Thursday 29 October 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Match report: Manchester United 5-0 RB Leipzig

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday 27 October 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday 24 October 2020

Match report: Man United 0-0 Chelsea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday 21 October 2020

Axel Tuanzebe comes of age against the world's best

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Singing Tuanzebe diddy dum diddy doo... 

PSG 1-2 Man Utd: Player ratings

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

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

David de Gea - 9

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

Axel Tuanzebe - 10

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

Victor Lindelof - 8

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

Luke Shaw - 7

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

Aaron Wan - Bissaka - 9

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

Fred - 9

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

Scott McTominay - 8

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

Alex Telles - 7

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

Bruno Fernandes - 8

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

Marcus Rashford - 9

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

Anthony Martial - 6

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


Paul Pogba - for Telles 65 - 7

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

Dan James - for Martial  88 - N/A

No time to make an impact.

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

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

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer - 10

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

Manchester United upset the odds in Paris... again

Sixteen days ago, Manchester United and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer were left battered, bruised and beaten at the hands of a tactically and technically superior Tottenham Hotspur.

Rampant Tottenham and their manager Jose Mourinho inflicted the Reds joint worst Premier League defeat and left Solskjaer - not for the first time - on the precipice. With Mauricio Pochettino reportedly primed and ready, Solskjaer's days looked numbered. 
The defeat left United in sixteenth place and the prospect of catastrophe loomed over Old Trafford. A devilishly difficult Champions League group only added to the sense of foreboding.
It's nice just to be playing in Europe's elite club competition and to even participate in it is a bonus, but once again Manchester United redefined logic as they returned to the scene of Solskjaer's greatest managerial triumph and proved that lightning, does indeed, strike twice.

Quite how you can go from losing 6-1 to Tottenham to turning over arguably the best team in the world on their own patch - and deservedly so - is beyond me. Yet United have a habit of upsetting the odds and Solskjaer a happy knack of pulling out a result just when he needs one.  It reminded me of the time United went to City and won 3-2 to ruin their title coronation before losing to relegated West Brom the next week. Jekyll and Hyde United at their unpredictable best. Still, at least it makes things more exciting for us fans. 

United's 2019 win in the city of love was highly fortunate - a smash and grab aided and abetted by two goalkeeping howlers from Gianluigi Buffon - but for deja vu in 2020, it was anything but. There was no luck involved this time - this was a fully deserved victory. The improbable victory at PSG last time was great, but the Reds never kicked on after. We lived off that for too long. This was a much better performance and we must go on to beat Chelsea, Leipzig, Arsenal and Everton. 

An understrength team in an unfamiliar system rose to the big occasion once again. Last season's Champions League finalists were pressed and harried into submission as United upset the applecart with a vintage performance for the ages.

A side playing at two or three levels above the Reds standard and quality were made to look inferior as United controlled and dominated the game, never allowing their more illustrious opponents time to get into their formidable passing patterns and devastating rhythm. Few gave United a chance, yet we came away with an incredible, incredible result and one of the best wins in our history. 

Without injured captain Harry Maguire, Axel Tuanzebe was plucked from obscurity and picked on the right of a back three, faced with the most daunting challenge in world football - keeping tabs on PSG's world class duo of Kylian Mbappe and Neymar. Tuanzebe's last appearance for United came against Colchester in December last year, a world away from the Parc des Princes and the most vaunted attack in world football. It was a surprise selection but one that reaped dividends. His defensive masterclass epitomised the team's collective brilliance. 
But it was as if Tuanzebe had never been away as he dominated the explosive young Frenchman and forced him to the fringes with a series of crunching tackles. Tuanzebe was commanding, dominant in the air and never gave his illustrious opponent a moment's peace. He was absolutely magnificent, shut down Mbappe completely and never looked overawed by his challenge. A fully fit Axel Tuanzebe has to play every week. 

There were so many outstanding individual performances. Alex Telles caught the eye with an impressive debut display at left-back, Aaron Wan - Bissaka bullied and stymied Neymar and had a stormer defensively. In midfield, Scott McTominay - on a stage where he came of age last time - shone - and Fred was an absolute colossus. The midfield battle is often so crucial but United were superior there too. We squeezed and sucked the life out of PSG -  United posed all the questions and Thomas Tuchel's side had no answer. Immense. 

Solskjaer, for all his critics, got his tactics absolutely spot on. You might not think he's the man to take this club forward but he's very good in these types of games and showed guts by introducing Paul Pogba and deploying a diamond in the last 20 minutes. He set up to contain and counter with a back three and two defensive midfielders, but showed adaptability by going for the jugular when he sensed PSG blood, forcing them on to the back foot, putting an extra man in midfield, playing more narrow and cutting off the channels. 

The easy thing to do would have been to settle for a draw - in itself a creditable result. But Solskjaer instead switched to a back four, left two strikers in Rashford and Anthony Martial high up the pitch,  fought fire with fire and got his rewards. He took us to one of the best sides in the world and outplayed them. It was an absolute masterpiece - yet apparently this man is a PE teacher and has no tactics. 

When United were pegged back, they didn't buckle or give in. We stood strong, went up a gear and showed character, resilience and a maturity beyond their years. They say lightning doesn't strike twice, but try telling that to a football club that just cannot help turning history on its head. 

Can we play you every week! 

Match report: Paris Saint-Germain 1-2 Man United

It was deja vu for the Reds in Paris as Marcus Rashford repeated his 2019 heroics to give United an incredible, incredible victory in our Group H opener.

Rashford slammed in a late 87th-minute winner to put the seal on a fully deserved victory, after a Bruno Fernandes penalty had been cancelled out by an Anthony Martial own goal. 
Star studded PSG - last season's finalists and arguably the best side in the world - hadn't lost in the group stages at the Parc des Princes in 24 matches but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side turned that on its head with a vintage performance for the ages.

The United manager had enjoyed the best night of his managerial career 595 days ago, but this was a performance better than that one - instead of a highly fortunate smash and grab, United were controlled, dominant and energetic this time around. 

Solskjaer made three changes from the side that won 4-1 at Newcastle last time out, with a debut for Alex Telles, Luke Shaw moved into a back three, a first start in ten months for Axel Tuanzebe and Martial - serving a three-game domestic suspension - restored to the attack.

Fernandes captained the side in the absence of Harry Maguire and the stand-in skipper was involved early on when he found Rashford with a reverse pass, but the ball deflected off Abdou Diallo and into the arms of Keylor Navas.

David de Gea saved superbly from former Red Angel Di Maria, and the Spanish stopper was at it again shortly afterwards when he kept out a Layvin Kurzawa volley with his foot from the resultant Mbappe corner.

United broke forwards and took the lead on 23 minutes when Martial was scythed down by Diallo and a penalty was awarded. Bruno Fernandes had been denied by Karl Darlow at Newcastle and Navas pulled off a repeat performance when he repelled the usually metronomic Portuguese's spot-kick. But VAR had spotted Navas off his line, correctly ordering a retake, and Fernandes made no mistake second time around.

Navas tipped wide - again from Fernandes - and Scott McTominay went close with a header having been picked out by the impressive Telles.
De Gea was called into action to keep out Mbappe three minutes after the restart, and Kurzawa flashed an effort narrowly over as the French giants turned the screw after half-time.

That warning was followed by a major blow for the Reds moments later as Martial inexplicably headed into his own net, closing his eyes and barely jumping, to bring PSG level from nowhere.
Aaron Wan - Bissaka thwarted the dangerous Mbappe with a stunning challenge and then Martial went close at the right end with another header, after Shaw had linked well with Telles.

The Brazilian left-back enjoyed an impressive debut but was replaced by Paul Pogba with 25 minutes to play as Solskjaer went to a back four and reverted to a midfield diamond. Navas saved well from Rashford and De Gea did likewise at the other end - to deny Neymar - in an increasingly frenetic, end to end encounter.

It looked as though United would be forced to settle for a point but Rashford - the man who loves Paris - showed he's not just good at feeding children. Pogba found Marcus Rashford MBE on the edge of the box, and the England man fired low beyond Navas three minutes from the end to give United a huge, against the odds victory. 

In a devilishly difficult group, every point is vital for the Reds and with the visit of RB Leipzig on the horizon, it couldn't have been a better start for Solskjaer's United.

Overall team performance: 9/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: The whole team for a magnificent showing

Sunday 18 October 2020

Match report: Newcastle 1-4 Man Utd

 Manchester United turned on the style to overpower Newcastle in the last ten minutes as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's men emphatically answered their critics.

A deflected Luke Shaw own goal looked to have deepened United's woes after only two minutes, but Harry Maguire - subject of plenty of recent criticism - headed the Reds level. Bruno Fernandes had his first failure from the spot but it was he whom put us ahead at the culmination of a stunning team move late on.

There was even still time for Aaron Wan - Bissaka to hit his first senior goal and Marcus Rashford to run in the fourth as the Reds responded perfectly from the Spurs debacle. 
The result and performance was by far our best of the season as United climbed to 14th in the youthful league table with six points from four games - albeit with a match in hand on everyone else.

Solskjaer raised eyebrows with his team selection with Harry Maguire picked, Mason Greenwood left out completely and starting places for Juan Mata and Dan James. Donny van de Beek was on the bench with Anthony Martial suspended and Edinson Cavani unavailable. 

United started in the worst possible fashion after only two minutes when Emil Krafth's cross took a hefty deflection off Shaw and looped in over the stranded David de Gea.
Fernandes had a goal correctly ruled out for offside against Mata in the build up, before the pair - at the heart of everything we did - linked up again for the leveller. Fernandes picked out Mata and his shot was tipped behind by Karl Darlow, and Maguire powered home a header from the diminutive Spaniard's resultant corner to restore parity. Maguire, a man in the spotlight after his recent poor form and sending off for England, badly needed a change of luck and this will do his confidence the world of good. 

De Gea saved superbly from the lively Allan Saint - Maximin shortly before the interval and Rashford flashed a shot wide but the two Uniteds went in at half-time level.

Newcastle remained a threat and looked almost certain to have gone ahead early on in the second half, just as they did at the start of the game. Jeff Hendrick got to the byline and cut the ball back for fellow summer signing, Callum Wilson, only for De Gea to pull off a save of the highest quality from point blank range.

Rashford was scythed down by a lunging challenge from Jamal Lewis, and, after the obligatory VAR check, referee Craig Pawson awarded United a penalty. 
Fernandes - usually impeccable from 12 yards - saw his eleventh Reds spot-kick pawed out by Darlow and Maguire then had a header cleared off the line by Jamaal Lascelles from the resultant corner.

But the Reds encouragingly did not let their heads dropped, as against Spurs, and instead United stepped up the pressure with Paul Pogba and van de Beek brought on in search of the crucial winner. Van de Beek fired wide and Darlow saved from Rashford before a glorious team goal of the highest order.

Straight from the Sir Alex Ferguson vintage, van de Beek found Mata who back-heeled to Rashford and he, in turn, burst clear and cut inside to find Fernandes. The overlapping Portuguese smashed the ball beyond Darlow and into the top corner from the tightest of angles to put the Reds ahead in wonderful style.

Wan - Bissaka had done well against Saint - Maximin on his half century of appearances and he broke his senior goal drought with another excellent finish as he thumped home from the edge of the area right on the 90.

Rashford then capped off a brilliant week and a superb individual performance when he completed the rout in the final moment. A searching through ball from Fernandes found our no.10 and he raced through to slot beyond the injured Darlow and complete a rout that few saw coming. 

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

Friday 16 October 2020

Match preview: Newcastle Utd vs Man United

The Premier League resumes after the international hiatus as the Uniteds of Newcastle and Manchester meet with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer a man under increasing pressure.

With rumours swirling that United have contacted both Mauricio Pochettino and Max Allegri, Solskaer takes the side to the St James Park in desperate need of a good performance. The Reds have three points from as many games, with a hugely fortuitous win at Brighton sandwiched by horror shows against Crystal Palace and Spurs. 

The feelgood factor at Old Trafford - synonymous with Solskjaer's early days in the job and throughout last season - have evaporated, with talks of a crisis exacerbated by the struggles of 80m captain Harry Maguire.

Maguire was sent off in England's defeat to Denmark in midweek and is doubtful having sustained an injury, but with Maguire in need of a rest this could prove a blessing in disguise.
Anthony Martial is suspended with deadline day signing Edinson Cavani in quarantine and unavailable.  
Fellow arrival Alex Telles is set for a debut, while another summer signing, Donny van de Beek, could make his first league start. 

Marcus Rashford or Mason Greenwood (or perhaps both) are likely to lead the line, but Solskjaer could hand a rare league opportunity to Odion Ighalo in a bid to mix things up. 
For Newcastle, Matty Longstaff is being defrosted in readiness to turn in his annual prime Iniesta-masterclass against us, with Ciaran Clark and Paul Dummett also in contention. Goalkeeper Martin Dubravka remains sidelined. Jamal Lewis is fit despite missing Northern Ireland's defeat to Norway. 

Solskjaer said: "We need a response as you always do after a setback. After you lose a game, you always want to win the next one.
"Of course that's the response we want - we want to go up there, to dominate, and control the game.
"The result is of course very important but I want to see good body language and a positive mindset, because you don't get anywhere by being negative. 
"So we're going to go there for a win, and see players who want to work and fight for the points. That should be the reaction at any club, not just Manchester United."
On Maguire, Ole added: "When Harry is part of the England team to beat the no.1 ranked Belgium, that's just a normal day, but then when he gets sent off you get the headlines. That's just football for you. Harry has great resilience, I know he'll bounce back. He wants to play, we're working with him to try and play him out of this criticism. He is a strong character, he got a knock against Denmark just before he came off but we're hoping he'll be fit."

Newcastle have started well in their second season under former Red Steve Bruce. The Toon Army sit ninth in the fledgling league table, with two wins, a draw and seven points from their opening four matches. Bruce's side have also, like United, progressed through to the quarter finals of the League Cup and have a favourable-looking draw against Championship Brentford in the last eight. 

This is a game Manchester United simply cannot afford to lose. This is a game absolutely massive for Solskjaer's future.

The tie kicks off at 8pm and you'll need to pay £15 PPV for the privilege of watching it... thank goodness for the joys of the (il) legal stream..

Form guide: Newcastle W L W D D W Man Utd L W W W L 
Match odds: Newcastle 4/6 Draw 13/4 Man Utd 7/2
Referee: Craig Pawson (Sheffield)

Tuesday 6 October 2020

Manchester United sign four on deadline day.. but I'm not happy

Deadline day came and went in an unusually busy manner for Manchester United. Four players came through the Old Trafford entrance door but not one of them was named Jadon Sancho.

United had spent all summer pursuing and flirting with the object of their affections, with Dortmund setting their stall out very early in the summer. We knew the price, we knew what was needed to get him and we even had a timeframe to work to. Sancho wanted to come, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer wanted him and Dortmund would have sold. All we had to do was pay the money. No instalments, no add on, just give them the money and he would have been ours. Sancho was United's number one target, a phenomenal young talent just waiting to become the talismanic figurehead of the Reds bright new era. He's slipped through our fingers and you can bet there will be a whole host of suitors queuing up to sign him next summer. United came last in a one horse race and may have missed their chance. 

Whether you feel Sancho, a generational talent and the elite winger United desperately needed, was worth the money, not signing him is a dereliction of duty. It's an embarrassment. A negligence of the highest order. We had three months to sign, seal and deliver the deal. We failed. Even our attempts at some semblance of an alternative was weak, ham fisted and half hearted. We may have dodged a bullet by not signing injury prone Ousmane Dembele, but even that - as United lurched from a loan deal to a permanent one, even being willing to pay without a medical, to nothing at all, just summed up the incompetence of this toxic hierarchy.

Even the winger we did get, Facundo Pellistri, left you feeling underwhelmed. Recommended by former United cult hero Diego Forlan, the 18-year-old arrives from Penarol in his native Uruguay as one for the future. So too does Atalanta's Amad Diallo. Promising, yes, but is this really where we are now? Solskjaer needs ready made players for the here and now, otherwise he won't be here to witness the success - or otherwise - of Traore and Pellistri. The latter signed on a four year deal for 9m, with the latter not arriving at Old Trafford until January. 

Alex Telles came in from Porto in what amounted to effectively a free transfer. Telles, a 27-year-old Brazilian with one cap, joins United on a four year deal but there's no fee because United recouped the £15m for Telles on Chris Smalling's move to Roma. The United centre-back had spent last season on loan in Serie A, and made his switch to the Eternal City permanent. Telles is an attack minded full-back with set piece prowess and will provide competition for Luke Shaw. Given the fact that Shaw always has a stint on the sidelines, Telles will get his chance. 

But if ever a transfer summed up the sheer ineptitude of this board, it is that of Edinson Cavani. Not content with not getting Sancho, the no.7 shirt that had been kept warm for him was instead handed to an ageing, injury prone veteran past his peak. Cavani could turn out to be another Zlatan-type masterstroke, but there's every chance he could be the next Alexis Sanchez or Radamel Falcao. Do this board not learn anything? How is this progressive, how is this a "cultural reset." We could have got him in April, instead we waited until the eleventh hour of deadline day to announce a signing that smacks of desperation. Cavani's been a free agent since March and the fact United had no competition for his signature should tell you everything you need to know. There's no denying the fact that Cavani has an impressive goal scoring record and heads PSG's goal charts with a double century. Five years ago, he'd have been great, but we're looking at a player whose star is on the wane. He signs for United on a one year deal with the option to extend for a further year.

Odion Ighalo leaves United in January so the Reds felt they needed another striker, with Cavani expected to go straight into the side in the three-game absence of the suspended Anthony Martial. 

None of these signings excite me and none of them, apart from possibly Telles, will improve us. Not only that, but its 2020 and still Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo are Manchester United players. We failed to shift Sergio Romero - surplus to requirements now with Dean Henderson firmly installed as our no.2 keeper.

Just think, if we'd even managed to even 30m for those three, we could have paid the extra money for Sancho. What a shambolic embarrassment. Not only have Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea improved their squads and strengthened, even the likes of Villa, Everton, Spurs, Leeds and Newcastle have shown more ambition. 

United may have signed five players this summer, but they still had the worst transfer window in living memory. 

Monday 5 October 2020

A dark day for Manchester United... but not our worst

How do you even begin to pick the bones out of what happened yesterday? Manchester United were left beaten and battered by their former manager as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was left searching for answers in the wake of a ragged 1-6 defeat.

United's cause was certainly not helped by the 27th-minute dismissal of Anthony Martial for violent conduct on Erik Lamela, but the Argentine international deserved an Oscar for his performance, going down like he'd been shot and somehow escaping without censure. Replays showed he hit Martial in the face, sparking the Frenchman's reaction and paving the way for his dismissal. Martial will miss the games against Newcastle, Chelsea and Arsenal.

If Martial had to go, then Lamela did too. You either send both off, or neither. Having said that, United were a shambles before that incident and an even bigger shambles after it. Spurs tore us apart when we had eleven men just as much as they did with ten. There was a lack of discipline, a lack of leadership and a complete lack of fighting spirit. A decent, well coached side can adapt to losing a man. You might not win the game, but you can at least make it hard for your opponents, keep them guessing and keep your heads. United completely capitulated. There was an acceptance that a heavy defeat was on the cards. Experienced players such as Nemanja Matic, David de Gea and Paul Pogba to name but three are wise enough to know better. You don't simply cave in. The lack of fight and spirit, the lack of even trying to restore an air of respectability, was perhaps more worrying that the result itself. 

There was a certain irony to the fact that Jose Mourinho - whose United side never even scored five during his time in charge, let alone six - was the man to reside over this massacre. Mourinho, the man discarded from what many believed to be his true calling, came back to haunt his former employers with a result that will go down as United's joint worst in the Premier League era. Surely even he must have felt a drop of pity for United and Solskjaer by the final whistle. 

Mourinho, more than most, knows the scale of the United job and outmanoeuvred his Old Trafford successor in every department. Spurs were tactically better, technically better and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer simply had no answer in adversity as United's depleted side were overwhelmed in a first half onslaught.

It looked to be a routine day as Bruno Fernandes put United ahead but then the carnage unfolded. United's defence - one of the best in the league last season - simply caved in. There was no organisation, no shape, no communication and even a lack of desire to defend. It was chaotic, shambolic, and there was a complete lack of confidence from back to front. 

To add to the mess at the back, there was no cohesion in midfield, Bruno Fernandes was hooked at half-time and Marcus Rashford was virtually anonymous as the lone striker. It was a day that started well for United but very quickly got worse. This side have proved that it can produce great performances and results when it matters, but similarly has demonstrated a lack of even the basics and a fragility in confidence that shatters under even the slightest of pressures. 

It was a comedy of errors, epitomised by the world's most expensive defender. Harry Maguire had a passable first season at Old Trafford but turned in probably the worst individual performance I've ever seen in a Red shirt.

He was at fault for the first goal, missing two headers before barging Luke Shaw out the way as he attempted to clear, allowing Tanguy Ndombele to steal in and score. Then, as if that wasn't bad enough, he stood off Harry Kane to allow his England colleague to play in Son to burst through and score. He was caught out of position for the third goal, compounded by Eric Bailly losing the ball, and was also involved in conceding the penalty that led to the sixth. 

I don't know what's happened to Maguire. Perhaps he's simply exhausted after playing almost 60 games last season, perhaps it's the immense pressure and responsibility that comes with the role of captaining one of the biggest and most famous clubs in the land. Maybe the travails of the summer and the incident in Greece have affected him mentally. Or maybe it's a combination of all of these. Either way, Maguire does not look fit to lead at the minute, he is not playing like a captain should, seems incapable of holding the defence together or leading at all, and isn't vocal enough. 

But you can't drop an 80m defender and, even if you do, you have to have someone as good as, if not better, than him and we simply don't. It's him or Victor Lindelof.

Aaron Wan - Bissaka, too, had a nightmare day at the office. Like Maguire, AWB had a good first season but seems a man bereft not only of confidence, but of any semblance of form. He was a passenger, terrorised and left gasping by air by United's three tormentors in chief - Lamela, Kane and Son. He lacked awareness, positional sense and was found wanting for at least three of the six.

Luke Shaw hardly covered himself in glory, either. He cleared the central area of the box as Serge Aurier crossed for the inexplicably unmarked Son to make it four, dragged out of position for the fifth and gave away the penalty for Kane to score no.6. He was as much at fault for the equaliser as Maguire was and was himself fortunate not to be sent off for a late lunge on Lucas Moura. United were on their knees by then.

Its not all bad, though, for even the great Sir Alex Ferguson lost in eerily similar circumstances. Manchester City were the victors on that occasion, in 2011, as a Jonny Evans red card paved the way for United's capitulation. The delicious irony of the situation is that even a 3-1 defeat would have been enough for United to win the league with City going on to pip us on goal difference. 

That was worse, coming as it did at the hands of one of our fiercest rivals, but there can be no denying the fact that this was the bleakest of days for this once mighty, once feared global institution. 

Manchester United's exhausting cycle

 In the summer of 2018, Manchester United were at a crossroads. Jose Mourinho, approaching his third season in the job, may not have been everyone's cup of tea, but he had a plan.

It was a short term plan, but a plan nonetheless. Mourinho had taken United to their highest post-Ferguson position, finishing 2nd on 81 points. It was a tally that, most years, would've been enough at least to come close to winning the title.

It was Jose's misfortune that he was pipped to the Premier League post by his fierce rival from across the city. Pep Guardiola led City to the title, winning it at a canter by 19 points having pilfered a century. The boys in (sky) blue smashed every record going, no one could have caught them and there was certainly no disgrace in a runners up position.

What happened next? Well. Mourinho had signed nine players across the previous two seasons, making the transition from a Europa League side to a Champions League one and manoeuvring United into a position where we believed he could make an assault on the title. 

He needed further backing, that final freeing up of funds to close the gap on City and make us competitive. Instead, he ended up with a Stoke reject, the Brazilian Eric Djemba - Djemba (Fred) and a kid from Portugal in Diogo Dalot. He didn't even want any of those three and made his feelings clear. The club had a choice - to be ambitious and make an attempt to be the best you can be, or to send the club, its fans and its manager down the river to the road marked mediocrity. 

When United had a chance to continue moving forward and to close that gap, the tap was turned off and the well dried up. Mourinho was out a few months later. Having done what was needed to turn United from a top six side into a top three one, Mourinho was shafted by a board with no ambition. Even if you felt he deserved the sack, as indeed many of us did - and it was probably the right decision - the hierarchy certainly didn't help him.

Louis van Gaal was building a decent team having just won the FA Cup and blooded several youngsters, only to be shafted by the board, Mourinho was given a new contract but yet, as mentioned, got no backing that same summer. 

Two summers on, and here we are again. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer came into the club in similar circumstances, picking up the pieces left behind by the toxic final days of the Mourinho regime. After an initial splurge on Harry Maguire, Aaron Wan - Bissaka, Dan James, and the January addition of Bruno Fernandes, Solskjaer fulfilled his remit by taking United to a top three finish - not quite matching that Mourinho achievement, but the best of the rest behind the country's two outstanding sides wasn't to be sniffed at.

United's third place was the second highest placing in seven years, and set the platform for what was supposed to be a gap closing season. Third place was the best we could have hoped for. It was clear we needed re-inforcements, yet all Solskjaer got was a 40m squad player in Donny van de Beek. It was never going to be anywhere near enough, especially when Chelsea spent over six times that on the like of Hakim Ziyech, Timo Werner and Ben Chilwell to name but three. How can a defence with almost 200m spent on it look so under-manned and ill equipped? How can this happen to a team that looked like it had turned a corner as recently as two months ago?

Yet the Reds have made a cataclysmic start to the season, just as they did two years ago. It is the same exhausting cycle we've seen under every post-Ferguson manager. New boss comes into a Europa League team, embarks on spending spree, gets top four. Doesn't get backed, misses out on Champions League and is sacked. Repeat for eternity.

Here we are again blaming ourselves. Are we going to keep sacking managers? Are we going to just keep this same repetitive cycle and ignore the real issues?

Is a new man going to come it and be out again in two years because of the shambolic nature of the way this club is run? It is the same problems, the same fault lines, and the same lack of answers. 

How would a new manager help? If even the likes of Van Gaal and Mourinho - two of the best bosses of their generation - failed, then what hope has the likes of a Mauricio Pochettino got? 

Whether you're Ole in or Ole out - and I've a feeling opinions may have shifted seismically after yesterday - you cannot deny he has been spectacularly let down by those above him. Just like Moyes, just like LVG and just like Jose. When is this going to end?

Match report: United 1-6 Tottenham Hotspur

Ten man United suffered humiliation and capitulation at the hands of Jose Mourinho's rampant Spurs after Anthony Martial's early red card.

Remarkably given what was to come, things had started superbly for the Reds when Bruno Fernandes put us ahead after only 90 seconds, his second of the season, after Martial had been scythed down by Davinson Sanchez. 

Yet two from Son Heung - min, another brace from Harry Kane, Tanguy Ndombele and a screamer from Serge Aurier condemned Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side to one of our worst defeats in recent history. This was a loss on a par with the 2011 humbling by Manchester City, when the Reds also had a man sent off and collapsed late on, going on to cede the title to our neighbours.

The result leaves United in sixteenth place, with only newly promoted sides West Brom and Fulham with a worse goal difference - albeit only after three games of this fledgling season. 

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer made ten changes to his line-up from the cup win over Brighton in mid-week, with only Eric Bailly keeping his place in the side. The Ivorian replaced the much-malinged Victor Lindelof, with Donny van de Beek again on the bench but Marcus Rashford and Martial earning recalls.

United were completely outplayed, run ragged and ripped to pieces even before the red card, which came after Martial dragged his hand across Erik Lamela's face, with the Argentine going down like he'd been shot.

Whilst there can be few complaints about the decision - it's soft but its always going to be a red card nowadays - you have to question the call not to send off Lamela, who initiated the contact by appearing to strike his opponent, sparking Martial's retaliation.

By then, United were 1-2 down after Ndombele had capitalised on an abysmal mix-up between Harry Maguire - who twice failed to clear - and Luke Shaw, allowing the midfielder to stab in his first goal for more than a year.

Maguire conceded a free-kick 45 yards from goal having fouled compatriot Kane, but instead of trying to block the set-piece, he simply stood off and allowed his England colleague to slide the ball through to Son.

The Korean's pace saw him storm clear of Bailly and Shaw, leaving him one on one with the advancing De Gea. Son put the ball under the United keeper to give Spurs a come-from-behind lead in the blink of an eye.

Bailly lost possession to allow Son to tee up Kane and - with United unable to believe what they were seeing - Son added the fourth from an acute angle eight minutes before the break.

Solskjaer attempted to stem the tide by bringing on Fred and Scott McTominay at half-time, replacing the abject Nemanja Matic and not much better Bruno Fernandes, in a futile damage limitation exercise.

Still there was no let up as Spurs continued to add to the pain. Aurier slammed in the fifth on 51 minutes before De Gea saved well from Lucas Moura and Sanchez headed over the bar.

Kane went close, Sissoko fired wide and substitute Dele Alli could have had a sixth, before Kane made it six from the penalty spot after Shaw had fouled Ben Davies.

Mourinho finally showed mercy as Spurs wound the clock down without further damage, but United's former boss will rightly revel in the glow of a comprehensive thrashing against his Old Trafford successor. 

Had there been fans in,  a defeat of this magnitude probably would not have happened but the Reds can have no complaints on a dreadful day. 

Overall team performance: 0/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: No one 

Thursday 1 October 2020

Solskjaer's United face "Group of Death" in the Champions League

Marcus Rashford celebrates his dramatic late injury
time penalty in Paris 

Manchester United and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer face a daunting test of their European credentials after being handed the Champions League's "Group of Death".

The Reds regained qualification for a shot at the biggest prize in club football having finished third last season, and were rewarded with a place in the most difficult section of the 32-team phase. Old foes and new faces await United in Group H, with the team to play two of last year's last four. 

We face beaten finalists Paris Saint Germain, semi finalists and rising force Red Bull Leipzig and probably the best of the lowest ranked sides in Istanbul Basaksehir - a first ever meeting with the Turkish club.

The competition is very much a bonus and a free hit for the Reds - no one's expecting us to do well, so we might as well have a bash at these games and see where it gets us. I wanted a difficult draw and one that would be a good test -  that's what you play in the Champions League for and if I wanted a group consisting of farmers from Russia, Denmark and France, I may as well still want my team to be in the Europa League. 

Placed in Pot Two, United were pitted with Thomas Tuchel's Parisian giants, who, of course, need no introduction. One of the most star-studded sides on the planet, PSG almost ended their agonising search for that elusive Champions League crown last term, only to fall short in the face of a relentless Bayern Munich in the Lisbon showpiece. A club boasting the likes of Kylian Mbappe, Neymar, our old mate (!) Angel Di Maria, former Red Ander Herrera and Marco Verratti, they will again be amongst the contenders to go all the way and end the drought by finally lifting the prize they covet most of all.

The two sides have only ever met once before, the last time coming on that never-to-be-forgotten night in the French capital when Marcus Rashford's at-the-death penalty gloriously, improbably, and famously completed a miraculous, climb-off-the-canvas away goals victory with a scratch team. It was the night when Solskjaer passed his audition as caretaker boss and got the job on a permanent basis. Even for a club with an extraordinarily illustrious history, it was one of the greatest nights Manchester United had ever witnessed. 

Based in the German state of Saxony, Red Bull Leipzig will be new opponents for United. The surprise package of last season's tournament, Julian Nagelsmann's side may have lost talisman Timo Werner to these shores but that doesn't make them any less dangerous. 
Werner plundered 34 goals in 2019-20 to help Leipzig to the semi finals, as they finished third in the Bundesliga to continue a meteoric rise, knocking out Spurs and Atletico en route to the last four for the first time ever. Sought after centre-back Dayot Upamecano, a defender linked with United this summer, plies his trade for Leipzig, a team also featuring the talents of Marcel Halstenberg, Swedish international Emil Forsberg and prolific Danish frontman Yussuf Poulsen. 

Normally, a trip to Istanbul would fill even the hardiest of souls with a sense of trepidation. Turkish fans are known for their passion, their colour and their occasional violence, but there will be none of that this time. The ongoing pandemic means the games will be played behind closed doors, taking away arguably Istanbul Basaksehir's biggest weapon. They will debut in the Champions League and provide, along with Leipzig, another team we've never played before. They won the Turkish SuperLig for the first time in their history in 2019-20 and feature players such as former Premier League stars Demba Ba, Nacer Chadli, Martin Skrtel and Rafael Da Silva, once of this parish and a fans favourite at Old Trafford. 

Elsewhere, our divisional rivals were given perhaps 'easier' luck of the draw. Manchester City will play FC Porto, Olympiakos and Marseille in Group D, Chelsea will face Europa League winners Sevilla, the Ukranians of Krasnodar and French side Rennes in their group. Liverpool were paired with Ajax, Atalanta and Danish debutants FC Midtjylland (remember them). 

United have some mouth watering fixtures to look forward to and I for one cannot wait. You gotta beat the best to be the best. Bring it on!