Friday 31 January 2020

Match preview: Man Utd v Wolves - New boy Fernandes to be involved

After Manchester United's valiant efforts in victory - but aggregate defeat - over Manchester City in midweek, we return to Premier League action against Wolves on Saturday.

These two combatants are probably sick of the sight of each other but are very well matched with United two places above the visitors but locked together on points in the table. As we know, Wolves are a very good side with a well organised defence, two eye catching string pullers in Ruben Neves and Joao Moutinho in the middle and a combination of pace and power from an attack that can hurt you.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer pits his wits against Nuno Espirito Santo for the sixth time in eleven months as the Old Gold make the trip to Old Trafford for a Saturday tea time kick off - but there's only one name on everyone's lips.

Having completed the signing of Bruno Fernandes on Thursday, our new number 18 will go straight into the squad against the men from Molineux.

The manager could throw his newest recruit straight into the firepit but we think it's more likely that Solskjaer will ease him into things by bringing him off the bench. Solskjaer confirmed that Fernandes will be involved in this one in some capacity, and the new man will offer United an instant upgrade on what we already have.

United's in-form midfielder Nemanja Matic serves a one game ban having been sent off against Man City, with Paul Pogba, Scott McTominay, Marcus Rashford and Axel Tuanzebe all still sidelined. Fernandes is fully fit and is set for a debut.
Bruno's compatriot Daniel Podence, yet another of Wolves Portuguese contingent, signed for £16.6m from Olympiakos and could also be handed a bow.
Wing-back Ruben Vinagre (hamstring) is out, but forward Diogo Jota and defender Willy Boly are both available again.

What a week it has been for United: a 6-0 away win, a second victory in two months at the Etihad, and the completion of one of the most expensive transfer moves Old Trafford has seen for many a year.
However, we were knocked out of the League Cup by our local rivals and there was the unsavoury incident that saw CEO Ed Woodward's house attacked. There remains the the possibility of a mass walkout here in protest over the Glazers ownership despite this being United's closest match to the 62nd anniversary of the Munich air crash.

It does, though, promised to be a tight but entertaining affair with the three previous meetings this season all very closely contested.

On the signing of Fernandes, OGS said: "We have followed him (Bruno Fernandes) for years but he has grown as a player during that time as well. More mature, more confident, more assured.
"He is a great leader of his team and even with all the speculation around him, probably every club in Europe has been linked with him, he stayed focused and has been playing fantastic for Sporting.
"It tells you everything how professional he has been and when you get to see him and meet him, he's also a fantastic human being."

These two sides meet for the fourth time in 2019-20, with both matches in the Midlands ending all square. Following a creditable 1-1 league draw at Molineux in our second game of the season, the Reds edged matters 1-0 courtesy of Juan Mata in last month's FA Cup replay win (the first tie had ended

Wolves got a draw here in last term's corresponding fixture and beat us twice with a pair of 2-1 wins at Molineux as United's form plateaued having started like a train under Solskjaer. History suggests another tight tussle that could go either way in our final game before the first ever Premier League winter break.

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

Thursday 30 January 2020

Player profile: New United signing Bruno Fernandes

So it's official. After weeks and months of wrangling, negotiating and deadlock, Bruno Fernandes is a Manchester United player. He brings with him a reputation as one of the most eye-catching attacking midfielders in Europe and will add some much quality and intelligence to a threadbare and slipshod side.

I knew nothing of this player before United came sniffing for him so why did we want him so badly and who exactly is he?

The Portuguese international, 25, can score goals, create and plays in midfield either as a 10 or an 8, and that pretty much says it all. With key injuries and a lack of threat in an area so crucial, Fernandes will seemingly fill a void that has desperately needed addressing.

Through 15 domestic games with former side Sporting Lisbon, Fernandes has eight goals and seven assists in league play alongside five goals and three assists in five Europa League ties.
Those numbers alone are eye-catchingly impressive but when we look at them compared to what we've got already, you will quickly see why we need someone like Fernandes in there. 

Dan James - 23 games (three goals, six assists)
Andreas Pereira - 21 games with one goal and three assists (awful)

Scott 'McSauce' - 17 games with three goals and one assist but he's out until February
Fred and Jesse 'Invisible Man' Lingard - 20 games and - wait for it - ZERO goals and NO assists
Juan Mata - 15 games no goals and two assists and Paul Pogba seven games but NO goals and two assists, out for 4-5 weeks

Fernandes began life in Italy with Novara in Serie B before making the step up to Udinese. 86 games and ten goals later, he was on the move to Sampdoria on a loan deal. Scored five times in 33 appearances.
In June 2017 he returned to his native homeland with Portuguese giants Sporting Lisbon for £8.5 million.
With Sporting, he became the player that everyone - fans, players, pundits, friends and foe alike - sat up and took notice of. His breakthrough season came last term when he plundered 20 goals in 33 games.

Fernandes could slot into Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side as either an attacking midfielder, centrally in a 4-2-3-1, or an out and out midfielder who can play deeper but chip in with goals.
Currently, with the depleted state of our midfield, the attacking thrust just isn't there and we've had to rely on a more defensive system.
Fernandes give us a new attacking danger that been sorely conspicuous by its absence. In theory, once Pogba and McTominay return from injury, we'll have the most offensive minded engine room that we've had for many a year.

If used as a central midfielder his defensive contribution is solid if unspectacular, but we haven't signed him to do that job. In the past, having played there he is at his best when accompanied by someone more defensive. He's an accomplished passer of the ball and is not afraid to take risks in order to cut teams open or switch the play.

He comes to OT with a hefty price tag and even loftier expectations. Let's see what sort of impact he will have but - one thing's for sure - he can't be any worse than what we have now!

United complete Bruno Fernandes signing

So it's official. Bruno Fernandes is a Manchester United player. Yesterday we penned on these pages that a deal for the player had been agreed and shortly after 5pm on Thursday United confirmed the signing on a five and a half year deal.

Having strengthened the defence during the summer, it was blindingly obvious that we needed a creative spark and sprinkling of stardust to replace the departed Ander Herrera and the stricken duo of Paul Pogba and Scott McTominay. I very much hope that Fernandes will be that man.

Fernandes flew to Manchester yesterday and was pictured at Carrington in the iconic Red with his contract on the table having agreed personal terms and passed his medical. The Portuguese international is set to go straight into the squad for Saturday's Old Trafford meeting with the Old Gold of Wolves.
The initial fee for the 25-year-old is set at £47m but add ons could see that rise to around £67.7m. Nonetheless, he represents a significant upgrade to the side and hopefully this marks the end of Jesse Lingard's days as a regular. Fernandes can come in and dislodge both Lingard and Andreas Pereira from first team duty straight away. Capped 19 times by Portugal, he has scored twice and helped his team to UEFA Nations League glory and also played at the 2018 World Cup.

Bruno was a relative unknown when he arrived at Sporting Clube from Italian side Sampdoria but quickly became one of the most exciting and sought after players on the continent.  Fernandes won the Portuguese league's Player of the Year award back to back in 2018 and 2019.  Described by former Swansea manager and compatriot Carlos Carvalhal as a 'player from another level', and touted as a player with great leadership, his transfer - despite its protracted nature - had been expected for some time.

United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer told "We have been tracking Bruno for a while now, and everyone here has been very impressed with all his attributes and what he will bring to this team.
"Most important he is a tremendous person with a great personality and his leadership qualities are clear for all to see. His goals and assist stats speak for themselves, he will be a fantastic addition to our team and will help us push on in the second half of the season.
"The winter break is coming at the perfect time for us to integrate Bruno into the squad and for him to get know his team mates."

Despite having already played for former side Sporting Lisbon in the Europa League, Fernandes will be eligible to turn out for us in that competition when it resumes next month with the "cup tied" rule having been abolished.

The signing of Fernandes is the biggest of the January window so far and he follows Marcos Rojo and compatriots Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani in making the move from the Portuguese capital to M16.

I don't know much about him but I'm told he's very good and I can't wait to see him in the Red of United. We don't know yet what squad number he will be given.

Welcome to Manchester United, Bruno Miguel Borges Fernandes.

Match report: Man City 0 -1 Man Utd (Agg: 3-2)

Manchester United won the battle but lost the war as Pep Guardiola's City edged through to a third successive Carabao Cup final after the Reds claimed victory.
3-1 down from the first leg, it looked a big ask for United to complete another memorable comeback and we fell short despite a gusty effort and a second win at the Etihad in six weeks.
In truth, though, that abject opening half an hour at our place across the city came back to haunt United and proved pivotal. The tie was lost at Old Trafford. But going to the Etihad and winning despite that deficit shows we did something right and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer should be proud of the team despite going out. Over the 180 minutes of the tie, City probably just about deserved to go through to the final, where they will face Aston Villa at Wembley on March 1 as they bid for a seventh League Cup title. United became only the second team to stop Man City scoring on their own turf and the first side to beat City in any cup competition since Wigan in the 2017-18 season.

Ultimately, Solskjaer and his side left themselves with too much to do even after Nemanja Matic's volleyed winner ten minutes before the break.  United had created little in open play but City could only half-clear a Fred free-kick and the Serbian swept in a volley beyond Claudio Bravo.

Matic was later sent off for two bookings and the Reds last chance saw Fred put a free-kick into the wall when the dead ball situation was crying out for substitute Juan Mata.
Leading 3-1 from the Old Trafford match, holders City pushed forward and looked to put the tie beyond any lingering doubt but could find no way past an inspired David de Gea. United's keeper was back to his impervious best as he saved from Raheem Sterling, Sergio Aguero and Riyad Mahrez in a frantic opening 20 minutes.
Bernardo Silva flashed a shot wide whilst Bravo saved well from the otherwise quiet Anthony Martial at the other end.
Sterling had a goal disallowed for offside and Ilkay Gundogan went close from distance as the chances kept coming - and going - for Guardiola's side.
The first goal was crucial and it was United that got it as Matic capped his superb individual performance with a volleyed finish from close range after City failed to deal with a Fred free-kick. That meant there was suddenly an air of nervousness around the Etihad with the tie back in the balance and the Reds one goal away from restoring aggregate parity.

Harry Maguire went close with a header and Matic fired wide with a 20 yarder, but City continued to carve out chances of their own.
Sterling had an opportunity to settle his side's nerves and restore the two-goal advantage when he burst clear in the second half, only to blaze his effort wildly over the crossbar. Sterling has failed to score in 2020.

More profligacy followed, notably when substitute David Silva opted to pick out Gundogan instead of pulling the trigger with only De Gea to beat. It was only when Matic was sent off for his second yellow card, after fouling Gundogan on the halfway line after an earlier offence on Mahrez had earned him a booking. As the game entered the last half hour, United were still in the tie and looking to punish City for their profligacy.
Aguero had another strike correctly chalked off by the linesman, before United's big moment came. With time running out and having thrown men forwards, captain Maguire was scythed down by Nicolas Otamendi in a hugely promising position on the edge of the 'D'. With all eyes on set-piece specialist Mata, Fred instead took responsibility for the set piece but could only blast in into the wall.
That was the last chance for either side as the Reds ran out winners on the night but, sadly, not in the tie.

Overall team performance: 6/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: David de Gea. Equal to everything City could throw at him

Wednesday 29 January 2020

Bem-vinda Bruno Fernandes: Man Utd (finally) get their man

Its been the longest running transfer saga of the January transfer window but Manchester United are finally set to land Portugal midfield Bruno Fernandes after a deal was agreed.
The 25-year-old will become the fourth player to make the move from Sporting Lisbon to Old Trafford following in the footsteps of Marcos Rojo and compatriots Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani.

After weeks of deadlock, procrastination and dithering akin to Brexit, it took reported interest from Barcelona (whether genuine or otherwise) for United's transfer negotiators to launch a final bid for the player, one that was finally accepted by the cash strapped Portuguese giants. Ironically, we ended up paying the same fee that Sporting originally wanted.

 Subject to the mere formalities of a medical and personal terms, the Reds have finally got their man. The signing is expected to be completed by Thursday, in time for the registration deadline so that he can go straight into the squad to play Wolves on Saturday.

 This should have been done weeks ago or even back in the summer, and despite the exciting signing it does not mask another awfully incompetent transfer window. Had it been done nice and quickly, we could've focused our attentions on another area of the team - with a striker the priority - instead of kicking our heels and dragging this out until the eleventh hour.

Nonetheless, you feel he will instantly be an upgrade on what we already have (surely anyone would be) and could prove the difference between the top four and another season in the second tier Europa League. If that's the case, he'll have fully justified his fee.

United will pay an initial fee of around 55m Euros (£47m) though add ons could increase the overall cost to 80m Euro (67.6m). Capped 19 times by Portugal, Fernandes has become one of the most sought after players on the continent and will add a sprinkling of stardust to a depleted United side lacking both quantity and quality.

Fernandes joined Sporting from Sampdoria for £7.2 million in 2017 and has gone on to plunder 64 goals in 137 appearances, winning the Portuguese Cup with the club last term.

So what do we know about this player? I'll be honest - not much, as it goes. Before United's interest in him, in fact I had never heard of him. Stats can be misleading but his make for impressive reading - 32 goals and 13 assists in 50 games as a no.10 in 2018-19 and eight goals with seven assists in only 17 appearances this season. United have badly needed a creative, attacking midfielder with Juan Mata a squad player but Andreas Pereira and Jesse Lingard not fit for purpose. United don't have a great track record with January signings often struggling to settle straight away - Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra a case in point - so we probably won't see the best of Bruno until next season. Fans have a tendency to demand instant gratification but patience will be needed.

A free-roaming, prolific goalscoring playmaker, Fernandes' passing, vision distribution and ability to spread the play have impressed and made him the apple of United's eye. His style of play has been compared to the likes of Toni Kroos, Koke and Marek Hamsik and he was a key man as Portugal swept to the inaugural UEFA National League title last season.

Welcome to Manchester United, Bruno Fernandes. Let's just hope he doesn't get given the number seven shirt...

Manchester United facing (another) Mission Impossible

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer takes his Reds across the city - with Bruno Fernandes waiting in the wings - for a second leg tie that is surely only a footnote.
3-1 down from the first game at Old Trafford, only Marcus Rashford's goal has given United something to cling to, but this side have a strange knack of pulling off the seemingly impossible when you least expect it. The Reds were completely outplayed during the first half of that encounter two weeks ago but showed what we're capable of in the second half and got a glimmer through Rashford's smart finish 20 minutes from the end. In all likelihood, that will prove only a consolation but the Reds must approach this game with the scent of a remarkable comeback in their nostrils. Grab the first goal and its game on - City are shaky at the back - especially without Aymeric Laporte -  and it would put doubt in their minds should United get early momentum. But it looks a task akin to climbing Everest with slippers on and without oxygen.

It's part of what makes this club so special - making the impossible possible, snatching victory from the very jaws of defeat when all seems lost. When backed into a corner and unarmed, Manchester United will come at you. The Reds somehow advanced against PSG in very similar circumstances last year and, also like on that night, are bereft of several key men for the game. An omen perhaps? United have also progressed from two of our last three knockout ties when trailing by two or more goals - eliminating Olympiakos in 2014 and that night in Paris against the might of PSG.

We have nothing to lose with it being a knockout competition and there is no reason why we can't at least get the win on the night, in the knowledge that City only need to keep things tight to reach their fourth final in five years.
United can take heart from the dramatic, topsy turvy derby win last month at the Etihad, but we'll need to do what only Aston Villa have ever done and turn around a two goal deficit away from home in a League Cup semi final to go one better. Co-incidentally, Dean Smith's Villains would be our opponents at Wembley should we get there. It may 'only' be the Carabao Cup, a distinctly second rate competition that no one really cares about but what's that old adage - any port in a storm?
Pep Guardiola showed that lessons had been learned by that defeat and changed his tactics to leave United chasing shadows at times. We need to win by two clear goals without reply just to get this to the lottery of a shootout and it takes a leap of the imagination to see anything other than City running out at Wembley (again) in March, but you can never totally count this club out.

Guardiola's side have won the Carabao Cup twice in a row and would be only the third team ever to reach the showpiece final on three successive occasions - Liverpool did it four times in a row (1981 - 1984), and Brian Clough's Nottingham Forest were the first to achieve the feat (1978-80).

It's a huge ask for this depleted United side but, we should know, nothing is impossible.

Thursday 23 January 2020

Build a bonfire, build a bonfire, put the Glazers on the top...

Put Ed Woodward in the middle and we're burn the f*****g lot!

As United's season hit its nadir with the home defeat to Burnley, the unrest was clear. The reworking of the chant usually reserved for our nearest and dearest from across the city and 'up the road' took on a new twist.
Perched high up in the post seats, Ed Woodward couldn't have failed to hear it. Neither could the Glazers, no doubt counting their millions and checking United's financial state of affairs on a far flung American ranch in the middle of Nowheresville. For all the talk of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's future, there was no doubt where the anger was pointed at. This was the first game we have seen the United faithful stand in unison and as one against the Glazers and Woodward as a collective. The vitriolic chants aimed at the club's hierarchy were borne out of years of negligence and shameful ineptitude. The club is carrying a gorilla on our backs and it leaves us wondering when - or maybe if - football's greatest name will return to former glories.
Woodward's epiphany spelled out where the priorities lie in one of his bizarre "investment calls".
"Playing performance doesn't have a meaningful impact on the commercial side of the business." No other company so obsessed by money and profits would keep such a hapless operator in charge of all its affairs. How a man with no footballing knowledge at all continues to be allowed to make all the major football decisions at the club only shows the level of incompetence.

After months, no - years - of anti-Glazers apathy, this was the night when tensions spilled over in the stands. The tremors became an eruption as the owners, even in absentia, felt the full force of our fury. The pent up frustration, the hatred and the repulsion at these clowns, these vile pieces of s**t masquerading as football club owners finally hit boiling point. Old Trafford was virtually empty by full-time. Damning, but also encouraging as that will hit them where it hurts the most - their pockets. It's a catch 22 situation as the team needs our support but empty seats means empty coffers and that can only be a positive in this campaign to get them out. It only went to underline the depth of feeling.

 It won't make a jote of difference - if the "Green and Gold until its sold" campaign didn't get these cancerous, poisonous, penny pinching puppets out of our club, then neither will a few dissenting voices from the terraces. But it makes you feel better and opens the eyes of outsiders as to where the real problems lie. Yes, Solskjaer is struggling, but he's being made to do so. I don't think he's the man for this job, its too big for him but the cancer have set him up to fail. They've rendered an an already difficult task almost impossible. Another United manager - the fourth in succession - let down by his board.
He's not David Moyes, Louis van Gaal or Jose Mourinho - a hired hand, an outsider, a foreigner with no connection to the club. The Norwegian, the hero of the Camp Nou in 1999, is all but impeachable even if the football is lumpen, the decisions baffling and there's no discernible style. All this has exposed an unsuitability for top level management, but its not his fault. And so it goes back to Woodward - no longer the manager's human shield, no longer the man lurking in the shadows out of harm's way. The man was paid 4.2million last year and for what?

While views about Solskjaer as a manager are mixed at best, the majority of fans believe our club's problems go much deeper. There's anger at a combination of what we perceive to be a lack of investment, huge amounts of money exiting the club in share dividends (with not a penny put in) and finance payments, and poor recruitment.
For that, we hold this board - who bought the club in controversial circumstances in 2005 - and Woodward, effectively United's chief executive since the exit of David Gill in 2013, responsible, which is why they are being singled out for criticism.
United's net spend this year was a shade over 60m. One of the richest clubs in the world in need of rebuilding spending three quarters of Harry Maguire's transfer fee on a rebuild. Woodward's seven year reign of terror has seen the club invest approximately a billion on transfers but yet here we are with a dogshit squad that's as thin as paper. It's staggering how bereft this hierarchy have left him - you can't legislate for injuries but everyone knew we needed another midfielder and we still haven't replaced Romelu Lukaku.
Whilst Solskjaer retains the backing of the hierarchy in the wake of the Burnley defeat, the pressure is mounting and he will eventually be the latest fall guy in the Glazers reign of terror.

Match report: Man Utd 0-2 Burnley

United's season hit a new low as Burnley deservedly claimed their first ever win at Old Trafford on a night of toxicity.

The Clarets took the lead shortly before half-time when Chris Wood spun Harry Maguire to meet a Ben Mee knockdown and smash in from six yards.
Jay Rodriguez doubled the visitors lead when he played a one-two with Wood and slammed a dipping effort beyond David de Gea from distance.

It was the third season in a row that Burnley had taken a 2-0 lead at Old Trafford but the first time they secured all three points. To say they had to hang on would be doing Dyche's men a bold disservice. They were comfortable, compact, superbly well organised and never looked troubled for their first victory at OT for 57 (FIFTY SEVEN) years.
United - bereft of the injured Marcus Rashford - were lacklustre for long periods and barely threatened Nick Pope in the Burnley goal. Substitute Luke Shaw thought he had set up a frantic finale but his header was ruled out by VAR for a push on Jeff Hendrick.
By then, thousands had left Old Trafford in their droves and the stadium was virtually empty by the time referee Jonathan Moss had blown for full-time. It was a night when the anti-Glazer movement stepped up a gear but that failed to mask the plethora of shortcomings for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side.

Aaron Wan - Bissaka proved United's most impressive performer as he turned in his most impressive attacking 45 minutes in Red.
A trio of searching crosses almost provided the opener but Dan James, Juan Mata and Anthony Martial respectively were unable to find the breakthrough. Martial continued to deputise for United's stricken leading scorer but looked short of confidence and fitness as he toiled in vain.

Nemanja Matic also set up the Frenchman but he snatched at the opening and Burnley left-back Taylor managed to rescue the situation with an excellent lunging tackle.
Wood went close with a header but we failed to heed those warnings as Burnley moved ahead with their next attack.

Phil Jones, in for the ill Victor Lindelof, gave away a free-kick and the set piece was lumped forward into Mee, who flicked on for Wood to lash home despite the attentions of Maguire.
Before the Reds could draw breath after half-time, it was 0-2. If the first goal was a typical Burnley one, the second one was out of character with Dyche's obdurate and awkward Clarets.
A swift, smart passing move cut United open and Rodriguez stunned Old Trafford into silence with a stunning left-footed strike that flashed high beyond De Gea who had no chance.
James went just wide and Juan Mata then should have done better with a free-kick but the in-form playmaker was off target as he put it over the bar.
Pope blocked from Martial and Greenwood flashed a shot wide, but the visitors did what they do best and mopped, blocked and stopped everything that came their way.

Shaw's 89th minute header looked to have started a dramatic late fightback but a bleak night was summed up when it was ruled out.

Overall team performance: 4/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Aaron Wan - Bissaka

Wednesday 22 January 2020

Seven years of ineptitude epitomised by United's night of shame

How low can you go? Of all the peaks and troughs, all the trials and tribulations and all the false dawns, this has to be up there as the nadir. Burnley, the unfashionable east Lancashire club coached brilliantly by their ginger, gravel voiced and under-rated manager Sean Dyche, came to Old Trafford and won for the first time in 57 years. Make no mistake, they fulled deserved it too. The worst thing about this result? It didn't come as a shock.

For the fourth season in a row, they arrived at United and took a 2-0 lead. This time, though, there was to be no fightback. As the anti-Glazer movement finally took hold, it did little to mask the ineptitude on the pitch. The resilience and defiance of a sparsely populated Old Trafford warmed the heart, but United toiled to the point of exhaustion. Just like the club, the players had nothing left to give. Run into the ground. The effort and commitment again could not be faulted, but there was just no creativity or quality. I wonder if there's a player in Portugal we could get to solve that? It's 2020 and yet Phil Jones continues to ply his trade as a Manchester United player. That, more than anything, summed everything up.

The Glazers, United's awful, dollar obsessed owners have run the club into the ground to such an extent they should be up on negligence charges. A stadium not fit for purpose, the worst United squad I've ever seen, an awful coaching staff and an inept, penny pinching, power crazy, puffed up piece of shit as a CEO. It's all on them. They've dug a grave and we've fallen into it, unable to climb out.
 Ed Woodward has been in his role for seven years and it has been a reign of terror. Three signings in as many transfer windows whilst eight players have gone in the same timeframe. A small fortune invested - through the club's money - yet here we are left with a dogshit squad lacking just as much in quality as it is in quantity. A billion taken out of the club yet not a single penny put back in. How can a man with no football knowledge continue to be responsible for all the big football decisions. He didn't get a director of football because it would cost too much and he didn't want to relinquish control. He remains the apple of his bosses eyes because of his ability in the financial world. Just yesterday it was announced share prices have gone up. Woodward is the safest man at the club yet should be out the door.

The stadium's empty, fans are showing vocal displeasure towards players, manager and the board, and results are at a 30 year low. There's only one way this club is going and no one's being held accountable for the mess.  We desperately need signings with our midfield and attack non existent yet it takes an age to complete any transfer deals - if they're ever completed at all. Yet the first sniff of a commercial deal to be had and it's done within hours. Of course, I totally understand that there has to be a business side to any football club, but when you put profits first there will always be trouble. But what's a business if you don't make a profit. Surely its more sustainable to get the team winning and make your millions that way. The Glazers culture is all about the interests of investors not fans, and we need players that are tougher - physically and mentally. Fans are starting to vote with their feet as thousands stayed away and loads more left before the final whistle. No amount of apathy could cover for the plethora of shortcomings. I feel like I've been like a broken record saying all this, stuck on repeat for years. My anger towards these clowns in the boardroom needs no embellishment.

The Romelu Lukaku money? Been used to keep the cashflow going and service the crippling debt they put us into. Of course it has. This was a night when all of that finally came home to roost. A night when those seven soporific years were illuminated as brightly as the Old Trafford floodlights. The outside world finally began to realise that the issues permeating through the corridors of power do not lie squarely on the shoulders of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Of course as the manager he has to carry some of the can but he should resign and admit that he's in an impossible position. He's incredibly naive, has no clear philosophy and got tactically outmanoeuvred by his opposite number. Mike Phelan's a dinosaur, Michael Carrick's not a coach and the other bloke had a bit of time at Tottenham. But the problems are far, far deeper than that. Changing the manager would simply be like re-arranging the deckchairs on the Titanic.

You could bring in Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola as joint managers and they'd fail. No manager in world football - indeed, not even the good Lord himself -  could make a success of this under this poisonous, toxic, cancerous boardroom regime. Just ask Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho.

Tuesday 21 January 2020

United should swoop for striker amidst injury crisis

It never rains but it pours. Already hit by the twin injury blows of Scott McTominay and Paul Pogba, United were hit by the news that Marcus Rashford faces up to six weeks out.
Our talismanic figurehead and top scorer will be sidelined until April with a stress fracture in his back that he sustained against Wolves in the FA Cup.
It's clear that he's been carrying an injury for a while now and has been overplayed, but a small squad and his importance to us has meant that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had to play him.

I saw Solskjaer coming in for criticism for risking Rashford in the replayed tie, but he'd have been in the firing line if he HADN'T played him and we'd got knocked out. We needed a goal in a tight game so it made sense to put him on. Injuries happen and you can't legislate when something like this happens.

United's owners, the dreadful, dollar-obsessed Glazers, need to look at themselves. Its their failure to deepen a wafer-thin squad and our addiction to one man - Rashford - that epitomises our abhorrent recruitment policy.

A player knowingly playing with a problem, Rashford willingly tore into December. On the first of the month, he played against Aston Villa. Three days later, he completed another full 90 against Spurs. Another few days further on, he played in the win over City, and on and on he went. Given a brief respite from the sanctuary of the bench for the AZ Alkmaar game, he continued to feature against Everton (90 minutes), Colchester three days later (62 minutes), 90 minutes in the pre-Christmas defeat to Watford, 66 minutes on Boxing Day vs Newcastle, and a draining full match against Burnley 48 hours later. Evidently feeling pain, Rashford continued to ply his trade during United's frantic festive schedule. Eight games in 23 days, 11 hours and five minutes out of a possible 13 1/2 hours. To January, and he featured against Arsenal, as a sub against Wolves, 90 minutes in the League Cup semi final with City and his 200th appearance for the club vs Norwich. Solskjaer had a chance to rest him for the Colchester cup tie but it shows how indispensable Rashford has become that he chose to use him against the fourth tier side. He'd played continuously non stop for three successive seasons, along with England friendlies and two major tournaments - World Cup and Euros. All while having a stress fracture in his back and a floating bone in his ankle. Inevitably, he broke. If anyone worked non stop as much as Rashford has, they would be broken and run into the ground too.

It leaves 18-year-old Mason Greenwood as our only out and out striker. Greenwood is only a baby and is at risk of burnout if he comes into the team week in week out to replace Rashford.

 Anthony Martial isn't a natural number nine and he too has played a lot of football. With the January transfer window still open, the Reds should get a striker in - even if only on loan - until the end of the season. PSG wantaway Edinson Cavani would be my choice. Although he's 33, he's proven, he's experienced, he knows where the net is and, importantly for the powers that be, he'd be cheap.

The Uruguay international clearly wants to leave. Its a no brainer surely? Not only would it alleviate pressure on Greenwood and Tony M, but the young players would learn from him and it would take us through to the end of the season with a reputable out and out hitman whilst Rashford recovers.

Your move, Ed Woodward...

Monday 20 January 2020

Match report: Liverpool 2-0 Manchester United

United were beaten but certainly not outclassed as Liverpool scored early and late to clinch victory at Anfield.
Jurgen Klopp's side took another step towards their first ever Premier League title as Virgil van Dijk's header and Mo Salah's breakaway second sealed the points against a United side bereft of our two most influential players - Scotty McSauce and Marcus Rashford.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side rallied and can count themselves unfortunate not to emerge with a point with Liverpool hanging on in the closing stages as United dominated most of the second half. The team will look back on Anthony Martial's gilt-edged second half opening and two good saves from keeper Alisson Becker. The fact that Liverpool are the best team and yet only put the result beyond doubt with the last kick of the match will offer Solskjaer and the Reds a huge dose of encouragement.

Chelsea's last gasp defeat to Newcastle on Saturday means United remain in touch with the Champions League positions, five points behind, but our own inconsistency and Rashford's six-week absence with a stress fracture points to an uphill struggle in that regard.
Solskjaer sprung a surprise by setting United up in a 3-5-2 system with Luke Shaw in a back three and Aaron Wan - Bissaka and Brandon Williams as wing-backs. The first chance of the game fell to the league leaders when Sadio Mane met Trent Alexander - Arnold's free kick, but the Senegalese's header drifted wide.

Yet Liverpool had more joy from another header five minutes further on. Van Dijk connected with another Alexander - Arnold set piece to get above Brandon Williams and power home beyond the stranded David de Gea.
Luke Shaw's last ditch tackle snuffed out the lurking Mane, and Liverpool then had another goal disallowed when Roberto Firmino thought he'd doubled the lead only for VAR to correctly judge that there had been a foul on De Gea by Van Dijk. Replays showed that our keeper was clearly impeded by the swinging arm of the giant Dutchman.

Gini Wijnaldum had a further effort chalked out, this time for offside, but United grew into the game and began to push Liverpool back.
Anthony Martial put the ball just wide with a curler, before Andreas Pereira came within inches of turning home a Wan - Bissaka cross.
Alisson saved well as United's number 15 tried his luck from distance, before Mane had a half chance on the turn at the other end.
After the interval, the hosts again started well as they looked for the second goal to kill off the tie. Firmino went close and Jordan Henderson rattled the upright with a piledriver with his effort pushed onto the post by a full stretch De Gea.

Alex Oxlade - Chamberlain fired just wide and Fred also went close at the other end before the turning point of the tie.
United worked the ball superbly to Martial - via Fred and Pereira - and the Frenchman burst into the box. With only Alisson to beat, though, he couldn't keep the ball down and blasted over from close range.

Martial and the immense Fred again tested the keeper, just after Mane cut in and flashed just wide from inside the box.
With the game still in the balance and a far from impressive Liverpool there for the taking, Solskjaer threw on Juan Mata and Mason Greenwood as the Reds manager went for it.
It almost proved an inspired change as the teenage striker came within inches of turning home a wicked Martial cross. Mata was denied by Alisson and Fred had a shot blocked, with the champions elect clinging to their one goal advantage.

United's growing threat was clear as Klopp took off his centre forward Firmino and replaced him with the defensive abilities of Fabinho.
United continued to throw men forward but to no avail as, from our own corner, Alisson thumped long and Salah shrugged off the attentions of the backpedalling Dan James to place the ball under the advancing De Gea.

Overall team performance: 7/10
Man of the Match: Fred. Immense. The best player on the pitch by a distance.

Saturday 18 January 2020

My lifelong love affair with Manchester United

Manchester United. A name defined by its storied history, synonymous with the highest of standards and elevated by legendary exponents of the famous red and white like Best, Law, Charlton and Cantona et al. A club united by tragedy just as much as triumph. Revered, reviled and with an estimated 650 million fans at its mercy week it week out, Manchester United is a palatial, global, grandiose monster.

I’m not from Manchester. I am, in fact, a Southerner and proud of it. “Why do you support United” “Why do you care so much about a club at the other end of the country.” “Just another glory hunter.” I get this so much I’ve become immune to it. It used to annoy me, now I just laugh. It’s the norm, but no matter how much you try to explain, it always falls on deaf ears. Everyone has their own reason for supporting their club, and what difference does it makes where you’re from?

I was first introduced to United as a six year old and knew nothing about everything. A six year old doesn’t know what a bandwagon – never mind a glory hunter – is. My first tentative affinity with the club that would become my lifelong passion came in a season that saw us miss out on the league title to Arsenal. Surely, if the narrative of the glory hunter holds sway, that would mean I’m now a Gunner (shudder!).
As so many things do, it happened by accident. I was introduced to United by my family. My late uncle, now sadly no longer with us (he passed away two days after we won the EFL Cup in 2017) was a Stretford End Red for the best part of 20 years. A born and bred Lancastrian and dyed-in-the-wool Red, he had a spare ticket after his work colleague couldn’t make it one Christmas in 1996. On a family holiday and eager for a new adventure, I obliged to go with him to Old Trafford and the seeds were sown.
They say you never forget your first time, and that was certainly the case for me. Holding my uncle tentatively by the hand, I remember the feeling of climbing up those steps as Old Trafford opened out before me. There were no words to describe the place. Even then, as a naive, innocent, unknowing boy, the place gripped me. There was to be no going back. The sight of the tiered seating, the sounds, the smell, the atmosphere, the feeling that this was a place where something special happens. From that moment on, Manchester United became my club.
I don’t remember much about the game  – I’m told we won 4-0 – apart from the lad in the number 7 shirt with the bleach blonde hair patrolling United’s right wing. If I had any more reason to know where my loyalties would lie, he was it. Some young tyro by the name of David Beckham. Whatever happened to him? Watching him hit pinpoint pass after pinpoint pass on to the head of whoever United’s striker happened to be was a thrill. It always amazed me how he managed to hit his intended target every time.

Growing up as a football mad lad in England in the early 90s, it was impossible to ignore the influence Becks had on you. Everyone resonated with him, everyone wanted to be him in the playground games of seven a side. You would model your hair on him. For me, he was the epitome of Man United. The working class boy from a London council estate of underprivileged background, he did things with a football I never even thought possible. It was thanks to him, and the influence of my uncle – whether by co-incidence or design – that I caught the bug that is United.
When the time came for Beckham to leave Old Trafford for pastures new, it marked the only time I’ve ever cried over something to do with the Reds. Now 12, I was beginning to understand the world around me but I felt as if that world had collapsed when I read the news of my hero’s departure. I couldn’t for the life of me work out why anyone would ever want to leave United. I had thought Beckham would be there for as long as his body, and the club, allowed.
Little did I know that, in fact, it marked the start of a bold new era for the club, emblazoned by Beckham’s replacement, a brash, brazen and braided teenage tyro by the name of Cristiano Ronaldo. Life would never quite be the same again but at least we had a player to do the number championed by Beckham proud.

David Bowie once sung about changes, and more than a decade on, times are bleaker. We’ve got no Beckham-esque cult hero and the glory days that Becks and co were so synonymous with are but a distant memory. But that doesn’t diminish the fire, it’s for the love, not the glory. That word again. You see, I never chose Manchester United, I always think that they chose me.

Man Utd face the most daunting challenge in world football against Liverpool

Just how do you solve a problem like Liverpool? When Manchester United emerge into the Anfield cauldron in just over 24 hours time, they face the most daunting challenge in world football.
There cannot be a more difficult place to visit right now than L4 0TH, and I've never felt less confident going there than I do this time.

A team that haven't been beaten at home by anyone for two months shy of three years sit top of the Premier League by a country mile, 14 points clear of Pep Guardiola's back-to-back title winners. The numbers for Jurgen Klopp's side are frightening. 20 wins from 21 league games, 50 goals scored and only 14 conceded. The reigning European and World champions look on course for their first ever Premier League title - their first league title win for 30 years - an unstoppable juggernaut that have swept all before them this season. Oh, and they're unbeaten in 38 league games - the equivalent of an invincible season - across the last two campaigns. Even United during our most dominant days never saw anything like this.

Surely its merely a case of when, rather than if, they win it. Even our jointly held record of the earliest Premier League title win could be under threat. Saturday marks 1,000 days since the team last lost at home in the league, at the hands of Crystal Palace and former striker Christian Benteke in a
1-2 reverse on 23rd April 2017. One.Thousand.Days.

The only team to take points off them so far? Well, that would be us. But that came at Old Trafford and we had a full-strength team for the 1-1 draw in October. We were five minutes away from victory, only for substitute Adam Lallana to salvage a point, the only time the Reds from Merseyside have failed to secure a league victory. Liverpool have often struggled on our own patch but it will be so much harder stepping into the fortress. But we won't be going there with fear and its a free hit.

All this, and United face going there with no midfield and potentially no attack, with top scorer and talisman Marcus Rashford a major injury doubt for the game. Our chance of pilfering even a point can be downgraded from slim to none should our no.10 - who scored in the reverse fixture - miss out. Even if he defies the odds and plays, it's the biggest ask an opposition side can face.
Even setting aside things like the 'history' of the fixture (irrelevant) and 'the football gods (also irrelevant) there is one thing weighed in our favour - we have an exceptional record in the biggest of games and are unbeaten against the sides in the top four this term.

We know that this United side are capable of upsetting anyone on its day and victory at the Etihad will give the players the belief that anything is possible. United showed what we can do but will need to be even better and then some to replicate that in this one.  City's shaky defence laid the platform for United to seize the initiative and go on to victory. I don't see that with Liverpool. There doesn't seem to be any weaknesses, nothing to exploit. Even that win seems a long time ago now, as does any thought of Liverpool not cantering to that first triumph since 1990. It hurts to say it but you have to face facts.

Armed with one of the best pound for pound centre-backs in the world - there are few better than Virgil van Dijk - and two outstanding full-backs in Trent Alexander - Arnold and Andy Robertson, their defence is solid. On the odd occasion that you do get past that exceptional quartet, goalkeeper Alisson, one of the best in the business, often bars the way.
Their front three of Mo Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane speaks for itself, and whilst on paper their midfield might lack the stardust of the rest of the team, Gini Wijnaldum and Jordan Henderson provide the brawn and Alex Oxlade - Chamberlain the brains with the likes of Lallana, Divock Origi, Xherdan Shaqiri and new boy Takumi Minamino waiting in the wings as cover.
You simply can't see how this United side are going to find a way through the best team on the planet.
I hope I'm wrong.

Even for a club that makes the impossible possible, this one is too big an ask.
We're simply not strong enough in midfield, we get overrun in there every week and they'll just have too much for us. As they have for everyone else.

Friday 17 January 2020

Ashley Young leaves United as a loyal Reds servant

Inter Milan continued their trend of sweeping up United's deadwood as club captain Ashley Young joins the Nerazzurri for a fee of around £1.5m.
The 34 year old has played 261 times for the club, scoring 19 times, although he had fallen out of favour this season with the signing of Aaron Wan - Bissaka and emergence of Brandon Williams. With Diogo Dalot and Timothy Fosu - Mensah also waiting in the wings, it's clear that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer no longer sees Young as part of his plans.
Having been phased out by Ole, this was always going to be Young's last season at the club and he had not been involved in the last three games - indeed, he's featured only ten times in 2019-20.
Whatever you think of his capabilities in such a demanding job, Solskjaer deserves great credit for shipping out Marouane Fellaini, Sanchez, Lukaku, Chris Smalling, Antonio Valencia, Matteo Darmian and now Young. All were ageing, none were ever really good enough and there was no future by keeping these players at the club.

He becomes the third former Red, after Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez, to move to the San Siro.
Making a surprise move to Old Trafford from Villa Park, Young has plied his trade at our club for almost a decade, initially as a winger. He made an immediate impact in the Red of United, with his two brilliant goals and unplayable form in the 8-2 demolition of Arsenal helping him to hit the ground running. In his first season at the club, Sir Alex Ferguson's last, he showcased the form that had persuaded us to sign him, equally as adept on either flank as an out and out wideman. As Fergie retired and United struggled, so too did Young. Having said that, the 39-cap England man proved a reliable option for each of the four managers we've had since. Converted to a wing-back and full-back under Louis van Gaal, he has never moaned or griped at the decline of the club and has always been willing to do whatever asked of him no matter the situation.
Shunted around the pitch, Young played in every position except in goal during his nine years here. Van Gaal tried him out as a lone striker - spearheading the attack at White Hart Line - whilst Solskjaer has used him at centre-back as part of a three man defence. If there was a job to be done, Young did it. It is to his credit that he earned a Three Lions recall after four years in international exile, eventually going on to play in the 2018 World Cup as England made the semis.

I won't miss Young, he's certainly not a legend and definitely not someone I rated as a player. Young has never been the best player to grace Old Trafford - far, far from it.
But his conduct and service gets my respect. He never let the club down, always conducted himself well on and off the pitch with class and came across as an excellent professional. Like most ex United players, I wish him all the best. Good luck in Italy, Youngey.

Thursday 16 January 2020

Brandon Williams becoming a Shaw thing for Man Utd

Six months ago, Luke Shaw was unchallenged and unrivalled as Manchester United's first choice left-back.
The only left back we had worthy of the name, Shaw's 2018-19 finally marked a season of progress for the world's most expensive teenager who had arrived at United in 2014 as a generational talent.

After years of regression, injury and fitness woes, Shaw had the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year trophy in his possession. and had become the player we all knew he could be. Granted, it was a reward for being the shiniest turd in the toilet, but an England recall didn't seem far away and, finally, Shaw had made good his potential. Or so we all thought.

United's left-back position had hit choppy waters having been a symbol of calm through our days as dominant, all-conquering winners. Marshalled superbly by the brilliant if under-rated consistency of first Denis Irwin and Patrice Evra for the 90s and 00s, the pair had become synonymous with the success of the Sir Alex era as two of the finest full-backs in the land. But since the departure of United's diminutive but dynamic Frenchman in 2014, the position had undergone something of an identity crisis. Wingers have been jumped around, centre-backs moved across and make do and mend square pegs crammed into round holes whilst Louis van Gaal, Jose Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer have scratched around for solutions. Many have tried but all had failed. Others have shown glimpses but flattered to deceive. But the answer may now have been found.

As Solskjaer's side boarded the pre-season plane to Australia, he took ten defenders - Shaw among them - with him. Quinton Fortune and Nicky Butt took another flight to the sleepy Austrian village of Obertraun, tucked away in the foothills of the Alps. They were charged with looking after United's second string side as they embarked on a pre-season training camp. Included in the party of 21 was a promising but untested 18-year-old left-back by the name of Brandon Williams, set for another season plying his trade and learning his craft with his Reserve team colleagues.

Back then, you'd have been hard pushed to predict how different the situation would look. Williams has enjoyed a meteoric rise, rocketing up through the ranks to such an extent that there's talk of England. Thrown in at the deep end, Williams hasn't looked back since his debut against Rochdale in the EFL Cup. Since then, he's played in Europe and a Manchester derby
, earned three Man of the Match awards, scored in the Premier League and pocketed one of the league's paciest players, Adama Traore, twice. Last night's showing against Wolves was only his 16th senior appearance. He looks like he's been playing there all his life. Williams is the player Shaw was at Southampton when he burst on to the scene as the next big thing with the world at his feet.
Shaw, again beset by injuries, can only watch on as United's latest teenage talent has become the epitome of Solskjaer's philosophy at his own expense.

Ole's championed youth and there can be no better justification of that the Crumpsall born defender. His emergence has also saved United a hefty sum of money on a replacement on the permanently crocked Shaw. Not only that, but Williams has shown all the traits you could want in a full-back, he doesn't shy away from a scrap, his approach to the game is spot on and he flies up the flank and down relentlessly.

Saturday against Norwich was Williams and Shaw's respective seasons in microcosm. The former kept his place and was excellent again, only shrouded by the missing of a late sitter. The latter had to settle for substitute spot until another injury, this time his hamstring, denied him even that.

Williams has boxing in his blood, being a relative of Super Featherweight Manchester fighter Zelda Barrett. As United prepare to step into the ring with Liverpool on Sunday, Williams has his rival pinned up against the ropes. It might not be long before Solskjaer throws in Shaw's towel.

Match report: Man Utd 1-0 Wolves

A superb goal from Juan Mata after half-time saw United finally get the better of Wolves and seal our place in the FA Cup fourth round.
The diminutive Special Juan clipped over John Ruddy to settle this third round replay, having been put through by Anthony Martial.

In a tight game at Old Trafford, with little between the two sides as usual, United deserved their win and will now face either Watford or Tranmere away next.
The result was overshadowed by a worrying injury to Marcus Rashford who limped down the tunnel clutching his side only 14 minutes after coming on. The concern over the Reds main man is only heightened by the prospect of him being ruled out for Sunday's daunting trip to Liverpool.

Wolves had an early Pedro Neto strike ruled out by VAR after a handball in the build up. Raul Jimenez had jostled with Harry Maguire, his outstretched hand had changed the direction of the ball and teed up Neto to run through and score.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side had failed to muster a shot on target in the goalless first game between the two sides, but were much more threatening this time around.
Ruddy saved well from Mata early on, with Dan James also denied smartly by the impressive Wolves keeper.
After a frenetic start, the game lapsed into a familiar pattern but ageing Mata, 31, rolled back the years with one moment of quality in a clever finish.

Solskjaer named a stronger than expected side - as, to be fair, did our opponents - with the games coming thick and fast and that trip to unbeaten league leaders Liverpool only three days away.
But the United manager will know that this cup probably represents our best chance of silverware with the Carabao Cup out of reach and the Europa League a long shot.

Eager to get the job done and finish the tie inside the 90, Solskjaer sent on talismanic figurehead Rashford to add bite to the attack and the Reds were ahead within three minutes of his arrival.
But the gamble to involve Rashford might prove costly as our top scorer pulled up injured and had to be replaced by Jesse Lingard. Solskjaer admitted it had backfired after the game as United are now left sweating on the fitness of the forward.

Martial flashed a shot wide and Raul Jimenez was off target before VAR intervened again. Fred's wild mishit pass struck Nemanja Matic and fell to Jimenez, only for the ball to brush his hand and rule out Neto's subsequent finish. It seemed harsh as the Mexican knew little about it, but the new rules stipulated that the goal had to be disallowed.
Martial put an effort wide and Fred tried his luck from distance whilst Wolves posed an intermittent threat at the other end.
Ruben Neves had a trademark effort from distance well saved by Sergio Romero and Conor Coady should have done better with a header. The centre back nodded wide from ten yards when well placed after Jonny Castro Otto had picked him out.

Neves smashed an effort wide and Matt Doherty headed a pass from the same player off a post, with Jimenez flagged for offside on the rebound.
Mata went close again and Neves smashed one over the top over in an increasingly end-to-end contest.
Substitute Andreas Pereira forced a save out of Ruddy on the counter-attack, with Maguire solid at the back and the Argentina stopper keeping yet another clean sheet.

Overall team performance: 7/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Brandon Williams

Monday 13 January 2020

Marcus Rashford relishing role as Man Utd's talisman

As the 2019-20 season nudges beyond its halfway point, there's one clear front runner for Manchester United's Player of the Season.
With honourable mentions to Scott McTominay and Aaron Wan - Bissaka, Marcus Rashford has emerged as the front runner for the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year Award. Still only 22, Rashford now has 19 goals this season, the most in any campaign since his dramatic debut breakthrough in 2015. His previous best was 13 in 2017-18 and he equalled that tally once more last term. I've always felt there's a 20 goal a season player in Rashford and he's showing that now. Even more impressive is the fact that his best-ever goalscoring campaign is coming with him playing in a wide position on the left. Since his debut in fact, Rashford has scored more goals in all competitions for United than any other current player at the club. 

Fast maturing into a clinical striker, Rashford has developed into the talismanic figurehead of this young United side. He captained the team for the first time against Manchester City last week, a show of faith from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as one of the few players to genuinely understand what the fixture means. It wasn't so long ago that Rashford seemed stuck in a rut, with confidence and morale at an all time low amid calls for Solskjaer to drop him. You'd have got long odds that by early 2020 he would be Manchester United's go-to match winner. Four years on from his breakthrough and having been touted for the very top ever since, it feels like Rashford is at the peak of his powers and the finished product. 
In a turbulent and inconsistent season for United, Rashford has been a bright spark. At times, he's been carrying us and that's a big ask for a player still very young. 

After starting against Norwich City, Rashford became the fourth-youngest player to reach a double century of games in the red of United - only Ryan Giggs, George Best and Norman Whiteside sit ahead of him. Rashford has scored 64 goals in those 200 games and is a player in the finest of fettles, amongst the most in-form men on the continent in current form. 
What the numbers won't be able to convey is the manner in which Rashford has lit up Old Trafford. There's a freedom of spirit and the sheer joy in his craft as he jinked, tricked and slalomed his way into the history books on Saturday. Norwich were left at the mercy of Marcus' magic. 

It's not only his prowess in front of goal that has been impressive, though. Rashford is becoming a true leader, pulling the strings and making United's forward line tick. No longer forcing himself on a game or waiting for things to happen, Rashford demands the ball, drives forward, and knows when to shoot, when to wait for the killer pass and when to move the ball on. 

Rashford's goal against Manchester City last week was a prime example, with Rashford drifting in and out of the game but timing his burst into the box to perfection to meet Mason Greenwood's through ball. Captain for the night Rashford finished superbly to give United the faintest glimmer of hope ahead of the second leg. 
 He led the line supremely against Norwich on Saturday, scoring twice and putting defender Sam Byram on his backside with an outrageous 'elastico'. 

Whilst it would be churlish to compare a career still in its relative infancy with one of the greatest players this club has even seen, there are similarities. Wayne Rooney, like Rashford, was catapulted into the national spotlight at an early age. Thereafter, Wazza’s halo began to slip – his body battered and energy sapped by being a virtual ever present for both club and country. He was hardly ever rested and his unyielding determination to work, hassle, harry and press opponents into submission ultimately took its toll. Rashford was in a similar state of flux earlier in the season but - also like Rooney - he emerged from his slumber to return to former glories. Both saved their best for the big games and both were adored by the fans but divided opinion. Rooney, like Rashford, wore number 10 and although Marcus hasn't quite hit Rooney's stats yet he has outscored Messrs Cristiano Ronaldo and Harry Kane when they were his age.
 Both Rashford and Rooney carried the weight of a nation on their shoulders by becoming key men for England and all eyes will again be on the Wythenshawe lad as a key part of Gareth Southgate's side for the Euros in the summer. With Harry Kane out until April with a hamstring injury, Rashford has the opportunity to be England's main man at the tournament. 

You can't help but feel that if Jose Mourinho was still patrolling the Old Trafford dugout, Rashford would be playing somewhere abroad or stagnating in the Reserves. Instead he's come of age and is flourishing at the club he loves. 

Saturday 11 January 2020

Match report: Man Utd 4-0 Norwich

Marcus Rashford scored twice on his 200th United appearance as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side hit four against bottom of the table Norwich.
It was the perfect response from the Reds after being comprehensively outplayed by Manchester City in midweek with four goals, a clean sheet and a return to fifth place in the Premier League table.

Rashford became the third youngest player in Old Trafford history to reach the double century milestone and opened the scoring when he stabbed home an excellent Juan Mata cross.
United were dominant throughout and extended the lead when red hot Rashford hit his 19th goal of the season from the penalty spot after Brandon Williams had gone down under a challenge from Canaries keeper Tim Krul.

Anthony Martial, himself close to a double century of United games, headed in the third from another pinpoint pass from Mata just shy of the hour mark.
Mason Greenwood continued his breakthrough season as he stepped off the bench to stroke in a lovely finish for the fourth 14 minutes from the end to add gloss to the scoreline.
The East Anglia basement boys were missing top scorer Teemu Pukki and so handed a full debut to 18-year-old striker Adam Idah.

There was little indication of the rout to follow as Daniel Farke's men started brightly and had the best chance of the opening moments. Kenny McLean flashed a shot wide when well placed after a lovely run and cross from Todd Cantwell.
It had been a difficult start to 2020 for Solskjaer's side with defeats to Arsenal and Man City sandwiched by a dire FA Cup draw at Wolves in which we failed to muster a shot on goal.
This, though, was a throwback to the early days of Solskjaer's temporary tenure as United monopolised possession and took their chances albeit against a struggling side whom look destined for an immediate return to the second tier.

United had been in control before the deadlock was broken, as Krul saved well from Andreas Pereira and Fred flashed a trademark drive wide from distance.
On 27 minutes, United broke through as Victor Lindelof found the recalled Juan Mata and he in turn picked out Rashford who beat Krul to the ball and knocked beyond the stranded keeper.

David de Gea had been a virtual spectator but was suddenly and unexpectedly called into action when Cantwell collected the ball from deep, turned and fired towards goal. His low curler looked destined for the bottom corner but De Gea got down brilliantly to tip the ball wide.

Rashford outfoxed Sam Byram with a stunning 'elastico' piece of skill but although United had looked the stronger, the failure to kill teams off has been an Achilles heel for Solskjaer's side this season.

It took the Reds seven minutes into the second half to extend their lead and effectively put the game beyond the visitors. Williams went down as Krul challenged United's left back for the ball and after the obligatory VAR check, Rashford stroked home from the spot.

Martial made it 3-0 two minutes later after another Mata cross, Nemanja Matic shot wide and substitute Greenwood was denied by Krul shortly after he had come on.

Williams somehow failed to score when he blazed over from two yards in front of the Stretford End after Mata had played him in, but Greenwood was not to be denied.
He added his ninth of the season and United's fourth with a trademark left-footed finish as he stroked home from 20 yards to wrap up the scoring.

Krul saved well from another substitute, Dan James, and Emi Buendia went close at the other end but that proved to be the final action as the Reds picked up a welcome win and clean sheet to boot.

Overall team performance: 8/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Juan Mata. Two assists in an excellent performance.

Wednesday 8 January 2020

City prevail on sobering night for Solskjaer's United

United were left reeling and gasping for air after a first half in which they were relentlessly punished and brow beaten by a clinical City side. Pep Guardiola's men had the smell of revenge in their nostrils and were in no mood for sympathy against their weakened neighbours.
Marcus Rashford grabbed what's surely only a consolation in the second half, but it's a long way back for the Reds in this League Cup semi final on a sobering Old Trafford night.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer would have hoped that United could at least keep City at arm's length and close enough to render the second half more than simply a glorified friendly. Whilst United aren't quite completely dead and buried, it takes a huge leap of the imagination to see anything other than a third successive final for the men from across the city. United were mercilessly ripped to pieces in the first half as to surely strongly reignite fresh speculation about Solskjaer's ability to successfully oversee this latest state of flux at Old Trafford.

Injuries and recalls forced a number of changes to this ill-equipped, inadequate Manchester United side, but the vulnerability of this team was not Solskjaer's doing. Harry Maguire failed to make it, and joined Scott McTominay and Paul Pogba on the treatment table. Anthony Martial was not fit enough to start and only got ten minutes.

Under Solskjaer it can be said that we have put in a handful of performances to rival anything from the halycon days of yesteryear with Sir Alex in charge. But there have a been good few to rank as the worst, too. Certainly when it comes to big games against big opposition, where United have generally done well this season, this could be the nadir as the single worst. Even accounting for City's superiority, things got ugly and there were a smattering of boos at half time.

City overloaded with diminutive technicians in midfield, an unnecessary ensemble of their embarrassment of riches and depth of squad. Pep Guardiola deployed a false nine so it was frequently five vs two in the middle. Fred and Andreas Pereira are limited anyway but soon had no chance, swamped by a sea of sky blue.
Enough has been seen of United's two hapless centre-backs Victor Lindelof and Phil Jones for Guardiola to expose them by movement and fleet of foot. Time and time and time again City's little schemers brutally punished them.

United began with encouragement but in the 17th minute, makeshift striker Bernardo Silva was given the freedom of Stretford by Fred and Jones who could only watch from close - but not close enough - quarters as he thrashed the ball home.

From then on, it was a procession. Embarrassingly comfortable to a scale not yet witnessed even in the dire depths of these dystopian days for us United fans. Players low on confidence and rumoured to be heading for the exit made for a soft underbelly and there could be no complaints at a 0-3 half time scoreline.

For the second goal, Lindelof made two errors in the same passage of play, firstly giving the ball away with a misdirected clearance and then being caught napping by Riyad Mahrez. The Swede is desperately low on confidence and the time for change in that area cannot be far from Solskjaer's aforethought.

For long periods City played at testimonial pace - an embarrassing indictment of both the quality, or lack thereof, in this United side and their increasingly apparent discombobulated mindset. It's true that there was mitigation in the players he had available, but the balance is shifting, or has already done so, towards acknowledging Solskjaer's role in things. There were clearly some injury and illness problems, but it was also as obvious that there's better options to avoid what was a catastrophe in the first half. If Solskjaer continues to persist with players that will never be good enough, even after being in their care for a year, then he must face the appropriate questioning.

Similarly, it is leaving the club open to accusations of negligence by continuing to ignore the plethora of problems in the middle of the park. Solskjaer has spoken about avoiding the wrong type of player, or signing someone simply for the sake of it. But it needn't take 600 scout reviews to scout and sign player, even if only to make a difference in the short term.

In times of need, even the great man himself Sir Alex didn't sway from bringing in a short term signing - some good, like Henrik Larsson and others not so much, like Andy Goram and William Prunier to name but two. After all, some of the league's lesser lights have dominated us in midfield this season and City embarrassment of riches only further exposed the bleeding in painful fashion.

There was a little more about United in the second half, and certainly enough to suggest there's still some pride and some fight in there. Whether that came from the manager or from within, I'm not sure, but it was always damage limitation against a side content to sit on what they had.

Nemanja Matic replaced the invisible Jesse Lingard at half-time to get hold of midfield and tighten things up. Angel Gomes made a difference: the highly rated youngster has seemingly been on the periphery of the first team for three years but looks closer to the door marked exit. He showed a glimpse of his undoubted talent when he played a part in the goal, playing in Mason Greenwood to set up Rashford to score.

There were few brights on a chastening night that was more damning than the score suggested. Perhaps Aaron Wan - Bissaka, who stuck to his difficult job gamely in his personal duel with Raheem Sterling, was the only one who could really say he emerged with credit.
That more than anything epitomises this mess.

Some individuals who could hold their heads high, but so very rarely have we looked like a cohesive team. Against City at Old Trafford on Tuesday night, we looked as far away from that description as its possible to be. As far away as we have at any time for years.

United down but not quite out yet ahead of second leg

If United do go on to reach the Carabao Cup final for the second time in four years, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side will look back on the 70th minute of this one as the turning point. It would need a comeback for the ages, one that Lazarus would be proud of but you can never, ever write Manchester United off.

3-0 down by the break, all hope seemed lost. United had failed to lay a glove or even a fingerprint on Pep Guardiola's Manchester City slickers. The game, and the two legged tie was over even before the halfway point of this double header with the men from across the road. Then United finally put together a decent move, Mason Greenwood found Marcus Rashford and United - however slim - had the smallest glimmer of light. Something to cling to, a foothold on the rockface to start the climb to a distant, seemingly insurmountable summit. The tiniest light at the end of a very long tunnel.

We still need to go to the Etihad and win by two clear goals even to get this to extra-time and I simply can't see it, but cast your minds back to this time last year and Paris. Rashford. 95th minute. The Impossible dream made possible. We did it against PSG, so why not again? The fabric, the DNA and the very shirt of this great club has taught us to never give up and always believe.
If United make the League Cup final from this position, it would surely eclipse everything to have gone before. Rashford's well-taken 17th goal of the season will surely only prove to be a consolation. But it could also prove to be the seminal moment of this tie. It might be a moment to provide the launchpad for another epic, climb-off-the-canvas, snatch victory from the jaws of defeat turnaround. If we can grab the first goal at the Etihad, it's game on!

The side from across the city had been ripped apart and pulled from pillar to post by the Reds electric attacking play when these sides met at the Etihad in the league last month - but showed they had learned their lesson. Whereas they had no answer to our raw speed on the break in the league game, this time it was the visitors craft and creativity that did the damage time and time again.
United were the ones to be left punch drunk as Guardiola's rejigged and strikerless 4-4-2 system worked to a T.

He had surprised many observers with not only his personnel changes but the formation too - with Messrs Kevin de Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, Bernardo Silva and Riyad Mahrez constantly swapping positions. Fluidly interchanging, the quartet were impossible to pick up and mark, frequently dropping deep to leave United outnumbered in midfield and render the efforts of Brazilian duo Fred and Andreas Pereira almost anonymous. Solskjaer left it until the break to bring on Nemanja Matic and assert a modicum of control in the engine room. Guardiola did not repeat his mistakes at the Etihad where his tactical shortcomings played straight into our hands.

Aside from the goal, there were not many positives on a night that only emphasised the gulf in class between the two sides, financially, managerially and in terms of pound for pound quality. Man City are better than us, we know that, and there's no disgrace in losing to the second best team in England and one of the best on the continent. But at least we didn't crumble completely and showed admirable fight and courage in the second half.
United are, somehow, still in the tie by their fingertips but this should be seen as a reminder of how urgently we need reinforcements, even if they will come at a hefty price that the hierarchy won't like.

Match report: Man Utd 1-3 Man City

Pep Guardiola's Blues seized a commanding if not quite unassailable advantage with victory at Old Trafford in the first leg of the Carabao Cup semi final.

City raced into a 3-0 half time lead through Bernardo Silva, Riyad Mahrez and an Andreas Pereira own goal before Marcus Rashford gave United a glimmer of hope ahead of the second leg at the Etihad later this month.
Still smarting form defeat on home soil at the hands of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's Reds, Guardiola threw a curveball with his team selection as he picked a strikerless 4-4-2 with Kevin de Bruyne and Bernardo Silva the furthest players forward.

It was the latter who put City ahead after 17 minutes as he collected the ball from Rodri and arrowed a superb strike beyond David de Gea and in from distance.
Two goals in five minutes just beyond the half hour mark then stretched City's advantage further. Mahrez rounded De Gea and rolled in after a slip from the unfortunate Victor Lindelof, and - with United chasing shadows - it was soon 3-0.
City turned the counter-attacking tables on the Reds as they sprung away from deep. De Bruyne twisted Phil Jones inside and out before he saw his shot saved by De Gea, only for the ball to ricochet in off Pereira.

United improved once Nemanja Matic replaced the hapless Jesse Lingard at the pause and Rashford's late goal at least restored a semblance of pride. For once careless in possession, City squandered the ball and allowed Mason Greenwood to feed his compatriot and Rashford ran through to score - his fourth goal in a Manchester derby.
It will give Solskjaer's side hope that a second leg comeback, however improbable, is not beyond the realms of possibility.
United never threatened to deny City a famous, well-deserved win however and United are left with a huge task if we are to prevent the neighbours from reaching a third successive final and a fourth in five years.

In truth, it could have been worse had De Gea not been at his to twice deny Raheem Sterling and then substitute Gabriel Jesus late on.
Fred went close from distance and substitute Angel Gomes flashed a shot wide, but otherwise City keeper Claudio Bravo was rarely troubled.

United started strongly but didn't test the City backline and the wind was sucked out of the proverbial sails when Bernardo let fly with a 25 yarder that left De Gea stranded and the Stretford End stunned into silence.

The Reds had ripped City to pieces in the opening half of the league encounter at the Etihad but, this time, it was our opponents who did so as their quality and invention shone through.
The second goal came after 33 minutes when Benjamin Mendy thumped the ball up field, Lindelof slipped as Bernardo threaded the ball through and Mahrez skipped around DDG for 2-0.

City were rampant and moved further ahead as despite Brandon Williams lung-busting efforts, the ball went to De Bruyne, his shot was saved by DDG and went in off Pereira.

Rashford was off target with a free-kick as, to our credit, United responded to City's first half blitzkrieg.
Solskjaer threw on Anthony Martial to try and give us more than a fighting chance but there was to be no further action, leaving us with a massive uphill struggle.

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

Tuesday 7 January 2020

Carabao Cup derby preview: Man Utd v Man City

United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer faces an injury crisis as his side welcome cross-town rivals Manchester City for the first leg of the League Cup semi final.

The Reds could be without Anthony Martial, Jesse Lingard, Luke Shaw and Harry Maguire as well as Scott McTominay and Paul Pogba both of whom remain sidelined. United will leave it until the last minute for the quartet to prove their fitness in our first home game of the New Year.

Axel Tuanzebe, Eric Bailly, Timothy Fosu - Mensah and Marcos Rojo are also unavailable meaning that Phil Jones and Victor Lindelof are United's only two fully fit centre-backs. Both sides fielded understrength sides in the FA Cup at the weekend with Messrs Solskjaer and Guardiola set to field their strongest possible line ups at Old Trafford. Ederson, Raheem Sterling, Kevin de Bruyne, Rodri and Fernandinho were all rested for their win over Port Vale and are set to be restored to the City team.

The visitors will have defender Nicolas Otamendi available again but is set to rest some of his key men as he bids for a third successive Carabao Cup title. The two Manchester clubs have won the EFL Cup in each of the last four seasons, with City also winning it in 2016 before United and Jose Mourinho went on to prevail the following season. The Carabao Cup remains our best chance of silverware but a depleted squad and an improved City side leaves the Reds facing an uphill battle.

United trail City by 13 points in the league but did win 2-1 at the Etihad last month in the best performance of Solskjaer's time as manager. Whilst United are clear underdogs for this tie, that victory will give the players the belief that City are beatable, and that you can come up with a plan to outgun them. That was fantastic but a two legged tie

These first legs are tough and often cagey affairs, but perhaps not in a Manchester derby where both sides have plenty of reasons to come out swinging. United need a trophy and City will be hellbent on revenge with the defence of their league title hanging by the thinnest of threads.

"In a derby its about adrenaline and atmosphere" said Solskjaer.
"Pep and City have raised the bar so much, its something to aim for. We beat them last time but they're back winning games and confident, although form goes out of the window in a derby game.
"It is a different era and a different time but that's what we and I are here for, to take on the challenges presented to us."

Prediction: United have blown hot and cold this season but are at our best against side that dominate possession. Man City usually do that so it should be a tight one. That said, we think United's injury list might take its toll and Guardiola's men to eke out a narrow, slender first leg advantage.
United 1-2 City

Form guide: Man Utd W L W W L D Man City W W L W W W
Match odds: Man Utd 15/4 Draw 17/5 Man City 8/13
Referee: Mike Dean (Wirral)

Predicted United XI: Romero; Wan - Bissaka, Maguire, Lindelof, Williams; Fred, Matic; James, Pereira, Rashford; Greenwood.