United likely to promote Matej Kovar

With the likely impending move of Dean Henderson away from Old Trafford for next season, a position becomes vacant in the first team to back David de Gea and Tom Heaton. While omitting de Gea from the Spanish squad for the Nations League coach Luis Enrique reasoned "A goalkeeper should start the play and generate the first superiority, they must dominate the aerial play... I need a goalkeeper that transmits peace and calmness to me, that doesn’t mean they won’t make mistakes, errors are part of football. What they generate I like a lot." Despite this snub, and due to his excellent form for Manchester United in 2021-22 campaign David de Gea won his fourth Player's Player of the Year award, he is likely to remain the first choice keeper of the new manager Erik ten Hag next season. While the purists would argue de Gea is not ETH type of keeper and Henderson should instead get the nod but the practicality is that Spaniard's astronomical wages are unaffordable by most other clubs. 

Ex-United youth goal keeper Tom Heaton returned to the club last summer and has over a 100 English Premier League appearances mainly for Burnley with 3 England caps, making him a competent backup to the Spaniard. The squad usually needs three goal keepers for the entire season. Instead of looking in the transfer market the club might promote from within. Clearly the choice has to be Matej Kovar as Nathan Bishop has not got sufficient exposure yet signed in January, 2021 from Southend. To address this lacuna the club had Bishop loaned out for one full season at Mansfield Town playing over 50 matches and gaining valuable match experience including the high-pressure play-offs eventually losing 0-3 to Port Vale.

Kovar meanwhile in his 4.5 years at United has more game time at both academy level and away at two clubs for two half-seasons. The 22-year old Czech goal keeper Kovar got his first senior call last September after keeping two clean sheets in U21 games having represented his country more than 20 times from U18's onwards. He was later in January loaned out to Burton Albion in EFL League One where in 6 matches he collected 2 'Man of the Match' awards with whoscored rating of 7.35. Last year he helped Manchester United gain promotion to top tier in Premier League 2. Club official biography highlights one of his key traits as saving penalties.

Loaned to Swindon Town who play in EFL League Two where he had 'baptism by fire' in Wiltshire conceding 41goals in 20 games before his deal was cut short in Jan 2021. Kovar signed a new contract this February that expires in June 2023 with option to extend for one more year before agreeing a loan move to the Brewers. Perhaps the short span of new contract suggests lack of confidence in the player but since then there has been progress based on 2 'MotM' awards and the video below. This is a welcome change at United where contract situation has positively impacted players performance. Hopefully the sign of things to come under Richard Arnold and John Murtough. In this recent match highights below for Burton Albion against Accrington Stanley one can clearly see his superb shot stopping skills too. Looks promising and ready for first team participation.


Kovar already has experience of being in the first team having been an unused substitute on the bench when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took a young side to play Astana away in the Europa League in Nov, 2019 as United had already qualified from the group. In the recent Euro U21 championship Group G match the top two sides Engalnd and Czech Republic played each other on 3rd June. Matej Kovar played full 90 minutes for Czech Republic while James Garner played for England who won the match 2-1. Draw for the U21 playoffs will be announced on 21st June. United signed another young Czech keeper Radek Vitek in summer of 2020.

Sir Alex Ferguson was on a look out for potential signings to replace Roy Keane when he went to watch Eric Djemba Djemba play for Nantes vs Rennes. Czech legendary keeper Petr Cech was only 18 or 19 playing for Rennes and Fersguson deemed him "too young". Based on Cech's sucees at an early age at Chelsea later prompted Ferguson to go for David de Gea at just 21.

Erik ten Hag presentation

Manchester United suffered their 12th loss in the last match of 2021-22 English Premier League season 0-1 to Crystal Palace and finished with lowest points tally in EPL history with just 58 points that is 35 points adrift of the champions City. Goal difference was a perfect naught with only 57 goals scored thanks mainly to Cristiano Ronaldo's 18 and conceded as high as 57 goals placing the club 12th in goals against. United lost 5 of their last 8 matches ceding 16 goals as Ralf Rangnick era quaked to a meltdown due to player's apathy. Sensing the urgency of the situation Erik ten Hag rightly decided to advance his joining date, got his two assistants on board - Mitchell van der Gaag and Steve McClaren, and even attended the Palace game in London. The Dutchman formally took charge the very next day on 23rd May after the final matchday and was presented to the media.

Erik ten Hag sounded confident and methodical in his explanation having won his 3rd Eredivisie title in 4 years with Ajax Amstredam. On next steps he said "What we are now doing is first constructing the staff, constructing the squad and constructing a good plan. First it's the pre-season plan that we are now working on." His remit from the club was clear "They have to set conditions and I have to work with my squad to achieve success." and demands from a big club like Manchester United "We want to win every game, so we go from game to game and then we will see." with some big name players "But it is always players who dictate the way of play. I have the ideal, I will line up my best team, and I will line up my players like that to get the best out of them."

He simply had to sound ebullient when asked if the dominance of Klopp-Guardiola can come to an end before they leave? "I think, yes." After the worst season in 30 years the fans hope the only way is up and he echoed that "Although it is a fantastic history, the reason is there is a high potential for the future. That's why I am here." Most stinging criticism came from the first Dutch manager of Manchester United Louis van Gaal when he branded it as "commercial club" and hoped ETH will not join them. ETH naturally rejected that "I draw my own line and I’m convinced that is not the case. I spoke to the directors about it and football is one, two, three these days. Every club these days is commercial. Every club needs it. To be successful you need to do what is necessary, but football is one, two three in this club.”

Most important information that came out was his sharp dismissal of Ralf Rangnick's consultancy role and he simply cut the answer short "That is on the club." and refused to elaborate any further. Days later first it was Rangnick after being unveiled as Austria manager announced that he will end his role at United. "We have come to the conclusion that it is better for me and the club to concentrate fully on the Austrian national team. I cancelled the consultancy contract." Rangnick didn't salvage the situation at United rather added fuel to the fire with claims of board not backing him to recruit a striker in January after Mason Greenwood was ruled out. Fans do thank him for exposing the club but that situation cannot continue for long without becoming untenable. 

ETH distanced himself from Rangnick's conclusion of the club needing upto 10 new players after 0-9 thrashing over two legs by their biggest domestic rivals Liverpool, by harking back to era under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer "I am still in the process of analysing...The season before, this squad was second in the league, so there is huge potential." This perhaps gives a clue that despite United losing 6 experienced players whose contract expire this summer and central midfield positions still vacant that there will not be any wholesale changes but rather a evolution in squad. This dampened the spirits of many leading broadsheets who gave a pessimistic reading of ETH presentation. The Telegraph opined "New Manchester United manager deserves time to prove he won't be remembered as Erik Ten Months" while The Times were more considerate "Straight-talking Erik ten Hag will take no nonsense at Manchester United."

ETH has started work 5-weeks early compared to David Moyes who consequently failed to add any significant players to the ageing squad that had won the league in previous season. ETH is bringing in a known hand in Steve McClaren while Moyes failed to persuade Rene Muelensteen to stay while disbanding rest of Sir Alex Ferguson's formidable backroom staff. Richard Arnold and John Murtough have a new setup taking shape after a string of departures in Jim Lawlor the chief scout, Marcel Bout head of global scouting, Matt Judge director of football negotiations, Hemen Tseayo chief strategy officer and Ed Woodward the chief executive. This can be a boon for ETH to push through his requests or a bane if the new hierarchy cannot deliver the transfers in time for the pre-season - a deadline crucial for the new manager. Manchester United appointed Andy O'Boyle as Deputy Director of Football reporting to John Murtough, and like Murtough himself O'Boyle joins from Premier League's head of elite performance. This puts an end to the rumours of links with Paul Mitchell who has signed on for another season at AS Monaco or Luis Campos who has joined Paris St Germain.

Best piece of advise came from the gaffer Sir Alex Ferguson "Well, I hope he does well because the club needs someone to get in control. I hope he does well, yeah." No Dutch manager has won the English Premier League title yet(Guus Hiddink, Louis van Gaal, Dick Advocaat, Martin Jol, Ruud Gulit, Ronald Koeman, Rene Muelensteen, Frank de Boer) and that's a stiff challenge for ETH in itself. David Moyes flew to Thailand for pre-season so will ETH in July but hope history does not repeat itself any further.

Paul Mitchell or relegation battle next season

With upto six players coming to end of their contracts at Manchester United who already have an unfilled vacancy in central midfield since departures of Ander Herrera and Marouanne Fellaini three years ago, the club has a monumental task ahead in the summer transfer window as Ralf Rangnick put it "for me, it is clear there will be six, seven, eight, maybe ten new players" following a 0-9 aggregate thrashing at the hands of their biggest rivals Liverpool. With the scale of the rebuild and a limited funding of about 150 million nett the task of getting the right players is difficult as it is; it is further compounded by the fact that United have a duboius record under Ed Woodward and Matt Judge to take forever to conclude negotiations while paying over the odds for the wrong players!

Richard Arnold will want to demonstrate how he tends to operate differently than his beleaguered predecessor and thus the appointment of Erik ten Hag, an upcoming manager who has steadily won laurels at Ajax. A new position was also created under John Murtough for Deputy Director of Football. Ralf Rangnick worked closely with Paul Mitchell at the Red Bull group and both were spotted at FA Youth Cup match in February. The Manchester born recruitment specialist would be an ideal candidate based on his brilliant eye for talent while at Southampton, Tottenham Hotspur, Red Bull group and now AS Monaco. Mitchell was also synonymous with the rise of Mauricio Pochettino at Southampton and Tottenham but reportedly fell off with Spurs chairman Daniel Levy and had to leave. With AS Monaco losing to Braga in round of 16 in Europa Cup and presently in 4th place in Ligue 1 six points off 2nd place amid managerial churn, time is perhaps right for Mitchell to move to new destination after a two year stint at the principality.

United have lost four straight away matches to Man City, Everton, Liverpool and Arsenal. Last time this happened was in 1980-81 when United finished eight. United have lost 10 matches this season and conceded 51 goals already. Loss to Liverpool was the worst match in Premier League history. If it were not for Cristiano Ronaldo and David de Gea, United would be battling relegation. Board having sacked Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and appointing an interim manager thus writing off the whole season, demolished the morale of the squad. With impending player exodus the chances of 'Too good to go down' might repeat in 2022-23 just a year before the golden jubilee of last relegation in 1973-74. Reports of conflict between British and Iberian/South American players must be firmly dealth with. Everton part of original top 4 clubs of league football in England are now facing relegation, United must wake-up now. Not only have City and Liverpool marched on while Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham are re-grouping but likes of Wolves, West Ham, Leicester, Brighton, Brentford, Aston Villa, Crystal Palace have sound structures to enable high performance. 

More than anything the character of the players will be paramount. Sir Alex Ferguson brought Viv Anderson, Brian McClair and Steve Bruce and fixed the centre-back issue to build a firm foundation that got better after Gary Pallister added pace to handle counter-attacks. United must rally around a new captain in Bruno Fernandes ably guided by veterans Cristiano Ronaldo and David de Gea as the current skipper Harry Maguire has had a torrid time while being unispiring. Mason Greenwood is likely to miss another season, Edinson Cavani is leaving, Martial and Rashford are not number 9's which makes an emergency signing of a forward mandatory. If team takes time to adapt to different type of gameplay under Erik ten Hag, they must have an option to switch to more direct form in the last 20-30 minutes to salvage crucial points. United were relegated due to lack fit and proper strikers in 1973-74 campaign! Return of James Garner from an excellent spell at Forest has raised expectations. United cannot introduce young players from the team that has reached the FA Youth Cup final without proper protection from senior players like how 'Captain Marvel' Bryan Robson switched to left wing to take care of opposing right-back who was giving young Ryan Giggs a tough time.

United certainly cannot spend 150 million on one player like Declan Rice or proven leaders like Harry Kane and Conor Coady as it seems very difficult to raise significant funds from selling players. United need two defensive midfielders, one centre-forward, one centre-back for a start. Hypothetically it is likely to be 40m for Ruben Neves, 50m for Yves Bissouma, 75m for Darwin Nunez, 35m for Jurrien Timber will top 200m. But an expert like Paul Mitchell can tweak this from his extensive contacts especially from Red Bull group players like Amadou Haidara(ligament injury), Konrad Laimer, Josko Gvardiol, Willi Orban, Marcel Halstenberg, Christopher Nkunku, Rasmus Kristensen et al and from his existing employers AS Monaco the likes of Aurelian Tchouameni, Benoit Badiashile, and others throughout Europe to transform the squad in couple of seasons itself. Getting Paul Mitchell will strengthen Ralf Rangnick's stature who is to become a consultant after this season and the board must not bring politics into play to handicap the club instead of being an enabler. Mitchell is likely to weigh up the takeover scenario at Chelsea who will play in the Champions' League next season unlike United before deciding.

United have been poor at letting players go and the plan of Ed Woodward to load non-starting players at high salary to extract good transfer fee has backfired spectacularly. Club will have to generate minimum of 50m by selling Dean Henderson, Eric Bailly, Anthoy Martial. Instead of Phil Jones club can groom Axle Tuanzebe or Teden Mengi. Luis Campos who is not associated with any club since leaving Lille in late 2020 is an formidable alternative to Paul Mitchell as are Brentford duo Phil Giles and Rasmus Ankersen. Campos performed the ultimate miracle by helping AS Monaco and Lille to win the French Ligue 1 as underdogs against oil rich Paris Saint-Germain. United were beaten by another United in Newcastle to the signing of technical director Dan Ashworth who has left Brighton and Hove Albion. What if United had football people at decision making levels to back Jose Moruinho over players with social media power, hired Luis Campos and signed one quality centre-back in summer of 2018. This summer is another such momentus occasion where fans want Manchester United to be run as a football club and not just a commercial brand.

Erik ten Hag it is!

David Ornstein of the Athletic broke the news of Manchester United having reached a verbal agreement with Erik ten Hag to become their next permanent manager. United had considered a four man shortlist for the job that included Mauricio Pochettino of PSG, Julien Lopetegui of Sevilla and Luis Enrique the Spanish national team coach. It was a dead heat between ten Hag and Pochettino after the other two ruled themselves out and in the online twitter poll that Gary Neville conducted the Dutchman was the overwhelming fans favourite by 82:18 margin while most of ex-United players backed the Argentine. Pochettino was strongly rumoured to take over from Louis van Gaal after meeting Sir Alex Ferguson in May, 2016 and has been linked with United job ever since. Erik ten Hag is seen as more steady with his stock on the rise while Pochettino had a difficult season at PSG with superstar players.

Erik ten Hag will be the second Dutch manager at United after Louis van Gaal, and

  • at 52 years of age would be around the same age as when Jose Mourinho took over in 2016
  • with a 4-years contract is the second lengthiest after Moyes' 6-years in post Ferguson era
  • he was assistant to former Sir Alex Ferguson assistant Steve McClaren at FC Twente in 2008 and McClaren could return to United if ten Hag wants
  • perhaps the first defender in his playing days to manage United since 1946 and played for FC Twente in 3 stints winning the Dutch Cup in 2001. All other previous United managers were either wing halfs or forwards as players.
  • None of the previous managers after Ferguson have even last 3 years. Gaffer used to say it takes 4 years to have all XI starting players of ones choice.

His best moment came in 2018-19 season in Champions' League when Ajax defeated Real Madrid who were attempting to win 4th straight trophy, by 4-1 and at Santiago Bernabeu with Dusan Tadic getting a perfect 10 score for his performance in that match! Ajax then beat Juventus in quater-finals but lost to Tottenham managed by Pochettino in semis in 96th minute. That season Ajax won Eredivisie for the first time in 5 years! United have not won the league since 2013. Both clubs have good academies and Erik ten Hag is known to bring players through. Despite losing most of his brightest young players he not only created a new winning team and won Eredivisie again in 2020-21 but changed the style, from false 9 and inverted wingers to out-an-out number 9 with wingers. In this seasons Champions' League Ajax won all 6 of their group stage matches against Borussia Dotmund, Sporting Lisbon and Besiktas but lost in the knock-out phase to Benfica with Darwin Nunez, a target for United to replace Edinson Cavani scoring the winner. In the knock-out phases ten Hag has had more favourable results away than at home at the Amstredam Arena.

At United the Glazers love big name players like Paul Pogba, Cristiano Ronaldo who generate lot of social media buzz. Hope Joel Glazer, Richard Arnold and John Murtough understand that they would need to stand by their manager in any event of a contest with those big name players. If they repeat the stance they took against Jose Mourinho they will help repeat the chaos of last 9 years not rectify it. Having understood the setup first-hand Ralf Rangnick can play a crucial role to ease Erik ten Hag who has thrived under director of football at Ajax but the structure at United is still vague with most decisions deferred to Glazers. Stadium re-development plans having been initiated the board must ensure that does not drain the resources for investment in the first team. Board must act quickly to get the transfers done early in order for Erik ten Hag to have a full pre-season(Thailand and Australia) to mould the squad that failed previously to adapt to Rangnick's 4-2-2-2 itself. He often stresses on a particular trait "creating space for others with off-the ball runs" which United players can only embrace in training. Incidentally lack of standard 'training'  was one of the major issues pointed out by players about the regime of Solskjaer and Rangnick, with ten Hag that will be firmly resolved.

After an underwhelming season a host of United players are nearing their end of contracts(6) which will clear the squad for a rebuild - exit of Paul Pogba, Edinson Cavani, Nemanja Matic, Jesse Lingard, Juan Mata, Lee Grant should free up the wage bill enomously. Under utilized players(3) like Dean Henderson, Eric Bailly, Phil Jones and decide the futures of players returning from loan(7) like Donny van de Beek, Anthony Martial, Axel Tuanzebe, Andeas Pereira, Tahith Chong, Amad, Facundo Pellistri. Thats easily about 12 players as Amad and Pellistri are highly rated youngsters! One player most thrilled by this appointment will be Donny van de Beek. Crucial will be to bring in 4 to 5 young and hungry players to spruce up the squad and not repeat the mistake made under Moyes where only Fellaini and Mata were brought in. Availability of Anthony Elanga and James Garner will be of tremendous help. While the biggest question is not the future of Cristiano Ronaldo but of Mason Greenwood and especially if he cannot play regularly next season United will have to prioritize the signing of a forward like Darwin Nunez urgently.

Based on available resource Erik ten Hag has modified the team's style of play at Ajax. At United will Harry Maguire be able to play a high defensive line? Will the handicap of McTominay and Fred be finally over? Luke Shaw's defensive liability be tolerated? Over reliance on Bruno Fernandes be reduced? Struggling Marcus Rashford regain his form? Chose between David de Gea or Dean Henderson? Problems of plenty but lacking the ability to control the game from midfield. A single high profile signing of Declan Rice or combination of Reuben Neves, Aurelien Tchouameni, Amadou Haidara, Yves Bissouma or Kalvin Phillips. On a positive note Erik tan Hag can in the future look to pick from players who have reached the FA Youth Cup finals in Alejandro Garnacho, Charlie McNeil, Kobbie Mainoo, Daniel Gore, Marc Juardo, Rhys Bennett et al, an option and quality in such numbers unavailable to most of his predecessors as United's previous final was in 2011.

United move from having the guru of Jurgen Klopp in Ralf Rangnick as interim manager to former assistant to Pep Guardiola at Bayern Munich where he trained the players to be ready for the first team while playing in the same style. Tottenham's ascent to 4th spot with the best manager available then in Antonio Conte proves yet again that it is the singlemost important appointment at a football club. Guardiola, Klopp, Tuchel and Conte all but fortifying the top 4 the best that can be expected of ten Hag is 5th place finish next season but importantly a clear style of play with Manchester United DNA.

Five Elanga's

Anthony Elanga is perhaps the lone bright spark in a dismal season thus far for Manchester United. To cap his fantastic run he scored against Athletico Madrid in the knock out phase of the Champions' League to keep the tie level at 1-1 after a tepid first half. This problem of slow start which was the bane of Solskjaer regime has reared its head again. Crucially for the interim boss Ralf Rangick his substitutions have been generally well timed with the right personnel enabling him to save face. Loss to championship side Middlesbrough in fourth round of the FA Cup ended all hopes of winning any trophy this season, and another season became a write-off.

Ralf Rangnick was the last appointment of Ed Woodward who is now gone, and it increasingly sounds like the new CEO Richard Arnold wants to stamp his authority by getting the summer appointment of Manchester United's permanent manager correct. This will mean United might not get the maximum out of the German guru and further depriving the morale of coaching staff and players wrt targets for this on-going season. This is especially hard on the players and Fred who has improved under Rangnick lamented "I think it's a little bit bad for us not to have one(permanent manager), at the moment it's all about the short-term goals. We don't know how it's going to be after the end of this season." 

United have tried big name managers in Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho who to their credit won trophies justifying the decision but the success was not lasting. Big spending on players not only continued surprisingly under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer but increased drastically - Maguire, wan-Bissaka, James, Fernandes, van de Beek, Amad, Cavani, Sancho, Varane. Without pre-season training to embed the ideas of the football guru Ralf Rangnick, the players are markedly struggling to implement the tactics during matches. Rangnick shelved 4-2-2-2 to quasi Solskjaer 4-1-2-3 formation which is slightly different than 4-2-3-1. This highlights the importance of recruitment which has to be consistent in line with United's identity. Moyes should have been backed by 3 to 4 young and hungry players to add energy into that old team which won the last Premier League title under Sir Alex Ferguson. Take heed.

In the interim capacity Ralf Rangnick has stopped the leakage of goals from the previous regime and exponentially increased the shots on target to be the best in English Premier League since his tenure started yet the conversion rate with Ronaldo, Rashford, Cavani, Sancho is very poor. Mason Greenwood who is suspended and still has the 3rd best goal stats just behind Ronaldo and Fernandes. Suspension coming near the end of the January transfer window and the club chose not to replace the striker perhaps not sure about the gravity of the case. Rangnick has since explicitly said that United need new striker in the summer as "obvious". Without Greenwood, United drew at Burnley, Southampton and Watford which might well deny United the top four finish with tougher matches against Man City, Tottenham and Liverpool lined back to back. Anthony Elanga who needs to be managed to not be burnt-out started one and came on as a sub in two of these drawn games.

This player hesitency to grasp newer ideas and Elanga's application has clearly demonstrated the way forward for Manchester United yet again. Promote youth from within or buy young players to give the next manager the best chance of being a success. Roy Keane rightly said the players will throw the manager under the bus after Mourinho was sacked and the loss to Middlesbrough highlighted the fact when United missed not just chances but even a penalty from perhaps the greatest player of all time! As a fan I wanted to stop watching football for rest of the season. The answer is for United to have five Elanga's in the same starting XI. Jadon Sancho is finally thriving proving this point further and also James Garner excelling at Nottingham Forest will help the club to trim the requirement down to 2 or 3. Fans would have loved to see Axel Tuanzebe or Teden Mengi get the attention from Rangnick and be ahead of Eric Bailly and Phil Jones. Elanga, Sancho and Garner all set who could be other two and which part of the pitch specifically for next season?

Central defensive midfield and centre-forward. Dylan Levitt already with 10 caps for Wales and Ethan Galbraith the former teammates of Garner will get a shot. While Garner has done well at Forest, Galbraith has got good playing time at Doncaster who are fighting to avoid relegation and Levitt has been hampered with injury at Dundee United which suggests the duo might need another season of regular football elsewhere before being in a position to succeed at United. Below them in the pecking order are this season's debutants Zidane Iqbal, the first British South Asian to represent United and Charlie Savage, the son of ex-United player Robbie Savage while Hannibal Mejbri has been fast tracked to the first team after his debut in the last game of last season. Clearly these are not immediate solutions for next season. With developments at Chelsea where the Roman Abramovich era is coming to an end, United could find themselves in pole position to sign Declan Rice, 23 given the huge transfer fee or be wise to opt for Aurélien Tchouaméni, 22 and for above mentioned profile of players should be in the hunt for forwards Darwin Nunez, 22 or Victor Osimhen, 23 or Alexander Isak, 22.

Meanwhile Alejandro Garnacho, 17 year old who has been the main goal threat in FA Youth Cup where the club has reached the semi-final stage for the first time since 2012 semi-final loss to Chelsea. Garnacho has been included in the provisional 44-man squad for World Cup qualifiers by Argentinian National team who have already qualified. United and Wolves competed for the first two FA Youth Cup finals in '53 and '54. If United progress they are likely to meet Chelsea or Forest in the finals. United have invested heavily since the summer of 2020 on U18 players like Willy Kambwala, Charlie McNeil, Joe Hugill, Logan Pye, Marc Jurado, Alvaro Fernandes, Radek Vitek, Isak Hansen-Aaroen, Alejandro Garnacho, Manni Norkett and Ethan Ennis. Strategically this could be United most important competition for the rest of this season. Garnacho is guaranteed a first team debut if he stays injury free.

"If you’re good enough, you’re old enough." Busby's clarion call to introduce the Babes in 1950's and four decades later Fergie's Fledglings.

PS: RIP Frank O'Farrell and Xmas of 71 being top of the league with George Best banging in the goals after Sir Matt Busby had retired! Injuries and lack of signings into the 1968 European Cup winning team turned the tide. Tommy Docherty took the lessons from his predecessor, and United must listen to Jose Mourinho warning to end this vicious repeatitive cycle plaguing the present team.

(Rang)Nick of time

Two wins against differing tactical sides in Brentford and West Ham United brought much needed optimism about the remainder of this season and dispelled doubts about Ralf 'the professor' Rangnick's mettle being out of day-to-day coaching for majority of last decade. His tactical switch to 4-3-3 but with one holding number 6 and two number 8's in these games, and getting the result brought cheer to fans who were a bit depressed after he fell back to Solskjaer's 4-2-3-1 at Villa and Wolves to salvage those two games. Big question now is how will Rangnick integrate Paul Pogba into that system after the Frenchman returns from injury in time for the FA Cup fourth round clash against Middlesbrough.

After suffering his first loss to Wolves and scraping through Villa in FA Cup, Rangnick picked Anthony Elanga to start in the next three games drawing one and winning two. The young Swedish international's energy galvanised the left of front three as had when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer introduced Mason Greenwood(right) and Louis van Gaal put his faith in record youth signing Anthony Martial. Elanga is starting ahead of much fancied Jadon Sancho and Amad Diallo says a lot about the effort the lad has put in to get noticed in training and then perform on the big stage when given that opportunity. His composure to score his first goal of this season from a tight pass from Fred while showing awareness about goalkeeper's position was simply awesome. United fans responded in kind by having a new song based on a fav song from my childhood SNAP!'s 'Rhythm is a dancer'. German band is having a revival of this classic song in its 30th year of release, and under a German boss at United.

Rhythm is a dancer, Anthony Elanga
Try to stop him if you dare
He came from Scandinavia
To be United's saviour
Scoring goals from everywhere
Wooooah its Elanga
Wooooah you can feel it in the air
Wooooah its Elanga

Futher goals by Greenwood and then Rashford coming off the bench sealed a memorable 3-1 away win at perhaps the best atmosphere in this season's Premier League at newly promoted Brentford. Manchester United last played them in the first season after the war in 1946-47 winning the home fixture 4-1 with Jack 'Gunner' Rowley hat-trick and drawing the away match 0-0. Brentford under Thomas Frank outplayed and outpressed United in the first half who only survived thanks to yet another masterclass from David de Gea in goal and rightly proclaimed "We destroyed them in the first half, they didn't have a sniff, three huge chances and there could only have been one winner of this game. They are unbelievably lucky. I know all the stuff about taking chances. They changed the system against little Brentford."

In the closing stages after United led 2-0 Rangnick substituted Cristiano Ronaldo in 71st minute for Harry Maguire to play three at the back. This was in direct response to late second half capitulation against Aston Villa after being 2-0 up to draw 2-2. Ronaldo was furious and Rangnick was seen explaining to perhaps the greatest player of all time. Media latched on to this and Anthony Martial's comments to press Rangnick who was calm to douse any flames and handled both episodes well.

Marcus Rashford regaining his form to score his first goal since October and then score the matchwinner in the last minute against West Ham will give a big boost to United's chase for the top four. That last minute goal involved United's all three substitutes Martial, Cavani and Rashford. Such an attacking change to go all out for a result against a quality side like West Ham is reminiscent of United under Sir Alex Ferguson. Harry Maguire battling for his position got a start ahead of Victor Lindelof who had a breakin at his home when United were playing Brentford and rightfully chose to be with his family. Maguire had a great start to the game and dominated aerially to fight for his place in the starting XI despite being the captain. Thats the scale of transformation done by Rangnick in short time.

David de Gea had a clean sheet at last to show for his tremdous saves to move ahead of Gary Bailey to become Manchester United's third best keeper in terms of clean sheets; David de Gea's tally is now 162 just shy of Alex Stepney at 175 and Peter Schmeichel at 180. David de Gea was part of Sir Alex Ferguson's last Premier League trophy win, won the FA Cup under Louis van Gaal, and won League Cup and UEFA Cup under Jose Mourinho to easily be the best player at United of the last decade.

Anthony Martial has just agreed a loan move to Sevilla; good luck to him and hope he fulfills his potential on a consistent basis. Amad Diallo has yet to confirm his option of loan move, Jesse Lingard is being approached by Newcastle, Eric Bailly had an enquiry by AC Milan... Outgoings raise expectations for a defensive midfield cover for Scott McTominay as cut-price deals for secondary targets like Denis Zakaria and Boubacar Kamara are available. While both primary targets Declan Rice and Reuben Neves had nice things to say about Old Trafford recently after their games against United, the club is unlikely to sanction a purchase of a player out of uncertainity over its manager in the summer. Club under new CEO Richard Arnold is now likely to start the process to appoint a permanent successor to interim Ralf Rangnick ostensibly to avoid Brian Glanville's favourite quote of Karl Marx "History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce."

Reality check for Rangnick

Ralf Rangnick's famed gegenpressing lasted just 30 minutes against Crystal Palace and was not seen again! The imbalance in the massive squad was very quickly laid bare. But the more serious issue was the lack of effort on display by the players. Soon the dressing room unrest became the media frenzy. Spotlight was on the new coaching setup who were settling in after the exodus of coaches under Solskjaer, and the outbreak of Covid-19 that forced the closure of Carrington for few days did not help either. The appalling game against Newcastle (13 shots apiece for both clubs) and defeat at home to Wolves (only 9 shots compared to 19 from visitors) brought the reality check. That loss to Wolves a first at Old Trafford since 19, August 1980 also the first loss of Rangnick's reign after just six games (3Wins, 2Draws, 1Loss).

As Sir Matt Busby used to point out its about the method and the progress, Ralf set out as 4-2-2-2 as a template for his method but disowned it after being out played by Wolves and move to three at the back. And still lost. This is where the new coach is not sticking to the method but disbanding it to be accommodative. That is an immediate betrayal which can be pardoned only if he goes back to it after getting the profile of players needed to play in a very specific way. If not the rot will be masked to rear its head again. In stark contract Wolves players were following instructions to the tee from the coach Bruno Lage who clearly explained how his team used the spaces to outdo United in post match interview. Phil Jones made a solid comeback with a good performance against Wolves, his first competitive match in nearly two years!

The most pressing shortage is in the central defensive midfield role or the engine room that connects the defensive with attack or in short controls the game. Its shocking to think that United would be lacking dominating midfielders which has been its staple through the decades. If the chance to get a stop-gap emerges it should be exercised as Fred and Scott McTominay have no backup and neither are of the profile employed by clubs who play gegenpressing. Primary targets like Declan Rice, Aurelien Tchouameni or Reuben Neves might not be available but secondary ones like Amadou Haidara, Dennis Zakaria or Boubacar Kamara might be feasible if any departures come about like Martial, Lingard or Bailly. 

One of the surprising things to come out is that the non-selection of Donny van de Beek under Rangnick, with reports that suggest that the Dutchman can at best play in number 10 now occupied by Bruno Fernandes where Paul Pogba and Jesse Lingard can also play, but struggles to cover the ground elsewhere in midfield. While the most visible change is in the full-back position where Rangnick has used Telles and Dalot instead of Shaw and Wan-Bissaka. Martial wants out which if materialized will free-up one position in the bloated squad. Eight is a high number of experienced players who are are on the fringes of the squad Henderson, Bailly, Jones, Mata, Lingard, van de Beek, Martial and Paul Pogba's(played <50% of games due to injury) contract due to expire in June. Rangnick's reply to a question whether he should persuade a player to stay at Manchester United was on-the-spot "Players have to want to play for a big club like Manchester United. If a player does not want to play Manchester United in the medium or long term, I don’t think it makes sense to convince him to change his mind."

Three wins and a draw has taken Wayne Rooney's Derby County within 3 points of second from bottom team in the table considering the massive 21-points deduction for financial breaches at the start of this season. If Derby avoid relegation to League One, Rooney will certainly be a bona fide legend as a manager. An intriguing fixture was in the FA Cup where Derby lost to another former ex-United player managed team Coventry City, Mark Robins. As expected Richard Arnold has been confirmed as new CEO from Ed Woodward thus bringing the curtains down to perhaps the most torrid period of United history since mid-70's.

United face their lucky charm Aston Villa in the third round of FA Cup though its not at Villa Park. The corresponding fixture in 1948 when United beat Villa 6-4 at Villa Park was described by Geoffrey Green as one of the best matches in the history of the Cup. Villa led 1-0 within a minute then United annhilated the hosts with five goals and in second half Villa hit back with three goals to setup a humdinger of a finale before Stan Pearson struck to soothe the nerves. "For dramatic content and depth of plot that Villa-United tie lives with the best... as a match of high drama, swaying one way then another and hightened by the storm of rain, it takes some beating." Busby's United went on to win their first trophy. Only two losses came in third round of 19-20 and in final of 56-57 when United were chasing the first double of last century of league and FA Cup. United though beat Villa en-route to winning the FA Cup in 62-63, 76-77 and 03-04 campaigns. During the treble winning season Ryan Giggs's solo goal at Villa Park waltzing his way through the Arsenal midfield and defense is certainly the greatest FA Cup goal. Rangnick would hope world's most famous and oldest cup competition provides the perfect opportunity for United to get their season back on track.

Carrick impresses as interim

Michael Carrick stood up for the beleaguered coaching staff and took charge of two games against Villareal and Chelsea impressing everyone to earn an away win and a draw. Most striking feature was how different they were setup in these two games 4-2-3-1 with Ronaldo leading the line and 4-3-1-2 flooding the midfield without Ronaldo making the winger Jadon Sancho to score in both these games thereby regaining form. Carrick himself paid tribute to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and his man-management before the first game, and took on the responsibility of managing United as an interim with great application based on his vast array of technical skill as a player.

Later due to delay in getting the work permit and agree terms with Lokomotiv Moscow for Ralf Rangnick, Carrick had to manage the team for the 3rd match against Arsenal at home. He dropped Aaron Wan-Bissaka who was involved in a lash to clear the ball that caught Thiago Silva's leg and United could only draw at Chelsea. This is proper management that seemed to be lacking under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Diogo Dalot deputized and unlike being outrun and targeted by Villareal, Carrick played Rashford on right not left to protect him. Fred was the workhorse again that earned United a crucial penalty as Ronaldo scored two goals to earn a 3-2 win against their direct rivals for the 4th Champions' League spot. Typical exhilarating Premier League match of recent years where again United did not have majority of possession even at home, something that is still unthinkable could have happened under Sir Alex Ferguson!

After the game it was made public that Michael Carrick would be leaving his position with United that started 15 years ago initially as player who replaced Roy Keane winning every trophy in his illustrious career and took a stint as a coach under Jose Mourinho. Carrick let it know he does not have any plans as yet but loyalty to Solskjaer was a factor. United are losing one of their finest who could have become their permanent manager from the bootroom in the future. Rangnick revealed he has tried to persuade Carrick to stay on in a long chat two days before. Hoping Carrick has a great career as a coach ahead of him and crucially win trophies that most of Ferguson's former charges have had very little of. Thank you.

In a short three game period Carrick has an impressive two wins and a draw but his team displayed cohesiveness that was lacking for much of this season under Solskjaer and a clear formation adapting for the deficiencies in midfield. In the game against Chelsea the coaching staff had live data feed from analysts in the background which was not the case before Rangnick's appointment. This made many experts believe that it was Rangnick forcing the move to bench Ronaldo against Chelsea and it was not Carrick's call. Judging from Carrick's storied history as a technical lynchpin of past United side playing alongside Paul Scholes with aplomb, he would have taken in the positive advice from Rangnick to make more use of pitch-side monitors for the coaching staff but the final team selection would be his own.

Another feature that was liked by all was Carrick's reading of the game in his press conference. As an example he described Thomas Tuchel's in form Chelsea team and the way they play in depth with full analysis. Did not repeat stuff often nor try to paint a picture but reveal his view. Refreshing.

By the way, Ronaldo scored his 800th goal of his career in the game against Arsenal. 800th! United fans would love him to get his 200th at United by the end of his two years here and surely surpass George Best's tally of 178 goals. Only Ryan Giggs has more appearances for United than 800 at 963, imagine to score in 19 seasons that is averaging a staggering 42 goals per season. Only Sir Denis Law has managed to score more than 42 goals for Manchester United once in 1963-64 that won him the Ballon d'Or with 46 goals, a trophy much coveted and respected in the past. 

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