Wednesday 30 September 2020

A fit and healthy Eric Bailly is exactly what United need

For all the talk of Manchester United's need for a new top class centre back, the answer may be staring us in the face.
Maybe the man we need is already at the club, and waiting patiently with second string game time whilst Victor Lindelof somehow gets picked ahead of him for the full strength team every week. A man who is better than a back-up, in fact it's almost an insult to call him such. Step forward Eric 'Bertrand' Bailly. 

The Ivorian has had rotten ill-fortune during four injured ravaged seasons at United,  and has only played 77 games in that time, but there is no doubt that he is United's most capable centre-back. He is everything  Lindelof isn't. Strong, alert to the danger, he reads the game superbly, he's brave, puts his body on the line and has the pace to recover if he or his defensive partner should make an error. If he can stay fit and healthy, he should absolutely be United's first choice. Forget the notion that a partner for Harry Maguire is the issue. Perhaps we, in fact, need a partner for Bailly. 

I like Bailly, I always have done. I like the way he makes defending exciting, I like his heart-on-his-sleeve approach and the fact you have to watch him through your hands. You love to see it. His style may not be suitable for anyone of a nervous disposition, but I've said it before and I'll say it again: he is the best defender we have at Old Trafford.

Having come on for the last 12 minutes of the league game down in Sussex, Bailly was handed his second start of the season as United travelled to Brighton for the second time in four days. Bailly, having started and impressed at Luton last week, was one of United's two most impressive performers at the Amex. Juan Mata stole the show and ran the game with a goal and an assist, deservedly earning Man of the Match, but Bailly wasn't far behind. He must start alongside  Maguire at the heart of the defence against Tottenham on Sunday. It's possible Solskjaer could go with a back three as he often does against the other top six sides, but either way, Bailly has shown he deserves the chance to play.  

I can see why Solskjaer prefers Lindelof, given Bailly's chronic list of ailments and the fact he cannot be relied upon to stay fit. The manager feels the Swede is a better fit for how he wants us to play in terms of his passing and distribution, and he's stayed largely injury free. But Lindelof has a chronic weakness under the high ball, he's too slow and - whilst they may be decent individually - his pairing with Maguire isn't a compatible one. It's like putting diesel in a Ferrari. Lindelof has become a liability and no longer justifies selection. Bailly has done more than most to show he deserves a prolonged run in the first team.

He had become something of a forgotten man at Old Trafford, but it was so typical of Bailly to come back Lazarus style in February, with a domineering defensive display at Stamford Bridge shortly before lockdown. Not many players could perform like that so soon after sustaining a potentially career-threatening injury. 

 Maguire brings the class, the composure, the leadership and has proved to be the ball-playing centre-back United have sorely lacked since the departure of Rio Ferdinand. Bailly complements this superbly with his pace, tenacity, positioning and technical qualities. Not only is he strong in the challenge, he is just as good in the air as Maguire, brilliant in the recovery as already touched upon and even throws in the odd party piece - a stepover here, a Cruyff turn there, just to add to the unpredictable excitement. Madcap, enigmatic but also a damn good player. Welcome to the world of Eric Bailly. 

Lindelof and Bailly were supposed to be Jose Mourinho's first choice centre-backs, having both been signed by the Portuguese (combined fee 61m) as he looked to upgrade a previously porous defence with the likes of Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo masquerading as United players. But after several serious injuries and a lack of game time, Bailly faded to the fringes and struggled to cement his spot in the team. Mourinho never seemed convinced by Bailly and preferred to use Lindelof alongside Smalling. Ironically, it was a horror show against Brighton - the very same side that Bailly was so impressive against - that seemed to make up his former manager's mind. 

Of course, these injury problems have been the main concern for him. Not only has he undergone several major surgeries but there's been a myriad of often trivial problems and a list of ailments as long as both my arms. The link between these issues and Bailly's overzealous style cannot be merely a co-incidence, as a number of his injuries have been self inflicted, like jumping for the ball and landing awkwardly or lunging in needlessly. 

Bailly is too good a talent to waste, too good to merely sit on the treatment table. Much like United over the last few years, its been stop start as the Ivorian searches for consistency. Perhaps this season is the one when Bailly finally has respect put on his name. 

Match report: Brighton 0-3 Man United

A Juan Mata inspired Manchester United side saw off the Seagulls for the second time in four days to advance to the Carabao Cup quarter finals.

After Saturday's harum scarum, at the death victory, the rotated Reds made much easier work of an understrength Brighton to set up a fourth last eight tie in five seasons. Mata may lack pace but his vision, link play and wonderful passing can still unpick a defence and the veteran Spaniard was at his brilliant best, setting up Scott McTominay for the first and scoring the second himself. 

Paul Pogba's deflected free-kick added the third for United late on to send us into the draw along with the likes of Spurs, Everton, Manchester City and Liverpool or Arsenal.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer shuffled his pack and made ten changes to the team that won on the same ground four days prior with Odion Ighalo, Dan James, Mata, Eric Bailly, Donny van de Beek and Fred amongst those to get a run out.

The Reds started brightly and went close inside 15 minutes when Mata linked up with Brandon Williams down the left. The Academy graduate picked out our captain for the night in the box and he in turn moved the ball on to Ighalo. The Nigerian pulled the ball down and skipped around the onrushing Jason Steele, only to steer wide from a tight angle. 

Alireza Jahanbakhsh flashed a shot wide from distance for Brighton before Fred - never shy to have a go from range - did likewise at the other end.
Alexis Mac Allister and Jahanbakhsh both went close in quick succession, only for Dean Henderson to be left untroubled.

With the interval looming, United were ahead. Dan Burn scythed down Mata whom swung in the resultant set piece straight on the head of McTominay to nod beyond Steele and in.

Steele saved well from Fred before the Seagulls threw on Leandro Trossard, the man who rattled the woodwork on three occasions at the weekend. The lively if erratic Frenchman was straight into the action here. 
Jayson Molumby found Pascal Gross and his cross picked out Trossard, only for Henderson to leap to United's rescue with a stunning one handed save.

That proved to be the last of Brighton's resistance when a lovely move put the result beyond any lingering doubt. 
Fred started the move, finding van de Beek who wonderfully back-heeled into the path of Mata, to fire the ball through the legs of Lewis Dunk, beyond Steele and into the corner - his 50th goal for United.

Marcus Rashford and Pogba came off the bench and the latter completed the job with aplomb with a deflected free-kick ten minutes from time. 

Overall team performance: 7/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Juan Mata 

Monday 28 September 2020

How on earth did Manchester United pull that one out?

 48 hours on from the incredible drama at The Amex, how on earth Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Manchester United won this incredible match I will simply never know.

Not even Sir Alex Ferguson and his iconic Fergie time did anything like this - a high wire act that matched even Harry Houdini's greatest feats of escapology. 

It was a match in which United were distinctly second best for long periods, yet by staying in the game, showing resilience, digging in and with a huge slice of luck on the way, the Reds secured a first victory of the season. 

A penalty awarded in added time in added time - with Brighton cruel victims of the very harsh new handball laws - after the hosts had struck late on to seemingly earn a share of the spoils and leave Solskjaer's side with one point from two games. 

Even by Manchester United's standards, a club that thrives on late drama and redefining logic, this was astonishing. Brighton can count themselves extremely unlucky not to come away with even a point. A draw was the very least Graham Potter's lively and energetic Seagulls deserved for their effort and enterprise.

Brighton rattled the woodwork five times - Leandro Trossard on three occasions, Lewis Dunk and Solly March - and looked to have pilfered a precious point when the latter steered home a cross from substitute Alireza Jahanbakhsh in the fifth added minute.

But the Reds won a late corner from which Harry Maguire headed onto Neil Maupay's arm seconds before the final whistle. VAR brought the play back and Bruno Fernandes does what he did best to slam the ball high into Mat Ryan's net and win the match in the 100th minute. Under the new handball rule, one that's already dividing opinion, the referee Chris Kavanagh had to give it. Brighton will feel the corner should never have been awarded and the whistle should have come as soon as the game restarted after March's goal. United therefore technically became the first team ever to win a match AFTER the final whistle. 

From the despair of surrendering two points to grabbing them back at the death - not quite victory from the jaws of defeat but not too dissimilar. Did I celebrate? You bet I did. If you didn't then football isn't the sport for you. No it wasn't pretty, no United didn't deserve the win but we got it in a manner that boiled the piss of opposition fans everywhere in vintage United style. Pure shithousery of the highest order. You love to see it. 

We had two goals ruled out, Brighton were awarded two penalties - one of which was overturned - and there were so many incidents we could be here all night. It's not often I'm speechless - especially when United are the main topic - but on this occasion, words alone do not this extraordinary thriller justice. 

Having shown how good we can in the 3-0 win at the same ground three months ago, United fell some way short of that on Saturday, but were better than the shambolic mess we saw against Palace last week. Then again, it would have been difficult to have played any worse. The loss was further fuel to the critics who feel Solskjaer is ill-equipped to get the best out of a talented squad. Despite only being our second game of the season, a defeat on Saturday to another supposedly inferior side would only have increased the volume of negativity. It speaks volumes that this chaotic and very fortunate win is seen as a step forward. 

The response to March's late goal was pleasing, the fact that United managed to mount one last attack and still push for a victory that had been snatched away, promising. The spirit, never say die attitude and sheer bloody mindedness that we saw so often last season is still alive and well. That's the good news. United can at least point to a fighting spirit, depth of resolve and signs of sharpness returning to the legs. 

United's defence still looked shaky, Anthony Martial was on the periphery and the midfield, despite being packed with the quality of Bruno Fernandes, Paul Pogba and Donny van de Beek et al, lacked the cohesion of last season. There remains a huge disparity in quality between our first XI and the bench, a problem that cost us last season and will probably do so again. 

The Reds travel to Brighton again on Wednesday in the League Cup with a side that will be very different from this one. If that game is even half as exciting, then we're in for another thriller.

Saturday 26 September 2020

Match report: Brighton&HA 2-3 United

Bruno Fernandes struck the winning penalty in the 100th minute of an extraordinary thriller at the Amex Stadium to give United their first league win of the season. 

For so long second best, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side had recovered from Neil Maupay's penalty to lead through Harry Maguire and a stunning Marcus Rashford effort. Solly March looked to have pilfered a deserved point for Brighton with a 95th minute equaliser after the hosts had rattled the woodwork on five occasions. 

But there was to be even later drama when Maguire's header from a Fernandes corner was clearly handled by hero-turned-villain Maupay, and the Portuguese did the business from the spot to give United an improbable victory. 

Graham Potter's vibrant Seagulls can feel hard done by, as they were the better side for long periods and proved more than a match for a United side still someway short of full fitness. 

The hosts started strongly and went close twice through Leandro Trossard early on. He struck David de Gea's right hand post in the ninth minute and then, 12 minutes further on, thumped the other upright from distance with De Gea beaten.

Lewis Dunk looped a header over the bar before the Reds suddenly roared into life and thought they had gone ahead through Mason Greenwood. A trademark United counter-attack involved Luke Shaw, Anthony Martial, Rashford and Greenwood, whom rifled in beyond Mat Ryan. Rashford had strayed marginally offside though and the goal was correctly chalked out. 

Having conceded a penalty last week against Palace, United erred again when the clumsy Bruno Fernandes scythed down the rampaging Tariq Lamptey and Maupay's panenka sent De Gea the wrong way. But the Reds would only trail for 194 seconds when a Fernandes free-kick was flicked on by Nemanja Matic and turned in by Dunk under pressure from Maguire.

Rashford had a goal ruled out and Brighton though they had another penalty when Aaron Connolly went down, only for VAR to rule that contact had been initiated by the Brighton man.
Soon after, United had turned the tie on its head when Rashford spun on to beautiful through pass from Fernandes, twice dummying Ben White, nutmegging Adam Webster to place the ball beyond the advancing Ryan. 

If the Reds through that would clip the wings of the Seagulls, they were to be mistaken. In fact, it only seemed to spur on Potter's side to greater extent. March was denied by a post and the woodwork rescued United for a fourth time when Trossard smashed off the bar at the culmination of a sweeping move.

De Gea saved superbly from Trossard and then March again, before the latter struck in the fifth minute of added time after substitute Alireza Jahanbakhsh had picked him out. The goal, the celebrations and the subsequent aftermath meant added time to added time and United took full advantage. Late substitute Donny van de Beek won a corner, and Maguire's header struck the hand of Maupay. The final whistle blew immediately after the incident, but with the ball still in play, referee Chris Kavanagh checked the monitor and had no option but to award the spot-kick. Fernandes fired the penalty high beyond Ryan to give the Reds a nail-biting, harum scarum victory in the most remarkable of finishes. 

Overall team performance: 6/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Bruno Fernandes 

Friday 25 September 2020

Deja vu for Reds and the Seagulls

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side travel to the south coast on Saturday for a Premier League lunch time kick off, for our second game - and first away day - of the new season. We also know now that the two combatants will be sparring again in double quick time, with Graham Potter's side setting up a fourth round Carabao Cup clash for next week after their 2-0 win at Preston in midweek. 

United beat North End's divisional rivals Luton to reach the next stage.  Manchester United and Brighton&Hove Albion will lock horns at the Amex Stadium twice in the space of a few days. There can't have been too many examples of United facing the same side at the same stadium in the same season in back to back away games with no other fixtures in between. 

The last time such an occurrence happened was when Sir Alex Ferguson was still in charge at Old Trafford, back in 2012. United faced Chelsea at Stamford Bridge twice in the space of four days, with the two matches again coming in the league and the League Cup. Ferguson - as Solskjaer will probably do - picked two very different line ups for each game, with the Reds winning the first tie 3-2 in the league game on the Sunday. Javier Hernandez hit a late winner after leaders Chelsea had hit back from 2-0 down through a certain Juan Mata and Ramires, after a David Luiz own goal and a Robin van Persie strike had put the Reds in control. Chelsea, in the final throes of Roberto Di Matteo's tenure, ended the game with nine men after red cards for Branislav Ivanovic and Fernando Torres.

Just over 72 hours later, a rotated Reds side took on the Blues again, and Sir Alex made ten changes with only Rafael keeping his place from the league game. Scott Wootton and Michael Keane, now of Everton, played at centre-back. 

In a ridiculously rip roaring and see-sawing contest, United took the lead on three separate occasions, through Ryan Giggs, Hernandez again (so often the scourge of Chelsea) and Nani, only for inexperience to show. Pegged back each time, Luiz, Gary Cahill and a late Eden Hazard penalty meant the Reds had to settle for extra-time. The Blues bench power eventually shone through, with Daniel Sturridge and Ramires again finding the net in the additional 30 minutes. A late Giggs penalty wasn't enough to prevent an extraordinary 4-5 defeat for United. The Reds of United and the Blues of Chelsea met five times that season with Chelsea winning three, one draw and that five-goal thriller in favour of us mentioned above. 

Before that, you have to go all the way back to the triumphant 1967/68 campaign, under another knight of the realm, for another example of back to back away deja vu. 

Sir Matt Busby's United side - they would go on to win the European Cup that season - went down 1-0 to Spurs in midweek at White Hart Lane, hot on the heels of a 2-1 victory on the same ground (Bobby Charlton notched the winner), the previous Saturday.

United faced West Ham United in 2016 twice in the space of three days at Old Trafford. 

The league contest ended 1-1 (a Zlatan goal cancelled out a Diafra Sakho opener) before Jose Mourinho's Reds swept past the same opponents 4-1 in the League Cup, on our way to winning the competition. 

So it has happened but its rare and this will be only the third occasion that United have played the same opponents away from home on the same ground in successive ties. 

Match preview: Brighton&HA vs Manchester United

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side make their longest away trip of the season to face in-form Brighton in the first of two fixtures on the south coast this week.
United, looking for their first league win of the season, face Graham Potter's in-form Seagulls on Saturday lunchtime ahead of the Carabao Cup tie - against the same opponents - to be played on Wednesday.

United's campaign began in ignominious fashion,
with a 1-3 defeat at home to a fitter, sharper and stronger Crystal Palace side in our opener last time out. Brighton went down by the same scoreline a week previous, but looked vibrant before eventually being overpowered by big spending Chelsea at the Amex. The Seagulls claimed their first victory with an impressive 3-0 victory at Newcastle whilst two 4-0 and 2-0 League Cup wins - over Portsmouth and Preston respectively - see the Seagulls coming into this one in the finest of the fettles. The Reds have lost on two of their three league visits to Brighton's new (ish) home since the Albion's promotion into the top tier in 2017, but won here in our third post-lockdown tie in June, 3-0 through a Bruno Fernandes brace and a trademark strike from Mason Greenwood. 

Solskjaer will have a fully fit squad to pick from apart from injured centre-backs Axel Tuanzebe and Phil Jones. The United boss is set to shuffle his pack again having made ten changes in the win over Luton on Tuesday. Eric Bailly impressed in that game and will be in contention to start, with Bruno Fernandes, Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood expected to be recalled after decisive substitute cameos at Kenilworth Road. With the sides meeting again on Wednesday, the two bosses will send out vastly different line ups in this one. 

Yves Bissouma is suspended for the in-form hosts following his sending off at SJP, and Dale Stephens has completed his move to Burnley. Jose Izquierdo, Florin Andone and Christian Walton are all still sidelined for the Seagulls, but Potter has no fresh injury concerns. Summer signing Adam Lallana will start and keep an eye out on exciting Brighton wing-back Tariq Lamptey, with the 19-year-old having impressed with his electric pace and swashbuckling trickery. It looks to be a breakthrough season for the former Chelsea youngster, and he is expected to be fit despite limping off at Newcastle. Lamptey created Leandro Trossard's goal against Chelsea and was heavily involved in two of the three strikes up in the North East as Neil Maupay (twice) and Aaron Connolly fired Potter's side to an impressive victory. Since the summer departure of Martin Montoya, Lamptey has fully established himself as Potter's first choice right wing-back in a 3-5-2 or 3-4-1-2/3-4-3 formation. 

Solskjaer said: "I wasn't happy at all with the Palace game, we weren't fit enough or ready to play at the level we needed to be at.
"It was very disappointing, not good enough but I'm still confident we can break teams down. We showed that last season so I have faith in this group's ability.
"I am very confident in my players, in football you can't predict too much, and my focus is solely on the game."
On United's dwindling transfer hopes, the boss added: "We need three points on Saturday, that's all we're thinking about and aiming for, then we can talk again." 
On the future of lower league clubs, Solskjaer said: "I am worried for League One and League Two clubs, of course everyone is, but all the Premier League and Championship clubs are losing money. 
"Hopefully we don't lose any clubs, locally we have seen some struggle so its not a nice situation to be in."

United face Brighton at The Amex on Saturday lunchtime with a 12.30 kick off and the league game is live on BT Sport

Form guide: Brighton&HA L W W W United L W

Match odds: Brighton&HA 7/2 Draw 11/4 United 3/4

Referee: Chris Kavanagh 

Tuesday 22 September 2020

Match report: Luton Town 0-3 Manchester United

United's bench power put Championship Luton to the sword as substitutes Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood scored late on to send Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side into the Carabao Cup fourth round.

The Reds will face Preston or divisional rivals Brighton at that stage after a slightly flattering victory over a limited but hard working Luton, indebted in no small part to a superb stop from debutant keeper Dean Henderson late on. With the Reds still only leading 1-0, Henderson, whom had little to do, denied Tom Lockyer with a brilliant point blank save before Greenwood set up fellow sub Rashford to put the result beyond doubt.

The other sub, Bruno Fernandes, then combined with Greenwood for the latter to power in a trademark finish. Juan Mata had earlier put United ahead from the penalty spot on the cusp of the interval. There were ten changes to the side that lost to Palace on Saturday with only captain Harry Maguire keeping his place. Donny van de Beek made his full debut along with Henderson whilst Mata, Jesse Lingard, Odion Ighalo and Eric Bailly were all given chances to impress. 

Luton keeper James Shea saved superbly from Mata, after good link up play between Dutchman van de Beek and the wantaway Lingard. Ex Red Ryan Tunnicliffe set up Danny Hylton but he fired off target whilst Fred went close at the other end. Jordan Clark's dangerous run and shot nicked off Bailly and dropped narrowly wide.

With United still working their way up to full fitness, chances were then at a premium but a moment of magic made the difference and broke the deadlock. van de Beek combined with Mata to find the onrushing Brandon Williams. The left-back was scythed down by George Moncur and Mata stepped up to find the bottom corner, continuing his run of being the only player to score in every post Sir Alex Ferguson season.

Lingard flashed a shot wide, the otherwise quiet Odion Ighalo had an effort blocked and Tunnicliffe cleared under pressure from the former as Solskjaer's side turned the screw. Shea tipped wide from Matic and the increasingly busy Luton keeper was soon called into action again, this time to keep out van de Beek with his legs. Lingard's shop window performance continued as he curled an effort wide.

Although the Reds were firmly in control, a match is never over at 1-0 and Luton's big moment arrived in the closing stages. With no extra-time, an equaliser would have taken the tie straight to penalties and Lockyer must have though he'd done so with a powerful header. Henderson reacted superbly to tip the ball away before the impressive Bailly got his leg in the way of the rebound. 

Instead of finding themselves on level terms, Luton were hit with a classic sucker punch as Rashford latched on to Greenwood's reverse pass to stroke the ball beyond the advancing Shea.

Greenwood then turned from goal maker to goal taker as Fernandes picked out the young striker on the edge of the box. He beat his marker with a step over, dropped the shoulder and slammed the ball home from an acute angle for a trademark finish. 

Rashford had another attempt and Fernandes himself went close as the Reds could have had a fourth but in the end it was a comfortable night at the office for Ole and Reds. 

Overall team performance: 7/10

United Faithful Man of the Match: Eric Bailly. Shout out to Donny vdB though 

Sunday 20 September 2020

Delusions of grandeur doing more harm than good for Man Utd

There's no getting away from the fact that United's opening day defeat to Palace was hugely disappointing, but it's only one game and there's no need for panic.

United started badly last year and still finished third, and no doubt will be there or thereabouts once more come May. We always are. In fact, Manchester United are exactly where they should be. In the throng of sides jostling for European qualification and maybe a cup run. That's perfectly acceptable. 

That's just not how things are portrayed. Despite finishing in the top three last year, we were still labelled as underachievers despite it being our second best league effort for years. The expectation was unfairly built up to levels that don't fit the club and then the reaction seemed to be that the Reds should have done better. They shouldn't have done but the media just made it seem that way with their outlandish predictions.

You often see United mentioned in the same breath as the likes of Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Juventus, Barcelona, Inter Milan to name but five. It gets me thinking: why? Why are United always compared to those sides? There's very little justification in doing so. Those clubs win things every year, they consistently challenge, have world class players, usually dominate their leagues and are run properly. United do none of these things. So its an unfair comparison - no wonder the Reds are always deemed to fail when such flawed comparisons are made. We've never been at the level of those clubs and aren't now - so what is there to be gained by saying: "Bayern Munich do A, B and C so why don't United do it." (that's just an example). What have United ever done to deserve to be mentioned in the same bracket as those genuine football giants? Yes, we've won a few things in the past but that's definitely not relevant today. History counts for nothing. 

I won a 100m race at school once but that doesn't mean I should be in the Olympics for Great Britain. Please, to all of you out there, please, please never mention us in the same book as Bayern Munich, Juventus, Real Madrid and co ever again, never mind the same page. 

You'd be better off comparing us to the likes of steady middling clubs like Everton, Leicester, Wolves and Spurs for example. Those clubs are more realistic comparisons, they are more on our level and have the same expectations, the same quality of players and the same recent record as us. Leicester have won the league more recently that United as a footnote. We should be considered as equals to these, not those behemoths above. This is never mentioned in the press and we're still talked up above our level, yet when one of these sides mentioned does something everyone loves them. Our defeat to Sevilla was apparently a shock, despite the Spanish side coming into the game as red hot favourites and their excellent record in the Europa League. They were expected to take the win, It wasn't a shock at all, yet was made out to be an earth shattering upset. Whenever United don't get a result, the narratives always say everything's a "shock result" (was yesterday even really a surprise, many of us saw it coming). Yet our three wins over City last term were barely acknowledged as such. 

Jadon Sancho is the perfect example of these delusions of grandeur (the definition of which is when someone or something has false or unusual belief about one's greatness). To think United can afford to spend 100m on a single player whenever they want, never mind in the middle of a global pandemic, is fantasy land. We don't have anywhere near that sort of money floating around, so where's it supposed to come from? You can't spend money you haven't got. Its completely the opposite. I genuinely think United are skint. How else to explain their lack of activity in the transfer market. 

So too is this baffling ideology that we'll win everything every season, do whatever we want and can buy anyone at will. Yet this is the narrative that's trotted out in the media, and amongst large sections of both our fanbase and even rivals. They think we're supposed to be this relentless, massive, mega rich, silky smooth, trophy winning machine based on nothing tangible whatsoever. Odd. 

Everyone needs to stop with these ridiculously over-inflated expectations and delusions of grandeur. 

We're never going to achieve anything otherwise. 

Match report: Man Utd 1-3 Crystal Palace

 Wilfried Zaha came back to punish his former side as Roy Hodgson's Crystal Palace won at Old Trafford for the second successive season.

Zaha - whom had a (very) brief stint at United under David Moyes - scored with a retaken penalty and then slammed in the third goal, after debutant Donny van de Beek had given United late hope. Andros Townsend had earlier got the Eagles off to a flying start with his stunning seventh minute opener.

It marked the first time that the south London side had won their opening two games of a top flight season, and also the first time a Palace team had emerged victorious from Old Trafford on two back-to-back occasions. 

van de Beek was left on the bench as Ole Gunnat Solskjaer - perhaps sending a cryptic message to the board - picked Daniel James on the right wing in tandem with ex-Eagle Timothy Fosu - Mensah with Mason Greenwood and Aaron Wan - Bissaka (another Palace old boy) having completed stints in isolation.

The Eagles started superbly and moved ahead inside ten minutes. Jeffrey Schlupp, once of this parish, burst clear having linked up with young left-back Tyreke Mitchell and picked out the onrushing Townsend to slam in beyond the helpless David de Gea.

Scott McTominay thumped an effort wide and Paul Pogba also went close from distance but the Reds struggled for long periods, perhaps hindered by a lack of pre-season preparations. 

Palace, in contrast, had played five friendly fixtures and had an extra week having already faced - and beaten - Southampton. Jordan Ayew headed wide and was then denied by de Gea on the stroke of half-time, as the Spaniard produced a superb reflex stop to prevent a second for the visitors.

Greenwood was brought on at the interval and soon began to have an influence, when he headed wide from a Fosu - Mensah cross in the 55th minute. He perhaps could and should have done better, but it was at least a sign of intent and a mini revival for United.

But Palace had other ideas and struck next, shortly after Zaha had a goal correctly chalked out for offside. Victor Lindelof headed over from a corner but then turned to villain when Ayew's shot struck the Swede's trailing arm and Martin Atkinson awarded the spot kick after a VAR check. Under the new rules, there could be no debates over the award of the penalty. 

Ayew's weak penalty was superbly saved by de Gea but there was to be another twist when VAR intervened again to deem a retake was necessary. Replays showed that De Gea had strayed off his line, albeit by the finest of margins, and Zaha - taking over penalty duties - duly obliged. 

de Beek gave the Reds renewed hope with a neat finish from close range ten minutes from time to seemingly set up a trademark late United surge. 

But the late rescue job was swiftly forgotten when Zaha restored Palace's two goal advantage with a clinical finish five minutes later to make this an instantly forgettable opener. 

Overall team performance: 4/10

United Faithful Man of the Match: Donny van de Beek 

Friday 18 September 2020

Man Utd vs Crystal Palace Predicted XI: de Beek debut for Solskjaer's United

 Manchester United begin their season at home to Roy Hodgson's Crystal Palace on Saturday teatime with much the same side as they ended 2019-20. 

Dean Henderson has returned from Sheffield United and Donny van de Beek has signed from Ajax, with both in line to feature against the Eagles.

Here is how we think Solskjaer will send us out for 2020/21's big kick off.

GK - David de Gea

Despite the arrival of Henderson, we expect Solskjaer to keep faith with his first choice in goal. He refused to confirm which one of his keepers will start, but he likes De Gea and, for the moment, there's no reason to make a change between the sticks. I expect DDG to start on Saturday

RB - Aaron Wan - Bissaka

Missed the friendly at Villa having had to complete coronavirus quarantine after a break in Dubai but will start against his former side. Had a brilliant debut season at Old Trafford but faded towards the end of it, being partly at fault for the Sevilla winner and forgetting how to cross! United's only out and out right-back with Diogo Dalot set for a move away

CB - Harry Maguire

Quite the summer for United's still-captain. Maguire needs to put the incident in Greece behind him, he's innocent until proven guilty in a proper court. Solskjaer did the right thing by keeping faith with the man who he's kept as captain, and there is no doubts over H Mag's participation in this one. A decent and solid first campaign at United for Maguire, he starts whenever fitness allows.

CB - Victor Lindelof

For all the talk of Gabriel and Dayot Upamecano, Lindelof - alongside Maguire - formed a grit and guile partnership with his captain and barely put a foot wrong (the aberration against Sevilla aside). There's nothing to suggest the Iceman won't play against Palace with Timothy Fosu - Mensah and/or Eric Bailly likely to come in for the trip to Luton in midweek. He and Maguire had the joint second best defensive record in the division last term. 

LB - Luke Shaw

A major boost to have this man fit again. For all Brandon Williams' impressive breakthrough last term, we really missed Shaw through injury at the back end of last term. He links the attack with defence, gets forward well and was one of the main reasons behind the much improved form of Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford. It will be good to have him back. He will have his hands full against the pace and trickery of Palace's star man Wilf Zaha. 

CDM - Paul Pogba

Fit and firing again after testing positive for Covid-19, Pogba is likely against Palace. A key man in United's post-restart resurgence, Pogba will stay at United and will be tasked with starting and creating attacks from deep. The World Cup winner should be fully recovered from the rona, having quarantined and followed the guidance. If he isn't, one of Nemanja Matic, Scott McTominay and Fred will come in bur we think Pogba will be ready to continue where he left off.  

CDM - Donny van de Beek

United's only summer buy (so far) will slot straight in alongside Pogba for his debut. There has been a lot of talk about where van de Beek will fit in, but we expect the Dutchman to fill a high pressing, box to box role in the team. If we need to go more defensive you can put Nemanja Matic in a diamond but van de Beek starts this one. 

RW - Mason Greenwood

Another United player to have dabbled in controversy, but Solskjaer is backing his man, speaking out for him and defending a young player. Having quarantined in line with guidance relating to his breach of Covid-19 rules, Greenwood has trained away from the main squad and will play against Palace. Whether he's merely keeping his right wing role warm and oven ready for Jadon Sancho, we're not sure, but in the meantime there's no reason not to take Greenwood out of the team.

CAM - Bruno Fernandes

United's Player of the Season begins his first full season at Old Trafford and we cannot wait. The Portuguese magnifico was the catalyst for the Reds late season run to third spot and imagine where we'd be if we'd got him last year. The January signing contributed to 23 goals in 22 appearances and didn't deserve to finish the campaign empty handed. There was talk that Fernandes may miss this game due to being in Portugal for the birth of his child, but its thought he arrived back in the UK in time to avoid 14 day self isolation. String puller extraordinaire. Magnifico. 

LW - Marcus Rashford

Goal of the Season winner, philanthropist and all-round decent lad, Rashford - fresh from his best ever United season - will again be tasked with running the game from the left. Rashford struggled after the restart but will profit from the return of Luke Shaw and will look to hit the ground running having made this spot his own. 

ST - Anthony Martial

Deservedly picked up the Player of the Year gong from his peers after a best ever season in Red. Martial would have got 30 if not for injury and will look to continue his red hot form into this campaign. So often the scourge of Palace, Martial gets the nod to lead the line. Odion Ighalo is likely to play versus Luton so that leaves Martial to take centre stage and looking to improve his fine record against the Eagles. 

 Prediction: United have a strong record on opening day and we think that will continue again against an obdurate if limited Eagles side. Beware of Wilfried Zaha. United 2-1 Crystal Palace. 

Match preview: Man Utd vs Crystal Palace

Manchester United and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer begin 2020-21 only thirty three days since the Europa League KO brought down the curtain on 2019-20.

Our season starting in mid September is unheard of, but these are not normal times and Old Trafford will, once again, sit all but empty as the country - particularly Manchester and the North West - battles a worrying surge in Covid 19 cases.

All matches in Britain will be played behind closed doors until further notice due to the ongoing effects of the pandemic. There's a chance fans might be allowed back, in limited number, from 1 October, but this is subject to restrictions at the time. 

Roy Hodgson's Eagles, 14th last term, began their season last weekend with a 1-0 win over Southampton last time out and won here last season, with United looking to avenge that loss with a fifth consecutive opening day game. No Premier League team has won their opening game more than the Reds, whom have done so on 19 occasions. 
 United were given an extra week's rest due to those European commitments and managed to squeeze in a friendly with Aston Villa, giving a mixture of fringe players, first teamers and reserve squad members a run out last Sunday.

Both sides could give full debuts to their only summer signings, with Crystal Palace new boy Eberechi Eze in line for his first league start having come on late against Saints, although he played the full 90 minutes in Palace's epic League Cup penalty shootout defeat to recently relegated Bournemouth in midweek. 

Donny van de Beek is, so far, United's only addition and is expected to make his competitive bow in midfield having joined from Ajax for £37.5m. He adds depth and quality to United's midfield and will feature at Old Trafford for the first time. Michy Batshuayi has returned on loan from Chelsea for a second second time to bolster the Eagles attack, but defenders James Tomkins, Mamadou Sakho, Gary Cahill and Patrick van Aanholt are all sidelined through injury. Christian Benteke, Connor Wickham and Jairo Riedewald will be assessed. 

Centre backs Phil Jones and Axel Tuanzebe are United's only absentees. Teden Mengi has been training with the senior squad and could be involved having trained with the first team. Solskjaer's main selection decision concerns his two keepers, with David de Gea and Dean Henderson both vying for the gloves. Paul Pogba and Mason Greenwood will both be available after completing coronavirus quarantine. Bruno Fernandes, United's newly crowned Player of the Season, will start. 
Solskjaer said: "We go into the new season with confidence from the way we finished the last one. We showed what we're capable of, we need to keep developing and showing our potential. We need more consistency but I think with another year we should be getting that. This group can go as far as they want."

On de Beek, the boss added: "He's a smashing boy, great personality, he's come in with loads of energy, a big smile and you're likely to see him. I'm not going to name the team, today, of course, but Donny will be involved. He's a very good player and he will give us something special, something different. 

"Fans will always want the best possible team to watch, the best possible Man Utd side. That's the passion we want. We want to go into the season with confidence but we're always looking to give the squad a boost. We're working on it (bringing in more signings)."

United's home tie with Palace will kick off at 5.30pm and is live on Sky Sports Main Event in the UK. 

Thursday 17 September 2020

There shouldn't be anger towards the United board... for once

I'd be the first person to admit to venting forth on these pages when it comes to Manchester United, the Glazers and Ed Woordward, the club's hierarchy. Years of ineptitude have undone all the good work to get on our perch and seeing Liverpool canter into the distance last season proved the final  straw for some. Yet this time I'm willing to give the club's powers that be the benefit of the doubt. 

I'd be the first person to admit to venting forth on these pages when it comes to Manchester United, the Glazers and Ed Woordward, the club's hierarchy. Years of ineptitude have undone all the good work to get on our perch and seeing Liverpool canter into the distance last season proved the final  straw for some. Yet this time I'm willing to give the club's powers that be the benefit of the doubt. 

Yet for once, it's hard to get angry this time around. It's true that Chelsea have won the transfer window with the signings of Thiago Silva, Ben Chilwell, Kai Havertz, Hakim Ziyech and Timo Werner, whilst Liverpool look set to pull off a remarkable coup and sign Thiago from Bayern Munich. Yet Frank Lampard's side had a transfer ban and - as a result - money from the sales of Eden Hazard and Alvaro Morata sitting in the bank. Liverpool had the pull of being league champions. 

The transfer window can be an incredibly frustrating time for us football fans. You can follow the story of an intended target for weeks, only to see the deal fall flat or the prime suspect move elsewhere. I myself have made no secret of my misgiving when it comes to United in the transfer market. We operate at a snail's pace and fail to react as other rivals conclude business within days at the click of a finger.

United signed Donny van de Beek - for once a deal signed, sealed and delivered in double quick time. A good addition to an already top class midfield and an option that will give United both quality and quantity in the engine room. For 40m, it represents a steal. Few of us saw it coming but his purchase was a welcome one. An upgrade on the 80m quoted Jack Grealish, affordable, younger, more experienced and a player that enables Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to mix things up tactically.

From a player we definitely have signed to the seemingly endless array of those we didn't. Every summer, every player under the sun is linked with United at some time or other. Whether genuinely, or because hacks want increased clicks and readers by adding our name to a non-existent target. 

Jadon Sancho has, of course, been our no.1 target from the start, with the Dortmund winger becoming the apple of United's eye. But the fee, quite frankly, is ridiculous and I don't blame United for not paying it. The Reds were hoping for Covid-tax on any potential deal but the German club's stance is clear: 108m or nothing. United cannot be expected to pay that in the current climate, its way too expensive on a footballer who has done very little to justify such a ridiculous price tag. No one, with the possible exception of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, is worth that much. There are people struggling to live, find work and feed their families. United as a club have hardest hit by the impact of the pandemic and cannot afford anything like what Dortmund want. This isn't simply a case of paying the money. The myth of United being one of the richest clubs in the world is exactly that. A myth. The thought of us spending these sums of money on a single player is pure fantasy. There are very few alternatives. Of course, there is still a month to go in the transfer window and we could still procure Sancho but it seems less and less likely with each passing day. 

Gareth Bale has been mentioned as one such option but he now seems Spurs bound. A few years ago, I would have said that he and Old Trafford are a match made in heaven. But those days are gone. Bale is ageing, injury prone and not worth the money. In other words, typical Jose Mourinho short-termism. We need exciting, young, hungry players not over-the-hill has beens. We learned our lesson with Alexis Sanchez in that regard. Sergio Reguilon was another name mentioned but was only ever a rumour. He isn't what United need, he's no better than what we have and what's the point in spending the money on someone who would only be with us for 18 months anyway thanks to his buyback clause? I'm not that bothered about either and I'm glad the board aren't either. 

New Arsenal signing Gabriel reportedly also spurned United's advances to sign for the north London side but Solskjaer's United are well stocked in the centre back department and hardly need another one on the books. If it ain't broke don't fix it springs to mind. 

So I'm not going to criticise the board - for once - when they haven't spent as much as we perhaps hoped. Maybe the money just isn't there? United have missed out on all forms of matchday income, there's considerably less revenue and they're having to foot the bill for the TV coverage. The pandemic has impacted United the most. The argument that Aston Villa have spent £15m more than us, including the club record signing of Ollie Watkins, doesn't hold sway when you look at the market they shop in. Because they're buying from the lower leagues, clubs are more willing to sell and Villa won't have been hit as hard as United have by Covid. The sums of money exchanged isn't anywhere near the sums involved when its the Reds. It's a difficult, unprecedented time for all. 

I'm happy with the squad we have. Two brilliant goalkeepers behind a young defence that had one of the best records in the country last season. The midfield, with Paul Pogba, van de Beek and Bruno Fernandes, is genuinely good enough to compete with the best, not to mention Nemanja Matic, Fred, and Scott McTominay as cover. Our explosive front three outscored even Liverpool last term and will only continue to get better.

Just 48 hours out from United's first Premier League game of the new season, optimism is building at Old Trafford. 

Wednesday 2 September 2020

Manchester United sign Donny van de Beek

It was a transfer concluded quietly, quickly and efficiently - words that can hardly ever be associated with Manchester United's dealings in the transfer market.
United and this board have a reputation for bumbling along and bungling up when it comes to negotiations, but this was done in a very un-Reds like way, with a minimum of fuss and concluded in a matter of days. Confidently, competently and quickly. Exactly how it should be. What is this - Manchester United making a sensible, clearly thought out, value for money signing in double quick time. What a time to be alive. 

Yet so it proved when it came to the signing of Donny van de Beek, a signing that none of us saw coming and one that came from nowhere. United had been monitoring the Dutchman for some time
, but - although Real Madrid had been in for him last summer - all the talk surrounding Jadon Sancho's potential move to Old Trafford meant this one caught us on the hop. Sancho remains United's number one target but talks have stalled over the size of the fee. Aston Villa's Jack Grealish was another option, but the west Midlands side wanted up to 85m for him. van de Beek is a cheaper, younger and better alternative to the claret and blue captain.

van de Beek has signed for United on a five year deal for a fee of £35m, rising to £40m in add ons as he becomes our first summer buy.

Regarded as one of the hottest properties in the game, van de Beek rose through the ranks of the Amsterdam giants, becoming a key cog as an exciting young Ajax side took Europe by storm, surprisingly surging to the Champions League semi finals off the back of a league and cup double two seasons ago. He also came off the bench against United in the Europa League final of 2017 but was unable to prevent his future employers winning 2-0. He hit double figures in both goals and assists, with ten and eleven respectively, before the Eredivisie was curtailed, in the season just gone.

Van de Beek played 175 times for Ajax, scoring 41 goals and catching the eye with his vision, work rate and link play. He has played for the national team at every age group and has been capped ten times for Oranje at senior level.
Educated in the nuances of the Dutch club's vaunted philosophy, van de Beek helped to reawaken the sleeping giants - dormant for two decades - as they fired back into life, with van de Beek playing a starring role in their revival with an eclectic mix of youth and experience

An archetypal box to box central midfielder, van de Beek (or VdB for short), can play as a six, an eight or a ten. He can sit deep or dictate play, and does everything a midfielder is supposed to do and does it very well. He's unlikely to play as an out and out attacking midfielder, given the presence of Bruno but can slot in alongside Pogba, dovetailing with the Portuguese magnifico and our enigmatic World Cup winner. United normally play 4-3-3 so he seems a perfect fit to slot in alongside those two, or we could play a diamond with two up top and bring in Nemanja Matic if you wanted a more defensive approach. His movement, pressing, pace and vision, coupled with an ability to find space, drifting between the lines to link defence with attack, is not something you can easily coach. From a lightweight and ponderous midfield to one of the most eye catching, impressive engine rooms in Europe, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's rebuild looks to be in the finest of fettles.

It became increasingly evident that Solskjaer did not trust his back up players, as proved by not making a change against Sevilla until the 87th minute. Van de Beek gives us options we didn't previous have, he can allow us to give Bruno Fernandes a breather if needed, the tactical flexibility as already mentioned, and also gives us quality off the bench if he doesn't play every game. We clearly needed better strength in depth.

van de Beek said: "I cannot begin to explain how incredible an opportunity this is, to join a club with such amazing history and tradition.
"I'm ready to take the next step in my career and perform at the highest level and standard. There is nowhere higher than Manchester United.
"This team has some of the best midfielders in the world, I know that I can learn from them but I also hope to bring my own strengths to the group.
"I have spoken to the manager about his vision for the team, the direction the club is going in is hugely exciting and I cannot wait to be a part of it."

Currently on international duty with the Netherlands, van de Beek is set to make his United debut in our Premier League opener against Crystal Palace in a fortnight.

Welcome to Manchester United, Donny van de Beek!