Monday, 29 November 2021

United appoint Ralf Rangnick as interim boss


And so it's official: Manchester United have appointed Ralf Rangnick as interim manager until the end of season.

The highly-rated German, dubbed the "Godfather of Gegenpressing" arrives at Old Trafford from Russian club Lokomotiv Moscow, where he worked as head of sports development to replace Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. 

Following the end of his stint as boss, Rangnick will move upstairs into a two-year consultancy role where his first job will be to help pick the next permanent United manager. For the first since the departure of David Gill - who let the club along with Sir Alex Ferguson in 2013 - we will have a football person on the board. 

His first game in charge could come against Arsenal on Thursday subject to work visa requirements. If not, Michael Carrick will remain at the helm until the formalities are completed. 

The 63-year-old German has been widely regarded as the pioneer of modern German football having built an impressive reputation in his native homeland - with illustrious contemporaries Jurgen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel both shaping their managerial raison d'etre on their compatriot's influence. 

He set Ulm - with the now-Chelsea boss in their ranks - on course for promotion to the Bundesliga before spells as manager of Stuttgart, Hannover, Hoffenheim, Schalke and RB Leipzig - whom he took from the German second tier into the top division for the first time. 

Rangnick won the German Cup with Schalke in 2011 and steered them to the Champions League semi-finals in the same year, losing 6-1 over two leg to Sir Alex's Reds after a Darron Gibson masterclass at Old Trafford.

Carrick is expected to remain at United under Rangnick, but the new boss will bring a small number of his own coaches with him. The future of the rest of  Solskjaer's backroom team Mike Phelan and Kieran McKenna et al, are still unknown. 

Rangnick is known to favour the high pressing system that his proteges, Messrs Klopp and Tuchel, have embraced so it will be interesting to see how he implements it into a United squad seemingly at odds with it.
John Murtough, United's football director, CEO Ed Woodward and technical director Darren Fletcher vetted Rangnick for the role, with all three men sufficiently impressed, to confirm his status as first choice.

He has a big job on his hands, that's for sure. 

His first task will be to galvanise a team on an awful run despite a surprise point at Chelsea. Only bottom side Newcastle, out of form Everton and misfiring Brighton have done worse than United's four points in five games
. In addition, Rangnick's leadership and technical skills will be used to assess what needs to be done going forward.

Speaking to club media, Rangnick said: "I am excited to be joining Manchester United and focused on making this a successful season for the club.
"The squad is full of talent with a great balance of youth and experience. All my efforts for the next six months will be on helping these players fulfil their potential, both individually and collectively as a team.
"Beyond that, I look forward to supporting the club's longer term goals on a consultancy basis." 

The Reds still plan to appoint a permanent, long term manager in the summer.

Welcome to Manchester United, Ralf Rangnick. 

Sunday, 28 November 2021

Match report: Chelsea 1-1 Man United


Jorginho turned from villain to hero but United's resilience and discipline shone through in a creditable Stamford Bridge draw. 
Jadon Sancho capitalised on the Italian's error to put a depleted Reds side in front, but the Chelsea spot-kick expert then scored from the spot to earn a point for Thomas Tuchel's league leaders after Aaron Wan - Bissaka needlessly fouled Thiago Silva.

With Michael Carrick in charge of his first league game ahead of the imminent arrival of Ralf Rangnick, United's caretaker boss showed he was not afraid to make big decisions with Cristiano Ronaldo surprisingly left out of the XI. There were four changes from the midweek win in Spain with Eric Bailly, Nemanja Matic, Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford restored to the side in lieu of the suspended Harry Maguire, with Donny van de Beek and Anthony Martial also dropped to the bench along with the Portuguese superstar.

With United in a state of flux, no manager and an understrength side, it was expected to be a long and difficult afternoon in west London. Stamford Bridge has been a far from happy hunting ground and this only seemed to be reinforced with a strong start from the high-flying Blues. 
Hakim Ziyech fired straight at David de Gea, and Callum Hudson - Odoi then also had a shot well saved by the Spaniard after Marcos Alonso had picked him out. 

Bruno Fernandes - operating in an alien position as a 'false 9' in Carrick's 4-3-3 - pulled a shot well wide of the target when he should have played in Rashford. Alonso failed to turn home a Reece James cross on the stretch but the best chance of the match fell to Tuchel's dominant side on the half hour.

Antonio Rudiger collected the ball in his own half and ran on goal to let fly with a 25-yarder. The ball looked destined for the top corner but struck the crossbar with the slightest of touches from the sprawling De Gea. 
Chelsea went close again on the stroke of half-time when James curling cross-shot needed a strong hand from De Gea to tip it away to safety. 

United's game plan of containment and counter attack had worked a treat and threatened a seismic shock five minutes after the restart. A Fernandes clearance from deep should have been simple for Jorginho, but he miscontrolled the ball into the path of the onrushing Sancho. Sancho seized on the error and raced through on goal supported by the run of Rashford. He opted to go it alone and calmly rolled the ball under the advancing Edouard Mendy for his second goal in as many games and first in the league.

The much maligned Timo Werner fluffed his lines from close range and Ruben Loftus - Cheek nodded wide in a rapid response from the wounded leaders. After a flurry of set-pieces, Chelsea were handed a penalty as captain Silva went down under a needless lunging challenge from Wan - Bissaka in the 69th minute. 

Jorginho rarely errs when presented with a chance from the spot and made no mistake here as he drilled the ball beyond De Gea - after his trademark Fernandes-esque skipping run up - to set up a frantic finale.

Wan - Bissaka partially redeemed himself with a good block to deny Werner, with the misfiring German replaced by returning ex-Red Romelu Lukaku shortly afterwards in pursuit of the winner.

Ronaldo had been introduced in place of the United scorer but failed to have an impact as the visitors battened down the hatches in the face of late Chelsea pressure - if not quite a siege. Christian Pulisic fired wide on the turn and Rudiger missed a glorious opening with the goal gaping late on, but United survived in relative comfort. 

Fred could have nicked it at the other end when Mendy inadvertently found him with a miskicked clearance, but the Brazilian could only send his tame lob straight in the arms of Chelsea's relieved Senegalese keeper. 

In truth, United's depleted ranks will be happier with the point than their title-chasing rivals with Carrick to hand over the reigns to Rangnick with two promising results in the bag. United at least showed nerve, fight and discipline to leave the incoming German with a modicum of spirit and confidence restored. 

Overall team performance: 7/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: David de Gea


Wednesday, 24 November 2021

Ch-ch-changes... the search for Manchester United's next manager



Heard the one about the Frenchman, the Spaniard, the Geordie and the Argentine?  It may sound like a punchline, but the question of who will - or should be - Manchester United's next manager is no laughing matter.

Michael Carrick may boast an impressive 100% record as the Reds caretaker boss following Tuesday night's 2-0 win over Villarreal, but United have their sights firmly set on another ex-Spurs man in Mauricio Pochettino. 

Pochettino seemed almost certain to be the next man in the Old Trafford hotseat as talks accelerated quickly in the aftermath of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's sacking. United even seemed prepared to make the unprecedented move of buying the Argentine out of his contract with PSG, which runs until the end of next season. For a board famously frugal with their finances, it spoke volumes over just how highly they rated the ex-Spurs manager.

So much so, they were willing to abandon their preferred strategy of appointing an interim until the summer - when we would then appoint a permanent boss -  in an effort to procure Pochettino immediately. This club acting quickly and decisively when it comes to do anything - who ever would have thought..

The stars seemed to align for Poch to come to us. He wants us, we want him and he's our number one target with Zinedine Zidane ready to replace him in the French capital. The board have long been  admirers of the dapper Argentine and he has regularly been touted as a United manager-in-waiting. 

The issue always seemed to be the timing. It's difficult to get a permanent manager in halfway through a season, especially with the main candidates already in work. United had their initial approach for Pochettino rebuffed with the French giants unwilling to even enter into talks at this stage.

It all means that, whilst Poch remains United's no.1 target with Ajax supremo Erik ten Hag as second choice, contractually, we may need to wait until 2022. 

United are searching for a more experienced, short-term interim to carry us through until the end of the season if Pochettino cannot be enticed before then as now seems increasingly likely. 

Five men have been considered for the role with United having held talks with ex-Barcelona boss Ernesto Valverde interviewed by United's director of football John Murtough, so too Frenchman Rudi Garcia and veteran Swiss manager Lucien Favre. None have ever managed in England before, but all three men have experience of top level football and all have won titles. Ralf Rangnick - the highly-rated German credited for inspiring illustrious compatriots Jurgen Klopp, Thomas Tuchel and Julien Nagelsmann - is also thought to be an option as is 48-year-old ex-Roma boss Paulo Fonseca. 

Garcia in particular has an impressive record of revitalising ailing clubs, doing well with clubs that aren't. He took Marseille to a European final in 2018 and reached the semi-finals of the Champions League with unfancied Lyon in 2019-20, knocking out Juventus and Pep Guardiola's City en route. 

Valverde was never widely popular at the Nou Camp but won two league titles and the Copa del Rey during his time in charge as well as three Greek Super Leagues with Olympiakos so not only would he steady the ship in the short term, he's a proven winner but also a modern coach and hasn't been out of work for long. 

Just as long as its not Steve Bruce... 

Odds (Interim appointment only): Ernesto Valverde 9/1 Rudi Garcia 14/2 Lucien Favre 17/2 Ralf Rangnick 50/2 Paulo Fonseca 66/1 

Tuesday, 23 November 2021

Match report: Villarreal 0-2 Man Utd

 Jadon Sancho struck his first Reds goal as Michael Carrick's Manchester United sealed qualification into the last 16 of the Champions League.


United's 73m summer signing had become a strangely sidelined figure under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer but capped a stellar showing with a stunning strike to send the Reds into the knockout stage as group winners after a 3-3 draw between Atalanta and Young Boys in the other Group F game. United face the Swiss side - who are out - at Old Trafford on Matchday Six next month. 

Carrick - in caretaker charge following Solskjaer's sacking on Sunday - made four changes from Ole's last selection, the 4-1 thumping at Watford. Alex Telles, Fred, Donny van de Beek and Anthony Martial were brought into the team in place of Luke Shaw, Nemanja Matic, Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford with the latter two perhaps surprisingly named on the bench. Martial and David de Gea were the only two survivors in the XI from Solskjaer's first game at Cardiff almost three years ago. 

Scott McTominay headed into the side netting from a telling Telles cross, before de Gea was called into action to keep out Moi Gomez. Pau Torres and Yeremi Pino fired narrowly off target in a bright start for Unai Emery's side. 

United were again indebted to the in-form Spanish stopper, one of the few players who emerges from the carnage with his head held high. A long kick forward from opposite number Geronimo Rulli dropped invitingly for Manu Trigueros, who connected cleanly only for DDG to turn the ball away with a magnificent one-handed stop.

Cristiano Ronaldo had a header held at the other end but Villarreal continued to carve out chances as Dani Parejo flashed a shot over the bar and Gomez went close with a deflected effort from distance. Arnaut Danjuma - the ex-Bournemouth man who caused United so many problems in the first game at Old Trafford - twice narrowly failed to hit the target. 

United were again grateful to De Gea for another spectacular save - again from Trigueros - on the hour mark.
A Gomez cross-shot struck Aaron Wan - Bissaka and fell to the Spanish winger inside the box. His shot was goalbound and going in, but De Gea dived low to again claw the ball out and away to safety to preserve parity.

Carrick sensed an opportunity to push for victory and introduced his big hitting substitutes as Fernandes and Rashford entered the fray on 66 minutes.
It did not take long for the Portuguese schemer to get involved in proceedings, as he played a lovely one-two with Sancho and released the England man through on goal. A first United goal looked in the offing for Sancho, but Rulli raced off his line to snuff out the opening with his foot. 

Fred flashed wide with a 25-yarder but, when the deadlock was broken, it came from a much more likely source. With 12 minutes left, Rulli tried to play out but Fred pounced to press Etienne Capoue and the loose ball fell to the loitering Ronaldo who did the rest with a superb lobbed finish. 

Ronaldo, Mr Champions League himself, continued his record of having found the net in every European tie so far this season with his tenth of the season - including the 95th-minute winner to sink the Yellow Submarines in September.

Capoue tried to atone at the other end but his header was wayward and Ronaldo almost grabbed a second when he nodded wide having seized on Juan Foyth's misdirected header. The two Reds substitutes also could have put the result beyond doubt, but there was still time for the icing on the cake as the fast-finishing Reds applied the coup de grace.

Fred was involved again as he won the ball and moved it on to Rashford. He in turned found Fernandes, who picked out the onrushing Sancho. The travelling Reds - in fine fettle all night - were able to witness the young winger's first goal for their club as he rounded off a sweeping team move with a thumping finish off the bar to put the seal on a magnificent individual performance. 

A good win after a difficult few days with a daunting trip to high-flying league leaders Chelsea on the horizon on Sunday.

Overall team performance: 7/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Jadon Sancho

Monday, 22 November 2021

Where did it all go wrong for Solskjaer's United?

 The speed and the scale of Manchester United's dramatic descent took everyone by surprise.

Not too long ago, it was all so different. There was much fanfare and back-slapping celebration when United secured Cristiano Ronaldo's return at the end of August. All seemed rosy in the Old Trafford garden.

When the Portuguese superstar marked his second Reds bow with a double in a 4-1 win over Newcastle, it seemed inconcei
vable that, ten weeks later, his manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer would be sacked. The ink was barely dry on the affable Norwegian's new three-year contract and the Reds seemed well set to challenge for the title. There was little to suggest a catastrophe was just around the corner.

But a wobble turned into a full-scale crisis and - having survived the 5-0 home defeat by Liverpool on 24 October and the insipid 2-0 reverse to derby rivals Manchester City 13 days later, the end came quickly. Saturday's dismal 4-1 loss at Watford proved the final straw for Solskjaer. Not even a wonderful man, held in the highest of regard at Old Trafford, could come back from that.

The numbers are grim and damning. Four wins in 13 matches in all competitions since that Newcastle result, seven points from eight league games with one clean sheet, nineteen goals shipped in seven matches and out of the Carabao Cup (although it doesn't really count).

It would have been even worse but for David de Gea's injury time penalty save to give us a 2-1 win at West Ham, with Ronaldo coming to the fore in Europe with two late winners and a dramatic late point-saver in Bergamo against Atalanta.

For some, Ole was lucky to survive as long as he did. There was always an element of doubt over whether he was cut out for the job in the first place and certain sections of the press have wanted him to fail since he was given the permanent job in 2019.

That judgement is very harsh and Solskjaer did a far better job than he will be given credit for.

He restored pride in an ailing club that had turned in on itself during the dark final days of the Jose Mourinho era. Without question, he picked us up off the floor and took decisions for the benefit of Manchester United, a club forever imprinted on his heart.

He secured a second-placed finish in the Premier League last season, our joint best performance since the retirement of Sir Alex in 2013. We even dared to dream, for a few short weeks at least, as Solskjaer's United surged to the summit at the halfway point of the season - the first time we had gone top at that stage of a campaign since we last won the thing. 

Had we beaten Tuesday night's opponents Villarreal in the Europa League final, he would have given himself both time and protection from the plethora of problems which have ultimately led to his downfall.

But a failure to do so only increased the pressure - and the questions over his managerial ability - and the effects of football's fine margins are ultimately now being felt. 

Whilst United's collapse is not all his fault, that's certainly not to say he isn't to blame at all. 

Loyalty and trust in certain players became a problem and eventually his strength became his biggest weakness. Quite why he decided to spend £35m on Donny van de Beek - a talented young creative player - but then hardly ever played him is the biggest mystery of all. Especially when you consider how he stubbornly persisted with the much maligned duo of Scott McTominay and Fred in the Dutchman's stead. Indeed, at times it felt as if Solskjaer never wanted van de Beek in the first place. 

It was with a stroke of poetic irony that it was forgotten man van de Beek who scored the final United goal of Solskjaer's time in charge. 

He is the not the only one to be forced to the fringes this season. Solskjaer didn't use his squad anywhere near enough with Dean Henderson, Eric Bailly, Jesse Lingard and Alex Telles - to name but four - barely getting a look in. Solskjaer's nonsensical decision to pick a 5% fit Harry Maguire at Leicester after one training session speaks volumes when it comes to his lack of trust in his back up players. 

Too many players lost both confidence and form. Maguire and Luke Shaw - two of this side's best players last season - excelled for England at the Euros but the pair were at fault for two of Leicester's four goals, ran into each other haphazardly for Liverpool's third goal and dithered indecisively to allow Bernardo Silva to nip in and score in this month's derby. 

Maguire and Shaw were passive, leaving the ball for each other. It summed up the fear and timidity spreading like a virus through the team. Shaw has been the best left-back in the land over the past two seasons but looks like a competition winner at the moment. 

On the other flank, the usually rock-solid and reliable Aaron Wan - Bissaka has been exposed and caught napping, standing off Joao Cancelo to allow the City full-back to cross unopposed and with the freedom of Old Trafford for the second goal. 
Bruno Fernandes is in his worst slump in front of goal, since signing for the club having not scored since that Newcastle game although he has picked up seven assists in the 13 games since. 

One of the strong - and perhaps justifiable - aspersions cast against Solskjaer is his lack of identikit, a style on which to hang his hat, particularly when measured against his heavyweight contemporaries Jurgen Klopp, Pep Guardiola and Thomas Tuchel. In fairness to Solskjaer, though, some of our best days under him came against those three men and the affable Norwegian also outwitted Leipzig's Julian Nagelsmann, Marcelo Bielsa at Leeds and the man widely tipped to become his Old Trafford successor, Mauricio Pochettino. 

He shifted the unfit and not good enough duo of Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez, identifying their replacements as a young, dynamic strikeforce to run in behind, press and hassle the opposition into errors. The midfield weakness was never quite addressed, but he finally landed Jadon Sancho and turned Edinson Cavani into an excellent acquisition when it appeared the veteran Uruguayan was nothing more than another luxury panic buy. Solskjaer was building a Manchester United side in his own image - Sancho would play on the right, Marcus Rashford out wide left, with Cavani and the emerging Mason Greenwood to share the centre-forward role.  

But Ronaldo's arrival smashed the template. Almost overnight, Solskjaer's plans were ripped up with Ronaldo shoehorned into the no.9 role he was never supposed to be filled. Of course, you're never going to complain when the greatest player who ever lived turns up at your club, but - as a consequence, Cavani has barely played with Greenwood deployed wide right, forcing Sancho to the fringes. Ronaldo's ability and leadership should never be questioned and his goals have rescued us more than once this season but he's immobile and doesn't press. He didn't ten years ago and doesn't now. 

Did Solskjaer really value Ronaldo's Second Coming as much as the United hierarchy, who knew what a commercial impact the Portuguese mega-star would have. As ever, they couldn't resist the pound signs flashing before their eyes. 

If he wasn't, did he have the willingness and gumption to say so? 

Even at the zenith of his United managerial tenure, the underlying feeling was whether Ole would be willing to engage in battle for what he believed was right with his bosses in the corridors of power. Ole's affable nature and reluctance to upset the Glazers and Ed Woodward meant he was perhaps always happy to accept the hand he was dealt rather than rail against them. 

That narrative may help to explain why he survived those awful defeats to Liverpool and City. It may also explain why United never really wanted the demanding, fiery and high maintenance Antonio Conte. 

Now though, we are searching for a fifth permanent manager in eight years - after the Special One and one of our own, it's time for Yet Another One. 

After what has gone before, I don't trust the board to get it right this time. 


Sunday, 21 November 2021

Manchester United searching for Yet Another One

 Manchester United are again searching for a new manager - their fifth permanent boss in eight years - after Ole Gunnar Solskjaer finally saw the axe fall on Sunday. The dismal 4-1 defeat at Watford was the final straw for the affable Norwegian.

Michael Carrick will take temporary charge until a replacement can be found and here are five men we think could be considered to replace Solskjaer. Thanks for everything, Ole.

Zinedine Zidane

An interim appointment until the summer seems likely (please not Carrick or Darren Fletcher), but if United want to go big and go early, then 'Zizou' is favourite, almost by default. The most obvious candidate due to his status as an out of work manager, Zidane would reunite with CR7 and would strike a chord with the club's French contingent. Doubts remain though - he doesn't speak English and has only ever managed Real Madrid (and let's be honest, you or I could probably win three Champions League titles with the squad he had). Very much an unknown quantity but surely a consideration.

Erik ten Hag

The number one name on most Reds lips, the erudite 51-year-old seems to tick a lot of boxes when it comes to what a potential United boss should be. Winner of two league cups and the title twice in his native Netherlands, ten Hag's Ajax have won admirers for their eye-catching style with a team built on youth. However, it seems ten Hag is committed to his work in Amsterdam, so United would likely need to wait until the summer to get him. Ten Hag is reported to be interested in the job but won't leave mid season.

Brendan Rodgers

No doubt divisive due to his Liverpool links, but Rodgers is another who seems to fit our vision. Rodgers has built an excellent Leicester side with a mix of youth and experience, he's proved himself to be tactically astute and took the Foxes to FA Cup glory last season. But, again, like ten Hag, Rodgers seems reluctant to leave his role midway through the season. Rodgers has consistently rebuffed links to the Old Trafford job, but despite his tendency to falter at the final furlong (Leiceste have dropped out of the top four on the final day twice in succession), I'd 100% embrace the prospect of the Northern Irishman at United.

Mauricio Pochettino

The man who never quite goes away. United's board are admirers of Pochettino and he's long been linked with a move to OT but he is also in a job so - unless he's sacked from PSG - we'd need to bide our time. United and the ex-Spurs boss have been like ships passing in the night with the Reds having previously made an approach for him in the summer of 2020 but opting to stick with Solskjaer after an upturn in form. Pochettino has 18 months left on his contract in the French capital, but, existing in the strange Champions-League obsessed bubble at the Parisian giants, you're only ever a few games away from the metaphorical chopping block. Should Pochettino get sacked mid-season, United will surely try and get him in.

Laurent Blanc

Left field and perhaps more likely as an interim, the ex-Red defender currently manages Qatari side Al-Rayyan. He held an impressive win rate at PSG but who doesn't and it would be risky as you're effectively repeating the Solskjaer experiment by appointing a popular former player in the long term. If United have learned anything, they should keep clear but the Frenchman may get a tune out of fellow countrymen Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial. Blanc does at least - unlike Ole - have silverware on his CV in French football but by looking to someone with the "United DNA" we're continuing to look to the past rather than embracing the future. Knowing this lot, they'll give it to Carrick and Darren Fletcher.

After the Special One and then one of our own, United are once again searching for Yet Another One. For the record, I want ten Hag or if not him then Rodgers. I don't trust this board to get it right though.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Forever Red. Forever a legend.

So its official: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's reign as Manchester United manager is over after almost three years in charge at Old Trafford.

In truth, he should have gone after Liverpool put five past us almost a month ago but, whilst that was merely the beginning of the end, another hammering - this time at Watford - proved the final nail in the coffin. It's one thing losing to two elite sides in the Scousers and City but defeat to the lowly Hornets is quite another. It's the right decision to dispense with the affable Norwegian,  but it doesn't make his exit any easier to take. 

I'm gutted it had to end like this. I'm gutted it never worked out as we all hoped and I'm truly gutted for Solskjaer but, ultimately, the rapid nature of United's regression became too big a problem to ignore. 
He may not have won us a trophy, but success can be measured in a multitude of ways and Ole can leave United with his head held high. 

Its difficult to put into words exactly what Ole Gunnar Solskjaer means to me and no doubt millions of other Reds. Here was the man responsible for the greatest night of our footballing lives with a flick of that trusty right boot at the Nou Camp in 1999. Even for a naive, innocent eight-year-old Red falling in love with this club and the Beautiful Game, even the very mention of the name conjures up memories to last a lifetime. His legacy - as both player and manager - need no embellishment. 

Its a sad state of affairs the last few moribund weeks will be the over-riding memory of Ole's United tenure, but - despite the disappointing end and his dismissal - recent results should not obscure the magnificent job Ole has done since he took over in 2018.

He's put together our best group of players since 2009, a squad primed to reach the next level - to become winners - under the next manager. Solskjaer never smashed through the ceiling but he's done what he was brought in to do and leaves the club in a far better position than it was when he was appointed as Jose Mourinho's successor. Ole's rebuilt the foundations and put down a blueprint for long term success. The simple man will say the United job was too big for Ole - but he's done the job that was too big for everyone else. Under his tutelage, United have appointed their first ever Director of Football, overhauled the flailing Academy and renovated the scouting structure. He's responsible for Mason Greenwood's meteoric rise and has given first team debuts to 17 Academy graduates during his time in the job. Ole has restored pride, given us our club back and made me believe we could win the bastard league again. He will always be a United legend - he eats, lives and breathes this club and is one of us. 

His tenure has been a sound one overall - he lifted the gloom of the Mourinho era and made us enjoyable for fans again - scoring goals and surging forward at will was the tonic we all needed. Solskjaer restored peace and harmony to the kingdom but was never the right man to lead us into battle against behemoths Jurgen Klopp, Pep Guardiola and Thomas Tuchel. Now the club need to appoint someone who can take the fight to the big guns in the long term and at least bloody the noses of the elite. His tenure has been fun and, who knows, there might be acknowledgements of the foundations he laid in future but now it's time for the next step. The one Ole could never quite get us to. Gdansk proved a big turning point - seeing us win a trophy under Ole would have meant the world to us but it wasn't to be and its unravelled so quickly. 

So how will history tell the tale of Solskjaer's United? A man who did enough good - but, ultimately, one probably not quite good enough. Sentiment and goodwill can only get you so far at Manchester United - too many people want to win everything yesterday. Ole was never going to be that man and had taken us as far as he could. There's no shame in that. The project had run its course. He was found wanting when it came to getting us over the finish line in semi finals and his raison d'etre of doing a madness when his back was lodged firmly against the proverbial wall was never going to be sustainable. The appointment may have been based on emotion and sentiment, but we all dreamed of seeing Ole win us something. If you can't dare to dream with a flicker of romance in an increasingly robotic and cynical game then we may as well not bother. 

It's not the end of the story, merely the end of a chapter in a story still being written. Thank you for everything, boss. Don't cry because its over. Smile because it happened. 


Thank you for everything Ole. We'll always have that night in Paris. 

   

Thursday, 11 November 2021

Ole until the summer... unless...?

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer served the death knell for his Tottenham counterpart Nuno Espirito Santo with United's 3-0 win in north London last month.
It proved the final nail in the coffin for the Spurs hierarchy as the limp performance persuaded them to part ways with the Portuguese after only four months in the job. In turn, it paved the way for the arrival of Antonio Conte - the man widely tipped to replace Solskjaer at United - at Spurs. 

In a masterstroke of his own, though, Solskjaer masterminded such a resounding victory over Tottenham he took the threat of Conte off the table by deploying the firebrand Italian's trademark 3-5-2 system.  

Whether you thought Conte was the right fit for the job or not, the best option the club had in bringing in a new manager at this stage is no longer available. It now seems certain we will stick with Solskjaer until the summer as there seems little point in sacking him now with no clear succession plan in place. Failing to qualify for the Champions League, and the financial rewards it brings, seems like the only thing that may actually see the affable Norwegian lose his job. If a thumping at the hands of Liverpool and a meek, insipid surrender at home to City doesn't bring the axe down on a Manchester United manager then you have to wonder what would. United's board have made their bed and now have to lie in it. 

Solskjaer and United remain in pergatory - limbo, a waiting game, simply a case of 'when' rather than 'if'. Nothing will ever be won, no more progress ever made. Solskjaer was the right man at the right time at United to reinstate our ethos and clear the mess left behind by Jose Mourinho. But that time has come to an end. He has taken us as far as he can. There's no shame in that at all. We are simply just marking time. 

All the other prime candidates are in work and the only one who isn't - namely Zinedine Zidane - has ruled himself out of the running for the job and looks set to take a break from the game. 
Erik ten Hag has worked wonders at Ajax and seems to fit United's raison d'etre to a tee but is unlikely to leave the position mid-season. ten Hag turned down an offer from newly mega rich Newcastle to set sail for Tyneside because of his reluctance to jump ship in the middle of a campaign. 

The same too can be said for Brendan Rodgers, with the Leicester manager high on United's shortlist but under contract at the King Power until 2025. Rodgers ticks all the boxes for the Reds but it would require a hefty compensation package to wrest him away from the East Midlands. 

The only scenario now which could force United's hand is if Mauricio Pochettino - still believed to be the apple of their eye - is sacked by PSG before the current campaign is out. Whilst Pochettino wouldn't be my first choice for the job, he's an upgrade on Solskjaer and should be considered if he become available. He's been heavily linked with the Old Trafford hotseat in the past so it stands to reason he would be again. 

United and Pochettino have been like ships passing in the night. Whenever the United job has seemed a possibility, Pochettino has been in situ elsewhere. He has been ready and waiting twice for the Reds to come calling but on both occasions the side have hit their two best patches of form under Ole - his sepia-tinged stint as our carefree, free-wheeling interim in the latter part of 2018-19 and our return from lockdown when United surged into third with some of our best football for many a year. The stars have never quite aligned for Poch to come here.... until now? 

It seems somewhat strange Pochettino has PSG eight points clear at the top of Ligue 1 and in a strong position to qualify in the Champions League but yet is under pressure in the French capital. For a man who enjoys punching upwards and developing unpolished diamonds, PSG - the easiest but yet also somehow the most difficult job in football - has never seemed a good fit. Pochettino has one hand on his first ever league title silverware but even that may not be enough to spare him. Zidane may not be an option right now but the lure of the Parc des Prince in his native France will surely prove too strong to resist - meaning there's an obvious option to replace the Argentine should United come in for him. 

Right now, Solskjaer has earned a stay of execution but seemingly only because there's no one else out there. The United board are prepared to bide their time when it comes to finding his successor. 

Wednesday, 3 November 2021

Match report: Atalanta 2-2 Man United


 Cristiano Ronaldo's latest act of derring do salvaged a point in Bergamo and kept United on track for Champions League qualification.
Having headed the winner in the Reds climb-off-the-canvas escape act between the sides at Old Trafford, CR7 popped up at the death again as he volleyed in a Mason Greenwood flick-on to put United top of the pile and needing a win in Spain on Matchday Five - against Villarreal - to ensure progress to the last 16.

United were 2-1 down and in third place in the 'as it stands' table and knowing defeat to Unai Emery's side would send us out if things stayed as they were, we were again indebted to Ronaldo who has now scored in every Champions League tie this term. 

There were three changes from the weekend win over Spurs in what turned out to be Nuno Espirito Santo's last game in charge of Tottenham. Eric Bailly was handed only his second start of the season, in lieu of the injured Victor Lindelof, whilst Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford started ahead of Fred and Edinson Cavani.

Our first ever trip to Atalanta started brightly for the Reds as Ronaldo went close early on, Rashford had a shot blocked and Scott McTominay struck a post. But, just as they had in M16, Gianpiero Gasperini's men took the lead inside the opening 15 minutes against the run of play.

Duvan Zapata burst down the left and found Slovenian international Josip Ilicic. David de Gea should probably have done better but proved powerless to stop the ball on its way in and, despite a VAR check for offside, the goal was given.

Juan Musso saved at the feet of Ronaldo and Luke Shaw volleyed over before CR7 went close again, this time with a header which flew over the top.

Atalanta then saw the best chance of the half and, indeed, perhaps the entire match, go begging. Pogba's long ball forward was charged down and dropped invitingly for Zapata, in front of De Gea and onside. But Bailly sprang into action, belying his lack of minutes with a monumental goal saving block to save United from further damage. 

United then suffered a further setback when Raphael Varane - only just back from injury - was forced from the field with a hamstring injury eight minutes before the break. Greenwood came on as the Reds reverted to our familiar 4-2-3-1 shape in search of a leveller. 

On the cusp of half time, that's exactly what we got with Greenwood heavily involved. Having been picked out by Ronaldo, our no.11 in turn found Bruno Fernandes and he backheeled the ball into Ronaldo to sweep home from close range. 

Zapata had a strike deflected wide from distance and the omnipotent Ronaldo saw his effort blocked at the other end before Greenwood hit a post - but he was offside anyway. 

Just when it seemed as though the Reds were starting to wrestle back control, Atalanta led again. Jose Luis Palomino played the ball in behind United's backline, Harry Maguire was caught napping and Zapata ghosted in to slot beyond De Gea. There was an agonising three minute wait as VAR checked, re-checked and checked again, but eventually the goal was given with Zapata adjudged to be onside.

Despite the introduction of Cavani and Nemanja Matic, Atalanta - in trademark Italian style - proved resilient, organised and difficult to get through.
Aaron Wan - Bissaka's angled drive inadvertently struck team-mate Greenwood and bounced to safety before another stunning acrobatic clearance from Bailly kept out Joakim Maehle as he shaped to shoot, with the Atalanta man well placed.

Zapata headed over the bar and De Gea then saved well from the same player and his substitute strike partner, fellow Colombian Luis Muriel. 
With time running out and United on the ropes, up stepped that man Ronaldo - yet again - to crash home a volley and send us top of Group F, one win away from qualification. 

Overall team performance: 5/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Ronaldo will get the plaudits but Eric Bailly was colossal. 

Sunday, 31 October 2021

Match report: Tottenham 0-3 Man Utd


Ole Gunnar Solskjaer ended his "darkest week" with a hugely important victory over out-of-sorts Tottenham in the capital.

The United manager remains a man on the precipice but is safe - for now at least - after his Reds side ended a four game winless league streak with a simple but effective victory. The result moves United up to fifth and firmly amongst the chasing pack on a day when Manchester City lost and Liverpool were held by Brighton. 

Surprisingly, considering the nature and manner of last weekend's loss to the latter, Solskjaer made only two changes to the XI for our first trip with fans present at Spurs' new ground. Raphael Varane returned to slot into a back three alongside Victor Lindelof and Harry Maguire, with Edinson Cavani handed only a second start of the season as he partnered Cristiano Ronaldo in a front two with an average age of 70. Mason Greenwood and Marcus Rashford, 24 today, were the players to miss out. 

After an impeccably observed minute's silence ahead of Remembrance Day - this being Tottenham's closest home game to the day - Son Heung - min had the first opportunity when he cut inside and fired goalwards from distance. Fred blocked the shot but the resultant corner came to nothing as United cleared with ease.

Eric Dier cleared under pressure from Ronaldo after good work by right wing-back Aaron Wan - Bissaka before another Spurs chance at the other end. Luke Shaw and Maguire were both booked in quick succession, and Son then skied his effort from close range when he perhaps should have done better.

Nuno Espirito Santo's side looked to have made the breakthrough when they had the ball in the net on the half hour mark. Oliver Skipp flicked on a flag-kick and the ball founds it way through to centre-back Cristian Romero. He turned the ball home beyond David de Gea but the Argentine's celebration was cut short by the linesman correctly flagging for offside. 

Hugo Lloris saved superbly from Fred's 25-yarder to deny the Brazilian a rare goal but the hosts failed to heed that warning and United led six minutes shy of the interval.
Luke Shaw's darting run down the left saw Spurs backpedalling as Fernandes collected the ball on the edge of the penalty area outside the box. Spotting his compatriot Ronaldo - who had superbly pulled off the shoulder of his marker - Bruno picked him out with an immaculate cross. Ronaldo met it with an even more immaculate strike, a stunning volley on the angle across Lloris and into the corner.

Son flashed an effort wide shortly after the restart before Ronaldo had a superb strike ruled out for another offside infringement. 

Spurs huffed and puffed but were unable to find a way past United's disciplined, organised and well drilled defence with Varane in particular doing more than most to ensure we kept them at arm's length.

In truth, the Reds rarely looked threatened and put the result beyond any lingering doubt 25 minutes from the end when Fernandes dispossessed Skipp and found Ronaldo. He in turn slid the ball through to the advancing Cavani and he did the rest to lift the ball over Lloris and in for his first goal of the season.

Scott McTominay thwarted Harry Kane as the struggling England captain shaped to shoot, and substitute  Steven Bergwijn then fired wide as Spurs threatened to set up a barnstorming finish. 

But nothing would deny the Reds a much needed clean sheet and late gloss was added to the scoreline as substitutes Nemanja Matic and Rashford combined. The former fed the latter to race through and slot low into the far corner to complete a good day at the office for Solskjaer's United.

Overall team performance: 7/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Raphael Varane. Colossal. 

Saturday, 30 October 2021

Brendan Rodgers... the perfect fit for Manchester United?


 At the end of a week which saw him cling to the job by his fingertips Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is almost Manchester United's manager on a game-to-game basis.

The Norwegian seemed almost certain for the sack in the wake of United's worst-ever Premier League week after the humiliating embarrassment of a 5-0 defeat to Liverpool on home turf. Quite how Solskjaer has survived to take charge of today's trip to Tottenham is beyond me. 

It still seems a case of 'when' rather than 'if' Solskjaer will lose his job at Old Trafford but, when it comes to his successor, this time there is no clear and obvious successor. It is this, and this alone, which has spared Ole the chop, at least for now. United can't get in the manager they want at present and it seems likely they are unwilling to trust a rookie, novice caretaker such is the difficulty of these upcoming games. 

The old adage says good players rarely make good managers - in fact the reverse is often true. But Zinedine Zidane has proved to be an exception to that unwritten rule - albeit with a star-studded Real Madrid squad which it would be difficult to fail with. But the Frenchman, mentioned in dispatches for the United job, doesn't speak English and has ruled himself out of the running for the role. The jury was very out on a man whom has never managed outside of his native France and only ever had a team of mega stars at his disposal.

Erik ten Hag seems to fit the bill as a relatively young, up and coming manager but a man with an already burgeoning reputation and record. The Ajax boss is a smart tactician proven at building and sustaining winning teams, he trusts youth and his philosophy mirrors that of his idol, Pep Guardiola. ten Hag worked under the now City boss at Bayern Munich and the United hierarchy are known admirers of the 51-year-old Dutchman - twice a winner of the Dutch league and cup since taking over in 2017. 

But ten Hag has said he won't leave the club mid season, meaning the Reds would have to wait to get him if they wanted to secure his services. His contract with the Amsterdam giants runs until the end of next season meaning there would be a significant compensation package needed.

ten Hag should certainly be considered, but my first choice for the job is a little left-field and perhaps slightly controversial. Enter, Brendan Rodgers - a man who fits United perfectly and ticks virtually every box when it comes to what a Manchester United manager should be.

If we're prepared to ignore his connections with Liverpool - and let's not forget Sir Matt Busby played for them and Manchester City - then I'd 100% take Rodgers at Old Trafford. 

Leicester are superbly coached under the astute tutelage of the Northern Irishman, he's tactically flexible and has beaten Solskjaer's United three times in a row now. An FA Cup winner with the unfashionable Foxes last term, Rodgers was the man to take Liverpool the closest they'd been to the title in 30-odd years until a certain Jurgen Klopp arrived as his successor. Rodgers transformed the men from Merseyside into a side ready to challenge at the top of the league having been a sleeping giant - adrift in the wilderness - for years. Klopp may have taken them on to the final step of the ladder, but Rodgers laid the groundwork for the German to complete the job. 

During his stint north of the border, he led Celtic to a hat-trick of trophies in 2016-17 (with an unbeaten season thrown in for good measure) and then repeated the feat in an unprecedented "double treble" 12 months later. 

Rodgers has built Leicester into an exciting, all-action blend of youth and experience with the emerging young talents of Harvey Barnes, Luke Thomas, James Justin and Kiernan Dewsbury - Hall, to name but four, all having become first team regulars during his time in charge at the King Power. Another box ticked.

Detractors will, perhaps with a degree of justification, point to the fact Rodgers and his Foxes side have missed out on the top four twice in successive seasons despite holding a seemingly unassailable advantage on both occasions. 14 points ahead of the Reds in January 2020, Leicester - depleted by injuries and hindered by post-lockdown lack of momentum - blinked with the finish line in sight. United reeled in and eventually overhauled them with a 2-0 win at the King Power on the final day of the campaign sending us into the Champions League at the expense of the faltering Foxes. 
Leicester had occupied a top four position all season but were denied at the last - and history repeated itself in 2020-21. Three defeats in their final four games again saw the Foxes - possibly distracted by the lure of FA Cup glory - drop from third into the Europa League. 

Despite all this, his success, record in promoting youth, tactical nous and ethos of attractive football puts him at the top of any list when it comes to picking Solskjaer's successor. 

 Rodgers is under contract at the King Power until 2025, so United would need to buy him out and, again, would probably need to wait until the summer if we wanted to bring in the man from Carnlough. 

You'd have been laughed out of town if, a few years ago, you'd suggested Brendan Rodgers would make a potential Manchester United manager. But we could certainly do a lot worse, and I'd much rather him than Antonio Conte. 

Monday, 25 October 2021

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer... the man who made me dream

 It now seems only a matter of 'when' rather than 'if' the curtain comes down on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's final act at Manchester United.

Once the final whistle put Solskjaer's United out of their own self inflicted misery on one of the darkest days in our club's history, this has sadly seemed inevitable. It was not so much the defeat itself but the feeble nature of it. No Manchester United manager can survive a humbling of that scale and nature to our biggest rivals, never mind on home turf. I've wanted him to get time to turn it around but this was the final nail in the proverbial coffin - Ole is never going to be the man to get us to where we need to be. Surely even the notoriously uninterested Glazers cannot ignore the overwhelming evidence to the contrary.  

 Discontent and doubts over Ole's suitability, or otherwise, for one of the biggest and most difficult jobs in football had been bubbling for some time, in truth since he got the job permanently in 2019 but even more so since the final against Villarreal. The Liverpool pummelling has proved the final nail in the coffin. There's no doubt Solskjaer is popular and well liked among his players but sentiment, love and goodwill only gets you so far. 

I'm gutted and broken its come to this. Never have I wanted anything so badly than to see the affable Norwegian - the man who gave me the best night of my football supporting life - succeed at the club where we still chant his name. Returning to the club where he's hero worshipped to bring back the glory days as manager - it was our shut eye fantasy which ultimately has failed to come to fruition.  He deserves so much better than to have this day - a black day for Manchester United - as his ultimate epitaph. But in many ways it has come to symbolise Solskjaer's tenure at Old Trafford. 

Solskjaer arrived at Old Trafford as Jose Mourinho's successor with United at their lowest ebb of the Premier League era - a club broken, a group of players shattered and on their knees and a fanbase feeling more disconnected to our club than ever before. He released the handbrake, threw off the shackles, raised spirits, lifted the gloom and brought back the feel good factor. If these indeed are Ole's final hours at the wheel, then I will forever be grateful to him. He's a legend, one of us, an indelible part of our history and no one can ever deny him of that. I will always have nothing but respect and admiration for a man who has never done anything but his best for this club. It might not work out but that certainly doesn't mean he hasn't taken us forward or improved us. But every story has an ending. 

Ole's halcyon days in the hotseat seem a lifetime ago - those three magic months when his tricky Reds channelled the spirit of Sir Alex Ferguson's finest vintage for 14 wins in 19 games under the temporary tutelage of the man from Molde. Playing on the front foot and pressing teams into submission in a swashbuckling 4-3-3, it is perhaps the most baffling footnote of all this: why have Ole and his backroom boys never set the team up like this since? 

Since his permanent appointment, off the back of that stunning run of form, Ole's vision was clear: to rebuild the side and sprinkle it with a touch of stardust and the "Man Utd DNA" whilst keeping us competitive at the sharp end of competition. He has more than fulfilled that remit and will leave behind our finest side since 2009 for his successor. 

As with any managerial tenure, there have been some glorious highs and some equally desperate lows under Ole. Against all the odds, Solskjaer's United rose from mid-table mediocrity to the summit of the Premier League. For a few short, wonderful weeks in the January of 2021, I and millions of others dared to dream. Dared to dream he would go where Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho couldn't - to the title. Solskjaer fuelled genuine belief our wait for the league trophy was coming to an end as the hashtag #21iscoming was born on social media. Alas as we know it didn't but it sure was fun while it lasted. For the first time since the retirement of our greatest ever in 2013, I believed United were returning to the top. Maybe I got swept up on the romantic notion of Ole as the man to bring back the halycon days of yesteryear, but could you really blame me for doing so? 

 The Europa League final loss to Villarreal in Solskjaer's first - and possibly last - final at the club saw the trophy slip through our fingers. Ultimately, his stubborn loyalty to certain players - namely Harry Maguire, Scott McTominay and Fred, has cost him dear. So too his consistent inability to get us over the line when it comes to the crunch in important knockout cup games. 

Then came the record-smashing away league run with United going an entire league campaign unbeaten on the road last term, a run extending to 29 games before Leicester ended the streak last Saturday. Admittedly it came with a Covid-era caveat of behind closed doors football, but the record books will still show United's place in Premier League history. Any achievement of that size and scale deserves a doffing of the proverbial cap.

So what next? It does indeed seem the writing is on the wall for Solskjaer. History and indeed the very name Manchester United suggests United managers don't survive carnage of this nature. But who else is there? I don't want Antonio Conte anywhere near my club - he's argumentative, confrontational, never stays anywhere for long, overloads his sides with defensive players and pisses everyone off. Sound familiar? I'd rather have my dog in charge. Zinedine Zidane is out of work but he doesn't scream a United boss and has only ever managed a Real Madrid side with world class stars in every position. Erik ten Hag won't leave Ajax in the middle of the season so could it be a lack of viable alternatives saves Solskjaer? 

Whatever happens, it seems Ole is closer to the sack than at any other time during his three years in charge but when he does go, he will do so with my eternal gratitude. He gave us our club back. 

The beginning of the end for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer?

Sitting stony faced and silent in the dugout as Liverpool put his sorry United side to the sword, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer must have felt about 3ft tall.
You had to feel for him, powerless to prevent a thumping at the hands of our biggest and most hated rivals on our own turf, his sullen features the epitome of a man who must surely now know the end is nigh. 

Manchester United have had bad days before - even under Sir Alex Ferguson, when we were an all-conquering juggernaut at the height of our powers. The 4-0 at Anfield in the late 80s, the 4-1 defeat at home to the same opposition in 2008-09 (we still won the league that year, mind) and the 1-6 mauling at the hands of Manchester City three seasons on. 

But what I saw on Sunday cannot adequately be put into words - certainly not words suitable for these pages, anyway. It’s a dark day for everyone associated with Manchester United. Perhaps our darkest of the Premier League era. Not just beaten by the team we hate the most but battered - embarrassed on our own turf by a Liverpool side which never even really got out of
third gear. In my 24 years following this club - our club - I’ve never felt like this before. For the first time in my life, Manchester United have broken me. 

It will take a miracle for Solskjaer to survive this. Jose Mourinho was sacked after defeat to Liverpool - a performance I thought would be the worst I'd ever have to witness against the Scousers. 

I can accept losing: I don’t like it, of course I don’t, who does, but sometimes even if you play well and lose - perhaps through a bad piece of refereeing, a stroke of misfortune or a moment of magic from an opponent - you can accept it isn’t always going to be your day. 

But there’s a way to lose and whatever that ‘way’ is, the events of the weekend certainly were not it. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has our best squad in years at his disposal - indeed better, for my money, than Sir Alex Ferguson’s final two title winning sides in terms of player-for-player pound-for-pound quality. But right now he looks completely clueless when it comes to setting it up, organising it and coaching it to manage even the basics. 

This was supposed to be the year when Solskjaer’s talented, expensively assembled squad came to the title party. If not win it, then push the likes of Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool very close. Instead, they were streets ahead in every department, United embarrassed and humiliated by the first truly elite opponents we have faced this season. Under Mourinho, the players gave up and - to coin common parlance - he “lost the dressing room.” It somehow seems to make everything worse when you consider these players love Ole, they would run through brick walls for him, but yet we’re still seeing this level of performance. 

I actually thought we looked decent going forward - Bruno Fernandes skied an early sighter and Alisson made a couple of good saves from Cristiano Ronaldo and Mason Greenwood but Liverpool looked like scoring every time they went forward. United were all over the place defensively, it was a shambles - there was no shape, no organisatio
n, no cohesion and the same individual and collective mistakes we have seen on a weekly basis. 

I will always be grateful for the work Solskjaer has done in his time at United. He has done a simply remarkable job in difficult circumstances, often with one hand seemingly tied behind his back. He inherited a mess, rotten to its very core, and a group of players on their knees at breaking point. He made us competitive again - for a while at least, we dared to dream. Solskjaer took us into the Champions League in successive seasons, finishing third and then second: that might not sound much, but its more than any of his three predecessors managed. He will leave the club in a much better, stronger position for his successor and he will leave with my utmost respect and adoration. He will have my eternal gratitude and thanks for giving us our club back and making us ‘United’ again.

But football is ultimately a results business and you can only survive on goodwill for so long. There’s no doubt Solskjaer has done a superb job of rebuilding a shattered club but we’re beyond that now. This is side ready to win. I truly hoped Ole would be the man to drive us on that journey, but it’s clear now he’s not going to be. It’s got to the point now where to prolong this agony would be to begin undoing the strides we have made under Ole. If it gets any worse, the man is in danger of tarnishing his legacy ala Arsene Wenger at Arsenal.  We all wanted him to succeed and bring back the glory days to our club but it hasn't quite worked out that way. Take Chelsea as the example.. the west London club found themselves in an almost identical position with a club legend in charge of a brilliant group of players. They knew it was never going to work, made the change and got in a much better manager - now look at them. Thomas Tuchel took them to Champions League glory only four months into his Stamford Bridge tenure and not even a year after his arrival they are the early Premier League pacesetters. 

Ole’s not the man to take us where we need to be, in a position to be challenging for the biggest honours in the game. Solskjaer gave me and I’m sure countless others the greatest night of my football-supporting life with a flick of that trusty right boot 22 years ago, but modern football and sentiment wait for no man. Some of United’s best post Sir Alex days have come under his tutelage, but no Manchester United manager can or should be expected to survive a pumping at the hands of Liverpool. I’m afraid this feels like the end. There is simply no way back. Not every story has a good ending. 


Sunday, 24 October 2021

Match report: Man Utd 0-5 Liverpool


Mo Salah struck a hat-trick as five star Liverpool put United to the sword and piled further pressure on beleaguered boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.  

In front of an Old Trafford crowd stunned into silence, ten years and a day since the 1-6 thumping at the hands of Manchester City, Jurgen Klopp's unbeaten Liverpool emphasised the gaping chasm between the two sides and their managers.
The visitors - in the 208th meeting between the Reds of Manchester and Merseyside - raced into a four-goal interval lead and added a fifth as Salah completed his hat-trick before substitute Paul Pogba was sent off for a reckless lunge on Naby Keita.

Solskjaer stuck with the side he sent out in Wednesday's dramatic win over Atalanta with Scott McTominay and Fred anchoring the midfield, Mason Greenwood on the right and Marcus Rashford on the left. Pogba and Jadon Sancho were named on the bench. 

United started well and saw the game's first opening come our way inside the opening three minutes when McTominay worked the ball to Rashford and he in turn found the onrushing Bruno Fernandes. The Portuguese playmaker found himself one on one with Alisson but could only lift the ball over the bar from close range.

Seconds later and Klopp's Liverpool were ahead in the fifth minute when tormentor-in-chief Salah sliced United open to find Keita and he slotted his finish beyond David de Gea.

Eight minutes later it was 0-2 with a carbon copy of Atalanta's opener in midweek as Keita nicked the ball after England pair Luke Shaw and Harry Maguire got themselves in a tangle. He fed the overlapping Trent Alexander - Arnold to pick out the onrushing Diogo Jota - picked ahead of Sadio Mane - and the Portuguese striker steered the ball in at the back post.

De Gea denied Roberto Firmino and Alisson saved superbly from Greenwood at the other end, before Luke Shaw fired wide, Ronaldo went close and Rashford had a volley pawed away. To their credit, United's 19-minute spell brought about improvement and fuelled belief of another epic comeback like we saw in midweek but, with respect to Atalanta, they aren't Liverpool.

On the contrary in fact. United may have looked decent going forward but were wide open and all at sea at the back. Eight minutes before the break, the rampant visitors already put the result beyond doubt through that man Salah. 

A fluid passing move saw Salah's blocked effort fall to Keita on the rebound and he in turn worked the ball back to the Egyptian to thump the ball high beyond De Gea.

Ronaldo and Fred were both yellow carded - with CR7 perhaps a little fortunate to stay on the field after he appeared to flick a leg at Keita in a coming together.
Salah added a fourth before the interval - his 14th of the season - when Jota found him in acres of space to sweep the ball beyond the helpless and stranded De Gea.

The half-time whistle was met by a chorus of boos greater in both number and volume from the smattering of discontent which greeted Wednesday's interval, after an insipid, chaotic and disorganised showing.

Pogba was introduced for Greenwood but quite what he was expected or supposed to do in such circumstances we will never know. 
It was he whom made an immediate impact but not in the way hoped for when Liverpool captain Jordan Henderson dispossessed the Frenchman and curled the ball into the path of Salah to nudge beyond De Gea for his treble.

Ronaldo thought he had pulled a goal but United's day was epitomised when VAR ruled the United man to be offside and his effort was chalked off. Things then went from bad to worse when substitute Pogba was sent off on the hour mark for a reckless, late foul on Keita. 

The Liverpool man was taken off on a stretcher as Diogo Dalot and Edinson Cavani came on for the last hour with the Reds reverting to a back five in an attempt to limit the damage.

The Uruguayan hit the bar from a McTominay flick on but not even a consolation goal was forthcoming on one of Manchester United's darkest days.

Overall team performance: 2/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Mason Greenwood. One of only two players - the other being De Gea - to emerge with any modicum of credit. 
 

Thursday, 21 October 2021

Ronaldo rises to win it for Solskjaer's United... again

There was a sense of inevitability when Harry Maguire popped up at the back post to wipe out Atalanta's advantage and pull United back from the brink.

With 15 minutes to go and the Reds almost entirely in the ascendancy, there was only going to be one winner, and - indeed - only one man to provide it. 
As the old adage says, lightning doesn't strike twice, but try telling that to Cristiano Ronaldo - a man born for nights such as this on the biggest stage of all. Sometimes you just know how the script is written, how the story will end, where the journey will take you to. 

Just as he had three weeks hence against Villarreal, the Champions League's all time top scorer rose in the dying embers of a crucial European tie to earn United a thrilling, heart-stopping, priceless victory. 
But whilst the Spanish side could legitimately have felt aggrieved, Atalanta could have no such complaints. We battered them and could, probably should, have been out of sight long before Ronaldo's thrilling coup de grace. But of course, this side never do things easily. Supporting Manchester United should come with a health warning. It was all part of the master plan.

Even having fallen 0-2 down, the Reds - ironically - had put in their best performance of the season. Only a combination of the woodwork (Marcus Rashford struck the bar) and a string of top stops from the impressive Juan Musso had kept United out. Indeed, the Italian side's 2-0 lead came through their only two attacking moments - despite dominating the game, United somehow found themselves in a whole heap of trouble - bottom of the group and nothing going for us. For so long, this looked to be "one of those nights." But in the end, there can be no denying the fact United were worthy and fully deserving winners. 

This superbly see-sawing contest seemed to epitomise everything United are and will continue to be under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Spasms of action, moments of broken, disjointed play, space for high class players to carpe diem and seize the day off the cuff. It felt like an anatomy of this strange red machine: one so gloriously brimming with talent, but yet so brittle, so prone to collapse at the slightest probing, the one punch KO artist whom seems to spend so long of each encounter gassed out and on the ropes. The boos at half-time were sporadic and seemed a little wide of the mark, masked by vehement vocality for a man we're desperate to do well here. 

It's difficult to predict predict which United will turn up - even half to half, never mind game to game. Yet this is why we love football and this most unique of clubs. The Reds had enough first half chances to win three games, Atalanta - for all their enterprise - were wide open at the back and you still made us favourites to prevail despite irrefutable evidence to the contrary.

United conjured the spirit of Sir Alex's finest Red vintage, as we built pressure, pinned an increasingly aggy Atalanta back and laid siege to Musso's goal. Both Ronaldo and Rashford should have scored before the latter finally did with a neat finish across the keeper and into the corner. Scott McTominay struck a post and Ronaldo had another shot saved before Maguire - unmarked - caught the Italians napping to smash into the far corner. 

If anyone was in any doubt, this was most certainly a side still playing for its manager. Solskjaer hasn't "lost the dressing room" and you feel they would run through brick walls for him to succeed. Where others may have turned ages ago, the loyal, proper, hardcore match going fans remain united - pun intended - in our backing of Ole. Met by a wall of noise as the Stretford End, almost as one, tried to suck the ball in - United were a side possessed, transformed and inspired, particularly in the second half, every stride and surge met by a rising of the decibel levels. The fans were just as relentless as the players - there may still be justifiable doubts over the manager's ability and acumen but this wasn't a night for that. 

When it came, the winner was a thing of brutal but simplistic beauty. Ronaldo made one of those half movements, the run that isn't quite a run, then stretched his stride as he picked up the flight of the ball from Luke Shaw's telling delivery on the left.
This is one of the things the master does so well: the algebra of flight, speed, timing, gravity, contact, the millions of equations and muscle-mnemonics that go into making these moments.

Two quick steps, a press with his right foot and Ronaldo was clear of Merih Demirel and up into the atmospheric Old Trafford air. Time seems to stand still when Ronaldo does this - objects, bodies, pressure, all seem to fall away as if he's suddenly the only person present - alone in all that air with the outcome of a team's destiny entirely in his hands. 
The header from Ronaldo was almost a parody of Ronaldo-ness, the neck cocked, the muscles wrenched, the ball sent like a bullet into the corner. 

Even his landing was balletic, a moment of display, of showmanship. Was it ever really in doubt? 

Wednesday, 20 October 2021

Player ratings: Man Utd 3-2 Atalanta - Fernandes and Ronaldo shine

Never in doubt!

Cristiano Ronaldo headed the winner as Manchester United completed a dramatic, climb-off-the-canvas comeback to turn a thrilling Champions League tie on its head and go top of Group F. 

In truth, United could and should have been out of sight by half-time having fallen 0-2 behind but missed a hatful of chances. Marcus Rashford pulled a goal back before captain Harry Maguire levelled to set the stage for that man Ronaldo to send Old Trafford wild. 

Here is how we rated each Red on a heart-stopping night in M16. Viva Ronaldo!

David de Gea - 7

Had relatively little to do and wasn't to blame for either goal. His magnificent double save at 1-2 surely kept us in the tie. If either go in, it's game over. How pivotal it proved to be

Aaron Wan - Bissaka - 7

Contributed little at either end but seemed to get better as the tie went on. Surged forward superbly in the second half onslaught.

Harry Maguire - 6

Showed leadership and courage in the second half and popped up with a captain's goal to level. Could have perhaps done more to prevent the Mario Pasalic opener

Victor Lindelof - 5

Looked very much like the third choice centre-back he now is. Got bullied by Luis Muriel and was spun too often. A below par showing from the Swede. 

Luke Shaw - 7

Caught out on the corner for the second goal but redeemed himself with a worldie of a cross for Ronaldo's coup de grace.

Scott McTominay - 5

Thumped the post at 1-2 but couldn't get near Pasalic and was hooked after an hour as United looked to chase the game.

Fred - 6

Played with his usual insatiable energy, tested Juan Musso and should have scored just before half-time. His passing was typically sloppy but actually had one of his better games

Mason Greenwood - 5

Pressed high and well early on but faded to the fringes even as the Reds took the upper hand. The 20-year-old has been our best player this season but struggled here.

Bruno Fernandes - 7

Poor in the first half but, like so many, came alive after the interval. Set up Rashford with a filthy assist to start the revival and put the cross in for his captain to equalise. Even when not at his best, his impact is seminal

Marcus Rashford - 6

Looked lively and back to full fitness but squandered two good chances and struck the bar when he should have scored. Came off with a knock after a nice finish

Cristiano Ronaldo - 8

Created chances for Fred and Rashford and should have scored himself before he was there to meet Shaw's cross. A player made for nights like this. Viva Ronaldo! Siuuuuu

Substitutes

Edinson Cavani (for Rashford 66) - 6

Relentless work rate, ran his nuts off and might claim an assist for Maguire as he got a flick on Fernandes' cross

Paul Pogba (for McTominay 66) - 8

Magnificent when he came on. Carried the ball, pressed, linked superbly, broke the lines and pushed Atalanta back. 

Jadon Sancho (for Greenwood 73) - 6

Showed glimpses again with some darting runs in behind.

Nemanja Matic (for Fred 88) - N/A

Brought on to sit in midfield and see the game out. No rating. 



Match report: Manchester United 3-2 Atalanta

Cristiano Ronaldo headed another late Champions League winner as Manchester United completed a dramatic climb-off-the-canvas victory to go top of Group F.

In truth, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side had dominated the game but missed a hatful of chances and somehow found themselves 0-2 down and bottom of the section at half-time.

You felt United had played well enough to muster something special as Marcus Rashford fired in a stunning Bruno Fernandes pass to reduce the deficit, before captain Harry Maguire swept in a leveller.

With time ticking down, up popped that man Ronaldo again to thump in a header from Luke Shaw's cross as Old Trafford erupted in the face of a United comeback for the ages.

Solskjaer made two changes from the weekend defeat at Leicester as Fred and Rashford were restored to the XI in place of Nemanja Matic and Paul Pogba. 

It was the returning winger whom had the first sight of goal inside the first five minutes. A lovely pass from Bruno Fernandes picked out the onrushing no.10 but he could only pull the shot wide - although the goal would have been chalked out for offside anyway.

Gianpiero Gasperini's emerging, highly rated Atalanta side have caused problems for even the European elite and went ahead after 15 minutes, albeit in slightly controversial circumstances.
United were carved open with a typically slick passing move which culminated in ex-Chelsea man Davide Zappacosta finding Mario Pasalic and - despite more than a hint of offside - he slid home beyond David De Gea from close range.

Juan Musso saved well from Fred but United's response was brief as the men from Bergamo threatened a seismic upset with the second goal shortly before half-time. 
United were undone from a set piece for the second time in as many games as Teun Koopmeiners picked out Turkish international Merih Demiral to evade both Maguire and Shaw and power home his header.

Fred flashed a shot wide, Musso saved from Ronaldo and Rashford fired a gilt-edged opening against the bar in a flurry of chances before the break.

United were staring down the barrel of a potentially fatal European reverse and the notion this wasn't to be our night only further grew two minutes after the restart. Ronaldo found himself one-on-one with Russo and the whole of Old Trafford expected the net to bulge, only for the Argentinian keeper to smother at the feet of the forward.

But then came the moment which had been coming when Rashford sparked the revival on 53 minutes. A wonderful pass from Fernandes found United's no.10 and he finished well across Musso for his second in as many games since returning from injury.

United were a team transformed and laid siege to the Atalanta goal as Scott McTominay rattled a post, Ronaldo had another effort saved and Maguire went close with a header. Atalanta could count themselves fortunate to retain a full compliment of players on the field when Ronaldo was hauled down by Matteo Lovato. It looked as though the centre-back was the last man - CR7 only had Musso to beat - but he escaped with only a booking. 

With the Reds almost entirely in the ascendancy, Solskjaer summoned Edinson Cavani and Paul Pogba in place of the limping Rashford, and McTominay. 

Yet for all their pressure, United were almost indebted to De Gea - not for the first time this season - as he kept us in the game with a magnificent double save. First, he clawed away a 20-yarder from sub Duvan Zapata before the Spaniard sprung up to repel another replacement, Ruslan Malinovsky, on the rebound. Had either chance gone past him and in, surely there would have been no way back. 

United's onslaught continued as Musso tipped wide to deny Fernandes and Ronaldo fired wide, but the pressure eventually told and we pulled level on 75 minutes. Captain Maguire popped up with a rare and much needed goal, his first in this competition, as he slammed in at the back post from a flighted Fernandes cross with Cavani perhaps getting the slightest of touches to flick the ball on. 

A Reds winner seemed inevitable now with the increasingly frantic Italians losing both their heads and their discipline as four visiting players were booked. 

Fernandes had a shot deflected narrowly wide but the stage was set - yet again - for his compatriot Ronaldo. Our talismanic figurehead rose like a salmon and seemed to hang in the air to meet Shaw's cross and steer his header beyond Musso as Old Trafford erupted. 

Despite four added minutes, United deservedly held out for a huge victory as CR7 sunk to his knees and greeted the final whistle with a double fist pump. Another late show in the Champions League. Phew - never in doubt..

Overall team performance: 7/10
United Faithful of the Match: Cristiano Ronaldo.