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

Thursday 6 October 2022

Rejuvenated Martial throws down the gauntlet

Three appearances. One assist. Three goals. 166 minutes. Anthony Martial's impact in 2022-23 has been brief but seminal.
Martial appeared to be drowning in a sea of mediocrity after a horror loan spell at Sevilla but Erik ten Hag's arrival has coincided with a dramatic upturn in fortunes. Since arriving at Old Trafford from Monaco for £36m as the then most expensive teenager in world football, there have been flashes - tantalising glimpses - of the mercurial Frenchman's je ne sais qois.

A lack of talent has never been Martial's problem: undoubtedly, the ability has always been there. It's been more to do with his injury problems, mentality and lack of consistency. All this, and as the Frenchman enters his eighth Old Trafford season, he has really only been at his best in one of them. In the lockdown-hit campaign of 2019-20, Martial struck 23 goals (his best ever net busting season) but his form fell off a cliff and he has seemed a man on the brink of the exit door ever since. 

But something within the Frenchman stirred during United's pre-season tour. Dovetailing superbly with Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford, Martial scored thrice to lay down a marker and looked set to spearhead United's attack into the new season, the Reds first under incoming manager Erik ten Hag.

But a knock in the final pre-season game put the kibosh on that, and an Achilles injury limited Martial to only one appearance, as a half-time sub in the rousing win over Liverpool. In a taste of what was to come, he set up Rashford to fire in the winner and, even though he did not score, earned rave reviews for his excellent, line leading showing.

He was the only United player to emerge with any credit from the derby day demolition at the Etihad: indeed, Martial came on after an hour and scored twice to give the scoreline a hint of respectability. He headed in from close range and then thumped home an emphatic penalty late on to leave his calling card and remind his manager he is ready to once again be the man for Manchester United. He stepped off the bench in Thursday's European win and scored with his first touch only seconds after coming on. 

It seems ten Hag is starting to agree: Cristiano Ronaldo is ageing and cannot press and Rashford is inconsistent and one dimensional. He is better as a winger whereas Martial is the perfect embodiment of ten Hag's style. The way in which the Dutchman wants United to play is with a somewhat physically demanding, aggressive pressing style. Ronaldo cannot do this, Rashford does so only sporadically, but it is something Martial is particularly good at. There was a distinct change in United's tempo when Martial came on in the derby - he pressed City, created space and got United higher up the pitch. It may not have made a jot of difference, but with the benefit of hindsight, he should have started ahead of Rashford at the Etihad. Such has been his electric start to the season, his predatory instincts, direct running and ability to break the lines with his pace are clearly valued by ten Hag, who considers him further up the pecking order than a faltering Ronaldo. 

Martial is brilliant at switching things up in a way no one else in the side can. He is direct, plays on the shoulder and can burst in behind but is also comfortable to drop deep and collect the ball. This makes him very difficult to pick up, hard to keep tabs on and United are far more fluid with Martial linking the play and working the channels. His physicality and stature is a real asset to our play and seems to be exactly what ten Hag wants. Martial's style of play is closely aligned to that of ten Hag, perhaps more so than any of his other United managers. It seems clear now: if Martial is fit and firing, he must - MUST - be the starting no.9 for United, week in week out. He should have got the nod in the derby and is surely a shoo-in to play from the start at Goodison Park on Sunday. ten Hag has managed his carefully and wanted to be careful in easing him back, but he simply cannot be ignored any longer. Three goals in his last 32 minutes of football tells it's own story. We must do everything we can to keep him fit. 

It is clear, like all strikers, Martial is a confidence player and his dander and self belief - fuelled by his impressive pre-season, is at it's zenith. He may have played the least minutes of all our attackers but Martial sits atop United's fledgling goalscoring charts so far.

The spotlight will fall on Sancho and new arrival Antony - widely regarded as two of the finest young wingers in the game and, at 22, they will be tasked with carrying United forward. But Martial, by comparison a relative veteran at 26, has shown his more exalted colleagues how it is done. It is he who has thrown down the gauntlet and lit the way for others to follow. 

His renaissance couldn't have been better timed - for him, for United or for France. With the Qatar World Cup rapidly approaching in the rear view mirror, the world champions may yet still find space to accomodate Martial in their squad for the tournament. 

It is still early days but it feels as though Martial is going to be such an important player for ten Hag's United this season. Tony Martial, he came from France...

Sunday 2 October 2022

Match report: Manchester City 6-3 Man United

Phil Foden and Erling Haaland bagged hat-tricks apiece as Pep Guardiola's rampant City ended United's winning run with a devastating display.

Foden's double and Haaland's brace put City out of sight by the interval before Antony's screamer preceded the completion of Haaland's treble and then Foden's. Substitute Anthony Martial headed a consolation and then converted a late penalty to give the scoreline an air of respectability. But, in truth, this was a largely one sided contest although United's improved second half rally at least saw us emerge with some positives. 

For all the Reds recent revival of fortunes, City served up a reminder of just how far ahead they are of everyone else - and of how far United have still to go. 
There was no surprise with Erik ten Hag's team selection as the Dutch boss kept faith with the side that beat Arsenal 3-1 in their last Premier League outing back in September. 

In our first game for 17 days, City were dominant from the off and instantly laid siege to David de Gea's goal. The Spanish stopped saved well from Kevin de Bruyne and Scott McTominay then threw himself in the way of Bernardo Silva's follow up.
United's gameplan of keeping it tight early on went out the window five minutes further on when City took the lead through Foden, his first Manchester derby goal. Bernardo Silva was involved once again when he picked out the onrushing local lad to sweep the ball beyond the stranded de Gea and into the top corner.

Ilkay Gundogan rattled the post from a set piece and Joao Cancelo then fizzed an effort narrowly over the bar from a corner. 
United managed to escape from further damage until eleven minutes before half-time when Haaland - who else - rose to power home de Bruyne's header despite Tyrell Malacia's ultimately futile attempts to clear off the line.

The Reds were simply unable to stem the flow as City's lightning start showed no signs of abating. On 37 minutes, City's no.9 struck his second of the game, and his side's third, when he combined again with de Bruyne. For my money the two best players in the world, the latter controlled and picked out the former to finish off a fine, five-man move in style at the back post.

Things were to get even uglier for the outplayed and outclassed Reds as Haaland turned provider for Foden a minute before the break. The Blues fourth goal was a mirror image of their third as a superb move, which involved Silva, Gundogan and de Bruyne, culminated in Foden's drilled finish having been picked out by City's all-conquering no.9.

To quite literally add insult to injury, United's in-form centre-back Raphael Varane limped off with an ankle injury in the midst of the chaos. Victor Lindelof came on for his first league appearance of the season and Luke Shaw then replaced the struggling Malacia at the interval.

Bruno Fernandes stung the palms of Ederson before new signing Antony pulled one back in spectacular style with a 25-yard curler for his second Premier League goal in as many games.
That only proved the catalyst for another City onslaught as the relentless Haaland thumped home his third having been picked out by substitute Sergio Gomez - the unplayable Norwegian's third successive home hat-trick and 17th of the season. 

But still City were not done as they threatened to outdo their record league win against United - the 6-1 win at Old Trafford in 2011/12 when they went on to win the league. 
They duly equalled that tally on 72 minutes when Foden beat the offside trap to hammer home from close range despite a VAR check to see if the ball had gone out of play after more excellent play from the Norwegian striker.

Three goals and two assists - the man is not human and comes from a different planet. It is hard to see anyone stopping City with him and his side on this form. 

Martial, who had earlier come on for the anonymous Rashford, scored twice late on to at least provide United with a semblance of pride. He nodded in after fellow substitute Fred had an effort saved by Ederson, and then smashed home an 89th-minute penalty having been scythed down by Cancelo. The goal was greeted by near silence from the away end but proved little by way of consolation and gave the scoreline a slightly misleading look.

Overall team performance: 5/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Anthony Martial. Only played half an hour but did well in his cameo. 

United Faithful are back!

Wow, well what a last six weeks it has been. The blog has been unusually quiet, mainly due to my flitting off here, there and everywhere. My feet have barely touched terra firma over the last month but now we're back, refreshed and ready to get back 'into the swing of things' here at United Faithful. 

Our absence co-incided with United's upturn in form and you must have been wondering where I've been, so I'll tell you. 

I've been away across the water in Northern Ireland for a two week hiking trip, two stag dos (indeed, even a HEN do) and then my friend's wedding last weekend. All in all, not much time at all to focus on penning these pages whilst United have been pilfering points left, right and centre (until today). 

That's not to say we haven't been keeping up to speed with our club's fortunes. I watched the second half of the Saints game in a bar at Euston, glimpsed the highlights of the win at Leicester in a pub in Newcastle (the one in Northern Ireland, not the one in the North East) and then watched bits of the Arsenal game on a friend's phone. 

The Queen has died, the UK has yet another PM and Watford have been through 5,000 managers! (No, not really, but they have appointed Slaven Bilic). It's safe to say a lot has happened whilst I've been gone but now I'm back and ready to bring you all the very latest from Manchester United. 

We just wanted to update you as we've been quiet and thought you might want to know why that is.