Monday 27 December 2021

Match report: Newcastle United 1-1 Man Utd

Manchester United were spared defeat on their return to action through substitute Edinson Cavani's second half leveller.

After a 16-day hiatus following a Covid outbreak at Old Trafford which saw the postponement of our games with Brentford and Brighton, United were second best for long spells against Eddie Howe's lowly but improving Magpies side. 

The Reds remain unbeaten under Ralf Rangnick and have certainly improved in defence, but these will surely be the only two positives the hard-to-please German will take from his side's trip to the north east. Whilst there may have been a degree of ring rustiness, an error-strewn
United will have expected better and were indebted to a save-of-the-season contender from David de Gea late on to deny Miguel Almiron and ensure we didn't - at least - leave empty handed.

The Reds last played at another struggling opponent in Norwich City - a game won by a goal to nil - and there were two changes from that XI as Raphael Varane returned in lieu of Covid positive Victor Lindelof, and Mason Greenwood came in for Jadon Sancho.

It was an error from the rusty Varane which led to Newcastle's early seventh minute lead. Sean Longstaff - so often the scourge of our team - channelled his inner Andres Iniesta to dispossess the Frenchman and fed star man Allan Saint - Maximin. The Magpies flying forward did the rest as he cut inside Harry Maguire and thumped a rising drive beyond the stranded de Gea and in.

The much-malinged Joelinton flashed a shot wide and Saint - Maximin's dangerous delivery narrowly evaded the onrushing Callum Wilson in a fast start from the relegation-threatened hosts.

But United slowly began to gain a foothold in the contest and carved out a chance through our Portuguese connection as Bruno Fernandes found Cristiano Ronaldo but he uncharacteristically skewed off target.

Wilson and Saint - Maximin linked up again as the latter found the former to sweep in from close range but Newcastle's centre forward was flagged offside.

Martin Dubravka had little to do but was called into action to hold Greenwood's free-kick and preserve his side's slender lead at the interval.

Rangnick had seen enough and made two changes for the second half with Cavani and Sancho on for our no.11 and Fred. 
De Gea saved superbly to somehow deny Saint - Maximin from point blank range before Dubravka kept out Rashford as he tipped over from distance at the other end after United's no.10 had briefly come to life. 

The Reds were much improved after the interval and went close twice in quick succession through Cavani - who fired wide - and then Ronaldo's header was well stopped by Dubravka.
Despite our increased threat, Newcastle still looked dangerous on the break with De Gea needed to claw away from Ryan Fraser and then again to block well to keep out the impressive Saint - Maximin. 

The Frenchman had ridden roughshod over United right-back Diogo Dalot, given a torrid time up against Saint Maximin's pace, power and trickery. To his credit, though, Dalot improved in the second half and was involved in the move which helped get us level.

His cross into the box found Cavani and, although the Uruguayan marksman's initial effort was blocked, the ball fell kindly for him to toe-poke home beyond Dubravka at the second attempt - the veteran striker's second goal of an injury-disrupted campaign. 

He almost put United ahead against the run of play on 75 minutes but captain Jamaal Lascelles did well to recover and clear off the line. 
It seemed as though the Reds would lay siege to the Magpies goal in the face of a tiring opposition low on confidence as we chased the winner despite an underwhelming showing.

But, alas, it was Howe's men whom could count themselves unfortunate not to win it as the clock ticked down.

With three minutes left, replacement Jacob Murphy thumped an effort off a post and the ball ricocheted to another South American substitute, Almiron. He let fly with a dipping, 20 yard curler but de Gea somehow flung himself full length to remarkably tip the ball away with his fingertips and prevent a first defeat for Rangnick. 

The Reds are seven points behind fourth-placed Arsenal although have games in hand on all but one of the teams above us. 

Overall team performance: 5/10
United Man of the Match: David de Gea. 

Friday 17 December 2021

There's nothing worse than a weekend without Manchester United

 Here we go again people, it feels like we're back in March of 2020.

Right now, I should be getting ready to go to Manchester. Booked on to the 12.30pm train from Sussex en route to Manchester Piccadilly before heading to Old Trafford for tomorrow's lunchtime game with Brighton.

That was the plan, a plan painstakingly put together over the last few months in readiness for my second trip to Old Trafford during the 2021-22 season. But Covid couldn't resist one more intervention, determined to suck the joy out of life for seemingly the umpteenth time over the last 20 months. 

Even after two years and three jabs, there is no escape from this pandemic for the ages. Only another 5,000 boosters to freedom, people. We thought this was all behind us - the very idea of postponed games and shutdowns seemed so 2020 - but yet here we are all over again. 

Manchester United's game against Graham Potter's Seagulls proved the latest victim to the virus as Covid wreaked havoc on the Premier League. An outbreak at the club, with 19 cases across players and staff, forced United to shut down Carrington and saw our midweek game at Brentford fall by the wayside. When 17 Reds returned to some form of training on Wednesday, hopes were raised we might have enough players to get a side out on Saturday.

But when two more players were sent home having returned positive PCR tests and a further four followed suit on Thursday, the inevitable happened. The game was confirmed to be off shortly before 3pm yesterday with only six senior United players available for selection. Brighton also had an outbreak in their squad and lost to Wolves with a heavily depleted side. Both United and Albion pushed for a postponement and in the end it was the only option. The league were left with no other choice. 

The only - and I mean ONLY - silver lining from this particular Red's point of view was the early decision to postpone. The league had been criticised for calling games off at the eleventh hour but at least we got a swift decision this time. 

At least I knew, at least I wasn't halfway to Manchester before they called it. Our game at Brentford was called off at midnight on Monday, Leicester vs Tottenham fell late morning yesterday and Burnley's tie at home to Watford went even later, only two hours before kick off when the travelling Hornets were already in Lancashire. 

At least we were spared that scenario here as the league broke their own trend 48 hours before kick-off at Old Trafford. I'm gutted I can't go but at least I didn't have to make a wasted journey to Manchester. The whole event of preparing and travelling to a game is part of the wider experience which makes it so special - here's hoping fans will still be permitted into grounds when the rescheduled fixture takes place. 

 It's becoming increasingly apparent action must be taken to stop the storm of Covid cases in the Premier League. As well as our game versus Brighton, Southampton against Brentford, Watford at home to Crystal Palace and West Ham's tie with Norwich, our last opponents, have all been called off because of outbreaks of the virus. So too Leicester's trip to Goodison Park on Sunday. Only five fixtures are set to go ahead as scheduled this weekend but another gameweek without watching our beloved club means you might as well call the whole thing off. It simply isn't the same when you haven't even got United to fill your life even if we're only on TV. 

The league intend to carry on as normal but Brentford boss Thomas Frank joined several of his contemporaries in calling for a "firebreak" shutdown to break the chain of infection, to hit the reset button and go again in January. What do you even do without Boxing Day football? I suspect we're about to find out. 

If the league resist calls for a hiatus, it all means United won't play again until we go to Newcastle on the 27th December - 16 days on from our win at Carrow Road. At a time of year when the games come thick and fast, it's alien to have such a big gap between matches. The issue is - with the 2022/23 season starting early because of the World Cup - a late finish due to any potential shutdown would create a logistical nightmare for the Premier League's powers-that-be. But with games going down left, right and centre, things simply cannot be left as they are. A meeting will be held on Monday by all 20 clubs to discuss the way forward with the traditional Boxing Day feast of football the next set of fixtures. 

I'd rather no football at all than having to go behind closed doors again but I don't think the latter scenario is an issue when the players themselves are dropping like flies. 

I guess I'll spend the weekend doing some wrapping and buying the last of the presents instead then. 

Monday 13 December 2021

Manchester United face PSG... and then Atletico

Manchester United will face Diego Simeone's Atletico Madrid in the last 16 of the Champions League after a redraw.

Ralf Rangnick's side were initially pitted with the might of PSG with Cristiano Ronaldo set to go head-to-head against his long time rival Lionel Messi, only for an administrative error to cast doubt on the validity of the draw, ultimately declared "null and void" by European football's governing body. United's ball was initially pulled out the pot against Villarreal but they were ineligible to face each other having met in the group stages - an eventuality UEFA said should have been prevented.

Unai Emery's Yellow Submarines were instead drawn with our cross town rivals and league champions     City. 

Further confusion later occurred when United were missed out from the pot of possible opponents for Atletico Madrid with Liverpool included instead.

But this too was wrong as United could have played the Spanish champions and Liverpool could not, having been in the same group as Simeone's side.

It seemed like a stitch up with UEFA desperate to contrive a Ronaldo vs Messi game to bring in money and TV hits, but at least they came to their senses and justice eventually prevailed - a redraw was the only sensible, fair option even if - as I'm sure it was - the mistakes made were genuine. I would've been OK with PSG had the draw been done properly but there was no way they could leave it as it was. 

UEFA later issued a statement in which they said a technical error with the administrative software caused the chaos. 

It all begged the question: how can something so simple prove so difficult to do? But then that's UEFA - their ability to make a pig's ear out of the seemingly routine remains unrivalled. 

When the restarted draw got underway, the Reds were still given a tough tie, but one better and more appealing than a match with Messi, Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and co. I'd definitely prefer Atleti rather than having to play PSG for the umpteenth time although it will be still be very difficult to get past a team known for their needle, organisation and pragmatism. Against Rangnick and his famed "gegenpressing" tactic, it will be a fascinating clash of styles. By then, the Reds will be finely tuned to their new interim manager's methods with a real contrast of football identikits from Rangnick and his opposite number Simeone. 

As group winners and a seeded team, United will travel to the Wanda Metropolitano for the first leg of the knockout tie on 23rd February before we welcome the La Liga giants to Old Trafford a month later (March 15). Atleti are struggling for form having won the league last term but Simeone's penchant to make life hard for even the elite can never be written off. 

The two sides have only ever met twice before in continental competition but never in the European Cup. Atleti ran out 3-0 winners in the 1991/92 European Cup Winners Cup with the return game all square, 1-1, at OT. 

The away goals rule in all European matches has been scrapped with two-legged ties to be decided via extra-time and penalties if required. 

Elsewhere in the revised draw, six-time winners Bayern Munich travel to Austrian side Red Bull Salzburg, whilst City play Sporting.
Benfica play Ajax, holders Chelsea host French champions Lille (as they did in the original draw), it's Villarreal against Juventus, Internazionale vs Liverpool (with nine European Cups between them) and the undoubted tie of the round as 13-time winners Real Madrid go head-to-head with fellow heavyweights PSG. 

Saturday 11 December 2021

Match report: Norwich City 0-1 Man Utd

 A late Cristiano Ronaldo penalty earned United a narrow victory at lowly but improving Norwich to continue Ralf Rangnick's unbeaten start as Reds boss.

The Portuguese was choke slammed to the turf by Max Aarons as he rose for a cross and sent Tim Krul - so often the scourge of United - the wrong way to settle the contest. 

In truth, the struggling Canaries belied their lowly status with a performance of fight, character and spirit but Dean Smith's side were ultimately punished for their profligacy. In the end, United were indebted to another virtuoso display from the in-form David de Gea who saved from Teemu Pukki and Ozan Kabak to help us to a second successive clean sheet. 

Rangnick made eleven changes to his line up as he reverted to the XI which beat Crystal Palace in his first game in charge. Smith was forced into a makeshift selection through injury, Covid issues and ineligibility. 

Norwich captain Grant Hanley blocked a Scott McTominay effort early on before the Canaries injury problems worsened with the skipper forced from the field on 21 minutes to be replaced by Jacob Sorensen. 
United then came within inches of the opener when we won a free-kick as a result of the high press. Alex Telles whipped the ball over the wall but it took a slight deflection on to the bar and away to safety. 
Polish winger Przemyslaw Plachet (try saying that after a pint or three) - on his first start of the season - picked out Pukki from which United cleared their lines before Diogo Dalot, now firmly established as Rangnick's first choice right-back, had a daisy cutter held by Krul at the other end.

The Norwich stopper continued to keep out United as he beat away a dipping effort from Ronaldo eight minutes shy of the interval.
Lukas Rupp sent his header wide and then Maguire also popped up with another header only for Krul to tip over and preserve parity at the interval. 

De Gea saved well from Placheta and Kabak thwarted Marcus Rashford with a lunging challenge as United found in harder than they perhaps expected against the Premier League's bottom side.

De Gea came to United's rescue again with a stunning one handed stop to deny Pukki before Rashford fired into the side netting on the counter after a flurry of Canaries corners.
Mason Greenwood was introduced as we searched for the elusive winner and Victor Lindelof then also had to be replaced with breathing difficulties. 

But before Eric Bailly could be brought on, United were awarded a spot-kick. Aarons grabbed Ronaldo around the throat and choke slammed him to the turf to leave referee Darren England with little option but to award the penalty. 

Ronaldo, just as he did against Arsenal, slammed the penalty high into the roof of the net to unleash his iconic celebration in front of the away end with 15 minutes to go. 

Another superb De Gea stop denied Kabak shortly afterwards with blocks from Dalot and Bailly thrown in for good measure as Norwich put us under late pressure.
For all their impetus, United could - and probably should - have put the result beyond doubt four minutes from time as a rare moment of quality from Rashford found Ronaldo with the goal gaping but he uncharacteristically skied over the bar when it looked easier to score.

That kept Norwich in the game and they almost snatched a deserved point at the death when De Gea clawed substitute Pierre Lees - Melou's header off the line, although replays showed he was offside anyway.

United held on to move up to fifth place, one point below place-above West Ham ahead of our trip to Brentford on Tuesday. 

Overall team performance: 6/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: David de Gea. Excellent again from the in-form Spanish stopper. 

Wednesday 8 December 2021

Match report: Man Utd 1-1 Young Boys

Mason Greenwood's stunning early strike saw Ralf Rangnick's rotated Reds play out our Group F campaign with a draw.

United had already qualified for the last 16 as winners of the section so the German boss - in his first European game in charge - made eleven changes to a side consisting entirely of Academy graduates and second stringers. Amad, Anthony Elanga, Donny van de Beek and Dean Henderson were all handed starts as Nemanja Matic captained the side in an unfamiliar centre-back role alongside Eric Bailly. Luke Shaw and Aaron Wan - Bissaka both started and now seem to have slipped down the pecking order under Rangnick. 

It took only eight minutes for United to take the lead in a game played in atrocious conditions at Old Trafford. A sweeping move down the left wing saw Shaw keep pace with the attack and - having been fed by Elanga - he in turn picked out Greenwood who applied a lovely, acrobatic, bicycle kick finish beyond visiting keeper Guillaume Faivre. 

Henderson had impressed as a sweeper-keeper to mop up several forward forays from the Swiss side, but was called into action shortly beyond the half hour mark to deny Fabian Rieder. Jordan Siebatcheu headed over from close range before Juan Mata went close at the other end when Young Boys captain Fabian Lustenberger stuck out a foot to deflect the Spaniard's effort over the bar. 

It looked as though United's young side would go in ahead at the interval, but David Wagner's side, already out of the competition, equalised in fine style.
The Reds tried to intricately pass their way out but van de Beek's loose ball was seized upon by Rieder. Wan - Bissaka couldn't make the tackle and the left winger let fly with a 25-yarder to leave Henderson with no chance. 

The visitors almost completed a quickfire turnaround when Michel Aebischer thumped in a shot, but the impressive Bailly hacked away to safety with a lunging tackle to preserve parity. 

Elanga was lively for United as he forced Faivre to beat out his shot and then he had another effort blocked having been picked out by Lingard. 

Meshack Elia pulled his drive wide for Young Boys and a gilt-edged chance came the way of the wonderfully named Quentin Maceiras, but he could only skew off target on 66 minutes.

To their credit and despite their status as the group's bottom side, ex-Huddersfield boss Wagner's men certainly enjoyed their second ever visit to Old Trafford and performed well in their final European match this season.

Rangnick used the second half, which increasingly had the feel of a pre-season friendly, to introduce youngsters Teden Mengi and Shola Shoretire. Much travelled veteran Tom Heaton also got a run out as he came on for a long-awaited debut in goal two decades after signing for the club. 

Wilfried Kanga almost capitalised on a slip from the young defender but the 19-year-old recovered superbly to block the substitute striker's effort. More Academy graduates were given their moment in the sun when Rangnick introduced Robbie Savage's son Charlie for a first team bow - something his dad never managed during his days at Old Trafford - with his old man proudly watching from on high. 

Zidane Iqbal became the first British-born Asian player to make a senior appearance when he replaced Lingard in the closing stages. 

Given the wholesale changes and the glimpse of our future, Rangnick's rocking rotated Reds can be satisfied with their night's work ahead of the draw for the last 16 on Monday. 

It did not end well for Wan - Bissaka though when he had to be stretchered off after the final whistle having inadvertently collided with the advertising hoardings. 

Team performance rating: 6/10
United Faithful of the Match: Mason Greenwood. Superb goal and lively throughout. 

Tuesday 7 December 2021

United to face familiar foe in the FA Cup

Manchester United have been drawn against a divisional rival in the third round of the FA Cup. In other news, water is wet. 

It's that time of year again when the 44 sides from England's top two leagues enter the world's oldest and most prestigious knockout cup competition. 
The draw was made at Wembley on Monday evening by Arsenal Ladies Legend Faye White and men's counterpart David Seaman, a four time winner, and there were some eye catching ties.

For seemingly the umpteenth time in succession, United were paired with Premier League opposition, with Aston Villa to visit Old Trafford on an unconfirmed date between 7-10 January 2022. It felt inevitable we would be drawn to face another Premier League team having already been knocked out of the League Cup by West Ham. As is so often the case, the tie comes with a subplot to the proceedings. 

It means of course former Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard will return to M16 for the first time since his retirement as a player, with Gerrard having recently been appointed as manager of the west Midlands side when he replaced the sacked Dean Smith last month. 

Gerrard has a fair bit of history against United and will no doubt receive a *warm* reception from the Old Trafford faithful with plenty of chants about him slipping on his rear end. I'm not too bothered about the FA Cup but it would be nice to knock a side managed by Gerrard out and deny him another trophy, wouldn't it? 
In fairness to him, he has improved the Villains fortunes with three wins from his first four games in charge of the club - only a narrow loss to Manchester City has prevented an unbeaten start to Gerrard's time in the Villa Park hotseat. 

The tie will be the first of a double header with the Reds set to travel to the Second City to face Villa in the league on the 15th January as we look avenge the 0-1 loss at Old Trafford in the reverse fixture earlier in the season.

This will be the thirteenth meeting between two of the biggest clubs in the country - with nineteen FA Cups between us - and the fifth this century. United came from behind to knock Villa out of this competition in 2002 and 2004 (en route to winning the trophy) with third round victories in consecutive seasons - at Old Trafford in 2007 and then in the Midlands the following season, the Double-winning campaign of 2007/08. 

United are 12 times winners of the famous trophy, with our last victory back in 2016 under Louis van Gaal. Villa haven't won the FA Cup since 1957, ironically against the Reds in a match infamous for Peter McParland's shoulder barge on United keeper Ray Wood - McParland went on to hit both goals to seal the club's seventh - and to date last - FA Cup triumph. 

Elsewhere, United's Premier League rivals were handed kind-looking ties with Spurs, Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City all set to face lower league opponents as always seems to be the case.
Antonio Conte's men host third tier Morecambe, Jurgen Klopp's side also play a League One team in Shrewsbury whilst European champions Chelsea will host National League leaders Chesterfield at Stamford Bridge. Pep Guardiola will be happy with his team's annual bye to the fourth round as their remarkable run of favourable draws continue with City to travel to League Two high flyers Swindon. Arsenal, winners on the most occasions (14), face a potential banana skin when they visit Championship side Nottingham Forest. 

Holders Leicester host Watford and former manager Claudio Ranieri in one of three all-Premier League fixtures - West Ham against Leeds is the other -  and there's an intriguing south London derby between Millwall and Crystal Palace. 

Friday 3 December 2021

He's Carrick, you know.... hard to believe he's not Scholes

Summer 2006 and Sir Alex Ferguson's emerging Manchester United are a side in transition. 

Chelsea have won two successive titles and look set for a new era of dominance, bank-rolled by the Russians and led by the finest young manager in world football, Jose Mourinho. 
Ferguson's young side, spearheaded by the burgeoning talents of teenage tyros Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo, won the League Cup but ceded the domestic crown to the aforementioned Londoners with a huge Roy Keane shaped hole in midfield after the shock mid-season departure of the influential captain. 

In truth, Keano could never really be replaced - some players only come once in a generation and no matter how hard you try their absence will be felt for years. In a bid to bolster his engine room and to at least bring some bite back into the midfield, Ferguson turned to Tottenham. More pertinently, their 25-year-old schemer Michael Carrick. Carrick signed for £18m and took the no.16 shirt previously donned by his illustrious predecessor. No pressure there then. 

It took the unassuming Carrick a while to win over the doubters, a sceptical fan base used to a human wrecking ball in the form of the snapping and snarling Keane. Carrick was never that player but excelled at the simple and the smooth, a deep lying playmaker adept at winning the ball and moving it on. Strong in the tackle and with a good passing range, Carrick became a mainstay in the middle for over a decade, the ying to Paul Scholes's yang and later proved an experienced head to steer the side serenely through the turbulent post-Sir Alex days. If Keane was an Aston Martin, Carrick was a Rolls Royce. The Andrea Pirlo to Keane's Gennaro Gattuso. 

Carrick was a player who never got the credit he deserved, playing as he did in a Golden Generation of players for both club and country. But whilst many of his team-mates, the likes of Scholes, Rio Ferdinand, Rooney and Ronaldo were considered galactic talents, Carrick's star never dimmed. A mere 34 caps for England seem almost an insult for a player of his quality and Sir Alex's side certainly would not have ushered in a new era of dominance if if wasn't Carrick's almost silent string-pulling in midfield. He was never the strongest or the quickest, but his reading of the game and distribution often laid the platform for his perhaps more illustrious team-mates to shine. He was never going to produce a ridiculous piece of skill or a 30-yard screamer but every team needs a Carrick in their ranks. His arrival broke Chelsea's increasing stranglehold on the English game and proved the final piece of the puzzle as Ferguson's last great side fitted together. The 18m would come to look like a bargain as Carrick and co. won the title in his first season at the club - our first in four years - to spark another era of trophy-laden dominance over the next half decade.

Carrick and team-mate Rooney are the only two English players to win every honour in the game: five Premier Leagues, two League Cups, the Champions League, the Europa League, FIFA Club World Cup, six Community Shields and completed his haul of domestic honours with the FA Cup win under Louis van Gaal in 2016. Carrick was named as United's Player of the Year by his peers in 2012-13, our last title winning season and played 464 times across 12 seasons in Red. 

Having retired as a player, Carrick moved on to the coaching staff under Mourinho alongside Kieran McKenna following the departure of Mourinho's trusted lieutenant Rui Faria. 
The rest, as the old adage goes, is history: Carrick stayed on under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as the man responsible for taking training and doing the tactical work. 

It's the end of an era and another departure of a club legend - albeit one not quite as celebrated as Solskjaer. Carrick was expected to stay on despite the imminent arrival of Ralf Rangnick but stepped down from his role as first-team coach after Thursday's 3-2 win over Arsenal. Carrick was part of the problem but, to his credit, held the fort well as caretaker manager after Solskjaer's sacking and picked up two wins and a creditable draw at Chelsea from his three games in caretaker charge. 

He can leave the club with his head held high just like Ole having steadied the ship when we needed him and given the incoming German Rangnick something to work with and build upon. Perhaps only now will he get the recognition he deserves. 

As the adoring Stretford End once serenaded in his honour: he's Carrick, you know, hard to believe he's not Scholes. 

Thank you for everything Michael and good luck in the future. 

Thursday 2 December 2021

Match report: Man Utd 3-2 Arsenal

 Cristiano Ronaldo hit career goals 800 and 801 to earn United a thrilling and deserved victory over old rivals Arsenal. 
Emile Smith - Rowe's controversial opener put the Gunners ahead but Bruno Fernandes equalised before Ronaldo swept us ahead. Martin Odegaard's quickfire leveller restored parity but Ronaldo slammed home from the spot to give Michael Carrick victory in his last game in caretaker charge. 

Carrick will now hand over to incoming interim Ralf Rangnick and will leave the club having held the fort admirably and to his credit, following Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's sacking. Carrick's departure ends a 15-year association with the Reds with our former midfield maestro having picked up two wins and a draw from his brief three match stint at the helm. 

There were three changes from the side that drew in the capital on Sunday with captain Harry Maguire - available again after suspension - coming back in to the defence ahead of Eric Bailly. Cristiano Ronaldo returned up front and Diogo Dalot came in at right-back with Aaron Wan - Bissaka carrying a knock. 

Mikel Arteta's side forced a flurry of early corners without causing undue alarm, but United went close on the counter attack as Fernandes found Jadon Sancho whom in turn found the Portuguese with a reverse pass, but Ben White cut out the danger. 

Ronaldo flashed a shot wide and the excellent Dalot saw his low effort held by the in-form Aaron Ramsdale before the visitors took the lead in contentious circumstances.
David de Gea went down injured after he collided with Fred from a corner and the ball was cleared but - despite the prone stopper lying on the turf - Smith - Rowe fired into the empty net with VAR allowing the goal despite referee Martin Atkinson blowing after the ball had crossed the line. 

United felt play should have been stopped and were incensed by the visitors lack of sportsmanship in another fiery flashpoint in this iconic fixture. 
Ronaldo's acrobatic strike was cleared by White and the returning Maguire had a couple of chances too when he let fly from distance with a shot that cleared the bar then another saved well by Ramsdale. 

Just when it looked as though the Gunners would hold their slender advantage at the interval, United restored parity with a superb crafted leveller. Fernandes swept home his first goal in 15 games at the culmination of a flowing team move involving Fred and Sancho. 

De Gea saved well from Gabriel's header before Ramsdale was called into action at the other end to deny first Ronaldo and then Rashford in a breakneck start to the second half. 

The pair then combined to put United ahead in the 52nd minute. Dalot's stunning cross-field pass picked out Rashford and he cut the ball back for CR7 to fire in beyond Ramsdale for career goal no.800. But no sooner had the celebrations died down, Arsenal doused the fire with a brilliant strike of their own.

Mohamed Elneny found Gabriel Martinelli and he forced Alex Telles inside to create space for a cross, seized upon by Odegaard to sweep in an immaculate low finish beyond De Gea only 90 seconds after Ronaldo's goal.

De Gea saved from Gunners captain Pierre - Emerick Aubameyang - although he was offside anyway - and another header from the striker proved no problem for the United keeper. 
Much like Fred, Odegaard then turned from hero to villain when he scythed down the Brazilian in the box. Despite being only five yards away and with an unobstructed view, referee Atkinson somehow needed VAR to award the spot-kick despite damning evidence showing the Arsenal man had got nothing on the ball.

Ronaldo stepped up for only United's second spot kick of the season and made no mistake with an unerring finish straight down the middle to restore our lead.
Substitute Bukayo Saka had a shot deflected wide and Jesse Lingard, who had also come on, could have added a fourth but fired into the side netting. 

In the end, United held out for an important victory in front of the watching Rangnick who will take charge of the Palace game on Sunday. 

Overall team performance: 7/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Diogo Dalot 

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 time 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 doing 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 turn 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 inconceivable 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 this 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 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 fill. 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.