Garnacho, Hojlund, Mainoo

INEOS chairman Sir Jim Ratcliffe not only met with all staff and players but also fans forum and community groups to stress the same message which was in their subsequent statement "determined to put football and performance on the pitch at the heart of everything we do". This clearly meant they want to do what they mean. Sir Jim also attended the events to mark the 66th anniversary of Munich air disaster on 6th February alongside Sir Alex Ferguson. This in itself has been a huge departure as Glazers never did attend the event the response to which defines what United are all about. This affirms INEOS understanding of what matters most to Manchester United fans.

The announcement of Omar Berrada as United's new CEO took everyone by surprise. Industry experts agree it's a great appointment of someone thought very highly in the City group hierarchy and as a possible successor to Ferran Soriano. Prior to this United were all about leaks to press including the team-sheet but this operation was done discreetly and decision made very soon without wasting time. It is the most challenging job in world football right now. Berrada is expected to join United in the summer and might have a say in who becomes the director of football. Dan Ashworth, Julian Ward, Paul Mitchell, Dougie Freedman are thought to be considered. Meanwhile Sam Williams returns to United as Lead Scout for 17s to 21s from Ipswich.

In calendar year 2024 United are unbeaten. Seen off minnows in Wigan and Newport County in FA Cup, drew with Tottenham, beat Wolves and West Ham in the process scoring 15 goals conceding 7. Unsurprisingly it coincided with the return of defensive lynchpin Licha Martinez from long term injury. But he again sustained an injury in the game versus West Ham and will be out for about 8 weeks. Not only did Licha return from long term absence but also Casemiro, Luke Shaw and Kobbie Mainoo. That's four first team starters and the poor bench strength was clearly exposed for first half of the season. United aren't yet controlling games with specific patterns of play and haven't displayed enough intelligence to switch from one pattern to another by reading the opposition during the games like how Champion's do. Nor have they stopped conceding easy set pieces.  

Silver-lining that fans were waiting for occurred in the match against West Ham after Garnacho scored and raced toward the advertising board behind the goal post and sat, to be joined by Rasmus Hojlund and Kobbie Mainoo on either side. The image of young United players coming together to score and celebrate went viral eliciting eulogies from everyone. It lifted the mood and fill the hearts instantly. United could not make any signings in the January window owing to FFP rules, now called PSR. Their summer transfers were made possible by a fire sale of academy graduates like Elanga, Kovar, Mengi, Zidane, Savage etc as their unwanted first team players did not evoke any response from even the lower leagues. Now the same academy players in Garnacho and Mainoo are saving the dire season.

Rasmus Hojlund by his sheer industry and skill managed to be top scorer in Europe in Champions' League qualifying rounds but found going tough in Premier League mainly due to lack of service from his team-mates. After 1027 minutes without a goal, he showed great awareness and generated enough pace to beat the Aston Villa keeper to clinch the winner. His tenacity reminds me of my favourite player Mark 'Sparky' Hughes. He has scored 4 goals and created 2 assists in last 4 games. He like Sir Jim Ratcliffe is a boyhood United fan and scoring at Stretford End would have made his dream come true.

One of the reasons for the change was that Erik ten Hag finally dropped Anthony after his goal and assist against Newport and moved Garnacho from left to right wing as Rashford was not enjoying playing there. Rashford has been fined for another transgression which made him to miss the game at Newport and was quickly integrated for Wolves game after he apologized. By including Omari Forson in the squad who got the assist for Kobbie Mainoo's winner at Wolves and plays at left wing was a clear signal from Erik ten Hag that Manchester United will march on regardless of anyone's reputation. In the immediate manging with Licha Martinez's absence will be crucial to maintain the momentum as United aim to reduce the 9-point deficit from final the Champions' League spot.

Grim midseason update as INEOS finally step in

INEOS group led by boyhood Manchester United fan, Sir Jim Ratcliffe has finally reached agreement with Glazer family to acquire 25% of the club and control the footballing operations. This protracted saga that began in November, 2022 will conclude finally when the Premier League approves of this transaction early next year. It will mean Sir Dave Brailsford and Jean-Claude Blanc overseeing the entire football structure including the much-maligned recruitment department. Brailsford the 'marginal gains' guru will coach the entire coaching staff on his CORE principles and Blanc will lead football operations with his previous experience at Juventus and PSG. C for commitment will probably mean fans won't have to hold 'play like you mean it' banner hereafter.

Populous group the global design agency who've developed Tottenham Hotspur stadium and Legends group have come out with a plan to build a new stadium next to the present iconic Old Trafford by utilizing the vast space surrounding it. This will mean United will not need to play their home games elsewhere but could continue playing their home games at Old Trafford while work on new stadium commences. Also Jean-Claude Blanc spearheaded the first club owned stadium in Italy by converting Stadio Delli Alpi to Allianz Stadium, a modern and sophisticated UEFA accredited level 4 arena. INEOS had promised $300 million investment into infrastructure on the deal getting ratified but Old Trafford redevelopment will need in excess of $1 billion! Will refurbishment and expansion of existing facilities be way to balance in view of global geopolitical turmoil and keep the heritage?

Manchester United's form has been utterly inconsistent to say the least. Erik ten Hag tries to blend his ideas and when struck goes back to counter-attacking style epitomised under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. This approach has meant United still do not have an identifiable style of play. Especially this season its more of the later that has made even fans question the tactics of the gaffer. Dismal loss away to West Ham, worst performance of the season in 0-3 home loss to Bournemouth, losses to Newcastle, Man City, Crystal Palace, Brighton & Hove Albion, Arsenal and Tottenham that's a whopping 8 defeats in 19 games with negative goal difference of -4 and 11 points behind leaders. Bournemouth won for the first time in their history at Old Trafford, United have now lost 4 consecutive Premier League games to Brighton, lost 5 of opening 10 games, are some of the damning indictments of the performances this season.

United finished creditable third last season and qualified for the Champions' League. They were paired with favourites Bayern Munich, Galatasary and Copenhagen. Least expectation was to finish behind Bayern and fight for 2nd spot. Lost in Munich despite scoring 3 goals, lost at home to Galatasary, squandered the lead in Istanbul, blew up in Copenhagen to a partisan fantastic crowd supporting the home team vigorously to finish bottom of the group! Incredibly sloppy and poor. Scoring 12 goals is no consolation while conceding 15. Harry Kane won Man of the Match awards in both games to remind United of composure they still lack in their play and scoring goals. Lindelof-Martinez combination started 1st match, Maguire-Varane started two matches while Lindelof-Varane 1, Lindelof-Maguire 1, Maguire-Evans 1 match each i.e., 5 pairings in 6 matches! Varane was absent from first team from September till Liverpool league game for which club captain Bruno Fernandes was suspended, an inexcusable mistake. In the group stage Rasmus Hojlund was the top scorer in Europe with 5 goals which bears testimony to his undoubted skills.

Scott McTominay was reintroduced as an attacking midfielder and he grabbed two late goals against Brentford to win the match at Old Trafford. That put more stress of defense who had men in short numbers in front of them to protect. Amrabat who joined at the very end of transfer window had not been playing for Fiorentina while waiting for the move to his boyhood club. Major injury to Licha Martinez and Malacia, minor ones to Mainoo, Shaw, Mount, Casemiro, Rashford, Maguire, Martial, operation to Lindelof, Sancho out of the squad due to indiscipline have all meant United kept changing players. Add to those three major facts: main player of last year Casemiro's loss of form, 30-goals man Rashford hit a drought and new goal-keeper Onana taking time to settle down while conceding few errors.

Belatedly Erik ten Hag might have realised that its better to bred youth instead of rotating the same squad with little improvement. That has led to more chances for Garnacho, Mainoo, Mejbri, Kambwala in the first team. Team that started that astonishing comeback game at home to Aston Villa was: Onana, Wan-Bissaka, Varane, Evans, Dalot, Mainoo, Eriksen, Garnacho, Fernandes, Rashford, Hojlund. Erik ten Hag, Harry Maguire, Alejandro Garnacho have won the manager, player and goal of the month awards from Premier League. Best home game thus far was the 2-0 win over Chelsea. Given the players that the gaffer wanted clearly its old boy Johnny Evans has been the player of the season so far and Diogo Dalot put in most outfield minutes while captain Bruno Fernandes has crossed 100 mark for creating chances. Despite media reports of Erik ten Hag losing the dressing room, team battled to 0-0 draw at Anfield where they had lost 7-0 last season. Out of Europe and only FA Cup to contend with apart from the league, should give the manager ample time to improve the players individually and the team consequently. Happy new year!

Sir Bobby Charlton: Inspiration for Manchester United post Munich and England's greatest ever

I became a fan of Manchester United thanks to Sir Bobby Charlton. While recovering from typhoid and para-typhoid in the summer of 1990, being able to watch episodes on World Cup history and then matches itself beamed on Doordarshan was a welcome relief. Charlton became my favourite. His natural instinct to shoot from 20 yards those thunder shots from either feet and exude a sense of quiet determination set him apart. Another fact that he played for a club based in a city renowned for textiles, the same industry that my father worked sealed this relationship for my lifetime.

Wave after wave of success that came United's way during the time of Sir Alex Ferguson, who like Sir Matt Busby reposed faith in graduates from youth academy in 1996 the likes of Giggs, Butt, Beckham, Neville, Scholes et al and that incredible treble during which time would frequently get to see Charlton in the director's box. The most striking aspect of those years was the reflection by Ferguson in 'Managing my Life' about not only the support that Charlton extended to him during the difficult period in 1989-90 season but also played a pivotal role in joining the club in 1986 "if ever I decided to move to England, I should let him know." during the World Cup in Mexico where Charlton was a commentator.

During his school days Charlton heard the 1948 FA Cup final on radio where the commentator described the match as the greatest FA Cup final of all time. He made up his mind if ever he were to join a club it will be Manchester United. Chief scout Joe Armstrong ensured United were the first club to approach and the fact that club had the best coaching setup further convinced Charlton. While in Manchester as a school boy Charlton declined to continue in Grammar school as he was required to play for them on Saturdays and not allowed to miss school on weekdays, so instead he decided to train as an apprentice engineer. Charlton made his way from playing in 5th tier of youth team through to winning the FA Youth Cups and two Youth Championships in Zurich to the first team between 1953 to 1956.

"Jimmy made me a Professional." was the dedication by Sir Bobby to the man who helped him the most to get the basics right and at the same time retain his special talents, Jimmy Murphy. Fierce competition for places meant Charlton had to bide his time to get into first team. Even after his debut and winning a league championship his place was not secure and he only got to play if either Tommy Taylor or Dennis Viollet got injured. That all changed on 21st December, 1957 when Sir Matt Busby made major changes to drop Ray Wood, Johnny Berry, Liam Whelan, David Pegg and pick Harry Gregg, Ken Morgans, Bobby Charlton, Albert Scanlon for a game vs Leicester City, United went on a 7-match winning streak! Then Munich happened.

"This is what lies at the heart of my story, first I had to go back to Munich.Without doing that, I know I couldn't begin to define my life" Charlton recalls in the Prologue of his autobiography "My Manchester United Years". His brother Jack said "He stopped smiling, a trait which continues to this day." Charlton was particularly upset about losing Duncan Edwards a fortnight after the crash when he was still recovering at his family home 113, Beatrice Street in Ashington near Newcastle. Charlton returned to play for United on 1st March in an FA Cup tie against West Brom. In three seasons immediately after Munich between 1958 to 1960, he scored 29, 18 and 21 goals which is quite easily his best goal scoring period for United in his entire career. Incredibly United finished as runners-up in 1959 league championship which no one could predict after losing 10 first players including 8 who died and 2 who could never play again.

"When things looked their bleakest after the Munich accident and there were times when I felt great despair, I was enormously cheered to think that Bobby Charlton was there. His presence was a great source of inspiration to keep working for the restoration of Manchester United." Sir Matt Busby 

Despite the personal differences formed a enthralling trinity with Denis Law and George Best from January, 1964 to October, 1971 that became the most anticipated team news attracting crowds wherever they played thus creating a legion of fans outside Manchester and worldwide that uniquely made Manchester United to be the best supported club in the world. Lifted the FA Cup in 1963, won two further league championships in '65 and '67, and ultimately the European Cup in '68 by scoring an unusual goal from a header in the final. Charlton collapsed on the pitch after the match and thinking of his lost pals stayed locked up in his room not joining rest of his team mates in celebration. 

Charlton scored on his debut for England against Scotland in 1958 and also in his 2nd game against Portugal but was made a scapegoat for the heavy loss against Yugoslavia and missed out on playing in the World Cup in Sweden when the team was still being picked by a committee. These matches being played immediately after Munich, at Belgrade both teams paid thier respects with a minute's silence with Charlton the only player who had survived the ordeal while his United team mates played AC Milan in the 2nd leg of European Cup semi-final. His record appearances and goals scoring feat both for Manchester United and England stood for more than 40 years! In the 2nd match of 1966 World Cup campaign against Mexico, it was Charlton's burst from inside his own half to carry the ball through and unleash a beauty from 25 yards that instilled confidence in England team after a dull 0-0 draw in the opening game. In the final, Charlton's selfless running slowed down Beckenbauer considerably in the 2nd half giving England a decisive edge against Germany. Charlton and Nobby Stiles are the only two Englishman to have won the World Cup and European Cup. Four years later despite leading 2-0 against Germany in quarter-finals, Alf Ramsey took Charlton off that instantly released Beckenbauer who scored and later they won the match in extra-time. 106th cap for England ended in anti-climax. Charlton is the lone Englishman to feature in Johan Cryuff's all-time favourite XI. 

Sir Bobby Charlton coined the phrase to describe Old Trafford as "theatre of dreams" and it will be the fitting host to honour his monumental legacy for both club and country. Words aren't enough to thank him for being always there and inspiring generations of players and fans alike. 

Decent transfer window despite restrcitions from FFP

Manchester United's greatest captain of 21st century, Roy Keane demanded they sign Harry Kane and Declan Rice. Erik ten Hag and the club were very clear that they wanted more than that starting from changing the goalkeeper. United completed their major first team reinforcements by 1st week of August: Mason Mount, Andre Onana, Rasmus Hojlund. This was a major departure from the way they conducted their transfers before. Mount and Onana were part of pre-season tour of America where they lost majority of their games, and Hojlund carrying a minor back injury was a doubt to be fit for opening game of the new English Premier League season.

To balance the books due to Financial Fair Play rules United had to raise funds by selling players before they could make any further incoming transfers. Every club in Europe knew this desperate position of United, once mighty club reduced to accepting low bids from 3rd tier clubs in part due to their poor recruitment over the years. Mark Ogden wrote a brilliant piece about this in ESPN "fact that he (Erik ten Hag) has written off 20 first-team players since taking charge just 15 months ago highlights how poor the club's squad had become". David de Gea, Donny van de Beek, Eric Bailly, Phil Jones, Axel Tuanzebe haven't found a club yet.

This gap in valuations of players from club like Manchester United and their worth as seen by clubs was always going to delay the agreement over transfer fee. This situation was compounded by clubs farcical handling of Mason Greenwood internal investigation. Countdown presenter and long term United fan Rachel Riley threatened to boycott the club. Entire club lacked focus and promptly lost to Spurs 0-2 with utterly dispirited performance. Thus far the biggest blunder of chief executive Richard Arnold.

In keeping with habit of Erik ten Hag to retain the same starting XI that surrendered to Spurs and make improvements in effectiveness of gameplay with same XI, United came-back from 0-2 down to win 3-2 at home in their next game against Wolves. Then deadline day loomed. United were kept waiting for 4-days by Crystal Palace to conclude the deal for Dean Henderson for 15 million initial fee with 5 million in add-ons. This led to a frantic day of dealings to complete the signing of Altay Bayindir, Sergio Reguilon, Johnny Evans and Sofiyan Amrabat. Due to this delay United were forced to not commit to Marc Cucurella from Chelsea who could have been an upgrade to Luke Shaw and instead had to opt for Reguilon. The one deal all United fans were crying out for was that of Sofyan Amrabat and it was completed not as a direct buy but on loan due to insufficient funds. Salute to Morrocan's patience to wait till last minute of transfer window after contacts were made with his team in June itself. Seven incomings in one transfer window is decent return overall.

Barnay Roonay criticised Manchester United transfer activity on the 10th anniversary of 1st transfer window of post Ferguson era when Fellaini was brought on deadline day as most players deserted United and without David Gill, United had no plan to tackle that. This window isn't the same and instead he could have highlighted the plight of Manchester United famed for promoting their academy players to be forced to sell them in record numbers to raise funds: Charlie Savage, Anthony Elanga, Zidane Iqbal, Ethan Laird, Di'Shon Bernard, Matej Kovar, Noam Emeran, Teden Mengi, Logan Pye. Listed are only the 9 of 15 academy players moved on. Sir Alex Ferguson would often introduce young players at full back positions late in 2nd half after contracting their midfield, United of 2023 chose to loan out Alvaro Fernandez and get Sergio Reguilon on loan after injury to two left-backs Luke Shaw and Tyrell Malacia. 23.5 million as per transfermarkt raised by selling Elanga, Kovar, Iqbal of total 55.24 million i.e., 42.54%. Inability to sell Harry Maguire was the only negative of transfer window as United needed a new partner to Lisandro Martinez since Varane is often injured and Lindelof like Henning Berg is effective but not convincing.

All focus will be on Rasmus Hojlund when he makes the much-awaited debut. Return of Cristiano Ronaldo disrupted the away record under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and it has got worse since then. Industry of Hojlund will be key to press from high up and be first line of defense. Ronaldo signing was necessitated to protect his legacy of his first stint with United and not let him join City. United have retained 19-year old striker Joe Hugill as backup option! United needed the numbers (7) to reinforce the squad after writing off close to 20 players. Second season is more difficult than first but Erik ten Hag has got his players unlike Jose Mourinho so he should be able to slowly improvise team at his disposal to eke out good results eventually.

Steady progress under Erik ten Hag amidst uncertainity over club ownership

Erik ten Hag clearly over achieved in his first season as manager of Manchester United by finishing third, winning a trophy, reaching finals of the FA Cup and an extended run in Europa League filled the club’s coffers. United were also helped by the self-implosion of rivals Liverpool and Chelsea last season, who in turn have spent big in the summer. While City were imperious, Arsenal have spent big on Rice, Timber, Havertz, Raya. Competition just got even difficult this season. New rule proposed by FA to consider exact time of ball being in play to calculate stoppage time will mean more lengthier ending to both halves thus sapping up energy of players further, ultimately resulting them in playing 3-5 more matches per season.

Erik ten Hag got his man in Andre Onana to replace United's player of last decade David de Gea. Onana will be able to start attacks, come forward lot more to be like sweeper keeper and this risk taking will inevitably result in few errors leading to cede advantage. ten Hag has changed a very reliable goalkeeper after just one season like Guardiola did at City with Joe Hart. Like Guardiola, for ten Hag also this would be the hardest decision he has had to take. Beware Claudio Bravo the replacement of Joe Hart cost City the title! Onana will need time to settle in to pacey Premier League but he has already worked Erik ten Hag at Ajax will mean he knows what the gaffer wants. Already in pre-season he conceded a goal when opposition team chipped the ball over him to score. Schmeichel, van der Saar and de Gea have been three outstanding keepers for the club in last 30 years and will take enormous effort to try to match their accomplishments.

United stuck to their guns in negotiations with Chelsea for Mason Mount and finally got their man on 4th bid. Mount will eventually replace Eriksen who seemed off-pace after his return from injury last season. Also, there is more goals in Mount which will reduce the burden on strikers. His movement alongside right inside channel will mean new avenue of attack, leading to creation of more chances. This is an excellent acquisition by United. To top it Erik ten Hag decided to hand him the iconic #7 jersey, hoping this does not weigh him down. United do need to have a backup for Casemiro as they have looked most vulnerable in his absence. Sofiyan Amrabat is being mentioned as a possible addition, will be a good boost.

United did not pursue Harry Kane due to difficulties in negotiations with Spurs and this transfer could have protracted all summer thus disrupting the focus. Instead signed a potential in Rasmus Hojlund who just turned 20 this February for a significant investment. This is a welcome change from signing older forwards from Falcao to Weghorst. Last such signing was Anthony Martial and Hojlund will not end up like him due the coach that Erik ten Hag is. Hojlund has more physical presence, runs in the channels, holds the ball better than Martial. These attributes bode well for him, thus the expectation for him in initial years at United has to be lower.

Bruno Fernandes has officially become the new club captain and Marcus Rashford signed a new deal to extend his association with club he joined as a kid. United have done well to agree sale of Telles(€4m), Elanga(€15m), Kovar(€9m), Fred(€15m), Iqbal(€1m), undisclosed fee from Savage, Bishop, earning from transfer of Chong(€1m) to Luton Town. Approximately €45m with futures of few players yet to be decided like Maguire, van de Beek, Henderson, McTominay, Martial etc is indeed good business. Would have liked Kovar to be number two keeper with Heaton but United have got first right on his next move and proceeds from sale to any other club. 'McFred' era is finally over. Credit to Fred to have always put in 100% effort.

Following the strategic review of the club by Glazers last November to initiate a potential sale, and conclusion of few rounds of bidding no definitive response has come forth from Glazers. MUST and 1958 group both have planned protests for the season opener against Wolves. MUST statement reads "The Club feels like it is being held hostage by the Glazer family". Despite this uncertainty of takeover, backlash over Greenwood future, FFP rules that limit spending, United have done two other positive things: Agreeing a long term £900million deal to extend the partnership with Adidas two years in advance which might help to infuse some more funds for this summer’s transfer if contract duration can be prolonged, and created a players lounge area to give instructions to players before matches after similar requests from van Gaal and Mourinho were declined earlier. Club under Richard Arnold, John Murtough and Erik ten Hag have been working within the system to gain maximum for the club which fans can relate to with appreciation. Having got a good foundation last season here is hoping United to close the gap with City and Arsenal even further.

David de Gea next in line for ruthless Erik ten Hag after seeing off Ronaldo and Maguire

When Sir Alex Ferguson wanted fans favourite Norman Whiteside and Paul McGrath out of Manchester United squad, none at the club were pleased. Injury had almost curtailed Whiteside's career by then while McGrath was reinvigorated after leaving United for Villa culminating in fantastic World Cup performances with Ireland in Italy and USA. Erik ten Hag has already gotten rid of Cristiano Ronaldo and rarely uses club captain Harry Maguire, next in line is legendary keeper with most number of games, clean sheets for Manchester United and last player to have won Premier League in 2013, David de Gea.

David de Gea has won Sir Matt Busby player of the year award 4 times and helped United to finish in top six with incredible saves despite being in a poor side. He has never been in headlines for wrong reasons and worked with all coaches from Ferguson to ten Hag. His performances in most of last 12 years can be compared with 'Captain Marvel' Bryan Robson's 12 year tenure as they both carried a floundering club single handedly. Robson won the Premier League twice, Cup Winners Cup, 3 FA Cup's and League Cup while de Gea has won the Premier League once, Europa League, 1 FA Cup, 2 League Cup's.

From last season unfortunately a montage can also be made of blunders of David de Gea. Most recently in the FA Cup final against City for both goals from Gundogan, first and third goal against Sevilla in Europa League quater-finals 2nd leg, messed up a speculative shot from Benrahma at West Ham to lose 0-1, got beaten at near post for 1st goal scored by Barcelona at Camp Nou, let the ball slip between his legs for Everton's only goal as United won 3-1 in FA Cup 3rd round, 1st goal in the 0-4 loss at Brentford where he let the ball pass through his hands while diving. Roy Keane had this to say after the FA Cup final loss "That’s the thing with top goalkeepers, they get you over the line in certain games and could have been the difference today. You expect your keeper to save that and he didn't and that’s why we’re seeing these celebrations. For Man United, they need a world class goalkeeper and he isn't". 

These crucial mistakes apart from inherent deficiency in his game of not commanding his penalty area aerially, poor clearance from pressure situations during back pass, zero understanding between him and Maguire, not able to play out from the back a pre-requisite for the modern game make his future as United No 1 keeper vulnerable. The Athletic published a damning report of how Manchester United backed out of contract negotiations by not signing the deal after agreeing lower terms with David de Gea. If true it's a very bad way to treat a club legend who has bailed the club in its worst times. Club have not responded to this report as yet but released a short statement "De Gea's contract is due to run out but discussions remain open with the long-serving keeper".

Officially David de Gea is a free agent as of 1st July, 2023 and Dean Henderson their No 1 keeper who seems bent on joining Nottingham Forest who in return are yet to make an offer for him. With the club up for sale and ownsership status not yet decided the funds available for summer transfer are limited. With a centre-forward and midfielder already a priority adding a keeper to the list squeezes the funds even further. Options for United include buying a new No 1 keeper like Andre Onana from Inter who is valued at 50 million, make Dean Henderson the new No 1 keeper and buy a new backup keeper, give David de Gea a new contract and buy a new backup keeper to maintain pressure to perform. 

Backup keeper option seems to be over after United did not pursue its interest in Bart Verbruggen who has since joined Brighton. It's a dead heat between signing Onana and retaining out-of-contract David de Gea. As per Fabrizio Romano the respected transfer specialist United wish to speak with de Gea after his marriage and ascertain his future plans if he has any offers on hand and then take a call. Press reports claim of offer from Saudi club Al-Nassr FC for whom Cristano Ronaldo also plays. To bolster funds for transfers United have put Fred and Elanga on the list. Futures of Harry Maguire, Anthony Martial, Dean Henderson, Eric Bailly, Alex Telles, Brandon Williams, Donny van de Beek that's 7 confirmed players for exit and an area where club is not good at namely getting a good value for its players and getting the deal done quickly. Despite the imminent arrival of Mason Mount, most problematic position has been that of No 6 when Casemiro is injured and United must get a backup without fail.

Two years back had done this tribute to David de Gea, a bona fide Manchester United club legend and one of its greatest ever keepers. Club under Richard Arnold and John Murtough has backed Erik ten Hag over an icon like Ronaldo which is a welcome departure from Ed Woodward's social media preference to retain stars as in case of Pogba over Mourinho. Erik ten Hag needs to be backed to get his players in order to realise the style of play desired on the pitch for Manchester United to progress. In his first year he has clearly achieved his targets especially by ending the trophy drought and finishing in top three. Here is hoping he succeeds like how Ferguson did.

FA Cup final finally gets a Manchester derby

There has been a London derby and a Liverpool derby but never a Manchester derby in the final of the most prestigious cup competition in the world, the FA Cup. That changes on Saturday, 3rd June when United face City at Wembley. City have beaten tough opponents like Chelsea and Arsenal to reach the finals whereas United have played all matches at home and beat Brighton and Hove Albion on penalties in semi-finals. United won the League Cup in February and finished 3rd in the League whereas City won the Premier League for 3rd straight year, their 5th in last 6 years and are due to play Inter Milan in UEFA Champions' League finals. United will play with extra motivation to stop City matching their unique feat of winning the Treble in 1999. United had played City in FA Cup semi-finals twice in 1926 and 2011, losing on both occasions. First ever Manchester derby was played in 1st round qualifier of FA Cup on 3rd October, 1891 when Newton Heath beat Ardwick 5-1 at home on North Road. On 7th February 1931 Sir Matt Busby represented City in his only derby appearance to beat United 3-1!

Manchester United has never won the domestic cup double. Lost in the League Cup finals while winning the FA Cup in 1983 and 1994. Only 4 clubs have won the domestic cup double 5 times Arsenal, Liverpool(2), Chelsea, Man City. United chase a record of their own. If United lose it will be their 9th loss in 21 finals, the most by any club in competition's history. While United remain the only club to have stopped Liverpool and Everton winning their treble in 1977 and 1985. Can United do it again? They are clearly the underdogs and missing their key defender Lisandro Martinez through injury. Erik ten Hag has beaten City 2-1 at Old Trafford by having Fred man-mark Kevin de Bruyne and Bruno Fernandes produced a moment of magic to beat the offside trap. 

Manchester United will also miss Anthony Martial who suffered a late injury and casts a huge about his future. Anthony dos Santos is a doubt after picking up an injury in 4-1 win against Chelsea. Pep Guardiola had this to say about the progress United have made under Erik ten Hag "Manchester United are a different team to what we faced at the start of the season. They have improved and so has their quality." United starting XI is likely to be: de Gea(GK), Wan Bissaka, Varane, Lindelof, Shaw, Casemiro, Fred, Fernandes, Eriksen, Sancho, Rashford. City will continue with keeper Ortega who has played in all five FA Cup matches and not conceded a single goal! Guardiola had rested de Bruyne and Grealish in the last match of the season against Brentford which they lost 0-1.

Erling Haaland has already scored a hat-trick against United in his first derby match when City won 6-3. While Marcus Rashford scored 30 goals in all competitions - a first for a United player since Robin van Persie in 2013 but for Erling Haaland to score 52 goals this season is just staggering accomplishment by any standards and worth appreciating. This also highlights the major area that United need to improve in this summer - get a proper No 9. Bruno Fernandes has produced more chances than Kevin de Bruyne this season but with very low conversion rate due to absence of an elite striker. United covet the likes of Victor Osimhen, Harry Kane, Rasmus Hojlund, Goncalo Ramos, Randal-Kolo Muani, Benjamin Sesko. Anthony Martial oft injured scored 9 goals and Wout Weghorst 2 in all competions paints a clear picture of deficiency in forward unit. United need two strikers not just one as Wout Weghorst has struggled to score despite putting in great effort to press. Club also need to clear the legal situation around Mason Greenwood.

1999 Man Utd vs 2023 Man City
It is very difficult to compare teams from two different era's. Latest one's will seem more evolved due to progress in overall development of the game of football globally. Nonetheless the figures of Peter Schmeichel, Dennis Irwin, Jaap Stam, Roy Keane, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs will tower above anyone else from the Premier League. Tactical changes of Pep Guardiola will make John Stones, Ilkay Gundogan, Bernardo Silva, Kevin de Bruyne, Erling Haaland stand out. While Guardiola has managed great clubs across Europe and won silverware with big budgets and help from sporting directors, Sir Alex Ferguson awakened a giant in United to break monopoly not just in England but also in Scotland with Aberdeen and at the same rekindled the youth setup of Sir Matt Busby to win trophies with kids. Thus Ferguson is clearly way ahead of Spaniard in managerial stakes. By the way both United and City are yet to firm up as clubs to organise an annual Magnall Cup as initially mooted in January, 2020 and Magnall remains the only person to manage both sides of Manchester yet guiding them to success with trophies!

All in all it promises to be a great encounter irrespective of the result. History will definitely be made on the hallow turf of Wembley by sides from Manchester taking the centre-stage in 142nd edition of FA Cup. Manchester United are the only English club to have won the ultimate European Treble while Manchester City are the only English club to have won the domestic treble. After winning their first double in '94 United released a song "Come on you, Reds" with Status Quo and it went on to reach #1 in the official charts. Enjoy! If United can avoid being hit for a six and score momentous goal likes of Wayne Rooney overhead kick, Bruno Fernandes beating offside trap, Micheal Owen winning in injury time, Paul Scholes fantastic header, Roy Keane's diving header, Chris Smalling completing a 2-3 comeback win... in for a treat.

Fatigue catches up with the best United midfield in a decade

At the London stadium, Manchester United team consisting of midfield trio Casemiro, Eriksen and Fernandes tasted its first defeat to West Ham due to an howler from keeper David de Gea in the first half. Bruno Fernandes ranks the best in Europe in terms of xAG, key passes and shot creating actions. Despite starting well and creating a host of chances the forwards Weghorst, Rashford and Anthony failed to convert any. United lost their 4th away match in last five a staggeringly poor set of results that included a club record 0-7 drubbing at the hands of fiercesest rivals Liverpool at Anfield. Its Liverpool who are chasing down United for the crucial 4th spot for qualification to next season's Champions' League. United are only 1 point ahead with a game in hand and most crucially 3 of the remaining 4 matches are at home to Wolves, Chelsea and Fulham.

Fernandes(54), de Gea(53), Rashford(52), Fred(51), Casemiro(46), Martinez(45), Shaw(43), Dalot(40), Eriksen (39) have been part of United's squad that has played the most games of any club in the top 5 leagues across Europe. Also the age profile of players in their supposed peak around 30's has 9 players: de Gea, Casemiro, Varane, Maguire, Eriksen, Fred, Fernandes, Lindelof, Shaw, Martial. West Ham literally out ran United in the second half and were easily making a run with a shot at goal. It was a terrible sight. Substitutions were needed to be made around 60th minute or earlier to have been effective. This dip in second half performance clearly lays out the problem of fatigue. United need to muster all energy to push for 3 wins now else the season will unravel. Repercussions will include a lower budget for squad overhaul and importantly top players like Osimhen will again snub United for European glory.

United have been playing two games per week on Thursday's and Sunday's since Christmas and thanks to their exploit's in FA Cup and League Cup have played 52 games thus far. Bulk of their scoring has come from Rashford alone. Weghorst for all his effort in pressing hasn't been able to score enough goals while Martial has been injured or lacklustre. Since the last international break Fred has had a reduced participation and Casemiro a dip in form. Erik ten Hag picked Lindelof and Shaw in central defense and benched Maguire, who gracefully came on as a substitute whenever called upon. David de Gea discussing his new contract with United and committing blunders at the same time does not auger well for both parties involved despite public backing from the manager with a claim of most clean sheets in the Premier League this season.

United raised their game to beat Brighton on penalties and reach the FA Cup final. Despite being second best, they were able to contain the seagulls and constantly search for answers with timely substitutes which took to penalties. David de Gea miss read all spot kicks and then came Weghorst to cheekily disturb the next taker who missed the target thereby saving the Spaniard's blushes. Erik ten Hag has been able to bench under-performing players in defence, midfield and not in forward or goal keeping positions due to lack of squad depth. Dean Henderson rebelled against the club to be sent on loan, Heaton and Butland have not featured in any of Cup games either tells a stark tale of United living dangerously, after Newcastle recalled Martin Dubravka who had played in League Cup game. United might have to stop City winning the treble in the final.

Maguire, Martial, Henderson, Telles, Bailly, Tuanzebe, Williams, Jones potentially represent a third of squad that needs to be replaced and fill the empty slots in forward positions. Huge task lies ahead for Murtough and team in the summer. All major deals are held up due to takeover saga which has not concluded except that of Shaw and Garnacho. Likes of Rashford, Dalot who may want even bigger pay check if Qatar become the new owners. This will push the renewals to the summer and add work on top of recruitment. News of Glazers who may yet opt to stay either as majority shareholders in partnership with US Hedge Fund companies or in minority with Ineos bid was a big dampener. Supporters have put their weight behind the Ineos bid to remain apolitical.

Jimmy Murphy statue was unveiled in Old Trafford which finally recognises his crucial role in not allowing the club to fold in the immediate aftermath of Munich air disaster of 1958. Sir Matt Busby used to frequently say his best signing was his assistant Jimmy Murphy. Wayne Barton has written a definitive book aptly titled 'The Man Who Kept The Flag Flying' and recently shared the sad news of legendary United fan Tom Clare's passing. #RIPTomClare This comes after the loss of Ian Stirling, the founding member of clubs Fan Advisory Board and liaison officer for Manchester United Supporters Trust. #RIPIanStirling


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