Tough away test where United have lost in their last three visits

Brighton and Hove Albion have won the last three home games versus Manchester United which includes a 1-0 win in November 1982 and the last two games at the Falmer Stadium known commercially as AMEX arena. Its a sort of record that an top 4 aspiring team like Manchester United must beat who have changed their squad significantly with 5 players not in the team since the 1-0 loss in May 2018 - Darmian, Smalling, Rojo, Young and Fellaini.

The Seagulls are unbeaten since the restart with a draw at Leicester and a win against Arsenal. Both teams in top-half of the table! Snapping up the best talent from the Championship in Adam Webster and Neal Maupay their top scorer with 9 goals has yielded them great results. Graham Potter their coach wanted to sign Daniel James having being instrumental in his development when he managed the Welshman at Swansea but Wales manager Ryan Giggs' tip off to Solskjaer ensured Reds got him instead. In January transfer window they snapped up Chelsea youngster Tariq Lamptey. In both their home wins against United their German midfielder Pascal Gross has made crucial contributions but now comes on as a sub replaced by Australian Aaron Mooy in starting XI. Lewis Dunk and Shane Duffy as centre-back pairing has given them the solid platform.

United needed extra time to get the better of Premier League's bottom club Norwich in the FA Cup quarter-finals with goal from captain Harry Maguire. Solskjaer made major changes to the squad by giving chance to the likes of Romero, Bailly, Dalot, Lingard, Mata and Ighalo. It was a tepid performance and soon enough the regulars were introduced in the second half to secure their 30th semi-final in the FA Cup a record they now share with Arsenal. It highlighted the lack of bench strength and their lack of match time as many of them previously had raised their game back in November to win this reverse fixture 3-1 in the absence of Pogba, Shaw and Matic. Then Andreas Pereira was ahead of the Jesse Lingard in team selection!

United are on a 14 match unbeaten run their best of the season so far coinciding with the arrival of Bruno Fernandes. Solskjaer can name an unchanged side that won 3-0 against Sheffield United or reinstate James for Greenwood who has to be given consistent game time at the right of front three. Matches against the bottom half teams in Brighton, Aston Villa and Crystal Palace will improve their dismal record of just 4 away wins this season. With Chelsea beating City to move further up and Wolves leapfrogging United into fifth position, Solskjaer cannot afford a slip up.

Luke Shaw has played in all 14 of those matches and its refreshing to hear from Solskjaer about individual plans for every player and different stages of its development cause every player is different in physique, mentality and behaviour: “Well, we manage a squad and manage players differently and, as you say, Luke has had a good upturn in form. He had a spell out earlier on in the season and he's worked his way to full fitness. He's worked over the lock down and he's playing some good football. Let's see if he starts this one.” Best part was the last line - there are no guarantees at United and every player needs to earn his place.

Last United win away at Brighton was on 24th April, 1982 at Goldstone Ground a 1-0 result under Ron Atkinson with Ray Wilkins the scorer but headlines was made by Norman Whiteside making his debut coming on for Mike Duxbury. This made Whiteside the youngest debutant since the greatest Duncan Edwards. Whiteside's assist earned United a draw against the Seagulls in the 1983 FA Cup final and went one better in the replay to score to become the youngest ever. That year Whiteside had played in the 1982 World Cup for Northern Ireland breaking Pele's record to become the tournaments youngest player before the start of the season and ended it by scoring in both the FA Cup and League Cup finals!

"He had great vision, an exceptional football brain, and a mental picture of what was happening, second by split-second, in every game in which he played. Apart from all of that, he was also a clinically smooth finisher." Ron Atkinson who made Norman Whiteside captain United at just 20! 
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer gave that distinction to Marcus Rashford, aged 22 against Man City in the Carabao/League Cup in January earlier this season.

Fans favourite moniker is 'Scourge of the Scousers' as he lost just 2 games with United against arch rivals Liverpool in 19 encounters; the highlight being the goal in League Cup final leaving Alan Hansen for dead to score in just 2 minutes into the game. Return of his 1982 FA Youth Cup finalist team-mate Mark Hughes from Barcelona and mounting injuries made Sir Alex Ferguson to negotiate a good deal with Everton who were challenging for the title regularly in the 80's and won it twice. Injury forced him to retire at the age of just 26 and in 278 appearances scored 68 times for United. Sad to hear that he is selling his memorabilia to raise funds. He deserves a proper testimonial as the one arranged with Everton in May, 1992 only 7000 fans turned up as United had just lost the title challenge. Club should help buy precious items from his collection and re-arrange the testimonial.

FA Cup provides valuable experience for a young side

Fernandes-Pobga era started with Manchester United beating Sheffield United 3-0 on 24th June, 2020. A date to remember like the debut of another combination Charlton-Crerand on 23rd Feb, 1963 in 1-1 draw at home to Blackpool with David Herd scoring the only goal. Crerand went on to play in all the 19 remaining league games of the season after making his debut. United survived relegation finishing in 19th but won their first trophy after Munich the 1963 FA Cup thanks to home draws in initial stages and goal scoring prowess of Denis Law at his best.

United under Solskjaer broke another unwanted record still lingering from the Ferguson days that of the last hat-trick in the Premier League by a United player in Robin van Persie against Aston Villa in 22nd April 2013. Anthony Martial scored 3 goals which included two assists by Marcus Rashford and one by Aaron Wan-Bissaka. The best goal was the 3rd which included a long pass down the middle by Pogba to Fernandes back flick to Rashford to Martial for a sublime goal. 19 goals apiece for Rashford, Martial and 12 for Greenwood makes it 50 for the forward trio. Nemanja Matic had a great game and United did 5 substitutions in the second half at one-go. David de Gea under spotlight barely had a save to make.

Later United reversed its decision to let go of academy players by retaining all U18's totaling about 202 in number till the summer or help them find their next club. Its a great move to recognize the mistake done and undo the damage especially to the youngest of the lot. Unfortunately that means letting go of 9 senior graduates who could not make it especially Largie Ramazani.

Ahead of the FA Cup quarter finals against Norwich Solskjaer spoke of importance of the cup and how it can be a catalyst to a young side to achieve great things in the future. "For our team, it’s a new team and to win our first trophy or title could be fantastic and, hopefully, a catalyst for things to come. We are very focused on doing our best and getting through to the next round, and then hopefully, to the final." Sounds just like what the 1963 FA Cup did for Sir Matt Busby who had a senior squad that was later infused with youth from 1964 FA Youth Cup winners in George Best and David Sadler.

City's loss to Chelsea conferred the 2019-20 Premier League title to Liverpool who won their first league title after a gap of 30 years, four more years than it took United to reach the summit from Sir Matt Busby in 1967 to Sir Alex Ferguson in 1993. This perhaps shows how hard it is to get back to the top and the long road ahead for Solskjaer's Specials. Chelsea have over the years acted swiftly to sack coaches and get players quickly focused solely on winning the league while City and Liverpool have perhaps the two best coach's in the world right now. To challenge the this top three United would need 2-3 exciting signings like Jadon Sancho(20), Jack Grealish(24), Milan Skriniar(25), Wilfred Ndidi(23), Harry Kane(26). Meanwhile Wolves will give United a tough chase for the top 4 finish as well as in the Europa League.

The Norwich game will be the last chance for United to see Angel Gomes play. If he isn't in the squad perhaps it ends his career with Manchester United where be broke the greatest Duncan Edwards record for being the youngest ever debutant. Wishing him all the best!
Manchester United met Norwich for the 1st time in the FA Cup in 1906 in second round winning 3-0. Later on Norwich won all encounters in 59, 67, 91. Same predicament followed in League Cup in 75 and 79. Only in 1994 United managed to win 2-0 with goals from Roy Keane and Eric Cantona, who later fouled Jeremy Goss described by commentator Jimmy Hill as 'despicable and villainous'. Beat Norwich in 4th round League Cup by 4-0 but lost in semi-finals to unfancied Sunderland to eventually seal David Moyes' fate. Sunderland had three ex-United players in John O'Shea, Wes Brown, Phil Bardsley and escaped relegation under Gus Poyet being bottom of the table at Christmas. Manchester United they moved the very next day to sign Juan Mata from Chelsea to limit the damage instead of getting the deal done as soon as transfer window opened that January. This lethargy in doing transfers still afflicts the club to this day.

In the run up to United's first league title under Ferguson, Aston Villa and Norwich were the main rivals. The Canaries were led by ex-Red striker Mark Robins with 14 goals who previously had scored in 1990 FA Cup 3rd round match from Mark Hughes perfect lob that split their defense to win 1-0 against Brian Clough's Nottingham Forest to save Ferguson's job. Beating direct challengers Norwich 3-1 away set United on a seven match unbeaten run to clinch the league title in 1993. Losing 1-0 to Norwich in March, 1988 Sir Alex Ferguson summoned his team to a Sunday meeting to discuss what went wrong and result was a 10 match unbeaten run enabling United to finish creditable second in his first full season in charge. Winning this historically significant tie will be crucial in advancing Solskjaer's narrative to shape a new team with traditional United ethos.

No room for error as United play their first match at home without fans

Return of Premier League football showed which coach was fired up the most - no surprise its Pep Guardiola with two wins including one against Arsenal away where United had lost in the first match of this year. In fairness United did have the most shots vs Tottenham but De Gea once again made a great save from Son header so draw was a right result away. Chelsea who are 5 points ahead need to play Man City, Liverpool and Wolves while Leicester City being 9 points ahead will play Chelsea, Everton, Arsenal, Tottenham and United on the last game of the season. Manchester United have a great chance to sneak into the top 4 provided they win their remaining 8 matches.

Bergwijn's goal ruthlessly exposed the lack of pace in the heart of United defense led by captain Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof. This calls of return of Eric Bailly who had a fantastic start to his United career since 2016 which included nearly 47% of all his appearances in the first season itself while the rest have been dogged with injuries. He has pace and recovery to supplement the leadership, calmness and aerial superiority of Maguire to form a better partnership than steady one of Maguire-Lindelof. Shaw was rusty to not avert the danger by heading the ball better or putting it out of play. Wan-Bissaka meanwhile completed 100 tackles at right back in his first season!

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer played Marcus Rashford who was also returning from injury like Paul Pogba who came on for the last 30 minutes and earned United a valuable point. Instead Solskjaer missed an opportunity to have started Odion Ighalo at centre-forward with Anthony Martial playing wide on the left followed by double substitution of Rashford and Pogba. Daniel James did not have space to run into and had a difficult game. He has kept United afloat in the first half of the season by his industry and runs surprising opponents much like Martial had in his first season under Louis van Gaal.

Solskjaer responded brilliantly to criticism of David de Gea by saying "David is the best goalkeeper in the world. He makes great saves and wins games for us and I still think he’s the best goalkeeper in the world." This is a welcome departure from Mourinho who would name call his player's if they erred. The positive news of Scott McTominay agreeing a new contract till 2025 might shield from the announcement of Jude Bellingham opting for Borussia Dotmund and Angel Gomes not having signed on the offer still open from MUFC. There will be a one-minute silence before the match in honour of United's best defensive left back Tony Dunne whose funeral procession went passed Sir Matt Busby way on Tuesday and a banner 'The Quiet Man - Tony Dune' will hang from Stretford End for today's match.
Old Trafford is all decked up with fans involvement at stands with banners, words of Sir Matt Busby "Football is nothing without fans." and fan mosaic submitted by 40,000 participants online. Solskjaer is on a 12 match unbeaten run thanks in main part due to impact of Bruno Fernandes transfer who tops all attacking charts of goals, assists, shots and passes in penalty area.
Blades will be without suspended John Egan and unavailable Dean Henderson but Chris Wilder will try to push influential duo Jack O'Connell and John Fleck following a draw at Aston Villa and their worst defeat this season against Newcastle. The corresponding fixture United were 0-2 down and a loss might have sealed Solskjaer's fate due to woeful display until about 70th minute but for United's comeback of the season to draw the match 3-3 made all the difference. Thankfully United will not be forced to pick Phil Jones today. This might be the first match where Fernandes and Pogba start.

Last home defeat in league to Sheffield United was on 26 December, 1973 when United lost 1-2 and were eventually relegated under Tommy Docherty. The same year in August the last cricket match 'Roses Rivalry' between Yorkshire vs Lancashire was played at Bramall Lane a favourite ground of lifelong Manchester United fan Geoffrey Boycott. United line-up that day: Stepney (GK), Buchan, Holton, Young, Griffiths, B Greenhoff, McIlroy, Morgan, Graham, Macari(1), Best.

United return after 103 days hiatus to push for top four

Manchester United return today to play the remaining fixtures of 2019-20 premier league season after a gap of 103 days since their last match a 2-0 derby win on 8th March. This beats the 77 day gap in 1962-63 season which was interrupted due to severe snow. During this time both Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba have regained their fitness giving Ole Gunnar Solskjaer a huge boost in clubs bid to secure a Champions' League qualification with 5 teams within 7 points gap of 4th spot. Major change will be the absence of fans as matches will be played in empty stadiums. Many lifelong United fans will miss their proud record of attending matches for many decades, memories of travel with their buddies, collection of official United Review and match memorabilia, de-stress from work and support the club they have love 'in person'. Latest bulletin from Premier League confirmed one positive for COVID-19 from 1,200 tests conducted on 11th,12th June a stark reminder of lurking danger for players and their families.

During this forced absence from the pitch in the last quarter of the season United have done admirably to support the community, NHS and its match-day staff to fight the covid coronavirus pandemic. Marcus Rashford lead a crusade for free school meal vouchers and made the government do a U-turn. This movement attracted people from all walks of life across club and party lines to ensure kids are not left without free meals during summer. Rashford has made everyone especially those associated with football and Manchester United feel immensely proud. While Sir Bobby Charlton's Foundation is aiding children all across the globe, Rashford has made the start at home in the right direction at such a young age. He has already captained United, and is its fourth youngest player to play 200 games for the club. Charlton got an 8-year contract after winning the World Cup the lengthiest one ever at United and Rashford deserves to get one too. Certainly hope he wins greater laurels with both England and United, this one certainly on a human level eclipses everything.
Bruno Fernandes dream start to his United career being named premier league's player of the month for February and the return from long-term injury to Paul Pogba have made fans excited as to what their combination could mean to regain that old midfield domination infused with ideas against opponents of any type. Pogba's wider range to see a pass deep in midfield and Fernandes' venturing a little ahead gives room for both to play in midfield if backed by a solid central defensive midfielder where McTominay, Fred and Matic can vie for the sole spot. However this is unlikely to manifest in the very first game. Biggest change in the squad has been the transformation of Fred under Solskjaer compared to Mourinho's time in charge and he would relish sending a message to his ex-manager with a strong performance. One more reason to get a good right winger is to reduce the heavy emphasis on the left side favoured by Martial, Rashford, Pogba and Fernandes. Consistent brilliance of Aaron Wan-Bissaka makes him the leading contender for player of the season while Mason Greenwood and Brandon Williams have had a superb breakthrough year.

Dean Henderson on loan at Sheffield United will try his best to beat the 14 clean sheets record in Premier League held by Michel Vorm even though he will miss the match against Manchester United. Odion Ighalo has had his contract extended till Jan, 2021 while Angel Gomes still has an offer from the club to sign before his present contract expires on 30, June. Solskjaer said "We've offered him a deal, hopefully he'll take it. If not, I wish him all the best. Hopefully, from what I understand it's not too far away, so if not we wish him all the best." during the managers press conference conducted via VC online. Chelsea meanwhile have signed Timo Werner thought to be a target of Liverpool all along. United await the decision of Birmingham City academy player Jude Bellingham who turns 17 on 29th June eligible to sign a professional contract. United's director of football role still remains non-existent as Manchester born Paul Mitchell joins AS Monaco as Sporting Director from Red Bull where Ed Woodward had interviewed him and Jose Mourinho is trying to get Luis Campos at Tottenham but needs to get the support of chairman Daniel Levy.

MUFC won this reverse fixture 2-1 at Old Trafford with Marcus Rashford scoring both goals. Can Solskjaer do the double over Spurs? They will also be rejuvenated with return of captain Harry Kane, Sissoko and South Korean Son Heung-min but will miss Dele Alli due to suspension diminishing their attacking threat. United haven't played yet at their new stadium opened on 03-April 2019 that is slightly bigger than their north London rivals the Emirates of Arsenal. Last year's Champions' League finalists will be probably out of reckoning for top 4 if they lose this game being 7 points off. Master tactician in Jose Mourinho will have taken this extended time to tidy up their leaky defense and missing full-backs. United can knock one rival off the competition for top 4 with a win.

Only ever league game MUFC have played in June was in 1940 when during the war FA organised across 10 regions War Leagues and in West region United played Everton in the last match and their line-up had one and only Stanley Matthews, and two City players Alec Herd and Peter Doherty. United lost 0-3. Sir Matt Busby was supposed to play at right back but could not due to army commitments and was mentioned in the match-day program as A.N.Other, filled in eventually by David Jones from Bury. Alec Herd was close to Busby and his son David Herd joined United in 1961 to propel them back into the big stage.

Since 2016 United have not won the FA Cup and Europa League Cup offers another avenue to claim Champions' League spot but the competition has many top clubs in contention. Solskjaer will hope to continue the good form before the suspension and ride the goodwill created by Marcus Rashford and impact of Bruno Fernandes to finish the season stronger. One thing is certain United will not capitulate like last season due to good squad harmony created by Solskjaer and six of nine league fixtures against bottom half of the table.

Looking at the fixtures below extending into end of August and delayed start of next season in September which has to finish sooner in early May 2021 in order to accommodate the postponed Euro 2021, players might not get to rest any time soon especially if they play for their national teams apart from normal club duties. Football has returned as per wishes of the government to cheer the public in its hour of grief and the same government must not forget about the game when it comes to awarding its top players, managers and administrators for their service and instead chose other sports as it usually does. Marcus Rashford's appeal should see to that this time at least!

Hope nobody does a comeback, quite like United! Superb rendition from Solskjaer.


Remaining fixtures:
Premier League
Sat 20 June: Spurs v Man Utd
Wed 24 June: Man Utd v Sheffield Utd
Wed 01 July: Brighton v Man Utd
Sat 04 July: Man Utd v Bournemouth
Fri 10 July: Aston Villa v Man Utd
Tue 14 July: Man Utd v Southampton
Thu 16 July: Crystal Palace v Man Utd
Sat 18 July: Man Utd v West Ham
Sun 26 July: Leicester v Man Utd

Sat 27 Jun: Norwich v Man Utd
Sat 18-19 Jul: semi-final (tentative)
Sat 01 Aug: final (tentative)

Europa League Cup (single-leg knockout format)
5–6 August: Round of 16 (venues to be confirmed)
10–11 August: Quarter-finals (Cologne, Duisburg, Düsseldorf, Gelsenkirchen)
16–17 August: Semi-finals (venues to be confirmed)
21 August: Final (Cologne)

Summer transfer window for England:
01 Aug: Start date unconfirmed
05 Oct: End date

United's best defensive left back Tony Dunne passes away

Irishman Tony Dune watched the Busby Babes play against Shamrock Rovers in European Cup in 1957 and later was spotted by United's great scout Billy Behan who signed him from Shelbourne United for just #5,000 in 1960. Initially brought as a cover for Noel Cantwell and Shay Brennan he ended up playing a big part it all the major honours won in the 1960's heyday including an FA Cup, two League titles, two Charity Shield's and an European Cup in 1968.
Tony Dunne made his debut on 15th October, 1960 in a 3-5 away loss to Burnley at Turf Moor in which Dennis Viollet scored a hat-trick. Injury to Cantwell meant Dunne notched up 28 league appearances in his second season itself at left-back while in his 3rd season he played at right-back 8 of 25 times as cover for injured Shay Brennan including the FA Cup final to become the first choice full-back ahead of the two, missing just 8 matches in next 5 seasons. He scored his first goal in a 3-3 draw away at West Brom on 4th May, 1966 and his last in a 2-2 draw away at Newcastle on 9th Dec, 1967.

In one of the rare quotes of Tony Dunne he said the following of the 1967 Championship win: "We realised that teams without as much ability as us were giving more effort. Our great players in particular realised this and came through at just the right time."

Tony Dunne had great pace to recover the ball but rarely used it for attacking purposes and one of the reasons for not venturing forward might be the plethora of options United had in forward positions. Matt Busby chose to use Dunne as his last man when going forward so as to stop the counter-attack from the opposing team utilizing the pace of Manchester United's most capped Irishman. Sir Bobby Charlton recalls how he trained with Dunne especially dividing duties on the left wing if any of opposing players tried to run with the ball and trying to overlap the opposition to create an avenue of attack. This also helped improve the duo's positioning when not in possession of the ball. By the time of winning the European Cup, Tony Dunne was hailed as the best left back in Europe of the 60's and played in all European games that season. In the 5-1 scintillating win over Benfica in Lisbon in 1966 European Cup quarter-finals Dunne provided the cross from foul on Charlton for George Best to head home the first goal.

United veteran Bill Foulkes led the defense for much of the 60's with Nobby Stiles made this assessment of his two full-backs Dunne and Brennan: "What a contrast this make to the old-time defenders who were invariably big brawny fellows whose aim was to stop the wingers at any cost. They fit into the modern concept which calls for defenders to have the skill of forwards with an eye for going up in attack whenever the situation calls for it.  Both of them rely on skill for getting the ball rather than brute strength, and they can speed along, especially Tony who must be one of the fastest backs in the business."

His last game for United was in a 1-4 away loss to Ipswich on 17th Feb, 1973. He left United at the same time as Denis Law after Tommy Docherty took over and began purging the old side. Since the acrimony over his testimonial he had limited his visits to Old Trafford even declining to attend the Champions' League finals in '99 as guest. He joined Bolton Wonderers at the age of 32 and notched up 170 games helping them to lift the second division title in 1978. He ended his career with North American Soccer League in United States with Detroit Express.
Slight similarity with Ferguson claiming Denis Irwin was his best buy who was also a left back and an Irishman. Also in the reckoning to be greatest left back of Manchester United will be former captain Roger Byrne as well as Arthur Albiston and Patrice Evra. Both Dunne and Irwin were not the stars of their teams but quiet, consistent performers and versatile to play on either flanks never giving their boss any trouble. While picking the all time greatest United XI the former player and legend of Leeds United Johnny Giles includes both Irishman at two full back positions perhaps at the expense of another Irishman Johnny Carey who has the first talent scouted for United by Billy Behan.

In 2011 the club bought all the medals and memorabilia when Dunne had put them for auction. He is not related to another Dunne of the same era the goal keeper Pat. In total Anthony Peter Dunne played in about 535 matches scoring 2 goals and like many of the stars of the 60's had settled near Manchester. Here is the club's tribute video.

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