United efforts to help during this outbreak cheers fans

Manchester United players led by captain Harry Maguire have taken a 30% pay cut on their one month salary to donate #3.5 million to NHS, while rest of the English Premier League (EPL) and Professional Footballer's Association (PFA) are yet to agree on a similar proposal. Last month the club decided to continue to pay the match day staff numbering 900, perhaps the largest in the EPL during the suspension of all matches while few other EPL clubs had put their staff on furlough. United joined hands with rivals City to donate #100,000 to local food banks. These series of measures by the club have made the supporters proud.

However the Club did release a video of how two of its players having a difficult season are coping with the shutdown in Paul Pogba & Jesse Lingard. Perhaps aimed at building bridges with the fans! Futures of both at United remain uncertain. Lack of live football has been partially compensated by re-run of classic matches including that famous away win in Turin vs Juventus with unselfish captain Roy Keane ensuring passage to the Champions' League final while he himself being suspended wasn't available for a momentous night at Nou Camp, 1999.

Too soon to call the PR appointment of Neil Ashton a success but the above steps certainly bode well. Challenges on clearing the deadwood from the playing squad remain as United contemplate the return of its highest earner Alexis Sanchez having flopped at Inter on loan. Will he move to a Chinese club on a high wage or loaned out again remains to be seen. Jesse Lingard, Phil Jones, Marcos Rojo, Timothy Fosu-Mensah, Chris Smalling, Andreas Pereira being the others. Benefits of removing Fellaini, Herrera, Valencia, Darmian, Lukaku, Young has been the emergence of Scott McTominay, James Garner, Brandon Williams, Axel Tuanzebe, Tahith Chong and Mason Greenwood from the academy.

UEFA having postponed the Euro's to next year a move that has reiterated their commitment to complete this season's competition's including the Champions' League, Europa League and local leagues to ensure the clubs do not lose the lucrative revenue from TV sponsorship. Various scenario's have been discussed including hosting all pending European or league games behind closed doors in a single city with multiple stadiums like in China or Birmingham. Postponement is possible as far as September with a curtailed season next term but anything later might lead to freezing the league table as is like in Belgium or voiding the season.

Summer transfer window and players contracts that run through to 30, June might be impacted. Bayern Munich chief rightly predicted the huge transfer prices of players might fall by about 10-25% or more in a few cases. This presents a unique opportunity for clubs like Manchester United who might have more cash to burn than most clubs to use it wisely for a bargain to get a superstar but not make a mistake like Alexis Sanchez again. A storm blew the top of Victoria Ground home of Stoke City in 1976 which was uninsured and led them to sell Jimmy Greenhoff to United. Scenario now is far more serious as clubs across Europe will be fighting to survive with absolutely no earnings for unknown length of time. Clubs like Barcelona, Athletico Madrid might need to sell presenting United with an chance to pursue Antoine Greizmann or Saul Niguez. If Paul Pogba is moved out then Jack Grealish, Jadon Sancho, Donny van de Beek or Saul Niguez, Thomas Meunier would represent an excellent transfer window. Dean Henderson must spend a year as understudy to David de Gea before taking over as number one choice else United might look at another loan move next season.

Solskjaer revealed how Carrick and McKenna are working on a plan for a two or three week pre-season if the league resumes. Seems like the new coach Martyn Pert whom United hired in December, 2019 is becoming another of Solskjaer's great hires and Fred is an example of how Martyn has worked on individuals to get the best out of them. Meanwhile Marcus Rashford has become the best symbol of how players can play their part during these tough times by contributing to the society.

#StayHome #StaySafe

Famous number 7 jersey that has become a conundrum in the last decade

Ever since an Liverpool legend graced the famous number 7 jersey of Manchester United its become a poisoned chalice. Micheal Owen did score that famous derby goal from a Ryan Giggs pass to win a decisive game in the sixth minute of stoppage time and in the following season managed to win his only league winners medal. He had replaced Cristiano Ronaldo who after winning the Champions' League and Ballon D'Or left for Real Madrid as did David Beckham in 2003 his predecessor.

Antonio Valencia provider of pin-point crosses and passes to Wayne Rooney wore the jersey succeeding Owen but within a year the weight of expectations took its toll and he reverted back to No 25.

Angel Di Maria signed for record transfer fee by Louis van Gaal was bestowed the jersey and started off by winning the Player of the Month and Goal of the Month awards with 2 goals and 2 assists in his first four matches, but his performances with the rest of the team dropped off sharply amid difference of opinion with the manager that he failed to board the plane for preseason tour of the US and was subsequently sold to PSG recouping three-fourths of the transfer fee.
Memphis Depay eagerly wanted that famous jersey from di Maria and started equally well. Louis van Gaal and Ryan Giggs cognizant of this fact, urged him to change his lifestyle after Depay admitted he found it difficult to cope with heavy schedule of games and was dropped from the squad midway through the season. Depay was the Man of the Match against FC Midtjylland in a 5-1 win where Marcus Rashford made his dream debut scoring two goals after Anthony Martial got an injury during the warm up. Depay did not even make the FA Cup final squad either. Jose Mourinho in his first season had even less patience and allowed the Dutchman to leave in January to Lyon becoming the first failed import from PSV after the success of Jaap Stam, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Park Ji-Sung.

A year after Depay left United signed Alexis Sanchez playing a piano in a sensational ad aimed for the social media. He unfortunately achieved only that and not much on the field. Fans were upset that he kept in-form Anthony Martial out of the squad and in return offered nothing. His most important contribution was to score the winner against Newcastle in a game that was rumoured to be Mourinho's last but the Chilean helped keep the Special One a while longer at Old Trafford.

Keeping with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's push for academy players and raising concerns about the attitude of players purchased previously it makes sense to hand the number 7 jersey to Marcus Rashford. He has played on despite team's struggles, many times with injury and even faced the media bravely after a heavy defeat. He shown remarkable maturity as seen in his interview with Gary Linekar earlier this season and took up many causes that shows his deep commitment to social issues impacting his locality, Wythenshawe a suburb of Manchester. A leader to compliment Maguire.
Rashford has had his best season for United with 14 league goals and 4 assists curtailed with a double stress fracture after putting in positive performances to dispel doubts over his ability to lead the line and learning along the way the nuances of striker's runs, touches, positional play to lift United. He became the fourth youngest player to play 200 times for Manchester United behind Norman Whiteside, George Best and Ryan Giggs. He is happy with the number 10 jersey and not hinted any desire for a change. Jack Grealish, Jadon Sancho and James Maddison are being eyed by the club for the summer with an irresistible temptation of the number 7 jersey however given the failure in the last decade it might be worthwhile to reconsider the approach. Champions' League qualification might be a decisive factor to determine who eventually comes to Old Trafford. Antonio Valencia a full back and to be given the number 7 jersey was always going to be a long shot, not so in the case of Marcus Rashford adept at playing at the apex or left of the attacking triad. The contrarian view would be to not load the 23 year old Mancunian who has just made his best contribution to his boyhood club. What do you think?

Famous players to don No 7 shirt: Johnny Berry, George Best, Steve Coppell, Bryan Robson, Eric Cantona, David Beckham, Cristiano Ronaldo. Robson and Cantona weren't wingers and succeeded. Johnny Giles wore it in the 1963 FA Cup final before being released to join rivals Leeds United, a decision regretted later by Sir Matt Busby. Solskjaer having steadied the club with sound recruitment and setup the number 7 might not face the unpredictable line-up or tactics under previous managers coming to grips with the huge task to follow unprecedented success of Sir Alex Ferguson era thus increasing the chances of getting it right in the new decade.

Suspension of all football matches due to Coronavirus pandemic

Club released a statement on Friday, 13th March confirming the suspension of football matches with immediate affect. The matches slated to be played till the end of this month have been impacted. This follows behind closed door game against LASK Linz which United won emphatically 5-0 with Tahith Chong fresh from signing a new contract created two assists. There has been instances in the past where the season has been suspended due to unusual winter weather or hooliganism that has disrupted the season but were able to resume and finish nonetheless. Example the 1962-63 season had to be extended by a month due to the Big Freeze to complete the backlog which seems challenging due to this summer's Euro 2020.

After the boxing day match in December 1962 the next one that United played was on 23 February. Without the outlet of playing that few used to vent their frustrations things came to a head regarding the tactics and training when few seniors like skipper Noel Cantwell, Maurice Setters, Harry Greg questioned the methods. Post Munich it was the ever reliable ex-keeper Jack Crompton who conducted the training sessions on Sir Matt's behest. Players targeted Jack but actually wanted to know the reaction of 'the Boss' if he was receptive to the ideas that were flooding the game at Ipswich, Tottenham, Leeds, Liverpool, Celtic et al. During clear the air meeting 'the Boss' was all ears and Jack did speak out on being targeted especially by Cantwell. The Boss knew about these murmurs more than everyone thought and it merely confirmed to him the team's receptiveness. Like Bruno Fernandes now, it was Pat Crerand then who had joined the club recently and the fortunes of the club started turning positively.

Despite finishing 19th just avoiding relegation United won their first trophy after Munich the 1963 FA Cup where 4th placed Leicester City were the favourites who had one of the best defenses in the league with keeper Gordon Banks, captain Colin Appleton, Ian King and Frank McLintok dubbed the 'Ice Kings'. Crerand flourished in the wide expanse of Wembley after struggling to settle at Old Trafford initially, created the crucial passes for Law to score that was captured by Alan Hoby of Sunday Express as "a deadly duet danced by those two tartan magicians, Crerand and Law." United played Leicester twice in two days on 15th and 16th April over Easter drawing the first match 2-2 at home and losing a scintillating encounter 3-4 away where Denis Law scored a hat-trick that was cancelled by hat-trick of Ken Keyworth that took Leicester to the top of the league.

Freeze meant United played 3rd to 6th round of FA Cup matches in March starting with a 5-0 win over Huddersfield Town where Denis Law scored a hat-trick then beat Aston Villa, Chelsea, Coventry City and Southampton in semi-final in April all without needing a replay. Albert Quixall scored in the first four FA Cup matches and converted a crucial penalty after Denis Law was fouled to draw 1-1 at Maine Road the result that kept red half of Manchester in the league while relegating the blue half. Youth Cup winners of 64 in George Best, David Sadler, Bobby Noble, John Aston Jr, John Fitzpatrick, Jimmy Rimmer then combined to provide the exuberance with Shay Brennan, Tony Dunne, David Gaskell, Nobby Stiles, Johnny Giles that jelled with the experience of the seniors Bobby Charlton, Denis Law, Bill Foulkes, David Herd, Paddy Crerand needed to lift the team to glory.

Euro 2020 is being held in 12 different countries this time to commemorate the 60th year of the tournament with finals to be staged in Wembley. If the outbreak is not curtailed by end of this month UEFA and FA will have a tough decision to make; either allow the league to finish provided Euro's are postponed to next year in which the new expanded Club World Cup format is to be rolled out by FIFA or end the league season as is to let the Euro's be staged. Last time a season was involuntarily interrupted completely was in 1939-40 which only managed to have three games played before the second world war halted all major football till 1946-47. United had started the '39 season with a win and a draw then traveled to London to play Charlton Athletic to whom they lost 0-2. Next day war was declared and within two days the entire league season was cancelled.

This is the second break of the season after the FA introduced a winter break in February for the first time. After freeze United needed to play 18 league matches and 6 FA Cup matches which meant playing 7 league games in month of April and May each which was a huge ask. Now United just need to play 9 times in league, 3 times in FA Cup and 6 times in Europe if they go all the way to the finals. In 60's cup was probably given higher importance by finishing it first except for semi and finals but now the league might be given the first priority then European competitions and lastly the FA Cup that has all Premier League clubs in quarter-finals that compounds the situation. Euro 2020 starts from 13th June but with major leagues having their national teams based in their own countries the traveling logistics at the start of the tournament are minimized. United have already played 9 games each in December and January, and similar number of games are required to be played in April and May to complete the season which is definitely possible. Hoping the efforts of everyone to limit the spread of virus comes good. God speed!

United are on a 11 game unbeaten run since the shock loss to Burnley. Unlike the issues that cropped up for Busby despite just one loss in nine league games prior to suspension, Solskjaer is in a much healthier terrain having taken tough structural decisions early about the deadwood, getting the recruitment right, reorganized the setup at youth level, getting the best out of Fred, easing Williams and Greenwood, naming Maguire as captain, winning over Matic and all this despite injuries to Martial, Shaw, McTominay, Rashford and Pogba. Busby did hold his flock together while inducting the youth to reap the rewards.

Double over City proof of Solskjaer getting it right at United

The first league double over local rivals City since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson has cleared all doubts about United's rebuild under Solskjaer. The squad had all of his signings three from the summer and two in January and importantly without Jesse Lingard, Andreas Pereira, Phil Jones while Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba are out with long term injuries. Solskjaer made the most of his squad while sustaining 70% City possession that could not breach the solid defensive unit of United. Kevin de Bruyne not even in the squad and Pep Guardiola bringing off Sergio Aguero, Bernardo Silva after 60 minutes hinted City's priorities were elsewhere even though they had enough talent to win in Sterling, Foden, Fernandinho while Jesus, Mahrez and Mendy came on to improve them further.

Brilliance of Bruno Fernandes chip from a free kick caught City back line by surprise as Anthony Martial latched on to score past Ederson who could have done better. This shot from Martial atoned a previous lapse of judgement when he could have passed to Fernandes to score. Fred was unlucky to not get a penalty when he was judged to have dived while the replays clearly showed a City player clipping his run although it was a bit soft but a yellow card was unjust. Sergio Aguero goal was ruled offside by his front leaning shoulder was a close call for the VAR whose introduction this season has caused more harm than good to the English game. Anthony Martial persisted until he was substituted even though he hurt his leg after colliding with the post as he attempted a chance off error prone Ederson. Late in the second half substitute Scott McTominay intercepted the throw from Ederson as they chased the game to slot home from long range to an empty net.
Rookie Brandon Williams was ran over by experienced Riyad Mahrez in the second half and rightly substituted by Eric Bailly which meant Luke Shaw moved to left-back role from left centre-back where he had another great game a position he first played against Liverpool in a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford in October. Recoveries by Nemanja Matic was excellent through out the game and talks about his contract extension does again demonstrate how Solskjaer has won over the experienced Serbian leading him to regain his form at a crucial juncture for United who are chasing the fourth Champions' League spot. Aaron Wan-Bissaka again pocketed Raheem Sterling that deserves an England call-up while playing as left wing-back is now enabling him to grow his attacking and crossing skills.

There might be a section of fans thinking why Paul Pogba should be reinstated to the squad when for most of this season he has been absent given that he might be sold in the summer with just two months left to play. Firstly the club will suffer financially next season if it does not make it to the Champions' League as Sponsors will give less money as per penalty in the contract for non-qualification for two straight seasons to Europe's premier competition and hence Solskjaer must use all resources available to him. Secondly he might not be an automatic choice given the form of Fred and Fernandes now but with United playing Thursday's & Sunday's till the end of the season the squad does require a good backup option.

During the most recent conference call on United's financial results Cliff Batty did respond to a direct question on the funds available to spend in the summer transfer window which is 190 million. Pursuit of English duo Jack Grealish and Jadon Sancho might take up the complete allocation. As yet there is no indication of United wanting to offer Paul Pogba a contract extension but to use the proceeds from his sale thought to be in the region of ~80 million with only one year left for the summer transfers.

Dean Henderson doing well between the sticks at Sheffield United has given another option for United to raise funds for the rebuild provided clubs like Juventus, Real Madrid or PSG can match the salary of David de Gea that is highest in the world for a goal keeper. The only counter to this argument is that with de Gea, United can aim to win the Champions' League as he is of the same stature as legends Alex Stepney, Peter Schmeichel and Edwin van der Saar. Henderson who joined United as a teenager and has come up through the ranks might know the club well but as Schmeichel used to say being a United goal keeper is a really tough ask both physically and mentally. Right approach would be for Henderson to be an understudy to de Gea for a year and then take up the No 1 spot. Alex Stepney is the youngest keeper at United to win the European Cup at 25 years 8 months 11 days while Dean Henderson turns 23 this week. Iker Casillas though won it at just 19 with Real Madrid. Its the only honour to elude David de Gea, 29 who has won everything else.

Solskjaer with this win has achieved what neither of David Moyes, Louis van Gaal nor Jose Mourinho could. Add the double win over Chelsea too and examine the blueprint of academy players progressing through (new contracts to Tahith Chong and Ethan Laird), successful recruitment of senior players, excellent man-management skills and a positivism that is proving to be contagious confirms he is the right one to bring back the swagger of the old United in long run. For now Solskjaer was found a way to win to continue the unbeaten run and last 8 league fixtures against the bottom half provides him an opportunity to fix another lacuna while claiming the fourth spot at the same time. Trophies are the only missing item which might yet be won at the end of this season given the favorable draw in both Cup competitions and defensive wherewithal.

Bruno Fernandes a dream come true for United

The long courted Portuguese maestro has an unbeaten month since making his debut in a 0-0 draw against Wolves followed by two wins and a draw in league, and draw and a win in Europa League. He has been rightly voted as the player of the month for February at Manchester United. He has shown purpose in every second while being on or off the field and combined effectively with Brazilian Fred to make the famed United midfield ticking again. This coupled with an improved defense with 9 clean sheets in last 15 games since the new year has set a solid foundation for future success though playing with five at the back. Only component lacking now at United is the pace on the wings where Martial and Rashford were deployed on the left, and James on the right when none of them are 'natural wingers' at a club known for Billy Meredith, Johnny Berry, George Best, Steve Coppell, Gordon Hill, Ryan Giggs, David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Bruno Fernandes who left his native to learn his trade in Italian league and came back much wiser technically to become the mainstay at Sporting who suffered a player exodus after mismanagement that resulted in him being endeared further with the demanding fans at one of Portugal's most famous clubs. That acumen of an all round midfielder adept in switching his role between a 6 and an 8 as per demands of the game is now being reaped at Old Trafford. He has been handed the role of penalty taker in the absence of Marcus Rashford and scored his first goal for Manchester United against Watford. Two goals and four assists while lifting the spirits to give the club a boost for a top four finish. Solskjaer admitted "That little spark he’s given us, he’s come in and the feeling around the place is better."

Solskjaer needs to ensure that United have a plan to cope with teams that mark Bruno Fernandes and limit his involvement else after a season he will find it tough just like Anthony Martial and Daniel James. The difference between those two and Fernandes is that he has more experience and has captained Sporting shouldering more responsibility. United have suffered from lack of leaders since the end of Ferguson era when most of the seniors parted ways within a year and this crucial facet of team dynamics has now been taken up by Solskjaer to remedy by first signing Harry Maguire and making him the captain. United prefer Jack Grealish over James Maddison now because he is leading Villans this season in their fight to avoid relegation.

United are unbeaten in eight games since their shock loss to Burnley in late January and wonder how the results in that month could have turned out if Fernandes was signed as soon as January transfer window opened or at the start of the season. Now they must make the most of a good FA Cup draw to reach the later stages as they face Derby County tonight where United's all time leading goal scorer Wayne Rooney is currently playing. Frank Lampard made his mark as a manger when he took the Rams past United in the 2018 League Cup in a penalty shootout when he had many talented players on loan from Chelsea and Liverpool. Rams are now managed by the distinguished former Dutch midfielder Philip Cocu who has won Eredivisie with PSV Eindhoven thrice and promoted Memphis Depay whom Louis van Gaal signed for United. Jason Knight and Tom Lawrence are the ones to watch out for led by former United captain Rooney. Paulo Wanchope's solo goal in 1997 in an upset win over United was rated by their supporters as the greatest goal in the clubs history.

The draw away at Everton where Solskjaer last year suffered his biggest defeat ended United's chance once again of winning three consecutive games this season. Harry Maguire, Bruno Fernandes and Nemanja Matic were impressive in that match. With mid-week games due to Europa League or FA Cup, Solskjaer must rotate his players and return of Paul Pogba will only boost the team's attacking threat. No point in not utilizing one of world's best player to push for top four. Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba in the midfield will worry any side whilst splitting the opposition marking and alternating the thrust to create goal scoring chances that can catapult United back into challenging for trophies.

United face Derby before the Manchester derby!

19th February a momentous day for Manchester United through the ages

1910: First official game was played at the new home of Manchester United - Old Trafford. Gracious host lost to Liverpool 3-4 who would become their perennial rivals from 60's. Sandy Turnbull scored the first goal at the new home for United. The decision to move from Bank street was backed by club chairman John Henry Davies who hired best stadium architect Archibald Leitch to build a brand new home befitting the league winners of 1907. The stadium also hosted two FA Cup finals including the 1911 replay and 1915 khaki cup final cementing its place as one of the finest and largest stadiums in England since. United finished fifth in their first season at Old Trafford and in the next won the league championship in 1910-11 for the second time in their history. 110 year celebration on the clubs official website. Guests received an invitation to the official opening of Old Trafford

"The President (Mr J H Davies) and Directors of the Manchester United Football Club ask your acceptance of enclosed, and extend a cordial invitation to attend the opening match on Saturday next.

The ground is situated at Old Trafford near the County Cricket Ground, and can be reached by three tram routes: Deansgate, Piccadilly and St Peter's Square.


The ground when completed will hold over 100,000 people. The present Stand will accommodate 12,000 people seated."

Due to cost overruns the capacity was limited to 80,000. Since the days of Busby Babes in late 50's United have best attendance record of any club in England and the farsightedness of John Henry Davies makes the club self-sufficient and the envy of every multi-billionaire investors around the world.

1939: Birth of Paddy Crerand whose assists were critical in many of the goals in the 60's and was the last piece of jigsaw that led United back to its glory days starting with FA Cup win in '63 within months of him joining the Red Devils. "If Pat Crerand plays well, United play well." was the famous adage to describe his influence over the team.

1945: Sir Matt Busby signs the contract to become the manager of Manchester United who were without any full time manager since Scott Duncan stood down in November 1937. He was the first tracksuit manager in England aged just 34. After the Ernest Mangnall era United had to wait 41 years to win their next league title in '52. But Busby laid the foundations of a modern football club based on progressing youth through the ranks and attacking flair that would forever be its DNA. Sir Alex Ferguson famously said that all he had to do was to copy the Busby blueprint. He took over the reins in October after being demobilized at the end of second world war where he served as company sergeant-major instructor.

1958: The first match after the Munich air disaster was held at Old Trafford wherein they faced Sheffield Wednesday in the postponed tie. Manchester United did not have enough fit players to take the field so the printed program notes had blanks instead of names in the team sheet highlights the uncertainty till the kick-off. It was left to the inspirational Jimmy Murphy to continue the show with full backing from Matt Busby still in hospital and club chairman Harold Hardman. Murphy signed Ernie Taylor although 33 but the man behind Blackpool's '53 FA Cup final and Stan Crowther from Aston Villa who had originally agreed to travel to Manchester to watch this FA Cup tie to decide for himself but four hours before kick-off Murphy's words convinced him to not only sign but play on the same day! Thousands of people stood outside Old Trafford even as 59,848 filled the stadium to show their solidarity with the club in its darkest hour. The team included five reserve players and Brennan one among them scored twice in that game while managing to score only 4  more in twelve further years at United: Gregg, Foulkes (C), Greaves, Goodwin, Cope, Crowther, Webster, Taylor, Dawson, Pearson, Brennan. United had struggled against them earlier in the season losing 1-2 but on this emotionally charged occasion ran out 3-0 winners.

1964: Thumped Bolton Wanderers 5-0 at home with goals from Best(2), Herd(2) and Charlton to set off on a eight match unbeaten run that made United challenge Liverpool and settle for second position after losing the their head-to-head match 0-3 at Anfield. Sir Denis Law would score 46 goals that season his best tally to win the Ballon d'Or. Next season United would go one better to win the league for fourth time under Sir Matt Busby.

1972: Lost to Leeds United 1-5 at Elland Road the biggest defeat of the season in the middle of seven match losing streak that dragged United who were the league leaders till Christmas in the first year of Frank O'Farrell to finally finish eight. This defeat prompted United to sign Martin Buchan the Aberdeen captain for club record fee of 120,000 pounds just ten days later. Buchan became the first captain to win both Scottish and English FA Cups and clearly the clubs most distinguished player of the 70's.

1997: Won 2-1 away at Arsenal their direct rivals without the suspended Eric Cantona who would retire at the end of the season. This match gave a glimpse of life without the clubs iconic No 7 player Eric Cantona perhaps the most influential in the last 30 years. New signing Ole Gunnar Solskjaer scored in this crucial game and topped the scoring chart with 19 goals in all competitions. David Beckham won the young player of the year award and the succeeded the Frenchman to the No 7 jersey and while experienced Teddy Sheringham was now the go to man to provide the winning edge.

2003: Beat Juventus at home 2-1 in the group D fixture of the Champions' League to top the group with goals from Wes Brown and Ruud van Nistelrooy. This raised the expectations of United reaching the final which would be held at Old Trafford. United lost to Real Madrid 5-6 in a thriller of a quarter-final tie which set off the rumours of Beckham joining Madrid amid Ferguson kicking a shoe accidentally at him. Real lost to Juventus in semi who lost to AC Milan in the all Italian finals that was a bore to watch.

PS: Yep that's my birthday!

Solskjaer under renewed focus as United aim to halt three match barren run

Manchester United have not only failed to win their last three English Premier League matches but also failed to score; 0-2 at Anfield, 0-2 to Burnley and 0-0 to Wolves both at Old Trafford. As a result they have not been able to close to the gap on the fourth position presently held by their next opponents Chelsea whom they face on Monday night. Ten points separate ten chasing teams below the fourth spot and based on worst start since 1989 United are certainly not the favourites to clinch it.

Two different stories emerged recently linked with Molde, Solskjaer's former club. The desperation to land a striker meant Solskjaer turned to his own ex-business partner, friend and agent Jim Solbakken whose associates deal with both Joshua King and Odion Ighalo. United had signed just one player in keeper Anders Lindegaard from Solbakken under Sir Alex Ferguson and now this deadline day transfer does raise concerns as the tenure of Solskjaer at Cardiff City paints a grim picture of a manager unable to come to terms with task at hand. Solskjaer to his credit has avoided the mistakes in recruitment that was a catastrophe at Cardiff City which included three Norwegian players who were also Solbakken clients. The second issue was the case of Solskjaer persisting with a player Babacar Saar while awaiting trial. Whatever the issue with Glazers handling of United they as a club will not like to be associated with an entity under cloud. Will that lead to Tommy Docherty like situation all over again remains to be seen.

The media adviser of Ed Woodward the ex-reporter for tabloid The Sun, Neil Ashton was spotted at Griffin Park where Mauricio Pochettino was also in attendance to watch Leeds United play. Rumour-mill was in overdrive coupled with above stories to paint a doomsday scenario for Solskjaer. That pressure was eased greatly by the news of UEFA banning Man City from Champions' League for next two seasons and a fine of 30 million Euro's which means that if United were to finish fifth they could still play in Champions' League next season thus saving Solskjaer's job. Europa League Cup has too many good teams left that makes a United win improbable. The English FA should also investigate if the titles won by Man City since the take over by Sheikh Mansour are legitimate. The 2011-12 win by City over United on goal difference under Sir Alex Ferguson and 2017-18 win by City over United with a massive 19 point difference under Jose Mourinho. Twenty times league Champions might become Twenty two! This ban reminds of the early days of last century wherein an alert United under shrewd Ernest Mangnall lured City's star players Billy Meredith, Sandy Turnbull who had helped them win the 1904 FA Cup were banned subsequently to aid the Red Devils win their first League and Cup titles in 1907 and 1908.

Solskjaer has three wins and a draw against Chelsea including the opening day 4-0 win of this season and earlier beat an under strength blues at the Bridge in the League Cup. United have a chance to do a double over their bogey team in Premier League for the first time since 1987-88 when it was the old First Division. Solskjaer confirmed he will not play Scott McTominay, Eric Bailly or Timothy Fosu-Mensah nor long time absentee Paul Pogba and of them the loss of McTominay will be huge that might tilt the match in blues favour. Marcus Rashford is out injured.

Usual back five, Fernandes-Fred with Pereira-Mata-James and Martial likely the starting XI. Ighalo off the bench for his debut as Martial moves to left in the second half. Thus far Solskjaer has played all his signings straight into first XI to underscore his point about poor quality of the side he inherited - Daniel James, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Harry Maguire and Bruno Fernandes. Without Rashford to run in and supply a pass or a one-two, Martial seems aloof hence Solskjaer will be tempted to start with Ighalo and revert Martial to left of front three. Ighalo will push Martial to deliver or step-in himself. Greenwood in his breakthrough year has exceeded expectations whenever has has come off the bench while he is still in his developing years in terms of physique to start the match.

First match of this season and the first match after the first winter break, both against Chelsea! This break isn't like the international one where players disperse to national teams and then lose focus on return to their respective clubs but instead its renews the focus with training sessions away from media glare like United's at Marbella, Spain. Solskjaer got his wish in January transfer window with two signings and not Frank Lampard that increases the expectations despite the blues shrewdly signing Hakim Ziyech for the summer instead of comparatively costly and inexperienced Jadon Sancho. United need to learn and tie down their overseas targets now for the summer thinking ahead especially how slow they negotiate a player transfer. Commercial deals do not take that much time given Woodward's specialty! That once again proves the need for a Director of Football at United.

Hope Tommy Docherty is present to watch his two great sides battle it out as he hasn't been invited to Old Trafford since 2014. United are six points behind Chelsea and if they lose this match top four will be almost out of sight increasing the pressure on Solskjaer that Luke Shaw tried to deflect on players.

The Flowers of Manchester

One cold and bitter Thursday in Munich, Germany,
Eight great football stalwarts conceded victory,
Eight men will never play again who met destruction there,
The flowers of English football, the flowers of Manchester.

Matt Busby’s boys were flying, returning from Belgrade,
This great United family, all masters of their trade,
The pilot of the aircraft, the skipper Captain Thain,
Three times they tried to take off and twice turned back again.

The third time down the runaway disaster followed close,
There was slush upon that runaway and the aircraft never rose,
It ploughed into the marshy ground, it broke, it overturned.
And eight of the team were killed as the blazing wreckage burned.

Roger Byrne and Tommy Taylor who were capped for England’s side.
And Ireland’s Billy Whelan and England’s Geoff Bent died,
Mark Jones and Eddie Colman, and David Pegg also,
They all lost their lives as it ploughed on through the snow.

Big Duncan he went too, with an injury to his brain,
And Ireland’s brave Jack Blanchflower will never play again,
The great Matt Busby lay there, the father of his team,
Three long months passed by before he saw his team again.

The trainer, coach and secretary, and a member of the crew,
Also eight sporting journalists who with United flew,
and one of them Big Swifty, who we will ne’er forget,
the finest English ‘keeper that ever graced the net.

Oh, England’s finest football team its record truly great,
its proud successes mocked by a cruel turn of fate.
Eight men will never play again, who met destruction there,
the flowers of English football, the flowers of Manchester.

Written anonymously by the editor of SING magazine Eric Winter in October 1958 but never took the credit. Captain of the unfortunate plane James Thain was cleared of any wrongdoing after a decade and multiple inquiries whereby his name was included later in the song. It missed mentioning Johnny Berry who never played again after the crash. 07-April 1950 Johnny Berry scored one of the best goals at Old Trafford while with Birmingham City to beat Manchester United. This precedent of MUFC going after players who have risen to the occasion to become their best in games played against United or their rivals has continued ever since. He scored the winning goal against Bilbao to take United into the semi-finals of the European Cup exactly a year before Munich on 06-Feb, 1957. Johnny Berry played in 273 games scoring 44 goals, won the league thrice in '52, '56 and '57 and earned 4 caps for England. His omission must be rectified to acknowledge his crucial contribution towards the success of Manchester United and being the 2nd senior most player behind captain Roger Byrne to have his career terminated by the crash at Munich.

In December, 1957 United beat Dukla Prague 3-1 on aggregate and while returning from Prague the scheduled flight with an airline was diverted via Amsterdam due to bad weather due to which United reached Birmingham eventually through sea and land journey to play City just hours before the kick-off; no wonder a tired team drew the match 0-0. Belgrade was even further away so the club decided to hire a private plane to avoid such a predicament as they had to play league leaders Wolves whose captain Billy Wright was born on 06-February, 1924. Frank Taylor one of the scribes who survived was seated at the front row asked some of his colleagues to move where many seats were vacant but all passengers had already settled. United having entered the European competition against the wishes of the Football League were set a condition that their entry is subject to them never failing to honour their obligation to play their matches in the league as per schedule following the mid-week European ties.

That United team had won two league championships in 1955-56, 1956-57 with an average age of just 22 and were aiming for a hat-trick in 1957-58. Had lost in the final of 1957 FA Cup which if they had won would have made them the first team to win the coveted double of league and cup in the same season, which Tottenham did later in 1961. Had lost to Real Madrid in the semi-finals of the European Cup in 1957 and were regarded as the next favourites to win. The depleted squad after the crash still made it to the finals of the FA Cup and semi-finals of the European Cup.

Arthur Hopcraft summed it up beautifully: "It was not simply that very popular athletes had been killed and a brilliantly promising team destroyed. There was a general youthfulness about this particular Manchester United team which was new to the game. Manchester relished this fact. The old, often gloomy city had a shining exuberance to acclaim. These young players were going to take the country, and probably Europe too, by storm. To identify wit this procociousness, to watch people in other towns marvelling and conceding defeat, gave a surge to the spirit. Suddenly most of the team was dead."

The program notes of United's next match on 19th February the FA Cup 5th round tie against Sheffield Wednesday concludes: "Although we mourn our dead and grieve for our wounded we believe that great days are not done for us. The sympathy and encouragement of the football world and particularly of our supporters will justify and inspire us. The road back may be long and hard but with the memory of those who died at Munich, of their stirring achievements and wonderful sportsmanship ever with us, Manchester United will rise again."

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