Monday, 11 November 2019

Superb Williams showing United's youth is in good hands

The standing ovation was fleeting, but telling. With Brighton beaten and the tie in its final moments, the board went up signalling Marcos Rojo's arrival into the action. As Brandon Williams left the pitch, Old Trafford rose as one. It was acknowledgement for the latest member of the Carrington conveyor belt. A young man that has been touted for stardom for a while now had come of age before our eyes.
We shouldn't get carried away but it's hard not to when watching such a young player do so well. Willams' attributes look a perfect fit for what I perceive a Manchester United player to be. Solskjaer has given debuts to four teenagers since taking charge a year ago next month, but not all have looked as instantly at home.

The 19-year-old, handed his first Premier League start albeit perhaps by co-incidence than design, was immense.
With Ashley Young suspended and Luke Shaw still injured, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer opted to select Williams from the off ahead of Rojo and it proved to be an inspired decision. The full-back won four of his five tackles, registering a pass completion rate of 88 per cent and making five ball recoveries across the 90 minutes.
He was aggressive; he wasn’t intimidated, stood his ground when challenged and frequently surged forward. After years of suffering Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young, we finally have a pair of young, dynamic energetic full-backs worthy of the name. On this evidence, it's becoming difficult to leave Williams out. Shaw faces a battle to get his place back when he returns from his latest injury setback. The 19-year-old Mancunian illuminated United's mind numbing stalemate with AZ Alkmaar last month on his first start, made a late league debut against Liverpool and continued his upward trajectory against the Seagulls.

He was nominated for the Man-of-the-Match award alongside Marcus Rashford, who scored our final goal, and Daniel James, who was a constant nuisance for the Seagulls' defence throughout the afternoon. Williams - selected as part of United's youngest ever Premier League line up - got the nod as the pick of bunch for Solskjaer's side. He proved that the clamour for his inclusion wasn't merely just hype.
If the question is whether Solskjaer should be given time, his faith in youth provides the answer. It wasn't so long ago that United's youth policy was on its knees, with the U23s relegated, the facilities outdated and a jumbled collection of discombobulated pieces supposedly in charge. With Solskjaer's former team-mate Nicky Butt now at the helm, United's age group sides are thriving again and the first team are reaping the rewards.

Solskjaer has put his faith in the club’s emerging talent and United’s hierarchy insist he still has their full backing, despite such a turbulent campaign.
The Norwegian says he is prepared to risk his own position for the greater good of the club by developing players like Mason Greenwood – even if it means United have to wait for success.
Williams is a right-footed left back like former United and Irish international full-back Denis Irwin, because he switched sides at under-16 level at the suggestion of coach Kieran McKenna. Williams had the highly rated Ethan Laird ahead of him at right back.
Of all his young players, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer rates Williams along with Greenwood as the ones most likely to succeed at Old Trafford.

Everyone knows that United are a club to pride themselves on putting faith in youth, and for all the questions facing Solskjaer, his trust in the club's Acamdey has provided an emphatic answer.

Manchester United have unearthed a gem in £15m James

Not since Javier Hernandez in 2010 have Manchester United had a new signing make such an impact so quickly.
Like Chicharito, Dan James was a relative unknown when he arrived from Swansea for a paltry £15m in the summer, and no one thought that within three months he would become one of this side's go-to match winners. United had been keeping tabs on the Welsh winger for some time, and - signed as part of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's "cultural reset" - he has been inspired so far. A constant menace, James has been nothing short of brilliant all season. It seems as though United have unearthed another gem. When he arrived, James was touted as one for the future but he is very much part of United's present.

 United haven't had a winger worthy of the name since Cristiano Ronaldo. Not since CR7 left over a decade ago have we possessed a wide man to put us on the edge of our seats and look capable of making something happen every time he collects the ball. James scored on his Reds debut against Chelsea and has never looked back, going on to be voted as Player of the Month for August . There are shades of his national manager Ryan Giggs and another former flying Reds winger, Andrei Kanchelskis, aboutour number 21.

The jury, perhaps justifiably so, may still be out on the capability of Ole as United boss. But you can't argue with the quality and impact made by all three of his summer buys. Aaron Wan - Bissaka and Harry Maguire arrived as big money singings to strengthen the other end of the pitch and both have impressed in different ways. Wan - Bissaka is the best one-on-one tackler there is and Maguire has held our previosuly hitherto  porous defence together with calmness and authority. It is James, though, who has been worth his weight in gold. Don't forget he came from the Championship as a young player, making the step up from sleepy Swansea to one of the giants of the English game. All this, and throw in the fact that his beloved dad died just days before the Old Trafford move. That, combined with his overnight rise into the national spotlight, and you have an emotionally draining concotion that no student age youngster should ever experience. You'd expect James to take time to adapt to his new palatial surroundings but he's looked more at home in the red of United than some of our more established senior players.

However respectably Maguire and AWB have performed, James is the poster boy for United's emboldended new recruitment strategy. United now cast a 'big trawler net' wide to catch targets after they recognised the Sir Alex Ferguson method worked only for Sir Alex Ferguson.

At £15m James has proved an absolute steal and is surely the signing of the season. Not only that, but he is the best buy United have made for years. In an improving but overall underwhelming season so far for the club as a whole, James - 22 yesterday - has been a bright spark. The Welshman is statistically the most fouled player in the league due to his quick feet and ability on the ball. What impresses me most though is his temerity and bravery. No matter how many times he gets fouled and takes knocks, he always picks himself up and comes back for more. Many others may hide, but James keeps
demanding the ball. Like a certain teenage tyro by the name of Cristiano used to.

Sunday, 10 November 2019

Match report: Man Utd 3-1 Brighton&HA

Manchester United moved back up to seventh in the league with our best performance of the season against Graham Potter's Brighton side.
It was a familiar story for Brighton, who have never won at Old Trafford and never looked like breaking that sequence and allowed Marcus Rashford to restore the hosts' two-goal cushion two minutes after Lewis Dunk's header had given them hope. In truth, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's United should have prevailed by more than the 3-1 scoreline but the Reds sealed their biggest league win since the opening day to move into the top half.

The victory came at a cost, though, as McTominay limped off down the tunnel late on after a clash with Brighton winger Solly March.  Following on from the confidence-boosting 3-0 win against Partizan Belgrade, United fed off the feelgood factor to race into an impressive early lead at Old Trafford. Brighton had been getting a good press this season under Graham Potter and started the match ahead of the Reds in the division.
But United soon put a stamp on this match and after Marcus Rashford had softened up the Seagulls’ defence with a marauding, penetrative run and shot, the Reds took the lead in the 17th minute.
Breaking fast, United had Brighton back-pedalling with Andreas Pereira confusing the rearguard with a series of stepovers.
The midfielder fed Anthony Martial and with the stadium, and probably the Brighton defence, expecting a trademark curling shot, he confused everyone and laid the ball back to Andreas. His sweeping left-footed shot took a decisive deflection off Dale Stephens to wrong -foot keeper Mathew Ryan.
One quickly became two as United moved into a 2-0 lead, albeit through VAR intervention. Harry Maguire flicked on a Fred free-kick, McTominay latched on to the loose ball and bundled the ball home through a posse of players. The goal was finally given after checking handball against Maguire, and replays showed the ball had actually gone in off Brighton player Davy Propper.

Pereira went close from distance but Brighton rallied and pulled a goal back through towering centre-back Dunk after the interval. It was a soft goal to concede as the Albion captain met a 64th-minute corner with a header, unmarked, in front of the Stretford End.

Any hopes of a fightback were quickly extinguished, though, as United re-established their three-goal advantage three minutes further on.

 A fabulous pass from the rejuvenated Fred to Martial opened Brighton up but a late stab from defender Shane Duffy took the ball off the striker’s toes.
However, the Frenchman reacted and retrieved possession to feed Rashford, who hammered a shot into the roof of the net for the Reds' spectacular finish in the 66th minute.

 Rashford, as is his wont, then went from the sublime to the ridiculous two minutes later when Daniel James stormed clear down the left and cut the ball back, only for Rashford put the ball wide with the goal gaping. 
Brandon Williams almost marked his impressive full debut with a goal but was denied by Ryan, and the Seagulls stopper also denied James as the marauding Reds continued to press. 

Rashford again went close to scoring his second late on but even without that, the United fans left Old Trafford with another exciting triumph to savour.

Overall team performance: 8/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Brandon Williams. 

Saturday, 9 November 2019

Match preview: Man Utd v Brighton&HA

Manchester United haven't started any season this badly for over three decades. Back then, the sands of time finally ran out for "Big Ron" Atkinson and the United board took a gamble by replacing him with a reputable but relatively unknown Scot... some chap by the name of Alexander Chapman Ferguson.

The anniversary of Ferguson's appointment was marked this week on 6 November 1986.
33 years on from the arrival of the great man, the 2019 vintage remain inconsistent but, as Sir Alex's former protege Ole Gunnar Solskjaer himself has alluded to, we must believe in the process.

The same can be said for this weekend's visitors, now embarking on their third consecutive Premier League campaign. The Seagulls of Brighton can no longer be regarded as merely relegation fodder as they look to put last term's near miss behind them.

Having replaced the tried and tested safe pair of hands Chris Hughton with the more forward thinking Graham Potter, the former Swansea boss is already showing the fresh fruits of his labour on the south coast.
Having only survived through the shortcomings of others, Brighton actually come into this clash two places and two points above United. The in-form Seagulls have won three of their four games but all of those came at The Amex and the Albion have never won at Old Trafford.
 Like with Solskjaer, you can see how Potter wants them to play, with three at the back and trying to play out from a defence marshalled expertly by Lewis Dunk and Shane Duffy. They are still hard to beat but much easier on the eye.

With captain Ashley Young suspended and Luke Shaw still not fit, Brandon Williams is set to make a full Premier League debut at left-back. There are minor doubts over Harry Maguire and Scott McTominay and Victor Lindelof will be assessed for United.
 Diogo Dalot, Axel Tuanzebe, Nemanja Matic and Paul Pogba all still sidelined. Summer signing Aaron Webster is Brighton's only definite absentee.

On Thursday's Europa League win, Solskjaer said: "I saw is a little bit of a template on how we want to play, definitely. No disrespect to Partizan, but they gave us spaces. Of course after we scored the first goal, they went forward. These boys are learning. Tonight will give them loads of pointers of how to play. Even though the opposition is not the same as in the Premier League, it was still good principles."

United's clash with Brighton is a 2pm kick on Sunday but is not live on TV.

Form guide: Man Utd D W W W L W Brighton&HA L L W L W W
Match odds: Man Utd 11/7 Draw 10/6 Brighton&HA 6/1
Referee: Jon Moss (W
est Yorkshire)

Thursday, 7 November 2019

Mason Greenwood a special talent who's coming of age

Football fans aren't stupid. You know when you're witnessing the birth of a superstar. There have been many young players - strikers in particular - to have started down the path of greatness before falling by the wayside never to be seen or heard from again. Federico Macheda anyone? Adnan Januzaj. Perhaps most pertinently of all, Ravel Morrison. Those are three players in particular that spring to mind when it comes to never fulfilling potential. It offers a stark reminder never to believe your own hype and to stay grounded.

 Morrison was tipped for stardom and described by Sir Alex Ferguson as the most talented player he had ever seen, but ended up playing in Mexico and Sweden before Chris Wilder decided to gamble and bring him to Bramall Lane.

Mason Greenwood may be a name not yet widely known to the wider football world, but to those who follow United at all levels from senior side to Academy, his emergence is no surprise. He's been banging in the goals for fun at youth level at such a rate that a first team bow seemed only a matter of time. Greenwood scored 30 goals in 29 games for United’s Under-18, Under-19 and Under-21 sides last season but perhaps the most striking aspect about the teenager is that he is completely comfortable using both feet, the definition of a two-footed player. To be so good with both feet is extremely rare, especially in someone so young.   Of course, it's one thing getting your chance, but taking your opportunity quite another entirely. It's fair to say that Greenwood has done that.

  So many young prodigies have been subjected to the Old Trafford hype machine yet the reality is very few hit the heights hoped for them at a club with as rich traditions of youth development as any in Europe. Will it be different for Greenwood? No one can say with any certainty yet but, on the evidence of what we have seen so far, he seems to have a better chance than most.

 In the 21st minute of United's Europa League game against FK Partizan, his moment came. He'd already scored the winner to edge out Astana in this competition and followed that up with another against Rochdale in the League Cup. Against the Serbs, he anticipated Marcus Rashford's defence-splitting ball and timed his run to perfection. Without breaking stride he walloped the ball beyond Vladimir Stojkovic and in to finish superbly. What a talent. This young lad is coming of age before our eyes and showing a maturity beyond his years. Comes alive in the box and took his first opening with aplomb. He will be special. Only just 18, he’s our joint top scorer with Daniel James and as well as the opening goal, he also set up the second for Anthony Martial. A star is born. There are shades of Robin van Persie about Greenwood's style of play and dead eyed ability in front of goal. If he does even half as well as RvP then he's set for a spectacular future.

 Rashford’s emergence a few years earlier can only help Greenwood. United have produced plenty of outstanding players who have progressed from the academy but not many strikers who have reached the top so Rashford’s progress offers his younger, similarly single-minded team-mate a pathway. Still only 21, Rashford has much still to prove himself, not least whether he can become a 20-goal-a-season man, but Greenwood will recognise the faith Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has placed in the England striker and understand the manager is serious when he talks about giving youth its chance.

 No disrespect to Rashford, but the contrast between the two was striking, if you'll pardon the pun. Despite the fact that Rashford is nearly four years older than Greenwood and a relative veteran by comparison, Greenwood is outperforming him. Whereas Rashford finally got his goal at the fifth time of asking, Mason gobbled up the first chance that came his way. He's a natural finisher with a very bright future ahead of him. Whereas Macheda and to a lesser extent Januzaj proved merely flashes in the pan, with Greenwood it feels different. It feels like he's being nurtured correctly and being allowed to have what he needs to become the player we all know he can be.

 He's now the youngest United to score and get an assist in a European tie. Not even a certain teenage tyro by the name of Cristiano managed that. The hype around this young man is starting to feel very real.

Match report: Man Utd 3-0 FK Partizan

Man Utd turned in our best showing of the season to ease into the Europa Cup knockouts with two games to spare.
The result keeps Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's men top of Group L on ten points from four games, with United the only side in the tournament yet to concede a goal. Victory in their final match against AZ Alkmaar on 12 December will ensure a top seeding in the last 32, no matter what happens when they go to Kazakhstan to play Astana in three weeks.
This was a rare evening of comfort, with a goal glut at Old Trafford that could and probably should have seen the Reds run out even more convincing winners than the eventual 3-0 scoreline.

The Reds young, lively and impressive front three with an average age of only 21 between them proved too hot for the Serbians to handle. Mason Greenwood, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford all got in on the act either side of half time on a night when United were totally dominant and nothing less than deserving victors.

Both sides had efforts chalked out in the opening exchanges. Martial - who grabbed the winner in the return fixture - latched on to Rashford's reverse pass and stuck the ball away only to correctly be flagged offside.

 Within a minute at the other end, his opposite no.9, Umar Sadiq’s shot was deflect over Sergio Romero by Marcos Rojo but he, too, was offside.
Rashford flashed a shot wide and went close again with a volley from Aaron Wan - Bissaka's cross, but Solskjaer and his side did not have to wait long for the breakthrough to come.
Rashford's defence-splitting pass found Greenwood and the 18 year old cut inside his marker before he fired the ball beyond the wrong-footed Vladimir Stojkovic to put United ahead. 

Third placed Partizan were not put off by the setback and showed more adventure that ended with Seydouba Soumah curling a counter-attack shot wide four minutes later.
Fred was narrowly off target from distance but then came a moment of magic from Martial. Collecting a deflected clearance off Greenwood, our no.9 jinked his way past a posse of Partizan players, nutmegged another and slotted home from close range past the advancing keeper.

The lively centre-forward could have made it two in a minute but followed up his clinical execution with a slightly off target chip over the bar as keeper Stojkovic advanced.
There was no letting up from an increasingly confident United as we came steaming out of the traps for the second half. Four minutes after the interval, Juan Mata sent a long accurate cross-field pass to Ashley Young.
The skipper cushioned his lay-off for Rashford to stick a belting drive high into the net for 3-0. Young then almost added a goal to his assist but saw his free-kick curl just wide as the Reds looked to grab a hatful with the Serbs wilting.
The overworked Stojkovic tipped over a Fred free-kick and the Brazilian was then replaced by 18 year old James Garner for his Old Trafford debut. The only negative was an injury to Scott McTominay as he limped off 15 minutes from the end.

Another clean sheet for Sergio Romero with United yet to concede in Europe on our way to the last 32. 

Overall team performance: 8/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Mason Greenwood. What a talent.

Sunday, 3 November 2019

Match report: AFC Bournemouth 1-0 Man Utd

Former United striker Josh King struck in first half stoppage time to end Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's United three game winning streak.

 United made a positive start after going four unbeaten but their new-found belief seemed to evaporate in driving rain and swirling wind on the south coast. King, who scored the winner in Bournemouth's only other win over United in 2015, was allowed to chest down Adam Smith's cross into the box before he spun Aaron Wan-Bissaka and volleyed between David de Gea's legs from close range.
Out of form Bournemouth carried that momentum into the second half and Harry Wilson twice went close to doubling their lead, before late substitute Mason Greenwood hit the post moments after coming on for United.
But the visitors could not prevent Bournemouth securing their first win in six, which saw Eddie Howe's men leapfrog us and move up to seventh.
Daniel James was again United's biggest threat, with the Welshman at the heart of his side's best moments. He found Andreas Pereira - who fired wide - and compatriot Fred then dragged a shot wastefully off target when well placed.
James then won a free-kick which saw him go close from 20 yards, and as United struggled to maintain that early dominance, King pounced.

The 27-year-old striker was left unmarked before Wan-Bissaka committed himself, allowing the Norway international to control the ball on his chest, flick it over his head and hammer past De Gea.
The Spanish keeper kept United in it with a string of saves after the break, notably from Ryan Fraser and Jefferson Lerma, before Solskjaer made a double substitution, bringing on Greenwood and Brandon Williams with 10 minutes left.
Greenwood volleyed Fred's cross against the woodwork at the back post before Scott McTominay and Fred tested home keeper Aaron Ramsdale from outside the box, but those chances came more through desperation than design.

At the other end,  Liverpool loanee Harry Wilson had the Cherries' first shot, which was deflected wide, before a Bournemouth break saw the again impressive Fraser shoot straight at De Gea.
Yet the Cherries seldom managed to get behind the visitors' defence until Harry Wilson and Fraser combined to find Smith in the right side of United's box. The full-back lifted the ball towards King, who showed great composure to convert his fourth goal of the season.

De Gea saved well from Fraser and both Wilsons before Solskjaer's side mounted a late assault on the Cherries goal. Aaron Ramsdale parried out a shot from Pereira, Marcus Rashford was thwarted by a Steve Cook tackle at the last and Greenwood, who had just come on, struck a post.

That proved to be the final action as our recent upturn in form and momentum was kept in check ahead of the return tie with FK Partizan on Thursday

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