Friday 30 August 2019

Match preview: Southampton v Man Utd

United make the long trip to the south coast with three wins in 15 games having not won on the road since that night in Paris - a recent record that is unsurprising but simply not good enough.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side make this Saturday lunchtime trip to St Mary's without Luke Shaw (hamstring) and Anthony Martial (thigh). Diogo Dalot, Eric Bailly and Timothy Fosu - Mensah are also all sidelined.

Ralph Hassenhuttl's Saints, fresh from their south coast derby win at Brighton last time out, are looking to avoid a battle at the wrong end of the table for the third consecutive season.

Michael Obafemi is likely to be absent after suffering cramp in midweek, while Ryan Bertrand is back in training but he is a doubt. Nathan Redmond is out for at least a fortnight having picked up a knock in his side's Carabao Cup win at Fulham in midweek. Moussa Djenepo, whom broke the deadlock at the Amex moments after he came on, is also out.

United's problems run deeper than a simple inability to score from 12 yards - though that would help. Both Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford have endured successive spot-kick failures, so it will be intruiging to see who steps up should the Reds get yet another penalty at St Mary's.

  So far United have a win, a draw and a defeat from our opening three Premier League fixtures. An opening day victory against Chelsea has since been followed up with an away draw against Wolves and a stoppage-time defeat to Crystal Palace. These three results mean that the Reds lie in fifth in the league table. You get the feeling it will be another up and down season for us.
Our hosts began the campaign with back-to-back defeats to Burnley and Liverpool, but beat 10-man Brighton last weekend to ensure that the Saints have risen off the foot of the table to 18th going into the fourth round of fixtures.

 The Saints experienced a slow start to last term under the stewardship of former United striker Mark Hughes, achieving just one solitary league win before mid-December. That led to increased fears of relegation on the south coast, and their poor form would see Hughes dismissed after that 2-2 draw with United in December 2018.  Former RB Leipzig boss Hasenhuttl took the reins and, after losing his first match in charge at Cardiff, he enjoyed a memorable home debut when the Saints ended Arsenal's 22-match unbeaten run. A further upturn in form during the second half of the campaign included a notable 2-1 home victory over Tottenham, and Southampton would eventually finish the season five points above the relegation zone in 16th place.

Solskjaer is targeting defensive solidity for the match at Southampton, and said: ""Clean sheets are always the foundation to build on and we started really well against Chelsea, but we know the two goals conceded against Palace should have been avoided.
"We hope to go down there to Southampton and look stronger at the back. Overall I have been pleased with us defensively but we made mistakes against Palace so we need to avoid that."

United face unfamiliar foes and a 6,000 mile round trip in Europe

Manchester United face long trips to Serbia and Kazakhstan after we were handed our Europa Leageu fate at today's draw in Monaco.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side were placed into Group L, alongside Astana, Partizan Belgrade and Eredivisie side AZ Alkmaar. United have never faced the former or the latter, and you have to go back all the way to 1966 to find our first - and until now only - competitive tie with the side from Serbia. We have not faced AZ Alkmaar before either, despite playing several other Dutch sides on 17 occasions during our history. Astana will also provide our first ever opponents from Kazakhstan. It is a draw that will throw up some unfamiliar faces and new foes as the Reds look to regain the trophy we won back in 2017 on our previous foray into this competition. It could represent United's best chance of a place in next season's Champions League.

Whilst the group may appear one of the kinder on paper, in reality it will be anything but given the length of the journeys involved. The trip to Astana for our last away group match in November sees United embark on a mammoth 6,000-mile round trip with the team set to return to Blightly only 48 hours before a league match after a nine hour flight.

This year will be the 10th time we have participated in the Europa League (or the UEFA Cup if we include its former guise), although two of those campaigns followed our mid-season elimination from the Champions League.

The first time the Reds played in the competition was in 1976/77, when we were defeated in the second round by Italian giants Juventus, who won 3-1 over two legs.

United last featured in the Europa League in 2016/17, when we won the tournament after beating Ajax 2-0 in the final. That year, the Reds played Fenerbahce, Feyenoord and Zorya Luhansk in the group stage and knocked out Saint Etienne, Rostov, Anderlecht and Celta Vigo en route to the showpiece final in Stockholm.

Eastern European grounds are famed for their intimidating atmosphere but Partizan Belgrade will have to play two of their matches behind closed doors after racist behaviour.

The schedule for our six group games was announced a few hours after the draw on Friday afternoon and is as follows:

Astana (H) - 19 September, 20:00 BST
AZ Alkmaar (A) - 3 October, 17:55 BST
Partizan Belgrade (A) - 24 October, 17:55 BST
Partizan Belgrade (H) - 7 November, 20:00 GMT
Astana (A) - 28 November, 15:50 GMT
AZ Alkmaar (H) - 12 December, 20:00 GMT

Saturday 24 August 2019

OGS needs time and there's no need for panic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Match report: Man Utd 1-2 Crystal Palace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday 23 August 2019

Match preview: Man Utd v Crystal Palace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday 12 August 2019

Man Utd 4-0 Chelsea: Three things we learned

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

 OGS wins battle of the rookie bosses

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

United’s debutants catch the eye

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Slabhead Cometh.

Sunday 11 August 2019

Match report: Man Utd 4-0 Chelsea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday 10 August 2019

Match preview: Man Utd v Chelsea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday 8 August 2019

Good riddance and thanks for nothing, Romelu Lukaku

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday 4 August 2019

Lessons have been learned as United pull out of Dybala coup

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday 3 August 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday 2 August 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 The Slabhead Cometh!