Ten crucial days off and on the pitch

Manchester United have the biggest stadium in the English Premier League 76,000 seater Old Trafford and with matches since restart for last quarter of the season being played without fans they lost 5.5 million pounds per home game. Over the course of the season that's 111 million pounds and 18% of clubs overall income. Broadcasting revenues constitutes 38% as per 2019-20 figures and the rest 44% comes from commercial deals wherein the Champions' League qualification has meant United do not lose out on adidas clause and retain 20 million pounds instead. Worst case loss of revenue this fiscal year July 1st, 2020 to June 30th, 2021 could be 111 million of match day receipts plus loss of broadcast revenue of 80 million plus loss of revenue from commercial that includes cancellation of lucrative pre-season tour, suspension of tour of Old Trafford and Museum, and loss in shirt sales, all in all its a massive loss of over 200 million i.e., a third of total revenue (627 million in 2019) wiped out!

Loss in last two quarters Q3, Q4 of 2019-20 season might be the sum of 60.5 million from 9 matches in EPL and 2 in Europa League plus 20 million returned to broadcasters already plus about 9 million to nullify Alexis Sanchez's contract i.e., 89.5 million minimum. For Q3 of 2019-20 (01Jan to 31Mar) club had already announced a loss of 28.5 million with net debt increasing to 429 million which was 127 million more compared to previous year affected by pandemic and USD-GBP exchange rate. In the end of May club secured 140 million in revolving credit facility for reasons stated as player transfers and other expenditures but as it turned out they paid 9 cents a share dividend on 3rd of June! If fans are not allowed till March a year from the start of pandemic, player salaries might be impacted as player wages account for about 50% of revenue discounting 3% minimum of Sanchez's astronomical wage bill. United had shown 307 million in cash though as of June, 2019 which can cushion the blow. Q4 and 2019-20 full year results and earnings report conference call has been postponed to October from last week of September.

By the end of the year net debt might reach levels of 660 million which was the case when the Glazers did the leveraged buy out of the club in 2005 and might put MUFC back in the market for Saudi's to try takeover again. Manchester United was mostly debt free from 1931 when James W Gibson stepped in to help the club and remained so till 2005, consequently eyed by every businessman during that time from Louis Edwards to Michael Knighton and Rupert Murdoch via BskyB. David Conn in the Guardian published in 4th October, 2018 said that Glazers via dividends, executive pay to directors, share sale have taken more than 1 Billion out of the club while Man City's owners have put more than 1 Billion into theirs, gulf between two local Manchester rivals is greater than 2 Billion. Pandemic has put the redevelopment of Old Trafford on hold which was long overdue. At a valuation of over 4 Billion there are indeed very few takers. The $559m shirt deal with Chevrolet and training kit deal with Aon expire at the end of this year and a new deal with new sponsors needs to be struck.

With an uncertain and unpredictable future this season it will not be easy to spend 108 million pounds on a single player. United had two scenario's: Jadon Sancho will only be signed in the last week of transfer window to save paying his huge wages till the last minute if Dortmund agree to slightly reduced fee with installments spread over few years OR pursuing cheaper alternatives early in window. They chose the former but fans are getting nervy if Dortmund decline and United do not sign any alternatives like the chase for Raphael Varane under Jose Mourinho. Faith in clubs transfer process has deteriorated steadily since the last years of Ferguson when very few deals were done due to 'lack of value' and later club pursued the strategy of doing transfers with big agents post Ferguson that resulted in most of the talks being in the public domain via leaks to pent up the price. The change in recruitment under Solskjaer is noticeable but much still needs to be done in scouting. When was the last time they signed a player who was tracked for a good number of years and signed without paying a hefty fee without any delay?

They hired Neil Ashton for PR last January and who till the end of last season had done a good job especially while the club was supporting local communities affected due to the pandemic. It isn't as though the club are complaining about the negative sentiments from most of its 1.1 billion fans on lack of transfer activity. Instead this #MUFC hashtag remains relevant throughout the transfer window and reaches a crescendo when the player is actually signed up. This sounds deliberate of how business imperative forces a footballing decision to be delayed in order to maximize social media and online traffic. Both Solskjaer and Ashton haven't been able to change this yet!

Manchester Evening News rightly points out that United deal for Sancho was always planned in the last week of transfer window i.e., the first week of October in order for it to be impacting the financial reporting of Q2(01Oct to 31Dec). Unless player's and agent's terms are agreed in advance its not possible for deal of this size to be concluded within four days. Does that hold good for Alex Telles or Dayot Upamecano? No and Yes due to the size of the transfer fee. Club are in talks to sell Chris Smalling for 18 million while Sergio Romero has not yet returned who is unlikely to play for Solskjaer again after being dropped for the Europa League Cup semifinal against Sevilla. Rojo, Jones, Lingard and Pereira have no concrete offers yet. Two more promising players have gone out on loan - Dylan Levitt to Charlton Athletic and James Garner to Watford who join two other players - Tahith Chong at Werder Bremen and Joel Pereira at Huddersfield Town.

United won 3-0 away at Kenilworth Road against Luton Town with a Mata converted penalty won by industrious Brandon Williams, Greenwood assist for Rashford to get back in form and finally Rashford assist for Greenwood. Matic and Fred both started to provide cover for battered defense to not lose confidence while giving a platform for new signing Donny van de Beek to make his first full competitive start. That protection in front enabled Eric Bailly to provide a sound display alongside Harry Maguire including a goal line clearance and Solskjaer might retain the duo against Brighton and Hove Albion on Saturday. Jesse Lingard played full 90 minutes with good link play only final shot was missing. Dean Henderson made his senior United debut with a stunning save to deny Hatters an equalizer and this made David de Gea to say "I feel the best I've felt in my career" before the match on Saturday. Solskjaer with that win has taken his tally to 50 wins in 92 games as United manager just behind Ernest Mangnall and Jose Mourinho!

After the restart last season United played a weakened BHAFC team that were aiming for survival which will not be the case on Saturday especially after they beat NUFC 3-0 away a fantastic result. Last time United lost their opening two games in English Premier League was in 1992-93 when they went on to win their first league title in 26 years! Solskjaer has his priority set right after an abysmal defeat on the opening game of this season against Crystal Palace "My focus is solely on the game and I can’t be thinking any other way. We need three points in this game.” Probable XI: De Gea, Wan Bissaka, Shaw, Maguire, Bailly, Fred, van de Beek, Fernandes, Greenwood, Martial, Rashford.

United will play the Seagulls again in the League Cup round of 16 on 30-Sep. 04th October they welcome back Jose Mourinho's Tottenham to Old Trafford before the International break with Newcastle, Chelsea and Arsenal to follow next. Tough fixtures in October also adds to the pressure on getting the away win at Brighton today.

Opening day loss at home: how bad is that for United?

Just the second home loss to the start of the Premier League season for Manchester United. First was in 2014 under Louis van Gaal's first match in charge when United lost to Swansea 1-2 with captain Wayne Rooney's consolation strike while Ander Herrera made his debut and subsequently club signed Angel di Maria from Real Madrid who left after just one bad season. United finished 4th in the Dutchman's first season in charge improving from 7th under Moyes previously. Solskjaer had taken the team from 14th after the draw with Liverpool to 3rd in the last season but is a slow start warranted yet again?

Lost 1-3 to Crystal Palace in this seasons' opener. A much heaver defeat for Solskjaer than van Gaal with a much better squad though. Main reason is the lack of rest after a pandemic enforced break and subsequent lack of pre-season to bring players up to match fitness required for the demands of the grueling season. Paul Pogba was rushed back after just recuperating from corona virus. Donny van de Beek came on for Pogba looking sharp and scored a goal on debut. Did Scott McTominay provide enough protection for the defense? Perhaps van Gaal's honest assessment forced United's hand to break British transfer record for di Maria "To win the title this season would be a miracle. But that isn't to say that it isn't possible, I think the Glazer family understand this or I would not have accepted this job." Solskjaer hasn't said anything as striking for Glazers to act.

Prior to 2014 loss the next one was far back in 1972 season a 1-2 loss to Ipswich Town, that's 40 year proud unbeaten home record in between. Frank O'Farrell lost his job midway through that season after a nine-game winless streak at the start did not improve league position enough and United were hovering over the foot of the table ushering in the Tommy Docherty era. That unbeaten record withstood the changes in managers from Docherty(2 matches unbeaten in opening home fixtures), Sexton(2), Atkinson(4) to Ferguson(15). It is a blemish on Solskjaer's reign unfortunately especially since he is so steeped in United's rich history.

Absence of fans makes the loss less scathing but equally affects how tamely the team might respond. Would Solskjaer have used Timothy Fosu-Mensah, Scott McTominay and David James in front of fans at Old Trafford in the first match of the season? Is it a subtle dig at the Glazers to force Jadon Sancho transfer? Even Jose Mourinho managed to win both his two home games at the start of 2nd and 3rd year in charge. Could Solskjaer instead have taken advantage of not having fans to start with two defensive midfielders in order to neutralize the opposition before unleashing Greenwood for the last twenty minutes?

First away loss was in the inaugural Premier League season against Sheffield United 1-2 with Mark Hughes scoring the only goal and ultimately United went on to win their first league title after 26 years. Next one was against Aston Villa 1-3 when Sir Alex Ferguson introduced his fledglings that made Alan Hansen to say "you can't win anything with kids" that helped create a siege mentality to unite the squad winning their second double of Premier League and FA Cup. United lost 0-1 in 2004-05 to Chelsea under their new coach Jose Mourinho in his first match in the English Premier League. United finished 3rd and trophy-less that season. Injury hit squad were without both strikers in Ruud van Nistelrooy and Louis Saha while captain Roy Keane played as centre-half. Team: Howard, Silvestre, Gary Neville, Keane, Fortune, Miller, O'Shea, Djemba-Djemba, Giggs, Scholes

Solskjaer rightly pointed out that United must rebound quickly. They face Luton Town away in League Cup 3rd round on Tuesday wherein the squad will be much different than the one that faced Crystal Palace with Dean Henderson certain to make his debut in goal, before visiting Brighton & Hove Albion in the Premier League at the Amex Arena on Saturday. Amidst an exceptional season due to the pandemic form book goes out of the window more often and United must do their bit first to take advantage. League Cup can serve as a tough practice match as the Hatters defeated Derby County and Reading in their first two rounds, and help United regain their sharpness. Is giving important players a vacation one after another like Ferguson (Beckham, Scholes, Schmeichel) did during the treble winning season the answer? Due to Euro 2021 having been postponed to next summer, next season clubs might face the same issue? Hope Glazers understand that squad depth and rotation certainly helps before the transfer window closes.

United crave to be consistent through the season to retain top four status

An unusual 2019-20 season drew to a close in late August in which United's fortunes contrasted with their worst start in 33 years before the pandemic forced break and the joint best finish aided by 14 game unbeaten run culminating in finishing 3rd to qualify for lucrative Champions' League. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side earned a maximum four week rest after Europa League Cup semi-final loss to skip the opening round of the new English Premier League season and instead play their season opener against Crystal Palace on 19th September. Transfer window though remains open until 5th of October as UEFA has extended the business hours to facilitate spending in a market hit hard by the lock-down. United thus far have made only one signing of Donny van de Beek from Ajax as clubs look to do late deals to either save paying high wages for couple of weeks or strike a late bargain at the cost of squad integration.

United will have Bruno Fernandes available for the whole season and Dean Henderson returning to challenge David de Gea. Solskjaer has settled on a starting XI post restart last season and will hope that will give United a greater share of points this season than paltry 66. First choice right winger and backup is thin be it in central-defense, left-back or left-wing. Fans skepticism is valid based on what transpired just two years back when Jose Mourinho asked for a top quality centre-back as his first priority for which the club set aside 100 million but got no one except Fred the midfielder and Dalot the young right back. United have fortuitously signed Donny van de Beek as Real Madrid backed out of their stated interest and credit to the board for closing the deal swiftly. The main target however has always been Jadon Sancho costing around 100 million. Will United fail their manager again? Bruno Fernandes played in all matches for Sporting Lisbon in January and signed for United at the end of the month, will same hold true in case of Sancho? Is the delay in transfer due to his completing more than 10 caps for England and 100 caps for Dortmund to earn his agents bonuses?

Mason Greenwood has moved into 100 most valuable players in the world as per transfermarkt who value him at 40 million. Its huge for a home grown player from the academy. The front three Martial, Rashford, Greenwood contributed 44 premier league goals last season though none of them played more than 31 league games suggests more can be expected of them this term. Sancho has the stats that are better than Fernandes to take United up another notch to close the huge 33 points gap with Champions. That's the reason behind the obsession with Sancho. Next season he might prefer other clubs hence the urgency to complete the deal now. Fans hope he will not be remembered like Alan Ball the 1966 World Cup winner whom United missed to sign from Blackpool when the player himself and his father wanted to join but destiny proved otherwise. 


United have a home game on 6th February, 2021 against Everton that coincides with the services to mark the tragedy at Munich in 1958 as per the fixtures released. Play Liverpool away on 16th January and at home on 1st May, both in later half of the season which will be good news as Solskjaer hasn't beaten them yet and United can hope to build good momentum till then to mount at fierce fight with their traditional rivals. First Manchester derby will be at Old Trafford on 12th December followed by reverse fixture on 6th March. Games against biggest spenders Chelsea are on 24th October, home and 27th February, away. Much hated rivals Leeds under maverick Bielsa are back in the top division after 15 years and intense matches are due on 19th December at home and 24th April away. West Bromwich Albion and Fulham are the other two promoted sides. October presents a tough proposition with Tottenham, Chelsea and Arsenal all to play for.

Club has continued its focus on youth following last season's rejig with Nicky Butt being appointed head of first team development and Nick Cox taking over the academy. U23s got promoted to EPL2 consequently under coach Neil Wood. They have acquired a slew of young players Marc Jurado from Barcelona, Alvaro Fernandez Carreras from Real Madrid,  Isak Hansen-Aaroen from Tromso, Joe Hugill and Logan Pye from Sunderland and Radek Vitek from Sigma Olomouc. Quinton Fortune leaves his U23 assistant manager role to be part of first team setup at Reading. United reached the semi-finals of FA Youth Cup for the first time since winning it in 2011 with Paul Pogba and Jesse Lingard, the FA are still hopeful of completing the last three matches to declare a winner. United face Chelsea while Blackburn face City in another semi-finals.

United after Sir Alex Ferguson have never finished in the top four in consecutive seasons, and that's the next test for Solskjaer to overcome. Club needs to mitigate the risk of hedging summer transfer on just one important target in Jadon Sancho by having room to sign-up alternatives if the deal fails. Challenge is that only Lionel Messi was better than Sancho last season! Instead United could bid 50-60 million for Dayot Upamecano and chase Sancho again in the next transfer window but sustaining top four will become very challenging. Ideally United need both Sancho and Upamecano to challenge the top two. The struggle to get the right value for Chris Smalling after an excellent first season on loan to AS Roma reveals the cautious spending by clubs across Europe. United still regard him highly and he could end up as a dependable backup to Maguire-Lindelof though not as a challenger. Teden Mengi the U18's captain has been fast-tracked due to his pace to compliment club captain Harry Maguire, and came on as a sub against Aston Villa in a practice match last Saturday. Sergio Romero will look to exit after being snubbed for Europa League semi-final. Will United pay compensation to release Marcos Rojo and Phil Jones like they did for Alexis Sanchez if they sign one centre-back?

Predicting the league standings after a disrupted season is always going to be tough, given the transfer window being still open and VAR rules modified for new season. After the winter disruption of 1962 next season saw Liverpool under Bill Shankly crowned as Champions after being promoted from division two just two years before and having finished 8th in previous season! If Jadon Sancho sings United could retain 3rd spot and if not, have enough faith in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to secure fourth. Under Solskjaer team has evolved through the last year to a settled starting XI that can still improve and having Bruno Fernandes for the whole season in addition to new recruits does make a formidable force by itself.

Its 30 years this May since I started following Manchester United. Back then they played Crystal Palace in the FA Cup final and won in a replay, today they start their new league campaign against the same opposition. Sadly football and its finances of today dictate the need to finish in the top four ahead of FA Cup final. Solskjaer to his credit did not let the three semi-finals distract him from the goal of achieving Champions' League football which deserves to be backed up by top quality signings from the board, and that focus will see him through a far tougher and unpredictable season through the pandemic where it still remains unclear if and when fans will return to the stadiums to give life back to football. 

Earnestly hope though the club do away with this new zebra kit and introduce a retro one.


Don't panic if Messi joins...

Louis van Gaal's term as Manchester United manager ended on a winning note, FA Cup the last United triumph at Wembley. On the final day itself news seemed to have been leaked of his sacking and appointment of Jose Mourinho in response of Pep Guardiola joining the neighbors. Not only that, Guardiola not extending his contract with Bayern Munich was agreed back in December(20-12-2015) itself and overshadowed the second half of season especially in red half of Manchester. United lost four matches in a row in December and no wins in seven straight matches dropping off the top four, their worst run since January 1990. No incoming transfers in January due to indecision of the board to back its existing manager - similar to the summer of 2018 when Jose Mourinho was demanding a centre-back but got Fred and Dalot instead. Guardiola's confirmation to join City on 1st February buoyed our rivals to finish in top four edging past United who lost to West Ham 2-3 despite being 2-1 ahead in the final match at Upton Park.

After losing to Stoke City 0-2 on boxing day when Louis van Gaal dropped Wayne Rooney the following home match at Old Trafford against Chelsea there emerged scarves with Jose Mourinho as United manager. Mourinho was sacked on 17th December, 2015 after five months of his second stint as Chelsea manager and champions of previous season were just above relegation. United with their skipper Rooney reinstated 'dared to play' and had very good chances of winning the game lifting the spirits of fans. It finished 0-0.

Messi's arrival will be far greater than 'Welcome to Manchester' campaign of Carlos Tevez for local rivalry between the two clubs. In terms of profile of the player has been the world's best for more the a decade. It might help Pep Guardiola to extend his contract. During United's domination under Sir Alex Ferguson the Italian Serie A initially and later the Spanish La Liga were clearly far ahead of English Premier League. This isn't the case now with both Spanish giants working under constraint of Financial Fair Play whose terms have been relaxed this year due to the pandemic which City can use after winning their case against two year ban. Italian league is still recovering from 'Calciopoli' match fixing scandal in 2006 when Juventus, Lazio, Fiorentina were relegated and AC Milan had 30 points deducted.

United in contrast by sticking to Solskjaer and his immediate transfer requirements need to send out a message of 'who cares' and not panic. The delaying of Jadon Sancho transfer until after Messi's signing might bring back a sense of balance in social media parlance that has long been highlighted as important by Manchester United board in its financial conference calls frequently. United board must also ensure it does not pay dividends this year as the world economy reels under recession. Dividends goes mainly back to owners as payout. If board do show largesse it must be for an additional quality player after getting the ones on the list given to them by Solskjaer and not contravening him i.e., after getting the top three targets of right winger, defender and holding midfielder by opting for Declan Rice or Jack Grealish. Solskjaer craves a good character like Harry Maguire not a big name draw like Alexis Sanchez. Unfortunate incident involving Harry Maguire in Greece will hasten the acquisition of a centre-back as the United captain might be absent for playing due to court commitments over the next two years.

Some fans would want Cristiano Ronaldo back at Old Trafford. Ronaldo has admitted in the past he would like to return, and that is something most past players of Manchester United say to stay relevant among the biggest fan base in the world. Ronaldo is two years older than Messi although fit physically he is determined to stay on top of his game in any league he plays in. The whole project at Juventus is centered around Ronaldo to help them lift the elusive Champions' League after winning the Italian Serie A nine times in a row despite change of managers. If Juventus fail to be in the top four by December and play miserably with an aging squad in the new season under first time coach Andrea Pirlo, rumours can fructify. Seems unlikely. Does Ronaldo see a 'project' at United to win back the league in two years? Fans would love to hear that coherence at all levels of the club and Solskjaer is trying his best to convey that. Solskjaer would welcome Ronaldo back, most managers would. In the last decade this idea has been suggested numerous times without any hint of conviction. According to his latest post he remains committed to Juventus!

If Messi or Ronaldo is the only thing few United fans can think about as a counter, they should look at one of their own in David de Gea whose heroics in goal has kept below par team fighting for Europe consistently. David de Gea in his 10th year at United will now be challenged by Dean Henderson after another error prone season that's unlike his high standards he set himself by winning Sir Matt Busby player of the year four out of five years. 3M's - Martial, Marcus and Mason scored 61 goals and the tally will only get better as the trio play more often and gain experience buoyed by Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba. Sancho will take the attacking threat up another notch and being in the same age group as the 3M's will auger well. Sancho had left the comfort of his surroundings to pursue his dreams by going to Germany and succeeded in having double digit goals + assist second only to Messi but with the prime of his career ahead of him in the next decade unlike the Argentinian. If any three of these six manage to play together for over 200 games they will bring back the success of original United trinity of Best, Law and Charlton.
If anything the last season justified was the faith in the manager ultimately led United to overcome its shortcomings to finish the season strongly than they had started. They must keep this in mind at all times especially when going gets tough.

Right players key to sustain top four and avoid bad start to new season

Biggest challenge for Manchester United will be to sustain top four finish that has NOT been achieved since the last season of Sir Alex Ferguson in 2012-13, final league position since then offers pessimistic outlook for upcoming season. Coupled with relative inexperience of United first team against traditional top six rivals especially in a crammed fixtures next season pose additional challenges. FA have removed the replays in FA Cup and second-leg of League Cup semi-final to meet these demands. With such less recovery time between two seasons it becomes even harder for a young side to develop. United were without Martial, Pogba, Rashford, Shaw for long spells last season that saw them make their worst start to English League campaign in 33 years. Simple lesson will be to get the signings done before the pre-season starts to enable the squad integration disregarding the transfer window that stays open beyond 12th September. After the loss to Sevilla, Solskjaer had this to say: "We need to strengthen the squad depth because it's going to be a long season. We're going to keep pushing and keep demanding more of the players that we have, but still, we're looking to improve and it's a strange one. The league starts very quickly, but then the market is open for so long. So we've got to be both good, smart and clever."

2011-12: 2nd
2012-13: 1st
2013-14: 7th
2014-15: 4th
2015-16: 5th
2016-17: 6th
2017-18: 2nd
2018-19: 6th
2019-20: 3rd
2020-21: ?

Tifo football who are one of the earliest proponents of using data science in football came out with their suggestions: Jadon Sancho at ring wing, Ibrahim Sangare at defensive midfield, Moussa Niakhate at left centre-back.


Statman Dave who was previewed by United's twitter account for their game against Copenhagen has suggested five players: Jadon Sancho at right wing, Alex Telles as left back, Dwight McNeil as inverted winger, Gabriel Magalheas as left centre-back, Declan Rice as defensive midfield

One player who might already be challenging David de Gea for number 1 jersey will be Dean Henderson and is due to sign a new long term deal. He might play in the Cup competitions and few pre-season games to enable him to settle down quickly at Old Trafford. Solskjaer had already hinted he can't keep three top keepers happy at the same time! Sergio Romero enters the final year of his contract and might be surplus to requirements.
Will Jadon Sancho be Manchester United's first 100 million pound signing? This summer represents their best chance at landing the Englishman due to the travails of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus, Man City leaving United in sole charge to home-in on the brightest winger in the world with 15 assists and 15 goals already that is only matched by Lionel Messi across the top 5 European leagues! Transfer of this magnitude does have its own complications like the image rights, agents fee, intermediaries, sponsorship, medicals. United look to finally break the hoodoo over their iconic number 7 jersey that's maligned ever since a Liverpudlian Owen wore it. Its four years since United broke their transfer record to sign Paul Pogba for 89 million pounds. Sancho is key to reducing the 33 point gap with champions of last season. United must not let Kai Havertz deal have any influence on deal with Sancho, it might be a smokescreen to push the prices up. With the world economy in recession due to the pandemic and United committed to serve its community, club may deem it extravagant to spend 100 million on a single player and pull out of this transfer. Genuine fans will back the club. If Pogba can be a success on return to United so can Memphis Depay who has excelled consistently in a foreign league and acknowledged the past mistakes.

To fund the other targets to add squad depth United need to sell few of their players Lingard, Smalling, Pereira, Rojo, Jones, Dalot etc. Though Solskjaer remains a huge fan of Jack Grealish it seems impossible to have another massive outlay of 70 million factored in for this transfer window itself. Ironically that's the price West Ham have put on Declan Rice. Donny van de Beek continues to be linked from the famed Ajax academy at much cheaper valuation that might materialize only if the Spanish giants don't proceed with their established interest in the player. Alexis Sanchez is out that frees up the wage bill substantially. This is huge because that transfer screwed United's pay structure and created squad unrest... in short went against everything that 'team sport' is supposed to mean.


To balance these astronomical signings Solskjaer has already inducted academy graduates in pacey 18 year old centre-back Teden Mengi and 19 year old right-back Ethan Laird into the first team as part of Europa League campaign. If James Garner and Dylan Levitt go out on loan like Tahith Chong then United would need to sign at least one back-up midfielder.

Will Maguire have another injury free campaign? United have mostly tended to pursue targets who are least risk option like Maguire or Wan-Bissaka and pay huge transfer fee. Can #MUFC enlist a marquee player entering later years of their contracts from top clubs across Europe like Alessio Romagnoli from AC Milan or David Alaba of Bayern Munich. Romagnoli has already captained Milan and is represented by Mino Raiola as his agent who is due to discuss Paul Pogba's new deal shortly. Another option is Dayot Upamecano who had a consistent season with RB Leipzig including a stellar performance against Atletico Madrid but has just signed a new three year contract diminishing the chances of a transfer this season.
United should continue acquiring best young players like Daniel James from the Championship after his successful first season, initially as a backup. Centre-back Joe Rodon from Swansea or Joe Worrall from Nottingham Forest or Benoît Badiashile from Monaco, left-back Fode Ballo-Toure from Monaco or Rico Henry from Brentford, defensive midfielder Kalvin Phillips from Leeds United or Boubakary Soumaré from Lille or Sandro Tonali from Brescia or Florentino Luis from Benfica or Michał Karbownik from Legia Warsaw, to name a few.

The notion if #SackWoodward is set trending by end of this week transfers will happen next week is wrong. Next week players return for pre-season training after just two weeks rest and that is when evidently deals mostly conclude at United. Sounds absurd but it's unfortunately true. All transfer actions starts from the first week of September giving Solskjaer and coaching staff very less time to prepare for new season. There was no expectation that United would now go on to make smart signings by not paying huge transfer fees as the director of football with considerably reduced role and data analysts have not yet been hired. To establish United again as a top four team and avoid the horrible start to a new season does require the club to get the right players identified by Solskjaer. Last season's signings have proved the doubters wrong and Solskjaer has brought optimism, belief back to Old Trafford.

Solskjaer held firm on 'United way' but inflexibility cost dearly

Manchester United ran out to dominate and attack Sevilla from the start creating most of the chances befitting the United way of playing football. Credit to Solskjaer for opting exuberance that provided good attacking display but as Sir Alex Ferguson found out European football is a different ball game altogether. Overlooking experienced players, not exploring alternatives and defensive errors cost them ultimately against five time winners of the Europa League on Sunday. Losing their third cup semi-final of the year despite Solskjaer extolling all season long how a cup win could give his young team an identity and belief. Inevitable analysis and conclusions follow suit after their 61st match of a prolonged season.
No substituition until 86th minute for United whereas Julen Lopetegui did his first in 56th minute to engineer the game with fresh legs. Nemanja Matic the mainstay of United's revival post lock down and despite signing the new three year contract wasn't even used! Juan Mata's introduction in the previous game settled the nerves for extra time and could have had a positive influence much earlier than from 87th minute. If Solskjaer got Odion Ighalo to extend his stay why not utilize him much sooner than in extra time? Sergio Romero dropped yet again in favour of erroneous David de Gea and looked uninterested in pre-match warm-up routine. All four will definitely review their futures when the manager clearly did not trust them with responsibility but their age will deter any forced exits and adds unwisely to the deadwood category that already has Jones, Rojo, Lingard, Smalling, Dalot. United stuck to a game plan but were not adept to change once they could not get second breakthrough.

Penalty kings of Europe! is a new moniker to be tested in Champions' League next season. Scoring penalties especially in the season when VAR was introduced does not seem dreadful but only when it becomes the sole avenue of goals. Marcus Rashford was fouled in the follow through, a rare decision and the ensuing penalty expertly dispatched by Bruno Fernandes his 12th goal since his January move. Anthony Martial has improved leaps and bounds this year and claimed the top scorer gong at United with 23 strikes, he missed to hit the target in 33rd minute and couple more chances in second half when their keeper Bounou made excellent work to block the Frenchman. Only 24 he could still become the best marksmen entering the prime of his career. Mason Greenwood had great start to both halves then became less involved as game wore on, too young yet notched up credible 17 goals in his breakthrough year. Paul Pogba played his part well but could not create from a midfield that pressed non-stop limiting his scope.

Aaron Wan-Bissaka kept the in form Ocampos quiet to such an effect that the Argentinian was substituted and confronted many opposing runs extremely well. Inexperience of right-footed Brandon Williams shone at several times that once again stressed the importance of back-up left back to Luke Shaw. There simply isn't any competition to Maguire-Lindelof that puts them under pressure and raises question on injury prone Eric Bailly's long term future. Bruno Fernandes ranted at Victor Lindelof after conceding the 2nd goal that reminded many of Roy Keane demanding nothing but the best from his teammates. The ultimate responsibility of organizing the defense clearly falls on captain Harry Maguire who must have hoped for a disciplined Matic shielding the defense. David de Gea doesn't come off the line enough to negate the threat of the cross to dominate his penalty box like great keepers of past.


Solskjaer had the tools to beat Sevilla but could not having spent big on Maguire and Fernandes. Most fans welcome the manner of this loss than the bitterness that followed Mourinho's dull display but that does not hide the fact that Solskjaer had a team that could have done much better. If the logic of this game's selection, tactics and substitutions were to be relied upon to make a judgement on United's summer transfer it would seem that strengthening the spine with a first choice centre-back and classic  number 9 type centre-forward would be the priority, not Jadon Sancho! This clearly does not seem to be the case based on consistent rumours of perhaps the biggest transfer of this summer that Dortmund are demanding 120 million euro's for. The argument that Solskjaer did not have anyone to bring on to effect the change is entirely flawed as it puts forth the idea that he wanted to highlight the lack of squad depth than to reach an prestigious European final making best use of available resources that was clearly miles better than at Jose Mourinho's disposal.

Solskjaer has got Alexis Sanchez off the wage bill already vacating the illustrious number 7 jersey and his optimism rubs off on everyone in United setup drawing constantly on his playing days under Sir Alex Ferguson. It is to this fact that most fans base their trust upon to get this summer's transfer priority right and cementing a top four finish next season closing the huge gap of 33 points 'significantly' with the Champions next season. Club hierarchy should realize that director of football not only aids the manager to shortlist the tracked targets but while searching keeps in mind the ethos of what it means to be a United player despite the changes to manager himself reducing the squad burn in between and keeping the challenge alive through the transition.

Now a well deserved rest.

United should make their experience count against masters of Europa League

Manchester United have never beaten Sevilla the 5 time UEFA Europa League winning specialists whom they face tonight in the semi-final knock-out. They have faced each other twice in 2018 Champions' League round of 16; drawing the away leg 0-0 thanks to David de Gea masterclass and lost the home leg 1-2 that was the beginning of the end of Jose Mourinho's reign. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's team needs to overcome another Sevilla side whose manager Julen Lopetegui is in the middle of a career resurrection having being sacked by Real Madrid and opting to leave Spain national team on the eve of 2018 World Cup inviting the sack by Spanish FA; has ensured respectable 4th place despite overhauling the whole squad last summer and remain unbeaten in their last 19 matches!

Argentinian duo the winger Lucas Ocampos and veteran midfield dynamo Ever Banega provide the major threat to United. The squad revamp was made possible by the return of their Sporting Director Monchi who had created a conveyor belt of talent in Sergio Ramos, Jesus Nevas, Alberto Moreno et al from 2000 to 2017 earning the club huge profits before leaving for Roma. Testament of his talent spotting and bargains is reflected in their starting XI where six of the eleven players joined last summer including their centre-backs Koundé and Carlos, and leading scorer Ocampos. Sergio Reguilón the left-back on loan from Real Madrid who is in much demand after a great season. They lack a cutting edge striker like Wissam Ben Yeddar the United nemesis last time. Red Devils however have cultivated pace and goals in their attack with 3M's - Marcus, Martial and Mason.

United team for that second leg match in March, 2018 was: David De Gea, Eric Bailly, Chris Smalling, Antonio Valencia, Ashley Young, Marouane Fellaini, Nemanja Matić, Jesse Lingard, Marcus Rashford, Alexis Sánchez, Romelu Lukaku.

Five of them no longer play for Manchester United and other three are not part of their present first team: David De Gea, Harry Maguire, Victor Lindelof, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Brandon Williams, Nemanja Matić, Paul Pogba, Bruno Fernandes, Mason Greenwood, Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford.

That also represents a massive change at Old Trafford under Solskjaer. Bruno Fernandes in the pre-match press conference restated the goal to win this competition and brushed aside the comparisons with Eric Cantona "For me it’s really good to listen and to be talked about those names. But for me, Cantona was an amazing player for the club - I need to do much better to be compared with him. I’m really happy for what I did, but I’m not satisfied like the coach said. Coming to Manchester is about winning trophies. I come to the club to win some trophies and I will be happy in the end of this season if we win the Europa League."

Solskjaer won't repeat the mistake of Jose Mourinho by dropping Paul Pogba and might retain Sergio Romero in goal. Only selection issue will be whether to continue with rookie Brandon Williams or bring in Timothy Fosu-Mensah at left-back. Williams still lacks positional sense but more than makes up with his tenacity that can backfire like it did against Riyad Mahrez while Fosu-Mensah has made just five appearances on his return from injury. This highlights the successful season that Luke Shaw has had and the lack of back-up where the club are reportedly looking at Monaco's Fode Ballo-Toure. Will Ocampos swap wings to avoid Wan-Bissaka? Another concern will be having only Nemanja Matic in midfield who is not as energetic as Ander Herrera so Fred might get a look-in at the expense of Mason Greenwood who might be brought on in second half to conclude the result. Though Sevilla themselves play 4-3-3 but use the channels rather than wings that can make United change to a 3-5-2 formation.

Marcus Rashford hasn't had the best of times since his return but can't see Ighalo or Dan James starting instead while Juan Mata can't last the whole match. The head-to-head with Anthony Martial to be the clubs leading scorer should be sufficient challenge for the Mancunian. United cannot start slowly as they did in their last match. Marcus Rashford led the line when United won its only Europa League in 2017 under Jose Mourinho while Anthony Martial was used as a substitute; Juan Mata, Paul Pogba, Sergio Romero and Jesse Lingard also featured in that final.

After the heroics against Paris St Germain no one expected United to beat Barcelona in last year's Champions' League quarter finals. This game presents a stern tests of tactical nous of Solskjaer and his players against experts of the tournament if not the favourites. United though have the tools to do the job and experience in six players from 2017 final plus David de Gea who won the 2010 final with Atletico Madrid beating Fulham and Nemanja Matic who lost the 2013 final for Benfica against Chelsea. In contrast Sevilla can count only five Ever Banega, Jesus Navas, Sergio Escudero from their last two triumphs in 2015, 2016 and Fernando won it with Porto, Ocampos who lost in finals when Marseille played Atletico Madrid. That's why a defeat will raise questions on Solskjaer and his coaching staff. To their credit they have delivered Champions' League football for next season by finishing third in English Premier League by dropping Paul Pogba and in form Anthony Martial for FA Cup semi-final that set the club's priority.

It's these five starters in Romero, Matic, Pogba, Martial, Rashford in United starting XI plus three in De Gea, Mata, Lingard on the bench plus club skipper Harry Maguire and their newly acquired talisman Bruno Fernandes plus Eric Bailly the star of 2017 campaign who missed the final due to being sent-off in semi-finals, whom Solskjaer was thinking about when he said "It is time to step up for big players, big game moments. You have to have 100 per cent focus because any little moment can change the game, can win you the game, can lose you the game."

Will it be third time lucky for Manchester United in their third cup semi-final of the season? Two clubs in a rebuild with new managers go head-to-head to defend their 100% record in semi-finals. Sevilla have not lost in any of their 5 semi-finals in UEFA Europa League as yet!

Knock-out European matches like the best of FA Cups

Manchester United have three knock-out matches to win their second UEFA Europa League. Based out of RheinEnergie Stadion, Cologne for all three matches which is also the host for the final gives them an edge. But competition is stiff where they meet FC Copenhagen in quarters tonight, Wolves or Sevilla in semis on 17th and from another half of the table winners of Inter Milan vs Bayer 04 Leverkusen and Shakhtar Donetsk v Basel in the finals on 21st August. The one off nature of this years tournament due to the pandemic has forced this into a knockout which gives all eight teams with an rare and equal opportunity to win like the FA Cups in its heyday as Geoffrey Green recounts in 'The Official History of the FA Cup' as "the sudden thrill of the knock-out blow" and unlike the two-legged affair as "We were to become adding machines, working out aggregates on our finger tips. David had now to face Goliath twice and his chance of glory diminished."

The most telling comment in the press conference from Solskjaer was on the goal keeping situation where he said "I must be the most privileged manager in the world with the goalkeeping department with Sergio, David and Dean Henderson coming back. We have seen this season how important Sergio has been for us and, for me, David is always performing. Competition for places is important but it will be difficult to keep three of them at the club, so we will see what the decision will be there." Unlike the FA Cup loss to Chelsea where he dropped Sergio Romero for David de Gea who by his standards let in two goals, he might stick with the Argentinian who has played in all the Europa League Cup matches so far this season.

Rumours has been rife about Dean Henderson returning to challenge David de Gea for next season amidst his contract negotiations after winning Sheffield United's young player of the year where he was on loan. Sheffield club meanwhile have started their search for alternate keeper with a bid for Aaron Ramsdale from relegated Bournemouth. That would open up the goal keepers in the squad into scrutiny where Sergio Romero, Lee Grant and Joel Pereira enter their final year of contracts. The January signing of Southend United and England U20 keeper Nathan Bishop was a step in that direction, who due to the pandemic that shortened the EPL2 season could not yet make his competitive debut but is listed in the Europa League squad nonetheless!
MUFC U23's got promoted to EPL2 Division One as they were second behind leaders West Ham when the season was halted yet ultimately decided by points-per-game mechanism. The fate of FA Youth Cup is awaited where United are in semi-finals and need to face Chelsea, a stage they have reached for the first time since 2011-12 season when they lost to eventual winners Chelsea. The best part winning the second leg of the round of 16 against LASK 2-1 in a 7-1 aggregate was debut to youth team captain Teden Mengi and refreshing Tahith Chong brought on as left-back.
FC Copenhagen finished a distant second in the Danish Superliga 14 points behind champions FC Midtjylland. They are coached by former team mate of Solskjaer from 1998 World Cup squad the playmaker Stale Solbakken in his second stint winning the league eight times in total. 21 year old forward Jonas Wind scored twice to turn 0-1 deficit against Istanbul Basaksehir and help his team win. Among their ranks is former United right back Guillermo Varela from Uruguay whose tattoo obsession before DFB Podkal final for Eintracht Frankfurt became infectious ending a successful loan spell by a suspension. Solbakken having managed FC Koln for one season will be aware of the demands of playing in North Rhine-Westphalia and managed around 600 games for Copenhagen. He is without four players; striker Santos, attacking midfielder Fischer, Sigurdsson and Thomsen none of whom played against Basaksehir either. This will be the third meeting between the two clubs, previous two coming in the 2006-07 Champions' League campaign. United lost the second leg 0-1 after securing the top spot in Group F while winning the first leg 3-0 at home. Its the first ever quarter-final appearance for a Danish side in a European competition since 1997. Easily the biggest match in the careers of many Copenhagen players!

What United should watch out for is complacency after securing top four finish to play in the Champions' League next season which is coincidentally also the reward of winning the Europa League Cup. Most of the starting XI were rested for the second leg win over LASK giving the likes of Bruno Fernandes two weeks off after playing in every game since his arrival in January that turned the season around. Jesse Lingard having scored in his last two games might be on the bench. Phil Jones, Luke Shaw and Axel Tuanzebe are the only three players who haven't traveled to Germany and with Brandon Williams speaking to the press ahead of the game he might actually start in place of injured Shaw. Two semi-final cup defeats in League Cup and FA Cup will have strengthened the team's resolve to not let another opportunity to win their first trophy go begging, while 14 games unbeaten in Premier League will give Solskjaer's team a confidence boost.

Romero(GK), Wan-Bissaka, Maguire, Lindelof, Williams, Matic, Pogba, Fernandes, Greenwood, Martial, Rashford

Prost! (with Kolsch)🍻

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