barcelona W W D W W D Man Utd L L W L L W
Match odds: Barcelona 2/5 Draw 17/4 Man Utd 15/4
Referee: Felix Brych (Germany)

Sunday 14 April 2019

Match report: Man Utd 2-1 West Ham

Man Utd re-ignited hopes of a top four finish after beating West Ham despite an impressive showing from Manuel Pellegrini's out of form Hammers.
After back-to-back defeats, United claimed a vital victory thanks to a pair of Paul Pogba penalties that lifted the Reds up to fifth and clinging to the coat-tails of Tottenham and Chelsea.
With this league encounter sandwiched between the double header of a Champions League quarter final with Barcelona, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer made five changes to his line-up, having to contend with the suspension of regular full-backs Ashley Young and Luke Shaw. That led to very much a makeshift line up and it showed, with United given an almighty scare by the visitors, who remain very much in the running for seventh place.

That meant a first start in four months for Marcos Rojo and Diogo Dalot reverted to a more familiar right-back role after moonlighting as a left wing-back for the visit of Barcelona in midweek. Dalot was involved in the game's first major moment, which proved a contentious one after nine minutes. West Ham should have taken the lead when Felipe Anderson volleyed in, only to be flagged offside. Replays showed that Dalot had played the Brazilian onside and United had got away with one.
Then Graham Scott awared a penalty when Robert Snodgrass raced back to thwart an attack but he did not play the ball as he challenged Juan Mata. Contact looked minimal but Pogba took advantage and rifled the resultant spot-kick beyond Lukasz Fabianski in the 19th minute.
Former Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini's men would not lie down, though, and deservedly hit back after the interval. Anderson was impressive throughout -  as he has been all season - and capitalised on a mistake from David de Gea and Rojo as he swept the ball in to level shortly after the restart.

Chris Smalling headed over the bar and the introduction of Marcus Rashford belatedly sparked United into life. The sub's arrival almost paid instant dividends as Smalling burst out of defence and found the striker with his pass. Rashford thumped in an effort that Fabianski could only parry, and the loose ball agonisingly squirmed away from an onrushing posse of players.
Rashford went close again with a header, but the initial United spark petered out and West Ham continued to look a threat. Substitute Michail Antonio had United - and the crossbar - rattled with a 20 yarder and then his header needed a brilliant reaction stop from David de Gea to prevent the Hammers from taking a lead.

There was little doubt around the foul for United's second penalty, when Martial got in behind the defence and Fredericks brought him down when making a last-ditch attempt to deny the Frenchman a shot.
Fabianski vs Pogba part two ended with the same result as  Pogba smashed in from 12 yards ten minutes from time as the Reds held on for a vital win.

 The win sees United climb to fifth, two points behind fourth-placed Chelsea who play Liverpool on Sunday, while West Ham stay 11th.

Overall team performance: 5/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Paul Pogba

Friday 12 April 2019

Match preview: Man Utd v West Ham

Man Utd's recent stumbles sees Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side in sixth place and in vital need of points to get our Champions League challenge back on track ahead of the visit of the Hammers. United have lost four out of the last five as we prepare to welcome former City manager Manuel Pellegrini and his West Ham team to Old Trafford in the tea-time kick off.
The Hammers enjoyed a 3-1 win over the Reds in east London back in September but their challenge has since faded and they've slipped to eleventh having lost four of the last six in the league. Despite this indifferent run, Pellegrini's Hammers are only five points off seventh-placed Wolves in the congested battle to become the Premier League's "best of the rest."

Solskjaer will be forced into several changes, notably at full-back with both Ashley Young and Luke Shaw suspended, with the latter to also miss the return fixture at the Nou Camp and next weekend's tie at Everton. Diogo Dalot will return to his more natural position on the right, with forgotten man Marcos Rojo set to make his first Reds appearance in four months at left-back. I can confirm that the Argentinian drug lord is alive and well! Rojo will vie with fellow outcast Matteo Darmian to get the nod although both seem certain to leave Old Trafford in the summer.

Ander Herrera, Eric Bailly, Alexis Sanchez and Antonio Valencia remain sidelined by injuries with Nemanja Matic doubtful through illness. The visitors are beset by a plethora of injury problems with seven players on the treatment table. Michail Antonio will return, but Samir Nasri (calf) is out. Jack Wilshere and Carles Sanchez are nearing returns whilst Andriy Yarmolenko and Winston Reid are both long term absentees.

We have a very strong record at Old Trafford against West Ham, with the Reds only losing at home twice to the Hammers in the Premier League era. It has been a fixture that usually provides goals for United, with 12 of our 18 wins over the Hammers at home being by two goals or more. The highest-scoring victory was in April 2000, where we eased past the London outfit in a 7-1 victory. Our most recent encounter at the Theatre of Dreams was 18 months ago - and that too proved to be a goal glut. Romelu Lukaku dazzled in his first league appearance for the Reds as the Belgian scored a brace, along with late strikes from our French duo Anthony Martial and Paul Pogba, in a 4-0 win to get the 2017/18 campaign off to a flyer.

Solskjaer admitted that United are still pushing for third place, and said: "We need as many points as possible and I think if we get 15 we'll be top three, because in those games hopefully we'll beat Chelsea.
"But now it's about West Ham and focusing on a good performance to give us three points.
"We want top three. Top four is also an aim if we don't get 15 points but we should aim for 15. That's our target."

All eyes will be on 20-year-old United summer target Declan Rice. Having risen through the ranks of West Ham's revered youth Academy, Rice received his first England call up last month and has been touted as a potential replacement for Herrera in our midfield.

Form guide: Man Utd W L L W L L West Ham L W L W L L
Match odds: Man Utd 2/5 Draw 7/1 West Ham 4/1
Referee: Graham Scott takes charge of United for the first time this season

Likely Man Utd XI: De Gea; Dalot, Smalling, Lindelof, Rojo; Fred, Pogba, McTominay; Lingard, Lukaku, Martial
Likely West Ham XI: Fabianski; Fredericks, Balbuena, Diop, Cresswell; Rice, Noble; Antonio, Obiang, Felipe Anderson; Arnautovic.

Thursday 11 April 2019

Man Utd have made a massive mistake in letting Ander Herrera leave

Just when you thought that Manchester United's board couldn't get anything else wrong, up popped the great contract debacle of 2019.
United is a commercial cash cow and the Florida based Glazer family are going to do their utmost to milk it dry. Ed Woodward, somehow the man placed at the forefront of all football operations despite not having an ounce of knowledge in his body, carries the can of his bosses as the penny-pinching puppet of their reign of terror. I thought those in the corridors of power would have to go some to eclipse the shambles of last summer, but congratulations, they just have. And then some.

Many would argue that the club's stakeholders have got this one right - that Ander Herrera is never a 200k-a-week player and its the right decision to move him on when a cheaper, better and longer term replacement can be found elsewhere. Or even, after Lord Scott of McSauce's totemic man of the match showing against the mighty Barcelona, from one of our own. Its true that McTominay's coming of age makes the Herrera situation slight more palatable but you feel that he's not the long term answer and doesn't offer what Herrera can.
But even if you agree with that notion, the board are still accountable whichever way you look at it. The only reason Herrera believes he's entitled to those kind of riches in the first place is because of our warped wage structure bought about by Alexis Sanchez... and whose fault is that. Sanchez did not choose to be placed on a pedestal that saw the Chilean Nathan Redmond become the Premier League's highest earner. Even if the actual signing of Sanchez made a modicum of sense at the time, he upset the applecart and left the entire wage bill lopsided. Now his team-mates are wanting similar rewards for fruits of their labour that amount to far less.

 Herrera's contract should never have been allowed to run down to the point where he's asking for the £200,000 a week. It's criminal. United's lack of leaders has been just one of the reasons why we've fallen short - Herrera is one of the few, would die for the badge and speaks with a passion and love for Manchester United so rare in a foreign export. Barring a late intervention, the 29-year-old will leave United for PSG after five years at Old Trafford. Just give him the money, sort his future and get on with things.
 Admittedly he's not the most brilliantly skilful player, but I'd rather have him in my team than come up against him. At his belligerent and bullying best, Herrera has fire racing through his veins, he's an uncomprising expert of the "needle" and runs his heart out. Everyone needs a player like him in their side, and to let him leave for nothing is scandalous. It looks a huge mistake and one that I hope United do not regret.
It's made worse by the fact that the board think nothing of giving the chuckle brothers Chris Smalling and Phil Jones new long term contracts worth 180 and 150,000 per week respectively yet they won't pay the extra few thousand to keep a key man. The very definition of muddled thinking. Smalling and Jones should be two of the first players out the Old Trafford door but instead the board will spend another summer treading water and skimping the pennies in pursuit of a substandard replacement for a player who's risen from outcast to indispensable. It's an avoidable situation that a competent hierarchy would have dealt with far more efficiently and cannily.

United down but certainly not out heading to the Nou Camp

Manchester United will need another unlikely Houdini act of escapology in the Champions League quarter finals. A fortuitous Luke Shaw own goal proved only the wafer-thin difference between Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side and the heavyweight giants of Barcelona at Old Trafford. It was a better outcome than we could have hoped when Ernesto Valverde's side took a 12th minute lead they were never to relinquish.
Scratchy, ill disciplined and careless throughout, one thing is certain - Barcelona will not be this poor again in the return fixture at the Camp Nou on Tuesday.
 The Catalans are unbeaten at home in the competition for six years and - after the miracle of Paris - surely lightning cannot realistically strike twice. Even for a club that exists on making the Impossible possible. Never count us out, after all we are Manchester United and a tie is never over at 0-1, but the odds will be stacked  against us. But then, the Reds often produce their best with backs stacked firmly against the wall. Chances will be talked up and spirits and omens summoned from far and wide, but logic and realism dictates that there is to be no escape this time. But Solskjaer and the players must believe, stranger things have happened and - with Barca having suffered three successive quarter final defeats - there could be some questions about their mentality. Knocking out the 5/2 favourites for the cup with the big ears on their own ground would be a better achievement than sending packing a flawed PSG side with a history of falling short.

 As United return to a ground forever synonymous with our greatest miracle of all 20 years on, we will need an arguably even bigger one here. It is a romantic narrative but Barcelona deal in reality. With United 1-0 down, it would be truly astonishing if our team came through next Tuesday's quarter-final second leg to reach the last four where, in all likelihood, Liverpool would await. But, simply by getting this far, we've confounded all expectations and I was immensely proud of United's courage, spirit and sheer willpower against a Barcelona side that, on paper and in reality, are streets ahead. It says it all when the over-riding feeling is one of an opportunity missed rather than any tangible angst or fear. You're never going to get a bucketload of chances against opposition of this calibre, but you have to make the most of what you can get and that's what cost us.

Lionel Messi was relatively quiet, some of Barca's passing was strangely lacklustre and yet the suspicion remains that this was Barcelona playing within themselves, while United mustered the best we could.
Several of our players played above their ability and, on a night when a cool head was needed, Sir Scott of McSauce was top class as he eclipsed his £89m team mate Paul Pogba, dominated his illustrious opposite numbers and never looked out of place. So much so that along with Barcelona's Gerard Pique, he was the best player on the pitch. The fact that centre-back Pique was the visitors standout star tells you everything you need to know.

£52m man Fred finally came to the party with his best game by far in a United shirt, and caught the eye with his passing range, work rate, industry and an excellent all round showing both defensively and in attack. Victor Lindelof and Chris Smalling impressed and Mr Consistent Luke Shaw did well again.

The players must overturn form, logic and the history books in the Nou Camp. United may have done it once - it is very hard but certainly not impossible to see them doing it again.

Scott McTominay comes of age for Manchester United

Much like Marouane Fellaini was synonymous with David Moyes reign of Old Trafford terror, Scott McTominay had become guilty by association. Jose Mourinho adored him so much that he told the the others to follow McTominay's lead, and the Portuguese even made up an end of season award for him.
When Mourinho left United in December, many assumed that McTominay would follow, somewhere to the lower echelons of the Championship or League One. There had been fleeting glimpses of the player's ability but nothing to suggest the hype placed around him was justified. It held sway that he simply did not seem cut out for the job of being a key man in the Man Utd midfield.

 There were even unfair and unkind suggestions that his sudden rise to prominence at Old Trafford had been purely down to the bitter rift that had developed between egotistical manager Mourinho and his precocious record signing Paul Pogba. Mourinho liked him because he was tall, rangy, could tackle and wasn't Pogba. Given his poor record in the promotion of youth talents, that ticked another box for Mourinho too.

As new boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer brought fresh ideas and a new identikit to United, McTominay seemingly had no future. Solskjaer settled for a midfield status quo of Messrs Pogba, Nemanja Matic and Ander Herrera with McTominay forced to the fringes. But as an injury crisis took hold, McTominay has only grown and come of age as a United player before our very eyes.

The 22-year-old only got the nod to play in the second leg of the Champions League last 16 tie in Paris because his caretaker manager Solskjaer was without no fewer than 10 players, including his entire midfield, due to illness, injury and suspension. However, the Lancashire-born and raised Scot more than justified his selection; he was one of the Norwegian’s standout performers on that extraordinary, never to be forgotten, night in the Parc des Princes. Against a midfield containing Marquinhos and Marco Verratti, McTominay was the best player on the pitch in the holding role, protecting the back four, breaking up play and starting attacks with temerity, courage and tenacious willpower. As the level in quality of opposition ratcheted up another notch on Wednesday, so did McTominay's performance.

Serial winners Ivan Rakitic and Sergio Busquets, two metronomic masters of their trade who have been there done it and won everything there is to win, were hassled and harried into submission by McSauce. As United dominated midfield and took control of the game, McTominay was the best player on the pitch. Many men greater in stature than him have baulked under the controlling influence of Barca's two pass masters, but the Scot was instead inspired. There were many positives for Solskjaer and United to take from the tie, and McTominay was undoubtedly the biggest one.  It was reminiscent of the night a 19-year-old Jack Wilshere went toe-to-toe for Arsenal with the Barcelona of Xavi, Iniesta and Guardiola et al in 2011. Surrounded by a galaxy of stars and the man from another planet entirely, McTominay was top class.

United may feel less aggrieved about losing Ander Herrera to Paris St-Germain this summer after watching an immense showing from McSauce, a performance that belied his tender years. Perhaps the Basque's natural engine room successor has been found from within. He was United's best performer and this was confirmation, if it were needed given how highly he is rated inside Old Trafford, that he can be trusted in high-pressure situations and in the most illustrious of company.

McTominay’s performance on that historic night in the city of love last month had clearly done wonders for his confidence, as did a similarly assured display in the goalless draw at home to Liverpool, when Solskjaer likened him to Fletcher. This is an inexperienced United team, certainly in European terms, and it really shows at times, but they have to gain that experience somewhere and McTominay, for one, will be a richer player for this.

Match report: Man Utd 0-1 Barcelona

Manchester United will need another unlikely act of escapology in the Champions League after Luke Shaw's unfortunate early own goal gave Barcelona a slender first leg advantage at Old Trafford.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's main objective would have been to remain in contention heading into next week's return fixture at the Nou Camp and in that sense it was mission accomplished.
The team can count themselves very unlucky not to have claimed at least a draw after dominating for long periods against Ernesto Valverde's side who were somewhat short of their brilliant best. Lionel Messi was kept relatively quiet on the night but the United players will have to engineer more clear-cut chances of their own in the Catalan capital if a place in the last four is to be secured.

 20 years on from the treble-winning exploits, United have called on the spirit of 1999 on several occasions already in this European campaign, most notably in the last-16 tie against Paris St-Germain in France.

Old foe Luis Suarez played a part in the only goal after 12 minutes when his header from Lionel Messi's cross struck Shaw's shoulder and was given after initially being ruled out for offside. Ultimately, this was a night when United showed great endeavour, encouraging spirit and plenty of perspiration - even if clear cut chances were at a premium. That said, Barca themselves struggled for anything gilt-edged  and were unusually made to grind out a win, despite their star-studded line up but they showed more experience, greater guile and no less nous to ensure that it's the visitors who remain in pole position in this quarter-final.

It looked like it would be a long night for United as Barcelona immediately set about silencing an atmospheric Old Trafford by monopolising possession and territory. They soon got the goal that you sensed was coming when Messi's cross found Suarez and headed nodded in off Shaw's arm. Italian referee Daniele Orsati checked VAR and then over-ruled the decision of his assistant who had chalked the goal out.

But the Reds did not crumble and grew into the game, with Scott McTominay coming to the fore. McSauce belied his tender years with a coming of age showing of maturity, confidence and composure. He had a penalty appeal waved away in a challenge from Gerard Pique, and Messi then ended up bloodied and bruised after coming worse off in a clash with Chris Smalling.
However, it was United who almost got another kick in the teeth nine minutes before half-time through Coutinho, but De Gea denied the much-maligned Brazilian with his foot.
Then came arguably the best chance of the match. After neat build up, Fred found Diogo Dalot at the back post but - in an unfamiliar left wing-back position - he could only head wide when well placed and unmarked.

Barcelona, as you'd expect given the quality and talent at their disposal, carried a threat throughout and went close again through Suarez, who fired into the side netting.
Marcus Rashford went close with a free-kick and then miscued a presentable volley, before Jesse Lingard was harshly booked in his first involvement after a questionable foul on fellow sub Arturo Vidal.

Messi proved that he is indeed a mortal human being when his daisy cutter free-kick was safely held by De Gea on 83 minutes after Paul Pogba had scythed him down.
That proved the last action of the encounter but it's only half time and - after the miracle of Paris - who knows what might happen in Catalonia.

Overall team performance: 8/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Scott McTominay. The best player on the pitch was immense.

Tuesday 9 April 2019

Match preview: Man Utd v Barcelona

If Ole Gunnar Solskjaer does somehow manage to do a Roberto Di Matteo and steer Manchester United to Champions League glory 20 years on from his finest hour, no one can accuse him of having it easy.
Take a bow TFGM!
Juventus. PSG. Barcelona. Three giants of the European game, three genuine heavyweight sides who set out on their Champions League journey as among the favourites to go all the way to the final in Madrid. Football’s fickle fate must have a very warped sense of humour to pair United with all three. But to be the best you need to beat the best, and they don’t come much better than Barcelona.
Ernesto Valverde’s 2019 Barca may not be the vintage of their Pep Guardiola 2009-2011 peak (let’s not talk about that, right…), but they are a club, and a city, synonymous with football par excellence.

Sitting eleven points clear at the top of La Liga, they are far more than just a certain fella by the name of Messi. A solid spine of Marc – Andre ter Stegen, ex-Red Gerard Pique, probably the world’s finest left-back in Jordi Alba and the unfamiliar revelation of Arthur in the middle. Then there’s the return of old foes –  step forward Messrs Luis Suarez and Philippe Coutinho. A plethora of talent as far as the eye can see.

But, having suffered three successive quarter-final defeats (an omen, maybe?) and a shambolic 4-4 draw with Villarreal last week, Barcelona are prone to the occasional mental lapse just like PSG who collapsed so gloriously and improbably against Solskjaer’s United in the last 16.

The cast list may be different for last time, but new heroes are waiting to be acclaimed and these are two ties that will stir the emotions. With Ole at the wheel, it does feel like anything could be possible. A Spanish side has won the past five editions of the Champions League. Can United ensure that run will not be extended by another season? One thing’s for sure – Manchester United should never be written off.

Solskjaer said: " Confidence is high. The result and what we did against PSG and how we have climbed the table, clawing back points. I think the players have given themselves and the supporters great belief. We lose games, we should have won. Wolves in the FA Cup we are disappointed with.
" I can feel the tension, the excitement. I felt the mood ahead of PSG home game was different. We have learnt from that PSG game, how we got dragged into making fouls. European football, you have to be more patient in your tackles. Some of these players will have tricks up their sleeves."

Paul Pogba missed that never-to-be-forgotten night in the Parc des Princes – a night which feels like a lifetime ago now – but the Frenchman will be available again having served his ban.
Ander Herrera and Nemanja Matic are expected to miss out, and United will also be missing Matteo Darmian, Antonio Valencia, Eric Bailly and Alexis Sanchez. Barcelona have a clean bill of health. 

Form guide: Man Utd W W L W L L Barcelona W W W W D W
Match odds: Man Utd 11/4 Draw 5/2 Barcelona 10/11
Referee: Italian Gianluca Rocchi takes charge of his sixth United tie

Thursday 4 April 2019

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has the same problems as his predecessor

So how many square pegs have been jammed into the gaping round hole that is the Manchester United defence? Ander Herrera came and went against Tottenham, Scott McTominay endured widespread ignominy at West Ham, Nemanja Matic at Southampton and now Ashley Young - a 34-year-old former winger - at Wolves. All have appeared in a back three since August. Even the rubbish Marcos Rojo (again, why is he even still here), emerged from the physio's room to cameo in a defensive trident that is never a deterrent for opponents.

 For a squad that has sporadically used a defensive trio, United's record in the 3-5-2 is dire; played six, won none, drawn two, lost four and conceded 15. All six opponents have scored at least twice and one of them - Southampton - felt so short-changed they sacked their manager two days later.

 On a day Jose Mourinho reminisced about his time at the club, United endured a performance comparable with his final months. There was a porous back three, Paul Pogba had to accommodate McTominay and the result was negative. It is now three defeats from the last four and the longest of managerial honeymoons has finally ended. The carriage is turning into a pumpkin.

Mourinho was mulling over playing Matic in a back three during pre-season and United's dearth of quality centre-backs was going to be a problem, regardless of who the manager would be. Solskjaer has enhanced Victor Lindelof and Chris Smalling but United do not have a collective back three capable of functioning. Smalling and Jones, as is their wont, followed up a secure display against Watford with an insecure one.
 Just like the Tottenham fixture contrasts last year, it was catastrophically and cataclismically clumsy and featured an own goal. Different manager, same problems.

United sources said they were prepared to pay £100million for the perfect profile of defender in August and they need to do as they say. It is one of two areas in their squad (along with the right flank) where they are going have to pay a premium. United have spent £76.9m on centre-backs in the last five years whereas Manchester City shelled out £182.7m on bolstering that department with four additions. Liverpool spent £75m on Virgil van Dijk alone and their five-year total on centre halves is £127.7m. United? Rojo, Smalling, Jones and Young received renewals this season and last. What was it The Notorious B.I.G. rapped? It's like the more money we come across, the more problems we see.

 Money might be a solution for Paul Pogba, though. In these shallow times, the go-to method for clubs to reinforce a player's focus is remuneration and Pogba's regression has been so stark Ed Woodward might resolve to offer him a substantial pay hike. His Excellency was not excellent again at Molineux, where the gloves came off from Pogba. He tossed his mittens at the away dugout in a first-half where he was switched from left to right with McTominay. How it must smart for Pogba that, even with McTominay's biggest champion no longer at the wheel, he is now the apple of Solskjaer's eye. Caption this. The definition of irony.
The starry-eyed fans forget how destabilising Pogba was until Solskjaer was installed as caretaker manager on December 18 and he was at it again during his time with France. Pogba fluttered his eyelashes and sent flitartious advances in Real Madrid's direction as the Spanish seduction began last week in Zinedine Zidane's press conference.

  Gary Neville sussed Pogba when he was at his zenith in February. "In the back of my mind, the problems that we witnessed in the first two years will emanate again at some point. Because I think his agent will be into him, he'll be wanting his little move away, he'll be wanting his next pay-off and that's my problem with it. His commitment to the club has got to be long-term." Mino Raiola advised Pogba to rejoin United on the proviso he move to Spain after three years. If United are to scupper that plan, the panacea for the puppeteer and Pogba is more money.
Pogba is not the only individual playing as though his head has been turned. David de Gea was as timid as Hugo Lloris when Jonny's cross dropped in the six-yard area and his lack of bravery suggested he did not want to muddy his kit. De Gea's protracted contract negotiations are relevant, considering errors crept into his game four years ago - when he was about to enter the final year of his previous United deal. Alexis Sanchez has left the United attack and wage structure lopsided.
And beyond the soft centre and marquee mither, the right-sided forward position was occupied by a right-back in Diogo Dalot against Wolves. Another square peg in a round hole.