Year when Woodward finally turned the corner

At the end of 2012-13 Premiership winning campaign Manchester United were dealt a double blow firstly the decade long successful chief executive David Gill announced that he would step down in February and in May Sir Alex Ferguson retired finally on his second attempt. On his first attempt Peter Kenyon had lined up Sven-Goran Eriksson as the successor in 2002 but thankfully Sir Alex stayed on to overhaul LFC's 18 league titles and win another Champions' League in 2008. Promises were made to fans by the board that the succession was properly taken care of and a repeat of a disaster that ensued Sir Matt Busby's departure would not happen again.

All of Ferguson's successors would have been ideally suited to helm different roles that he single- handedly played. David Moyes as head of the academy, Louis van Gaal as technical director, Jose Mourinho as manager and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as an assistant with media duties. Instead David Moyes walked in with his own staff from modest Everton and quickly banished the entire Ferguson back room team of Mike Phelan, Rene Muelensteen and Eric Steele. Departure of Paul Scholes while Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra, Giggs were in their final year and Darren Fletcher struck down by ulcerative colitis meant MUFC needed an big squad overhaul. It is widely believed that MUFC won their 20th league title largely due to Sir Alex Ferguson's brilliance in getting the maximum of a thread bare ageing squad and goals from Robin van Persie an inspired signing.With new chief executive Ed Woodward who had played a key part in the Glazer take-over in 2005 MUFC struggled to sign players despite being linked to Toni Kroos, Gareth Bale, Cesc Fabregas and managed to sign only one new player for the new season in Marouane Fellaini from Everton and later Juan Mata was signed in January for a hefty #37 million from Chelsea.

MUFC finished in 7th their lowest position in 23 years suffering double loss to LFC, Everton, Man City, bowed out in 3rd round of FA Cup and David Moyes was sacked in April for failing to deliver European football for next season. Under Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho MUFC saw a flurry of transfers largely done through three super agents Jorge Mendes for Radamel Falcao, Angel di Maria and Mino Raiola for Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Paul Pogba, Romelu Lukaku and Fernando Felicevich for Alexis Sanchez. Overall spending on player acquisition post Ferguson retirement is a staggering 1,053.55 million euros. Under LVG and Mourinho MUFC won the FA Cup, League Cup, UEFA Europa League, finished 2nd in the league within 4 years of Ferguson's exit while it took 8 years for the 1st trophy after Busby had left in form of FA Cup in '77 after suffering relegation in 73-74 and brief comeback by Busby for 2nd half of 70-71 season. The catastrophic failure of Alexis Sanchez deal was a wake-up call for Woodward who was thus far not intervening on decisions if the player will be a good fit as per the MUFC traditions or not. He only allowed the signing of Lee Grant, Fred, Diogo Dalot and blocked the deal for Jerome Boateng while Raphael Varane could not be persuaded to leave Real Madrid despite willing to spend #100million in the summer of 2018.

This season Woodward came out in defense of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer ahead of the pivotal game against Liverpool, led the tributes to Munich victims at Belgrade and agreed to an open interview with 'United We Stand' fanzine celebrating their 30th year. Got all the three summer transfers right and importantly all of whom have integrated well with the first team playing regularly: Daniel James, Aaron Wan-Bissaka & Harry Maguire. Rightfully pulled out on agreeing a deal to bring Erling Haaland another of Mino Raiola's client due to excessive demands on his future transfer including a buyout clause. Talent wise this is a loss for MUFC given that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had personally flown to meet with Haaland's representatives and having managed him at Molde. Questions still persist over perhaps the biggest scouting team employed in football worldwide that consistently fails to spot the next exciting prospect whom the club can entice at valuations that save considerable money and the negotiations team that takes for ever to conclude a deal severely impacting the number of players that club can sign in a transfer window.

Solskjaer has set a trend of former players returning to manage the clubs they played for and that in turn has increased the percentage of British managers in the Premier League. MUFC end the year in 5th position within 4 points off 4th place: crucial to secure Champions' League football else the club will receive reduced fees from sponsors next season. Based on the progress thus far this season fans feel encouraged that club will not have to wait another 26 years (i.e., 2038) before winning the league again. 

Solskjaer got the reaction after Watford loss as United have three away games next

Manchester United scored four goals for the first time in a league match vs Newcastle since the opening day match against Chelsea. After the Watford loss Solskjaer fielded a full strength squad with in form Mason Greenwood starting ahead of Daniel James. It was the Magpies that played well initially to take a lead through Matty Longstaff who had scored the winner in the reverse fixture. It put Newcastle above Manchester United in the points table having started the day on equal points tally. That perhaps invigorated the Red Devils into gear as they took advantage of three mistakes from opposing players i.e., their goal keeper, defender and Sean Longstaff for Anthony Martial to score a brace(1st and 4th goals) and Mason Greenwood to hit a powerful shot for the second goal. Aaron Wan-Bissaka's cross was met by leaping Marcus Rashford to score the 3rd goal.

Martial had a great game stretching the opponent defenders to create space and had a shot that hit the post else could have had a hat-trick. MUFC have not had a hat-trick scored in almost 6 years since Robin van Persie against Aston Villa in 2013! Scott McTominay got booked inside 30 seconds of kick-off and later was substituted at half-time due to suspected knee ligament injury being replaced by Paul Pogba. Having a three goal cushion Solskjaer wisely took Rashford and Martial off keeping in mind the hectic schedule. For the 14th consecutive league fixture since the 1-0 win over Leicester City in mid-September have MUFC not kept a clean sheet an ignominious feat that last occurred in 1971 almost half a century ago! This once again highlights the need of protection in front of the new defensive unit by a central defensive midfielder and is not a dig at the huge cost of #130 million spent on Maguire and Wan-Bissaka.

This win continues a remarkable winning streak of MUFC on boxing day at Old Trafford. In the last 19 games they have won 16 and drawn 3 while one has to go all the way back to 1978 some 41 years ago when they were beaten by LFC 0-3 at Old Trafford! It was the first in a hat-trick of boxing day fixtures between two biggest clubs in the English league. MUFC lost again 0-2 in '79 at Anfield and drew 0-0 in '80 at Old Trafford. Sir Alex Ferguson in his first year as manager beat the scousers famously 1-0 at Anfield on boxing day with a goal from Norman Whiteside. The last away defeat on boxing day came at the Britannia in a 0-2 loss to Stoke City in 2015 under Louis van Gaal. The most remarkable set of matches however was in 1963 when Sir Matt Busby's MUFC lost 1-6 to Burnley on boxing day and two days later debuted two wingers George Best and Willie Anderson to win 5-1 against the same opponents at Old Trafford.

WLDLWL is the form guide of the last six away matches across all competitions which suggests MUFC might avoid defeat away to Burnley who had a taxing boxing day match in which they lost to a late goal to Everton. Paul Pogba might start his first league match since the 1-1 draw with Arsenal in September replacing the injured McTominay and might not play as number 10; Daniel James might start ahead of Mason Greenwood and Brandon Williams ahead of Luke Shaw. If Ashley Barnes plays for Burnley they will have a greater goal threat. MUFC hope that their ex-academy player Dwight McNeil does not raise his game against them like Josh King did at Bournemouth that cost them all three points. MUFC assistant manager Mike Phelan came through the youth academy of Burnley. In the 1960's Sir Matt Busby signed two wingers from Burnley in John Connelly who was part of the 1966 World Cup winning squad and Willie Morgan who replaced Connelly at both Burnley and United.

Next MUFC face Arsenal away in the league followed by Wolves away in FA Cup 3rd round match and Man City at home in the league cup semi-final - three games in six days and this match at Turf Moor will be crucial to not slack off, maintain the intensity while personnel are changed to manage a tough schedule. Burnley having lost their last three home matches to Crystal Palace, Man City and Newcastle will be eager to halt the slide against MUFC. The Clarets who usually play 4-4-2 under Sean Dyche might not prompt any change in formation from United but might rely on the pace of James, Williams & company to cope with stern challenge from the home team.

Positive changes but still cannot dictate matches is Solskjaer's first year report card

Solskjaer has eclipsed that night in Paris by scintillating victories over Tottenham and Man City within 3 days, jettisoned the naysayers, rejuvenated the squad with youth from academy as per traditions, spent the budget wisely on three first team starters, 11 changes to the team for an exhausting trip, rejig of the youth setup with head of first team development, amid all the struggles maintained the decorum in his communication, and still there is plenty to be done.

De Gea was tied down with a new contract but errors have crept into his game, Wan-Bissaka hasn't let anyone beat him one-on-one securing the right flank, Maguire leads the side by playing the most minutes, Lindelof now Sweden's best player for 2nd successive year, Williams has been the standout youth taking his chance amid injury crisis, McTominay and Fred consistently being picked have gained confidence, James the 22 year old has carried the team on his young shoulders on many occasions, Andreas runs around energetically and puts a few decent crosses, Rashford has grown in stature to represent the club having already matched his best goals tally before December itself, Martial links the play well yet fizzles out against sturdy opponents, Greenwood great option from the bench has 2nd best goals tally behind Rashford, Tuanzebe ready for first team after two great years on loan. Its a far cry from having Valencia, Smalling, Jones, Young, Fellaini, Sanchez stutter last year and is a welcome positive change by Solskjaer.

Paul Pogba has been absent for most of the year and could easily have opened up teams to improve the league position. Club has moved ahead during his absence to demonstrate how he can still play a crucial part yet being able to cope without its only world class player. Solskjaer has benefited immensely as Pogba turned his magic post sacking of Mourinho but his form could not last as he was asked to do too much. Once again the Gaffer has spoken of Pogba as "best all-round midfielder in the world" pinning his hopes and not well thought out plan for the Frenchman. As his agent Mino Raiola rightly pointed out Pogba needs help around him with better players.

Club needs to pounce on three top midfielders like Sergej Milinkovic-Savic if Pogba leaves, James Maddison to wear the iconic No 7 jersey, Denis Zakaria to add physicality and fill the gaping hole that allows opponents into disbelief as to how a club renowned for Pat Crerand, Nobby Stiles, Sammy McIlroy, Bryan Robson, Roy Keane, Paul Scholes, Micheal Carrick can be so brittle nowadays? Simply put midfield is the most critical element in controlling the game. Agents and opponents are happy for MUFC as they look set to sign Erling Haaland who is a great prospect but clearly points to an incorrect priority in their acquisition.

Manchester United struggle against teams outside the top 6 who sit back and expect the Reds to break them down but cannot and end up dropping points. First loss at home to Crystal Palace in 30 years, converted the visits to London Stadium into a graveyard due to abject non-performance, can't stomach a fight against the rain, wind and determination at Bournemouth, gifted victory to Newcastle who debuted two brothers in arms, continue to lose to the bottom most club in Watford just like Cardiff last season and this season is not yet over so expect few more unpleasant records to blemish the spectacular history of this great club. Critics point to Solskjaer's inability to eek out results to convert defeats into draws and draws into victories by varying his tactics. Result might seem unimportant if the board has given a blank slate.

Can the double winning captain finally win at Old Trafford as a manager? Steve Bruce has never won at Old Trafford in the opposition dugout while Manchester United have the best record of winning the boxing day fixtures. It was in 1930-31 that Newcastle United did the double over MUFC who suffered relegation finishing last in the league! That would be disastrous indeed if the double loss to Magpies were to happen again 89 years later.

Pogba's return to play in League Cup put off while United chase a trophy

Paul Pogba last played for MUFC in the League Cup 3rd round match against Rochdale AFC in a side captained by Axel Tuanzebe. That match was won on penalties and Pogba being the designated penalty taker did not take one! James, Greenwood, Fred, Andreas and Mata converted all five spot kicks. After a prolonged absence Pogba was expected to return for today's fixture against Colchester instead he got ill after attending his brothers wedding.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was right to say that MUFC missed Pogba's creativity in the 1-1 draw with Everton last week after the euphoric victories over Man City and Tottenham Hotspur. The tone of the following three quotes from the Gaffer suggests MUFC want to hold on their most talented and bankable star who might be eyeing an route away from Old Trafford.

  • "Of all things he’s now struck down with illness and he’s been off for two or three days. That’s not beneficial and that’s probably set him back quite a bit."
  • As I’ve said so many times, Paul is a top player that we want to see playing his best football at Man United."
  • We just need to get him match fit."
End of the year return as earmarked by Solskjaer might now be in jeopardy. Might not be if but when Pogba leaves MUFC. Pogba has been subtle with his message to not hamper his lucrative contract unlike that irrevocable interview by Roy Keane against his team mates that sealed his fate. Will Solskjaer follow his Gaffer and sort out the midfield by raising funds via Pogba sale or wait till it reaches a point of no return by seeking a nod from the marketing team in charge of social media to make a decision? Consider a scenario where MUFC's impressive record against top 6 this season is coupled with Lukaku, Pogba in the squad against non-top 6 sides and easily the club might have been in top 4.

Manchester United will be facing Colchester United only for the third time in history. First was in the FA Cup 5th round in 1979 and second in League Cup in 1983 with MUFC winning both. MUFC reached the finals of the 1979 FA Cup losing to Arsenal after a stellar comeback late in the game that remains one of the best finals in last 40 years.

MUFC will field a changed XI with many youngsters who played against AZ Alkmaar likely to get the nod. Will Angel Gomes be one of them after his update on instagram removing all reference to MUFC? Angel Gomes beat the great Duncan Edwards record for being the youngest to debut for MUFC and his recent antics has angered fans who prefer him over Lingard, Mata and Andreas but clearly application seem to be lacking from the 19 year old. Chong meanwhile seem to have regained his form and place after impressive performances for U23's including the recent win over Reading.

Diego Dalot might return and seems like a natural winger on the right who can be developed as a backup for Daniel James who is more junior than him. Performance of Garner might decide the fate of Matic wanting to seek MUFC exit for the slow Italian league. Greenwood has now overtaken Martial's tally of goals and should start. Greenwood should be ahead of Erling Haaland should the proposed transfer becomes a reality and would put pressure on Martial to be more consistent. MUFC should be encouraged by the fact that James Maddison has not yet extended his contract with Leicester City and ideal to don the iconic No 7 jersey that is now vacant.

Probable squad: Romero (GK), Young(C), Tuanzebe, Maguire (C), Williams, Garner, Matic, Andreas, Mata, Chong, Greenwood.

This game comes just a day before the first year anniversary of Solskjaer's reign as MUFC manager. Critics have been selectively choosing his record interim vs permanent to draw blood overlooking the massive structural changes undertaken including bringing back Phelan from Ferguson backroom, removing the dead wood, signing three first team starters all of whom have been a success so far, promoting the youth from the academy in a big way,.. in short the "cultural reboot" to the traditions of this famous club.

4000th consecutive game with a youth from academy in match day squad!

That's an incredible feat for a club that struggled financially in the 1930's to survive and achieved success out of it in post war on account of 'Busby Babes' yet persisted with the philosophy even through the doldrums years of 70's and 80's till Ferguson's Fledglings' to the present day!

Re-posting the following from an earlier blog post. "Manchester United Junior Athletic Club formed in 1937 was a brain child of the then club chairman James W Gibson to make MUFC competitive in economic depression when he saved them from the brink and were unable to fund any transfers. James Gibson secured the acquisition of the Cliff training ground, persuaded Midland Railway operating Manchester Central to London St Pancras trains to stop at Old Trafford on match days to increase gate receipts and MUJAC helped in discovering players from Charlie Mitten to Marcus Rashford. MUFC can count on at least one player from the academy in their first team on a match day squad since then which is 4,000 games over 82 years!! No wonder MUFC top the rankings of promoting academy players to first team."

The first match in question was against Fulham away in second division on 30th October, 1937 which MUFC lost 0-1. The full squad was Breen (GK), Griffiths, Roughton, Brown, Vose, McKay, Wrigglesworth, Wassal, Bamford, Whalley, Manley. Wassal & Manley the youth from academy. MUFC came second that year to gain their second promotion of the decade and stayed in the top division for 36 years. Scott Duncan the coach since 1932 had resigned midway through the season on 09-November over disagreement with youth policy and once again it was left to loyal club servant Walter Crickmer in temporary charge supported by Louis Rocca and Tom Curry to carry the club through the tough times delivering the promotion that gained MUFC an elite status during the war years.

Louis Rocca the chief scout had signed the young Johnny Carey who debuted on 25th September, against Southampton and scored his first goal against Nottingham Forest a club he would manage later in his career. Jack Rowley signed by James Gibson when he was on a vacation to Bournemouth debuted on 23-October against Sheffield Wednesday and scored a hat-trick aged 17 years vs Swansea Town. Salford born local lad snapped up by Louis Rocca in Stan Pearson debuted against Chesterfiled on 13-November and would eventually score 149 goals in 345 appearances across 17 years interrupted by war. Groundwork was laid before Sir Matt Busby took up the reins post war and this trio played a major part to ensure success in 1948 FA Cup and winning the League Championship 3 years later.

MUFC chairman said of MUJAC at the AGM in 1939 "It is from these unusually comprehensive nurseries that the club hopes an all-Manchester team at some distant period might be produced." MUFC finished 14th on their return to top flight, the reserves won the central league for the first time in 18 years, 'A' team won the Manchester League and MUJAC won their division of Chorlton League - a very successful year indeed.

Busby took MUJAC to another level when he insisted on having four sides competing for a place in the first team thereby increasing the scope and age groups of players, assigning coaches, consistent playing style to ease the promotion to first team that ensured MUFC winning the first six FA Youth Cups from 1953 to 1957. One of Busby's oft quoted phrase “If they are good enough, they are old enough.”. The 1964 FA Youth Cup winners George Best, David Sadler, John Fitzpatrick, John Aston Jr, Jimmy Rimmer who played in the victorious 1968 European Cup campaign. Busby was immensely helped by his chief scout Joe Armstrong and his magnificent team, his assistant Jimmy Murphy, trainer Tom Curry, coaches Bert Whalley, Bill Inglis, Jack Crompton, Wilf McGuinness.
Post Busby the baton was led forward by Wilf McGuinness, Tommy Docherty, Frank Blunstone, Bill Foulkes, Tommy Cavanagh and importantly Eric Harrison who arrived in 1981 aided in promoting Mark Hughes, Norman Whiteside, Clayton Blackmore, Graeme Hogg immediately making it to the 1982 FA Youth Cup final. Later Eric Harrison combined effectively with the rebuild of Sir Alex Ferguson that unearthed the 'Fergie's Fledgling's' the famous pic below made up of players from 1992 and 1995 FA Youth Cup winners. Before the 1995-96 season opener against Aston Villa when Ferguson fielded his young side that lost 1-3 prompting BBC pundit Alan Hansen to say "You can't win anything with kids" which was debunked the same season by winning the championship, but it was in the match against Port Vale in League Cup the previous year that Ferguson had made his Fledglings to play together and win courtesy of two debut goals by Paul Scholes.

Succeeding Eric Harrison were Les Kershaw, Brian McClair, and Nicky Butt who have held the prestigious role of director of youth academy in recent past. Archie Knox, Brian Kidd, Steve McLaren, Jimmy Ryan and Mike Phelan, Carlos Queiroz serving as assistants to Ferguson have contributed greatly. Paul Pogba and Jesse Lingard from the current team were part of the last FA Youth Cup triumph in 2011. Iconic image of today's generation led by Marcus Rashford as the juniors look up to the lad from Wythenshawe for inspiration. The increased impetus to promoting youth before looking for external first team recruits has endeared Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to the fans despite some disappointing form and firmly believe in his vision for a bright MUFC future. 

Please find the link to the excellent book 'Sons of United' which has been painstakingly put together by Tony and Steve here.  Ferguson described watching a young Ryan Giggs (was known as Ryan Wilson before changing his name) for the first time after a tip off from scout Harold Wood as "A gold miner who has searched every part of the river or mountain and then suddenly finds himself staring at a nugget could not feel more exhilaration than I did watching Giggs that day." While the railway timetable became the best companion of Sir Matt Busby who used to go all around the country on weekdays to seek the next nugget.

My Greatest MUJAC team: David Gaskell (GK), Gary Neville, Eddie Colman(C), Bill Foulkes, Phil Neville, George Best, Paul Scholes, Duncan Edwards, Ryan Giggs, Mark Hughes, Sir Bobby Charlton

Top spot in Europa League group will be crucial

Manchester United meet the second place dutch side AZ Alkmaar tonight in the last fixture of the group phase of Europa League and if United avoid defeat will top the group to get an easier route to progress further in this competition which might be their best bet to secure qualification for next year's Champions' League by winning it just like in 2017.

AZ Alkmaar are without top scorer the youngster Myron Boadu aged 18 years having scored 11 goals this season who recently debuted for Netherlands on 19-November and scored in the 5-0 rout of Estonia. AZ face Ajax Amsterdam this weekend in their own stadium after the roof collapse in late August due to strong winds, in the top of the table clash of Eredivisie separated by just 3 points. Arne Slot has managed an excellent season so far after being promoted from being assistant to John van den Brom currently in a 6 game winning streak having conceded only 8 goals all season the best defensive team in Eredivisie. This certainly won't be an easy game. The reverse fixture earlier drew flak for United not creating a single chance in that game which ended in a 0-0 draw played on artificial pitch.

Ex AZ goal keeper and present United number two Sergio Romero who was signed for both clubs by legendary Louis van Gaal, spoke perfectly "here within this club both the staff and players are like one big family and we have a goal every time we go the field to try and win trophies, to keep our fans happy." LVG created history by winning the Eredivisie with unlikely team in AZ in 2008-09 when the players urged him to stay on despite finishing a disappointing 11th in the previous season. At United, LVG unleashed Rashford after an injury crisis to the strikers and like Ole was promoting youth in a structured manner. Not backing him in the January transfer window of his last year did not help to turn around the season and the club must not repeat that mistake with Ole now.

Buoyed by victories over much fancied Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City, United must maintain the momentum by keeping the intensity of the pressing game despite changing the starting XI. Consistency that's been the biggest lacuna of MUFC which can be addressed if the spine of the team remains same and changes are done to players around them i.e., Maguire, Lindelof, Fred, McTominay, Martial play. Instead Greenwood, Gomes, Chong, Garner, Williams, Laird, Tuanzebe, Romero look set to start ahead of Martial, Lingard, James, McTominay, Shaw, Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, De Gea. Matic might be on the bench who had captained the side in the reverse fixture.

If United top the group they could still face AS Roma where Chris Smalling has been having a very good spell and many clubs are reportedly eyeing his signature in January. Most fans would like him to be the fourth choice centre-back instead of Phil Jones but Chris perhaps has served the club well to earn the chance to explore a different league. And if United lose they could face Inter where Lukaku is excelling. He was harshly treated by fans especially from online video fan casts for his first touch despite scoring 42 goals in two seasons that would merit a serious appreciation. Was still 25 when Zlatan moved on due to injury and that's still very young to don the mantle of senior marksman when his skills could have been further developed. Europa League round of 32 draw takes place on 16-December.

Solskjaer got the better off Mourinho and Guardiola within 3 days!

After two disappointing draws against two newly promoted sides in Sheffield United and Aston Villa even the most long standing Manchester United experts had a negative opinion about the next two big matches with high profile managers in Jose Mourinho's Tottenham Hotspur and Pep Guardiola's Manchester City. MUFC were outplayed except for 7 minutes by Sheffield United and failed to be at their best at Old Trafford versus Aston Villa.

Solskjaer outmaneuvered Mourinho first by starting with high intensity attacking their weak full backs such that it moved one of their holding midfielders consistently wide thereby creating space in the middle for Fred and McTominay to dominate the game. It only produced a solitary goal from in form Marcus Rashford a fine volley that was reminiscent of Sir Bobby Charlton's famous thunder shots stuck with full force and the ball dropping just before the keeper who now has to take the additional bounce into consideration. Their equalizer came from a high ball that split the defense with a fine flick over the top by Delle Alli and beat the keeper easily. Rashford's intelligent run gained an early penalty in second half to lead 2-1. Greenwood had started ahead of Martial who was out with an injury, experienced Ashley Young at left back, Lingard created more assists in this one match than in this whole year. Mourinho's return to Old Trafford ended in a defeat.

Inside 72 hours the team had to play in the Manchester derby with City wanting to catch the run away leaders Liverpool who had a 14 point advantage over the reigning champions. Ashley Young rightly rested in favour of Luke Shaw and Anthony Martial back to lead the line. Marcus Rashford yet again was felled inside their penalty area and converted the spot kick while missing two other spectacular chances created by quick counter attacking runs of fabulous four of MUFC especially Daniel James. With only 16 of 38 league games played Rashford has already equaled his best goal tally with 10 goals! Anthony Martial turned around and slotted home a powerful left footed shot that left the City keeper with no chance 2-0 justifying his selection ahead of Greenwood. Substitute Nicolas Otamendi muscled his way to head the goal off a corner 2-1. City had majority possession and their successive onslaught was thwarted by United defending well 'as a team' especially Fred who was immense. Aaron Wan-Bissaka kept Player of the Year Raheem Sterling quiet, captain Harry Maguire headed out most of the balls, Lindelof recovered well from one mistake to block a firm goal bound shot that eventually went over the bar, Luke Shaw wrongly headed a cross to the midfield instead of heading out wide that created the chance for City, Fred and McTominay covered every inch of grass to thwart City, David de Gea was back to his best by sticking to the basics of keeping and caught many shots from de Bruyne, Mahrez and David Silva safely.

The last derby of the decade had Manchester painted red but City had won 10 of the 19 league matches during that time. United fans savoured the win by staying long after the final whistle amid the applause from Sir Bobby Charlton, Sir Alex Ferguson and David Gill. This win further vindicated the vision of Solskjaer rooted in the tradition of MUFC and got the approval of his ex-captain Roy Keane. The match was marred by one racist incident when Fred was about to take a corner. United next face AZ Alkmaar in the match that will decide if United will finish on the top of their Europa League group or not.

MUFC ended the week back in top 6 but the key to sustain the challenge is for them to replicate this form against non-top 6 rivals whom they face next in Everton, Watford, Newcastle and Burnley. MUFC have beaten City, Spurs, Leicester, Chelsea and drew with Liverpool, Arsenal. That's simply impressive. Paul Pogba who last played in the League Cup win over Rochdale AFC in late September on penalties and he incidentally did not take one, was present in the stands to watch the derby perhaps to build bridges and might be back to face Colchester United in 4th round. Financial Fair Play regulations might deter Real Madrid and Juventus from making a bid for Pogba in January with MUFC and Solskjaer now in strong position to choose the Frenchman's next outcome.

These two wins against more fancied teams Solskjaer has shown real tangible progress on the field with limited squad that has won the doubters over given several constraints like clearing the deadwood to improve team dynamics, injuries of up to 9 players and inconsistency resulting from integrating youth. Solskjaer and the team meanwhile deserve every right to relish the moment that eclipses the triumph in Paris. This new high is also reflected in the stock price of 18.69 seen last at the start of transfer window in July and all of a sudden the peak 21.21 before that PSG away win is not far off. Board must however rename the stock ticker of MANU!

Can Mourinho emulate Dave Sexton and do the double over United

Jose Mourinho returns to Old Trafford for the first time after being sacked last December ending his two and a half year stint with Manchester United in which he won the League Cup, Europa League Cup and finished second in the league their highest finish since retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson 4 years earlier. At Tottenham he has a comparatively better and balanced side that can not just beat Manchester United but like another ex-Chelsea legendary manager who also managed MUFC in Dave Sexton do the double.

Dave Sexton coached Chelsea to triumph in 1970 FA Cup, 1971 Cup Winners Cup and took over the Managers post at Manchester United at the second time of being offered. He was one of the candidates considered to take over from Sir Matt Busby but refused while still at Chelsea. He succeeded Tommy Docherty in 1977, reached the FA Cup final in 1979 and finished second the same year which was the highest finish since the retirement of Sir Matt Busby and 12 years after the last League title. He is credited with bringing Ray Wilkins, Joe Jordan to MUFC and the flotation in the stock market hindered the ability to buy quality players. He was sacked for lack of playing style as he had previously achieved at Queens Park Rangers in mid-70's despite ending with seven wins on the trot to finish in 8th position at the end of 1980-81 season.

Sexton took over Coventry City in 1981 and did the double over Manchester United; winning 2-1 at Highfield Road on opening day of the new season with goals from Steve Whitton, Peter Bodak and 1-0 win on his return to Old Trafford with Les Sealey in goal for Sky Blues and Whitton again the goal scorer.

Post world war MUFC have had to face their previous managers only on four occasions; Tommy Docherty, Dave Sexton, Ron Atkinson and David Moyes due to the longevity of Sir Matt Busby and Sir Alex Ferguson. Sexton in charge MUFC did the double over Docherty's Derby County including a 4-0 win at Old Trafford while the fans still called that teams as Doc's. Ron Atkinson famously beat MUFC in the league cup final in April, 1991 with Sheffield Wednesday. Big Ron's side drew 0-0 at Old Trafford on his return with the Owls. David Moyes lost 1-3 on his return to Old Trafford with Sunderland while being greeted with abject silence as if he were the 'Forgotten One'.

Jose Mourinho will be applauded for the trophies he won while rooting for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to do a David over Goliath with the young MUFC squad just like Dave Sexton who once fielded the youngest league side for Sky Blues in November 1982 in a match vs Liverpool, a record that stood for 36 years. Dave Sexton served England managers from Ron Greenwood to Sven-Goran Eriksson, journalist Norman Giller called him "a coach's coach".

Grealish jumps atop United queue as January window beckons

Manchester United have won four, drawn six and lost four in fourteen matches this season which is the worst run of results since 1988-89 season at the same stage of the league campaign. Despite the weakness of the squad especially in midfield, Solskjaer's game management was questioned for not retaining the 3-2 lead at Bramall Lane where they ran riot in a seven minute spell being atrocious for the remainder of the game and an unconvincing display at home against Aston Villa from the squad rested from mid-week European excursion that reacted to being a goal down to score two only to concede again for a tame draw. That is four points dropped against newly promoted teams with bigger challenges against Spurs and City yet to come.

Jack Grealish stole the show at Old Trafford in the 2-2 draw in a manner of a young Cristiano Ronaldo playing for Sporting against an MUFC side on pre-season tour in August 2003 the first match played at the Jose Alvalade stadium. Sir Alex Ferguson kept the team coach waiting for an hour after the match in order to complete the deal to bring Ronaldo to Old Trafford for record fee for a teenager and within nine days he debuted spectacularly wearing the famous No 7 shirt against Bolton in a 4-0 win. The stature of that team under Ferguson had the likes of Keane, Neville, Giggs, Scholes, Ferdinand while this present team fouled Grealish turn by turn.

In the recent past MUFC have failed to bring in players like Javi Martinez, Sadio Mane, Wissam Ben-Yeddar to name a few who have excelled in games against the Red Devils or our main rivals and unless acted upon immediately like Ferguson decisively did in 2003 other clubs will scoop up the player. The notoriously slow negotiations at MUFC that took an entire summer transfer window of three months duration to sign just three players further complicates the matter that is clearly not Solskjaer's fault.

Meanwhile there has been some positive developments about other potential MUFC targets; Leipzig not having the first right on fellow Red Bull club Salzburg's Haaland who had previously worked with Solskjaer at Molde, Christian Eriksen refusal to sign an extension in his final year with Spurs to make him available in January, Arturo Vidal not playing regularly for BarcelonaJadon Sancho being targeted in Dortmund and seeking a way back home, Gareth Bale untenable situation at Real after holding 'that' flag while securing Wales qualification for Euro 2020. Only the willingness from Woodward is needed to get some of these deals through to back Solskjaer.

Its also nice to have targets ruled out apparently: James Maddison as Leicester chase top four, Declan Rice upbraided by Roy Keane, Timo Werner wanting to win the Bundesliga with second place Leipzig, Bruno Fernandes signing a new deal with Sporting increasing his transfer fee, Thomas Muller reinstated by interim boss Flick at Bayern.

Ideally would expect Sergej Milinkovic-Savic of Lazio who are third in Serie A or Marco Verratti who recently extended his contract with PSG to dominate the midfield. Signing either of this duo seems highly unlikely being cost prohibitive and based on the success of Daniel James from the Championship would not mind Kalvin Phillips from Leeds or Sandro Tonali from recently promoted Brescia. Phillips, Grealish and Haaland - they would fit the bill of young and hungry player profile that Solskjaer has outlined while Savic, Eriksen, Muller would add much needed experience to complement the youthful exuberance of Solskjaer's Special's. A pragmatic view would be the mix of the two sets based on availability and fee.

MUFC have missed Scott McTominay in the two matches and hope for his return against Spurs and City to give them a chance to put up a fight. MUFC to their credit have won against Chelsea and Leicester then drew with Arsenal and Liverpool, but now face Spurs and City after two successive draws putting more pressure on Solskjaer to not assume the long term vision with near term surrender.

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