Sunday 30 January 2022

I'm sickened and disgusted on a dark day for Manchester United

News of Mason Greenwood's arrest and the horrific events allegedly preceding it have left me sickened and shaken to the core.
For the first time in my life, I'm ashamed and embarrassed to be a Red - angered by the actions of one of our own, a generational talent with the world at his feet, our Starboy - but one I now never want to see in a Manchester United shirt ever again. 
A player I rated as the best Academy product since Ryan Giggs - now linked with his illustrious predecessor only by the same tarnished reputation. What is it about Man Utd wingers in the no.11 shirt? 

I'm so angry - angry at Greenwood as I thought he was better than this. Not only for his behaviour but at his willingness to destroy his talent. I just cannot see beyond the thought process of thinking it's OK to do that to a woman. Other incidents similar to this have elicited rage within me, but this time it's hit different -  because it's a United player involved: a player we've invested time and money to develop and nurture as he rose through the ranks to transition from teenage hotshot to household name. A player who had everything he needed to become a world star. All thrown away in a heartbeat because he didn't get what he wanted. A lesson to us all, perhaps, when it comes to the perks - and the pitfalls - of fame and money. 

I back our players to the hilt and will defend them until the cows come home whenever there's controversy. I gave Harry Maguire the benefit of the doubt as he was tried in a kangaroo court and acted in self defence. Even when Greenwood fell foul of Covid regulations in Iceland, it was hardly crime of the century and he appeared to be harshly treated compared to Phil Foden. But there can be no excuses, no defence this time. Greenwood, accused of beating up his girlfriend and trying to force her to have sex, has thrown away his career, ruined a young woman's life and sullied the great name of Manchester United. The pictures are abhorrent, horrific and harrowing - perhaps, though, in isolation, not enough proof of Greenwood's alleged offences. But the accompanying audio recording is the final nail in the coffin, the overwhelming evidence which elevates these accusations to another level entirely. 

You could probably just about explain away the images but the audio file? There's no coming back from that - it seems like the end game for Greenwood. It's hard to see how he can have a future at the top level now. 

Greenwood, of course, remains innocent until proven guilty but the evidence is as graphic as it is damning. You have to question whether - this time - there really is two sides to every story. If the allegations are true - and why wouldn't they be - Greenwood should never wear a Manchester United shirt again. 

The fact she felt the need to record the audio at all would suggest he's done it before and she needed evidence to support her story when the police intervened. 

Greenwood has been suspended by United with the player arrested and charged with assault and rape. With the police involved, it must be more than simply an elaborate set up. The club have done right by taking action as soon as they became aware of it - we can't terminate Greenwood's contract due to the legal process but suspending him from training and all matches is the correct course of action. 

I hope Harriet Robson is OK. She's been so brave in coming forward and letting the world know what this abhorrent scumbag has done to her. I hope she gets all the love and support she needs and by speaking out she will encourage other victims of domestic abuse to do the same. Harriet, I know you're never going to read this, but we're all with you. 

To Mason Greenwood: you've let everyone down. Yourself, your family, your country, your club and your fans. You deserve everything coming to you. I don't want the likes of you playing for my football club. Get out and never come back. You're not welcome at Old Trafford any more. 

I'm still in shock at the speed and severity of today's events and words cannot do any of this justice. I certainly didn't expect to be writing this when I woke up this morning - it's been an emotional few hours on a dark day for Manchester United. 

Wednesday 26 January 2022

Tony Martial, he came from France..

Wantaway United striker Anthony Martial has completed a loan move to La Liga high flyers Sevilla until the end of the season. 
The mercurial Frenchman has featured just once since interim Reds boss Ralf Rangnick took charge in December, with Martial's game time limited to eleven minutes at the end of Saturday's victory over West Ham.

Martial had reportedly refused to be included in the squad for the trip to Villa eleven days ago (denied by the player), and his languid - often lazy - style seems one at odds with Rangnick's vision for a high octane, high energy United side. 

On the back of reverse fixture with the Midlands side, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer dropped Cristiano Ronaldo for the visit of Everton and picked Martial in his stead. Despite his record of only two goals in 24 games, doubts were eviscerated when he scored United's only goal shortly before half-time with a superbly taken opener. "Tony Martial scores again" emanated from the Stretford End, but that was his last league start and it could be the last time he hears himself serenaded at Old Trafford. 

There is no option to buy and no loan fee, but Sevilla will cover the striker's wages. It remains likely he will return to Old Trafford in the summer as one of a number of United fringe players with an uncertain future. A fresh start for both the player and the club looks to be the best outcome for all parties. 

Martial was the most expensive teenager in world football (eclipsing our own record fee for Luke Shaw) when he was plucked from relative obscurity as an emerging talent from AS Monaco in 2015. 
His £48m signing raised eyebrows for a player no one outside of France had heard of, but Martial would quickly dispel the doubters with a stunning debut as he stepped off the bench to score THAT memorable solo goal against the Scousers, going on to notch 17 goals in his first season, a laudable effort and no mean feat in a team lacking flair and creativity under Louis van Gaal. In an otherwise torrid, tepid and instantly forgettable campaign, Martial was the single ray of light. 

So how will Martial's six and a half campaigns in the Red of United be remembered? Well, of course firstly, as already mentioned, this is only a loan deal so we will see back at Old Trafford in the not too distant future. 
But you would probably rank him somewhere between a roaring success and a total flop. The Frenchman has struggled to live up to the hype but, whilst there have been some magic moments from a player who certainly 'has it' in his locker, you also feel a sense of what might have been. 

In mitigation, Martial's United career has co-incided with turbulent times at Old Trafford. Four different managers have come and gone - not of all of whom have been his biggest fan. Jose Mourinho notoriously fell out with the temperamental Frenchman, but he's certainly not alone there. He's never truly nailed down one single position, moonlight on both the right and the left as well as his favourite role through the middle as the no.9.
Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood have both risen through the ranks during his time at United and the return of Ronaldo certainly hasn't helped his cause, but for a player with such undoubted ability, he's never quite been able to shake off the stigma of a player operating at half pace.  

Martial was responsible for one of my favourite days supporting this great club, with his late, late FA Cup semi final winner against Everton at Wembley. I was there that day, in the crowd behind the very same goal Martial steered the ball into having latched on to Ander Herrera's toe poke and fired beyond Joel Robles in the final seconds. Que bedlam. Carried down Wembley Way arm in arm with fellow Reds (and slightly the worse for wear), Martial's terrace chant paid homage to a player we had taken to our hearts. 

The best form of his Reds career came as football resumed after the first Covid lockdown, when Martial channelled his inner Pele, dovetailing majestically with Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood to spark our unlikely surge into third place. The net result? His best season in front of goal - 23 - with only one of those from the spot, to end 2019/20 at the top of our scoring charts. Without fans to get on his back, Martial thrived in the sterile environment of behind-closed-doors football but has been in regression ever since. He's become increasingly disillusioned with life in M16 and a parting of the ways has seemed inevitable for a while now. 

This might not be the end of the Martial story at United, merely the closing of an old chapter. All of us here at United Faithful wish our no.9 the very best of luck in Spain. 

Saturday 22 January 2022

Match report: Man Utd 1-0 West Ham

Marcus Rashford stepped off the bench to fire United to a massive win over top four rivals West Ham with virtually the last kick of the game.
There can be little doubt Ralf Rangnick's in-form Reds deserved their win but for so long it looked as if David Moyes Hammers - themselves enjoying a fine season - would not only keep us out but stay above us in the table.

That was until substitutes Edinson Cavani and Rashford linked up for a late, late, headline hitting finish as the former found the latter to tap home in the final seconds to put United fourth, a point and a place above our opponents with a game in hand. 

Buoyed by the midweek win at Brentford, our best performance under the interim German boss so far, Rangnick made only one change from the trip to the capital as the fit again Harry Maguire returned in lieu of Victor Lindelof, supporting his family after a break in during the game at Brentford. 
Mason Greenwood was crowded out having been found by Bruno Fernandes and then the lively Jarrod Bowen was impressively thwarted by the returning skipper Maguire. 

Fernandes and Cristiano Ronaldo had linked up for the second goal against the Bees and the two Portuguese schemers almost did so again when Fernandes whipped in a teasing ball but CR7 narrowly failed to make contact and the ball flashed wide.

Ronaldo saw a penalty shout go begging when he was bundled over by Kurt Zouma nine minutes before the break but referee Jon Moss and his assistant Paul Tierney were unmoved.

Scott McTominay snuffed out a Hammers raid at source as the visitors threatened a breakthrough shortly before the break.

Alphonse Areola was finally called into action to deny Fred, as the stand-in stopper pushed away the Brazilian's rasping drive from close range.
Bowen slammed into the side netting and Raphael Varane sent a header over the bar at the other end before Anthony Elanga dragged wide as he attempted to open the scoring, just as he did at Brentford on Wednesday.

Rashford was introduced for the young Swede shortly after the hour mark and he went close with a snapshot shortly after he had come on. 
Bowen's dangerous, penetrating runs pushed United back and only a Fernandes sighter from distance, which comfortably cleared the bar, suggested the deadlock could be broken.

Rangnick upped the ante further as Cavani and Anthony Martial - greeted by a mixture of cheers and jeers - came on for Fred and Greenwood in search of the all important winner.

Thomas Soucek headed wide and De Gea was then finally tested with the Hammers first and only effort on target as a Declan Rice cross-shot struck Varane and needed the Spaniard's intervention to turn behind for a corner. 

Martial fired wide on the turn before the dramatic denouement as Cavani held his run to stay onside and find Rashford to apply the coup de grace as Old Trafford erupted. 

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

Thursday 20 January 2022

Diogo Dalot emerges from the shadows to become a revelation

As Roman poet Titus Carus once said: one man's meat is another man's poison and that certainly rings true for Diogo Dalot.

No one has benefited more from Ralf Rangnick's arrival at Old Trafford than the Portuguese right-back - now indisputably first choice as a key component of Ragnick's Red revival. 
As soon as the incoming German boss spoke of his vision for United - the high pressing, high energy, attacking style he wanted to implement - you knew Aaron Wan - Bissaka's days as the Reds erstwhile undroppable full-back were over. We may have spent 50m on Wan - Bissaka back in 2019 but he immediately seemed to be at odds with the Rangnick raison d'etre. 

Having been the man to sign him, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer felt he couldn't dispense with the former Crystal Palace player and his defensive ability and agility suited the Solskjaer counter attack well. 'AWB' was never asked to push forward and diligently held back to stop opposition attacks and ensure United recycled the ball.
Solskjaer was so fixated on Wan - Bissaka, he loaned Dalot out to Italy where he linked up with Milan and even featured against his parent club when he started the first game at Old Trafford and then came off the bench in the second leg at the San Siro as the clubs met in the Europa League.

His time in Serie A proved enough for Dalot to earn a call up to the Portugal national squad for the delayed European Championships, alongside United team-mates Cristiano Ronaldo and Bruno Fernandes. 
Whilst there has been much discussion over the cohesion of the latter two men at United, a string of fine performances from their less heralded compatriot have gone under the radar. 

Dalot has been nothing short of a revelation from the moment he replaced the injured Wan - Bissaka in the XI for Michael Carrick's last game in caretaker charge against Arsenal. Dalot was one of the best players on the pitch and it was from his sweeping cross-field ball Cristiano Ronaldo put us ahead for the second time. His attacking thrust and intelligent use of the ball - hitherto conspicuous by its absence - are assets Wan - Bissaka just doesn't, or can't, offer.
On his 50th game in Red, he was superb again at Brenford and was the best player on the pitch, once more, for my money. Dalot was quick, he was strong, excelled both going forward and defensively and was immense in dealing with what, at times, represented an aerial bombardment from Brentford. It has taken Dalot four years to clock up his half century of appearances mainly due to injuries and then, simply, because Solskjaer didn't believe in him. 

Dalot made 16 ball recoveries, more than anyone else, and won four aerial duels. He won three tackles, five interceptions and seven clearances, and almost scored in the first half with a shot from distance. Dalot earned BT Sport's Man of the Match award and has finally made the right-back position his own. Wan - Bissaka missed the tie through illness and, on this evidence, faces a real battle to get back into the side. 
Wan - Bissaka has not kicked on - in fact you could argue he's regressed - but Dalot is still only 22, he's still learning but has shown resilience and self belief as our best current option. 

On the other flank, Alex Telles has also excelled in Rangnick's high octane system having usurped the previously impenetrable Luke Shaw at left-back. The German's preferred style suits both full-backs to a T. He favours attack minded, forward thinking full-backs in his 4-2-2-2 system and that spells bad news for Wan - Bissaka, whom as we know is (very) limited as an attacking threat. Whilst there is no doubting the 24 year old's ability as probably the finest out and out defensive full-back in the league, he is limited going forward. AWB has, in fairness, tried to adapt his natural game, but it's clear anything over the halfway line pushes him out of his comfort zone. 

As is the case with all players, a continued run in the side has clearly helped him. Solskjaer would put him in for an odd game simply to give Wan - Bissaka the odd rest, and then - when he struggled - he would be out of side for weeks. 

Dalot has been central to Rangnick's tenure at United so far. Primarily, the interim manager wants him to offer width and an outlet in an otherwise narrow set up which forces play up the middle of the pitch. Perhaps more than any other tactical element, the full-back positions have been where the greatest transition from the Solskjaer era to the Rangnick identikit can be seen. 

With the revered German at the wheel, United needed more thrust and dynamism from their full-backs on both wings. Luke Shaw and Telles both naturally bring that to the table, and in fact may even flourish now they have more license to get forward, as does Dalot whose natural game is to attack. 

Wan - Bissaka will almost certainly be given a chance to prove himself to Rangnick between now and May, but the pressure is on. If he doesn't adapt - if he doesn't absorb his new manager's ideas and methodology - his United future will be in jeopardy. 

Wednesday 19 January 2022

Brentford 1-3 Man Utd ratings: Dalot and Varane star as Reds win again

Ralf Rangnick's Reds turned on the style - and the power - in our best performance under the interim boss despite a first half scare in the capital.
On our first visit to Brentford for 75 years, United were indebted to David de Gea but eventually prevailed through three Academy graduates to move to within two points of Saturday's opponents West Ham with a game in hand.

Here is how each Red rated at the Brentford Community Stadium.

David de Gea - 8

Made three superb - if relatively routine - saves in the first half in a compelling battle with the Bees Mathias Jensen. United could have gone under - the fact they didn't was largely down to De Gea. Had nothing to do after half-time.

Diogo Dalot - 9

A magnificent performance from one of Rangnick's most trusted lieutenants. Excellent both in defence and attack, he won everything down his flank and when called upon to repel Brentford's aerial bombardment. Quick, strong, composed and stylish, Dalot was simply immense here. On this evidence, Aaron Wan - Bissaka's never getting his place back. My MotM. 

Victor Lindelof - 6

This always looked a tough test for him under the high ball and against Brentford's talented and talismanic striker Ivan Toney. Lindelof looked ill at ease in the face of what, at times, represented an onslaught but got better in the second half.

Raphael Varane - 9

Solid and dependable, Varane kept his head where others may have wilted. Good with and without the ball, it's the simple things he does so well. A purring Rolls Royce of a player. Class.

Alex Telles - 6

Did nothing wrong but nothing special either. Muted as an attacking force and with him on corners is it any wonder we haven't scored from one for about 5,000 years?

Scott McTominay - 8

Struggled at times under the Brentford intensity and press, but McTominay grew into the game on his return to the side and was involved in the second goal when he won the ball high up the pitch. Industrial and energetic as usual, United's midfield always looks better with him in it. Let's hope his injury is nothing major

Fred - 6

Quiet and regressed from a creditable showing at Villa but picked the lock well for Anthony Elanga. Like so many, improved hugely in the second half.

Mason Greenwood - 7

Drifted in and out of the game but stuck at it and was rewarded with his first league goal since mid October when he capped off a superb team move. 

Bruno Fernandes - 7

Tried too hard and loses possession a lot as a result but got on the ball more in the second half to pull the strings and followed up his brace at Villa with two assists here. Ended the game up top and there are signs he's returning to form.

Anthony Elanga - 7

Touted as United's next big thing and it's been great to see him rewarded with a run in the side. All three goals were scored by Academy graduates and the young Swede got the ball rolling with a nice finish - only his second ever senior goal. Rangnick seems to like him and he kept going despite some rough house treatment at times.

Cristiano Ronaldo - 6

Hit the bar and his magnificent chest play teed up Fernandes for the second. Got crowded out and found it tough going, his night overshadowed with a temper tantrum having been hooked.


Harry Maguire - for Ronaldo 71 - 6

Came on into a back three to help shore things up and - unlike Saturday - enable his side to see the game through.

Marcus Rashford - for Greenwood 71 - 7

Looked bright and lively and popped up with a lovely goal, his first since October. He needed that

Nemanja Matic - for McTominay 84 - N/A

No rating 

Match report: Brentford 1-3 Man Utd

Manchester United recovered from the intervention of David de Gea to hit three second half goals and take victory at plucky Premier League debutants Brentford.

Ralf Rangnick's side came under siege on our first trip to the Bees in over 70 years but - after de Gea had twice save from Mathias Jensen and Ivan Toney - United eventually prevailed. All three goals came from Academy graduates as Anthony Elanga put us ahead, Mason Greenwood added the second and Marcus Rashford added late gloss to the scoreline.

Rangnick made two changes from the team which squandered a late 2-0 lead at Villa Park as Scott McTominay came in for Nemanja Matic and Cristiano Ronaldo returned to the XI in lieu of the unavailable Edinson Cavani. 

Jensen proved a thorn in the Reds side throughout and served notice of his intention after only two minutes when he was found by Vitaly Janelt but could only pull his effort wide.
Brentford keeper Jonas Lossl cleared well under pressure from the lurking Elanga, but De Gea was called into action for the first time on 13 minutes when he saved superbly from Jensen before Janelt's volleyed follow up was cleared.

Brentford got a draw at home to Liverpool and have pushed Chelsea and Man City to the limit this season so it was no surprise to witness them make life hard for Rangnick's Reds. Mads Bech Sorensen had a shot deflected wide by Alex Telles and Christian Norgaard fired over the bar from close range.

The magnificent Diogo Dalot went close from distance with United's best chance before De Gea kept the Bees out again with a superb save, this time with his foot to again deny Jensen, although it wouldn't have counted anyway with the offside flag up. 

In a frantic start to the second half, Ronaldo struck the bar and De Gea foiled Jensen for the third time at the other end as he repelled the Danish midfielder's 20-yarder.

The deadlock was not long in coming and duly arrived on 55 minutes when Fred's probing through ball found the onrushing Elanga and he superbly lifted the ball over Lossl for his second senior United goal. 

Having got in front, United seized control and moved clear of a tiring Brentford seven minutes further on. A superb chest pass from Ronaldo released Fernandes one on one with Lossl and the latter squared unselfishly for Greenwood to tap in his first league goal in three months. 

Brentford refused to lie down and with Saturday's capitulation - from an identical position no less - still fresh in the memory - you felt United weren't safe yet.

Mats Roerslev sliced over the top and Toney shot wide on the turn, but the Reds put the result beyond any lingering doubt 13 minutes from the end to ensure there would be no repeat of Saturday.

Fernandes had set up Greenwood and grabbed his second assist as he fed substitute Rashford to run through and smash home a finish for his first goal since October.

United were in control when Rangnick decided to give Ronaldo a breather with 20 minutes left and Saturday's tie with West Ham clearly in his mind. The pouting Portuguese subsequently threw a massive strop, as he walked off at a snail's pace, shaking his head
and muttering as he threw his coat down and retreated to the bench with a face like thunder. Rangnick had the last laugh as his switch worked with the third goal from Rashford. 

Brentford's top scorer Toney gave his flagging side a late lift when he bundled home from a Norgaard flick-on to deny United their clean sheet, but the Reds held out to secure a vital win. 

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

Tuesday 18 January 2022

Man Utd's midfield malaise is of their own making

 Picture the scene. You've recently acquired a new car for an exorbitant sum of money. It sits proudly on your driveway, spick and span, the envy of the neighbours. It's your pride and joy and you can't wait to open the throttles and listen to her roar. 

But there's just one problem - the engine doesn't function properly. Sometimes it doesn't start at all. Sometimes it splutters into life and on the odd occasion you get a couple of hundred yards down the road before giving up the ghost. 

Suddenly, your new motor, your newest infatuation which was supposed to bring you unbridled happiness, is next to useless. You thought you might be able to get by without needing work done on the engine, but the problem has now become too big to simply ignore. 

It's often said a football team's midfield is very much like that engine: one which is well oiled and nicely put together with plenty of fuel will keep you going for hours and will rarely be found wanting. One that's old, much less than the sum of its parts and needs frequent inspection will never get you very far at all. 

A football team's midfield is often the single most important component part when it comes to success - or otherwise.
And so we come to Manchester United, circa (or should that be circus) 2022. A season we went into with high hopes after last term's surprise second placed finish and the summer signings of Raphael Varane, Jadon Sancho and - most seismically of all - Cristiano Ronaldo. Finally, this would be the year Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's Manchester United (as we still were then), would come to the title party. Or so we all thought. 

But yet, even as we thumped five past Illan Meslier and Leeds in an opening day blitz, there were signs of a tap dripping in the Reds midfield. Not quite a torrent of flood water, but certainly the trickle of a stream - the team was already starting to leak. 
With the benefit of hindsight - what a wonderful thing it is - the Ronaldo signing should've been shelved in pursuit of upgrading the midfield. In truth, United's midfield hasn't been right since 2011 - quite how we won the bastard league two years later with an axis of Tom Cleverley and Anderson speaks volumes of Sir Alex Ferguson's genius. Ironically, both of those players would walk into this current team over this shower.

Since then, United's midfield malaise has been only exacerbated - if something ceases to function, can it be said to exist at all? 
Louis van Gaal signed Morgan Schneiderlin and an ageing, injury prone Bastian Schweinsteiger (what's the opposite of a dynamic duo), although Ander Herrera proved a success. Selling him was a mistake, as was the failure to adequately replace him. 

Nemanja Matic has footwork as cumbersome as an England batsman, Fred is hard working but limited and Scott McTominay is more box-to-box than an out and out central defensive midfielder. The latter was unavailable for Saturday's trip to Villa Park but, for all his critics, remains United's most competent engine room schemer. Matic, in lieu of the Scot at Villa, was hindered by an early booking and was cooked by half-time as Villa's John McGinn and Douglas Luiz seized control of the midfield and, as a result, saw their side take charge of the tie.

A substitution was urgent but there was no one else and so Matic had to stay on. The veteran Serbian was signed by Jose Mourinho and performed admirably in his first couple of seasons at Old Trafford but simply doesn't have the legs or the fitness levels for the heat of battle over 90 minutes now. He's too easily bypassed and, without an elite combination of creator and enforcer, is it any wonder why United never dominate or control games? Matic is 33 and Villa's duo of McGinn and Luiz had an average ave of a mere 23. In short, Matic is unsustainable over 90 minutes. 

Every team with even a half decent midfield will fancy their chances against us. United downgraded from a controlling team in the first half hour to a counter-attacking one but, by the end, weren't really any sort of team at all.

For all the pitfalls of Solskjaer's tried and tested 4-2-3-1, utilised sporadically under Ralf Rangnick, it at least maximised Bruno Fernandes. The problem was behind the front four where another midfield combination proved powerless to prevent the opposition from running riot.
Matic was underused in the first half of the season but is now chronically overused having started three of the last four games. For half an hour at Villa, he held the fort, enabling Fred to uncharacteristically roam forwards, with Villa caught under his press which led to the second goal. 

The midfield has been left to melt away for years and its malaise is entirely of our own making. Its a position so untenable urgent action is required this month - it can no longer be left until the summer. Denis Zakaria, Amadou Haidara or both of them - anyone who can run, tackle, pass and has the requisite stamina would offer an upgrade on what we have at present and address the imbalance. Declan Rice and his West Ham side come to Old Trafford on Saturday in what could effectively be a United job interview for the Hammers highly rated 23-year-old.

There can be no more talk of the "right player" becoming available. Anyone's better than our current options and this is, after all, a club who brought in Odion Ighalo two Januarys ago. A legitimate argument can be made we have the worst midfield in the league.

 For all United's stellar cast, there is a fault line running through the team which simply cannot be ignored.

Monday 17 January 2022

I'll never know quite how Manchester United didn't win that..

 If ever a game could be described as a 2-2 thrashing then it would be this one. You don't always get what you deserve in football and Manchester United took that old adage to new heights against Aston Villa. 

Quite how Ralf Rangnick's Reds failed to win this thriller at the Villa only they will know. Our best performance of the season looked set to be rewarded with back-to-back victories over Steven Gerrard's side but United's soft centre and lack of nous was exposed by the host's late rally in which Jacob Ramsey and Philippe Coutinho - it had to be him didn't it - pulled level. The fact the ex-Liverpool man was the player to seal the home side a point only added to the sense of incredulity. An absolute travesty. 

A case can be made United have only played well throughout a full 90 minutes on four occasions this season - Leeds on the opening day, Atalanta at home in the Champions League, Arsenal in December and here at Villa Park. 

Whilst you would have gladly accepted a point before the game, the level of United's performance and a late 2-0 lead means this ultimately feels like a loss, as Rangnick himself admitted afterwards. I recall a similar game in 2010 when United battered and laid siege to the Villa goal, but - on that occasion - it was us to come from two behind to salvage a dramatic late point. Twelve years on, the personnel and landscape may be different but the circumstances were not too dissimilar. 

To add insult to injury, United can feel a sense of injustice Lucas Digne - Villa's other new signing at left-back - was only booked for his reckless lunge on Diogo Dalot, one of a series of 'strong' challenges as their newest recruit put himself about, shall we say. Quite how Digne remained on the field is perhaps an even bigger mystery than United's failure to win. We can certainly feel hard done by when it comes to refereeing decision, not for the first time this season. 

Bruno Fernandes had scored his first brace since the opening game of the season and United - as interim boss Rangnick has so craved - surprisingly controlled and dominated the game for long periods even without the suspended Scott McTominay in midfield.
This meant Rangnick paired Fred with Nemanja Matic and it led to our most fluid performance of the season. This was everything we've wanted to see from the Reds for weeks - finally a United side carved in Rangnick's own image. The ball retention was good, we pressed well, moved the ball quickly and - at times - laid siege to Emi Martinez's goal. Indeed, our second goal came from one such moment as we moved the ball through the phases, Fred caught Morgan Sanson under the press, forced the Villa man into a mistake and fed Fernandes to fire in a finish - what looked to be the all important game clinching second goal. 

Ironically given his early and uncharacteristic error (karma's a bitch isn't it Emi), the ex-Arsenal keeper did more than most to keep his side in the game. Unfortunately, Matic's race was run by half-time and he faded to the fringes which allowed Villa's midfield men Douglas Luiz (also lucky to stay on the pitch) and John McGinn - almost anonymous up until then - a way back into the game. Fitness and game management proved our undoing as Gerrard's side came on strong in the second half. Plenty for Rangnick to work on but plenty of positives and much improvement too. 

He denied Mason Greenwood and the impressive Anthony Elanga before further saves from Edinson Cavani, the hat-trick hunting Fernandes and late sub Donny van de Beek. Martinez did more than most in claret to stem the side and, in truth, Villa can be indebted to their 6ft 3 keeper for their salvaging of a point. Indeed, it was cruelly ironic as only football can be Martinez was man of the match despite his early aberration and, in turn, Raphael Varane - probably the second best player on the pitch - allowed the ball to run through to Coutinho to score, with the Frenchman having done so much to help United control the game with a Rolls Royce style showing at the back.

Villa were reduced to half chances and speculative shots from distance with David de Gea a virtual spectator bar one or two routine saves which he would be expected to make. He had no chance with either Villa goal which both came from point blank range. I can't recall a clear chance they had apart from the two goals. 

There has been a lot of criticism for us this season - indeed, some of it fully justified - but, on this occasion, we can point to our own misfortune and an unfortunate sequence of events. I won't accept criticism after that performance. Football - it's a Beautiful game but a cruel one, too. 

Saturday 15 January 2022

Match report: Aston Villa 2-2 Man Utd

Philippe Coutinho inevitably capped his Aston Villa debut with a goal as Steven Gerrard's Villains produced an unlikely late rally.

A Bruno Fernandes double had put Ralf Rangnick's dominant Reds in total command, but the introduction of the ex-Liverpool string puller turned the tie and led to their unlikely climb-off-the-canvas fightback. 
Villa should've been down to ten in the first half for Lucas Digne's late, clumsy, lunge on Diogo Dalot but Jacob Ramsey thumped in on 77 minutes and then turned provider for his new team-mate four minutes later to salvage an unlikely point. 

 Quite how Manchester United failed to win this thriller at the Villa only they will know. If ever a game with a 2-2 scoreline can be described as a thrashing, then it would be this one. United were dominant for long periods and should have been out of sight by the time Ramsey pulled a goal back. Whilst you would definitely have taken a point beforehand, the dramatic twist in the tale leaves you feeling like this was a loss. 

United had beaten the same Villa side in the FA Cup five days hence and made changes from the third round tie. With Luke Shaw and Scott McTominay suspended, Alex Telles and Nemanja Matic returned to the XI whilst Anthony Elanga was handed a start on the left of midfield with Marcus Rashford absent in a slightly understrength side. 

Just as they did in the FA Cup tie on Monday, United started strongly and went ahead inside six minutes albeit in slightly fortuitous fashion. A training ground routine involved Alex Telles and Fernandes as the former found the latter and he let fly from distance. Villa goalkeeper Emi Martinez should have made a routine save but instead fumbled the ball over the line and in. Elanga nodded wide and Mason Greenwood was denied by Martinez who redeemed himself with a smart save to deny the United winger. 

Another Villa debutant, left-back Lucas Digne, could then count himself fortunate to stay on the field after he was only booked for a lunging challenge on Dalot, having clattered into Fred moments earlier. 
The busy Martinez pushed clear from Telles, but De Gea was then called into action at the other end to keep out Ollie Watkins.

Greenwood flashed a shot wide and Edinson Cavani also went close with a header before De Gea saved smartly from Emi Buendia after he was picked out by the reprieved Digne.

Elanga carried a threat and forced another stop from Martinez, who was doing his best to atone for his early error. In an increasingly end-to-end contest, this time it was Villa to go close through Ramsey as our Spanish stopper pushed away his low effort from inside the box.

Greenwood fired into the side netting and Elanga was narrowly off target, but United's all important second goal arrived on 66 minutes. Fred dispossessed Morgan Sanson under the press and the little Brazilian found Fernandes to fire in an excellent finish off the bar. 

De Gea cleared well having been put under pressure by an errant Matic backpass, but with time running out Ramsey reduced the deficit as he found space to fire in beyond De Gea and set up a grandstand finish.

The comeback was complete four minutes further on as Ramsey this time turned provider. Villa broke down the left and Ramsey pulled the ball back, the sliding Raphael Varane missed it, and Coutinho - of all people - swept home the leveller.
Yet there was more to come as either side chased the winner. De Gea stopped again from Coutinho and, at the other end, Martinez stood tall to beat away a shot from United sub Donny van de Beek. 

In the end, the points were shared after an exciting tussle in the Midlands with United on the road again at Brentford on Wednesday.

Overall team performance: 6/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Bruno Fernandes 

Tuesday 11 January 2022

Rangnick's Reds to face second tier opponents next up

Scott McTominay's early goal sent United past Villa to set up an FA Cup fourth round tie at home to Middlesbrough.
Ralf Rangnick's Reds were made to work for victory over our divisional rivals but held out to progress into the last 32 for the eighth successive season.

United were handed a relatively kind draw for once - there's no easy games at this level but it makes a change from having to face another Premier League side with a match against Chris Wilder's second tier Boro. 

Like the Reds, the Teesside club will be focused on their league campaign as Middlesbrough sit just outside the Championship play-off positions, a point and a place behind sixth-placed Huddersfield. Wilder's side needed a 95th-minute injury
time winner to seal their place in the fourth round as a John - Joe O'Toole own goal gave them a dramatic victory at League Two Mansfield. The FA Cup is far from priority for either club with both focused on kicking on up the league in the coming weeks and months. 

Middlesbrough used to be regular opponents for the Reds as a Premier League fixture, but the club were relegated in 2008-09 and we've only p
layed them thrice since. We'll want to forget the last time we met them in a cup competition, when Aitor Karanka's men knocked us out of the League Cup on penalties in the 2015-16 campaign after a 0-0 draw at Old Trafford with Louis van Gaal in charge. 

Boro went on to seal a Premier League return that campaign, and returned to M16 as equals the following term. With Jose Mourinho up against his great friend and "brother" Karanka, Middlesbrough looked on course for victory as Grant Leadbitter put the struggling Teesiders ahead in our Old Trafford meeting on New Year's Eve. But United channelled the spirit of the watching Sir Alex on his birthday as two late goals from our French connection Anthony Martial (85) and Paul Pogba (86) earned the hosts a dramatic, vintage, Ferguson-style climb-off-the-canvas victory. 

United went on to complete the league double over a Boro team doomed for an immediate return to the Championship, with a 3-1 win on Teesside in March 2017 with Karanka having now departed 

This will be the 127th meeting between the clubs - United have 64 wins, Boro 34 with 28 draws. 

United last faced Middlesbrough in this competition in the 2006-07 season at the quarter final stage as a penalty - converted by a certain chap by the name of Cristiano - saw the Reds prevail at the quarter final stage in a tight two-game encounter after a 2-2 draw at the Riverside in the original tie. United would make it to that year's final where we controversially lost to Chelsea.

Former Sheffield United boss Wilder took over from Neil Warnock in November and has only lost once since to lift Boro from lower mid-table to the fringes of the play-offs. Former Red Paddy McNair currently plies his trade on Teesside and has clocked up over 100 appearances for the club since signing from local rivals Sunderland in 2018. Former Reds youth product, keeper Luke Daniels, joined Boro in the summer and has played six times for them. 

All fourth round ties will be played between the 4th and the 7th February. Other standout fixtures see National League North side Kidderminster host three-time winners West Ham, Arsenal's conquerors Nottingham Forest take on the holders Leicester in an east Midlands derby, and European champions Chelsea play League One Plymouth.
There are three all Premier League ties as Everton host Brentford, Brighton go to Spurs and Wolves play Norwich. United vs Middlesbrough is one of four ties in which top flight sides take on second tier opponents - the others are Liverpool against Cardiff, City vs Fulham and the aforementioned east Midlands showdown between Forest and local rivals Leicester. 

Monday 10 January 2022

Match report: Man Utd 1-0 Aston Villa

Scott McTominay's early header proved enough for United to edge into the fourth round as Steven Gerrard's Villa side 'slipped' out of the FA Cup.

McTominay's eighth minute header was all Ralf Rangnick's side needed but it was certainly not for the purist as Villa had two goals disallowed and - at times - laid siege to David de Gea's goal.

But the result is the most important thing even if it is only the FA Cup as United set up a tie at home to Championship side Middlesbrough having seen off our divisional rivals - the same divisional rivals we face in the league on Saturday.

Ironically, it was United's two most maligned players whom made the difference as Fred's superb curling cross picked out McTominay to nod beyond Emi Martinez and in. 

Cristiano Ronaldo, Harry Maguire and Jadon Sancho were United's big-name absentees but Rangnick named a stronger than expected side as he made five changes from Monday's tie with Wolves - Diogo Dalot, Victor Lindelof, Fred, Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford all returned to the starting XI.

McTominay started prominently in United's bright start as the Scot went close two minutes before his goal when he tested Martinez from distance.

McTominay managed to beat the Argentine keeper soon afterwards with his first goal of the season after a brilliant ball from Fred to put us ahead, just as he did in last year's third round fixture against Watford. 

Villa's response was dangerous and not long in coming. Ollie Watkins came within inches as he narrowly evaded a whipped ball across goal, and Danny Ings then almost turned in from an Emiliano Buendia miscue in front of the Stretford End.

John McGinn showed why he would fit this United side like a glove with another impressive display in midfield. He was first to call De Gea in action with a drive from distance, before our no.1 was needed again, this time to deny Buendia, before Cavani went close at the other end after Fernandes had picked him out.

In a compelling, end-to-end contest, Watkins slammed off the bar having turned Victor Lindelof, then Jacob Ramsey's speculative 25-yarder deflected off McTominay and whistled wide. 

Back came United through Fernandes - whom had a shot blocked - and the ball eventually fell to Luke Shaw. He let fly with a stunning effort from miles out but Martinez was equal to it and tipped over the bar.

McTominay had another go but volleyed into the gloves of the Villa keeper to ensure we held a slender 
1-0 lead at the interval. 

Then came the game's major talking point. Five minutes after the restart, Ezri Konsa headed a free-kick back across goal and McGinn stooped to nod in from close range. VAR is only used at the Premier League grounds in this competition and, after an agonising wait of over three minutes, referee Michael Oliver
chalked the goal out for a foul on Cavani and a subsequent offside infringement. Villa might've felt aggrieved but they scored an offside winner from a corner that wasn't a corner when we played them in the league so what goes around comes around. 

The visitors had the ball in the net again on the hour mark but this time there could be no complaints with Watkins clearly in an offside position. 

De Gea tipped wide from Matty Cash with bookings for Fred, Shaw and Dalot as a feisty cup tie - no doubt accentuated by the presence of Gerrard in the dugout - remained on a knife edge.
The lively Watkins went close with a curler and Mason Greenwood had a shot saved on the counter attack after 74 minutes as Donny van de Beek replaced Cavani to get control of the midfield. 

Marcus Rashford's bad night at the office was summed up when he failed to sprint for a loose ball and instead stood still and watched as Villa cleared with our struggling no.10 replaced soon after. 

Jesse Lingard and Anthony Elanga were handed late run outs with the latter's brief cameo an impressive one. There was to be no further drama despite six minutes of stoppage time as the Reds held out for a game against the Boro.

Overall team performance: 6/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Raphael Varane

Wednesday 5 January 2022

Division.. delusion and disaster for Manchester Disunited (RANT)

Thirty seven days. The approximate length of time it has taken for Manchester United's prima donnas to turn on their new interim manager and throw Ralf Rangnick under the proverbial bus. Even for this discombobulated, toxic and divided squad and its dressing room cliques, this is some going.

We may never know exactly what's been going on behind the walls of the Carrington training complex, but - if the reports in the Mirror are true, it makes for grim - and depressingly familiar - reading. These reports have made me mad. They made me really mad. I'm so angry I had to write this to vent how I feel.

The un-named players (although we can gather a good idea of whom it may be) are said to be disappointed and underwhelmed by Rangnick's methods, they don't like the changes he's made to their training methods and are struggling with his tactics. The same happened under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in the end. The same happened under Jose Mourinho. And Louis van Gaal. And David Moyes. Spot the common denominator. 

These toxic, lazy, spoilt, babyish, self entitled, overpaid bluffers masquerading as players. Under Solskjaer - in the first couple of years at least - we had a group of lovely lads, a likeable young squad with a genuine connection to the fans. It's not taken long for that all-for-one, one-for-all ethos to leave the building along with the now departed Norwegian. The fight, the desire, the passion for the club evaporated in just a few short weeks simply because the players are being asked to work harder, get fitter and press more.

I've never felt more distant from a United squad. Manchester United? More like Manchester, Dis-united. As for the constant leaks? Surely they must be coming from those players in the squad not getting game time.

One player apparently had "to Google him." I've got some news, precious primadonnas - I doubt he's impressed with you either. He probably had to research to find out about most of you lot. If Rangnick didn't know how big, and how very difficult, this job would be even for him, he certainly does now.

Manchester United made most of you lot relevant - as teenage tyro and activist Greta Thunberg once said: "How dare you." How dare you. Who are you? Who do you think you are? I don't care if you're the best in the world or a third-choice U23 winger: if you don't want to play for our club, get in the bin. Get out, don't come back and mind the door when you leave. United's players don't feel Rangnick is "elite" enough. Only VIPs are allowed through their velvet rope, their little bubble, of getting them to do what they are paid millions to do. Something all of us would give our right arm for the chance to do. Run after a football for a living for the world's most famous football club. A football club slowly eating itself. After a decade of failure, these players are simply not in a position to call the shots.

You would do well to remember what this club stands for and what the iconic Red badge means. People have literally died for it. Died for our club as they chased a dream to take an English club to a place it had never been before. The finest young side our country has ever seen lost their lives in the line of duty representing this club. Our club. Never forget that. And here's you lot complaining over having to drive home in the dark because the manager changed when training is. These players should be ashamed of themselves and take a long hard look in the mirror. Rangnick needs to be ruthless and get rid of anyone who doesn't want to be here regardless of talent, influence and stature.

Playing for this club should be a privilege - the biggest honour of a professional player's career. It shouldn't be a chore. It shouldn't be something you don't really fancy. It's as if they know Rangnick will be gone in the summer anyway so let's not bother. I can see what the German tactician is trying to do, how he wants us to play, but the players evidently don't have the aptitude or the ability to carry it out. They don't want to even try and adapt. Disgraceful and an embarrassment to this club's great name. Imagine if you did the same in your regular job. You'd be out on your ear in no time.

I'd rather have eleven Phil Jones's than these pompous, self entitled so called world class charlatans. Not the best, perhaps, in terms of talent but at least players like Jones fight for the badge, give their all and know what this club means. As the old adage says: Hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard.

Supporting this club is exhausting. If it's not the on-field drama, its the constant off-the-field dressing room shenanigans. The rumours, the unrest behind the scenes. The analysis and the over-analysis. The constant anxiety. All played out in public in front of the world. It's emotionally draining. Maybe this mob should try supporting instead of playing then they would know how we feel.

Tuesday 4 January 2022

Match report: Man Utd 0-1 Wolves

 Wolves proved to be the scourge of the Reds again as a late Joao Moutinho winner inflicted Ralf Rangnick's first defeat as United boss.

Bruno Fernandes struck the bar and had a 95th minute free-kick turned away by Jose Sa but the Old Gold - undoubtedly United's bogey side - held firm in another binary lovers scoreline.

With captain Harry Maguire out through injury, Covid positive Victor Lindelof in isolation and Eric Bailly away for the AFCON, Phil Jones returned to a United starting XI in defence for the first time in 707 days.
Old Trafford's great survivor slotted in alongside Raphael Varane, a partnership wanted by Sir Alex Ferguson coming to fruition eleven years on. 
Our much maligned no.4 hasn't featured for the club's senior team since our 6-0 win at Tranmere in the FA Cup on 26 January 2020 but enjoyed a creditable 90 minutes with his name serenaded loudly throughout.

Wolves were pragmatic and deep-lying under the tutelage of Nuno Espirito Santo but his compatriot and successor Bruno Lage has them playing on the front foot, looking to move the ball quick and controlling the game through midfield string pullers in chief Ruben Neves and Joao Moutinho.

It did not take them long to exert their authority on the tie in both sides first game of 2022. 

David de Gea saved well from Daniel Podence and then kept out Neves soon afterwards before Nelson Semedo went close with another save from the Spanish stopper - again from Podence - thrown in for good measure.

Jadon Sancho was released by an excellent Mason Greenwood pass, but he was crowded out and unable to conjure anything from our best early opening.

United's next moment didn't arrive until three minutes before half time. Edinson Cavani found himself in a good position ten yards out but could only lift the ball over the bar when a pass to Greenwood looked the better option.

The Reds best spell of the game came at the start of the second half with Fernandes summoned from the bench on the hour in place of Greenwood. He immediately made an impact with the Reds tempo, threat and danger raised by the introduction of our talismanic figurehead.

Eight minutes after he had come on, came United's best chance of the tie. Superbly picked out by Nemanja Matic, Fernandes was well placed and perhaps should have scored but slammed his effort off the bar. 

Our two Portuguese superstars then linked up again as Fernandes found United's stand-in captain for the night, Cristiano Ronaldo to head in, only for the goal to be ruled out by the linesman for an offside infringement. 

Ronaldo pulled a shot wide but the Reds were now looking the side most likely to go on and win the game. 
But Wolves weathered the storm and struck the bar themselves through a Roman Saiss free-kick after Matic had hauled down substitute Adama Traore.

United have struggled against the men from Molineux ever since their promotion to the Premier League in 2018, with only two wins in the league over them in that time - both of those came by the odd goal in last term's two league meetings.

With eight minutes left, Lage's side broke the deadlock when Traore burst beyond Luke Shaw and got his cross in. Jones headed out but the ball only dropped as far as Moutinho who took a touch and fired in low beyond the helpless De Gea.

In truth, the Reds barely deserved a point but still almost salvaged exactly that when Jones bravery won a free-kick on the edge of the box with only seconds left.
Ronaldo and Fernandes lined up the set-piece and the latter's effort looked destined for the net until fellow countryman Sa in the Wolves goal acrobatically turned the ball away to preserve his side's victory. 

Let's put this down to a bad day at the office (everyone has one, right) and move on to the next game.

Overall team performance: 5/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Phil Jones. Magnificent considering his circumstances.