Friday 30 April 2021

Edinson Cavani: More Zlatan than Radamel Falcao

As one of the world's most iconic and palatial global brands and sporting institutions, it stands to reason Manchester United will always attract the cream of the world's grandest football talents.
The list of stellar, star studded icons to grace this great club are household names and simply trip off the tongue - from the Holy Trinity of George Best, Bobby Charlton and Denis Law and their Old Trafford statue, right up to the likes of Eric Cantona, David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Wayne Rooney and - perhaps the finest of all - the man universally known as CR7. Old Trafford has witnessed a pantheon of greats and some of the best players the planet has ever seen have hit the peak of their considerable powers whilst strutting their stuff in M16. 

But it hasn't always been this way. Football, as in life, doesn't always work out how you want it. For every Rooney, Ronaldo, Cantona, Rio Ferdinand and Bruno Fernandes - five of United's best modern-era signings - there has been Juan Sebastien Veron,  Kleberson, William Prunier (Google him) and Massimo Taibi to name but four. Players whom arrived with promise and reputation aplenty only to flop just as spectacularly.

On Tuesday, September 2 2014, one such player arrived at Old Trafford. With United in the early throes of Louis van Gaal's big spending Reds revolution, a shockwave was powered through football when it was announced we had swooped to sign striker Radamel Falcao - a coup widely regarded as one of the best pieces of business in the club's history. 
Falcao's arrival has us buzzing, for here was a world class centre-forward - the talismanic figurehead of Porto's treble-winning side and the man whom single handedly smashed Chelsea to pieces for Atletico Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup. A genuine superstar, a big name with an even bigger reputation. 
Falcao's arrival capped a summer of unfounded optimism at Old Trafford following the arrival of van Gaal and the signings of Ander Herrera, Luke Shaw, Marcos Rojo and another "Galactico" Angel Di Maria.

But away from the ticker tape reception, an elephant was lurking in the shadows. A combination of factors forced this once great striker into a campaign of turmoil - yet to fully recover from a debilitating knee injury, a lack of fitness coupled with the nuances of the English game and a tactical system that never suited his style. Falcao played 29 times for United in his solitary season at the club, and scored only four times - a pitiful return for a man regarded as one of the continent's finest exponents of his craft. Falcao proved a failed experiment, one to file under "it seemed like a good idea at the time" 

Perhaps, the very epitome of the expensive flop. But still that did not deter United from pursuing the stellar name, the big hitter, the ultimate showman. Mixed in with the desire to find a sprinkling of stardust came the irresistible pull of the commercial signing - someone to put bums on seats and a name on shirts. When Jose Mourinho arrived in the wake of the ill fated Dutchman's sacking in 2016, there seemed a sense of inevitability over what would follow. One of football's biggest names at one of football's biggest clubs - enter, Zlatan Ibrahimovic as the ageless and egotistical Swede was reunited with his former Inter Milan boss at Old Trafford. Ibrahimovic ticked all the boxes, both for United's hierarchy and Mourinho - a stellar name, a world class player and a man who would provide that all important impetus to push "brand United" to the next level. 

Understandably, given what had happened with Falcao, there was perhaps a feeling of unease when Zlatan arrived. Maybe the man was only in it for the money, or to massage his own ego. But we needn't had worried - his track record and reputation preceded him and he's had an impact on every club he's been at. In fact, it would be fair to say Ibrahimovic had a bigger impact in a short space of time than anyone else in United's long and illustrious history. The then 34-year-old Swede again only had one full season at Old Trafford, but hit 28 goals in 53 appearances and helped the team to a cup double of League Cup and Europa League. A knee injury wrecked Zlatan's future at Old Trafford, but the legendary striker - still playing at Milan - proved a huge success at the club in a season fondly remembered. It makes you wonder what more he could have achieved had he not sustained the serious injury against Anderlecht.

And so that brings us nicely to the latest player to swap the Parc des Princes for M16 - as the Old Trafford faithful once sang, "on a free from PSG." Enter, Edinson Cavani. I was left feeling distinctly underwhelmed when United signed the Uruguayan last summer - even if was for nothing, was this ageing, injury prone striker who had never played in England really the best we could do? For a club supposedly building for the future, it all felt very short-term and his arrival appeared to epitomise exactly where United had gone wrong - a quick fix, big money panic buy without planning aforethought. We had done it again, yet another expensive and ill thought out flop. 

Sure, Cavani was the top scorer in PSG's history but we're talking the French league here - PSG are the dominant team in a poor domestic division and so the feat hardly represents eye-popping football par excellence. There was nothing to suggest another veteran - another ageing, crocked injury prone veteran at that - would be able to replicate his net-busting exploits on these shores. 
But, whilst Cavani's impact hasn't been as seismic as his former strike partner
Ibra's, credit should still be afforded where it is due. Cavani turned in a magnificent man of the match showing against Roma with two goals and a hat-trick of assists to surely fire United into the Europa League final. He could well end up emulating Ibrahimovic by ending the campaign - what could be his only one at OT - with a European winner's medal. Much like Zlatan, Cavani has also been credited with helping to develop a very youthful United attack.

 He certainly offers us something none of our other forwards - Anthony Martial, Mason Greenwood and Marcus Rashford - cannot. So while Cavani has not scaled the heights hit by Zlatan in 2016-17 with those 28 goals - strikes that included winners against Leicester and Southampton at Wembley - there can be no doubt his signing has been a positive one. 

A natural no.9, Cavani's two best showings for the Reds have come in the past month against Spurs and Roma and his double against the Serie A side took his tally to five in as many games and twelve for the campaign. He was hitting passes Paul Scholes would be proud of, his link play is sensational and his pressing allows United to play higher up the pitch. He is the out-and-out striker we've been crying out for for years. More Zlatan than Falcao, Cavani deserves to feel the love of a packed out Old Trafford belting his name. If he does stay at United, not only would that happen but it would enable us to save 100m on getting Erling Haaland or Harry Kane as his replacement. 

Written off as over the hill and an eleventh-hour signing that reeked of desperation, Cavani has now become idolised through a chant that's gone viral on social media but one which might never air in the Stretford End... 

United conquer the Romans to smash semi final hoodoo

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer looks set to take Manchester United to a first major showpiece after smashing his semi final hoodoo in spectacular style.
Holding a 6-2 lead from the first leg, the Reds eviscerated Roma with a scintillating second half showing to banish the demons of four successive semi final failings. 
You would have got long odds on this tie being effectively over as a contest even before the second game next week in the Eternal City, but United will head to the Italian capital knowing only a freak and unprecedented collapse will prevent us from reaching an eighth European final, in Gdansk on 26 May. The notion of Roma running in four goals without reply is one requiring a very unrealistic leap of the imagination. Of course, all this will mean nothing if we don't win the final - although it may "only" be the Europa League, any trophy is important for building a winning mentality. 

Poor ol' Roma will be sick of Old Trafford under the lights. Four years ago almost to the day, the Romans were conquered in the face of a United onslaught for the ages as Sir Alex's side dealt out a 7-1 thumping en route to an outrageous 8-3 aggregate victory - a two-legged tie that has become synonymous with football par excellence and a night which resembled everything this famous old club should come to represent. 
Whilst the scoreline this time did not quite match that famous, iconic night, for Solskjaer - on the bench as substitute back then - it will taste just as sweet.

Much had been made of the Norwegian manager's poor semi final record, with this being his fifth in all competition in 15 months at United. 

It raised inevitable questions over whether this side and its manager had the pre-requisite mentality - or "cojones" to paraphrase a cockney Watford striker - to get beyond the crunch business end of knockout tournaments. In fairness, United have fallen victim to a combination of ridiculously difficult cup draws and several doses of bad luck but our consistency in falling short at the penultimate hurdle became impossible to ignore. 

For all the progress made since Ole's arrival at Old Trafford, his doubters could legitimately point to a lack of silverware, never mind the absence of even a final, as reason enough when it comes to judging his compatibility for the job. Solskjaer eventually needed to get beyond this stage to silence his critics, many of whom believe he should never have succeeded Jose Mourinho as United boss and point to the aforementioned lack of trophies that both his predecessor and predecessor-but-one Louis van Gaal delivered. 

As I'm sure you don't need me to embellish here, we had lost all of the previous four under Solskjaer's tutelage - twice to City in the League Cup, against Sevilla at the corresponding stage of this tournament last term (a defeat Solskjaer has said still rankles) and to Chelsea in the FA Cup back in July. But having navigated past Real Sociedad and Milan to earn a shot at this last four tie, United went into a semi-final under Ole as favourites for the first time. Roma seemed the most winnable so far and so it would prove although it looked as if this tie would tell a familiar tale until Roma wilted in the face of a United onslaught for the ages - indeed, one reminiscent of that night in April 2007 when the Reds ruthlessly ran riot  against Francesco Totti, Daniele De Rossi and co. 

At half-time here, United were 1-2 down and Solskjaer was braced for the negative headlines coming his way - the Reds would be labelled "bottlers" and "nearly men" once more as the spectre of another failed semi-final juncture enveloped Old Trafford like the plague. Roma's quickfire double had come out of the blue as Lorenzo Pellegrini and then Edin Dzeko - so often the scourge of Manchester United - came back to haunt us. But in the end, the result was never really in doubt as Bruno Fernandes and Edinson Cavani took centre stage, ably assisted by Paul Pogba, in a stunning, brutal, second half blitz to leave the Romans ragged and ruined. 

It all added up to one of the finest nights Solskjaer has had in the Old Trafford dugout, and one that may turn out to be a seminal turning point in his managerial tenure as the prospect of an elusive first trophy looms large. 

Thursday 29 April 2021

Match report: Manchester United 6-2 AS Roma

Edinson Cavani and Bruno Fernandes scored twice in a stunning second half salvo as United eviscerated Roma to move to within touching distance of the Europa League final.
Fernandes had put the Reds ahead inside ten minutes only for the Serie A side to turn the tie on its head Lorenzo Pellegrini and a familiar face in Edin Dzeko.
But United rallied in the second half and turned on the style as Cavani equalised and then restored our lead with a close range finish. Fernandes grabbed the fourth from the spot before Paul Pogba headed in for a 5-2 and substitute Mason Greenwood slammed in the sixth late on to complete the rout and surely put the two-legged semi final beyond any lingering doubt. 

For Solskjaer, the result will banish the demons of his previous semi final failings with the Norwegian set to take his United side into a showpiece final at the fifth time of asking. 
There were three changes from the Elland Road stalemate as David de Gea, Pogba and Cavani usurped Dean Henderson, Dan James and Mason Greenwood in a strong XI. For Roma, there were two familiar faces as Chris Smalling and Henrikh Mkhitaryan - once of this parish - made their first returns to Old Trafford. 

Restoring his big hitters to the side would have the desired effect as United went ahead after only eight  minutes with a goal of breathtaking quality. Luke Shaw found Pogba, the Frenchman spun his marker, skipped past another Roma player and fed Cavani. The Uruguayan in turn found Fernandes and he found an exquisite finish to match the build up as he clipped the ball over Pau Lopez to put us ahead.
But United's lead did not last long as parity was restored only four minutes further on. Pogba could count himself unfortunate as, in sliding to cut out a Rick Karsdorp cross, he inadvertently handled the ball after appearing to slip on the wet Old Trafford turf. 

After consulting with his assistant, referee Carlos del Cerro Grande awarded the penalty - harsh but correct by the letter of the law - and Pellegrini smashed home the spot-kick to give Paulo Fonseca's side a crucial away goal.

Fernandes flashed a shot wide and Lopez saved superbly from Pogba when he tipped a piledriver wide, injuring himself in the process. Ex-Villa man Jordan Veretout had been forced off injured after only three minutes and so the Serie A side had to make their second change with half an hour played as back up keeper Mirante entered the fray.

Despite their sudden injury-hit side, the visitors only continued to exert their authority and completed the turnaround on 33 minutes. United old boy Mkhitaryan - influential when the Reds won this tournament in 2017 - was involved in the move as his defence splitting ball found Pellegrini. The penalty scorer turned provider as he squared for Dzeko and the ex-City man turned the ball home despite the attentions of Luke Shaw and Harry Maguire.

United should have gone in at half-time level when Roger Ibanez miscued a clearance to Cavani and the striker found himself in on goal. You would have bet your house on the net to bulge, but somehow the veteran saw his saved by the keeper and Smalling blocked Cavani's follow up to send the Italians in at the interval with two away goals and a 1-2 advantage. 

But you can never keep a good man down for long and Cavani redeemed himself with a clinically-struck leveller within three minutes of the restart.
Fed by a lovely Fernandes ball, the 34-year-old with the uncertain future rifled home high into the Stretford End net to equalise in an unexpectedly wide open game.
Cavani was in the thick of the action and went close again shortly after the goal as he lifted the ball over the top on 53 minutes after a surging run from Shaw. 

Semi finals are often evenly fought, closely contested chess matches but this was an exception as the action continued to flow in an increasingly see-sawing contest. 
That man Cavani was magnificent throughout and capped a scintillating performance with another goal shortly beyond the hour mark. Aaron Wan - Bissaka's shot was parried by Mirante into the path of the dead-eye Uruguayan and he snaffled up the rebound for his 12th of the season and fifth in as many games.

The Reds had hit an unstoppable stride and put distance between themselves and the faltering Italians when Smalling scythed down Cavani and, aided and abetted by VAR, a penalty was awarded. 
Fernandes made no mistake from 12 yards as the second spot-kick of the match was duly despatched with aplomb as Roma began to wilt under the sheer force of United's onslaught.

Old Trafford would have been rocking to its foundation on a big European night under normal circumstances as the Reds turned the screw. Not content to merely sit on a two-goal advantage, United moved further clear when the excellent Pogba turned home a header having been picked out by a delicious ball from Fernandes - the Portuguese playmaker's second assist of the game.

Greenwood had come on for Rashford and continued his rich vein of scoring form when he latched on to Cavani's stunning through pass to thump in the final goal and hit double figures for the season.

Overall team performance: 9/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Edinson Cavani. Magnificent. 

Sunday 25 April 2021

Match report: Leeds United 0-0 Man Utd

The Uniteds of Manchester and Leeds played out an uninspiring end of season stalemate as the two fierce rivals shared the points at Elland Road.
Despite their status as two of the giants of the English game, the combination of no fans in the ground and neither side having much to play for made for a largely uneventful encounter on United's first visit to LS11 for eleven years.
Manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer - whom before the game said it was never going to finish goalless - made one change from the 3-1 win over Burnley last time out. With one careful eye on the looming Europa League semi finals on Thursday, Daniel James came in for Paul Pogba as the Frenchman dropped to the bench, with Marcelo Bielsa's Leeds unchanged from their draw with Liverpool last time out.

Leeds remain firmly ensconced with comfort in mid-table, whilst Solskjaer's United sit second, eight points ahead of Leicester - who play on Monday - with five games left. Barring a late collapse, it seems unlikely the Foxes will reel in the Reds a
nd there's no chance of us catching champions-elect Manchester City - with the latter only two wins away from the title. 

Mason Greenwood went close with a header with the teenager denied by Illan Meslier from a Bruno Fernandes set piece and Marcus Rashford should have done better when set up by a trademark Victor Lindelof long pass.
Harry Maguire steered off target with his knee having been picked out by Fernandes, before United perhap got away with one after a VAR check against Luke Shaw. It would have been harsh as Shaw couldn't have moved out the way and his arm was in a natural position, but you could certainly file it under 'seen them given'.

Fernandes himself went close with a free-kick but Leeds then finally threatened at the other end through Stuart Dallas when the Northern Ireland international forced a routine save from Dean Henderson.
Patrick Bamford went close for the Reds with an inadvertent header over his own bar, but the closest Solskjaer's side came in the first half was when Meslier produced a stunning stop to tip away a Rashford free-kick. Skipper Maguire then sent his header over the top from the resultant corner on the stroke of half-time.

In the first ever behind closed doors instalment of this fierce, storied and age old rivalry, things began to heat up after the interval. Greenwood's through ball should have led to an opening, but a mix-up between Fernandes and James saw the move break down and Leeds were able to clear their lines.

Fernandes - well marshalled by Kalvin Phillips throughout - flashed a shot wide before Meslier was called into action to deny Greenwood after Rashford had picked him out.
United had upped the ante and went close twice in quick succession when Fernandes and Rashford linked up to find James, but he was unable to slip in the unmarked and loitering Greenwood. Rashford's 20-yarder flew wide before James was replaced by Pogba on 76 minutes as Ole flexed his bench muscles - the 200th United appearance of the mercurial Frenchman. 

Helder Costa tried his luck at the other end when his shot was deflected to safety off Aaron Wan - Bissaka, and both Dallas and Luke Ayling tested Henderson without success in the closing stages. 

Despite a series of niggling fouls and constant complaining from the hosts, the game failed to truly ignite as a disappointing contest petered out to maintain United's unbeaten run on the road.
It's a result that does little for either side as United gear up for Thursday's Europa League semi final against Roma at Old Trafford.

Overall team performance: 6/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Aaron Wan - Bissaka 

Wednesday 21 April 2021

It's now time to give Manchester United back to the people

Almost three decades on from his passing, Sir Matt Busby's Manchester United legacy will never be forgotten.
Even today, we sing about "playing football the Busby way" and "take a lesson you will see, football taught by Matt Busby," we walk down the road which bears his name and pose for photos next to the man himself, immortalised forever even if only in bronze. 

As much as anything else, the great man was the most wonderful of wordsmiths - perhaps most pertinently of all when he said, indeed, that football without fans is nothing. 
The past year had offered the starkest of reminders of that, as we've watched our teams from home in this unique, sterile, eerie, behind closed doors Covid era. Empty stadiums, fake crowd noise and with only the shouts of the players and coaches as an accompanying soundtrack. Sir Matt's most enduring quote - adorned on a banner in the Stretford End - has had an appropriate feel to it in a time of soulless stadia, stripped of colour, emotion, fervour and community.

But all this seems to have been forgotten in the name of greed as the seismic plans for a new, breakaway European Super League left the sport in shock, the authorities seething and sparked a full on blown mutiny. Never before have so many fans from all across the country - supporters of all different clubs - come together for a common cause.

We can all be thankful it won't go ahead, or - if it does - it will be without the company of the six English clubs. Busby would have turned in his grave knowing that United ever got involved in such a heinous act. Joel Glazers name adorned the press release as the bombshell dropped late on Sunday night - even for a man who has shied away from the public eye throughout a 15-year reign of terror at Old Trafford, it should come as no surprise that he came crawling out of the woodwork as soon as there was significant pound signs involved. 
To add insult to injury, the club used the notion of Sir Matt's legacy - when he defied the clutches of authority to take us into Europe - as some kind of justification for agreeing to the plan, describing Sir Matt's "pioneering innovation for change" as their primary reason for joining the cartel.

Never forget where this club came from. Formed from humble beginnings, by workers on the Lancashire&Yorkshire railway in Newton Heath, United have been, and always will be, a club for the working class people of the city. By the fans, for the fans, if you like. Supporters are the life blood, the beating heart, of any club and Manchester United - despite its rise from those humble beginning into the most famous institution in the world - is no different.

With all this is mind, it's time to return this iconic club back to where it belongs. To the people. Let the events of the last few days be a huge lesson and a catalyst for change. Let this attempt for greed and power-grabbing, one ultimately brought down by the power of the people, drive foreign owners out of the Beautiful Game for good. Manchester United is not the plaything of American bankers. It is a community, some might even say a religion, steeped in history, pride and tradition. The so called "future of football" was brought crashing down before it had even really begun because of the outcry of 'legacy' fans from all corners of the nation. This debacle must be only the beginning of the fight to give clubs back to the supporters.

In Germany, there's the so called "50+1" model, where all clubs - and by definition, the fans - hold 51% of their own voting rights. Any club where a commercial investor has more than  49% stake in club matters cannot compete at the highest level. In essence, this means that owners like the Glazers cannot merely walk into a club, take it over and try to prioritise profit over sporting ambition. Not only does the ruling safeguard German clubs from parasitic owners, it also protects the democratic custom and processes of the clubs. 

In the wake of the Super League debacle, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said his government intend to implement such a scheme on these shores. If it were to happen, it would mean American owners would have no place in our game. 

United need a hierarchy that actually care about the club and its supporters rather than simply existing to make money and bleed the club dry. Ed Woodward's departure is the first step towards that aim, and the hope remains the collapse of the Super League will see United put up for sale. 

It's time to give this famous, historic club the treatment it deserves. Put a 'for sale' sign above the doors of Old Trafford, get to fuck, and put Manchester United back in the hands of the people. 

Power to the people on dramatic night: Football's volatile three days

 If a week is a long time in politics, then 48 hours is an absolute eternity in football.

Just when you thought this unique season could not get any stranger, along came a bombshell from above that seemed to threaten the very existence of English football's entire structure. 

Sunday started just like any other day but soon descended into chaos with the news 12 clubs - one of which included Manchester United - had agreed to play in a new European Super League. The venture would see these twelve clubs join another eight for two groups of ten followed by a knockout stage. This was more than just a preliminary plan - the details were laid bare for all to see and it was clear how far the planning had got. 
To the fury of UEFA, it had all been done behind their backs with eyebrows raised by the fact there would be no promotion or relegation - essentially creating a closed shop for the elite at the top of the game.            No qualification, with places simply handed out to the rich clubs. It came as no surprise when we found out Real Madrid chief Florentino Perez and United's owners the Glazer family had been the main instigators behind the plot. You can bet whenever there's an opportunity to make a quick buck, those Yanks won't be far away. On a sleepy Sunday afternoon, the internet was broken. 

The Premier League and FIFA moved quickly to condemn the plans, with ex-Red Gary Neville a particularly vehement critic of the stunning plans. G Nev's impassioned rant saw him call for the clubs involved to be sanctioned, ranging from financial penalties to points deduction and even relegation. The UK government traditionally leave well alone when it comes to the self-governed world of professional sport but Labour leader Keir Starmer and Prime Minister Boris Johnson supported the sport's governing bodies in taking action, with Mr Johnson saying he would "do whatever it takes" to bring the plan crashing to a halt.

A European Super League (ESL) website had already been set up and a statement from the new league - released shortly before midnight on Sunday - confirmed the paperwork had been signed and the ESL would commence as soon as possible. 

As soon as Europe was awake again, things gathered pace as the ESL contacted FIFA and UEFA presidents Gianni Infantino and Aleksander Ceferin to issue notice of legal proceedings in European courts designed to block any potential sanctions football's two most powerful governing bodies might attempt to bring against the formation of the ESL.
All 12 clubs had by now resigned from the European Club Association (ECA) with City chief Ferran Soriano and ol dick Ed himself leaving their roles at UEFA.

By now, the protest movement had already begun with several players both past and present the first to speak out. Ex-Red Ander Herrera, now of PSG - perhaps surprisingly one of the clubs not to sign up - said: "I cannot remain silent about this, I believe in an improved Champions League but not in the rich stealing what the people created."

With a fault line running through the game, Ceferin - never a man to mince his words - described the creation of the ESL as a "disgraceful" "self serving plan" and one that "spits in the face of football lovers". When a man in such a high ranking position talked of his fellow officials as "snakes" and "liars" it really hit home the sense of ill-feeling this thing had created.

Never before had all of football come together in unison in such large numbers. On Monday night, Elland Road became the focal point as Leeds supporters were joined by fans of other clubs to stage a protest - during which a Liverpool shirt was burned - and an-anti ESL message was displayed trailing in the wake of a plane flown over the stadium. For all the banter, all the tribalism and all the deep rooted rivalries, the sight of fans joining forces in this way merely served to show the immense power the Beautiful Game has on so many people's lives. 

To his credit, Reds manager Jurgen Klopp was the first boss to have his say. The German had previously said he hoped there would never be a Super League and at Elland Road he confirmed his stance on the issue had not changed. Leeds players wore T-shirts saying "Earn it" next to the Champions League logo and "Football is for the fans," leaving the shirts in the opposition dressing room in case they wanted to join the protests.

Monday saw meetings aplenty as a Zoom call between the 14 non-ESL clubs saw a unanimous and vigorous reject of the proposals whilst the league itself announced it was "considering all actions available to prevent this from happening." 

With Boris involved, it seemed increasingly likely that the entire idea would collapse as the PM held a meeting with the FA, Premier League and football fan groups, as Johnson later re-affirmed his position in doing "whatever it takes" in the attempts to prevent the breakaway competition. 

Marcus Rashford joined the fight with a simple but effective message in which he simply tweeted a photo of a banner adorning Old Trafford's Stretford End - in the words of our legendary boss Sir Matt Busby: "Football without fans is nothing." You can always count on our Marcus to have his say - he is a fan like all of us and will always speak from the heart. 

Tuesday saw more protests - most pertinently at Stamford Bridge before Chelsea's game with Brighton. Blues legend Petr Cech emerged to plead with the protesting masses as fans gathered at SW6 in their hundreds with flags, chants and smoke bombs as the streets of west London rapidly began to resemble a war zone. 

All of football, it seemed, was against it. Vehemently, fundamentally and so, so passionately. The people had manned the barricades and more in defence of the People's Game.
And so, almost as soon as it was announced, so the ESL began to unravel. Imploding. Chelsea pulled out, quickly followed by Manchester City. Woodward announced he was going (I'm still in shock) - surely not an unconnected development. Rumours Andre Agnelli, the Juventus chairman, had fallen on his sword in Italy, were circulating. By the end of the night, all six English sides had withdrawn, tail firmly between legs, with Luke Shaw, Rashford, Bruno Fernandes and captain Harry Maguire leading the United players revolt in confronting the club's powers-that-be to threaten unprecedented action should the club proceed with their ESL intentions.

So, as quickly as the spectre of a Super League had appeared, it had receded with even greater haste. The backlash had been unprecedented and simply astonishing at every level - from fans, players, managers, pundits, even the government. Surely this poorly thought out and ill conceived project is where it perhaps should have been all along - dead in the water.

There has been talk of massive sanctions against the six rebel English clubs - United, City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal and Spurs - and it remains uncertain how the re-integration will take shape. We certainly haven't heard the last of this, but, for now at least, the storm has abated and normal service has been resumed.

Oh and did we tell you Ed Woodward has gone!!

Tuesday 20 April 2021

Good riddance and thanks for nothing ol Dick' Ed

Shortly before 8pm on Tuesday 20 April 2021, an already seismic 72 hours took another stunning turn with the news every Manchester United fan has been waiting for. 

From the depths of despair as we struggled to comprehend news of our beloved club being sold down the water in the name of greed and money grabbing pocket-lining came a complete turnaround in emotions. Even when we aren't playing, no other club can pull at your heartstrings quite like Manchester United. Ed Woodward - the Glazer puppet primarily responsible for nearly a decade of failure -  has resigned as the club's chief executive officer. It came in the wake of the Super League debacle as United contemplated withdrawing from the ill-fated idea with Woodward to leave his role at the end of the season. After three days of darkness, finally there is light at the end of the tunnel as a new era beckons for this great old club. 

Let me just repeat that sentence: Ed Woodward has resigned as the club's CEO. It feels too good to be true. Even now the news hasn't quite sunk in, and it feels as if we've won the Champions League. A day every Manchester United fan has wanted has finally happened. Woodward has held too much power for too long at this club. A man who knows the square root of nothing about football but yet is responsible for holding all the cards when it comes to the major on-pitch decisions. 

Old dick Ed has a charge sheet as long as both my arms during his nine year reign of terror. The man responsible for rubber-stamping the takeover of his American paymasters, that was only the start of this man's criminal, repulsive ineptitude. A shambolic recruitment policy, three failed managers, a chronic lack of investment and a willingness to stand idly by as Old Trafford, piece by piece, fell into disrepair. He's mishandled contracts, lied to fans, had his grubby fingers in every commercial pie and - most heinously of all - infamously muttered a line that should have got him fired on the spot: "Manchester United don't need trophies to be successful." Shameful, disgusting, and absolutely criminal. Quite how a man with no football knowledge at all was ever allowed to be chief executive of the greatest sporting institution in the world I'll never know. The plane that flew over Burnley's Turf Moor in 2018 had it right: specialist in failure indeed. Ultimately, Woodward is the common denominator in eight years largely of failure at Manchester United AD (after dominance). The club have spent nearly 1bn on transfer fees on Woodward's watch and only an FA Cup, a League Cup and a Europa League to show for it. Five of the last seven seasons have ended potless. 

When the news broke, I rose from my living room perch and proceeded into a full on knee slide across the room, I was that happy. I'm sure I wasn't alone - my head spinning in disbelief at the breakneck speed of events throughout a tumultuous two days.  

This man is the one responsible for slowly pulling apart our beloved Manchester United, acting as nothing more than a puppet, a yes man, a pitiful mouthpiece for his bosses - reviled, hated and doing their cancerous bidding even in absentia whilst his chronies counted their dollars across the pond. David Moyes failed, Louis van Gaal failed and Jose Mourinho failed - the common denominator? Ed Gareth Woodward. 

Good riddance and thanks for nothing, old dick Ed. You absolute parasite. You cancerous, ruinous, vile, disgusting piece of shit. Please never step foot inside Old Trafford again and make sure you get hit by the door on your way out. Get lost and take your parasitic paymasters with you. Get to fuck. Thanks for ruining our football club. Thanks for destroying a legacy, a proud history, painstakingly built over decades of courage, passion, commitment and hard work. How dare you. How very dare you even try and sell this club's soul to a bunch of American wankers with no interest in us fans, our club or the Beautiful Game. It has broken my heart to see 140 years of illustrious history mismanaged to the point of criminal negligence by evil, glorified bank managers with not an iota of knowledge about what this club is, who we are and what we stand for. A club built from humble beginnings by railway workers, 1958 and the Busby Babes, Bobby Charlton, George Best, Dennis Law, 1968, Sir Matt Busby. Sir Alex Ferguson. The Treble. 2008 - Rooney, Ronaldo, Tevez et al. We've had all this. And you lot, you evil wankers, you corrupt, greedy, nasty, self-indulgent, power hungry parasites masquerading as 'owners' were prepared to throw all this down the drain in the name of a few extra zeros. 

The biggest irony of all here? The Super League - the controversial new plan to take 20 clubs (including United as one of them) into a breakaway, elitist and closed shop league - has ended with the best possible outcome for all concerned. The ESL looks to be on the brink of collapse and one of United's biggest problems - one that has been wreaking havoc since 2013 - has finally relinquished his suffocating stranglehold. The proposed new league has gone and Woodward has sunk with it. A great day for Manchester United. I haven't been this happy in a long, long time. 

Hounding Woodward out is a start - but it can only be that, a start. We must do more, we must continue the fight to get the Glazers gone as well. Woodward is the tree, but these wankstains are the roots. One leech gone, three to go. All the time they are there, this club will continue to rot and be bled dry. Nothing will change until they have gone. The Super League looks certain to collapse now and it could be exactly the catalyst we've been waiting for. This could be the straw that broke the camel's back - maybe now, finally, 15 years on, we can drive the Glazers out of Old Trafford for good. 

Sunday 18 April 2021

Match report: Manchester United 3-1 Burnley

Two late goals from Mason Greenwood and Edinson Cavani fired Manchester United to victory over battling Burnley as the Reds moved to within eight points of league leaders Manchester City.
Greenwood had put Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's ahead three minutes into the second half before James Tarkowski's header threatened to extend the Reds recent home hoodoo against Sean Dyche's Clarets. 

But there was to be no repeat of those frustrations as United's pressure eventually told and Greenwood restored the Reds advantage six minutes from time before in-form substitute Cavani hit his third goal in as many games to put the result beyond doubt late on.
The result saw United move on to 66 points - the same as last term's 38-game tally - with six games of this campaign still to spare. It seems a long shot for us to be able to overhaul City from here as Pep Guardiola's team would need to lose half of their remaining games for United to catch them. 

Solskjaer made only one change from the victorious XI at the Tottenham Hotspur stadium as Greenwood came in for the benched Cavani and was tasked with leading the line. 
United hadn't beaten the Clarets at Old Trafford since 2015 with three draws and a win for the visitors since then, and the attempt to end that curiously wretched run began badly inside the opening minute.

Chris Wood beat the onrushing Dean Henderson to a floated delivery on the edge of the box and headed the ball over the keep and in, only to be denied by the offside flag.
Scott McTominay flashed a shot wide and Paul Pogba was denied by Burnley's stand-in stopper Bailey Peacock - Farrell. Bruno Fernandes also went close with a curler from distance in a bright start from Solskjaer's United.

Marcus Rashford had a header saved on the half hour mark and then, moments later, Pogba had another headed effort but he failed to connect and the chance had gone.

The Reds were dominant but were frequently rendered dormant as Burnley - as is their wont - made life difficult as they defended deep and in numbers and looked to hit United on the counter-attack. 
A brilliant long ball from Victor Lindelof - quickly becoming the Swede's trademark - found Rashford and he went down under a challenge from the onrushing Peacock - Farrell but referee Jon Moss, correctly on this occasion, waved away the half-hearted penalty appeals.

Rashford's cross narrowly evaded the stretching Greenwood before Wood went close at the other end as he flashed narrowly wide on the half-volley shortly before the interval.
It was a half so in keeping with United's
recent struggles at home to Burnley as despite having most of the possession and several chance, a combination of stout defence and profligate finishing saw a scoreless opening 45.

But, within three minutes of the restart, United were ahead. Rashford, in his best performance for weeks, skipped beyond Matthew Lowton and burst into the box where he cut the ball back for Fernandes. The Portuguese playmaker took his marker out of the game as he dummied the ball into the path of Greenwood and the dead-eye 19-year-old continued his fine recent form with an excellent low finish.

But our lead did not last long as Burnley restored parity within two minutes when Tarkowski outjumped Aaron Wan - Bissaka and thumped home a header from Ashley Westwood's corner. 
It seemed as though the curse of the Clarets had struck again as having been unexpectedly pegged back,  the Reds huffed and puffed and looked to be running out of ideas. It wasn't until the 70th minute when United began to re-exert their authority through Fernandes, as his header was steered to safety by Peacock - Farrell. Pogba fizzed an effort wide and Greenwood fired off target before United finally, and this time decisively, broke Burnley's stubborn resistance for a second time.

Greenwood put the hosts back in front with six minutes to play as he fired in a left-footed effort that took a deflection beyond Peacock - Farrell on its way in. 
Wood had a shot blocked by Lindelof but United came on strong in the closing stages as Fernandes linked with substitute Donny van de Beek and he squared to fellow sub Cavani to tap in and complete a hard fought victory.

Overall team performance: 7/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Mason Greenwood 

Friday 16 April 2021

United finish the job and roll on to Roma

Manchester United traditionally don't do straightforward. It's a rite of passage - almost a contractual obligation - to put supporters through the entire gamut of emotions for 90 minutes every week. 
When most people would take the motorway at 70mph, United choose the scenic route of the back country road at 20mph to reach their eventual destination.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's Reds have had a nightmare sequence of cup draws - thwarted by the best team in that particular round at every turn. Apart from Watford, we played a top half Premier League team at each stage of the FA Cup until our eventual elimination at the hands of Leicester. The Champions League group of death alongside PSG and Leipzig and Everton and City in successive rounds of the Carabao Cup. Even having dropped into the second tier Europa League, Real Sociedad and Milan hardly represented inferior opposition. 

Consider all of this, and it was strangely soothing to see United get through a European quarter-final with a bit to spare. Granada were the dream draw, the tie everyone wanted, and United lived up to their billing as favourites with a confident, professional and accomplished performance against Spain's eighth best side. The Reds never needed to get out of second gear and could easily have clicked up a level if it was needed. As European quarter-finals go, this was surely the easiest most of us can remember - as United writer Samuel Luckhurst alluded to at full-time. 

4-0 on aggregate, the Reds could have had a few more if we fancied it. Even before Edinson Cavani's early goal put us ahead at Old Trafford and 3-0 up in the tie to put the result beyond any lingering doubt, United had taken a stroll down easy street. 

It was nice to have a two-legged cup tie in the latter stages of a competition and not to suffer palpitations every few minutes. The only time United ever looked in trouble was when the heavy handed visitors dished out a liberal helping of foul play. Quite how they ended with a full compliment of players will forever remain a mystery. You felt Granada could have played until next season's quarter-finals and still not score. United and Solskjaer were without four key men, three of them - captain Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw and Scott McTominay through suspension - and the rested Marcus Rashford but yet still won in second gear and with plenty to spare.

Not many managers can afford to leave out four of their best players for a European quarter-final but yet still win in second gear with a bit to spare. As the season's frantic run-in continues at breakneck speed, those players are rested up after a rare night off as Burnley head across Lancashire to Old Trafford on Sunday. Fatigue and tired legs cost us during last season's denouement but our strength in depth is much improved this time around so you'd hope we avoid a repeat. There couldn't have been a better tie for Axel Tuanzebe to make his first start since January with the young defender one of United's best individual performers. 

Another semi-final then, the fifth in two seasons for Solskjaer to attempt to find a formula to lift his personal curse. No matter what you made of Solskjaer's divisive comments the other week about trophies only massaging egos, winning silverware - any silverware - will have to matter at some point. There can have been few less daring passages en route to United's third Europa League last four tie and a second in succession. 

You won't need us to tell you how the previous four semi finas ended with the heartache of falling at the penultimate hurdle. Man City in the League Cup (twice), Chelsea in the FA Cup and, most painfully of all, the Europa League semi final KO at the hands of Sevilla in Germany in August - a tie United dominated and should have won but we were ultimately punished for profligacy. As the United boss said afterwards, the disappointment of that night still lingers and has provided the team with an additional dollop of motivation to go one better this time around. In Solskjaer's defence, he can claim to have not always had the rub of the green when it comes to the big moments in the biggest games. 

Roma, the team from Italy's Eternal City, will lie in wait with Paulo Fonseca's side to face United in the last four having edged past Ajax 3-2 on aggregate after their 1-1 draw in Italy followed an impressive 2-1 away victory in the Dutch capital, a minor shock to set up the first meeting between the two clubs for 14 years. 
This time though, it's a two legged semi final against an opponent that present our best chance so far of reaching that elusive first showpiece under Solskjaer. It won't be anywhere near as simple against the Serie A side as it was against Granada - and nor can we expect it to be. Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Chris Smalling and Edin Dzeko et al will have other ideas, of course, but Solskjaer's United - for probably the first time under the Norwegian - head into a semi final as strong favourites to progress. Dangerous and talented they may be, but with respect to I Giallarossi, Chelsea and Manchester City they certainly aren't. 

This never really felt like a quarter-final with the second leg played out in the manner of a glorified training game, but United will need to move up through those gears in the next round if Solskjaer's dreams of silverware with his boyhood club are - finally - to come to fruition. 

Match report: Manchester United 2-0 Granada (4-0 agg)

Manchester United finished the job to set up a fifth semi-final under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer against AS Roma in the Europa League.
2-0 ahead from the first leg in Spain, the Reds were already in full control of the tie - a control we would never relinquish - and never needed to get out of first gear against the combative but limited outsiders of a side eighth in La Liga.

Solskjaer's side will now Paulo Fonseca's Giallorossi in the last four as Roma - Chris Smalling, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Edin Dzeko et al - edged past Ajax (whom we beat when we won this competition in 2017) 3-2 over the two legs. Unai Emery will take on his former side Arsenal with Villarreal in the other last four tie. 

The United boss shuffled his pack and made five changes from the first leg in southern Spain, three of which were enforced with captain Harry Maguire, in-form left back Luke Shaw and Scott McTominay  suspended after picking up bookings. Axel Tuanzebe, Alex Telles and Nemanja Matic
returned to the side whilst Fred and Edinson Cavani replaced Dan James and the rested Marcus Rashford in a strong but rotated XI.

It took United only six minutes to go ahead as Telles began the move with a cross. Captain for the night Paul Pogba flicked the ball on with an expertly controlled back header and the ball fell to Cavani who, as expected, fired home with a left-footed volley from close range to put the tie beyond any lingering doubt.
Cavani had been a man on a mission at Spurs and grabbed another here, his second goal in as many games and ninth of the season.

Granada, on their first ever visit to England, showed far more attacking intent at Old Trafford than they did in the first game as City loanee Yangel Herrera - a man fortunate not to have been sent off in Spain - twice headed wide from set pieces to fire warnings to United.

But the Reds were comfortable and should have extended their already handsome aggregate lead further. 
Bruno Fernandes flashed a volley over the bar having been teed up by Matic and the Portuguese schemer then fired wastefully off target when he dragged wide at the culmination of a sweeping move.

If that was uncharacteristic from the usually immaculate playmaker, then so too was the errant boot of Mason Greenwood. Fresh from his best form of the season, the dead-eye 19 year old was off target on this occasion as he screwed his shot wide just before half-time as United went in at half time ahead.

Pogba had picked up a booking during the opening 45 and, with Granada's histrionics threatening to get him sent off, Solskjaer withdrew the World Cup winner to prevent him getting another and missing the semi-final. Fernandes took the armband as Donny van de Beek came on to replace the Frenchman.

Granada sub Jorge Molina should have done better and so too should Greenwood when he headed straight at Rui Silva having been picked out superbly by van de Beek.
Cavani added to the increasingly lengthy list of missed chances with a chance that you would expect him to score. The striker's run was timed to perfection to meet Fernandes superb ball in, but the Uruguayan hitman could only connect with his shoulder rather than his head and the gilt-edged opening went begging.

van de Beek flashed a shot inches wide on the hour mark after a solo Greenwood run but Granada continued to press for a much sought after memento goal. Nehuen Perez was denied by David de Gea, and the Spaniard suddenly found himself busy as he was called into action again, this time to deny Herrera.

Uniquely, United had three captains in the match as Fernandes handed the armband over to the oncoming Juan Mata, having himself taken over from Pogba for the second half.
Just as we did in the first game, United grabbed a late second when a Telles cross flicked off Mata to strike the unfortunate Jesus Vallejo and crept in under Silva to rubber-stamp a comfortable 4-0 aggregate victory. 

Granada could consider themselves lucky to end the game with a full compliment of players when United substitute Amad Diallo was scythed down by fellow replacement Luis Suarez (no, not that one) having burst clear. In keeping with the abysmal officiating which dogged the tie, Suarez wasn't even booked despite the foul surely appearing to be a case of denying a clear goalscoring opportunity. 

For the heavy handed Spaniards, their creditable run to the quarters is over but United roll on to a two-legged semi final against the side from the Eternal City with a European final now within touching distance. 

Overall team performance: 6/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Edinson Cavani

Monday 12 April 2021

The evolution of Mason Greenwood

 Mason Greenwood struck his fourth goal in three games to rubber-stamp United's second half salvo and seal victory at Tottenham. 
The-19-year-old rose to prominence in 2019-20 with a stunning breakthrough season as he scored 17 goals - the most by a teenager in a single campaign for United. Touted as the best teenage talent since the days of Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo, Greenwood is a generational talent and the finest Academy graduate to emerge from the Carrington conveyor belt for many a year.

His goal at Tottenham, a well-struck, low, right footed drive beyond Hugo Lloris and into the corner, is rapidly becoming the Greenwood raison d'etre. It took his tally to the season for seven after a run of form in which Greenwood, who does not turn 20 until October, has looked back to his best.

His goal tally may not be anywhere close to last season's haul but an argument could legitimately be made Greenwood has played better in 2020-21 than he did in 2019-20. Despite not always getting on the scoresheet, Greenwood has caught the eye with his work rate, link up play and desire to make things happen. He was excellent in the recent 1-0 wins over West Ham and Milan, hitting the post in both games and leading the line with patience and precision. Greenwood has been playing well and his all-round contributions have caught the eye despite a relatively lean campaign in front of goal. Last season he only had one assist, but this season he's got five - his all round game is developing and the team are benefitting. 

Just because he's got ten fewer goals with what we hope will be ten games left, Greenwood has shown over the last few weeks that we shouldn't be concerned just because he hasn't quite hit the same heights as last season. There's a notable intelligence to his game, he's growing in maturity and is now more than simply a talented goalscorer. 

One of the criticisms during Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's time in charge at United is a perceived failure to get his substitutions right.
But no one could accuse the Norwegian manager of that against Spurs as Ole got his tactics and subs spot on to outmanoeuvre his Old Trafford predecessor Jose Mourinho. 
Taking off a tiring and far from fully fit Marcus Rashford was the right call, as United's no.10 battled gamely for 70 minutes before making way for Greenwood. Putting Greenwood on to devastating effect, the teenager tore Spurs apart with his pace and trickery as he crossed for Edinson Cavani to head home before he added the third himself to put the result beyond doubt.

All of Greenwood's recent goals have been very different. There was the unsighted, near post sidefooted effort in the cup defeat at Leicester, the predatory diving header late on against Brighton and the goal at Spurs where he cut in and fired low into the corner. After two months of quietly solid individual displays, Greenwood has rediscovered his mojo when it comes to doing what he does best - finding the back of the net. The best natural finisher at the club, it's sometimes easy to forget he's still only 19. 

Whereas United's other forwards have looked fatigued, overburdened and unfit over the past weeks and months, Greenwood has sprinkled stale collective attacking performances with the vibrancy and exuberance of youth. How else can you describe him spinning Mark Noble inside out in the FA Cup win over West Ham. That night, especially, felt like a night on which Greenwood came alive again. 

Even then, he had to be patient. Solskjaer has talked up Greenwood's performances throughout his goal drought and has not been surprised that the teenager's persistence and patience is now being rewarded.
"The world nowadays is so onto stats - goals, assists, this and that" Solskjaer said after that West Ham game.
"The boy has played fantastic the last two or three months. He has really matured, really come on." 

United didn't play particularly well against Brighton but Greenwood was our most effective player and scored within minutes of moving into his favoured no.9 position. We've not seen much of him as the out-and-out centre forward and it's almost doing him a disservice that much of his career has seen him stationed out wide on the right hand side. 

Greenwood has played himself back into scoring form and it hasn't come a moment too soon. Anthony Martial endured a disappointing season but is unlikely to play again this campaign after a knee injury on international duty with France looks to have ended his season.
Rashford's form has ebbed and flowed but although he's reached 20 goals for the second season in a row, Rashford is clearly struggling with injury and an extended, enforced rest could do him the world of good.
Cavani's goal on Sunday was his first since Everton in February with fitness and doubts over his future having poured cold water on a promising start to life at United. Cavani has been distinctly hit and miss in what could be his only season at Old Trafford. 

As United approach the pivotal run-in, Greenwood looks back to somewhere near his best, proving the old adage that whilst form may be temporary, class, indeed, is permanent. 

Sunday 11 April 2021

Corrupt, donkey, abysmal referees... again (RANT)

 I have had enough of these useless, corrupt, bent, biased, donkey, abysmal referees and every single one of them should be investigated and banned for match fixing. Where do they find these absolute cockwombles? Get rid of all of them.. NOW!

These referees have been told to make sure Manchester United never get any decisions and are getting paid off to do so.. its the only explanation I can come up with after another game against twelve men. They're scared of us and are doing everything to make sure they fuck us over. There can be no other conclusion to come to at this stage. Ever since Jurgen Klopp opened his trap, the media darling at Anfield is getting exactly what he wants. 

As referee Chris Kavanagh added another entry to the ever-lengthening list of decisions to have gone against us this season, I finally reached boiling point. Flinging my phone down in disgust, I stormed off into the garden to calm down and get my head together again. For the umpteenth game this season, Manchester United were playing against twelve men and rage - pure visceral,  boiling rage, consumed me. It takes a lot to get me wound up, but after one wrong decision too many, I reached my limit. As the dust settles almost six hours after the final whistle, I'm left with mixed emotions. Of course I'm delighted we won and left Jose Mourinho and Duncan Castles in the mud, but there's still anger too. 

 Just like Artur Dias on Thursday, Kavanagh booked our players for everything but yet ignored Spurs blatant attempts at cheating and play-acting. The decision to disallow Scott McTominay's goal was the worst decision I have seen since the failure to send off Yangel Herrera on Thursday. 

Have you ever tried running without moving your arms? Try it and tell me its possible. McTominay lifted his arms to run into space, Son yanked McTominay back and went down like he'd been shot. Five minutes later he's up and running around again. The Easter resurrection was last week, mate. Absolutely disgusting and disgraceful, he should be banned. If that's a foul then we may as well just give up. 

Yet Rashford can get deliberately stamped on, Fernandes elbowed and Dan James chopped in half and nothing's done. Kavanagh said it was accidental and not a foul but yet he disallows the goal for no apparent reason? He caved in to being surrounded by Spurs players and took the nonsensical decision to not give the goal for something that happens every few minutes in any football match anywhere. Rashford got whacked in the face five minutes by Sergio Reguilon earlier. Result? Nothing at all - not even a VAR check. Yet when its us refs can't pull the card out quick enough. 

 Not content with that, the referee - determined to give Spurs more time to score - added on six minutes at the end of a half in which there was no VAR checks, no injuries and only five subs. It was three minutes at most but he added six on to deliberately try and stop us winning. He did his best to do so, but Ole's tricky, tiki taka showtime Reds let their football do the talking and justice, eventually, was done. Remember guys, cheats never prosper. 

You wouldn't have been surprised if Kavanagh had revealed a Tottenham shirt under his black referee kit. He didn't even try to hide his obvious hatred of United. 

The fact United came back to win in the face of extreme provocation and with an extra man in the Spurs corner should not detract from the fact we were absolutely shafted yet again by a corrupt, donkey official not fit to be in football. Even after a win, I don't think I've ever been this angry at the performance of a referee. When a manager or a player makes a mistake, he comes out and is asked to explain it yet the referees get protected by their paymasters, there's no accountability and they're never banned or removed from officiating despite being consistently useless. It's just not football anymore. 

If it was just an isolated one-off incident, you could accept it. That's football - every team gets a bad decision and sometimes you have to accept it. But it's happening every week with us. Right from the first game, when Crystal Palace were given a ludicrous penalty for handball - a spot-kick missed but then scored on the retake by Jordan Ayew - officials and referees have had it in for us. Week in week out, our games are ruined and points robbed from us by the incompetence of these useless donkeys. 

That was only the start of the carnage. There was the Anthony Martial sending off in the reverse game with Spurs when Erik Lamela hit the Frenchman but didn't get sent off despite initiating the contact. Fred was clattered in the box at Fulham, there was the foul on Lindelof for West Brom's opener at the Hawthorns, the Sheffield United debacle when Martial had a goal ruled out for nothing and their winner when David de Gea was elbowed in the head. We actually got a public apology from the Premier League  and both of those decisions were wrong. Joel Veltman didn't even get booked despite almost snapping Bruno Fernandes ankle against Brighton last week. There was Grenada's thuggery, the handball at Chelsea, Maguire's header at Burnley, the decision to send Fred off against PSG - a wrongful dismissal that cost us a place in the Champions League knockouts. Need I go on? 

These are just the ones I can think of off the top of my head, I'm sure there's more if I sit down and think about it. In three successive games - Brighton, Granada and now this one - the opposition have had 12 men. To paraphrase a certain catchphrase from a certain fan channel on YouTube - when is it gonna end? It will only be a matter of time before we get cheated out a final or in a title decider. 

It has been going all season long - a list of diabolical decisions as long as both my arms. You know its bad when you've even got rival fans in your corner - for a club as universally reviled as United, that takes some doing. Micah Richards and Jamie Redknapp - ex City and Liverpool players respectively - disagreed with the decision to rule out Edinson Cavani's opener and that tells you everything you need to know. 

It's time for the FA and the Premier League to do something about this and see it for what it is: blatant, deliberate sabotage of a football team and their season. 
Chris Kavanagh should never be allowed to referee a United game again. Ban Son Heung - min too whilst we're at it, cheating prick. 

Match report: Tottenham 1-3 Manchester United

 Manchester United hit a second half salvo to enact revenge on Jose Mourinho's Tottenham and banish the demons of October's defeat at Old Trafford. 
The Reds had gone down 6-1 on a day when we suffered our joint-worst Premier League loss when Anthony Martial was sent off and Erik Lamela somehow escaped censure despite hitting the French centre-forward.

There was more controversy here when referee Chris Kavanagh disallowed what seemed a perfectly good Edinson Cavani goal, only to overrule it through VAR for an alleged foul in the build up. Replays showed Scott McTominay had done nothing more than run with the ball but Son Heung - min threw himself to the ground, conning the official and seeing the strike ruled out.
To quite literally add insult to injury, Son - the man at the centre of it all - put Tottenham ahead five minutes before half-time as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer looked set to explode with rage on the touchline.
But as we have done so many times before this season, United - spurred on by the sense of injustice - roared into life in the second half.
A rare goal from Fred - only his second for United - levelled matters before a superb Cavani header and a blistering late third from substitute Mason Greenwood put the result beyond doubt and left United seven points ahead of third placed Leicester.

Solskjaer made three alterations from Thursday night's European exploits in Spain as Dean Henderson, Fred and Cavani came in for David de Gea, Dan James and Greenwood. 
In truth, nothing much happened in the opening 17 minutes but then came United's first opening after a sweeping move. Bruno Fernandes floated a lovely ball for Paul Pogba into the box and he in turn flicked on to Cavani. The Uruguayan moved the ball on to Marcus Rashford and he took a touch and fired goalwards only for Eric Dier to make a brilliant lunging tackle to deflect the ball out for a corner.

Then came the game's major talking point on 33 minutes when the referee disallowed a brilliant Reds opener for no apparent reason. A superb flowing move was finished by Cavani after lovely link up between McTominay, Fred and Pogba but Son had gone down in the build up. McTominay had pushed forward to burst into space, Son flicked his head forward and went down like a sack of spuds. Incredibly, and for reason I'll never understand, the official deemed the coming together a foul even though replays showed there had been no contact. 
To compound our anger, the same player - lucky to still be on the pitch after his blatant play-acting - Son put the hosts ahead on 40 minutes when Harry Kane cut the ball back to Lucas Moura and he squared for Son to tap in. 

Raging at the robbery and a sense of injustice, United came out for the second half a team on a mission. After McTominay had thumped a post with a 20-yarder, the Reds equalised three minutes shy of the hour mark. A nice piece of play involved Rashford and Fred saw the latter release Cavani to burst through on goal. Our impressive no.7 hammed the ball goalwards, only to be denied by a good stop from Hugo Lloris. The rebound fell perfectly into the path of Fred and even the notoriously wayward Brazilian could not miss as he thumped the loose ball high into the net.

Dean Henderson saved superbly from Son to preserve parity soon afterwards, before Lloris was called into action again at the other end, this time to push the ball round the ball to deny Fernandes after another neat passing move.
United had taken the upper hand and should have taken the lead on 67 minutes when a corner was cleared to Luke Shaw and he volleyed the ball wide to Fernandes. The Portuguese moved it on to Pogba but the Frenchman went for the spectacular and his back-heeled effort was blocked by Dier.

The tie was becoming increasingly end-to-end and Henderson was again alert to save smartly from Kane with his feet at the near post. At the other end, Greenwood, who had come on for Rashford, fired wide having cut inside as both teams looked a threat going forward.

Cavani deserved a goal for his constant movement, causing Dier and Joe Rodon no end of problems. The veteran striker finally got the goal his performance deserved eleven minutes from time when Fernandes linked with Greenwood, the latter crossed and Cavani met it with a diving header beyond Lloris and into the corner.

Having put us ahead, Cavani was then inadvertently involved at the other end when he flicked a Spurs corner on to his own crossbar in an attempt to clear. 
Having somehow conjured up six additional minutes (I reckon he deliberately added loads on to allow Spurs more time to score), Mourinho's men went in search of a scarcely deserved equaliser. But, instead, the Reds put the seal on a memorable victory through Greenwood as the immense Pogba picked out the onrushing striker to lash in a brilliant finish and serve up a delicious helping of revenge.

United Faithful Man of the Match: Edinson Cavani. A masterclass in movement and finishing. Brilliant effort against twelve men. 
Overall team performance: 8/10 (Referee: - 15,000 - useless donkey shit) 

Friday 9 April 2021

Manchester United need protection... not penalising

Manchester United won 2-0 in Granada on Thursday but it was a match certainly not without incident as referee Artur Dias took centre-stage.

If you thought the standard of refereeing in the Premier League was bad, and it is, then the performance of Portuguese official Dias reached new levels of incompetence.
Granada committed more fouls than United but received only two bookings. Nemanja Matic got a yellow card for literally winning a header, Harry Maguire's booking wasn't even a foul and Pogba was cautioned for running forwards as he penalised the Reds for everything but continually turned a blind eye to every elbow, kick, hack, scythe and foul coming from the Granada team. This referee showed so many cards he must have a share in Clinton's. 

All game long, the home side were more focused on deliberately trying to harm our players than they were in winning the match. Making it difficult for a superior team is one thing, but overstepping the mark and causing deliberate harm to an opponent quite another. You could be forgiven for thinking this was 1970s Leeds, it was that bad. Yet this official simply allowed it to happen. I was proud of the Reds for keeping a cool head under such extreme provocation but it was yet another example of United getting nothing from an abysmal official. I'm sick of it now. It's true we got a penalty at the end of the game, but, given what had gone before, the referee effectively forced himself to give it. His decision making was so haphazard and card happy that he set a precedent resulting in him awarding the spot-kick after Fernandes was shoved over by Yan Brice.

There's a list as long as my arm of incidents which went unpunished in that game. At the centre of it all was Yangel Herrera - quite how he never even got booked, let alone sent off, I'll never know. Not content with elbowing Scott McTominay off the ball, the City loanee and animal set out to maim Marcus Rashford, despite the fact the United man is clearing playing through injury. Herrera stamped on the United no.10's injured ankle, knowing he was hurt and knowing he would likely cause serious injury. Bruno Fernandes was elbowed in the face (not sure who by) and Dan James scythed down with such force on more than one occasion it was a minor miracle he escaped without serious injury. Domingos Duarte was eventually cautioned for his rough-house approach but how the home side only had two bookings and finished with all eleven players on the pitch is beyond me. The fact Duarte was forced off through injury having slammed James to the ground was a delicious piece of ironic karma. 

To add insult to metaphorical injury, United will be without three players for the second leg - Luke Shaw (don't know what he was booked for), Maguire (not even a foul) and McTominay (probably the only booking you could say was justified). Mr Dias couldn't wait to pull our boys up on the tiniest thing but yet that Herrera bloke committed roughly 5,000 fouls and nothing was done about it. It makes me wonder whether that referee was asked to dish out yellow cards to deliberately weaken our squad for the second leg - nothing would surprise me any more. 

To call Granada's cynical approach "agricultural" would be putting it politely - they were, to be frank, an absolute disgrace to football. Fair play to them for getting this far, but it would have been a travesty if they had got anything from that game. Their one and only tactic was to sit on the 18-yard line and then kick the s**t out of us every time we went forward. They didn't try to play football, they simply kicked anything that moved and were allowed to do so by an incompetent, abysmal, donkey referee - he lost control of the game and failed in his duty of care towards our players. Rarely have I felt this wound up after a win, but the 'performance' of this official has left me feeling very upset and angry. Where do they find these referees?

It's almost as if opponents are setting out to deliberately ruin United. Brighton's Joel Veltman should have been sent off on Sunday after he clattered Fernandes in the build-up to Rashford's goal - to the extent the playmaker could've broken his ankle. At Stamford Bridge last month, Mason Mount stamped on Fred right under the nose of referee Stuart Attwell. And now this debacle. Granada were the dirtiest team I have seen and we can only be thankful that our boys emerged without serious injury - if the home side had three men sent off, I don't think anyone could have really complained. For the second game in a row and for the umpteenth time this season, United should feel hard done by when it comes to getting a raw deal from refs. 

You expect better from an official at this level - it's time for United to ask for protection from referees before someone gets seriously hurt. 

Thursday 8 April 2021

Match report: Granada CF 0-2 Manchester United

 Manchester United have one foot in the Europa League semis with an away win over Granada in the first leg of our quarter-final.
Marcus Rashford fired Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side ahead when he superbly collected Victor Lindelof's stunning long pass, and fired in a finish beyond Granada keeper Rui Silva. 
A late Bruno Fernandes penalty put distance between the sides as United never needed to get out of first gear to see off the cynical and rough house approach of Spain's ninth-best side.

Portuguese referee Artur Dias was at the centre of proceedings, booking five Reds despite the hosts committing more fouls and seemingly kicking United to the ground at every opportunity. Quite how Yangel Herrera, on loan from Manchester City in Granada's midfield, wasn't even booked never mind sent off, will forever remain one of life's great mysteries. 
As a result of this official's incompetence, Luke Shaw, Harry Maguire and Scott McTominay will all miss the second leg at Old Trafford having all been carded, therefore ruling the three men out of the return fixture next week.
Solskjaer made three changes from the win over Brighton on Easter Sunday as David de Gea returned in goal, McTominay came in for Fred and Dan James displaced Edinson Cavani with Mason Greenwood leading the line.

Granada had captured the imagination of the continent as a small, provincial club embarking on their first ever European campaign. Whilst Los Nazaries have undoubtedly done well to get this far, United proved too strong and never looked troubled.

Despite the game being played behind closed doors, a streaker disrupted proceedings after six minutes causing a stoppage and a sight no one really wanted to see. 
Paul Pogba was the first player to be booked for a foul on Chelsea loanee Kenedy, and Granada earned a corner from the resultant free-kick as Fernandes cleared to safety despite an offside infringement. In a recurring theme, nothing came from the set piece as a low cross was comfortably held by the recalled De Gea.

Rashford went close from a set piece of our own at the other end, and our no.10 then had a similar effort from distance, but the ball flashed narrowly wide of the post as United upped the ante in search of the breakthrough.

Herrera, a man who somehow stayed on the field for the full 90, hit the outside of a post before United moved ahead moments later. The television cameras were still showing the replays of Herrera's chance when Rashford put the ball away after a brilliant, defence splitting pass from Lindelof. The Iceman spotted Rashford's run and clipped an exquisite pass over the defence for our no.10 to run onto, take in his stride and slot beyond Silva.

Ex-Spurs man Roberto Soldado fired wide shortly before time, but the 35-year-old striker failed to trouble De Gea with a 20 yarder.The bookings for McTominay and Shaw, making them ineligible for next week's second leg, proved the only blemish on a first half in which the Reds had entirely controlled from the outset.

After Dan James was clattered by Domingues Duarte - an infringement that finally saw a home player booked - United went close to a second from the free-kick. Half-time sub Alex Telles whipped the ball to the back stick and McTominay's snapshot was cleared by a covering defender. Kenedy had earlier sent a volley straight at De Gea and tried his luck again from a similar distance only to see the same result as the returning United stopper was comfortably equal to his strike. 

Maguire flashed a shot wide after a driving run from deep, before the impressive Lindelof was called into action at the other end as he blocked from that man Herrera and then Carlos Neva. 
The United skipper was harshly cautioned having challenged Soldado for the ball whilst Herrera somehow escaped without censure for a late, dangerous lunge on James that failed to even bring about a booking.

Silva saved well from Fernandes, although the Portuguese was offside anyway, and James went close to a match sealing second when he dragged an effort wide at the culmination of a counter-attack. 

United always looked likely winners but made sure of the result in stoppage time when Fernandes was scythed down by substitute Yan Brice and made no mistake from 12 yards. The keeper probably should have done better but the spot-kick squirmed into the corner to give United breathing space. 

Overall team performance: 5/10 (Referee rating - 1,000)
United Faithful Man of the Match: Victor Lindelof. 

I was proud of our lads today for keeping their heads in the face of disgusting provocation and a corrupt, donkey, abysmal referee. 

Wednesday 7 April 2021

Opposition in profile: Granada CF

 Manchester United face a first time opponent as the Europa League reaches the quarter-final stage on Thursday.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side have seen off Spanish foes already as we conquered the newly-crowned Copa del Rey winners Real Sociedad at the last 32 stage, and w
e face a team from the Iberian Peninsula once again this time around, following our superb 2-1 aggregate victory over Milan in the last round.

With all due respect to the rank Spanish outsiders of Granada - or, to give them their full moniker, Granada Club de Futbol S.A.D - they were the dream draw for any of the other seven sides comprising the Europa League's quarter finalists. Everyone was hoping to get them, and thus, after a string of nightmare draws both in Europe and the domestic cups, the sight of United being paired with Spain's ninth best side was a very welcome one indeed. 

Until now, the only 'Granada' known in Manchester was the TV station of the same name, as a franchisee of ITV Meridian in the North-West of England until 2004 when the company merged with Carlton Communications to form ITV (insert your own joke here about this being a local derby). The football club of the same name  began their Europa League journey at the second qualifying round phase with a 4-0 aggregate win over Teuta of Albania, before they saw off Lokomotiv Tbilisi and Malmo of Sweden to progress to the group stage. There, they navigated from a section including Dutch giants PSV, PAOK of Greece and Omonia from Cyprus to go through to the last 32. A stunning upset over Napoli and a narrow win over Solskjaer's former side Molde ultimately set up this historic first ever meeting with United. 

A team on their first ever European run, the side from Andalusia on the southern coast of Spain have already made history and surpassed expectations simply by getting this far. Of course, no team can be taken for granted and we cannot underestimate a team for whom this is their cup final, but its the ideal scenario as we kept clear of the remaining 'big guns' with the winners of Ajax's tie with Roma awaiting the victors in this one.

Granada have had a nomadic existence but their rise to reach the last eight has been a rapid and meteoric one. As United won this very competition under Jose Mourinho, beating Ajax 2-0 on that emotional night in Stockholm to complete the set of every available honour in football, the Spanish club finished bottom of the pile in La Liga. 
Two seasons on, after a tenth placed finish, they were promoted under Diego Martinez and defied the odds in their first season back in the top flight, briefly flirting with the Champions League positions before dropping to seventh - enough for this first ever campaign in a major European tournament. 2019-20 was the best season in the provincial club's 89 year history - as well as a highest ever league finish, Granada had a record run to the Copa del Rey semi finals, losing out only on away goals to Athletic Bilbao. 

In every sense, Manchester United dwarf their opponents on Thursday night - financially, commercially, historically, in terms of global support and fanbase, the players we've had - and have - compared to them, even in terms of their respective geographical locations - one team from one of the continent's biggest metropolis, the other from a sleepy corner of Spain. Even their stadium, the 20,000 capacity Nuevo Los Carmenes, in tiny in comparison to our very own Old Trafford. The game will take place in Spain at Granada's ground with no travel restrictions like against Sociedad when we played the away leg in Turin. 

But, in many ways, none of that matters in a European quarter-final. Form and reputation rarely applies in a tie like this one - its Granada's cup final, a once-in-a-lifetime contest and the biggest match in their history. United need to guard against complacency with the hosts unlikely to be overawed by United's galaxy of stars - Paul Pogba, Edinson Cavani, Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford to name but four. All the pressure is on Solskjaer's United and we start the tie as red hot favourites to go through to the semi finals. 

Much of Granada's squad will be unknown to United fans, but there's a few familiar faces to look out for. Right-back Dimitri Foulquier had a brief stint on loan at Watford and played four times in the Premier League for the Hornets - including in an 8-0 defeat at Manchester City.
Midfielder Maxime Gonalons has Roma and Lyon as his former clubs, and has been capped eight times as a full French international. 
Chelsea loanee Kenedy plies his trade for the La Liga side whilst ex-Spurs man Roberto Soldado, now 35, is set to lead the line up top. Another Watford loan man, Domingos Quina, could also feature for  Los Nazaries. 

United travel to Granada for an 8pm UK time kick off on Thursday evening and the tie is live on BT Sport.