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.