Thursday 31 October 2019

After the famine comes the feast for Solskjaer's United

A few short weeks ago before the international break, Manchester United simply could not buy a win. An already wafer-thin squad depleted further by a spate of crippling injuries, confidence and morale at rock bottom and a manager in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer seemingly at odds with himself and a man on the brink.

This was as bad as its had been for as long as I can remember. It was so bad that ESPN and Sky Sports included our club in their discussions about which sides will be going down from this year's Premier League. 

What's that saying about London buses? Ah, yes, you wait ages for one to turn up and then they all come along at once. A nice phrase that sums up our season so far to a T.
If a week is a long time in politics, then it is an eternity in the cut throat world of professional football. Before the Partizan Belgrade tie, United hadn't won away from home in eleven games - a run stretching back seven months to that famous night in Paris when we defied all odds and toppled PSG.
Yet here we are another week on, and United's League Cup win at Chelsea may been small in importance but it continued to build the momentum we had build after the draw with Liverpool, victory in Serbia and managing to score more than once in victory at Norwich. Three wins from three away games - with another trip on the road taking us to Bournemouth on Saturday. That's winnable, then we go to the visit of Graham Potter's Brighton side with the team on a roll and in fine fettle.
That draw against Liverpool, in which we came so close to a win, has proved a turning point - however temporary, or otherwise, it may be.

After the famine of a drought stretching back months, the Reds have visited the watering hole and are hungry for more.

I'm really happy for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. He's stuck to his guns as a proud man doing his best for the club he loves. He's turned things around and the green shoots of recovery are being sown.
So what's changed? Several things. On the night before that Liverpool tie, Ole received the dreaded 'vote of confidence' from United's powers that be. Usually that's the point of no return for a manager but this time it seemed to stir something. As we have proved time and time again, we are at our best when backs are firmly pinned to the proverbial wall.
He's found a formation that works. Again, I'm not sure how sustainable it will be long term but Ole was brave, trusted himself and placed belief in his players that they could pull off a difficult new formation in such a massive tie.
Anthony Martial is back, which in turn has allowed a rejuvenated Marcus Rashford to move from an out-and-out striker to playing down the left where he is clearly more at ease. Four goals in four games for club and country speaks volumes of a player reborn. He and Ole will perhaps feel that the rub of the green is starting to go for us.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer becoming Frank Lampard's kryptonite

Chelsea. A lavish corner of west London adorned by the wealthy and the rich and famous. Anyone who's anyone with money lives round here. Their football club are synonymous with the area in which they call home.
Yet for Manchester United, there is simply ususally nothing doing in these parts. Reduced to the role of the pilfering pauper, SW6 is the unhappiest hunting ground of all. Death, taxes and defeat at Stamford Bridge, to reword Benjamin Franklin. That's how things have been for years - even throughout the silver-laden tenure of Sir Alex, we hit a mental block when it came to visits here.

There have been a succession of hard-luck stories, a string of controversial decisions and some of the best Chelsea sides we have seen. There's something in the west London water that reduces all those in red to a quivering wreck. Two wins in 14 visits tells you everything you need to know.

Yet as Bob Dylan once sang, for the times-they-are-a-changin'. Having not won at Stamford Bridge since 2012, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer ended that hoodoo back in February on his first visit as United boss. In mitigation, that was against a Chelsea side in a serious state of flux under Maurizio Sarri, who would be gone amidst a cacophony of discontent a mere three months later. For as good as United were on that FA Cup night, Chelsea were equally as poor. The curse of south west London had been lifted - but for how long. All eyes turned to the next meeting.

Of course, the two sides had met once already this season before this distinctly low key cup clash. Messrs Solskjaer and Lampard - in what was his first game in charge of his beloved Blues - locked horns on the opening day of the season. Ole may have prevailed, but it was the younger of the two rookie bosses that would have the last laugh. United ran out 4-0 winners - it seems almost an anomaly - but it was yet another false dawn as we would win only two further league games in as many months. It could hardly have been a worse barometer of how the two's seasons would unfold.
The marked improvement in his team’s results and performances since that defeat to United painted a flattering picture of the impact that the 41-year-old Lampard is having.

After the United defeat, Chelsea lost on penalties to Liverpool in the European Super Cup final and drew at home to Leicester and Sheffield United either side of a close-fought 3-2 victory at Norwich.
There were signs Lampard’s team could cause problems going forward but were perhaps lacking defensively.
The Blues would then suffer back-to-back losses against Valencia and Liverpool, but an impressive performance against the Premier League leaders earned Lampard and his side a rare round of applause in the face of defeat.
However, in the month since then Chelsea have beaten all comers, conceding just five in seven games.
The two clubs and their bosses are in almost identical situations - each is a club legend in the job of their dreams, rookie managers working under a flawed board structure with a fanbase disillusioned by previous regimes. All the signs pointed towards another win for Lampard and his side in the second meeting of the season, but Solskjaer again came out on top. "Super Frank's" kryptonite indeed.

Two meetings, 2-0 to Solskjaer. Two successive wins at Stamford Bridge and three from our last four meetings against the Blues. Having won twice in 14 years in SW6, Ole has done it twice in eight months.

He's at the wheel again!

Scott McSauce growing as Man Utd's Keane 2.0

Roy Keane was the string-pulling heartbeat of the Man Utd midfield for the best part of two decades. He could do the lot - a totemic, hard working, box to box player who took no prisoners, let no one stand in his way and at times seemed to drag the team through games almost by sheer bloody mindedness.
For years, we've had to do without a player like Captain Fantastic. Michael Carrick was top drawer but was never really a like for like Keane 2.0. But, in Scott McTominay, United and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer may have found Keane reincarnate. Once mocked for being Jose Mourinho's favourite, he is quickly becoming indispensable. Fred still looks considerably short of being the £52m player he is meant to be, but McTominay is growing alongside him by the week. Stamford Bridge is never an easy place to go, but that did not seem to matter to McSauce. He looked like he'd rather die than lose, dominating the midfield, tackling, passing, blocking and running to his heart's content, using breaks in play to pass on instructions and holding United together.

It is becoming clear why Jose Mourinho regarded him so highly - and it is already obvious that  Solskjaer views him in the same way. Since the start of the season, McTominay has played 887 minutes of a possible 900 in the Premier League. The 22-year-old's importance to the side is now such that he is undroppable in the cup games too. A player seen as limited but Mourinho's go-to simply because of his build has come of age and grown into the red of United before our very eyes.

McTominay saw yellow early on for a crunching tackle on Matteo Kovacic, taking the Croatia international clean out.
It was the sort of tackle that Keane would commit week in, week out during his time at Old Trafford. One that leaves a mark on your opponent and gets your own fans singing your name in praise.
A couple of years ago, United saw Ander Herrera - whose tenacity saw him compared with Keane at times - sent off against Chelsea. He'd picked up a yellow early on and, after one foul too many, received his marching orders.
McTominay made no such mistake, however.
The United star was brilliant at staying disciplined. It's that sort of trait which made Mourinho love him so much and swear blind that he was good enough to make it.
It was also the sort of thing that Keane was able to do during his time at the club.

 McTominay was Manchester United's midfield enforcer at Stamford Bridge, dominating the physical battle, but in the absence of Paul Pogba, and with modest support around him, he has become more than that too. He may not boast our World Cup winner's prowess or ability on the ball, but when it comes to giving United someone to play through in midfield, McTominay - still only 22 - has stepped up.

McTominay has been a rare bright spark for United this season and he shone again at Stamford Bridge. Up against a talented Chelsea midfield, containing Jorginho and Mateo Kovacic, the Scot held his own and acted as the perfect screen for United’s back three.
His work may not always be pretty - and at times it may go unnoticed - but McTominay is quickly becoming a key cog for Manchester United. Isn't that what Keane did? He wasn't the most brilliant player but yet was indispensable.

The United captaincy will likely be available in a year's time.
Harry Maguire skippered the side well but McTominay is certainly passing the audition for the role.
The way he's going, he will be impossible to overlook when it comes to donning the armband. He's the player we've been crying out for - and, what's more, he's one of our own.

Match report: Chelsea 1-2 Man Utd

A stunning Marcus Rashford free-kick fired United past a youthful Chelsea side and set up a Carabao Cup quarter final at home to Colchester.

Rashford's third goal in four games had put Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's strong selection ahead, but the Blues responded through Michy Batshuayi's excellent equaliser.
The tie appeared to be heading towards a penalty shootout, but Rashford had other ideas with a swerving, dipping 30 yard set piece that left Willy Caballero flailing.

 On the eve of his 22nd birthday, United's number 10 has been revitalised in recent weeks and has now hit four goals in as many games for club and country.

After a run of six games without a win, United have now picked up three away wins in a row in three different competitions, and continued to build the momentum kick-started by the draw with Liverpool.
Brandon Williams was the only youngster to start in an experienced team that hinted Solskjaer sees this cup as a realistic chance of silverware.
Scott McTominay had already fizzed a shot when Rashford - who missed from the spot against Norwich - put United ahead after Dan James had been scythed down.

James also went close before he burst into the box and was hauled down by a clumsy Marcos Alonso challenge on 25 minutes. United have a poor record from the spot this season but that did not matter as Rashford sent Caballero the wrong way and fired the spot-kick low into the corner.
A Reece James cross was met by a powerful Aaron Wan - Bissaka clearance (is there ever any other kind?) and the lesser-spotted Christian Pulisic was halted by Marcos Rojo as he burst clear in the closing stages of the half.

Rojo blocked from Billy Gilmour and Callum Hudson - Odoi should have done better, but Frank Lampard's side made their pressure tell with their only effort on target to that point.

The Belgium international latched onto a Caballero clearance just inside the Reds’ half, carried the ball to the edge of the box before finishing his run by stroking an effort out of Romero’s reach and into the bottom-right corner.

It was Rashford who would restore the Reds’ lead with a stunning free-kick and make the decisive difference. Struck from a central position, the ball looked as if it moved twice in the air, leaving Chelsea’s keeper Caballero helpless.

Despite bringing on their top scorer Tammy Abraham late on, Chelsea couldn’t find another leveller and Zouma’s poor effort in the closing stages which flew into the crowd summed up the hosts’ frustrations.

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

Monday 28 October 2019

Match report: Norwich 1-3 Man Utd

United climed to the heady heights of seventh after a first away league win of the season over struggling Norwich.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side would have won by more if not for two Tim Krul penalty saves - the Reds have been awarded six spot-kicks this season but have failed to score with four of them.
Having broken our away duck in Serbia on Thursday, United are beginning to build some momentum and confidence, spearheaded by the return of Anthony Martial.

Scott McTominay slammed in an opener moments after a stunning reflex save by Krul to deny the Frenchman from point blank range. The Academy graduate's strike - his second of the season - proved historic, coming as United's 2000th Premier League goal, the only side to hit that landmark.

The Reds were then contentiously awarded a spot-kick when Dan James was adjudged to have been scythed down by Ben Godfrey - only for the Canaries keeper to beat away Marcus Rashford's effort.

Rejuvenated Rashford grabbed his third goal in as many games for club and country before Krul saved another penalty - this time from Martial - after Todd Cantwell's handball. Again, like Rashford though, Martial shrugged off the miss and added a third in vintage United fashion when he clipped home over the advancing Krul after a flowing five man move.

Norwich scored a late consolation through substitute Onel Hernandez, who took the ball off McTominay, ran at the defence and fired past David de Gea to become the first Cuban-born player to score a Premier League goal.
It was United's first away league win for eight months and lifted the pressure that had begun to build on Solskjaer.

Andreas Pereira flashed a shot wide and Krul saved from Rashford before his save-of-the season on 20 minutes when he clawed the ball away to keep out Martial after a flick on from a corner.

However, he could do nothing to stop McTominay netting soon after. As the ball was kept alive in the Norwich box, our midfielder reacted ahead of Cantwell to a bouncing ball and swivelled then blasted it into the bottom corner to open the scoring.
Krul saved the pen and Rashford made it 2-0, before Norwich had a flurry of openings at the other end. De Gea tipped over Cantwell's drive from distance before top scorer Teemu Pukki found himself through only for Aaron Wan - Bissaka to slide in and thwart him. Emiliano Buendia fired into the side netting on the stroke of half-time.

  Krul was on hand again to deny Martial, after he was played through by James, and Rashford headed over with the Reds variety and speed of attack proving too much for Daniel Farke's relegation threatened side.

The third goal came not long after, again courtesy of our direct and lightning fast attack. United launched a raid with devastating effect, once Ashley Young won the ball, and Rashford’s neat backheel presented Martial with a tight angle to score from. He duly obliged as he dinked the ball over Krul to put the result beyond any lingering doubt.

 The hosts afternoon went fron bad to worse when Ibrahim Amadou was forced off through injury with Farke having already used all three of his substitutes. They were given something to cheer when Hernandez grabbed a consolation, but still United continued to press and almost made it 4-1 when sub Mason Greenwood was kept out by the legs of Krul.

Overall team performance: 6/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Scott McTominay. Growing as a player by the week and continues to come of age

Saturday 26 October 2019

Match preview: Norwich City v Man Utd

These two meet for the first time since 2016 with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side on an equal footing with the struggling but dangerous Canaries.
Juan Mata scored the Carrow Road winner on the Reds last trip to East Angelia under Louis van Gaal when Norwich went down and United boss LVG lost his job at Old Trafford only three games later.

With the Reds having broken their 11-game away duck with victory in Serbia on Thursday, this is the second of four consecutive matches on the road with trips to Chelsea and Bournemouth to come. The 1-0 win away to FK Partizan - sealed by Anthony Martial's penalty - proved to be the Reds first away win anywhere since that night in Paris with momentum building since the draw with Liverpool last time out.

 Both teams are looking for their first Premier League wins since 14 September, when United saw off high flying Leicester, and the Canaries famously defeated the champions. The Reds come into the game on the back of two encouraging performances in the shape of a draw against Liverpool and the away victory in Belgrade, while Norwich recorded their first clean sheet of the season in last Saturday’s 0-0 stalemate with Bournemouth. Currently, United sit 14th in the table, on 10 points, while Norwich are five places and three points further back. The two sides are on the same level at present and Daniel Farke's promoted side will be a tough nut to crack.

 Striker Teemu Pukki is the stand-out name in the Norwich line-up. The Finland star enjoyed a prolific start to the season, netting six goals in his opening five matches, including a hat-trick against Newcastle United. That was enough to earn the 29-year-old the Premier League Player-of-the-Month award for August and, although Pukki hasn’t registered since the win over Manchester City, the Reds will still have to be aware of his threat in and around the 18-yard-box.

 Central defender Ben Godfrey is available for Norwich despite being substituted last weekend because of soreness after recent hernia surgery.
The Canaries remain without Timm Klose, Mario Vrancic, Ralf Fahrmann, Grant Hanley and Christoph Zimmermann.
Manchester United's likely absentees include Paul Pogba, Luke Shaw, Nemanja Matic, Diogo Dalot and Eric Bailly. Axel Tuanzebe is nursing a hip problem, but Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Anthony Martial have returned in the last week. Brandon Williams is likely to keep his place.

United manager Solskjaer said:"When I watched Norwich's first game against Liverpool, I saw a team with a lot of courage. It's given them some great results as they beat Newcastle and Manchester City with a clear philosophy on how they want to play.
"I hope we're going to stop them because it's always going to be difficult down at Carrow Road but we're ready for it now. We've got some players back."

Form guide: Norwich L W L L L D Man Utd D D D L D W
Match odds: Norwich 7/2 Draw 3/1 Man Utd 5/6
Referee: Stuart Attwell (Warwickshire)

Thursday 24 October 2019

Match report: FK Partizan 0-1 Man Utd

Anthony Martial marked his return to fitness with the decisive penalty as United won away for the first time since March and moved top of our Europa League group.
Martial, making his first start since August, sent Vladimir Stojkovic the wrong way from 12 yards after the visitors impressive 19-year-old defender Brandon Williams won the spot-kick.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's United hadn't won an away game of any description since that night in Paris, but this was a hard fought and even contested victory that puts the team in pole position at the summit of Group L. United had to dig deep but the win will come as welcome relief for Solskjaer, who again stuck with the 3-5-2 system that had effectively nullified Liverpool last time our.

Williams and 18-year-old midfielder James Garner were among seven changes made by Ole from the side that started in that game against Liverpool on Sunday.
And initially at least, United controlled possession, with Scott McTominay wastefully heading Juan Mata's free-kick wide and Jesse Lingard's curling effort striking the right-hand post.
However, the hosts carved out chances of their own with on-loan Roma forward Umar Sadiq bending a 20-yard strike against the post.
United keeper Sergio Romero superbly preserved the visitors' lead by parrying Seydouba Soumah's drive after the midfielder had cut past captain for the night Harry Maguire.
Former Red Zoran Tosic went close from a set-piece in front of a boisterous, capacity crowd in Serbia.

 As half-time approached, Partizan began to enjoy a sustained spell of pressure which resulted in Umar Sadiq smashing a shot onto Romero’s far post and, just a couple of minutes later, Takuma Asano went for the same corner but fired just wide.
It was the Reds who finished the half on top though, thanks to a brilliant run forward from the impressive Williams. The youngster powered down the left and into the box before being tripped by Nemanja Miletic. The referee pointed to the spot and Martial despatched it with aplomb.

Romero saved well from Soumah and United survived half hearted penalty appeals when Bilbras Natcho's shot struck the arm of McTominay in the box. 

The United midfielder could do nothing about it and the referee again waved play on. He opted for the same decision seconds later, when the ball hit Williams’s arm, which only served to further rile the home faithful. Romero was called into action, seven minutes from time, when Asano flicked a header goalwards from a corner, but the United goalkeeper saved well once more. Moments later, Natcho swept a drive inches off target as Marcos Rojo moved out to close him down.

Overall team performance: 6/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Brandon Williams

Monday 21 October 2019

A step forward but Solskjaer's United must keep it going

When still unbeaten Liverpool arrived at Old Trafford to face a United side at our lowest ebb for 30 years, there seemed to be only one winner.
 Jurgen Klopp's side had won every league game to open up an eight-point advantage at the table's summit and take a giant stride toward a first ever Premier League title.The only topic of conversation in the lead up to English football's biggest game was the Scousers expected margin of victory.

Instead, we defied all odds and expectation in a tremendous performance of guts, desire, energy and fight. This United side again showed that when backs are against the wall, we are at our best.

In an unfamiliar system, we set up with three at the back and two wing-backs, and also used two forwards in Dan James and Marcus Rashford to play high, fast and wide. Tactically, Solskjaer got it absolutely spot on. To come out and play like that against a top-class team such as Liverpool should give his side lots of confidence.
It was United's energy and intent up front that I really liked, and that is what I want to see more of. They played on the front foot, worked hard and had a clear plan. We were never going to go all out attack and go toe to toe with Liverpool, we had to find a blueprint that worked and managed to do so.
Before the game, you probably would have seen a draw as a good result for United, but Liverpool ended up being the team delighted with a point. I'm gutted we didn't hold out and claim what would have been a monumental victory, but I'm immensely proud of the team. If we play to this level every week and not just when the mood takes us, results will come and we will start to climb that table.

In my mind, there was nothing wrong with the VAR decision that Liverpool were left so incensed by. Victor Lindelof was entitled to go for the ball, it was on halfway and Divock Origi was going down anyway. There were three more phases before the goal and they had more than enough opportunities to clear. It wasn't enough of a foul and if you're giving that then there would be 500 free kicks per game!

It's all well and good to summon this kind of showing over 90 minutes against our biggest rivals in what was effectively a free hit, but the challenge now is to build on it. Our efforts against Liverpool will prove to be in vain if it's not backed up with nine points from nine against Norwich, Bournemouth and Brighton in the coming weeks.We have to build on this and make sure it is a platform for the future and not just an admirable one off. It was a performance that showed why Solskjaer deserves more time.

 Solskjaer will be bitterly disappointed we could not hang on for five more minutes for what would have been a hugely satisfying landmark win.

He will, however, be delighted with the fight, spirit and organisation shown by his side, especially as the five-man defensive system United had been working on this week was disrupted minutes before kick-off when Axel Tuanzebe was injured in the warm-up and replaced by Marcos Rojo.
They subdued Liverpool until they switched off carelessly late on when Rojo went missing and Ashley Young failed to spot the danger from Lallana in behind him.

Overall, however, this was a huge improvement simply in terms of resilience and character.
Goalscorer Marcus Rashford worked tirelessly in his best performance for months while Scott McTominay continues to mature in midfield. Andreas Pereira had probably his best showing in the red of United, Fred was good and Dan James looked like he'd rather die than lose.

This is a mediocre Manchester United side but there was no shortage of effort and they deserved a point that Solskjaer will hope provides a platform for a rise up the table.

Match report: Man Utd 1-1 Liverpool

A late Adam Lallana leveller denied Manchester United a famous and much-needed victory after Marcus Rashford's contentious VAR-assisted opener.
Jurgen Klopp's side came into the Old Trafford contest as early Premier League pacesetters having won all of their first eight league fixtures so far but saw their 100% record ended by a much improved performance from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's United.

United came within five minutes of a defiant, against-all-odds victory but substitute Lallana popped up at the far post to turn in Andy Robertson's cross and preserve his side's unbeaten start to the season. It meant their advantage at the summit of the league has been cut to six points with manager Klopp yet to taste victory at Old Trafford after four attempts.

Liverpool were in search of their 18th successive league win to equal Manchester City's top-flight record set between August and December 2017 but had to settle for a point after a scrappy encounter.
Marcus Rashford's hotly-contested first-half goal, allowed after a video assistant referee check for a foul by Victor Lindelof on Divock Origi, looked to be condemning Liverpool to their first league loss since they went down at Manchester City in January.
Rashford finished superbly from a Daniel James cross on 36 minutes before the visitors - who saw a first half effort from Sadio Mane ruled out for handball - hit back.

Klopp's side even threatened to snatch an undeserved victory, but substitute Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's shot flashed inches wide.
Solskjaer's United had set up in an unfamiliar 3-4-1-2 formation with Marcos Rojo a very late replacement for the injured Axel Tuanzebe. David de Gea was fit to start, and the returning Aaron Wan-Bissaka came in as a right wing-back with Ashley Young on the opposite flank.
Alisson, himself back after injury, was called into action early on when he got down well to deny the impressive Andreas Pereira before Scott McTominay - another all-action man at the heart of the midfield - also went close.
Even without Salah, the visitors’ threat on the break was still apparent and it was on the counter that the Merseysiders had their best chance of the opening half.
Mane pulled free down the right, in the area the Egyptian would usually occupy, and pulled back for Firmino, who should have done better than to hit the ball straight at De Gea.

 The Brazilian was left to rue his miss when, a minute later, Rashford opened the scoring. Victor Lindelof’s challenge on Divock Origi in our half went unpunished by Martin Atkinson and, when the ball broke free, James flew down the right and crossed, finding our no. 10 who slipped by Joel Matip and tapped the ball home. Old Trafford erupted but celebrations were briefly kept in check by VAR, which correctly ruled the goal to be legal after replays showed there was the slightest contact on Origi by Lindelof. The incident occured on halfway and the Belgian had been going down anyway.

The Merseysiders were further aggrieved when, five minutes later, Mane’s apparent equaliser – after he beat Lindelof to a high ball and slipped it home – was ruled out by VAR due to the Senegal international handling in the build-up. 
Rashford skewed a shot inches wide and Fred tried his luck from distance in two good United chances shortly after the restart. 

Our midfield quintet were putting the hard yards in to prevent Liverpool from finding time and space in the centre of the park and also providing a threat at the other end, as Fred again went close with a 25-yarder from the right. As the minutes ticked by, it looked like it would be United’s day, but substitute Lallana found himself free at the back post, and crucially onside, to equalise with five minutes to go.
Buoyed by the goal, Liverpool pushed for the win and hearts were in mouths when Trent Alexander-Arnold's rising effort flew just over De Gea’s crossbar and then when Oxlade-Chamberlain sent the keeper sprawling in injury time, only to see his shot go just wide.
But Solskjaer's side held on and exited the pitch to a standing ovation, a recognition of their excellent effort and work rate.

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

Saturday 19 October 2019

Match preview: Man Utd v Liverpool

David de Gea and Paul Pogba will miss the visit of Liverpool as the Reds of Manchester and Merseyside lock horns again.
In the 203rd competitive installment of the English game's most compelling rivalry, Sergio Romero will deputise for the hamstrung De Gea whilst United's World Cup winning Frenchman is missing with an ankle injury. The absence of the Spaniard is not as big a blow as it once might have been for United, and - in Romero - as number two keepers go, he is the best there is.

The Argentine never lets United down when called upon and is undoubtedly the best back up in the league. For a man who’s played in a World Cup final and was an ever-present in United’s Europa League win a few years back, a meeting with the Scousers is unlikely to faze him. As number two keepers go, there are very few better.

Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Anthony Martial and Luke Shaw face fitness tests, with Jesse Lingard, Phil Jones, Diogo Dalot and Mason Greenwood also doubts.
Liverpool will monitor goalkeeper Alisson, who could return after two months out with a calf problem. Centre-back Joel Matip has missed the last two games but may be fit to play.
The Reds are also hopeful Mohamed Salah will feature despite the ankle injury he suffered against Leicester.
It may sound strange given the lofty position of Jurgen Klopp's men at the summit of the Premier League, but there has never been a better time to face them.

Klopp's men have made a perfect start to their league season, and come into this one chasing Manchester City's record of 18 consecutive top flight victories having already opened up an eight point lead at the top.United, in stark contrast, are struggling badly under Solskjaer, marooned in mid table with only two league wins all season.

With the world and his wife expecting nothing but a win for the men from Merseyside, it's a free hit for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side  - we've nothing to lose.
 So what chance a home win? On form, almost none. On the intangibles of history, chance and the 'derby' factor? Stranger things have happened. A shock United victory would do wonders for the confidence, morale and Solskjaer’s state of mind.

The United boss said: " I've never felt the United job is too big for me. I'm confident in what we're trying to do and I'm confident in my staff.
"We do have a plan and we know that we've made some decisions that maybe in the short-term would harm us, but we know in the long-term will benefit us.
"But results are always the main thing and we can move forward quicker if we get results and performances."

 Games between Manchester United and Liverpool are not what they were. Until quite recently the two strongest sides in the north-west would also be the two strongest sides in England, so one or the other’s title ambitions would often be on the line in what came to be regarded as a local derby, even if 30 miles of separation stretches the definition of the word local. 

 No matter the respective fortunes of these two sides, when United and Liverpool collide, the world is always watching. Sunday's game at Old Trafford kicks off a 4.30 and is live on Sky.

 Form guide: Man Utd W L D D D L Liverpool L W W W W W
Match odds: Man Utd 4/1 Draw 10/4 Liverpool 4/6
Referee: Martin Atkinson (West Riding of Yorkshire)

Monday 7 October 2019

52m Fred is nothing more than a rich man's Bebe

In the worst Manchester United side I have ever seen, Fred continues to make a compelling case as the worst player I have ever seen in the red of United. That is saying something considering I've witnessed Eric Djemba - Djemba, Bebe, Massimo Taibi and William Prunier. Considering his price tag, he may well go down as the most infamous ever.
It is always difficult for a foreign export to come to the Premier League and settle in straight away. As in any new job, you have to be given some wriggle room to get used to a new environment and become accustomed to your surroundings. That's fair enough, so I was prepared to give Fred the time before passing judgement on his debut, settling-in season. I listened patiently and pertinently as others asked for him to be given time and a consistent run of games. I've done so and have passed judgement. I think a year is long enough, especially as he's not exactly a young player and cost so much money.
 Everyone has been calling for his inclusion but he is awful. He can't run, doesn't score, can't play a forward pass, pulls out of 50/50 tackles, loses the ball too easily under no pressure and is too lightweight. Like so many of his contemporaries in Red, he has no clear identity or style. It is impossible to know what type of player he's supposed to be and what he is supposed to bring to the table. He has made seven appearances so far this season and been anonymous each time
During the game at St James' Park and with United trying to equalise late on, Andreas Pereira played a simple pass to Fred on the left flank and he failed to control it, with the ball dribbling harmlessly out for a Newcastle throw in. On another occasion, he trod on the ball and lost possession. He had one shot from 30 yards that almost ended up in Sunderland.

Bebe, like Fred, has four letters in his name. Both were relative unknowns. Both had difficult upbringings before earning big money moves to the Premier League and Old Trafford. Bebe became one of the few duds that Sir Alex signed during his long and glorious career. He is scarcely remembered having made only a few fleeting appearances before the courtship ended and the Portuguese was dumped. Bebe cost a paltry £7.4m and scored twice. Fred cost over seven times as much and has scored once. Oh, and Bebe has a Premier League winner's medal.

Scott McTominay, four years the Brazilian's junior and an Academy graduate who cost precisely nothing, is ten times the player. Marcus Rashford looks shot to pieces but so would I be if I toiled up front in vain for 90 minutes because those behind me can't pass water. He is simply a dead man walking waiting for a ball that never comes. I'd rather have a one legged McTominay in my team ahead of Fred. Heck, I'd take Etienne Capoue and Abdoulaye Doucoure over him, and they play for bottom of the table Watford...

I'm not one for calling out individual players as football is a team game and you win as a team and lose as one, but this is an issue that must be addressed. Goodness. A reminder that we spent 52m on this bloke. 52.Million. He got outmuscled, outworked and outplayed by Sean'Longstaff's brother. I didn't even know Sean Longstaff HAD a brother. Shakhtar must be laughing all the way to the National Bank of Ukraine. He is a symbol of Manchester United's terrible recruitment policy.
To think that Manchester City were actually interested in this guy. Indeed, we signed him seemingly for no other reason that the mob from across town wanted him and the board wanted to prove we could beat them to expensive foreign imports. Pep must be delighted that he's dodged a bullet. Alexis Sanchez, Angel Di Maria, Radamel Falcao, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Memphis Depay and Romelu Lukaku to name but six. Fred can now be added to the list of big money, X Factor signings to have come to Old Trafford with lofty expectations and failed miserably. Yet another expensive flop.

Jose Mourinho never seemed convinced of the Brazilian's abilities and indeed, you often felt he never even wanted him. It's easy to see why. We were told that Fred was a magician when he signed from the Ukranian league. Well, at least that's true. He is very good at disappearing into thin air.

Nothing more than a poor man's Bebe. It's time to cut our losses and get rid.

Ed Woodward f**k off out of our club (RANT)

As the dust settled on Manchester United's worst league start for 30 years, off the back of another defeat - this time to the fodder of Newcastle - the anger within me was risible.
I try not to let things get to me these days, life is too important to stew on the result of a game in which 22 men chase a piece of inflatable leather around a field. But this time, in the immediate aftermath of another debacle, I found myself getting worked up.
My anger was not directed at Ole Gunnar Solskjaer - a club legend, a fan favourite - who is looking out of his depth and like a lamb to the slaughter in the dugout at the moment. Of course, as manager, he has to cop his share of the flak. He is probably about 10% culpable. He can only work with what he has. At present, what he has is simply not good enough.That's not his fault.

That brings us on neatly to the elephant in the room - the individuals, or individuals - tasked with winning football matches for Manchester United on a weekly basis. "They're only following the manager's instructions" "He can't motivate them" "The tactics are wrong." Whilst there is validity in the final point of those three, the first two are absolutely nonsense. If I was on God-knows-how-much a week, I shouldn't need instruction or motivation to go out and do what I'm paid an extortionate amount to do - win matches. It is a myth that a manager needs to motivate his players. I never need motivating in my normal day job, I turn up, work my alloted hours and go home again. I'm not told what I need to do or need any kind of pep talk to do it.  If the Red shirt and everything it stands for isn't motivation enough, then the players should be nowhere near this club. They are probably about 10% culpable. How some of them continue to ply their trade for Manchester United is, indeed, a complete mystery. The fact that there are some to have survived four managers - Ashley Young, Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo to name but three - is baffling.

There is one common denominator in all this. The man 80% at fault for United's tale of woe. For all the plethora of problems permeating through the club, it all goes back to one man. One man who, for the past six years, has pissed money up the wall, turned our club into a cash cow, made us a laughing stock and caused a once mighty, all conquering empire to collapse and crumble before our eyes.  It is this man who is responsible for ruining the club. Our club. Recruitment has been shocking, nonsensical, irrational decisions made at every turn. A poisonous, power hungry and penny pinching puppet who is very good at making money but useless at everything else. How a club the size and stature of Manchester United continue to operate without anyone with an ounce of football knowledge on its board is entirely the doing of Ed Woodward. Even a mere mention of his name makes my blood boil.
His six-year reign of terror, lurching from one fuck up to another, is akin to gross mis-management and criminal negligence. Having faffed about for the past year and played with our feelings on the promise of getting in a director of football, Woodward has now gone back on his word by saying that we don't need one and he's happy with the way things are. He never had intention of hiring anyone to take his power away - clearly having someone capable of making rational, pre-planned, forward thinking decisions is too much for this board to stomach. Horrible piece of shit. Glazers puppet. Wankstain. Leech. All the time he continues to pull the strings in the Old Trafford corridors of power, we are doomed to failure. Having a commercial side to a football club is fine, but as soon as that is put ahead of on-field matters you will be in trouble.

He is the root cause of our problems and it's time he is held accountable. It doesn't matter who our manager is, Woodward will hide behind him and continue to let him down.

I'm frustrated and disgusted.. but not Ole out

The best thing about United's latest shambolic 'efforts' at Newcastle was the fact I didn't have to witness it. A weekend away with the missus in Kent, or the 90 minutes of perjury that watching Manchester United has become? It was a no-brainer. She doesn't have Sky Sports, and I've never been happier for that. The worst thing about this mess? It didn't even come as a surprise.
I felt nothing, not even a jote of anger as Matty Longstaff's 72nd-minute effort found its way beyond David de Gea and in. Just an air of resignation. That says it all.

This is a 30-year low in almost every area. Two wins all season, two points off the bottom three with nine points from eight games. We are in massive trouble with the challenge of table topping, 100%-ers Liverpool at Old Trafford up next. I don't mind not winning every week as that's how life goes but there's a certain level of performance and quality you have to hit and we are currently nowhere near.

These two Uniteds had some tremendous title tussles during the 1990s, but the situation is much different these days with both sets of fans deeply unhappy with their respective owners.
Though big money was spent in the summer - Newcastle signing striker Joelinton for a club record £40m and us bringing in defender Harry  Maguire for £80m - both face the prospect of a difficult season.
The Magpies are fighting to remain in the top flight and while the Red Devils are attempting to claim a European place, they find themselves in 12th place in the table.
They last won away from home in the league in February and extended that run to eight games with another lifeless and uninspiring showing. United have failed to win any game away from home since March and that magical night in the Parc des Prince - our worst such run for over three decades. It's two wins in our last 13 Premier League games, scoring more than one goal just once in 17 matches.

Our defence has improved from last term, conceding eight times so far which is the third-best record in the division, but it is in attack where the major problems lie.
Whatever you thought of Romelu Lukaku - and I was, I believe justifiably so, one of his biggest critics - the decision to sell him without bringing in a ready made replacement was nothing short of criminal. Ander Herrera may not have been the most talented player we had, and he wanted to leave, but what I'd give now to see him brimming with passion, fire, guts and guile at the heart of the engine room. Bruno Fernandes was available and angling for a move. The decision from United's powers that be not to go for the talented, string-pulling Portuguese looks a worse decision with every passing day.

For that, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is not to blame. His tactics leave a lot to be desired and right now he looks out of his depth and powerless to prevent the slide, but he does need time and
recruitment has been shocking. He continues to persist with the 4-2-3-1 and crosses into the box for no one. I don't understand why he's abandoned the very principles that got him the permanent job in the first place. United were playing an expansive, front-foot, counter attacking style in a 4-3-3 with one holding player and two box-to-box midfielders bombing on. It's baffling why Ole has reverted to this slow, chanceless, rigid, one dimensional system. Both he and the players look petrified and totally devoid of any confidence.

 This squad is the worst I have ever seen, it's wafer thin and isn't going to suddenly improve. If we sacked Solskjaer, who would replace him? What would the new manager be expected to do with this group of players? The same problems would remain. Leadership starts at the top, and the real issues at United do not lie with the manager. Solskjaer is a perfect folly for the Glazers. He was a cheap option, his status at the club means he won't be criticised to the same degree as a Louis van Gaal or a Jose Mourinho. He is Mr Positive, a yes man, and will toe the party line exactly how his bosses want. It's a perfect storm.

The owners and their power-hungry puppet Ed Woodward aren't going anywhere. We're not getting a DoF because Ol' Twat-Ed doesn't want to relinquish his duties. The guy is a poisonous leech, and his ruinous reign of terror has destroyed our club and ripped its heart out.
I'm not Ole out - because a new manager is the last thing we need right now. It wouldn't help us at all. But by the same token, things have to improve. We can't carry on like this - it's worse than 12 months ago under Mourinho, and makes Messrs David Moyes and van Gaal seem relatively utopian.

Match report: Newcastle 1-0 Man Utd

Man Utd's woes were further deepened as debutant Matt Longstaff inflicted another defeat on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and extended our winless run to eleven games.
Steve Bruce's side moved out of the drop zone and to within a point of the ailing Reds, sealing his first win against his former side in 23 attempts as a manager.

Longstaff, 19, playing in midfield alongside brother Sean - touted by United in the summer -  could have scored in the first half but rattled the crossbar with a thunderous 25-yard drive, while Fabian Schar flicked a header narrowly over from a corner.

We again looked bereft of ideas in front of goal: Andreas Pereira's curling strike was comfortable for Martin Dubravka, while Harry Maguire nodded a free header wide from four yards.
The visitors' tally of nine points after eight games is their lowest since the 1989-90 season, when they were a point worse off.

 The lively Allan Saint-Maximin dragged a shot wide, Miguel Almiron continues to seek his first goal for the club as a low shot was brilliantly blocked by Harry Maguire, and substitute Andy Carroll steered a diving header over the bar.
 Maguire had United’s best chance of the game, heading Ashley Young’s corner wide just before half-time.
Saint - Maximin flashed wide from distance, and David de Gea did well to save from the impressive Almiron.

Daniel James, the standout player of each of our last two away matches in the Premier League, at Southampton and West Ham, showed glimpses of his raw pace, winning two free-kicks in quick succession which the Reds were unable to take advantage of.

United were dominating possession, with the home side attempting to hit us on the break, but it was the Magpies who were enjoying the best chances in front of goal.
Matty Longstaff rattled the crossbar on 28 minutes with an effort from outside the box after the Magpies got forward in numbers, before Fabian Schar glanced his header just too high, so it nestled on top of De Gea’s net, rather than inside it.

Hearts were then in mouths as Almiron beat the offside trap to latch on to Schar’s long ball, but Maguire did magnificently to recover and get a toe in the way to prevent the Magpies’ playmaker from opening the scoring.

 Substitute Andy Carroll went close with a header, and Andreas Pereira's teasing ball in narrowly evaded the stretching James at the other end. 

But the threat on the break from the first half remained and, when United failed to win the ball off the onrushing Jetro Willems, the full-back teed up the younger Longstaff, who finished superbly past De Geafrom 20 yards.
The Magpies – buoyed by only their second home goal of the season – now sat even deeper, inviting the Reds to break them down and despite the unrelenting efforts of United’s mass of 3,000 fans, Solskjaer’s men were unable to find a reply, with Marcos Rojo going closest with a header which flew just over Martin Dubravka’s crossbar.

Overall team performance: No rating
United Faithful Man of the Match: Axel Tuanzebe 
A special mention to United's travelling support, who were once again absolutely magnificent at SJP.

Thursday 3 October 2019

Match report: AZ Alkmaar 0-0 Man Utd

Manchester United failed to muster a shot on target in the stalest of Europa League stalemates in Hague.
On paper, a draw away to the strongest team in the group represents a decent night's work, but the manner of the performance from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side was concerning. It was a tenth away game without a win and followed a similarly uninspired showing on Matchday One as United edged past the minnows of Kazakhstan's FC Astana. It was the first time ever that United had failed to register a shot on goal in a European tie.

The game's main talking point saw United denied what looked a stonewall penalty when substitute Marcus Rashford was scythed down by Stijn Wuytens with ten minutes left.
The game was played on a plastic surface at the home of AZ Alkmaar's divisional rivals ADO Den Haag - the Cars Jeans Stadion - with the club's own AFAS Stadion ground out of action.

But it would be hard to blame the surface for United's failure to test the goalkeeper once, with sub Jesse Lingard hitting their best chance wide late on.
AZ had the better chances, with striker Myron Boadu having a first-half goal correctly ruled out for offside.
To literally add insult to injury, substitute Lingard walked off with a hamstring injury late on, leaving United to end with 10 men - and Solskjaer expects him to miss Sunday's Premier League game against Newcastle.

United have not won in their past four games in all competitions, excluding a penalty shootout victory against Rochdale.
They are level with Partizan Belgrade on four points at the top of the group. The Serbian side won 2-1 in Astana thanks to a double from Umar Sadiq earlier on Thursday.

 Mason Greenwood got the chance to start up front that some people expected on Monday, but he had one shot which looked goalbound before being blocked by ex Aston Villa man Ron Vlaar.
It took United 67 minutes to have a shot, excluding blocked ones, with Angel Gomes hitting well over from distance.
United brought on Rashford, Lingard and Scott McTominay as they looked for a winner, but it never really looked on the cards.
The positives were a decent defensive performance - with teenager Brandon Williams making a first start at left-back - a clean sheet and a point.

A few strange bounces on the artificial turf caught players off guard, with plenty of passes cut out - but then that was also the case for United on their own grass pitch on Monday.
AZ are third in the Dutch league and now unbeaten in six games - and they had the better chances.
Netherlands Under-19 teenager Myron Boadu had the ball in the back of the net with a stooping header from Fredrik Midtsjo's cross but he was well offside.
The 18-year-old had another chance but he did not make proper contact with a header.
Alkmaar winger Oussama Idrissi was excellent, causing Diogo Dalot plenty of problems, and he forced two saves from David De Gea as well as shooting wide from long range.

 Overall team performance: 3/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Victor Lindelof. Nothing special. More a case of least worst.

Match preview: AZ Alkmaar v Man Utd

Manchester United face a plastic pitch and unfamiliar opposition as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side look for a second Group L win in the Europa League.
United edged past Astana at Old Trafford on Matchday one but this looks arguably our toughest test in the competition in our first ever competitive meeting with Arne Slot's Eredivisie side.

Mason Greenwood’s late strike spared United blushes at home to Astana in the opening round of group fixtures a fortnight ago but we face a sterner test on the road.

Solskjaer was unimpressed by the artificial pitch chosen for Thursday's game and said:
"I was surprised they have chosen to play on this pitch when I look at it.
"I am used to Astroturf pitches from back home in Norway and it is not the best I have seen. It is one of the worst ones I have seen for a long while.
"We have all got standards back home in Norway. They are all more modern and new, and you get them changed. But it is safe. It's just not the newest."
"I probably wouldn't risk him [Paul Pogba] on Astroturf anyway if he was available for this game. But he needs a bit of rest now."

 United midfielder Paul Pogba will miss the tie at because of a foot injury.
Pogba played the full game against Rochdale in the Carabao Cup and Premier League game against Arsenal, but is troubled with an ongoing foot issue that he sustained during the match with Southampton in August.
Winger Anthony Martial and defenders Luke Shaw, Phil Jones and Aaron Wan-Bissaka also miss the trip, but teenager Brandon Williams is included. Angel Gomes and James Garner also travel with the squad for the match at the oddly named Cars Jean Stadium.
Diogo Dalot and Tahith Chong are available but France World Cup winner Pogba is the big miss for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side, although no timeframe was given for his return.

 Oussama Idrissi is the man United need to keep an eye on going forward for AZ. The Morocco international has struck six times in the league already this season. Idrissi’s fellow forwards Calvin Stengs and Myron Boadu could also prove to be dangerous, with both having already opened their Group L account in AZ’s draw at Partizan, while homegrown talent Teun Koopmeiners has netted five times from central midfield. Slot has a fully fit 23-man squad to pick from.

AZ are currently unable to host league and European matches at their usual AFAS Stadium home after the roof of the venue partially collapsed in August due to high winds, so Thursday’s fixture is being held at the Cars Jeans Stadium in The Hague. Located around 50 miles south of Alkmaar, the stadium was built in 2007 and usually hosts AZ’s divisional rivals ADO Den Haag.

The hosts currently sit third in the Eredivisie table, with six wins, one draw and one defeat from their eight matches. The Cheeseheads are currently on a four-game winning run in the league, with the 3-0 win at Feyenoord last Thursday their standout performance of the season so far. They followed that up with a 2-0 victory over Heracles on Sunday to stay within a point of Ajax and PSV Eindhoven at the top of the table and have the best defence in the division, having conceded only three goals. AZ defeated BK Hacken, Mariupol and Antwerp to qualify for the group stages of the 2019/20 UEFA Europa League and they fought their way to a 2-2 draw with Partizan Belgrade in their Group L opener in Serbia, despite playing most of the match with 10 men after Jonas Svensson’s 27th-minute red card.

Tonight's game kicks off at 17.55 BST (why not 1800?) 
Form guide: AZ Alkmaar D L W W W W Man Utd D W W L D D
Match odds: AZ Alkmaar 5/1 Draw 12/5 Man Utd 8/5
Referee: Gediminas Mazeika (Lithuania). There will be no VAR in use.

Predicted Man Utd XI: Romero; Dalot, Tuanzebe, Rojo, Williams; Fred, Matic; Lingard, Mata, James; Greenwood.

Wednesday 2 October 2019

Opposition profile: AZ Alkmaar

United are set for a first ever meeting with AZ Alkmaar in our first European away game of the season on Th
ursday. Currently sitting third in their domestic league, Arne Slot's side will become the fifth Dutch team to have played the Reds in European competition - Ajax, PSV, Feyenoord and Willem II are the others.

AZ were formed in 1967 from the merger of two clubs – Alkmaar '54 and FC Zaanstreek. Since then, the club from the north of the country have established themselves as one of the Netherlands’ most successful sides, winning Eredivisie titles in 1981 and 2009 and four KNVB Cups, in 1978, 1981, 1982 and 2013. They also have previous in this competition, having finished as runners-up to Ipswich Town in the UEFA Cup in 1981. Although United have never played them in a competitive match, we do have a few links with AZ. Our former manager Louis van Gaal guided the Cheeseheads – Alkmaar is renowned for its cheese market – to their last league win a decade ago, while our current goalkeeper Sergio Romero was the man between the sticks during that triumphant campaign.

The hosts currently sit third in the Eredivisie table, with six wins, one draw and one defeat from their eight matches. The bizarrely-monikered Cheeseheads are currently on a four-game winning run in the league, with the 3-0 win at Feyenoord last Thursday their standout performance of the season so far. They followed that up with a 2-0 victory over Heracles on Sunday to stay within a point of Ajax and PSV Eindhoven at the top of the table and have the best defence in the division, having conceded only three goals. AZ defeated BK Hacken, Mariupol and Antwerp to qualify for the group stages of the 2019/20 UEFA Europa League and they fought their way to a 2-2 draw with Partizan Belgrade in their Group L opener in Serbia, despite playing most of the match with 10 men after Jonas Svensson’s 27th-minute red card.

 Slot, AZ’s current boss, took over from John van den Brom – who moved to Utrecht after five years at the helm – during the summer. This is Slot’s first permanent job in management, but the former PEC Zwolle, Sparta Rotterdam and NAC Breda midfielder served under van den Brom as assistant for two years, helping guide the club to finishes of third and fourth in the Eredivisie.

  AZ boast two players with Premier League experience in their squad, in the form of Ron Vlaar and Jordie Clasie. Centre-back Vlaar played for Aston Villa between 2012 and 2015 and was a key member of van Gaal’s squad when he guided the Netherlands to third place at the 2014 World Cup. Clasie, who plays in central midfield, also featured in Brazil and joined AZ in the summer from Southampton, where he made 49 appearances between 2015 and 2017 before being loaned out to Club Brugge and Feyenoord. Oussama Idrissi is the man United need to keep an eye on going forward for AZ. The Morocco international has struck six times in the league already this season. Idrissi’s fellow forwards Calvin Stengs and Myron Boadu could also prove to be dangerous, with both having already opened their Group L account in AZ’s draw at Partizan as part of a youthful and talented attacking trio, while homegrown talent Teun Koopmeiners has netted five times from central midfield.

 They will be a tough nut to crack as United travel to the AFAS Stadion.

Tuesday 1 October 2019

Match report: Man Utd 1-1 Arsenal

Man Utd were forced to settle for another draw as Pierre - Emerick Aubameyang's goal cancelled out Scott McTominay's opener.
McSauce put Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side ahead shortly before the break before the Gabonese striker's eighth goal of the season - assisted by VAR - earned the Gunners the point they needed to move into the top four.

It was a game high on endeavour and effort but low on any real genuine quality, a far cry indeed from the days of yesteryear when these two sides used to lock horns in a long and gruelling struggle for supremacy.

Goalkeeper Bernd Leno excelled for Arsenal with fine saves from Harry Maguire and Marcus Rashford's late free-kick, while Bukayo Saka's goalbound shot crucially struck Victor Lindelof and flew over the top.
McTominay also headed a great chance well over from Ashley Young's corner but neither side could force a winner.

United had the edge on chances, although they were grateful to David de Gea for a fine double save from Saka and Matteo Guendouzi in the first half and they also felt they had a respectable appeal for handball against Sead Kolasinac ignored by referee Kevin Friend.
Arsenal boss Unai Emery will be more satisfied than counterpart Solskjaer with a point but this showed just how far away both are from leaders Liverpool and reigning champions Manchester City - and just how much work they have to do to catch up.

 The match had been littered with fouls up to the point when Andreas Pereira went on an adventurous run and had Arsenal back-pedalling. The midfielder advanced and finally let fly with a low shot that was handled well by Gunners keeper Bernd Leno.
It fired the visitors into an immediate response but, fortunately for United, the Londoners' expensive summer signing Nicolas Pepe skied his shot high into the Stretford End.

 United took the lead on the cusp of half-time on the counter-attack from Arsenal's set piece. After De Gea have saved from first Saka and then Guendouzi, United sprung forward. Rashford retrieved a Daniel James cross and cut it back for McTominay who thumped home a 25-yarder for his first goal at home. Old Trafford erupted and Solskjaer's side went in at half-time ahead.

Aubameyang miscued a volley but it proved only a temporary reprieve as Arsenal levelled on 58 minutes. Axel Tuazebe, otherwise impressive at left-back, lost the ball to Bukayo Saka whom played in Aubameyang. His finish was somehow bafflingly disallowed for offside, but VAR ruled that Maguire had played him onside and the goal was correctly given. 

18-year-old Saka caught the eye on the left for Arsenal and went close to putting them ahead when his strike was distance was deflected over the bar by Victor Lindelof. At the other end, Paul Pogba flashed a shot wide and McTominay should have done better with a free header from a corner.

Leno saved well from the marauding Maguire before Mason Greenwood - a day short of his 18th birthday - was introduced in search of the all important winner. Rashford's free kick was saved by Leno at the death but, in truth, a draw was probably a fair result.

 Overall team performance: 6/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Scott McTominay