Wednesday, 25 November 2020

Donny van de Beek shows Manchester United what they're missing

On a night that saw Manchester United turn in their finest performance of the season, it was always going to take something special to stand out individually. Step forward, Donny van de Beek. 

van de Beek completed 90 minutes for the first time in the red of United and showed what we've been missing with a stunning all-round showing. Although Bruno Fernandes grabbed the headlines and the man of the match award, the Dutchman impressed with his silky touch, link up play and intelligent running, breaking the lines effortlessly and always being at the heart of everything we did. This was van de Beek's third successive Champions League start and he's had EFL Cup game time, but he's only been restricted to a smattering of brief cameo appearances as a substitute in the Premier League. 

Every time I've seen him, he's always a contender for man of the match, he makes us tick and looks the part. Performances such as this one make his continued absence from the league games all the more baffling. Away from the Fernandes half-volley, the tap-in and the late Dan James goal, was the thoughtful, intelligent, mature and composed performance of the quietly effective Dutchman. He was secure and industrious on the ball, a rare panacea in the turbulent times that have befallen and befuddled the United midfield in recent times. 

Put in a deeper role alongside Fred, van de Beek controlled the game and linked well with the likes of Fernandes to see United put in a clinical and incisive attacking performance. He was not directly involved in any of the four goals but played a part in  James clincher, as he sent Mason Greenwood clear to square for the young Welshman to tap in. So often, United struggle to break through against lesser, more lowly opponents and lack both the patience and guile to break them down and move the ball quickly. van de Beek has both in abundance and has surely played himself into the starting line up with this showing. After Fred and Nemanja Matic came Fernandes and van de Beek. From the stifling to the stylish. United hammered the Turkish side for the best part of an hour. Only when Ole Solskjaer shuffled his pack to give breathers and keep men fresh did feet come firmly off pedals. 

He is something of an anti-English anathema in that van de Beek can fit in anywhere in the midfield, he's versatile, can do a multitude of jobs and is equally as comfortable wherever he plays. For a player fed on the Ajax diet of "Total Football", that should come as no surprise, but it's perhaps at odds to the archetypal English indentikit. For a United side that already has two of the best no.10s in Europe, van de Beek was never going to straight in. There's a British dislike of versatility and the mercurial "utility man" - we want players who can improve a team in a certain position and woe betide anyone whom moves them out of where they are supposed to be. Seemingly, if you can play in three, four or even five different positions, you are of no use. 

Solskjaer simply has to find a way to get van de Beek into the team every week from now on. You feel he doesn't trust the centre-halves enough to deploy Fernandes and van de Beek together and so instead relies on the double pivot of Fred and either Scott McTominay or Matic to shield and protect Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof's lack of pace. But van de Beek is too good to ignore, and you don't need two CDMs against a West Brom or a Fulham. United traditionally struggle to break down opponents that sit deep and in a low block, denying time and space and flooding the midfield and defence. If Fernandes is marked out of a game, we have another string-pulling creator to turn to. Late on when Fernandes was subbed and van de Beek moved further forward into the 10, he played a defence-splitting pass for the fourth and almost set up a fifth for Greenwood. 

When picking a full-strength Manchester United side, van de Beek simply has to be in it. The likes of Paul Pogba may be better in terms of pure pound-for-pound ability, but he does a better job than the frustrating Frenchman and offers us more. 

If Solskjaer wasn't fully convinced by the talents of the young Oranje, then his mind surely must have been changed by now. The focus now shifts to the weekend, Southampton away, and if United can follow up a great European performance with a similar one in the Premier League.

Whether we can or not could well hinge on the presence of a certain Dutchman at the heart of the engine room. Van de Beek has played his way into contention and proved he's worthy of a place. He cannot continue to be held back. 

Bruno Fernandes' transformative effect on Manchester United

Manchester United have had an awful record in the transfer market since 2009 but Bruno Fernandes has proved the exception to that rule. 
When he was signed from Sporting Lisbon in January - it's mad to think he's been ten months already - Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and United were at rock bottom, having lost to Burnley and seen Liverpool recede over the hill and into the distance en route to the title. 

There have been some truly awful signings, players such as Morgan Schneiderlin, Angel Di Maria, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Alexis Sanchez, Bebe, and Wilfried Zaha to name but six. There has been the odd gem in there too, Javier Hernandez and David de Gea for example, but the bad far outnumbers the good. 

We needed a miracle, a Messiah and a saviour as a succession of hapless transfers, equally inept managers and a worse boardroom had brought moribund misery at Old Trafford. We needed someone to sprinkle stardust on United's rabble of mismatched, discombobulated pieces.  

All that and more duly arrived with the uplifting arrival of Bruno for a fee of 47m - a fee that is rapidly becoming a steal. A man few knew much about, but would very soon become accustomed to. An instigator, an invigorator and an inspirer. The string-pulling heartbeat of Solskjaer's United. United should have signed him the previous summer, but he arrived just in time to spark our late surge into the Champions League positions. Had he signed the previous summer, we would have finished much closer to the top two instead of the eventual 33-point deficit. 

Manchester United's previous buy from the capital club of Sporting Lisbon? A brash, brazen and braid-headed teenaged tyro, a show pony with the world at his feet and the personality and temperament to match. That boy would go on to become synonymous with football par excellence and develop into arguably the greatest player the sport has ever seen. Some lad by the name of Cristiano Ronaldo. United had never had anyone quite like him before, and haven't had since. 

But even he did not have the same immediate, cataclysmic impact that Fernandes has had on this football club. As brilliant as CR7 was, it took him a couple of seasons to kick into gear, for us to truly see him at his devastating, jaw dropping best. Although his talent was clear for all to see, Ronaldo didn't hit his peak and climb the summit until 2007, three years into his Old Trafford career. He came into a developing side that was already set to become all-conquering serial winners, dovetailing with the likes of a young Wayne Rooney and a prime Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and Rio Ferdinand et al. Perhaps only Eric Cantona had a similar galvanising effect when the mercurial Frenchman provided the missing piece of Alex Ferguson's puzzle. United were nearly men, almost there but no quite, until 'Le Roi' rode into Old Trafford on horseback and took up regality at his royal residence. 

United circa 2020 was a club on its knees, as far away from those halycon days as its possible to be, when Fernandes came. 35 games later, and there have been 36 direct goal involvements. Fernandes has hit 21 goals, the fastest midfield player to hit that landmark in Reds history, and he's carved out 15 assists. Frightening numbers that no one before him has ever put up. Is there a better playmaker in the Premier League at present? Kevin de Bruyne is off the boil and has had a disappointing season so far by his lofty standards. No one else really comes close. 

Fernandes is far more than just his hop-skip-jump penalty technique, too, as he's shown he's capable of scoring all sorts of different types of goals. There was the beautifully cushioned, perfectly caressed header against Everton, the counter-attacking top bins curler at Newcastle and his net-busting half volley against Istanbul. Adept from close range or from distance, he can see a pass like no one else does and is always involved. It's true he loses the ball a fair bit, but I don't mind that as it shows he's willing to take risks and to try something different. He often loses possession in harmless areas and wins it back through his pressing. 

His impact goes far beyond simply his creativity. Fernandes is a United captain of the future, inspiring and lifting those around him. He's selfless too, as his actions on Tuesday showed. With Fernandes on a hat-trick and United given a penalty, he passed up the chance of a treble and allowed Marcus Rashford to do the business, fulfilling a promise he'd made to our no.10 that Rashford would take the next one. At Everton, with Fernandes having hit a brace, he again could have gone it alone to get a hat-trick, but instead teed up Edinson Cavani for his first United goal. Putting the team before his own personal glory and never taking the limelight. He's a natural leader, and has proved himself a United skipper in all but name. 

You have to be a truly special player to win over the Manchester United fanbase after less than a year. Some are never accepted, others only ever appreciated after they've gone. Fewer still become instant fan idols and cult heroes. Bruno Fernandes has become every United fan's favourite player as the epitome of everything this club should strive to be. The fact he was voted as Player of the Year six months into his time here tells you everything you need to know about the place he already holds in all our hearts. 

Bruno Fernandes is Manchester United and Manchester United is Bruno Fernandes. After year of expensive flops, he is looking like one of the greatest additions in the history of this great club. He has everything in his locker to go on and join the pantheon of legends that have taken to Old Trafford's hallowed turf. Perhaps one day, in 20 or 30 years time, we'll still be talking about him and idolising a Portuguese playmaker who left an indelible legacy in the manner of his predecessor. 

Match report: Man Utd 4-1 Istanbul Basaksehir

A Bruno-Fernandes inspired Manchester United moved to the cusp of qualification with another impressive Champions League victory.
The Reds avenged their defeat in the Turkish capital last time out and require only a point from one of their last two games to confirm a place in the last 16 of the competition.

The game was effectively over the interval as a stunning Bruno Fernandes half-volley, and a close range finish after a goalkeeper error, was added to by a Marcus Rashford penalty in the opening half hour. 
Deniz Turuc gave Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side a minor scare in the second half, but a Dan James goal, his first at Old Trafford since August 2019, completed the rout and put United in pole position. 
Having lost in ignominious fashion last time out, Solskjaer was faced with a must win game and made two changes from the West Brom win, with Donny van de Beek in for Nemanja Matic and a first start for Edinson Cavani, ahead of Juan Mata. In a very attacking line up, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial started as wingers with Cavani up top ahead of Fernandes and van de Beek slightly deeper alongside Fred. Rafael da Silva, a United cult hero and fan favourite, returned to Old Trafford and featured at right-back for the visitors. 

United made the perfect start as they seized control from the outset and went ahead after only six minutes. Istanbul failed to clear an Alex Telles corner and the ball dropped to Fernandes, who crashed home a half-volley from 25 yards into the tip bins for another memorable and metronomic moment from the incomparable Portuguese.

Rashford had the ball in the net after a defence-splitting pass from Fernandes, only to be flagged offside, and the magnifico was involved again after 19 minutes as United moved 2-0 ahead. Mert Gunok should have claimed comfortably from a Telles cross, but credit must go to Cavani. His movement put the keeper under pressure and the Uruguayan veteran got a touch on the ball, forcing the keeper into a mistake as he fumbled into the path of Fernandes, presented with the easiest goal of his career. 

Rashford was denied by a good save from Gunok and Martial flashed into the side netting, before United put the game beyond doubt by the half-hour mark. A superb raking pass from Victor Lindelof set Rashford free and the United man was scythed down by Boli Bolingoli. Replays showed Rashford was onside, with a penalty awarded. Fernandes, despite being on a hat-trick, handed the spot-kick to our no.10 and he made no mistake to roll the effort into the corner for his eighth goal of the season.

To their credit, the Turks - despite being out of contention both in the match and the group - made the Reds work hard for their win after the interval. 
David de Gea saved well from Edin Visca and former Spurs man Nacer Chadli - one of four ex-Premier League players in the visitors ranks - went close from distance. 

United made a flurry of changes and that, combined with the comfortable nature of our lead, led to a spell of pressure from Okan Buruk's side.
Irfan Kahveci headed over before the Turks were handed a potential lifeline and a glimmer of hope 15 minutes from the end.
De Gea looked to have kept out a well-hit set piece from Turuc, but could only claw the ball from behind the line as the referee's watch buzzed and he awarded the goal. Visca hit the bar with a curler but United, helped by the calming influence of Nemanja Matic, weathered the storm. 

James grabbed the fourth goal in the final minute as he linked with fellow sub Mason Greenwood to seal another four-goal haul. Cavani flicked on to Greenwood and the teenager burst clear to pick out the onrushing James and he placed the ball under the advancing Gunok in the final minute to end his goal drought. 

PSG beat Leipzig 1-0 in the other game in this group to move into second place and set up a humdinger at Old Trafford next week.

Overall team performance: 7/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Bruno Fernandes 

Sunday, 22 November 2020

Match report: Man Utd 1-0 West Brom

A retaken Bruno Fernandes penalty gave United their first home league win of the season over Slaven Bilic's battling Baggies.
After Darnell Furlong's handball, former Reds keeper Sam Johnstone saved the Portuguese's initial effort, only for VAR to correctly deem he'd come off his line. Fernandes made no mistake on the second attempt as he slammed the re-taken spot-kick high beyond Johnstone, despite the keeper again having erred in his duties.

West Brom had earlier had a penalty of their own awarded when Conor Gallagher went down under a challenge from Fernandes, only for the video technology to show the United man had got a foot on the ball before clipping the Albion attacker. Referee David Coote overturned the decision, only compounding Bilic's sense of injustice. 

The result lifted United above Arsenal and Pep Guardiola's Manchester City and into ninth place in the table after our first back-to-back wins of the season. Newly promoted West Brom, victorious on three of their last five visits to M16, remain winless and firmly amongst the favourites for an immediate return to the second tier. 

Returning to action after a two week hiatus, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer made two changes from the side that won at Everton before the international break. Alex Telles was handed his league debut at left-back in place of the injured Luke Shaw, and Nemanja Matic replaced Scott McTominay at the base of the midfield. 

Anthony Martial headed narrowly wide inside the opening five minutes, after Juan Mata had picked him out with an excellent cross. The mercurial Frenchman went close again ten minutes later, when he was denied by Johnstone after a sweeping move. 
The former United keeper was in inspired form throughout, adding to the list of ex-Red stoppers to become prime Manuel Neuer when up against his former employers. 
But David de Gea was kept busy too, and was forced into action soon afterwards when he tipped Karlan Grant's low effort wide with a superb fingertip save.

Johnstone did well under pressure from Martial after the ball had deflected to him, and Kyle Bartley then felt the full force of Harry Maguire, as the United captain thumped a volley straight in to the kisser of the Albion skipper.
But the West Brom captain is clearly made of stern stuff and went close himself three minutes before half-time when he met Conor Townsend's cross to loop a header over the bar. 

Then, in the 48th minute, came the main talking point. Gallagher tumbled under a challenge from Fernandes and Mr Coote showed no hesitation in pointing to the spot. Martial had a similar challenge on him go unnoticed in the first half, so perhaps justice prevailed when replays showed Fernandes had crucially got a foot on the ball in the process of clipping Gallagher. 

But there would be further drama to come at the other end. De Gea denied Townsend through a stonking save with his foot, before United had a penalty of their own. There could be no argument with this one, when Mata's cross struck the outstretched arm of the backpedalling Furlong. 

Fernandes saw his spot-kick saved by Johnstone only for the ex-Red to step off his line and Fernandes slammed home his second penalty. Johnstone had come off his line for that one, too, so there would have been a third re-take had Fernandes missed.

To his credit, Johnstone kept United at bay with a string of simply stunning saves. Having kept out Fred and Martial, he palmed away a Maguire header and then thwarted Marcus Rashford from close range. 
West Brom substitute Callum Robinson hit the bar with a curler, before Johnstone continued his heroics with a firm low save to deny another replacement, United's Edinson Cavani. 

Fernandes had another effort beaten out, with the uncomfortable nature of a slender lead entirely down to Johnstone's heroics. In truth, the Reds could - and should - have won by a much wider margin, but will take a win any which way it may come. 
A 1-0 lead in the closing stages of any game is always nervy, even against obdurate and resilient opponents scrapping for every point. West Brom never looked like hitting United with a late sucker punch, though, and United held out for valuable back-to-back victories.

Overall team performance: 6/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Bruno Fernandes... with an honourable mention to Mr Coote. 

Saturday, 7 November 2020

Match report: Everton 1-3 Man United

Bruno Fernandes inspired Manchester United to victory as the Reds responded to back-to-back losses and eased the pressure on manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

United's Portuguese magnifico scored twice and set up the other to give the Reds a first victory at Goodison Park in three years and record a seventh successive away win. After losses to Arsenal and Istanbul had cast fresh doubt on Solskjaer's suitability for the job, this will come as a welcome tonic to the Norwegian as, once again, he pulled out a result just when he needed one.

United had fallen behind through Bernard but Carlo Ancelotti's side subsided to a third consecutive loss as the Toffees, top of the table after four games, dropped to sixth. United climbed to thirteenth, five points off fourth-placed Leicester with a game in hand.
Solskjaer ditched the diamond formation with two changes from defeat to Arsenal in the league last time out as Juan Mata and Anthony Martial were restored to the XI in place of Nemanja Matic and the ill Mason Greenwood. Martial came in to lead the line having completed his domestic suspension in a familiar 4-2-3-1 system. 

Even with no fan present, Goodison Park always presents a difficult challenge and United looked set for another tough day at the office as Everton, revitalised under the legendary tutelage of the veteran Italian, started strongly. United had the first chance of the game though, as Martial flashed a shot narrowly wide having been picked out by his strike partner Marcus Rashford. 

The in-form Dominic Calvert - Lewin had already fired a warning but the Reds failed to heed that let off a the hosts took the lead after 19 minutes. Having been lambasted for the shoddy and shambolic nature of Istanbul's two goals in midweek, Solskjaer and his side could have done without another. 
Calvert - Lewin was inevitably involved as the returning Jordan Pickford thumped the ball downfield and the Toffees leading scorer flicked it on. Victor Lindelof failed to clear and the ball dropped to Bernard who fired through the legs of Aaron Wan - Bissaka and into the corner beyond David de Gea. It was a good finish from the Brazilian, but Wan - Bissaka should have got tighter and the winger was allowed to get his shot off too easily.

To United's credit though, they responded superbly to the setback and had equalised within six minutes. Luke Shaw found Fernandes with a superb cross at the culmination of a 20-pass United move, and the Portuguese playmaker thumped his header beyond Pickford for his fifth goal of the season in the 25th minute.

Lucas Digne skimmed the crossbar with a drive from distance, but the Reds went ahead with their next attack, turning a deficit into a lead in the space of 13 minutes. Again it was a neat move as United showed slick passing and movement to create the chance and then finish it, albeit slightly fortuitously.     
Wan - Bissaka found the immense Fred, and the lung-busting Brazilian in turn moved the ball on to Rashford. Rashford turned it left to Fernandes and his lofted cross-shot, possibly meant for the onrushing England man, dropped into the net via a post.

Ancelotti hadn't lost three successive ties since his days in charge of Real Madrid in 2014, and sent out his side out to preserve that stat after the break.
There was little in the way of clear cut chances but plenty of commitment, with Fernandes booked for a crunching tackle on Digne. Pickford was then fortunate to escape censure as he lost the ball under pressure and seemed to scythe down Harry Maguire with a kick out, but VAR deemed the clash a legitimate one.

United's skipper was immense in his best performance for many a month, clearing his lines with several towering headers as the Toffees launched an aerial bombardment. He thwarted Calvert - Lewin with a stunning challenge and then blocked from James Rodriguez as the hosts started to lift their level. 

Despite maintaining an element of control, there was always a sense that the Reds would need a third goal, and Rashford almost provided it on 72 minutes. Fred, dictating the play and setting the tempo, released Rashford with a lovely reverse clipped pass. It left Rashford one on on one with Pickford, but he merely blasted the ball straight at his England colleague and the much-maligned Everton keeper saved the effort with his legs.

Mata went close as he tested Pickford from distance, but the threat remained intermittent at the other end as Maguire cleared impressively under pressure from substitute Alex Iwobi. Seamus Coleman found Abdoulaye Doucoure, but the rangy midfielder couldn't keep the shot down to trouble De Gea and perhaps should have done better. 

For all their probing, crosses and flurry of corners, though, Everton never really threatened the keeper and United sealed the deal deep into stoppage time. With the hosts pushed up and everyone forward in search of a leveller, the Reds broke in vintage style as Maguire stabbed the ball out to Fernandes. The Portuguese was unstinting in his desire to carry the ball deep into Everton territory, and this time turned provider as he teed up substitute Edinson Cavani to slide beyond Pickford for his goal in the red of United. 

Overall team performance: 8/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Bruno Fernandes. There were several superb individual performances - Fred, Scott McTominay and Maguire to name but three - but United wouldn't have won the game without the influence of Fernandes. 

Friday, 6 November 2020

Match preview: Everton vs Manchester United

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer faces the most pivotal 90 minutes of his United tenure as he takes the out-fo-form  Reds to Carlo Ancelotti's high-flying Toffees. 
Solskjaer's side have suffered back-to-back defeats, back to back losses and fresh questions over the United boss's suitability for the role. The club have reportedly contacted former Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino over the job but Solskjaer - who is yet to win at Goodison Park in two visits - remains steadfast.

He said: "If I don't trust my beliefs and values, who will - I don't look at one or two results and fall like a house of cards."
There are demands on any coach, players and manager, particularly when you are at Manchester United. There is an expectation and we have to be tough mentally. We are the best, the biggest and the most talked about club in the world. Wednesday night was very disappointing, we didn't expect anything but criticism. "It is how you deal with it.The boys are ready for a reaction, we are all hurt. It is never easy when you lose two games on the bounce but I have learned how to deal with the good times and the bad times.
"Every game of football quickly becomes history very quickly - I want us to go to Goodison Park with a strong mentality and a positive frame of mind."

United lost 4-0 here in 2019 on Solskjaer's first vist there as Reds boss, whilst last term brought slightly more joy but only a point as Bruno Fernandes cancelled out Dominic Calvert - Lewin's early opener in a 1-1 draw in the penultimate pre-lockdown tie, having also shared the spoils by the same scoreline at Old Trafford. 
Despite the impact made by Ancelotti's shrewd summer signings, Calvert - Lewin has been the name of everyone's lips as the striker has become the focal point of the veteran Italian's evolving team. Calvert - Lewin is only two shy of his tally from the whole of last term - thirteen - already and has earned an England call up, scoring on his debut for the Three Lions in the friendly win over Wales.

Everton started the season in fine fettle, surging to the top of the league having won their first four games. Ancelotti's ban had stumbled since, though, with only point from their last three games - a draw in the Merseyside derby - and successive away defeats to Southampton and Newcastle. 

That has seen them slip from the summit and into fourth place, but Goodison Park is a difficult trip, even without fans, and Solskjaer will again be looking to his knack of pulling a result out when he's under the heaviest of pressure. We know how good United can be but inconsistency has been the major hallmark of this side throughout Solskjaer's reign and, as the shadow of Pochettino looms, he cannot afford many more performances like the ones against Arsenal and Istanbul. 

Injuries have hindered them and the Toffees have come unstuck, but they have players to hurt United such as Calvert - Lewin, James Rodriguez and Allan, and will prove a dangerous opponent. United sit fifteenth, but have won both of our away games and only sit six points off fourth place with a game in hand. 

Mercurial playmaker Rodriguez could return for Everton, but Richarlison is suspended. Lucas Digne is available again after his one match ban but defensive duo Seamus Coleman and Ben Godfrey are both injured, providing Ancelotti with a headache in the right-back position.

For United, Alex Telles has completed his stint in self isolation after a positive Covid-19 test, and could be in line for a Premier League debut. Jesse Lingard, Eric Bailly and Phil Jones are all out and Victor Lindelof doubtful, but Anthony Martial has completed his three-match ban and will return to the side. David de Gea is expected to replace Dean Henderson between the posts after the latter's Champions League bow in Istanbul. 

Manchester United's trip to Goodison Park is a Saturday lunch time kick off at 12.30 and will be live on BT Sport. 

Form guide: Everton W W W D L L Man Utd W W D W L L 
Match odds: Everton 6/4 Draw 12/5 Man Utd 11/8 (William Hill)
Referee: Paul Tierney (Wigan)

Predicted United XI: De Gea; Wan - Bissaka, Maguire, Tuanzebe, Shaw; McTominay, Fred; Greenwood, Fernandes, Rashford; Martial 

Thursday, 5 November 2020

What next and where now for Manchester United?

It says a lot about the pulling power Manchester United have that, even in this extraordinary week, we continue to dominate the headlines.
In a week when England went into (another) lockdown amid a rise in Covid cases, the eyes of the world were cast on our transatlantic cousins as the American people chose their next POTUS in the midst of a world changing pandemic.

Yet despite all this, despite these two massive seismic moments in history, Manchester United are never far from the headlines. Even in a monumental week, the back - and even the front - pages of newspapers and websites had blanket coverage of United's latest travails. If Ole Gunnar Solskjaer thought that events elsewhere might take the spotlight off him, then he was mistaken.

Just as Joe Biden closes in on taking the White House and replacing the previous incumbent for a four year stint, so the shadow of Mauricio Pochettino loiters over Old Trafford. He hasn't quite been voted in just yet, but you feel as though this particular presidency doesn't have much longer to run. This time, though, not even the popular vote may be enough to save Solskjaer. United's hierarchy are Biden their time (get it), but it now seems a case of when, rather than if, they turn to the next candidate. 

Jobs and pressure do not come much bigger than taking the White House and leading Manchester United with the incumbents two of the most influential and important people on the planet. 

You will only ever get criticism, your decisions will impact millions, the world watches your every move and everything you do will get scrutinised and magnified tenfold. Column inches are devoted to both POTUS and the United manager, you have the weight of the world on your shoulders at every turn and - if you're lucky - you might just longer than four years. 

For what feels like the umpteenth time, Manchester United are at a crossroads. For what feels like the umpteenth time, Solskjaer is a manager on the edge and walking the tightrope. We've been here before. Just ask David Moyes. And Louis van Gaal. And, indeed, Jose Mourinho. Like the other men before him, the other men given the impossible task of reviving this sleeping giant, Solskjaer has been set up to fail.

Let down by a toxic boardroom regime that fail to give any manager a chance of success. We still don't have a director of football or anyone with an ounce of football knowledge on the board. The cancerous, ruinous, corrupt, money grabbing, penny pinching wankers failed to back their manager in the summer - the manager they were so keen to appoint in the hope of instilling a long term vision that remains impossible to detect. The board's antipathy amounts to criminal negligence and a dereliction of duty. They have set Solskjaer up to fail just as they did with Moyes, with Van Gaal and with Mourinho. Solskjaer didn't get any of his top transfer targets and continues to vouch for the board. All the time this toxic boardroom regime put money before medals, then we are doomed to failure.

Whether you think Solskjaer is the right man for the job or not, it doesn't explain how every manager has failed to strike a tune out of these players. This squad may be talented, but they are spineless, gutless, lazy and weak minded babies. He has shown loyalty to these players, perhaps too much so, but yet they are going to get him the sack and throw the fourth United manager in succession under the bus. He has been let down by them, too. There was a total lack of leadership, intelligence and awareness in Istanbul on Wednesday night following the meek, feeble surrender to Arsenal and the drab draw with Chelsea in recent weeks. The woeful far outweighs the wonderful at the moment. 

Solskjaer can set up the side superbly for specific big game assignments but good, consistent sides have an identity and a clear strategic game plan week in week out and regardless of opponents. United's is difficult, nigh on impossible to detect and that's a massive issue after almost two years in the job. 

But we can't simply keep sacking managers. How can we ever expect to build a long term vision for the future if we keep changing personnel every two minutes. What makes us believe Pochettino can do what Van Gaal and Mourinho couldn't manage? What if he doesn't want these players? He'd rebuild the squad from scratch and that would set us back even further.  Nothing would change all the time this board are in situ. You can't plan for one manager but then change the narrative halfway through. It's like Groundhog Day. Van Gaal came in, got backed in his first season, secured Champions League football then was hung out to dry before his sacking. 
 The same happened under Mourinho and history is repeating now with Ole. The end of one toxic and exhaustive cycle but the start of the next. 

Shambolic, amateurish and absolutely hopeless.. Man Utd didn't have a clue what they were doing

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been in charge of Manchester United for almost two years and 101 games. 

Game number 99 - the stunning win over RB Leipzig - provided the affable Norwegian with one of the best nights of his Manchester United life as his diamond formation sparkled and made a top European side look very ordinary. If he had hoped his century would provide similar cheer, he would be rudely awakened as United instead produced one of the worst showings of his tenure. Number 100, a shoddy, lifeless and meek surrender in the face of an Arsenal masterpiece, would be one Solskjaer will want to forget in a hurry.

As the Reds headed to Istanbul and the banks of the Bosphorus to face Basaksehir for number 101, there was one question hanging over the Fatih Terim Stadium - which Manchester United side would turn up today?
That in itself epitomised our major Achilles heel - the maddening tendency to lurch from the ridiculous to the sublime with little in between. We're either very, very good (PSG, Leipzig) or shockingly terrible (Palace, Spurs, Arsenal). Having beaten the former two with ease and very impressively, surely Istanbul Basaksehir - an ageing collection of journeymen veterans and former Premier League cast offs - should not provide too much of a test.

Yet, this pathetic excuse, this spineless rabble of inept, gutless, weak minded and incohesive jumble of discombobulated pieces were an absolute embarrassment. I'm sick of penning the same words over and over and over again - it's like a broken record, but there's simply nothing else you can say. Save for those two aforementioned European encounters, Manchester United have been alarmingly average all season and absolutely hopeless in the last two games.  
Istanbul's first goal would be a poor goal to concede at Sunday league level, never mind in the continent's elite football club competition. It was absolutely astounding, with United's 168m defence nowhere to be seen and conspicuous in absentia. 
United had a corner and played it short with everyone in the box. The ball broke loose and Edin Visca thumped up field with every United man in his own half. 
Nemanja Matic was the only player anywhere near but never had a hope of getting back as former Chelsea man Demba Ba latched on to the clearance and ran through to slot beyond Dean Henderson for the easiest goal he will ever score. Completely unprofessional, absolutely amateurish and an embarrasment. United didn't have a clue what they were doing or who should have been where. It was a damning indictment of Solskjaer's shapeless, clueless, and completely woeful Manchester United. 

It was an absolute gift. Istanbul must have thought all their Christmases had come early and at once. There was zero shape, zero organisation, zero desire and zero communication. Solskjaer did not tell the players to go out and defend like that, but where was the coaching? The players have to take their share of the responsibility, but Solskjaer is the manager and the buck - rightly or wrong - will always stop with him. Not one player did his job correctly. 

Nobody - players, coaching staff or manager - can shirk accountability and come out of it with any credit. Ba had the freedom of the city to score and the fact United's players were so high up the pitch and so criminally out of position beggars belief. You still can't quite believe it. It suggests a lack of intelligence, awareness and leadership, a complete dereliction of whatever blueprint Solskjaer, Mike Phelan and co had put in place. Harry Maguire, United's 80m captain, isn't worth 80p at the minute. Aaron Wan - Bissaka gets a nosebleed when he crosses over halfway and Axel Tuanzebe, so impressive against Neymar, Mbappe and co, was hauled off at half-time. Only Luke Shaw can come out with any modicum of credit.

The second goal was just as bad when United lost the ball and Deniz Turuc seized possession and burst into the box. United were at sixes and sevens and left all at sea as Ba dummied for Visca to slam home - unmarked and in acres of space - beyond Dean Henderson. It was a disasterclass. Comical, computer game, FIFA cheat code defending. 

Even when Anthony Martial headed us back into the game, you never felt United had it in them to go on and win or even equalise. Istanbul sat in a low block, stayed compact and asked the Reds to break them down. It was a question we didn't have a clue how to answer. 

It all leaves Solskjaer on the back foot again as we head to Everton, scene of the 0-4 loss in 2019 that left the United boss raging. He vowed such a shitshow would never happen again. 
But such embarrassments have returned, and keep happening - like much of Solskjaer's tenure, as soon as United seem to be building momentum, we throw in dreadful and feeble showings with the inevitably questions asked about his suitability for the job.

It isn't terminal for Ole just yet but something has to change. Otherwise the spectre of Patricio Mochettino will only continue to grow. 

Match report: Istanbul Basaksehir 2-1 Man Utd

 Manchester United suffered back-to-back defeats as goals from Demba Ba and Edin Visca gave Istanbul victory in our third Group H fixture.
The Reds had started the section in stunning fashion with superb, shock wins over PSG and RB Leipzig but - faced with the weakest side in the group, on paper at least - inconsistency reared its ugly head again as a side including former Red Rafael da Silva claimed their first ever Champions League victory.

It was a bad night for United as Ba and Visca put Istanbul into a 2-0 first half lead. Anthony Martial headed a goal back before half-time, but in truth we never looked capable of finding a leveller.

There were six changes to the side which lost to Arsenal at the weekend with a European debut for Dean Henderson and another start for Donny van de Beek. Martial started up front ahead of his return to domestic action and Axel Tuanzebe replaced Victor Lindelof at the heart of the defence. 

Istanbul had lost both of their opening two games in the competition's Group of Death - in contrast to United, fresh from those victories over the Parisian giants and the eye-catching Germans.

Luke Shaw flashed a shot wide early on but the Turkish side must have thought Christmas had come early when they were gifted the opener in the twelfth minute.

It was a goal that you would you would be embarrassed to concede in Sunday football, never mind in Europe's elite club competition. Direct from a corner, Visca punted the ball up field, and - with United's defence desolate and deserting their duties, only Nemanja Matic was back. The ageing Serb was never going to make the interception, leaving the 35-year-old Ba to burst clear from halfway, leaving him one on one with the advancing Henderson. The former Premier League striker gleefully accepted the gift to roll in his side's first ever goal in the Champions League. 

Rafael blocked well from Martial and Visca went close from distance at the other end before Henderson saved from Danijel Aleksic's header. 

Five minutes before half-time, Okan Buruk's side struck again. Matic and Juan Mata conspired to lose the ball, and the errant pass was seized upon Deniz Turuc. The Istanbul man broke down the left, skipping beyond Aaron Wan - Bissaka and into the box. His cross was dummied by former Chelsea man Ba, taking three players out of the game and leaving Visca free. The Istanbul captain made no mistake as he thumped beyond Henderson with aplomb to leave Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side shell shocked.

United responded well though and halved the deficit, crucially, shortly before the break when Luke Shaw picked out Martial and he headed low beyond Mert Gunok.
Scott McTominay came on for Tuanzebe at the break, a change that saw Matic drop into the back four and the Scottish international taking up his usual place in midfield.

Gunok saved superbly from a Bruno Fernandes free-kick and Visca went close again, but in truth the Reds never looked capable of mustering even an equaliser.

Paul Pogba and Edinson Cavani were sent to try and salvage a point but Buruk's men were happy to sit back, soak up the pressure and contain the Reds. 

For all their attacking weaponry, United barely created a chance but yet still almost squeaked out of jail at the death.
Shaw's 91st-minute corner was flicked on by Matic and Maguire's goalbound header deflected off Mehmet Topal. The ball looked certain to end up in the net but Alexandru Epureanu somehow managed to hack the ball to safety from under the bar and Istanbul survived by inches.

That proved to be the final action of another frustrating night for Solskjaer's United, with a difficult trip to Everton to come on Saturday before the international break. 

United remain in a good position in Group H with the Turkish side next up at Old Trafford in the reverse fixture.

Overall team performance: 4/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Donny van de Beek. Only on the pitch for an hour but looked United's best player

Monday, 2 November 2020

Manchester United's only consistency is their inconsistency

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang ensured United remain without a home win in the league this season on the occasion of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's 100th game at the wheel. 
Once again, it was not just Solskjaer left searching for answers. The defeat to Arsenal continued United's recent trend of two steps forward but one back. Just when you think the Reds are set to put together a winning run, we slip to defeat. Just when Solskjaer looks on the verge of the sack, he pulls a result out. 
It left us fans scratching our heads too - scratching our heads in bemusement at this wildly fluctuating United side. 

Manchester United are inspired one week, yet insipid the next. Brilliant to alarmingly average in four days. The only consistent thing about this side is its inconsistency. The two performances in the Champions League have been befitting of a side that have suggested we could be dark horses. Yet, in the Premier League, they look like a side struggling at the wrong end of the table. Palace, Spurs and now Arsenal have all left Old Trafford victorious. Chelsea got a point, but should have had a penalty. United aren't just losing games but getting dominated whilst doing so. 

This issue of inconsistency was evident last season, too, when the Reds had a very impressive record against the other so called "big six" sides - four points from Spurs, six points from City and Chelsea (also beating them in the cup), six points from Leicester and - although we only picked up a draw against Liverpool - we played very well in defeat at Anfield. 

Yet we lost to Newcastle, West Ham, a Bournemouth side that would eventually be relegated, Burnley, and another Championship-bound side in Watford. It is a problem that has persisted this season.
How you can go from losing 6-1 to Spurs but then pulling off a win over PSG, or from beating Leipzig to then a defeat against Arsenal is beyond me. I'm sure I'm not alone in that regard. On our very best day, you feel this United side have it in them to beat anyone in world football. At our best, I'd fancy us in a one off game against Bayern Munich. But at our worst, you'd also back us to LOSE against anyone, too. That, in a nutshell, is our problem. When we're good, we're very, very good. When we're bad, we are abysmal. It is a trend we've seen so often. You can accept it if you're one or the other but - whilst it undoubtedly makes life more exciting - there's nothing more frustrating than supporting such an inconsistent, illogical and unpredictable and Jekyll and Hyde side. Teams with such erratic form rarely succeed. 

United have made a difficult Champions League group look anything but so far. Despite starting the section as outsiders to progress, we've swept to deservedly comprehensive wins over French giants PSG and Julian Nagelsmann's Leipzig - semi-finalists last season. Solskjaer showed flexibility, adaptability and no little tactical nous in those games.  His 3-5-2 in Paris morphed into a diamond for the Leipzig tie and he stuck with that against Arsenal. It was the system and the selection most of us wanted to see but we unable to replicate the level of performance. Part of that was, in fairness, due to Arsenal's tactical setup. Whereas United consistently broke the German side's press with ease, we were never able to get through, behind or around the Gunners. They harried us, squeezed, hassled and pressed us into submission. 

Scott McTominay seemed at odds with the system, United couldn't get Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood into the game and Fred - very impressive of late - was bullied and bogged down by the dominating presence of Thomas Partey. Fred is not the best on the ball at the best of times and lost it too often, getting booked and sparking his withdrawal with half an hour left. United improved after Nemanja In a diamond, the full-backs have to get forward to provide the width but Aaron Wan - Bissaka and Luke Shaw were either unwilling, or unable to do so. 
Bruno Fernandes cut a frustrated figure and he, too, was substituted. The man to replace him, Donny van de Beek, looked decent in his 15-minute cameo and came closest to an equaliser, hitting a post. 

So, where does this leave us? Fifteenth in the league after six games, on seven points, that's where. I'm not particularly concerned by that at this stage - it's still early in the campaign, the league looks like it's going to be a strange one and we do have a game in hand. A couple of wins and you're right up there. United often start badly and were in a similar position at the corresponding stage last season. I don't tend to pay much attention to the league standings until around Christmas time and, as already mentioned, a good run will push us up the table. But we need to start picking up points soon. Even in the two games we've won, the Reds have flattered to deceive. The 100th-minute penalty at Brighton came with United having been second best, and we only saw off Newcastle in the last ten minutes with a late flurry. The 4-1 scoreline was flattering. 

Every time United take a significant step forward, it is followed by a bigger one back. Solskjaer has been at the club almost two years but yet has not been able to iron out this side's major flaw - if, indeed he ever can.

Match report: Man United 0-1 Arsenal

 A Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang penalty inflicted more capital punishment on Manchester United and earned Arsenal a first win at Old Trafford for 14 years.
United can have few complaints about the result, as Mikel Arteta's side tactically and technically outplayed us to earn a fully deserved victory. The loss - United's third of the season already - followed defeats to Palace and Spurs and a draw with Chelsea, meaning the Reds strange struggles, in stark contrast with our European form, have all come in clashes with the London clubs.

Having beaten RB Leipzig 5-0 in midweek, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side were heading into this clash with our old historical rivals in fine fettle, with confidence high and momentum building. On his 100th match in charge of United, Solskjaer deployed the same diamond system that despatched of the Germans, with three changes from the side that looked so impressive. Scott McTominay, Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford replaced Nemanja Matic, Donny van de Beek and the suspended Anthony Martial. 

Arsenal set up in a low block, pressing relentlessly and never allowing United to settle. Led by the imperious Gabriel and marshalled by the impressive Thomas Partey, the Gunners set about their task with endeavour as they hassled United into submission.

Willian flashed a shot wide and Bukayo Saka went close with a header, before Hector Bellerin's whipped cross narrowly evaded the onrushing Aubameyang at the far post. 
United had been on the back foot but showed their attacking intent as we turned defence into attack in an instant. A superb curled pass from Rashford found Mason Greenwood, and his first time snap shot was well saved by the legs of Arsenal keeper Bernd Leno.
Alexandre Lacazette miskicked six yards out having been set up by strike partner Aubameyang, thanks to Victor Lindelof claiming the slightest of vital touches on the ball.
On a day when no United player covered themselves in glory, Lindelof was probably the pick of the bunch. 
Aubameyang struck the top of the bar shortly before half-time - a first 45 minutes in which United could count themselves fortunate to still be on level terms.
United began the second half brightly and went close twice in quick succession. First, Harry Maguire headed inches wide from a Luke Shaw set-piece, and Greenwood fired narrowly off target having linked with Rashford.

Arsenal remained a threat, though, and almost broke the deadlock at the other end on 52 minutes. Partey won possession and found Lacazette, he moved the ball on to Aubameyang and the Gabonese hit-man curled his shot just wide from distance. 

This increasingly looked like a game where one goal would be enough to win it, and so in proved.
On 69 minutes and with the tie in the balance, the breakthrough came out of nothing as Willian slipped the ball through to Bellerin, and he was scythed down by a clumsy challenge from Pogba. 
Aubameyang, on a run of five games without a goal, made no mistake with the penalty as he sent De Gea the wrong way to put Arsenal ahead.

Edinson Cavani and van de Beek were thrown on by Solskjaer to try and rescue the game, and the latter came within inches of an equaliser when his deflected cross struck the post and bounced to safety havign struck both Mohamed Elneny and Leno.
That proved to be the best we could muster as Arsenal held out in relative comfort to end their own recent indifferent run and leave United still searching for their first home league win of 2020-21. 

Overall team performance: 3/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Victor Lindelof. Another good game for the Swede. 

Thursday, 29 October 2020

Five-star United make light work of last season's heavyweights

When Marcus Rashford completed his first senior hat-trick in the Champions League on Wednesday, it capped a remarkable story. 

Not just for the player - in the midst of his heart-warming, heroic battle to end child food poverty - but for Manchester United. Rashford became only the second Red to score a hat-trick as a substitute (after a certain Ole Gunnar Solskjaer) and scorer of our first European treble since Robin van Persie in 2014. 
It capped a brilliant night for the player and his side, with Julian Nagelsmann's highly-rated Leipzig side put to the sword in a swashbuckling blitz by a man that can simply do no wrong. 

When United were handed the toughest of all eight Champions League groups, few would have given us a chance of getting past last season's runners up and last term's semi finalists in a section dubbed the "Group of Death." 
Yet, two games in, and the Reds have made the perfect start to their European campaign. A stunning, against-the-odds upset in Paris - secured of course by that man Rashford - served notice to the rest of Europe that United aren't simply here to make up the numbers. Leipzig - who fell at the penultimate hurdle at the hands of the Parisian giants - simply had no answer to United's pace, precision and lethal finishing and wilted in the face of a vintage attacking onslaught. Two games, two wins, six points. You can't argue with the stunning start we've made to a very difficult section. Far from being third favourites to progress, United will qualify for the last 16 with victory in the back-to-back ties against pot four side Istanbul Basaksehir on Matchdays Three and Four. We have the chance to clinch progress to the knockouts with two games to spare. Who would have predicted that? 

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side had beaten Paris Saint Germain on a famously historic night in 2019, but there was luck involved then. As wonderful as it was, few could say we actually deserved the result. Fortune does indeed favour the brave but it was a smash and grab.

This time, though, United fully deserved their victory. It was a tactical blueprint for the ages, stifling PSG, forcing much of their play down blind alleys and forcing their globe straddling talents of Kylian Mbappe and Neymar to the fringes. 
It was another hugely significant win to add to Solskjaer's list of big game scalps as he outclassed Thomas Tuchel with a system that seems perfect for the rigours of European competition.

Leipzig would provide a very different challenge. An upwardly mobile, energetic and progressive side led by the most sought-after young manager on the game, the suave and fashionable Nagelsmann the epitome of his football club's vision. 
They may be bereft of last season's talismanic figurehead, the now-Chelsea man Timo Werner (34 goals in 2019-20) but this was still largely the same side that, as already mentioned, made it to the semis and finished third in the Bundesliga. Perhaps not as star studded as PSG individually, Leipzig's strengths lay in the collective, a high press as a team with a mix of the combative and the creative, marshalled expertly at the back by the high-rated and much-linked Dayot Upamecano. 

Nagelsmann - the 33-year-old Leipzig manager touted for greater things - may have donned the flashy, stylish suit, but it was Solskjaer, once again, whom sparkled. Against the dapper Nagelsmann, one of the most flexible and astute young managers in the game, Solskjaer got it spot on and deserves immense credit for a brilliant victory against the Bundesliga leaders. 

Deploying a diamond despite the lack of attacking intent from the full-backs, Fred and Nemanja Matic gave the defence the necessary protection whilst allowing Paul Pogba and Donny van de Beek to pull the strings further forward. The system also allows for Pogba to dovetail with Bruno Fernandes - a sub on this occasion - without compromising the remarkable, seminal impact this incredible, special talent has on the United side. Fernandes split the defence with a stunning pass for Rashford's match-winning goal and almost set up Anthony Martial with a wonderful lofted delivery from a set piece. United were well balanced, fluid, and played with a pace, a purpose and very appropriate high energy. If Leipzig were Red Bull, then United were the Duracell bunny. It seemed to be the game plan - to ensure we kept Leipzig at arm's length before Solskjaer unleashed his heavy artillery late on. 

It has been a first class response to that woeful 6-1 drubbing at the hands of Tottenham at the start of the month. Never has an international break been so beneficial to United. Solskjaer could hardly have hoped for better since then. He's changing formation and personnel regularly, showing both adaptability and depth. Not bad for a PE teacher. 

The potential of this side is there for all to see - the diamond might not be forever, it might not necessarily be Solskjaer's best friend and we might not always sparkle like we did in the second half against Leipzig.

But, as United prepare for the weakest side in the group (no disrespect to Istanbul), we're superbly placed to clinch qualification and maybe, just maybe, surprise a few in the Champions League. 

Match report: Manchester United 5-0 RB Leipzig

Substitute Marcus Rashford smashed a stunning 16-minute Champions League hat-trick as United took apart RB Leipzig in sublime style.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side have made light work of a daunting group so far with two wins from two and will qualify for the last 16 if we beat Istanbul Basaksehir in next month's double header. 

Mason Greenwood had put the Reds ahead with his first goal in the competition before Rashford - fresh from another triumphant week off the field - took centre-stage.

First, he ran clear to slot in from close range after fellow sub Bruno Fernandes had split the defence, then thumped in a wonderful solo second from close range before Rashford drilled in a drive in the final minute.
Anthony Martial's penalty for his first goal of the season completed an impressive rout against Julian Nagelsmann's league leaders and last season's semi finalists. 

Solskjaer shuffled his pack and reverted to a diamond but still named a strong side with Greenwood recalled to partner Martial in attack. Paul Pogba and Nemanja Matic came back in whilst Donny van Beek - subject of much discussion - started at the tip of a 4-1-2-1-2 system. Perhaps with Sunday's league game with Arsenal in mind, Rashford, Fernandes and Edinson Cavani were on the bench.

Following on from last week's tremendous showing against the might of PSG, the Reds - back at Old Trafford - set the tone from the off and it took us only 21 minutes to go ahead. Fred had a shot saved by former Hull keeper Peter Gulacsi, but the veteran stopper was unable to prevent a trademark finish from Greenwood six minutes later.
Pogba's pinpont pass found the young striker and he made no mistake from close range with a trademark low finish into the corner. It looked as though Greenwood might've been marginally offside, but - the obligatory VAR check later - the goal stood.

David de Gea was called into action almost immediately when he saved well to keep out Christopher Nkunku but the Reds, well marshalled by Harry Maguire and company, kept the dangerous energy drink attack at bay.
At the other end, the highly-ranked Dayot Upamecano, linked with United regularly, showed his class with a composed and commanding showing and looked good on the ball when playing out from the back. 

United began the second half as they had started the first and had a penalty shout waved away on 51 minutes when Ibrahima Konate looked to have fallen on the ball, only for the referee to judge the offence accidental with Konate's arm in a natural position.

Leipzig began to turn the screw and twice went close in quick succession through Konate, who was thwarted by De Gea, and then Emil Forsberg flashed a shot wide after Dani Olmo had picked him out.

Martial was unable to turn home a clever clipped free-kick from sub Fernandes, with the Portuguese playmaker having replaced van de Beek.
Fernandes impact was stunning and he was at the heart of things again in the 74th minute as his sweeping ball forward found the onrushing Rashford to race on to the ball and fire beyond the advancing Gulacsi.
The striker was initially flagged offside, but replays showed he was in his own half, the linesman had made an error and VAR awarded the goal.

Now with vital breathing space, the Reds set about putting their wilting opponents to the sword. Two minutes on, Rashford had his third as he slammed in a low drive and then Martial converted the spot-kick having been scythed down by Marcel Sabitzer.
Cavani had the ball in the net but was flagged offside, setting the stage for the Rashford show as the local lad, MBE and King of Manchester completed his first senior hat-trick in stoppage time. Martial cut the ball back and Rashford thumped beyond Gulacsi to take home the match ball and complete a devastating rout. 

United face Arsenal on Sunday before we travel to Istanbul next Wednesday. 

Overall team performance: 8/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Marcus Rashford

Tuesday, 27 October 2020

Much ado about Donny: United's 40m man will get his chance

Donny van de Beek has yet to start in the Premier League and there has been the usual storm in a teacup over-reaction.
I actually think it's the media's job to create an agenda against everything Manchester United do. I can think of a whole host of players that didn't get into their new side's starting XI immediately, yet there was never this kind of reaction. 
Van de Beek was signed from Ajax - the birthplace of Total Football - as one of the most sought-after highly rated players in Europe. Schooled in the Dutch philosophy of between the lines passing, silky link play and fancy footwork, van de Beek's transfer crept under the radar and was completed in a very un-United like manner.

The Dutchman has been limited to four substitute appearances in the five league games so far, starting twice in the Carabao Cup and scoring on his debut, getting two assists against Brighton and looking like he has something about him. But despite his perceived lack of action, he's featured in every game so far, bar Saturday's dire Premier League draw at Chelsea. Even then, van de Beek was more a victim of circumstance rather than anything else, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer having Edinson Cavani, Mason Greenwood, Paul Pogba and Nemanja Matic (to name but four) at his disposal. Had the five subs rule still been in existence, van de Beek would have come on but you can't play every quality player all of the time. 

Van de Beek is being eased in, and the Dutchman will get plenty of opportunities to impress in what we hope will be a 50/60 game season. New signings rarely play every minute of every game, and van de Beek's time will come. It was clear he was never going to be an instant first team player from day one, but he will play plenty of games in future. He will have to bide his time. Welcome to the cut throat world, pressure cooker environment of modern day professional football. 

Fabinho and Naby Keita hardly played at all when they first came to Liverpool, Ferran Torres has barely been seen at City and 60m Riyad Mahrez couldn't even make the bench after joining Pep Guardiola's side from Leicester. He may be a first team regular now, but he certainly wasn't when he first signed. Diogo Jota at Liverpool has played the same as van de Beek (and co-incidentally cost more), Hakim Ziyech has barely been seen at Chelsea and Mesut Ozil wasn't even included in Arsenal's squad. Yet do we see Sky Sports blanket coverage on a daily basis in these instances? It's because Van de Beek plays for Manchester United that such a story is being made out of an issue that isn't a story at all. 

Ander Herrera was in and out of the United side to start with but went on to play 150 games for the club. Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra, two of the Reds greatest defensive titans of the modern era, were drip fed first team action in their early careers at the club. Heck, even Cristiano Ronaldo warmed the bench on occasions in his debut season. It really is much ado about nothing. 

Van de Beek is undoubtedly a very good player but I don't see at the moment how or where he fits into this United side's dynamic. He's not a wide player so suggestions that he could displace Juan Mata or Dan James are futile. You may as well play van de Beek in goal if you think playing him on the wing is the way forward. Fred and Scott McTominay have been and should continue to be Solskaer's preferred midfield pairing. The pair offer balance, grit and guile, industry and energy and fit the system perfectly. The pair don't deserve to be dropped, van de Beek's not a defensive player and to play him there would not only hold the player back but make United unbalanced. You can't have two number tens - one in his natural position and one shoehorned in just to suit an agenda. Four attacking players and one defensive player? You don't need to be earning millions a year as a manager to work out the shortcomings with that system. 
You can't play van de Beek wide, you can't play him deep and you're not dropping Bruno Fernandes to accomodate him. A narrow diamond doesn't work because Aaron Wan - Bissaka and Luke Shaw don't attack enough. 

We heard all last year how United's Achilles heel was a potent lack of depth, a paucity of match changing options and a weak bench. We address that with the signings of Van de Beek and Cavani to name but two and the narrative has changed to these players not being given enough time. You can't have it both ways!

There is definitely a future for van de Beek at Old Trafford, and the gutter press need to wind their necks in. United have a large squad and with games coming every three or four games, rotation will be key. 

Saturday, 24 October 2020

Match report: Man United 0-0 Chelsea

United were blunted by Frank Lampard's Chelsea as two of the league's heavyweights served up forgettable fare in the teeming rain at Old Trafford.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's men had stormed to impressive victories against Newcastle and PSG but came up against a resilient and well-organised Blues team. In truth, a point each was a fair result from a lacklustre encounter, with the clean sheet the most positive aspect for both managers.  

For two sides sprinkled with illustrious talent, particularly in attack, defences were on top with clear cut chances at a premium throughout, although Solskjaer's United arguably had the better of an evenly fought contest.

Expensively assembled Chelsea were indebted to new keeper Edouard Mendy, as - despite a first half aberration - the Senegalese international pulled off a hat-trick of superb saves to keep out Juan Mata and Marcus Rashford, twice.

Solskjaer named an unchanged side from the one which won convincingly at Newcastle with starts for Mata and Dan James. New signing Edinson Cavani was on the bench alongside Mason Greenwood and Donny van de Beek. Axel Tuanzebe could consider himself unfortunate to miss out after a stellar performance in Paris. Anthony Martial served the second of his three-match league ban. 

The first major incident of note came after fifteen minutes when Mendy, in trying to pass out to the impressive Thiago Silva, got his wires crossed and put the ball out for a corner. 
Mendy was called into action soon afterwards when he tipped wide from Mata after a neat move involving Bruno Fernandes and Rashford. 

Chelsea felt they should have had a penalty shortly before half-time when captains Harry Maguire and Cesar Azpilicueta tangled at a corner, and replays showed that the United man was fortunate to escape censure for what looked to be a headlock.
Rashford went close, only to be denied by a good stop from Mendy, in the final moments of a half high in endeavour and energy but low on quality and attacking moments. 

In truth, the United man - fresh from another amazing week - should have done better when played through Mata, but he fired the ball straight at Mendy and the Chelsea stopper blocked with his feet.
A clash with N'golo Kante left Rashford in some discomfort, but he soldiered on and would later switch to the left following the introduction of Cavani. 

Mendy saved well from Fernandes again before Cavani almost made an instant impact having come on for James. Fred lifted the ball into the box and the debutant Uruguayan stabbed the ball goalwards, only to see his effort strike the side netting with his first touch in a United shirt.

Despite the visitors considerable firepower, David de Gea had little to do and was rendered a virtual spectator, with the United keeper restricted to goal kicks and taking crosses, notably from lively Chelsea wing back Reece James.

Fernandes chanced his arm from distance, with Mendy equal to the effort, but United simply didn't do enough to be worthy of victory. Solskjaer will be pleased with the clean sheet and the team certainly didn't lack effort or industry, knocking the ball around well but with a lack of end product. 

This is not a match that will linger long in the memory, it was a shocker and, for a fixture that usually produces so much excitement and drama, this was a 90 minute non event.

Overall team performance: 7/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Victor Lindelof. Immense. 

Wednesday, 21 October 2020

Axel Tuanzebe comes of age against the world's best

 Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, not for the first time this season, had a problem. You see, he would go to Paris without his two best defenders. 

With both Harry Maguire and Eric Bailly injured for the daunting assignment at the Parc des Prince, it left the United boss with only one regular out and out defender, Victor Lindelof. For a daunting assignment against the world's best - a much vaunted attacking trio in Angel Di Maria, Kylian Mbappe and Neymar, Solskjaer would have to try something different. The back three or five (depending on how you look at it) was the way to go, but it became clear he'd have to use Timothy Fosu - Mensah, Axel Tuanzebe or throw in a curveball and shoehorn either Nemanja Matic or Scott McTominay into the defence. Fosu - Mensah is shaky, Tuanzebe hadn't played for ten months and Matic or McTominay at the back against this side? I shudder at the thought.

Solskjaer turned to the talented Tuanzebe, a young 22-year-old Mancunian whom last appeared in a Carabao Cup tie against fourth tier Colchester last December. Tuanzebe was drip fed first team action under Jose Mourinho, with the defender touted as one for the future. From the moment he made his full Reds debut against the Gunners, there was notice of his potential. Despite several loans, he returned to Old Trafford and impressed in the early part of 2019-20, playing against the Gunners as a right-back, captaining the side against Rochdale and being United's only positive in a dismal loss at Newcastle. 

Even so, the decision to go with Tuanzebe against the Parisians was a huge gamble. It was an incredibly brave move. Stationed on the right of a back three alongside Lindelof and Luke Shaw, it was not only an unfamiliar position for the lad but a daunting test of his credentials against Mbappe and Neymar - two of the most stellar talents in the game. From facing Luke Norris and Frank Nouble to the firepit of the Parc des Prince against the best Europe has to offer - even if it was behind closed doors. 
Yet Solskjaer's decision to play him reaped dividends. Scott McTominay shone like a beacon when these two sides last met in that iconic, famous, never to be forgotten victory. The young Scot made his name and earned his reputation with a performance for the ages back in 2019. This time, Tuanzebe shone in a galaxy of stars. It was like he'd never been away. So much so, that he was probably man of the match. It was a night when Tuanzebe seized his moment and a night when he spectacularly came of age on the biggest stage of all. There were so many brilliant individual performances but Tuanzebe in particular stood out.

Tasked merely with keeping Mbappe and Neymar quiet, he did more than that and then some. He bullied them, never giving his illustrious opponents the time or the space to wreak havoc. Such showings can make your career. Despite his long spell on the sidelines, Tuanzebe won every tackle, made every header, tracked every run and seemed to be in the right place at every moment. There was one moment when Mbappe stormed in behind the defence, the PSG speedster bursting into the channel dangerously, but Tuanzebe darted back in and stopped Mbappe in his tracks with a stunning lunging, inch perfect challenge. It got me off my feet in amazement it was that good. What a tackle! 

It was a colossal, magnificent and monstrous performance from a young player who looked like a season veteran. Many lesser players have subsided in fear at the very thought of games like this one. If he does goes on to become a United regular or even a legend, the night of Tuesday October 20 2020 will prove a seminal moment in the career of Axel Tuanzebe. 

Tuanzebe has always been highly rated by United, and you can see why on this performance. For all the talk of United's need for a centre-half, perhaps they should look closer to home. Perhaps the answer is staring us in the face. Maybe this lad is the answer, the natural partner for Maguire. As with Eric Bailly, though, he has a penchant for injury and has to stay fit now. If he can do that, then there's no reason why he can't become first choice at the back. The confidence he'll get from this will be huge. Tuanzebe will feel ten feet tall after that. His stats against PSG were as follows: 100% aerial duels won, 92% pass accuracy, seven clearances and three blocks. In other words, it was a masterclass. 

Not only was it an almost perfect defensive display, but Tuanzebe showed he's no slouch going forward either. He's got a wide array of passes in his locker, and pace - United's Achilles heel at the back - in abundance. 

Would Maguire have been able to shackle Mbappe and Neymar so successfully? It makes you wonder. With the United skipper a doubt for Saturday, man like Axel, your time is now. 

Singing Tuanzebe diddy dum diddy doo... 

PSG 1-2 Man Utd: Player ratings

 Manchester United opened Group H with a famous, improbable victory to get off to the perfect start in the Champions League's group of death. PSG must be sick of the sight of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Manchester United after lightning did indeed strike twice.

 In the wake of a huge. monumental victory against all the odds - no one gave us a chance - there were some immense individual performances. Here, we run the rule over United's eleven heroes at the Parc des Prince.

David de Gea - 9

United's Spanish stopper was back to his brilliant best. A lot like his manager Solskjaer, De Gea often produces his best when he's under the greatest pressure. Facing the best attack in world football, De Gea made a string of stunning saves, notably from Kylian Mbappe and Angel Di Maria, to keep the Parisians at bay. His best save came from the explosive young Frenchman in the second half, with a full length save to push his effort round the post. Solskjaer has kept faith with De Gea, and the keeper had repaid him spectacularly.

Axel Tuanzebe - 10

What a performance! Tuanzebe, on his first United appearance for ten months, was simply magnificent, colossal, heroic. On Europe's biggest stage, the young defender was tasked with shackling Kylian Mbappe and Neymar and rose to the challenge magnificently. He looked like he'd never been away. Arguably the best player on the pitch, Tuanzebe marshalled the defence heroically, won everything in the air, made every tackle, and forced his illustrious opponents down blind alleys. He last played against Colchester in December 2019 but yet you'd never know it. A stunning performance from a brilliant player. Is he the answer to United's defensive issues? A coming of age showing from the top drawer.

Victor Lindelof - 8

This was Lindelof's best performance for a long, long, long time. In fact, it was even maybe his best ever showing in the red (zebra) of United. Commanding, physical and uncompromising, Lindelof held the defence together, helped Tuanzebe, his positioning was superb and Lindelof never put a foot wrong. Has been much maligned but saves his best for the big occasion. The Iceman kept his cool in the firepit.

Luke Shaw - 7

Shaw showed that he can be good as a third centre-back and slotted back into that role with ease here. Despite not been tasked to attack as much as often, Shaw still went forward when possible and linked well with Telles. Played in Anthony Martial to earn the penalty from which Bruno Fernandes scored, did his job well and shackled Di Maria well. Made a couple of excellent tackles and didn't shirk responsibility. 

Aaron Wan - Bissaka - 9

Dealt with PSG's much vaunted attacking trio brilliantly throughout. Never gave Neymar a moment, winning tackles, pushing him back and defended heroically. Didn't go forward as much as he at Newcastle, but this was a different remit entirely. There was one last-ditch challenge on Moise Kean that seemed to defy gravity and logic. A man who to be rediscovering his best form. Lived up to his nickname of the Spider. It almost seemed like there was... two Bissaka's. 

Fred - 9

An absolute colossus, Fred was huge, magnificent and heroic. Crunched in on Di Maria early (a bonus point for that), linked the play superbly and harried PSG into submission. Worked tirelessly throughout, he was pugnacious, tenacious, pressed high and rendered PSG's star studded midfield almost anonymous. Fred is not the most spectacular of players but does his job well, he's perfect for these types of games and showed why he can be so crucial. A wonderful showing from the little Brazilian.

Scott McTominay - 8

Dovetailed superbly with Fred. McTominay covered every blade of grass, he was aggressive, energetic and made Neymar realise he was in a match from the first moment. Suffocated and stifled PSG, started attacks from deep and came close to scoring. Used his physically and robust approach to superb effect, making life difficult for Mbappe and co. A quietly impressive performance from the Scot, who replicated his performance in this fixture from 2019. Apparently played with one eye having lost a contact lens. 

Alex Telles - 7

Too early to judge United's new Brazilian, but  it looks like United might have an excellent new signing. Telles looked good and created the most chances out of everyone on the pitch. United have a full-back who plays like an out and out winger. He seems to be adept at crossing and from set pieces. Particularly impressive in the first half, Telles didn't look overawed and was unlucky to be replaced. A fine debut. Linked up with Fernandes brilliantly

Bruno Fernandes - 8

Had the bottle and elite mentality to dispatch his penalty at the second time of asking after Keylor Navas saved his first effort. His delivery caused issues throughout, he worked his socks off and linked play superbly. Fernandes was a little wasteful at times but always tried to make things happen. Fernandes could have had a hat-trick and was involved in the winning goal. Dovetailed well with Telles and the two strikers. Drifted in and out of the game at times, but led the side well and looked captaincy material. Taken off late on.

Marcus Rashford - 9

United's hero in Paris for the second time in as many years, repeating history with a famous, iconic, ice-cool late winner. Rashford had missed several good chances but tucked away his most difficult opening late on. Had dangerous moments but looked to have cost United victory with his profligacy until his late intervention. This lad loves scoring in Paris. Not only is Marcus Rashford MBE adept at feeding kids and standing up to government, he's not too shabby at scoring late winners in Paris either. 

Anthony Martial - 6

Had good moments as he caused problems for PSG in the first half and won the penalty from which Fernandes put United ahead. Returned to the fold in the midst of a domestic suspension, but never got going on and looked to have cost the Reds victory with an inexplicable own goal. Martial headed into his own net in the second half, and never really got going. It's not been the start to the season the Frenchman would have wanted and he was out of tune in his native homeland. 


Paul Pogba - for Telles 65 - 7

Came on for Telles as Solskjaer went to a back four and deployed Pogba in a diamond. Pogba bought about a control in midfield, and added an extra dimension to the Reds attack. Got forward well, did his bit defensively and set up the winner for Rashford. Created chances and made a good block. A good cameo

Dan James - for Martial  88 - N/A

No time to make an impact.

Donny van de Beek - for Fernandes 88 - N/A

Deserved more than two minutes, I'd like to see more of the Dutchman but who do you drop? Had little time to make an impact but kept United nice and tight and kept things ticking over

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer - 10

Solskjaer has had his critics but he was brave, bold and his tactics paid off. A masterpiece from the United manager as he fought fire with fire, outgunned arguably the best side in the world and got his rewards. At the scene of his greatest managerial triumph, Ole came out on top again. He's very good in games like these.