Sunday 22 March 2020

Former United man tests positive for Coronavirus

Former Manchester United midfielder Marouane Fellaini is the latest high profile footballer to test positive for Covid 19.

In a post on Twitter, the 32 year old - now playing for Shandong Luneng in China - wrote: "Dear friends I have been tested for coronavirus and my test result is positive. Thanks to the fans, medical staff and the club for their care and attention. I will follow the treatment and hope to return to the game as soon as possible. Please, everyone, stay safe."

Chinese media reports claim Fellaini is in isolation at Jinan hospital, which specialises in infectious illnesses and diseases. I don't think we'll have any problems with him *passing it on* though (badum tish) - sorry Marouane. We couldn't resist that.
The Belgian international moved to China in 2019 after eleven years in the Premier League under David Moyes at Everton and at Old Trafford with Moyes, LVG and Jose Mourinho as managers.
Chinese football - as with the sporting world as a whole - has been hit hard by the outbreak - with the resumption of Chinese Super League pushed back indefinitely from its intended restart of 22 February.

He is reportedly the only top flight player to have returned a positive coronavirus test in the country where this all started. Fellaini showed no symptoms of Covid 19 and was tested as he returned to training. Spain based China international Wu Lei is recovering from the condition.

Fellaini joins Paulo Dybala, Paulo Maldini and son Daniel along with four Portsmouth FC players - Haji Mnoga, James Bolton, Andy Cannon and Sean Raggett - in being diagnosed with the potentially fatal and rapidly spreading virus. Thankfully, all seven men have been described as feeling well and better already.

Fellaini played 106 times for United having arrived from Goodison Park in 2014, but he fell out of favour under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and moved to Shandong Luneng last January.

These are scary and unprecedented times for everyone and we hope Fellaini - as well as anyone who has tested positive or those showing even mild symptoms - stays safe and follows the guidelines of their Government.

Celebrities and athletes in the UK are being tested for coronavirus but the average Joe will just be told to self isolate and stay at home regardless of their circumstances. Being a relatively young professional sportsman, it is almost certain that Fellaini will make a full recovery.

We wish Fellaini all the best in his quarantined recovery and hope he will be able to return to the sport soon. Best wishes to him from everyone here at United Faithful.

Saturday 14 March 2020

Covid 19 to pave the way for United's 21?

How we all coping without the constant of Premier League football in our lives? Just when Manchester United hit a wonderful run of form, the season was brought to a juddering and abrupt halt as the coronavirus pandemic sweeps the country.

All games at every level of the professional game have been postponed until at least April 3, but privately there is a growing concern that the season will not be finished. In that scenario, league positions would remain as they currently are but there would be no title, no relegation and Leeds United and WBA would jump into a 22 team Premier League for the 2020/21 season. Five teams would face the drop next season as a result but such a move seems unlikely and at odds with the entirety of the system. A vacant title would get the backing of many United fans with Liverpool missing out on their first triumph in 30 years if that was to happen.

The second shout is going to be less popular. That would see the season end on current points and league positions - Liverpool win it, United fifth and Bournemouth, Aston Villa and Norwich would have to accept relegation despite the fact the Villa Park side have played a game less.
What would that mean for United's quest to get back among the European elite - City's ban is still pending so would fifth be enough? It would be very hard on us if we missed out on a technicality.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's men have all but qualified for the Europa League quarter finals after a 5-0 win at LASK Linz on Thursday - but both of UEFA's club competitions face cancellation with European football's governing body calling an emergency meeting on Tuesday.
There is a consensus among clubs, officials and organisations that nobody wants that outcome and the aim is to finish the finish in some way, come what may.

How about play-offs for the title, Europe and relegation? Liverpool fans won't be happy but when are they and who cares anyway. They're irrelevant in this.
Depending on how many clubs are included, this could even be a chance for United to win title number 21 - now wouldn't that really pour down on Liverpool's parade. Something like perhaps Liverpool and City as the top two get "byes" into the semi final and the rest of the top six start in a quarter-final style, mini knockout competition. Last four get into the Champions League, the play off winners are exactly that - league champions.

That would be a fair way to decide the title and the Champions League positions. Or, a mini league which takes into account points accrued so far home and away, one for the top six and another for the bottom six. Could Covid 19 open the door to United's 21? We're in unchartered territory with the situation changing by the day.

The UK is expecting the peak of the virus to hit in June - so it seems extremely unlikely that the season will resume in April as planned at the moment. It does, however, give the authorities some breathing space and thinking time. There could even be a delay into July with a delayed start to the 2020/21 campaign. Very much a case of watch this space. We'll know more next week but it looks increasingly likely that Euro 2020 will be postponed until next summer.

Even in absentia, football will divide opinions on what the best course of action is, but anything that stops the Scousers from winning the league is fine by us.

Friday 13 March 2020

Premier League forced into unprecedented lockdown

The Football Association and the Premier League have been forced into unprecedented action with the suspension of all elite football until 3rd April amid the Covid 19 outbreak.
All top flight, EFL, FA Women's Super League and Women's Championship - along with all UEFA club games - have been put on hold amid the coronavirus crisis. 
United's Europa League last 16 second leg with LASK at Old Trafford is therefore suspended, along with the draw for the quarter finals. 

The news was hardly unexpected with the hierarchy following in the footsteps of all of Europe's other major leagues. With Serie A, Ligue 1, Bundesliga and La Liga also facing a definite suspension, fans are left with a huge football-shaped hole in all of our lives. That said, whilst football is of paramount importance and sport unites us when times are tough, nothing can take precedence over people's lives. Health and safety must come first. It's the correct decision and the corridors of power were left with no other realistic option. Typical, just when United are hitting form, the season and our momentum grinds to a juddering halt. 

The Premier League said action would resume on April 4th "subject to medical advice and conditions at that time." 

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta and Chelsea player Callum Hudson - Odoi tested positive for Covid 19 late on Thursday with the powers that be finally forced to take action. 
Three Leicester City players are self-isolating, and the first team squads at Everton FC and AFC Bournemouth have also shown symptoms of the rapidly spreading virus. Daniele Rugani of Juve and Sampdoria's Manolo Gabbiadini are also known to have contracted the illness. We wish these players and Arteta well and hope they make a full recovery. 

Still, it should have come earlier, long before the straw that broke the camel's back. 

Premier League chief executive Richard Masters said: "In this unprecedented situation, we are working closely with our clubs, the government, the FA and the EFL. We can reassure everyone the health and welfare of players, staff and fans are our priority." Masters added that the league will look to finish the season and re-schedule any displaced fixtures. 

Ten people have now died from the potentially fatal disease in the UK and there have been nearly 600 known cases across the country. 

We will keep you updated with the situation as it develops here at United Faithful. 

Match report: LASK Linz 0-5 Man Utd

Manchester United took total control of our Europa League last 16 tie with a resounding first leg win at the Austrian champions in front of 500 people.

The game had been ordered to be played behind closed doors by the Austrian government amid the threat of the coronavirus, with a small posse of club officials, media and Austrian hierarchy in attendance in an otherwise empty ground - our team's first ever experience of playing behind closed doors.
Odion Ighalo set United on their way with a superb opening goal - his fourth in three starts - as the Reds extended our unbeaten run to an eleventh game.

Daniel James added an excellent second after half-time for his first goal since August, and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side put further distance between themselves and LASK through goals from Juan Mata and substitutes Mason Greenwood and Andreas Pereira.

It rendered the second leg (if there is one) at Old Trafford completely anodyne with the tie won, allowing Solskjaer to field a side exclusively of youth players if he feels the need.
Despite shuffling his pack again, with five changes from the derby, Solskjaer's men were fluid and confident against opponents on their best ever European run.

Mata miscued a chance early on and LASK keeper Alexander Schlager punched clear under pressure from a Luke Shaw cross, but he could only direct the ball to the Spaniard, but he could again only drive wide.
Schlager saved well from Ighalo, James was denied by the increasingly busy keeper and Eric Bailly directed a header narrowly off target from the resultant corner. United had piled on the pressure and persistence paid off with Ighalo's stunning breaking of the deadlock shortly before the half hour mark.

A lovely forward run from the again impressive Bruno Fernandes led to him finding Ighalo on the edge of the area. After a trio of wonderful touches with both feet to control the ball, the Nigerian slammed home a superb half-volley off the bar.
LASK suddenly sprung forward when a deflected cross fell to Dominik Frieser. The Austrian side's top scorer chanced his arm from close range but Bailly blocked well in front of Romero to snuff out the opening.

Maguire went close with a trademark header from a Fernandes corner but the second goal was not long in coming.
After Mata had fired over and Scott McTominay was denied by Schlager, James - played in by Ighalo - cut inside to slam home on 58 minutes to end his 23 game goal drought. It was his first goal since the 31 August and capped a creditable recent revival for the player.
Ighalo struck a post and Peter Michorl had an effort at the other end, but the Reds remained in control and put unassailable distance between us and Valerien Ismael's tiring Austrian champions late on.

After collecting the ball on the touchline, Mata found Fred whom played a pinpoint, defence-splitting
pass back to the Spaniard and, one on one with Schlager, he finished emphatically.
Substitutes Tahith Chong and Greenwood linked up for the fourth goal, as the former found the latter to fire in an excellent finish off both posts.
Another sub, Pereira, added the icing on the cake with a 25-yarder that Schlager should have done better with.

The Reds now head back to OT with a 5-0 lead and both feet in the quarter finals, ahead of the scheduled game against Tottenham on Sunday (although that will almost certainly be postponed).

Overall team performance: 8/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Odion Ighalo

Monday 9 March 2020

Player ratings - Man Utd 2 City 0 - Maguire 10, Fred&AWB 9

Oh what a night! Manchester United sealed a momentous derby double with a nerve shredding victory over Pep Guardiola's subdued, soon to be deposed champions.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side were clinging to the slenderest of leads after Anthony Martial's first half goal, when Old Trafford erupted as Scott McTominay seized on Ederson's errant throw out to steer the ball into the empty Stretford End net. It completed a hat-trick of wins over City and a huge, monumental victory that ensured United kept pace with Chelsea who won 4-0 against Everton earlier on Sunday.

Spirit, guts, willpower, resilience, courage and character - a team performance in every sense of the word.

Solskjaer 3-1 Guardiola - Manchester is Red!!

David de Gea - 7

For all of City's possession and territory, De Gea actually had little to do as the men in front of him did a simply magnificent job. Made a good save from Sterling early on and another from Phil Foden, but everything he had to do he did well. It was a day of contrasting fortunes for two of the league's best keepers. Ederson had a rare nightmare. A more comfortable than expected day at the office.

Victor Lindelof - 8

Imperious and solid alongside Maguire, Lindelof read the game superbly and shut down his area of the pitch. He and Maguire seemed to win everything in the air between them and never allowed a strangely subdued City a sniff. City passed their way down blind alleys and the Iceman - despite looking the weak link when the team was announced - was a big part of that. I'd have preferred to see Eric Bailly start instead but Lindelof more than justified his selection.

Harry Maguire - 10

I very rarely give players a ten, but Maguire was simply colossal in the wave of a City siege. Got nutmegged once by Aguero, but the man City could have signed won everything, made tackles, organised the defence and epitomised his side's performance. He seemed telepathic at times, drawn to every ball as if by magic. The captain rendered one of the best strikers in the world anonymous. A rock. Maguire was immense, magnificent, huge. My captain and man of the match no doubt. How City wished they could have signed him

Luke Shaw - 8

Got beaten a few time by the pace of Bernardo Silva but, stationed again on the left of a back three, Shaw dealt with everything that came his way. He has improved beyond all recognition and Solskjaer must take the credit for that. Such was City's frustrations, Pep Guardiola switched Silva with Sterling to try and open him up and then put Riyad Mahrez on him, but Shaw would not budge. Followed up his mightily impressive form with another excellent showing. Top class. He epitomised the team's resilience and courage.

Aaron Wan - Bissaka - 9

Wan - Bissaka resumed his personal duel with Sterling and again came out on top. AWB harried and battered the City star into submission and pushed him to the fringes. A bundle of power, pace and strength, the guy never misses a tackle. He broke up attacks and bombed forward at will. Sterling must be sick of the sight of him. He just couldn't get past him, no matter what Sterling tried. Another huge individual performance. Immense again. A contender for United's player of the season.

Fred - 9

Very harshly booked in the first half for a dive that replays showed should have been a penalty. Admitted aided by the absence of key City man Kevin de Bruyne, who he would have been in direct opposition with, Fred was just as good as he was at the Etihad back in December. Superb both in defensive and attacking situations, he won everything, linked the play, his passing was superb and he seemed to be omnipotent. A man bang in form, he has epitomised United's resurgence and is finally getting the credit he deserves.

Nemanja Matic - 7

I would have picked Scott McTominay ahead of him, but credit where it's due to the in-form Serbian. Matic was excellent again as a shield in front of United's back three and, far from being over-run, he actually got the better of Ilkay Gundogan. It's a stunning transformation for a player who looked certain to leave last summer. Matic has been nothing short of magnificent since coming into the team, he'll never be our most skilful or most important player but he did his job well in a Rolls Royce performance.

Brandon Williams - 7

A mixed day for the Manchester-born alumni in his first Old Trafford league derby. He played a part in the first goal and dovetailed nicely between defence and attack. Didn't shy away from his task even though he was given a tough time by Mahrez when he came on with City desperate for a way back. Solid if not always spectacular, Williams kept his head in the firepit and made some key interceptions. Tried to get forward but got taken off as United shut down the game.

Bruno Fernandes - 7

Quiet by his standards but got a filthy assist for Martial's opener. Showed ingenuity and intelligence for the goal, went close from a couple of set pieces and was pushed up front as United clung grimly to their lead. A constant threat, Fernandes is the glue that holds this side together and at one point started an attack from the edge of his own 18 yard box. The brain, heart and lungs of this side - imagine where we'd be if we signed him in January. He demands excellence from those around him and is the ultimate leader.

Dan James - 6

Ran himself into the ground, I can't fault DJ's effort and work rate. But his decision making and final ball definitely need improvement. There was an occasion when he opted for goal and Ederson saved with Fernandes and Martial free in the box in space. It's still bugging me now but fortunately it didn't cost us. He ripped City to shreds back in the first meeting of the season in December, and had his moments this time around. His form has improved of late.

Anthony Martial - 8

Another typical performance from the languid, mercurial Frenchman. Ederson should have saved his shot that led to the first goal, as he became the first United player since CR7 in 2006/07 to score home and away against City in the same season. Had the hapless Nicolas Otamendi on toast all day and led the line superbly. A constant threat. Now has 16 for the season, one short of his best ever scoring season for the Reds. Showed awareness and a predatory instinct for the goal. He never stopped running and was pivotal to the counter attacking game plan. Excellent. Got subbed to a standing ovation late on.

Substitutes - Eric Bailly (for Williams, 78 minutes) - 6

Unlucky not to start, Bailly wasn't on long but did his bit as United attempted to shore things up and see out the game. Won a few headers and made two good clearances.

Scott McTominay (for Martial 78) - 6

Like Bailly, was only on for the final moments but played his part and scored the match winning goal in stoppage time. A 35 yarder over Ederson sparked the most buoyant scenes OT has seen for years. He knows what this fixture means and added energy and guile to the midfield at a time when United needed it. Helped the Reds to wrestle back an element of control and gave us another man to lock down the midfield.

Odion Ighalo (for Fernandes 88) - N/A

One sumptuous back heel to set up a late attack and helped us to get out but wasn't on long enough to rate. His first taste of a Manchester derby

Manager - Ole Gunnar Solskjaer - 9

Has now beaten the so called "best manager in the world" three times this season with another tactically perfect performance. Set United up to defend from the front, we were superbly organised and Ole deserves immense credit for putting together a ten match unbeaten run. Long may it continue.

Solskjaer 3, "Best manager in the world" Guardiola 1

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been searching for a significant moment since being handed the job as United manager whilst basking in the afterglow of a caretaker manager's honeymoon period.

As he strolled down the touchline in an Old Trafford downpour at the conclusion of our 2-0 derby day win - our first league double over City since the retirement of Sir Alex - this felt a little like that moment.
In the euphoria of victory, Solskjaer's name reverberated to the rafters and it looked like the indefatigable burden of his mammoth job had, in part at least, been lightened.

It was Ole's third victory over his illustrious counterpart from across the city having beaten him twice in the league and once in the second leg of the Carabao Cup semi final. He's also beaten Frank Lampard thrice, and has got one over on predecessor Jose Mourinho, potential successor Mauricio Pochettino, Thomas Tuchel, Maurizio Sarri and Nuno Espirito Santo, to name but five, since taking charge at United. Solskjaer is one of two men to beat Guardiola three times in a single season - Jurgen Klopp is the only other manager to achieve that feat. Not bad for a "glorified PE teacher" against a man considered as the best boss in the business.
It shows, surely, that Solskjaer has something about him and the potential to become a top manager. His ill-fated spell at Cardiff has become a stick to beat him with, but it was an anomaly and no one could have saved them that season. He was a victim of circumstance. Isn't learning from your mistakes and improving yourself as a person because of those mistakes part of life?

Despite his impressive record against the best managers, Solskjaer has struggled as much as his side to convince the sceptics this season, as one of football's heavyweight superpowers have lurked on the margin of the league's top four.
And yet, with a ten game unbeaten run and the shrewd addition of a player who looks genuinely top class in Bruno Fernandes, Solskjaer might be, at last, finally starting to dispel those doubts. Where are the Ole outers now? The critics and those calling for Solskjaer's head a few weeks ago? Conspicuous now by their absence.

The Reds have a favourable draw against Austrian minnows LASK in the last 16 of the Europa League, travel to Premier League basement boys Norwich in the FA Cup quarter finals and now sit only three points behind fourth placed Chelsea and five behind Leicester in third. We can't... can we?

That's all well and good but, whether you think its fair or not, the fact is that United managers will eventually be judged on bridging the gap to any potential title challenger. For context, we're 37 points behind Liverpool as Klopp's men walk to their first title in 30 years. At some point, if not for a good few years yet, Solskjaer will be required, and probably expected, to at least reduce that gaping chasm.

For now, though, there has been a major shift in mood and momentum inside Old Trafford. Not since that dark January night against Burnley have United been beaten, and the 6-0 win over Tranmere - which Ole went into under serious pressure - kick started this run. It's our best streak since Solskjaer's initial appointment as interim manager, 446 days ago.

That golden run of form may have, temporarily at least, returned us to the halycon days of yesteryear but it proved yet another false dawn as United subsided to finish the season in sixth and with two wins in 15 games. History cannot repeat again this time, we have to kick on and can't allow an identical situation where we lost total momentum and focus.

Solskjaer's cause has been helped by three pieces of shrewd individual recruitment - the lack of which has been the one biggest failing since the Glazers took over the club in 2005. Aaron Wan - Bissaka looks a magnificent signing for now and the future. He won his battle with Raheem Sterling again and has had a colossal debut season since joining from Crystal Palace.
Alongside him in the middle, Harry Maguire has had the impact we all hoped for and has played in part in United's defensive fortitude, being part of a defence that's conceded only two goals in those ten games - statistically the joint second best in Europe.

At the heart of it all is Bruno Fernandes, the 25-year-old signed from Sporting Lisbon for £47m, a fee that could eventually rise to 67m with add ons. No matter the eventual cost, he's making it look like a steal. A focal point, a game changer, a talismanic figurehead and a match winner. Fernandes has added the X Factor to an already potent attack that was being hindered by the lack of a viable number ten.

No wonder Ole was smiling as Old Trafford sang his name to the rooftops as he revelled in another derby victory that was relished just as much by United's magnificent Red Army.
The final judgement on Solskjaer's first full season in charge must be reserved and shaped during these final weeks - but this may just have been his best day in charge of United.
The day that could be looked back upon as a turning point for the Norwegian.

Man Utd turning a corner with Bruno at the wheel

For Bruno Fernandes, this must have felt like a coronation, a crowning glory.
For the last few months there had been rumours of Manchester United's great midfield rebirth, of gears clunking and clanking into place, the jumbled collection of discombobulated pieces finding their place. The Manchester United midfield? Ah, yes, welcome back. Oh, it's been twelve years now.

Well, look again. At a damp and increasingly raucous Old Trafford, the stadium witnessed its best atmosphere for years. Fernandes produced a central midfield performance that seemed so at odds with the last decade or so. Amid the rip currents, Fernandes was swimming to shore on the turning of the tide.
So often, United's declining fortunes have become encapsulated by something ponderous at the heart of the engine room - a club drained not just of success, but of spirit, invention and belief.
This though, was something else. This looked, and felt, different. There can be no arguments we fully deserved the 2-0 derby day victory over Manchester City. In the middle of which Fernandes produced surely the best string-pulling performance anyone in Red has been able to muster against City since the balance of power shifted seismically.
Midfield has been a painful place to ply your trade against the passing triangles of City's slickers. But for the first time in many a year United shed the inferiority complex, threw off the underdog tag and came to the party.

It all sprung from Fernandes, who has been that rare thing in recent weeks and months - yes, an expensive, talented player, but also an expensive, talented player we actually needed and someone who wants to play for us.  Bringing craft and skill, but also something expressive, imaginative and extroverted. Imagine a Paul Pogba who actually wants to be at Old Trafford. Well, here he is, in our  number 18 shirt, running the show as a number 10.
Fernandes had played in seven instalments of United's impressive ten match unbeaten run before this derby. This, though, was a considerable step up in class and quality - a visit from the great colonising force of the European game, an ever evolving, always one-step-ahead team of slickers created by a man who dreams of turning the whole world a shade of midfield. A man whose teams will spend every second trying to pass and move you to death in the middle of the park. Over to you then, Bruno.

He began just ahead of the double pivot of Fred and Nemanja Matic in the most varied and balanced-looking midfield selection we've had for some time. One to give it, one to wander around like a decommissioned Dalek and one to offer to creative shoots of promise.

Clearly Fred and Fernandes already have an understanding. There was a lovely fizzed exchange of passes early on, one of several moments when they seemed to be simply enjoying themselves out there, bantering the ball between them, enjoying each other's repetoire. Teams are quite often simple things, so this is important.

On 15 minutes there was a slick, lightning fast Fred-Fernandes link up that led United away at breakneck pace. The latter fed Dan James for a shot straight at Ederson, nothing came of it from a player who hasn't scored since August, 36 games ago. The move may not have worked quite as we wanted on that occasion, but the signs were there.

Between them, the pair made United's opening goal. Drawing a foul from Ilkay Gundogan, Fernandes - activating the fairly acute Portuguese pain threshold - sprung up and stood over the free-kick with Fred. Was it rehearsed? It looked like it. First there was a gorgeous little sheen of misdirection as Fernandes raised his right arm and looked vaguely the other way, distracted by thoughts of a back post hoof, a whip, a punt, a sideways roll.
Anthony Martial darted in behind the sky blue line. As he began the move, Fernandes flicked his leg back like a golfer measuring his chip to the green. He played a beautiful, impudent, cheeky back-spin dink over the retreating blue shirts, the ball seemingly frozen in time before dipping into Martial's path.
Planning is one thing, execution in situations such as this quite another. This was a moment of cold, hard, technical brilliance in the middle of the firepit and the harum scarum 100mph battle of a Manchester derby.
The shot from Martial was low and well struck but Ederson should have saved it. A broader question is why Sergio Aguero wasn't marking that space in the first place but do we care? Not a jot.

City improved after the break. The blue shirts began to spread the play and everything they did seemed a yard or two quicker. The Fred - Fernandes axis fell apart as City seized control of midfield. There was a period of red defence against blue attack, but for all their possession there were no real alarm bells from City. At the death came Lord Sir Scott of McSauce to seal the deal with a brilliant long range finish after a hurried throw from a panicking Ederson left him with the open Stretford End goal to aim at.

It can be strange how football's crisis klaxon works. A while back United were fifth in the league, a financial basket case and playing as bad as we've seen. The club was on its knees on the field and off it, drawing talk of the darkest of dusks, at the tipping point which Salford itself would be consumed with hellfire.
Two months on, United are still fifth in the league, still a financial basket case with owners and a board to match. Suddenly soft music is playing and the buds of spring have sprouted through the soil. It will take more than one fine and timely signing to push this team on from here. But at least one thing is certain. With Bruno Fernandes at the wheel, rumours of the rebirth of Manchester United's midfield - like one of his shots from distance - aren't far wide of the mark.

Players and fans do the club proud on momentous derby day

United had been clinging to a fragile, slender and nerve-shredding lead when Scott McTominay seized on Ederson's under-hit throw out to steer the ball into an empty Stretford End net.
 The delicious footnote of one of our own, a lad with United in his blood, sealing the deal was perhaps the best moment of all. McTominay had been at the club since he was five and as he wheeled away in celebration, you could see how much it meant. As the heavens opened and the rain lashed down, City - strangely toothless and subdued - simply wilted in the face of a United performance for the ages. Pep Guardiola's side monopolised possession but passed their way into predictability. City frequently ran into a Red wall and just could not break through as United - marshalled by the colossal Harry Maguire - played like they'd rather die from coronavirus than lose this derby. The Reds were heroic to a man and unstinting in victory. City may have had almost 80% of the ball - but it's what you do with it that matters.  We showed greater resilience and had the better chances. Make no mistake, this was a fully deserved victory. The boys were like men possessed and fought like lions. McTominay's 35 yarder was the cherry on top of the icing on the cake. United look a world away from the depths of despair that engulfed every orifice of Old Trafford only a few weeks ago. Every player looks a yard sharper, a yard quicker, a yard stronger. The team look fitter and so many players have improved their game beyond all recognition - Fred, Nemanja Matic, McSauce, Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford, Victor Lindelof and Luke Shaw to name but seven.

The three points were vital in our quest to reel in Chelsea, who had looked good in their 4-0 defeat of Everton, but it felt like a whole lot more than that. This was about sending a statement, about pride and honour and playing for the badge on the front of the iconic red jersey. It was a win that not even Solskjaer's biggest critic can dismiss as overwhelming evidence that this side is growing and something special is building here. The clouds that seemed to have taken permanent residence in M16 have lifted and, for now, rolled away. We must go on and beat Jose Mourinho's Tottenham next week now. 

Old Trafford erupted with the stadium rocking to the beat of a first Manchester derby double in the league for more than a decade. The jubilant scenes - the best the 110-year old arena had seen for years - and the sound of his name reverberating to the rafters, will have been music to the ears of Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. The much-maligned, often derided Norwegian, had tactically outmanoeuvred Pep Guardiola for a third time this season - becoming only the second manager ever to record a hat-trick of wins over the Catalan in the same campaign (Jurgen Klopp is the other) - not bad for a "PE teacher."  That takes some doing. Again, Solskjaer and his cohorts in the dugout came up with a tactically perfect game plan that Guardiola simply could not figure out. As at the Etihad in December, it left the City manager befuddled and even he, one of the best bosses of his and any generation, had no answer. 

Amongst the glow of a stunning collective showing, there were some simply huge individual performances. Aaron Wan - Bissaka was colossal as he left Raheem Sterling battered and bruised for the third time this season. Wan - Bissaka forced one of the best players in Europe to the fringes, hounded him into submission and pocketed him throughout.  Sterling never had a sniff and its now the third time that AWB has got the measure of his illustrious opponent this season. Now that he's made sterling useless, does Wan - Bissaka use Bitcoin instead? (we had to get that gag in). 

United celebrate Martial's opener
Had things worked out differently, Maguire could have been lining up in Blue but instead the United captain showed his summer suitors exactly what they could have had. In the wave of a Manchester City onslaught, Maguire was the epitome of his side's guts, spirit and strength of mind. He cleared everything, won tackles, organised and rendered one of the best strikers in the world in Sergio Aguero anonymous. He was an injury doubt (or was it mind games) but you'd never know it. He seemed telepathic at times, drawn to every ball as if by magic. As United defended for their lives, Maguire was magnificent, colossal, heroic and a rock. In midfield, the Fred juggernaut showed no signs of stopping. In the absence of Kevin de Bruyne, Fred shut down the player tasked with pulling the strings in lieu of the talented Belgian - Rodri -  and did so magnificently. A bundle of energy, he was very harshly booked but never stopped running. 
In Shaw and Matic, there were two men enjoying a new lease of life under Solskjaer. The latter majestically held things together and the former - stationed again on the left of a back three - rendered Bernardo Silva and Phil Foden ineffective in tandem with another Manchester-born lad in Brandon Williams. Matic and Shaw, more than anyone, have epitomised the renaissance of Solskjaer's United.  Both have gone from injury prone and out of form to indispensable and undroppable in a matter of weeks. To a man and from front to back, I was so proud of every single one of those players - they showed guts, mental strength, fortitude, courage and character in a team effort in every sense of the word. United rose to the big occasion once again.

Up front, Anthony Martial became only the second player to score home and away against City in the same league season, and the first since a certain Cristiano Ronaldo in the 2009-10 campaign and Bruno Fernandes set him up with a delicious chip in yet another totemic showing on his derby debut. Martial, too, has had his critics but he's starting to believe he's part of United's present and not the past. Despite his occasional languid approach, Martial was "in the mood" from the off, leading the line superbly and exploiting the ageing Fernandinho and hapless Nicolas Otamendi in a brilliant clinic of centre-forward play - he even popped up in defence during the second half! 

United may still be some way short from the glory days of old but victories such as this one sustain hope and belief, and the atmosphere inside Old Trafford was reminiscent of the halycon days of yesteryear. So, too, was the manor in which Solskjaer's side manfully held their advantage and then sealed the win in "Fergie time" (or "Solskjaer seconds?) 

United have looked so far from contention for much of the season but have catapulted ourselves back into the thick of the fight for the top four and the riches that would bring, not to mention we're still fighting for two trophies. Credit must go to Solskjaer who has helped to fashion this ten game unbeaten run. This was surely the most satisfying day of the season - and arguably even of Solskjaer's tenure at the club. 


Match report: United 2-0 Manchester City

Goals from Anthony Martial and substitute Scott McTominay sealed a momentous derby double for the Reds as we kept up the pressure on place above Chelsea.

With United clinging perilously to a slender first half lead, Old Trafford erupted as McTominay pounced on Ederson's underhit throw-out and steered the loose ball into the empty Stretford End net in the sixth added minute. Martial had earlier given his side the lead with a close range finish from a wonderful scooped Bruno Fernandes ball. City laid siege in the second half but United were simply magnificent and held the back-to-back league champions at arm's length.
Marshalled superbly by the outstanding Harry Maguire, immense Aaron Wan - Bissaka and revitalised Luke Shaw, the Reds held firm to send Guardiola's men to a seventh league loss of the season and leave Liverpool two wins from the title.

It ensured that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer becomes only the second manager to ever beat Pep Guardiola three times in the same season and wrapped up the Reds first league derby double in a decade. Solskjaer's side also beat City in the second leg of the Carabao Cup - albeit ultimately in vain against the eventual winners.

The visitors had started brightly and went close inside the first five minutes. Raheem Sterling, given a torrid time by the colossal Wan - Bissaka, cut inside and saw his goal-bound effort pawed away by the diving David de Gea. United were a constant threat, though and - after Martial had tested Ederson from distance - we began to get on the front foot.
Dan James had a shot saved by the usually unflappable Brazilian, but City failed to heed that warning as United took the lead on the half hour mark. Almost inevitably, Bruno Fernandes (who else?) was involved in things in a goal straight from the training ground. Our quick-thinking maestro caught the Blues defence flat footed as he lifted a gorgeous free-kick over the wall and Martial met it on the volley.

For the second time in a week, United benefitted from a goalkeeping blunder as Ederson - despite getting a glove to the ball - allowed the shot to squirm underneath him and in.
United's transition from edgy to exhilarating had Old Trafford rocking, with the soft centre of Guardiola's team fully exposed as the Reds threatened to run riot.
Fernandes was narrowly unable to turn home a Brandon Williams cross and Fred was very harshly booked for diving when he looked to have been caught by the hapless Nicolas Otamendi inside the area.

Sergio Aguero had a goal ruled out for offside in a frantic start to the second half. It was a close call, but VAR proved the correct decision had been made. Ederson then almost embarrassed himself when he miscontrolled a routine backpass and Martial nipped in. The keeper managed to recover just in time before Martial could nip in and tap home, with the striker colliding with a post as he challenged.

De Gea saved well from Phil Foden and Ederson did likewise at the other end, even if James should have cut the ball back to the waiting Fernandes instead of going for glory.
Substitute Riyad Mahrez teed up Sterling but the chance was wasted - extending the latter's personal drought against United - and De Gea tipped away from Gabriel Jesus on the rebound.

Mahrez flashed a shot wide and Foden tested De Gea from distance as City laid siege with United's narrow lead increasingly fragile.
Guardiola's side were desperate now and threw men forward in an attempt to salvage a point. Sterling had a shot blocked and Wan - Bissaka cleared under pressure from Rodri, but there was no way through a magnificent United rearguard.

With time almost up, McTominay pounced on an errant Ederson throw-out to fire in the loose ball from distance with the helpless Brazilian in no man's land.
Old Trafford erupted as we celebrated another memorable derby day success to put the Reds back to within touching distance of Chelsea - but this meant so much more than simply three points.

Overall team performance: 10/10. Every player absolutely immense to a man and from front to back.
United Faithful Man of the Match: Harry Maguire. Colossal.

Friday 6 March 2020

The curious case of Odion Ighalo

It was a move that took the world of football - and possibly even the man himself - by surprise when Odion Ighalo joined United in the final hours of the January transfer window.
A thirty- something journeyman playing in China who banged in a few for Watford before fading into obscurity? Really? Sure he'd done quite well in China but that league doesn't exactly boast the fast and the furious - more a nomadic wasteland for the washed up pro in search of one big final payday. We were rebuilding but yet the best we could do was this bloke? Even though no one could have foreseen the season ending injury to Marcus Rashford coming, the signing of Ighalo smacked of poor planning and self inflicted desperation. Another reason for the hacks to chastise, mock and rip United apart. We'd had journeyman veterans before but at least Henrik Larsson and Zlatan Ibrahimovic came with some degree of proven top class pedigree.

For a club claiming that it is sticking to a plan to rebuild Manchester United, it seemed like it was reacting more than planning. After the positive step of signing players we actually needed in a blueprint rather than just jumping on the nearest star name, the signing of Ighalo seemed a backward step - even if it was only just a short term loan. As United went from Erling Braut Haaland, to Islam Slimani via Josh King, Ighalo literally and metaphorically came from nowhere as Manchester United's eleventh hour swoop saw the striker's dream move become a reality. Willing to take a pay cut to play for the club he had always wanted, Ighalo admitted that he knew nothing of our interest until three and a bit hours until the deadline. The cupboard was bare for teams in need of the most sought-after position in world football. The confluence of bad optics for United this winter was a self inflicted wound. Enter, Ighalo.

With only four months until he returned to obscurity, the feeling was that Ighalo would throw himself into securing cult hero status at Old Trafford. As soon as he arrived, he'd be gone and the club can get back to building Team Brexit. It was low risk, low cost, but vital and much needed for Manchester United.
Five weeks on, and Ighalo has confounded all the critics. Clearly but understandably struggling for fitness to start with, Ighalo now looks noticeably leaner and has worked his butt off to get himself into shape. Everyone, including me, mocked and laughed when we signed him but you have to give him credit. He's come into the club he supports and has scored three goals in five games - albeit against 'only' Brugge and Derby County. He's got a new chant and is already starting to earn that status as cult hero. I don't know about you but I love him already.  Even the fact he was willing to take a pay cut to join us helped me to endear to him. Two goals, two games - and it would have been even better if not for Jordan Pickford's chest on Sunday. Playing for the club is one thing, but scoring for us quite another.
With Anthony Martial carrying a minor injury, opportunity knocked for Ighalo as Brugge came to Old Trafford. After three brief substitute appearances in Red, he was handed his first start and became the first Nigerian to score for United and ended with his name being sung by all four corners of the ground. Ighalo had already won hearts and the plaudits would follow. His second start, in Thursday's FA Cup tie at Derby, yielded two further goals with two smart finishes. A shock acquisition maybe, but one that is already starting to represent a shrewd piece of business.

It's not just that, though. Manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has already spoken of how Ighalo has taken it upon himself to play the role of mentor to Mason Greenwood - just as Ibrahimovic did to a 19-year-old Rashford. Ighalo's 15 years as a professional striker will prove valuable to United's star in the making and a generational talent. If we hadn't got in Ighalo, Greenwood would have to play every game and thus risk burnout.

Ultimately, the possibility of Ighalo's signing are clear for all to see. Granted, he could also fall short of these lofty possibilities but, no matter what the eventual outcome, this is the current reality for Solskjaer's United. He wants to be here, let him fulfil and enjoy a moment he thought would never come. The story of the street footballer from the backwater of Nigeria's capital Lagos going on to ply his trade for his boyhood team and one of the biggest clubs on the planet is living proof that dreams do, indeed, come true.

Nine unbeaten for improving and in form United

Manchester United and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer set up a sixth successive FA Cup quarter final with a
3-0 win over Championship Derby on Thursday. The result continued United's recent upsurge in fortunes and extended our best form of the season.

Solskjaer - twice an FA Cup winner as a player - has now stitched together a nine game unbeaten run to move to within 90 minutes of Wembley, a place in the Champions League and a strong chance of the Europa League quarter finals. Still in contention for the top four and two potential pieces of glittering silverware - I think we'd all have settled for that back in January when the team suffered arguably its worst post Ferguson night at the hands of Burnley.

Have you all noticed how the vultures have stopped circling the wagons? Solskjaer's never going to get exalted from the rooftops for the job he's doing but if the critics are silent that at least means there's nothing to discredit him for. That's good enough. Of those nine games, United have won six (Tranmere, Man City, Chelsea, Watford, Brugge and Derby) and drawn three against Wolves, Brugge away and Everton, with 22 goals scored and only seven conceded. It's the longest current unbeaten run of any Premier League side, and our best run since February last year and Solskjaer's first eleven games in charge. In other words, we're in our best shape since Ole was given the permanent job at Old Trafford a year ago almost to the day.

We don't need to embellish the new manager bounce of his interim days - the players were uplifted, their spirits cleansed and they had a collective point to prove. It was the longest managerial honeymoon in history but proved yet another false dawn. Mediocrity returned and questions arose. We all got swept along, surfing on the crest of a wave but yet reality set in and the season ended with United in relegation form and a wretched run of two wins in 12 games. This time, though, it feels different. We've got a long term captain in Harry Maguire, a player who has come on leaps and bounds since donning the armband, we boast the joint second best defensive record in Europe, have a new hero in Bruno Fernandes (more on him later) and a sprinkling of Carrington's latest conveyor belt of young talent - we had none of that during the bleak depths of the embers of the 2018-19 season. It really does feel as though we're building for the future rather than merely enjoying a temporary, three-month renaissance.

When Mauricio Pochettino was sacked by Spurs in November, it would have been the easiest thing in the world for United to cut their losses on Solskjaer, admit it hadn't worked and appoint the Argentine as the next man to carry on the project. The whole world and his wife seemed to think that Pochettino to Old Trafford was signed, sealed and delivered but we admirably stuck with Solskjaer and he seems almost certain to still be here next summer unless there's a collapse of Devon Loch style proportions.

So what's changed? Injuries, the Bruno Fernandes factor, and the winter break. At times this season its felt like the whole of our regular starting XI have suffered a lay off of some sort, but 'only' Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba are on the sidelines. Both men have long term injuries, but in January signings Odion Ighalo and Bruno Fernandes United have filled the void. Speaking of which, the addition of the latter has lifted the entire club on and off the field. I can't remember a playing making such a huge impact in such a short space of time as Fernandes has done. He's made a world of difference and ask yourself this: where would we be if we'd signed this man in the summer? We no longer have to rely on the not-fit-for-purpose Andreas Pereira and about-as-much-use as a chocolate teapot Jesse Lingard.

I, and many others, had my doubts about the signing of Ighalo - even if it was just in the short term - but three goals in five appearances have dispelled those doubts. In his fledgling United career so far, boyhood Red Ighalo has offered us something different as an "out and out striker" and has caught the eye with his enthusiasm, work rate, physical presence and link up play.
 If not for the outstretched arm of Jordan Pickford, it could have been even better! A rich man's Romelu Lukaku? His fitness is improving all the time and, even though I don't think he's the long term answer, he gives us another option to tide us over until the summer (oh and his new chant is a banger as well).
Solskjaer took the squad to Marbella during the two week hiatus for England's first ever domestic winter break and there's been a notable upturn in fitness and match sharpness since that warm weather training camp. The team look more cohesive, more settled and everyone's pulling together. We look a seriously good team at the moment - but there are acid tests to come. Our next two league games? Manchester City at home (already beaten them twice) and a first visit to Tottenham's new ground to face Jose Mourinho's Spurs (we've turned them over, too). You can't question Solskjaer's record and mentality in the biggest of games and we're often at our best against the so called "big six" sides. Bring it on.

Is Solskjaer simply a "momentum manager" - a man who strings a couple of results together then can't stop winning? Equally, when things start to go south and he loses that momentum, Solskjaer has also showed he's prone at making questionable judgements and poor in-game management. When the rot sets in, he's struggled to get out of it. It's either feast or famine with little middle ground. In a way though, that certainly makes things more fun and unpredictable - and isn't that what supporting a club is supposed to be about?

In other words, a manager just as likely to preside over title winning form as that befitting of relegation fodder with nothing in between? That's not sustainable and we saw that last season when early optimism crumbled and the season subsided into nothingness.

After those two totemic tussles with Messrs Guardiola and Mourinho, United's run in looks favourable with the trip to faltering Leicester the only other fixtures against sides above us. We face relegation battling Villa, Bournemouth, Brighton and West Ham and - in Southampton and Crystal Palace - two sides sat with nothing much left to go for in the comfort of mid table.

Onwards and upwards then - there's no guarantee this form will last - but let's just enjoy it while it does. Up the Reds!

Match report: Derby County 0-3 Man Utd

Odion Ighalo scored twice as Manchester United eased past Wayne Rooney's Derby to set up an FA Cup quarter final tie at Norwich City.

Rooney's return against his former employers dominated the lead up to the fifth round game, and despite our record goalscorer taking up a role in defensive midfield, there was flashes of his quality on show.
That aside, this was a comfortable night for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side against the second tier side, as in form United made it nine unbeaten and sealed our spot in an all Premier League last eight for the sixth year in a row. The Reds will travel to Daniel Farke's lowly but improving Norwich after the Canaries clipped the wings of Jose Mourinho's listless Tottenham on penalties the previous night, with the winners at Carrow Road going on to a Wembley semi final.

With one eye on Sunday's Manchester derby, Solskjaer shuffled his pack with Sergio Romero, Eric Bailly Diogo Dalot, Juan Mata, Jesse Lingard and Ighalo all coming into the side as Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan - Bissaka both missing with minor injuries. The pair are expected to be fit for the derby game at Old Trafford on Sunday.

Despite a lack of mobility and pace, the roving Rooney still remains an influence. Not only did he go close with two trademark free-kicks, he was at the heart of their two other best second half chances.

First, a sweeping 50 yard crossfield ball found Jayden Bogle, who picked out Martyn Waghorn to nod narrowly wide. Then, Rooney released Jack Marriott, but the Rams sub was denied by a smart save from Sergio Romero. Rooney almost grabbed a sentimental consolation in a final moments when his 25 yarder from a set piece was tipped over the bar by the again impressive Romero.

Kellie Roos saved from Mata at the other end, and - after Ighalo went close - the visitors took the lead shortly after the half hour mark. Luke Shaw, excellent again, started and finished the 33rd minute move. Shaw found Fernandes, the Portuguese had a shot blocked but the ball rebounded back to the full-back, he volleyed into the turf and the shot looped over Roos and in via a slight deflection off team mate Lingard - only Shaw's second ever Reds goal. Lingard was involved in United's next attack as he linked with Mata, but the Spanish playmaker failed to make the most of his opening, putting the ball wide albeit from a narrow angle.

Shaw then turned provider four minutes before the break. His driven pass found the lurking Ighalo and the Nigerian loan signing did well to drift away from Craig Forsyth and Max Lowe to finish low into the corner.

Waghorn steered a header inches wide and Scott McTominay tried his luck from distance but failed to trouble the keeper. Derby's faint hopes of a dramatic comeback were well and truly wiped out in the 70th minute through Ighalo's second and our third. The Nigerian latched onto a pass from Mata and, although his initial effort was saved, he followed up on the rebound for his third goal in five games.

Rooney almost fired a riposte with a curling free-kick late on, but he was denied by another excellent stop from Romero and instead had to settle with a standing ovation from the 6,000 travelling Reds.

Fernandes and Fred were taken off to preserve fitness and Brandon Williams earned a late run out in place of Shaw as attentions turned to the fourth cross-town dust up of the season.

Overall team performance: 8/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Luke Shaw. A goal, an assist and very strong all round showing

Wednesday 4 March 2020

Match preview: Derby County v Man Utd

United restore hostilities with the most familiar of foes as all time record goalscorer and former captain Wayne Rooney faces his former employers.
In the seventh meeting in eleven years between the Rams and the Reds, there's only one name on everyone's lips as Rooney - who scored 253 goals in a decorated 13 year career at Old Trafford - returns. Now 34, 'Wazza' plays in a deep lying holding role these days and so will go toe-to-toe with Messrs Fred and Nemanja Matic, but he still possesses dangerous set piece ability and will be out to prove there's still life in the old dog yet.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side travel to Pride Park for the first since 2016 when Louis van Gaal's men won 3-1 on the way to Wembley glory with a certain chap by the name of Rooney on the scoresheet.
The pair have met twice since then, with United's 2-0 third round win in January 2018 offset by a Carabao Cup KO on penalties at the hands of Frank Lampard's Derby last term.

In form United - bidding for a place in the quarter finals for the sixth successive season - have advanced from 45 of their last 46 FA Cup ties against sides from a lower division. Now under the tutelage of Philip Cocu, Derby still comfortably in midtable, occupying 13th in the second tier having already taken the scalp of Premier League Crystal Palace in the third round, then seeing off fourth tier Northampton Town after a replay to set up the United tie.

Aaron Wan - Bissaka (back) and Dan James (ankle knock) are set to miss the trip to Pride Park, with Diogo Dalot and Juan Mata likely to deputise. Sergio Romero will come in for David de Gea, with Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford still sidelined. Defensive duo Axel Tuanzebe and Tim Fosu - Mensah may feature in Solskjaer's thinking, having both come through 90 minutes for the Under 23 side against Stoke on Monday.
Rooney will start alongside ex-Red Tom Lawrence in the Derby midfield, but former Spurs man Tom Huddlestone (calf) is still out. Academy graduates Louie Sibley and Morgan Whittaker are in Cocu's matchday squad.

On Rooney's return and the FA Cup, United manager Solskjaer said: "He (Rooney) was a fantastic player for Man United, he played here for so long, he's top scorer, he won so many trophies. Our fans still sing his name, I think everyone really appreciated what he did for us and he's still very welcome.
"The FA Cup is a huge part of this club's history, you can never, ever underestimate what it means to the fans, the players, the supporters and the club. Of course it's a trophy you look to try and win, we hope that we can go all the way, last year we got to the quarter finals but there are so many good teams around so it will be difficult for us."

There are no replays from this round onwards, so the tie will be settled over 120 minutes and through penalties if needed. The game is live on BT Sport and kicks off at 7.45pm.

Form guide: Derby County W L D D L W Man Utd D W D W W D
Match odds: Derby County 11/2 Draw (after 90 mins) 16/5 Man Utd 1/3 (Rooney to score 9/2)
Referee: Craig Pawson

Predicted United XI: Romero; Dalot, Maguire (c), Bailly, Williams; Matic, Fred; Mata, Bruno Fernandes, Greenwood; Ighalo

Monday 2 March 2020

Match report: Everton 1-1 Man Utd

Everton were denied a late if undeserved winner by VAR as Carlo Ancelotti was sent off in a tale of two goalkeepers.
The Toffees - with Goodison Park a traditionally far from happy hunting ground for the Reds - got off to a dream start only two minutes in.
David de Gea inexplicably dawdled on the ball and his eventual clearance cannoned off the onrushing Dominic Calvert - Lewin and looped in to put United's unbeaten run under threat. 
United equalised after half an hour when Bruno Fernandes' 20 yarder bounced in front of Jordan Pickford, who should have done better with a shot that was straight at him. 

Fernandes and substitute Odion Ighalo came within inches of a winner as Pickford redeemed himself but then came a major talking point that, almost inevitably, involved VAR.
Aaron Wan Bissaka's challenge left Gylfi Sigurdsson sprawled on the ground as Calvert - Lewin's shot struck the otherwise impressive Harry Maguire and wrong-footed De Gea. Goodison Park erupted in celebration, but the jubilation was short lived as on-field referee Chris Kavanagh went to the video technology monitor. 
Replays showed that, although Sigurdsson didn't touch the ball, he moved out the way to allow the shot to come in and was lying in an offside position directly in front of De Gea. His movement affected the trajectory of the ball and he in De Gea's line of vision, so therefore the goal was correctly disallowed. 

That led to the usually affable Ancelotti angrily confronting Mr Kavanagh and he was shown a red card after making his feelings known to the referee. 

Although you can feel a degree of sympathy for Everton, it would have been harsh on United as, in truth, a point apiece was a fair result. That in itself represents progress as we were thumped 4-0 on the same ground last season, a performance that was among the worst in recent memory. 

Our number one had plenty of time to clear following Maguire's sensible and careful backpass, but the dithering and dallying De Gea allowed Calvert - Lewin to close him down, with fatal consequences. All the Everton striker had to do was stick his leg out as the ball ricocheted off him and in, the striker's 15th goal of the season. No player has made more errors directly leading to a goal since the start of last season than De Gea's seven. 
To his credit, the United keeper quickly atoned for his error when he tipped wide from the same player moments later and also saved well from the scourge of Old Trafford Sigurdsson when he tried his luck from distance.

United could have been 2-0 down but finally got a foothold as Nemanja Matic struck the bar and Mason Greenwood headed wide before the equaliser came shortly after the half hour mark. 
Matic found Fernandes 20 yards from goal and for once the January signing's shot lacked power. 
At a good height for the England keeper, Pickford should have saved it but instead the ball bounced under his flailing arms for Fernandes third goal in as many games and his first from open play. It was a mistake not as bad as De Gea's but still goes down as a major error in front of the watching England manager Gareth Southgate. 

Matic, outstanding throughout, had a shot beaten out by Pickford but back came Everton as Richarlison flicked a header inches wide at the other end in an increasingly exciting end to end encounter. 
United were the better side in the first half, but Ancelotti's revved up side came out with a spring in step after the interval.

Fred was ludicrously booked for handball when the ball instead struck his knee, and it would have been hugely controversial had Everton scored from the resultant free-kick. They nearly did, but fortunately Sigurdsson's superb effort thumped back off the post with De Gea beaten.

Anthony Martial had an effort deflected over after neat build up between Greenwood and Fernandes, but De Gea then continued his duel with Calvert - Lewin as he saved superbly with his feet. 

Former Red Michael Keane cleared under pressure from Fernandes and a flurry of Everton corners came to nothing as our defence - marshalled superbly by the immense Maguire - stood strong. 

As the clock ticked down, United launced one last attack and almost stole it at the death. Fernandes was inevitably at the heart of things as Pickford clawed away his goalbound effort, then somehow got back up to block Ighalo's snapshot on the rebound. 

That seemed to be the last of the drama until De Gea made a brilliant point blank save from Sigurdsson and then, in the ensuing melee, came the VAR intervention in the final seconds. 

Overall team performance: 6/10. Good first half, disappointing second half
United Man of the Match: Nemanja Matic. AWB, Maguire and Bruno were all outstanding, but Matic was simply immense.