Saturday 31 December 2022

Match report: Wolves 0-1 Man United

Marcus Rashford stepped off the bench to earn United a hard-fought fifth successive win and lift Erik ten Hag's side into the top four.

Rashford; dropped for disciplinary reasons; came on at the interval and struck his eleventh of the season - and third goal in as many games - in new Wolves manager Julen Lopetegui's first home game at the helm.

Molineux has traditionally been an unhappy hunting ground for United and despite the old Gold's current struggles at the wrong end of the Premier League table, this would prove no different.

After Newcastle's goalless stalemate with Leeds and City's 1-1 draw with Everton, the Reds sit a place and two points behind Eddie Howe's high flyers with a game in hand. Guardiola's slickers are currently in second place, but only four points ahead of us.

There was one charge to ten Hag's side from the XI which beat Wanderers relegation rivals Nottingham Forest on Tuesday as Alejandro Garnacho came in for Rashford.

In United's final fixture of a largely forgettable 2022, our red hot no.10 showed great strength to hold off a posse of players and drill home an excellent finish 14 minutes from the end.

United will go into the New Year in fourth place; two points behind Newcastle with a game in hand and only four off Pep Guardiola's faltering City. 

The influential Casemiro had a header deflected over in the sixth minute before an excellent piece of last-ditch defending saw Nelson Semedo snuff out the danger from a lurking Garnacho.

The Wolves right-back then underhit his backpass to the feet of the forward, but the teenager was thwarted by the smart reactions of keeper Jose Sa.

The home keeper was soon called into action again to keep out Antony's deflected effort, before both sides were indebted to brilliant pieces of defensive play. First, the much-maligned Aaron Wan - Bissaka came to the Reds rescue when his lunging block prevented a certain goal from Joao Moutinho. Minutes later, James Collins was on hand to deny Anthony Martial a clear opening after his excellent challenge meant the Frenchman couldn't turn home a Bruno Fernandes cross.

Sa saved well from Antony on the stroke of half-time when the Brazilian winger perhaps should have done better. 

Rashford was summoned off the naughty step whilst Wolves also upped the ante with speedster Adama Traore on in place of the Reds old nemesis Diego Costa. With Luke Shaw at the heart of a makeshift back four, Traore was tasked with unsettling the Reds' defence and pinning us back.

Clear cut chances were few and between as the Reds' annual visit to Molineux lapsed into a familiar, jarring pattern. Fernandes fired over from a free-kick before compatriot Ruben Neves almost showed his Portugal team-mate how it's done, only for David de Gea to produce an excellent full-length save.

Struggling Wolves face a battle for survival and Lopetegui must find the answer to his new team's problems in front of goal. United also have well-documented issues in that department but came up with the solution here in the shape of the red-hot Rashford.

A give-and-go between Rashford and Fernandes saw the latter release the former to show great strength and perseverance as he cut inside to hold off three players and fire in under the stranded Sa.

Our super sub thought he had put the result beyond doubt minutes later when Wan - Bissaka picked him out. Rashford's shot was saved by Sa only for the ball to rebound in off the onrushing Rashford only for VAR to chalk the goal off for handball.

That set up a frantic finale in which de Gea saved superbly from substitute Raul Jimenez, and Ruben Neves had a drive deflected narrowly wide in the final moments.

United survived through five harum scarum minutes to hold out for victory and ensure a perfect ending to 2022. A third straight win (and clean sheet) for United since the restart and a clear upward trajectory. Roll on 2023. 

Overall team performance: 6/10. Job done
United Faithful Man of the Match: Marcus Rashford MBE. 

Thursday 22 December 2022

Winds of change: A look at Manchester United's summer signings

For too long, a contributory factor to Manchester's United decline in form and fortunes has been the club's inept record when it comes to recruitment. 
There can be no doubt the club have spent money and liberal amounts of it - primarily under successive managers Louis van Gaal, Jose Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Yet there has been only one outstanding signing worth his weight in gold with the arrival of Bruno Fernandes in the winter window of 2020. A few have had a short-term impact (think of Zlatan Ibrahimovic) whilst others such as Daley Blind, Juan Mata and Paul Pogba were never utilised correctly.

In short, the club have spent their own money but have spent it badly. But all that changed this summer. With the arrival of incoming Dutch boss Erik ten Hag, so there was a shift in philosophy and strategy. For the first time in many a year, United's recruitment and transfer policy has been absolutely perfect. 
ten Hag has signed players not just of supreme quality but has assembled a dressing squad of strong characters with a strong mentality.
All five of our new players have been very impressive and have brought an exciting and eye-catching combination of youth and experience to Old Trafford. This was the year United finally acted like a proper club and got things right. 

First came Tyrell Malacia, a player unknown to many outside of his native Netherlands, but a young full-back ten Hag had clearly been keen on for some time. After impressing for Feyenoord, he came to United for £14m to provide youthful zest and competition for Luke Shaw following the departure of the not good enough Alex Telles. Malacia was United's only bright spot in the abject 4-0 defeat at Brentford, and then shone on his maiden start in the Reds shock 2-1 win over a faltering Liverpool. Malacia pocketed Mo Salah and caught the eye with a simply supreme performance of pace, energy and athleticism in which he was a man of the match contender. Malacia has belied his tender years and looks like he's been playing at this level, and this standard, all his life.

The arrival of Malacia may have felt a little underwhelming given United's need to strength elsewhere, but when Christian Eriksen was unveiled ten days later, it certainly set pulses racing. Having been released by Brentford, it seemed a no brainer to bring in a player of Eriksen's undoubted class and guile for absolutely nothing at all and so it proved. United thinking rationally and using their common sense? Whoever would have thought. 

After years of watching the anodyne antics of McFred plodding around in a non existent midfield, Eriksen provided an instant upgrade and brought a sprinkling of stardust to an area of the team in desperate need of reinforcements. And the best thing of all? He was free.

United had gone into the season needing a new full-back, a new centre-back, another right footed winger, two midfielders and a forward. ten Hag again turned to his native homeland - and his former club - to beef up his options. Lisandro Martinez was the third new addition through the door, from Ajax for £40m and, despite reservations about his height, has been a colossus since day one. Like Malacia, he announced his Old Trafford arrival in fine style with a man of the match performance against Liverpool in which he silenced his critics and instantly endeared himself to the United faithful.

Affectionately nicknamed Licha, Martinez is the closest player to Nemanja Vidic since the man himself, the Butcher of Amsterdam is strong in the tackle, quick, elite on the ball and clearly loves the club already. It's easy to see why ten Hag wanted the newly crowned World Cup winner so much. He has been magnificent and is the early favourite for United's Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year award. I absolutely love the man and I'm so glad we've got him. Where are those doubters now? He has dispelled them in his own indomitable style. With Martinez and Raphael Varane at the heart of the defence, United can legitimately claim to boast the finest pair of centre-backs in the land. 

But the player the new Reds boss wanted above all others is the one he never got. From the day his appointment was announced, United were involved in a tug-of-war with Barcelona for the services of Frenkie de Jong. Every year there's a protracted transfer 'saga' which seems to drag on for eternity and the squabble for de Jong proved no exception. But even that turned out alright on the night. Enter, Casemiro. He may have been second choice in terms of targets, but he is certainly very much at the top of his game in terms of his undoubted quality. ten Hag will be so pleased he ended up with a five-time Champions League winner instead, despite the Brazilian's advancing years.

What a player this man is and what a difference he has made. Adding steel and stability to a midfield in a terrified state of flux, Casemiro's elite mix of both brain and brawn are exactly what we have needed for years. It's a shame we didn't get him a few years ago, but United's midfield is now a place where United move the ball around rather than simply moving it on. 

Casemiro was drafted in as an emergency, makeshift centre-back for the Carabao Cup visit of Burnley but you'd never know it. He was just as much of a baller back there as he is when deployed in midfield. A five-time Champions League winner, you still have to pinch yourself United have a player this good in our ranks. As per, Casemiro was dubbed ' too old' from a press pack desperate to criticise, conveniently forgetting he's younger than Thiago Silva, Kevin de Bruyne and Virgil van Dijk. 

Because of the difference he has made and the impact he's had, I would say Casemiro is the best of all of our summer additions. 

With Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford sharing left-wing duties, and the latter incompatible on the right, there was an obvious need for another right-sided player. The usual names were bandied about but ten Hag had a clear vision in mind and again went back to raid former club Ajax in search for the missing piece of his jigsaw.

An Olympic gold medallist and twice Eredivisie winner with the Amsterdam giants, Antony seemed exactly in keeping with the attacking, dynamic mindset ten Hag had set out for United. Tricky and direct, Antony made an immediate impact at Old Trafford with a goal on his United bow in the ding-dong tete a tete with erstwhile unbeaten leaders Arsenal. He netted again in his second game and then curled in a wordlie in United's loss at derby rivals City - three goals in his first three United games for the man from Sao Paulo, our second Selecao, who arrived for an eye-popping £81m. 
Although the glut of goals have dried up a little since then, Antony has continued to excite us with his flair, box of tricks and unpredictability - an edge-of-your-seat showman, a tricky and mercurial winger. 

United have backed ten Hag with the money and the signings he wanted and so far, both he and the new additions have been vindicated. This time, maybe just maybe, we have found the winning formula. The winds of change are beginning to bluster through Old Trafford. 

Wednesday 21 December 2022

Man Utd vs Burnley: Understrength Reds as domestic football returns

 Manchester United return to action for the first time in 37 days as the Reds host Championship leaders Burnley at Old Trafford in the Carabao Cup fourth round.

The game will be played with a reduced capacity of 62,000 due to ambulance strikes in the area with a place in the quarter-finals at stake. Whatever your view on the virtues of this competition, several of the big guns have already fallen by the wayside with Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham already eliminated. Either Manchester City or Liverpool will join that illustrious list as the two heavyweights meet on Thursday, clearing a path for the Reds to make a concerted push for the Wembley final as second favourites.

So with all that in mind, and with the availability of United's World Cup stars uncertain, here is the side we think Erik ten Hag will pick for Wednesday night's game.

Martin Dubravka made his United bow in the last round KO of Aston Villa and will be in contention again here, but David de Gea was not selected for Spain in Qatar. It therefore seems likely he will get the nod between the sticks behind what will be something of a makeshift defence.

Diogo Dalot picked up an injury in Portugal's last eight exit to surprise package Morocco and so is unlikely to feature, although he probably wouldn't have played anyway. Aaron Wan - Bissaka got a rare run out in the two winter friendlies and looks set for his first competitive start under ten Hag. On the left, both Luke Shaw and Tyrell Malacia are unavailable so Brandon Williams will come in from the cold to fill the void. For obvious reasons, both Raphael Varane and Lisandro Martinez will miss out so Harry Maguire could be rushed back alongside Sweden international Victor Lindelof, a shoo in to start after his nation missed out on Qatar.

Christian Eriksen has been back at Carrington for a week after his Denmark side's earlier than expected World Cup exit. He seems certain to start with the well rested Scott McTominay in midfield with the talented playmaker's selection for this tie a welcome boost for an otherwise hugely understrength United side. 

The most clear cut selections will come in United's front four which picks itself. ten Hag will go with the same quartet he went with against Cadiz and Betis as none of the players involved featured in the World Cup.

So it will be Anthony Elanga and Alejandro Garnacho in the wide positions with another chance for Donny van de Beek tucked in at 10 behind line-leading Anthony Martial. Jadon Sancho is unlikely to feature having been on an individual training programme which saw him miss out even on selection for the shadow training squad in Spain. 

Man Utd predicted XI vs Burnley: De Gea; Wan - Bissaka, Maguire, Lindelof, Williams; McTominay, Eriksen; Elanga, van de Beek, Garnacho; Martial


Vincent Kompany's high flying Clarets will fancy their chances of a minor upset here considering the fact they are fresher, and considering the Reds will be missing most of their regular first choice XI. We think this will be a close encounter, but ten Hag will still be able to send a reasonably strong team out with options aplenty on the bench. United will do just enough to secure a narrow victory. 

Man Utd 2-1 Burnley

Thursday 15 December 2022

Rapha against Licha in 2022 World Cup Final

After the holders and defending champions France won their semi-final on Wednesday night to set up a final with Argentina, one thing is certain.
A Manchester United player will return to Carrington as a world champion.

In a World Cup full of shocks and heroic underdogs, we're left with a final which - in truth - was widely predicted. Argentina recovered from falling victim to arguably the greatest upset of them all when they were humbled by the rank outsiders of Saudi Arabia in their first game. Since then, Lionel Scaloni's side, spearheaded by the little genius with magic in his feet and the heart of a lion, has got better and better. But enough about Lisandro Martinez. This has been a tournament where the stars seem set to align for Lionel Messi to finally deliver on the biggest stage of all. At times, it has seemed as if he has dragged them to this point virtually single-handedly. Underwhelming and erratic in their first two games, La Albiceleste have eventually lived up to their billing as pre-tournament favourites.

Martinez has started two of Argentina's six ties in Qatar with his role dependent on the shape deployed by manager Lionel Scaloni, who has tinkered liberally between a 3-5-2, a 4-4-2 and a 4-3-3 system. Let's not forget his totemic, match-winning block against a fast-finishing Australia side in the round of 16; truly Martinez at his combative and no holds barred best! 

 Since dispensing with Licha's out-of-sorts namesake Lautaro in favour of Manchester City's Julian Alvarez after the second group game with Mexico, Argentina have never looked back. Should he win it, the Butcher would go back to Manchester with a winner's medal draped proudly around his neck. It would also mean BOTH of United's first-choice centre-backs would be World Cup winners. Not many clubs can say that. Barcelona had Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique, Bayern had Mats Hummels and George Boateng in 2014. 2010 winner Sergio Ramos played alongside a certain Raphael Varane - himself a World Cup four years ago - as part of an immense and impenetrable pairing at Real Madrid for the best part of a decade.  

Speaking of which, Varane of course is now very much United's defensive lynchpin. Having left the pitch in tears after picking up an injury against Chelsea, our totemic no.19 clearly feared his World Cup was over. But Rapha is made of stern stuff. France coach Didier Deschamps left him out of Les Bleus opener against Australia, preferring Ibrahima Konate alongside Dayot Upamecano to manage Rapha's fitness and ease him back in having not played a minute since that tie at Stamford Bridge in October.

Rapha has looked back to his best since coming into the side for their second group match against Denmark. Always assured in and out of possession, Varane lifted the trophy in 2018 and impressed against England in the quarters in which he sent club team-mates Luke Shaw, Harry Maguire and Marcus Rashford packing. 

His stunning break-the-line pass started the move which led to Theo Hernandez's opener in the semi against Morocco. Varane is now geared up for a second, back-to-back final having been impressive as Deschamps tournament specialists prevailed four years ago in Russia. Should he do so again, he would have two World Cup and four Champions League winners gongs - before he's even turned 30. That is simply staggering and I wouldn't mind betting no other player boasts such an illustrious achievement. 

Argentina are looking for their third World Cup triumph and first since 1986. Messi was one when a small, squat footballing magician by the name of Diego Maradona captained his nation to victory against West Germany. 36 years on, and there is certainly a sense of poetic symmetry as the late Maradona's heir apparent Messi, also his country's captain, takes centre stage in what could be his last international match. 

There is added impetus as Messi is yet to win a major global international trophy and this would be Licha's first taste of that particular delicacy, too. 

Varane, on the other hand, is part of a side vying to become the first to retain the trophy since Brazil in 1962. The task of keeping Olivier Giroud, Antoine Griezmann and, of course, the French's talisman Kylian Mbappe quiet will be a stern examination for Licha with all three purring and pulling the strings for Deschamps depleted but no less dynamic side. 

Varane, meanwhile, will have to be at his considerable best to shut down Messi, no doubt drawing on his experience of shackling the diminutive genius during his time at Real Madrid.

Argentina will start as marginal favourites simply because of the presence of Messi  (then again, France have Mbappe), but which Red will come out on top? 

The World Cup final kicks off at 3pm on Sunday in Lusail. 

Wednesday 23 November 2022

Manchester United break the internet on a seismic day

How very Manchester United. How very Manchester United to render even Lionel Messi and the FIFA World Cup as merely a footnote. 

Tuesday 22 November began with one of the greatest shocks in the history of football as the rank outsiders of Saudi Arabia stunned Messi and his mighty Argentina side - ranked third in the world and many people's tips to become world champions. La Albiceleste - Lisandro Martinez, Messi, Angel Di Maria et al, humbled by the small Arab nation whose football team sit outside the world's top 50. 

Yet by the time the nation went to sleep, that was not even the second biggest story of the day. First came the news we had perhaps all been expecting - CR7's departure from Old Trafford by mutual consent after his contract was terminated following his explosive interview with Piers Morgan. 

It simply had to happen but it's such a shame it had to end this way. A mutual parting of ways is best for both parties and the fact there was no money involved despite being entitled to a 17m pay off speaks volumes of the affection in which he holds United. Ronaldo had seven months left on his £500,000 a weak deal but had gone past the point of no return. For United to terminate a player's contract - never mind one of Ronaldo's stature and status - is unheard of. 

Despite the fact there was no other option, few would have seen this coming when Ronny re-signed for the Reds amidst an outpouring of excitement and adulation. The divorce was swift and amicable but the moral of the story? Never get back with your ex. I couldn't contain myself when it was announced the GOAT had come home but, looking back now, Ronnie's Return should never have been made into a sequel. 

I'll always be grateful for what Ronaldo did for this club - he left an indelible mark on United history which needs no embellishment. Ronaldo plundered 145 goals in 346 games for the Reds across two spells and spearheaded one of our greatest-ever sides to double-winning league and European glory in 2008. He is the best player I've ever seen live but that was then, this is now, and modern football waits for no man - not even when that man is Cristiano Ronaldo.

Yet the biggest bombshell had yet to drop. With the irresistible combination of the sport's biggest global megastar and the world's most headline-grabbing club dominating the media, an even more seismic story was gathering pace.

Shortly after 8pm, the first drip-feeding began. News of an announcement, coinciding with the close of trading at the NYSE, set pulses racing. Then came confirmation of the words we'd been waiting seventeen years for. The Glazers - United's parasitic penny-pinching owners - were exploring "strategic alternatives" including a full sale of the club. Let me just repeat that. I still cannot believe it, it feels like a dream, it feel like all my birthdays and Christmases have come at once. The Glazers are looking to sell. Toast it, laud it, drink it in. It's the first time since their controversial purchase of United the cancer have actively mentioned selling, and the first time the mainstream media have picked up on it to such an extent. Is this real? Am I dreaming? Someone will pinch me and tell me to wake up any minute now. 

I'm trying desperately not to get overexcited, to keep my emotions in check, but I write this with tears of joy in my eyes. It very much seems as though they have hung up the 'for sale sign around the decaying gates of Old Trafford at last. 

This is better than any trophy and any treble. This is bigger than anything United have done in the past or will do in the future. Of course, it doesn't necessarily mean the club definitely WILL be sold but it's the closest we've been to that glorious day at any point since the scum bought us in 2005. There certainly won't be any shortage of interest and there are already reports of numerous offers on the table. 

This has been in the offing for a while with the fanbase reaching boiling point over the ESL debacle, reports of kit sponsor TeamViewer withdrawing from the deal and declining on-pitch performance. 

Huge credit, too, must go to supporters groups The 1958 and M.U.ST, to name but two: superbly unstinting, passionate and effervescent in their fight to drive out the vermin. This news is a testament to their fantastic work in organising protests, attending focus groups, penning open letters and becoming synonymous figureheads in a seventeen-year battle to get their club - our club - back. A battle we're finally on the verge of winning. 

A wonderful, wonderful day in the history of Manchester  United. A day which surely marks the start of the end of the Glazers seventeen-year reign of terror at Old Trafford. A day seventeen years in the making. 

Tuesday 15 November 2022

Cristiano Ronaldo is right but also oh so very wrong

Alejandro Garnacho smashed through the ceiling and catapulted himself into the national spotlight with his late heroics at Fulham.

The Monday morning papers should have been full of superlatives for the young Spanish-born Argentine, but it was a man almost 20 years his senior who - inevitably - grabbed the headlines.
Shortly after 10pm on Sunday, the internet broke and the world's collective jaws dropped to the floor. Cristiano Ronaldo, one of this club's greatest ever players and arguably the finest ever exponent of his craft, spoke. He spoke damningly and at length. Even his choice of interviewee was questionable, but what he said overshadowed everything which had gone before.
Yet here's the thing. You won't find a single Manchester United fan, myself included, who would disagree with 98% of what he said. We've been saying the facilities have been in urgent need of investment for years. Nothing has changed in 20 years whilst our rivals have modernised, upgraded and left us for dead. Old Trafford's leaking roof is a testament to that and the players are still using facilities they had during Ronaldo's first spell at the club back in the 00s. He feels the club has stagnated and has failed to move with the times, with the setup exactly the same as it was when he left. 
That is a concern - particularly when it comes to enticing new talent into the club - but doesn't come as a surprise. It is what we already knew. Old Trafford looks great on TV but in reality it's a run-down relic, pickled in aspic and has been allowed to fall into a state of disrepair. It's a shit hole and a damning indictment of the board's ineptitude. 

 His extraordinary attack on the club's running (or, more pertinently, lack thereof) carried enormous weight. Again, you can't argue with it. We've been saying the same for years - we know the Glazers don't give a s**t, we know they see United as a cash cow, an asset to bleed dry and not a global institution to take care of, to cherish and to protect. You'd like to think hearing all this from the mouth of the world's biggest global sports star will make them squirm. Then again, they are thick-skinned and oblivious to everything around.

If Ronaldo had left things at that, and if his words had helped to force the hated and much malinged Yanks to put the club up for sale, it would only embellish his legacy. We'd have loved him even more - he would be worthy of a statue and having a stand named after him. If he'd ended the interview there, the love and adoration for this man at our club would have lasted for eternity. 

But then again, nothing he said was new.  All of this has been blindingly obvious for years, so why he felt the need to say it is beyond me. Many pundits and former players have suggested both the timing and the tone of the interview - as the domestic season pauses for the World Cup -  is to make his position at United untenable and force through an exit in January. 

As refreshing as it was to hear someone of such stature call out the club's hierarchy for what they are, Ronaldo has made a huge and fatal error of judgement. His comments on Wayne Rooney and Reds manager Erik ten Hag has sent him past the point of no return. To accuse the club of 'betraying him' is very rich indeed coming from the man who failed to turn up to training, refused to come on as a sub, left the ground early twice, lied, and then felt the need to air his dirty linen in public. Oh, plus the fact he almost signed for Pep Guardiola and Manchester City.

This coming from the man who said he was 'a slave' the last time he was here. He cannot handle the fact he is no longer the main man. He could have said any of this at any point last season but he was in the team then, and scoring goals. He doesn't like the fact new talents such as Garnacho have taken centre stage and can't accept the fact his star is on the wane. Don't forget, too, ten Hag integrated him back into the side after his antics in the Tottenham game and made him captain against Aston Villa. 

It is a huge shame this will be the over-riding memory of his time at United. It is all anyone will ever remember which is some going considering this is a player with 145 goals in 346 games for us. A player who had surely the greatest season in modern times with his astonishing 42-goal haul in 2007-08 to inspire us to the double. Yet the memories of those wonderful times, those heady days with Ronaldo and the Reds at the summit of English football, have been eviscerated almost overnight with the damage he has done. The minute you publicly criticise your manager, there can be no way back. Ronaldo is done. He has surely played his last game for Manchester United. He is in breach of contract and has brought the club into disrepute. Despite everything that's happened, Ronaldo will always be held in high regard at Old Trafford: no one, probably least of all him, wanted things to end like this. 

Sunday 13 November 2022

Match report: Fulham 1-2 Man Utd

United snatched a dramatic 93rd-minute winner through teenage substitute Alejandro Garnacho in the last Premier League game before the World Cup. 
As the domestic season takes an unprecedented hiatus as the tournament is played in Qatar, Marco Silva's plucky Cottagers suffered an agonising - and, in truth, undeserved, late loss for the second week in a row.

Denmark captain Christian Eriksen slid home his first United goal in the 14th minute before ex-Red Dan James stepped off the bench to equalise for a vibrant and impressive Fulham side. But just when a United old boy looked to have cost his former side victory, Garnacho - very much United's future - squeezed home his effort with the final kick of the game. Eriksen picked out the onrushing Argentine and he raced through to poke home across Bernd Leno and spark scenes of wild jubilation among the visiting fans, players and coaching staff. 

A draw would have been a fair result but the importance of this simply enormous victory cannot be underestimated as Erik ten Hag's side go into the break three adrift of fourth placed Tottenham, and four of place above Newcastle, with a game in hand on both. 
With Antony and Jadon Sancho both absent, Cristiano Ronaldo not in the squad and Diogo Dalot suspended, Anthony Elanga started on the right as Anthony Martial returned for only his second league start of the season. Tyrell Malacia was drafted in as a makeshift right-back in the absence of United's erstwhile ever-present Portuguese. In a boost for the Reds, Fulham dangerman and talismanic striker Aleksandar Mitrovic missed out through injury.

It was the Serbian's deputy, Brazilian forward Carlos Vinicius, who had the first effort of the contest. The ball was played into him by Premier League veteran and compatriot Willian only to see his shot saved by David de Gea.

Martial showed glimpses of his menace as he went close to putting the visitors ahead on 12 minutes. Luke Shaw and Marcus Rashford linked up down the left and the latter did well to tee up Martial, but ex-Arsenal keeper Leno tipped the ball wide with a good low save.

Fulham, who finally looked to have established themselves at this level after years of being the league's "yo-yo" club, failed to heed those warnings. Only a few minutes after that miss, United took the lead as Eriksen's first goal for the club capped off a superb quick sweeping team move. 

Casemiro's timely interception set the Reds rolling with Eriksen and Martial also involved. The ball found its way to Bruno Fernandes on the right and his cross was missed by the Fulham defence for Eriksen to steal in at the back post to slide home.

de Gea saved well from Harry Wilson but United should have put further distance between themselves and their hosts with two chances in quick succession before half-time.
Martial headed over from a Shaw cross when he should have done better, and Eriksen then flashed a shot narrowly wide after Fernandes had picked him out.

If United had dominated the first half, Silva's side came out swinging and the Reds needed their keeper to keep a resurgent Fulham at bay. The Spanish stopper - whose exclusion from the World Cup squad becomes more and more baffling by the week - saved superbly from Vinicius and then from a Tim Ream header.

Silva introduced the Welsh speedster to ask further questions of his former side as Fulham pushed for a leveller and, of course, it had to be him who got it. Only two minutes after his introduction, James darted between Victor Lindelof and Lisandro Martinez to meet Tom Cairney's ball in and turn home a deserved leveller.

de Gea tipped wide from the impressive Joao Palhinha before Erik ten Hag then summoned the wunderkid to inject life into United's struggling attack. The young Argentine instantly proved a threat as he linked superbly with Rashford and Fernandes for the latter to steer an effort off target on the stretch. United then had what looked a stonewall penalty not given when the substitute Garnacho went tumbling under the challenge of Bobby De Cordova - Reid. 

But just when it seemed as though United would fail to win on a weekend where all their closest table rivals did so, there was a late - very, very late - sting in the proverbial tail.

A neat one-two with Eriksen saw Garnacho's burst of pace beat the Fulham defenders to the ball and he hit his strike first time to squeeze the shot beyond Leno and snatch all three points right at the death.

Cue bedlam in the away end at the Cottage as United went into the break in a strong position to get into the top four and breathing down the necks of Tottenham and surprise package Newcastle.

Overall team performance: 6/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Alejandro Garnacho. This kid is going to be something very special indeed. 

Friday 11 November 2022

Fulham v Man Utd predicted XI: Malacia right-back, Martial starts

 Manchester United travel to west London to face surprise package Fulham in the final match before the World Cup for Erik ten Hag's side.
United will go into the break on the cusp of the top four and the match with Marco Silva's Cottagers leaves the Reds with only one side to face of everyone currently in the top half. 
Aston Villa ended our unbeaten run but we then exacted a modicum of revenge with victory over the Villains in the League Cup last time out. 

Who will play at right-back with Dalot suspended? 

Diogo Dalot is suspended for the trip to Craven Cottage so will not feature, and Anthony is also out as is Jadon Sancho. With that in mind, here is how we think the Reds will line up on Sunday.

GK - David de Gea

Was given a rare night off between the sticks on Thursday as debutant Martin Dubravka came in. But de Gea will return here against a Fulham side expected to be without star striker Aleksandr Mitrovic. Quite how this man has not been included in the Spain squad for Qatar is simply beyond me.

RB - Tyrell Malacia

This is the big call for ten Hag. Dalot has played every minute of every game, he needed a rest and will have one due to his fifth booking of the season at Villa. Aaron Wan - Bissaka has vanished into exile, so you get the feeling ten Hag would rather play either Victor Lindelof or Tyrell Malacia (a natural left-back) out of position to fill in. We think he will opt for the young Dutchman.

CB - Victor Lindelof

Malacia's moonlighting at right-back will see Lindelof line up in the centre in the continued absence of Raphael Varane. Lindelof has done OK since coming into the team and ten Hag prefers him over Harry Maguire so it seems likely the Iceman will get the nod. The afternoon will be easier for him without the threat of the dangerous Mitrovic. United cannot play a high-line counter press with Lindelof so we'll have to compromise. ten Hag could opt for Lindelof as a stand-in right-back which would see Harry Maguire come in. 

CB - Lisandro Martinez

Absolutely love this man! He has been a revelation and one of the signings of the season. Needed a rest and got one on Thursday in readiness for this one. The World Cup-bound Martinez, part of a mightily impressive Argentina side, has featured in every game for United since signing and hasn't missed a minute in the league. 

LB - Luke Shaw 

The only out-and-out left-back in England's World Cup squad, he is nailed on to start here with Malacia out on the right. Shaw's form has picked up again after a dip in form but we have to hope his mind is not already on the challenge awaiting him in Qatar. Will be up against ex-Gunners and Chelsea man Willian, still going strong at 34, so this won't be an easy ride for him. 

CM - Casemiro

Another to get a much-needed night off in the cup with an eye on Craven Cottage. The first name on ten Hag's team sheet and such an important player for this side. The difference between his partnership with Christian Eriksen and the incompatible McFred needs no embellishment. Surely the first five-time Champions League winner to grace the quaint and intimate surroundings of Fulham's riverside west London abode. 

CM - Christian Eriksen

United's 'double pivot' picks itself and after a breather against Villa, Eriksen will be back in from the start here. Made a difference off the bench on Thursday with his link play, vision, and passing between the lines. A key man for both United and potential World Cup dark horses Denmark, it has been a wonderful renaissance for the likeable string puller after his traumatic experience at the Euros. A brilliant signing and such a key play in ten Hag's system.

RW - Alejandro Garnacho

Antony and Jadon Sancho are still out of action through injury and illness respectively, and Anthony Elanga hasn't done enough to justify his inclusion. We've seen enough of Alejandro Garnacho to suggest he's going to be something very special, having caught the eye against Sociedad and Villa. Even in defeat at Villa Park, the young Argentine emerged with his reputation enhanced and deserves another go at things here. We would play on the right as Marcus Rashford is better on the opposite flank. It's time to unleash Garnacho on an unsuspecting Fulham side. 

CAM - Bruno Fernandes 

You don't know what you've got until its gone. The old adage couldn't have been more evident as United toiled in Fernandes absence at Villa. His creativity, industry and work rate is the glue in this United side and it's great to have him back here. For all the criticism he gets, he is this side's most influential player and starts when he's fit, simple as that. Fernandes has been shoehorned out wide to accommodate Donny van de Beek but that experiment ends here. 

LW - Marcus Rashford

Top scorer Rashford has eight goals this season, and his impressive form has been rewarded with a return to England duty. Named in the England squad, Rashford is at his best when cutting in and causing havoc from the left. With the return of Martial, expect a return to his more natural position after a spell playing down the middle. 

ST - Anthony Martial 

Six appearances, two starts, four goals. Martial marked his return to the team with a quickfire equaliser against Villa and got an hour under his belt before being withdrawn. That would suggest ten Hag was saving him with this game in mind. He is without question the best of our striking options and would be prolific if only he could stay fit and firing. Ronaldo is expected to be absent at Craven Cottage so Martial starts up top by default. Good to have him back... but for how long?


A difficult last game before the mid-season break for the World Cup. No Mitrovic, but United loanee Andreas Pereira will cause problems and this is another potential banana skin for ten Hag and his Reds.
Fulham have broken their trend as perennial Premier League strugglers and have already bloodied the noses of some of the league's leading lights. They've drawn with Liverpool and only lost 2-1 to the top two sides Arsenal and Man City. We think United will do enough... just. Fulham 0-1 United

Monday 7 November 2022

Come in number 34 your time is up

No one can have been more delighted to see Erik ten Hag appointed at Old Trafford than Donny van de Beek.

Now in his third season in the English game, it still feel like van de Beek is yet to truly arrive - if he ever does. ten Hag was seen as van de Beek's best shot at a revival at Old Trafford. After all, United's current gaffer was the manager that helped put him on the map at Ajax. But his compatriot - van de Beek's fourth different United manager - has been just as baffled with how to solve a problem like Donny as his immediate predecessors. Sometimes despite the best efforts of all parties, the component parts are simply incompatible. 

That was the impression you got from watching the disparate Dutchman on Sunday at Villa. 

It was his second successive start and his first in the league for 701 days. It is surely his last. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was widely criticised for not giving van de Beek, a player he signed (but never really wanted), enough chances but he did. It's just van de Beek did nothing to justify his selection every time he played. With a stroke of delicious irony, perhaps his best performance in the Red of United came in the second half of the 4-1 defeat at Watford which brought about the end of Solskjaer's reign. Is it any wonder Solskjaer didn't believe in him despite numerous chances to prove his worth? 

van de Beek's no show inadvertently proved why Bruno Fernandes - suspended here -  remains this side's most important player. Such is Fernandes' crucial role as string pulling architect-in-chief, almost everyone felt Christian Eriksen would move into the attacking tip of ten Hag's three man midfield system. The Danish playmaker has been used in a slightly more withdrawn role since his signing in the summer, but his natural attacking instincts and ability to make things happen seemed to suggest he was tailor-made for the number 10 role. 
It seemed obvious either Scott McTominay or the World-Cup bound Fred would fill Eriksen's void and slot in alongside Casemiro, not only offering an extra layer of 'beef' in midfield but also allowing Eriksen's star to shine. But ten Hag, despite van de Beek's anonymity in San Sebastien, again stuck with him. He surely cannot persist with him any more. 

Whilst it's true none of the team covered themselves in glory on a bad day at the office in the Midlands, van de Beek's struggles were the most noticeable. Quite how he lasted 65 minutes before being hooked again is beyond me. The first time you noticed him was when the number 34 flashed up on the electronic substitutes board, signalling his imminent departure. He managed only 18 touches in the game and proved more of a hindrance than a help. You had to feel for him a bit as he trotted off, head bowed, after another afternoon in anonymity. 

He looks completely and utterly lost in the Red of United - all at sea, out of place and completely incompatible with the stresses and the strains of our 100mph English game. 

 If even ten Hag, the man who literally invented Donny van de Beek, cannot spark him into life, then it is surely the end of the road for the player. Sometimes, a player can look the business in Europe but then come here and just not 'be it'. van de Beek epitomises that. He is simply not good enough for the Premier League and four different managers can't be wrong. Five if you include Frank Lampard when the player spent half of last season on loan at Everton. 

Of course, he has not long returned from injury and only started at Villa Park by default. But his United career has failed to live up to expectations for far too long, meaning there is a growing belief both the club and van de Beek might have to accept it just hasn't worked out. Relative to expectations, he surely has to be one of the worst players I've seen in a United shirt. 

I don't want to make this sound like a personal vendetta or an attack against the player, but I just do not see what he does, or what he is supposed to be. Is he ten? A six? An attacking player, or a box-to-box playmaker? There is simply no identity - baffling for someone signed from a club synonymous for exactly that. 

It's time to amicably part ways and move the player on in January. Come in, number 34, your time is up. 

Match report: Aston Villa 3-1 Man Utd

Manchester United felt the full force of Unai Emery's impact as struggling Villa ignited their season with a deserved win over an off-colour Reds side.

Erik ten Hag's depleted team slipped to a first defeat in nine games as Emery - in his first game in charge of the west Midlanders - guided his new side to an impressive victory. Leon Bailey fired in an early opener and Lucas Digne's free-kick saw United go 2-0 down before we had even had a chance to draw breath.

Luke Shaw's deflected effort gave the side hope but Jacob Ramsey extinguished any chance of a fightback with an early second half strike.
United were without several key players including the injured Raphael Varane and Antony, with Bruno Fernandes suspended and Jadon Sancho also sidelined. Anthony Martial was fit enough for the bench. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, Cristiano Ronaldo was handed the captain's armband.

Villa, to their credit, caught United napping and went ahead after only seven minutes when the eye-catching Ramsey dispossessed Victor Lindelof and held off Lisandro Martinez to play in the onrushing Bailey, and he fired in low beyond the stranded David de Gea.
With the white-clad Reds (you know what we mean) still reeling with that shock to the system, things got worse four minutes further on when Ramsey was scythed down and Digne's superbly struck set piece left de Gea with no chance after referee Antony Taylor moved the United wall back too far.

United belatedly sparked into life and finally began to press, pass and make life difficult for Villa. Alejandro Garnacho, on his first Premier League start, forced a save from compatriot Emiliano Martinez having been played in by Christian Eriksen. 
Ronaldo went close with a header and Casemiro shot wide before an improved United side got the goal their pressure deserved, albeit with a huge slice of luck thrown in. Luke Shaw's speculative shot from distance looked to be sailing harmlessly wide until it struck Ramsey and looped up over the motionless Martinez.

At that stage, on the cusp of half-time and with United in the ascendancy, you would have got good money on ten Hag's men mounting a recovery.
The next goal was crucial and it was Villa who got it with United hit quickly just as they were from kick-off.
Bailey skipped past Martinez and stung the palms of De Gea but - three minutes later - Ollie Watkins burst clear of Lindelof and cut the ball back for Ramsey to slam the ball into the corner first time.

Both Tyrone Mings and stand-in skipper Ronaldo were booked after a tussle in the penalty area and the Reds had optimistic claims for a penalty waved away when the Villa keeper Martinez clashed with substitute Anthony Elanga.

United's best opening after the interval fell the way of right-back Diogo Dalot. Casemiro found the Portuguese player, who sprinted through, but he opted to cross instead of having a shot. The ball fizzed beyond every United player and Villa cleared their lines.

Martial was introduced with 25 minutes to go but Emery put the squeeze on ten Hag's men as Bailey and Ramsey dropped back to force United through the middle and snuff us out.
They did so successfully as United frustratingly ran out of ideas. Dalot picked up a booking - his fifth of the season - which means he will miss the next league game at Fulham (although it does allow Dalot a long overdue rest). 

So United's unbeaten run is over but let's hope this was just a blip, a bad day at the office, 

Overall team performance: 5/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Casemiro. At times, a one man midfield. 

Wednesday 2 November 2022

Ill-informed Graeme Souness needs to read, watch and learn the game

 Ahead of United's match against West Ham at the weekend, the Red Army were pictured in Manchester with a banner which had no words but said it all. 
Emblazoned with the light blue and white of Argentina and a butcher's knife positioned in the middle, the flag paid homage to Lisandro Martinez - United's new recruit who has become a cult hero at Old Trafford almost overnight. I can't remember a player becoming so popular so quickly. 
Nicknamed 'The Butcher of Amsterdam' during his spell in the Netherlands with the Dutch giants of Ajax, Martinez has only been in Manchester for three months but has already captured our hearts thanks to his passionate, no nonsense, determined and aggressive performances at the heart of defence. 
Martinez has been outstanding, a revelation, and the early favourite for United's Player of the Year award since his move from Ajax in the summer to become one of the finest exponents of his craft in the English game. Name me a better centre back in the Premier League right now? I'll wait.

Erik ten Hag wanted to sign characters as well as quality, and in Martinez he has both. Martinez - small in size but mighty in stature - is the type of personality a disparate dressing room desperately needed but he's also delivered on the pitch in a position which we needed to strengthen.

There were doubts about Martinez's height, despite the fact World Cup winning Fabio Cannavaro, one of the best centre backs of all time, also stands at 5ft 9. The great Italian proved whilst height is a useful attribute for a defender, it is not a pre-requisite for defensive prowess par excellence. Even before his United debut against Brighton on the opening day, the barrage of questions and criticism from pundits and rival fans alike had written Martinez off as a failure even before he'd begun. Yet Martinez has responded in spectacular style to leave those naysayers in the dust with lots of eggs on lots of faces.

Whilst it is too early to say he has been a 'successful' signing (you need to give him a least a season before passing judgement), he has already made a major impact during his time at the club and ten Hag could do with more players like him in the future. He reminds me a bit of Nemanja Vidic for his aggression, passion and willingness to stick his head in where it hurts. 

Martinez is a brilliant one one one defender, his ability to read the game is top class and he's genuinely world class when it comes to his ball carrying and distribution from the back. 
He's effectively a midfielder playing at the heart of the defence, he brings us something different and we've not had a centre-back this good on the ball since the days of Rio Ferdinand. His dynamic range of passing and ability to break the lines from deep in orchestrating attacks has been integral to ten Hag's possession-based, high-pressing style and have added a different dimension to an evolving and improving United side.

All this and you can see why Graeme Souness's comments this week were simply baffling and make no sense. Instead of admitting he was wrong and giving credit where it's due, oh no we can't do that now can we, as he's been told to be controversial and make comments surely even he does not believe. Souness was one of the pundits who was very quick to write Martinez off when he said someone under 6ft could not hope to do well in the physically demanding environment of the English top flight. Martinez has made him look like a right prat in that regard (which admittedly isn't hard to do) but, remarkably, it was not the worst of what he said.

Souness suggested Martinez has done little to prove him wrong and apparently he isn't "very good on the ball." Has Souness even watched Martinez and United this season at all? Does Graeme Souness have a pair of eyes? Of course he's entitled to his opinion, but he really should read, watch and think before he speaks nonsense in front of millions on national radio. The man hasn't got a Scooby. Pundits are paid very handsomely to inform, to educate, and to do even basic research to justify the position they are in. It makes you wonder whether Souness was told to say it just to give his particular media platform views and clicks, as surely even he cannot be that ill-informed. Having a different view is fine, but not when it's completely ridiculous and he's only said it to justify himself. Pinging a 60-yard diagonal pass from centre-back to the right wing isn't good on the ball apparently. 

It makes you wonder whether he was told to say exactly the opposite of everyone else. Martinez is absolutely elite with the ball at his feet - his passing and his distribution is his best asset so what more does Souness want? He simply cannot have watched him play for us or, if he has, has been watching something completely at odds with the rest of us. Even Stevie Wonder can see our no.6 is one of the best ball playing centre backs in the land. 

Souness needs to do better, apologise to Martinez, admit he was wrong and give credit where it is due for once. If he is the best the UK has to offer, then the punditry industry is in a far worse state than
I thought. 

Sunday 23 October 2022

Classy Casemiro Man Utd's difference maker

 There have been more consequential games between the Premier League heavyweights of Chelsea and Manchester United. Louder games. Better quality and more exciting games. But never one which has felt like such an intellectual tete - a - tete between two of the most highly rated managers in the game. 

As the recently installed bosses Graham Potter and Erik ten Hag traded erudite blows on the touchline, the evening began to splinter a little. Not so much a single game of football as several distinct campaigns, a ceaseless and gripping tactical battle for supremacy in which both teams probably got what they deserved.

Perhaps there was a perverse sense of poetry in the late drama that belatedly set this game alight. The substitute Scott McTominay clumsy, if perhaps unfortunate, as he sent Armando Broja to the turf. The new arrival, Casemiro, who ended up getting his team-mate off the hook with a towering 94th-minute header.

 This is a rapidly evolving and improving United side and nowhere is the transition more evident than in midfield. If anything epitomised the difference in quality between United's two-tone midfield, this was surely it. McTominay the passionate and hard-working, if limited, squad player and the five-time Champions League-winning Brazilian international regarded as one of the finest exponents of his craft. The new tempo-setter, the difference maker and the string-pulling heartbeat of ten Hag's Manchester United. 

McTominay will still have a role to play and Fred was simply sensational in the midweek win over Tottenham. Both of them are internationals and useful players to have in your squad, but the era of "McFred" - in tone and intent - feels like it has gone. It was clear for all to see the pair were incompatible but the persistence with them was part of the reason why Ole Gunnar Solskjaer accelerated his own downfall. ten Hag realised he, and his side, needed an upgrade.

Enter stage left, Casemiro. Having spent all summer locked in a futile chase for the apple of his eye in Frenkie de Jong, you got the feeling the former Real Madrid was never ten Hag's first choice. But boy, will the Dutchman be pleased he eventually landed him. The difference Casemiro has made since arriving from Los Blancos is the biggest single reason behind this side's upward trajectory. Casemiro. Christian Eriksen. Bruno Fernandes. For the first time since the days of Paul Scholes and Michael Carrick, this is a United midfield you would willingly pay to watch. 

And when it works, everything else works so much better, too. The full-backs have the security to bomb forward, the front three can make runs in behind knowing there will be service. David de Gea has more options and the defence can play higher up. The midfield has become a place where United can move the ball rather than - as has been so often the case - an engine for moving it somewhere else.

So often, the midfield is where games are won and lost and, for the first time in what seems like an eternity, United are taking on some of the best midfielders the English game has to offer and winning the battle.

This is a shift in culture as well as personnel. ten Hag wants to build a free-flowing, possession-based side and Casemiro is integral to that. Our ambition, calmness and confidence on the ball epitomised everything Casemiro has brought to this side - we have needed a player of his quality and class for years.

You could pinpoint the moment when the extent of the difference he makes came to fruition only a few minutes into the game. He collected the ball 20 yards from his goal with three Chelsea players for company. Facing the wrong way, there was a simple spin and a pass of the purest silk, curling 30 yards over the head of Raheem Sterling to set Diogo Dalot away on a run down the right. Can you imagine McTominay, Nemanja Matic or Marouane Fellaini even considering such an option never mind pulling it off? 

Not only is he everything a top quality defensive midfielder should be: adept at breaking up play, winning the ball, moving it on and both starting attacks for his team and stopping them for opponents, but he has an under-rated range of passing in his locker too. He's not known for his heading or ability in front of goal but he popped up with United's late, late leveller to earn a deserved point and capped a simply magnificent individual performance with a goal. Casemiro was the best player on the pitch by a mile and makes the ugly side of the game look so simple and beautiful. 

Then there was the moment on the half hour mark, when Eriksen pickpocketed Ruben Loftus - Cheek high up the pitch. Casemiro came away with it, Fernandes ran off him and for a moment the three of them were away and gone like a little lightspeed triangle. The move ended with Kepa's save from Marcus Rashford, but such was United's midfield superiority that Potter, with his midfield getting swamped and bogged down, had to act. The introduction of Mateo Kovacic restored an extent of equilibrium and led to Chelsea's best spell of the game. How often do you see a manager make a tactical sub before half-time at any level, never mind at the highest echelon of the game? It said it all. 

Even amid the late drama, it was possible to glimpse how ten Hag's side are still developing, still training their instincts, not quite yet the finished article. But even the most ardent 'ABU' cannot deny the scale of this side's improvement. Admittedly, it was a very low bar from last season but the progression is there for all to see. United look a really good side again and this is the best I have seen us in years. Finally we have an excellent, modern and forward-thinking coach worthy of the name, a defined style of play with a balanced build-up and a mix of youth and experience. Most of all, we have a proper, competent, functioning midfield. Welcome to modern football, Manchester United. It's been a while! 

Match report: Chelsea 1-1 Man United

Casemiro's last gasp header cancelled out a contentious Jorginho penalty to earn United a dramatic point in thrilling late drama at Stamford Bridge.
A largely uneventful game burst into life late on when the Italian's goal from the spot looked to have earned Graham Potter's men a narrow win three minutes from time.

But Erik ten Hag's improving Reds never know when they're beaten and pilfered a richly deserved point when man of the match Casemiro capped a colossal individual performance with a 94th-minute header to spark scenes of wild celebrations among visiting fans, players and management. 

The Champions League winner has made a huge difference to this side and a player not known for his goalscoring prowess rose to meet Luke Shaw's 94th-minute cross to power home a header despite Kepa's best efforts to keep it out. Replays showed the ball had crossed the line by a matter of mere millimetres but they all count and it was the very least we deserved for our efforts.

Amidst the furore surrounding a certain Portuguese no.7 and his Old Trafford future, there was one alteration from the side which had so impressively beaten Tottenham in the week. Christian Eriksen returned in place of Fred in an otherwise unchanged line up. 

United quickly set the tempo in the opening exchanges, dominating possession and pressing high whenever a dangerous Chelsea side had the ball. It almost paid off when Shaw's buccaneering run from left-back saw him have a dig at goal only to see his 25-yarder flash narrowly wide of the post.

Kepa saved well from the again impressive Antony with the Reds in complete control in the opening 30 minutes but with no goals to show for our superiority. But that nearly changed when Marcus Rashford - playing through the middle - burst into the box on the counter and found himself one on one with the Chelsea stopper. 

But he was unable to beat the in-form Spaniard as Kepa raced out to thwart the onrushing Rashford from a position where our no.10 should really have done better.

The nature of United's dominance spoke volumes as Potter made an early tactical change ten minutes before half-time when he replaced ex-Brighton cohort Marc Cucurella with Mateo Kovacic to stem the flow and to try and get hold of midfield. 

Mason Mount and Raheem Sterling linked up to almost put Chelsea into a half-time lead against the run of play whilst Antony went close again at the other end when he shot wide on his weaker right foot. 

Chelsea gave out with an improved intensity and had more of the ball but clear cut opening remained at a premium. There was a huge blow for United and - with the World Cup looming - France when classy defender Raphael Varane left the pitch in tears with a nasty looking injury on the hour mark. 

Victor Lindelof came on but United's defence is simply not as strong without the quality and presence of our Rolls Royce-esque no.19.

Trevor Chalobah nodded against the bar from a corner and Bruno Fernandes fired wide at the other end, before the tie burst into a dramatic denouement.

Substitutes Armando Broja and Scott McTominay came together from a corner as the latter sent the former sprawling in the kind of tussle you see 30 times every game all over the pitch. But referee Stuart Attwell point to the spot and penalty specialist Jorginho sent David de Gea the wrong way to seemingly hand Chelsea a fortuitous victory.

But this Reds team is made of stern stuff and refused to buckle. Defeat would have been extremely harsh on the impressive visitors and, with six minutes added, Shaw drove down the left and floated a ball into the area at the back post. Casemiro rose to meet it and, although Kepa got a hand to it, the ball struck the post and over the line as the Brazilian wheeled away in a euphoric celebration of his first Reds goal.

In truth, a draw was a fair result with United having collected ten points from a possible 15 against the other 'big six' sides to remain one point outside the top four at the culmination of a difficult run of games. 

Overall team performance: 7/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Casemiro. The best player on the pitch by a mile. 

Thursday 20 October 2022

ten Hag's United earn their Spurs on raucous night in M16

This was why Manchester United's powers that be appointed Erik ten Hag. This was the type of confident, dominant and thoroughly deserved victory the hierarchy envisaged when he arrived from Ajax in the summer.

As Antonio Conte's high-flying Tottenham came to Old Trafford, this was portrayed as another litmus test for United - the opportunity to judge the scale of our improvement against a side with Champions League ambitions of their own. Spurs may have been brushed feebly aside in the past, but Conte's Lilywhites are a different beast now - or so we were led to believe. 'Lads it's Tottenham' as Sir Alex Ferguson once said, but that was then. This is now. 

Yet, in reality, a match billed as our toughest so far was simply a no-contest. In Manchester United's best and most complete performance for many a year, Spurs and their feted forwards of Harry Kane and Heung-min Son didn't lay a glove on us. ten Hag understandably looked a very satisfied man as he marched off the Old Trafford pitch at the end of a triumph that bore all the hallmarks of what he wants from his new charges. Those opening two defeats are now merely a distant, unpleasant memory, and this was the zenith of United's season. While the result does not alter league position - with United still fifth and Tottenham in third - the trajectory of the two sides feels rather different after this. 

ten Hag is increasingly making his presence felt at Old Trafford, with standout wins against old rivals Liverpool and leaders Arsenal already. Spurs became the latest big name side to fall by the wayside with the Old Trafford crowd captivated in thrall by the slickest football we've seen so far under our new Dutch manager. Those two wins against the Scousers and Gunners were excellent but we had to dig deep at times in both of those statement victories. This was on another level such was United's utter and, dare I say it, even swaggering dominance. It was a night when everything ten Hag is trying to instill in this side came to fruition. 

ten Hag has his template - United had 28 shots, the most by any team in a Premier League match this season, and 19 in the first 45 minutes alone - the most since the days of Sir Alex over a decade ago. A very good Tottenham side were made to look alarmingly average. This was the finest performance of a managerial tenure still in its infancy. 

United flourished in the absence of their great Portuguese Cristiano Ronaldo, showing a verve, a drive and an intensity reminiscent of the halycon days of yesteryear. Spurs were penned in deep, camped in their own box in the face of a United onslaught for the ages. As the relentless Reds poured forward with wave after wave of swash and buckle, the first half was akin to a training game of attack against defence. 

The only lingering concern was the failure to find a way through in the opening half, although that was down to the brilliance of Tottenham stopper Hugo Lloris as the Frenchman mounted a one-man crusade of defiance. 

 It couldn't last, and it didn't. Fred and Fernandes - arguably United's two best players on the night, capped off fine individual performances with second half goals. Fred's opener took a deflection off the unfortunate Ben Davies but deserved his slice of luck. There was nothing fortunate about the second as Fernandes curled home a beauty at the culmination of a sizzling breakaway. 2-0 was extremely kind to a meek and disappointing Tottenham.

United's passing was swift, incisive and accurate, with Fred playing a key role alongside the grit and guile of the influential Casemiro in midfield. Bruno Fernandes had his best game for a year, Antony was a box of tricks and the back four were colossal. Up against two of the best attackers on the planet, Raphael Varane was class and composure personified as he forced Son to the fringes, sat on Ivan Perisic, and played areas rather than players. Alongside him, Lisandro Martinez may be small in size but colossal in stature and never gave Kane a minute. Diogo Dalot and Luke Shaw, progressive full-backs, didn't put a foot wrong. It was testament to how good the Brazilian duo of Fred and Casemiro were that Christian Eriksen - badly missed against Newcastle - certainly was not missed here. 

In the maiden managerial meeting between two of Europe's heavyweight bosses, ten Hag comprehensively and emphatically eviscerated his Tottenham counterpart. The usually unflappable Antonio Conte was left screeching at his players in despair as he raced up and down the touchline as if trying to sit on a hedgehog. His game plan of contain and counter-attack backfired spectacularly and he reacted way too late with a triple substitution after the horse had not only bolted, but was several fields away. Despite the fact he played an extra man in midfield in the absence of the stricken Richarlison, the extra layer made no difference. On this evidence, it is very surprising the Italian and his side occupy such a lofty position in the table. 

ten Hag said Ronaldo's premature, petulant departure was a matter for another day as this was a night to savour the sort of victory and performance exactly of the sort he had in mind when he left Ajax to join this fallen giant. 

How right he was. 

Match report: Man Utd 2-0 Tottenham

 Manchester United produced their best performance of the Erik ten Hag era with a swashbuckling display of dominance over an out-of-sorts Spurs.

Indeed, this was the Reds best performance in years with the only disappointment to be had in the closer-than-it-seems scoreline. 2-0 was hugely flattering for the Reds north London rivals, with only a goalkeeping clinic from Hugo Lloris preventing an absolute landslide. Fred got the ball rolling with a deflected effort 76 seconds after half-time, and Bruno Fernandes capped a superb individual performance with a stunning goal on 69 minutes.

ten Hag made one change from the goalless stalemate with Newcastle as Marcus Rashford came in up front ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo, who later walked down the tunnel and out of the stadium before the end of the game having not been brought off the bench.

United had played well in big home wins over fellow top six sides Liverpool and Arsenal, but this was complete domination on a scale not seen for many a year. From the off, the Reds tore into third-placed Tottenham with energy, intensity and verve. Captain Fernandes set the tone by cleverly finding pockets of space between Spurs defensive trio. Antony and Diogo Dalot went close with speculative efforts, before Rodrigo Betancur flashed a shot wide of David de Gea's goal.

Antony curled a brilliant effort off a post and Lloris saved superbly from Marcus Rashford. The Frenchman then worked overtime to deny Fernandes from a free-kick before he tipped over a dipping Luke Shaw volley.

United racked up an incredible 14 shots inside a frantic 30 minutes as the Reds laid siege to the Tottenham goal. Lloris kept out another Rashford effort and Antony delighted the Old Trafford crowd with a sumptuous piece of skill which left his two closest pursuers flailing at thin air.

England captain Harry Kane was rendered virtually anonymous but did serve notice of his threat when he fired a 20-yarder straight at de Gea after a rare Spurs counter.

The only thing missing from United's first half showing was a goal but the deserved breakthrough was not long in coming. All of United's endeavours were rewarded barely a minute after the restart. Nineteen attempts at breaking down the Spurs door before half-time, but just one nudge in the second.

Fred's willingness to get into a shooting position paid dividends as he collected Jadon Sancho's pass on the edge of the box and fired on goal. He got a bit of luck as his strike deflected off Ben Davies to trickle beyond the stranded Lloris and in, but the Reds had deserved it for their utter superiority. 

Yet still there was no let up to the Reds onslaught. Rashford thumped a shot in at the Stretford End, only for the busy Lloris to again thwart the England man with a smart low save. Fred fired wide and Casemiro lashed narrowly off target with a shot from distance. 

United's relentless press forced Spurs deeper and into mistakes, as Rashford, Fred and Fernandes continued to stifle the visitors desperate attempts to play out from the back.

Kane - marshalled magnificently by Lisandro Martinez - began to drop deep in an effort to influence his side's play. He saw little of the ball but found himself in a good position one on one with de Gea. Our Spanish stopper made a good reactive save, but the flag was up and referee Simon Hooper waved play on.

It proved pivotal as United surged up the pitch and put the result beyond any lingering doubt with a goal of the season contender. Fernandes finally got the finish his brilliant performance deserved as he curled superbly beyond Lloris on the edge of the box after a fluid and flowing six-man move.

Rashford's drive was slapped away by Lloris before he was involved in what looked to be a brilliant third as he played in Fernandes to dummy the keeper and slot home - only to be denied by the offside flag.

United had time to bring on Christian Eriksen shortly before full-time as the Dane returned from a period of illness.

Spurs offered very little, in truth, epitomised by Martinez's crunching challenge on Kane just before the final whistle. 

That. perhaps more than anything, summed up a terrific performance from everyone as United moved to within a point of the top four ahead of another difficult game at Chelsea on Saturday.

Overall team performance: 10/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Fred - with honourable mentions to Casemiro, Bruno, Antony, Dalot,  Varane and Martinez!

Sunday 9 October 2022

Match report: Everton 1-2 Man Utd

 Cristiano Ronaldo scored the 700th club goal of his career as United survived a late Everton onslaught to move to fifth in the table.

Ronaldo - criticised by all and sundry for his midweek misses against Omonia - came on for the struggling Anthony Martial to fire in his historic goal on the cusp of half-time. 


Antony had earlier levelled for United with his third goal in as many league games, after Alex Iwobi had curled the in-form Toffees ahead.

The night would have been much more comfortable for Erik ten Hag's side if not for the simply baffling decision to disallow a late Marcus Rashford goal - apparently your chest is now part of your arm - after the ball deflected off Jordan Pickford from less than a yard away. A call made all the more questionable by the fact West Ham's Michail Antonio had a goal given in identical circumstances leaving fans bewildered at the lack of clarity and consistency.

ten Hag made three changes from the midweek win in Cyprus as Martial, Marcus Rashford and Luke Shaw came in for Ronaldo, Jadon Sancho and Tyrell Malacia. Casemiro started at the base of midfield with Raphael Varane fit enough for the bench. 
With questions asked about the side's mentality in the wake of the demolition derby, the last thing the Reds needed was an early concession. Even at 30, Casemiro perhaps showed a touch of naivety when he was dispossessed by Amadou Onana. He might have got a free-kick in Spain, but this is the Premier League and referee David Coote allowed play to continue. Iwobi seized on the loose ball and left de Gea stranded with a stunning 25-yard curler. 

Given this side's semblance to go under at the merest hint of a setback, you feared the worst but, to their credit, United hit back and were level only ten minutes further on. Antony became the first United player to score in his first three league games for the club when he was put clear by namesake Martial to finish superbly beyond Jordan Pickford. 

Martial had been selected for his first start of the season but sustained an injury in the warm up and limped off after half an hour, to be replaced by Ronaldo. The Frenchman simply has no luck with injuries and this was his third different ailment eight games into the campaign.

Christian Eriksen fired over from distance and Pickford saved well from Bruno Fernandes before the period of pressure culminated in Ronaldo's record-breaking goal. It was a goal made in Madrid, too, as the former Los Blancos team mates combined to deadly effect. Casemiro's slide rule pass released Ronaldo to sprint clear and fire in an excellent strike across Pickford to put the Reds in front at the interval.

Everton, unbeaten in seven and on an upward trajectory under Frank Lampard, had a renewed vigour but were unable to seriously test David de Gea.
Rashford headed wide, Diogo Dalot went close and Eriksen was narrowly off target as United's passing and pressure looked to reap the rewards with the game clinching third goal.

It looked set to have arrived in the 80th minute when Rashford latched on to Ronaldo's flick on and burst clear. Our in form no.10 skipped beyond the advancing Pickford and tucked the ball home but the goal was incredibly ruled out after it had ricocheted off the Toffees stopper and on to the arm of Rashford. It seemed the referee wanted an exciting finish and was told to give Everton the momentum going into the closing stages. 

With the fit again Dominic Calvert - Levin, so often United's scourge, on after his return from injury, and the Reds rocky record at Goodison Park, nerves were jangling as the clock ticked down. Perhaps sensing the visitors uncertainty, Everton laid siege to the United goal in the dying moments. 

Onana nodded over from Demarai Gray's inswinging corner before fellow substitutes Dwight McNeil and Calvert - Lewin then linked up as the former's cross narrowly evaded the onrushing latter at the back post. 
Onana flicked a header wide after Gray had picked him out, before Raphael Varane thwarted substitute Salomon Rondon with a lunging block. de Gea was then called into action through a superb save to deny former team-mate Garner. From the resultant flag-kick, Calvert - Lewin came within inches of his customary goal against United but headed wide from close range. 

In truth, a draw would have been harsh on United as the improving Reds deservedly held on for their fifth league win in eight games under ten Hag. 

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