Showing posts with label Anthony Martial. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Anthony Martial. Show all posts

United can win their first match against Sevilla

In order to reach the semi-finals of Europa League, Manchester United need to make history by recording their first ever victory against Sevilla and in their stadium 43,883 seater Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan. United have drawn and lost two games each against them thus far which is also the record of Sevilla under their latest manager Jose Luis Mendilibar with four games in charge. And one of those duels between the two clubs was in 2020 Europa League semi-final when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was the manager at a neutral venue. This is easily a more daunting prospect for Erik ten Hag.

Manchester United are having a poor away record in English Premier League losing three of last five games. While in Europe this season United have faced three Spanish opponents already in Sociedad winning 1-0 away, losing 0-1 at Betis and drawing 2-2 in Nou Camp against Barcelona. This has made fans to mock the draws against four Spanish teams as if United were playing in Copa del Rey!

First leg of the match which ended 2-2 at Old Trafford had United cruising 2-0 till the 62nd minute and Erik ten Hag made three substitutions removing Fernandes, Sancho, Martial that turned the match around. Later Anthony was taken-off at 81st minute to protect him from getting a second yellow. United lost their best defender in Lisandro Martinez for rest of the season through broken metatarsal. At half-time Raphael Varane had to come off. Varane-Martinez have been United's best centre back pairing this season. Both are out of the squad for this game along with suspended Bruno Fernandes and another injured duo Garnacho and McTominay.

Harry Maguire will most likely be paired with Luke Shaw replacing the injured Varane-Martinez. Maguire though getting limited playing time under the Dutchman would have rued the fact as to why he wasn't paired with Shaw earlier, the duo enjoy a good rapport with England national team also. Maguire-Shaw braved a 2-0 away win at hostile Elland Road in February and today's atmosphere would be no different. Diogo Dalot and Aaron wan-Bissaka would be two full-backs taking the heat off young Tyrell Malacia. Similarly Marcel Sabitzer who had a slow start to life at United with respect to number of games played has started to prove himself by scoring those two goals in the first leg. He would be replacing the big void of Bruno Fernandes in midfield and play alongside Casemiro and Eriksen.

For such a crucial match Marcus Rashford will want to play some role and contribute to injury ravaged team's cause. He might even start with United clearly needing to win this match. Rashford alone has scored 1/3rd of United's goals this season and without him United were cruising till 62nd minute at Old Trafford last week is a testament to Erik ten Hag's work. Sevilla will be tipped to target Anthony dos Santos and will the Brazilian who got a goal and an assist for the first time in the same match for United in Sunday's win over Nottingham Forest rise to avoid confrontation and enable another victory? Can Martial score in a crucial match under pressure? Fred's best scoring season at United will be a factor to have him involved at some stage.

To fathom the scale of task facing United, last time Sevilla lost at home in Europa League was in 2016 quarter finals against Athletic Bilbao in extra time and the Spanish national team are unbeaten in 26 matches there! At the same time this season the club are struggling in 13th position in the league table having lost 0-3 to Barcelona and 1-6 to Athletico Madrid recently while they let in unusual 4 goals in two of their group games in Champions' League against Man City and Dortmund. Their current coach Mendilibar, aged 62 isn't as storied in stature as Julen Lopetegui nor Unai Emery.

Starting XI: de Gea, Dalot, Shaw, Maguire, wan Bissaka, Casemiro, Eriksen, Sabitzer, Rashford, Martial, Anthony
Bench: Butland, Vitek, Lindelof, Malacia, Fred, Zidane, Elanga, Pellistri, Sancho, Weghorst

Amid last minute deals United face rejuvenated Spurs

Tough negotiator Daniel Levy had convinced Jose Mourinho to agree deals for Pierre-Emile Højbjerg, Matt Doherty and Joe Hart only under the economic circumstances, but later moved to sign duo from Real Madrid in ex-favourite Gareth Bale and left back Sergio Reguilon followed by a loan move for forward Carlos Vinicius while still being in the hunt for a centre-back like Milan Skriniar. This flurry of activities has been done as English Premier League rivals indulged in a spending spree. That rivals does not include Manchester United! Spurs will play their 4th match inside 10 days when they meet United at Old Trafford having cleared the 3rd round and qualified for Europa League, unlucky to not win against Newcastle due to handball rule and beat Chelsea on penalties in League Cup. Form and momentum is with the lilywhites from North London managed by ex-United manager seeking his first win at Old Trafford as Tottenham coach having won the home game last year but lost the away match due to two inspired Marcus Rashford goals.

In contrast United lost their opening home game to Crystal Palace and in the next match away at Brighton, to borrow Don Davies' words, 'were suffering the fortunes of a chicken having its neck wrung by someone with a mighty strong grasp, but who couldn't quite finish the job'. To be fair without pre-season United players performance has gradually increased. Will Solskjaer change the formation by starting with two CDM's or a diamond against master tactician Mourinho? Still without a natural right winger but now has this luxury of adapting formations thanks to the shrewd purchase of Donny van de Beek. Conceded 5 goals in two games and being hit 5 times on their woodwork reveals a porous shield in midfield that is making defense to leak goals needing urgent attention. Anthony Martial will be repeatedly watching the Harry Kane masterclass of holding up the ball, creating and scoring against Southampton. Son is doubtful and Bale is not yet match fit.

Solskjaer did a stellar job of defending the clubs transfer activity by stating he needs to get more out of the squad by giving chance to greater number of players in the first team. Did not confront the owners like Louis van Gaal or Jose Mourinho. Pressure of playing in the Champions' League will be far greater than far flung exploits to lesser known clubs in Europa League hence the need to add quality depth to the squad. Final weekend before the extended summer transfer window closes has seen United do a panic buy for Edinson Cavani on a free transfer since leaving Paris St Germain in July where he was their all time leading goal scorer. Deal supposedly includes just less than 10 million in agents fee and 10 million annual salary. Fans would think the club could have used this to complete the deals for their primary targets in Jadon Sancho and Alex Telles which they are haggling to come to terms for a long time! 

United bet their entire transfer window success on Jadon Sancho and let it be known to everyone by agreeing personal terms with the player and his agents, and for most part had no alternatives. Selling club set a price that United haven't matched due to the economic implications of the pandemic decreasing the likelihood of reaching the deal unless of course they budge on their stance and pay up. This makes mockery of United. In the last month they have spoken to Ousmane Dembele of Barcelona but pause a while to what the Frenchman might be thinking if he is signed - that he was second choice all along. To complicate matters United seem to have agreed to buy Uruguay's 18 year old winger from Penerol in Facundo Pellistri an exciting and inspired choice, coached by former striker Diego Forlan. In couple of years time he has the chance of becoming the next Ryan Giggs although he reminds more of Michael Platini. This also raises questions of Daniel James' future.

Daniel Levy for years having run the club on tightest of budgets, changed the recruitment structure after selling Dimitar Berbatov to United, converting Tottenham into a top four contenders from mid table club and building a new stadium the envy of everyone in Europe, can do a better job than Ed Woodward who can just concentrate on his specialty of doing commercial deals. Glazers have the right to make every penny count. This change will demonstrate their long term interest in the club and seek an definite upgrade on their current chief executive. Or Ed Woodward hires a competent Director of Football finally. If United fail to get either Sancho or Dembele will they sign Declan Rice or Dayot Upamecano or Harry Kane for Solskjaer finishing 3rd and not just in top four to show the largesse that Joe Lewis and Daniel Levy have at Tottenham? Probably not cause the clubs will not have time to bring in an alternative to fill the gap and that's the major downside of doing deals late, in United case not just one but majority of their deals are pending for final days of this window. Doing transfers in Q2 and not Q1 seem less consequential than last year vs this year for accounting principles. 

Matches between #MUNTOT have been thrilling down the years with United scoring more points against them than any other team in Premier League. Players regaining match fitness and a point to prove especially Anthony Martial will make it another one to remember for sure before the break for International matches. 5th October will be a frenzied day in Manchester as deals get sorted, will they satisfy Solskjaer is not certain. The famous #7 jersey meanwhile remains vacant...

Don't panic if Messi joins...

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

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

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

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

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

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

United should make their experience count against masters of Europa League

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cliffhanger end to a season of great progress in United rebuild

Manchester United need to win or draw their last English Premier League match of 2019-20 campaign to ensure a top four finish to qualify for the lucrative Champions' League. They face one of season long contenders in Leicester City, 5th in the table who have only won once against United at home since 1998 in Sep, 2014 a 5-3 win. Leicester City will be without their main creator James Maddison, two full backs Ben Chilwell and Ricardo Pereira, and centre-half Caglar Soyuncu. Ever reliable Kasper Schmeichel in goal, ex-United centre-half Johnny Evans, best CDM in Wilfred Ndidi and Jamie Vardy with 23 goals this season can thwart United. Match is being played while the city of Leicester is in lock down to contain the corona virus pandemic. Their coach Brendan Rodgers made this sound like David vs Goliath "We have one shot arriving into the last game – against Manchester United, one of the superpowers of world football – to make it into the Champions League."

Harry Maguire will become the first outfield player since Gary Pallister to play in all games of a season and had this to say about the importance of this match "For this club, the gaffer keeps reiterating that the last two or three weeks of a season always decide the season really and you want to get yourselves in a position where you’re challenging for your targets. In the near future we don’t want to be challenging for the top four, we want to be challenging for the league."  David de Gea will be doing this for the second straight season.
Mason Greenwood become only the fourth United player to score 17 goals while still being a teenager behind the legendary George Best, Brian Kidd and Wayne Rooney. He also became the youngest player to make 50 appearances for the club since Ryan Giggs in 1992. Biggest compliment came from league all-time leading goal scorer Alan Shearer on BBC Match of Day: "A potential superstar. I respect the power, he can do it with his left or right foot. He gets it away early and the goalkeepers have no chance. I think in 12 or 13 years time we could be talking about the Premier League record goalscorer. I know there's so many things that can happen in your career but I think he's that good. He's 18 years of age, he's going to get bigger, he's going to get better."

33 points is the gap with champions Liverpool which is huge and Solskjaer having stuck with only 11 players recently has highlighted the poor bench strength. United will look to improve by adding in a few primary positions like right wing, centre-half and backups in midfield, defense. Ed Woodward in program notes vs West Ham sounded pragmatic amid the pandemic unsure of precise outlook and exact impact on clubs finances where debt has soared past 400 million pounds "We are fortunate to have a strong and resilient commercial business which has supported long-term investment in our team. That will continue, albeit with extra caution in the coming months as we navigate our way through this uncertain period." 

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's rebuild has taken United through the following and back to its roots of playing attacking football and promoting youth; reminding of Busby and Ferguson and for that alone he needs to be backed for the coming seasons:
At the start of the season had predicted 6th place finish without Bruno Fernandes, given that it has been an underwhelming Premier League season due to improper induction of VAR, first time introduction of winter break, enforced break due to the pandemic, league decided by December as rest of the pack folded, many other rivals in Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham under performing, at 63 or 66 is still perhaps the lowest points total for Champions' League qualification. Yet after the first match statistically had predicted that when United score four goals on opening day they have always finished in top four.

Although United had slip ups at Upton Park in 1995 and loss of league title to Man City on final day on goal difference in 2012, they have also kept their nerve by getting the better of Kevin Keegan's Newcastle in 1996, coming from behind to beat Tottenham Hotspur in the treble season of 1999 and in 2007-08 when they did the league and Champions' League double. Big difference is those were title challenging last day of the season, not for 4th spot which underlines the present reality of the club. Since the restart United have been flying buoyed by Bruno Fernandes and wonder what might have been if he had been signed last summer itself. They are unbeaten in last 13 matches but exhaustion has crept in with 11 matches in 5 weeks taking its toll. #LEIMUN will be an exciting end to another Premier League season. Matter of keeping the nerve.

Come on you reds, come on you reds
Just keep your bottle and use your heads
For ninety minutes we'll let them know
Who's Man United, here we go

Test of Solskjaer's mettle

Solskjaer knows only too well how Manchester United fell short of Champions' League qualification at the end of last season after a brilliant first three months in charge; winning just two in last nine games. Now he is leading another charge to secure a top four finish that is critical to developing the team for next season. Second successive season outside top four will cost the club a reduced fee from sponsors especially adidas, even if it can be spread across the next five years to lessen the impact it does not hide the handicap. Importantly the Norwegian legend would not want to be tagged as a 'choker' which will be too hard to shrug off even if he has overturned 0-2 deficit against PSG or did the double over Pep Guardiola's City. In this context FA Cup doesn't become a priority where they face Chelsea in semi-finals on Sunday.

If Luke Shaw and Mason Greenwood can recover then the same starting XI might be fielded against Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park for the sixth straight game. Diogo Dalot hasn't convinced as an able understudy while gulf in class is apparent between 18 year old Mason Greenwood and 22 year old Daniel James. Saints were lucky as VAR failed to do its job to send off Romeu whose studs were all over Greenwood's shin. Substitutions were needed in the second half as Southampton's work rate was starting to overtake which underscores the poor bench strength and overtures to Donny van de Beek and Jack Grealish with summer transfer window opening on 27, July till 05, October. Double injury blow to Shaw and his substitute Williams meant United were down to 10 men to protect a slender 2-1 lead and failed. Earlier Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford both scored and missed a couple of chances which could have sealed the game.

With experience this team will overcome these lapses as the personnel are constant so learning will not be lost next season. Anthony Martial's work rate represented what a traditional number nine should always do, nick the ball of opposition to create a goal. He has clearly taken his game to a new level post lock down just as Marcus Rashford had a splendid first half of the season. Pair of strikers pushing each other to greater heights is a treat to watch. Martial became the first player since Wayne Rooney in March, 2008 to notch up 50 English Premier League goals, while Rashford is on 43. David de Gea played in his 400th game.

Roy Hodgson will want to end Crystal Palace's five match losing streak with a win that would mean a league double over United a first in their history. Last win for Eagles at Selhurst Park came in May, 1991 when Andrei Kanchelskis made his debut for United signing from Shaktar Donetsk in March and wore the famous number 7 jersey initially before Eric Cantona made it his own. He scored a hat-trick in the derby against City in a 5-0 win in Nov, 1994. The last player whom Sir Alex Ferguson signed for Manchester United in Wilfred Zaha might play on the opposite wing to not face Aaron Wan-Bissaka on the right wing who said this of Ivorian "Training against Wilf, I think he sort of prepared me for what it is like playing in the Premier League. I learned a lot from him. He's an unpredictable player and tests like that are ones that made me a better player." Zaha also played under Solskjaer while at Cardiff City. Without suspended Benteke and injured duo Cahill and Tomkins task will get only tougher.

Instead of nine matches last season Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has just three to make sure United finish in top four and that reduction in gap in itself a indication of the right direction in which the club is heading. With third place Leicester needing to face Sheffield United, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United on the last day the task is within reach without needing other results to go favourably. This match becomes important to sustain the unbeaten streak of 18 games and see through a goal of top four finish to completion. Bruno Fernandes has been the stand out player away from home and today Solskjaer will not want to substitute him too soon in the second half! Solskjaer will want to not only overcome the jitters of 'squeaky bum time' but eager for his team to show the spirit of 'bouncebackability' a term coined by former Palace boss Iain Dowie who got them promoted to Premier League in 2003-04.

Point to prove and avoid the double by Cherries

United this season have never won the game when their direct top four rivals in Chelsea have slipped up first. Drawn with Wolves and lost to Burnley, Liverpool, Arsenal when Chelsea had dropped points recently. Now the Blues have lost to their local rivals West Ham and United response is awaited with the visit of Bournemouth to Old Trafford today who are aiming to do the first double over the Red Devils having won the reverse fixture 1-0 in November which was one of the most dismal away performances by Solskjaer's side amid rain and injury to Scott McTominay.

The Norwegian was pragmatic when asked about the seemingly easy run-in against teams from the bottom half of the table whom United have not beaten this season: "I've seen lots of quotes that we have an easy run in. But then the next five games they are against Bournemouth, we lost to them in the previous game. Aston Villa, we drew to them at home at Old Trafford. We have Southampton, which we drew to, we lost to Palace, we lost to West Ham, so there's teams that we've got a point to prove against." If the attitude to prove the doubters wrong is maintained it can be an advantage.

Solskjaer deserves to eclipse the 17 game unbeaten record of Mourinho from Nov, 2016 to Jan, 2017 and is approaching game number 16 today. Finally he has a starting XI that picks itself up and, will they start for third game in a row after astounding 3-0 wins over Sheffield United and Brighton & Hove Albion? Young Mason Greenwood could be rested and instead Daniel James might start. Bruno Fernandes took a knock but might still start and come off in the second half. Fred had a run of more than 20 consecutive games that really transformed him this season and could be back if Matic is to be rested. Eric Bailly has not been convincing to dislodge either Maguire or Lindelof based on that FA Cup win away to Norwich. Andreas looks much better than Lingard to deserve to be in the match day squad. Giving the newly promoted right back Ethan Laird a cameo would be superb.

Fine form has seen Solskjaer nominated for Manager of the Month award for June while Bruno Fernandes and Anthony Martial have been nominated for Player of the Month awards. Reports emerged from Germany informing of Borussia Dotmund completing a deal for Jude Bellingham. After Erling Haaland this is the second high profile teenager that has chosen BVB instead of United which confirms that although Red Devils have done a course correction under Solskjaer by appointing Nicky Butt as head of first team development at the start of this season, it is a recent appointment and sufficient time hasn't passed yet to see the desired results. Angel Gomes did not sign a new contract with United. Positive news on Jadon Sancho that he has agreed personal terms with United and now both clubs need to agree on a transfer price.

Home of AFC Bournemouth is Dean Court known commercially as Vitality Stadium is the only arena in the English Premier league with less than 20,000 capacity, to be precise its just 11,329 that is lowest in the league by a big margin. Five years in Premier League by Eddie Howe is fantastic. Bogged down by injuries to majority of the squad earlier in the season they haven't regained their form of last four years. Tough for them to get back into the top flight immediately if relegated. “If you’d have said to me 12, 15 years ago that Bournemouth would be playing in the Premier League one day, I’d have thought you were off your head. What’s happened here has just been beyond belief." Harry Redknapp who did a giant killing by managing the Cherries to win against defending champions MUFC in FA Cup 3rd round 1983-84. Following that 0-2 loss the first shouts of 'Atkinson Out' were chanted by United fans. United atoned that defeat by thrashing them 3-0 in next years FA Cup 3rd round!

George Best played his last 5 league games of his career for Bournemouth in Third Division in 1982-83 season whose aspiring owner wanted to double the gate receipts and that desired aim was achieved easily. In January when United were desperate for a back-up striker they had approached the former academy graduate Josh King now playing for the Cherries. If that would have clicked it would have been 3rd player to have been transferred directly between the two clubs and remarkably all three were strikers; other two being Jack Rowley 'the Gunner' scored 211 goals in 424 games for United despite the interruption of second world war, and Ted MacDougal a bona fide Cherries legend but flopped at United due to managerial changes. Thankfully Odion Ighalo has not disappointed. United must seize the chance given Leicester City are stuttering and Chelsea blowing hot-n-cold while Wolves are on United's heels.

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.

Double over City proof of Solskjaer getting it right at United

The first league double over local rivals City since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson has cleared all doubts about United's rebuild under Solskjaer. The squad had all of his signings three from the summer and two in January and importantly without Jesse Lingard, Andreas Pereira, Phil Jones while Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba are out with long term injuries. Solskjaer made the most of his squad while sustaining 70% City possession that could not breach the solid defensive unit of United. Kevin de Bruyne not even in the squad and Pep Guardiola bringing off Sergio Aguero, Bernardo Silva after 60 minutes hinted City's priorities were elsewhere even though they had enough talent to win in Sterling, Foden, Fernandinho while Jesus, Mahrez and Mendy came on to improve them further.

Brilliance of Bruno Fernandes chip from a free kick caught City back line by surprise as Anthony Martial latched on to score past Ederson who could have done better. This shot from Martial atoned a previous lapse of judgement when he could have passed to Fernandes to score. Fred was unlucky to not get a penalty when he was judged to have dived while the replays clearly showed a City player clipping his run although it was a bit soft but a yellow card was unjust. Sergio Aguero goal was ruled offside by his front leaning shoulder was a close call for the VAR whose introduction this season has caused more harm than good to the English game. Anthony Martial persisted until he was substituted even though he hurt his leg after colliding with the post as he attempted a chance off error prone Ederson. Late in the second half substitute Scott McTominay intercepted the throw from Ederson as they chased the game to slot home from long range to an empty net.
Rookie Brandon Williams was ran over by experienced Riyad Mahrez in the second half and rightly substituted by Eric Bailly which meant Luke Shaw moved to left-back role from left centre-back where he had another great game a position he first played against Liverpool in a 1-1 draw at Old Trafford in October. Recoveries by Nemanja Matic was excellent through out the game and talks about his contract extension does again demonstrate how Solskjaer has won over the experienced Serbian leading him to regain his form at a crucial juncture for United who are chasing the fourth Champions' League spot. Aaron Wan-Bissaka again pocketed Raheem Sterling that deserves an England call-up while playing as left wing-back is now enabling him to grow his attacking and crossing skills.

There might be a section of fans thinking why Paul Pogba should be reinstated to the squad when for most of this season he has been absent given that he might be sold in the summer with just two months left to play. Firstly the club will suffer financially next season if it does not make it to the Champions' League as Sponsors will give less money as per penalty in the contract for non-qualification for two straight seasons to Europe's premier competition and hence Solskjaer must use all resources available to him. Secondly he might not be an automatic choice given the form of Fred and Fernandes now but with United playing Thursday's & Sunday's till the end of the season the squad does require a good backup option.

During the most recent conference call on United's financial results Cliff Batty did respond to a direct question on the funds available to spend in the summer transfer window which is 190 million. Pursuit of English duo Jack Grealish and Jadon Sancho might take up the complete allocation. As yet there is no indication of United wanting to offer Paul Pogba a contract extension but to use the proceeds from his sale thought to be in the region of ~80 million with only one year left for the summer transfers.

Dean Henderson doing well between the sticks at Sheffield United has given another option for United to raise funds for the rebuild provided clubs like Juventus, Real Madrid or PSG can match the salary of David de Gea that is highest in the world for a goal keeper. The only counter to this argument is that with de Gea, United can aim to win the Champions' League as he is of the same stature as legends Alex Stepney, Peter Schmeichel and Edwin van der Saar. Henderson who joined United as a teenager and has come up through the ranks might know the club well but as Schmeichel used to say being a United goal keeper is a really tough ask both physically and mentally. Right approach would be for Henderson to be an understudy to de Gea for a year and then take up the No 1 spot. Alex Stepney is the youngest keeper at United to win the European Cup at 25 years 8 months 11 days while Dean Henderson turns 23 this week. Iker Casillas though won it at just 19 with Real Madrid. Its the only honour to elude David de Gea, 29 who has won everything else.

Solskjaer with this win has achieved what neither of David Moyes, Louis van Gaal nor Jose Mourinho could. Add the double win over Chelsea too and examine the blueprint of academy players progressing through (new contracts to Tahith Chong and Ethan Laird), successful recruitment of senior players, excellent man-management skills and a positivism that is proving to be contagious confirms he is the right one to bring back the swagger of the old United in long run. For now Solskjaer was found a way to win to continue the unbeaten run and last 8 league fixtures against the bottom half provides him an opportunity to fix another lacuna while claiming the fourth spot at the same time. Trophies are the only missing item which might yet be won at the end of this season given the favorable draw in both Cup competitions and defensive wherewithal.

Solskjaer under renewed focus as United aim to halt three match barren run

Manchester United have not only failed to win their last three English Premier League matches but also failed to score; 0-2 at Anfield, 0-2 to Burnley and 0-0 to Wolves both at Old Trafford. As a result they have not been able to close to the gap on the fourth position presently held by their next opponents Chelsea whom they face on Monday night. Ten points separate ten chasing teams below the fourth spot and based on worst start since 1989 United are certainly not the favourites to clinch it.

Two different stories emerged recently linked with Molde, Solskjaer's former club. The desperation to land a striker meant Solskjaer turned to his own ex-business partner, friend and agent Jim Solbakken whose associates deal with both Joshua King and Odion Ighalo. United had signed just one player in keeper Anders Lindegaard from Solbakken under Sir Alex Ferguson and now this deadline day transfer does raise concerns as the tenure of Solskjaer at Cardiff City paints a grim picture of a manager unable to come to terms with task at hand. Solskjaer to his credit has avoided the mistakes in recruitment that was a catastrophe at Cardiff City which included three Norwegian players who were also Solbakken clients. The second issue was the case of Solskjaer persisting with a player Babacar Saar while awaiting trial. Whatever the issue with Glazers handling of United they as a club will not like to be associated with an entity under cloud. Will that lead to Tommy Docherty like situation all over again remains to be seen.

The media adviser of Ed Woodward the ex-reporter for tabloid The Sun, Neil Ashton was spotted at Griffin Park where Mauricio Pochettino was also in attendance to watch Leeds United play. Rumour-mill was in overdrive coupled with above stories to paint a doomsday scenario for Solskjaer. That pressure was eased greatly by the news of UEFA banning Man City from Champions' League for next two seasons and a fine of 30 million Euro's which means that if United were to finish fifth they could still play in Champions' League next season thus saving Solskjaer's job. Europa League Cup has too many good teams left that makes a United win improbable. The English FA should also investigate if the titles won by Man City since the take over by Sheikh Mansour are legitimate. The 2011-12 win by City over United on goal difference under Sir Alex Ferguson and 2017-18 win by City over United with a massive 19 point difference under Jose Mourinho. Twenty times league Champions might become Twenty two! This ban reminds of the early days of last century wherein an alert United under shrewd Ernest Mangnall lured City's star players Billy Meredith, Sandy Turnbull who had helped them win the 1904 FA Cup were banned subsequently to aid the Red Devils win their first League and Cup titles in 1907 and 1908.

Solskjaer has three wins and a draw against Chelsea including the opening day 4-0 win of this season and earlier beat an under strength blues at the Bridge in the League Cup. United have a chance to do a double over their bogey team in Premier League for the first time since 1987-88 when it was the old First Division. Solskjaer confirmed he will not play Scott McTominay, Eric Bailly or Timothy Fosu-Mensah nor long time absentee Paul Pogba and of them the loss of McTominay will be huge that might tilt the match in blues favour. Marcus Rashford is out injured.

Usual back five, Fernandes-Fred with Pereira-Mata-James and Martial likely the starting XI. Ighalo off the bench for his debut as Martial moves to left in the second half. Thus far Solskjaer has played all his signings straight into first XI to underscore his point about poor quality of the side he inherited - Daniel James, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Harry Maguire and Bruno Fernandes. Without Rashford to run in and supply a pass or a one-two, Martial seems aloof hence Solskjaer will be tempted to start with Ighalo and revert Martial to left of front three. Ighalo will push Martial to deliver or step-in himself. Greenwood in his breakthrough year has exceeded expectations whenever has has come off the bench while he is still in his developing years in terms of physique to start the match.

First match of this season and the first match after the first winter break, both against Chelsea! This break isn't like the international one where players disperse to national teams and then lose focus on return to their respective clubs but instead its renews the focus with training sessions away from media glare like United's at Marbella, Spain. Solskjaer got his wish in January transfer window with two signings and not Frank Lampard that increases the expectations despite the blues shrewdly signing Hakim Ziyech for the summer instead of comparatively costly and inexperienced Jadon Sancho. United need to learn and tie down their overseas targets now for the summer thinking ahead especially how slow they negotiate a player transfer. Commercial deals do not take that much time given Woodward's specialty! That once again proves the need for a Director of Football at United.

Hope Tommy Docherty is present to watch his two great sides battle it out as he hasn't been invited to Old Trafford since 2014. United are six points behind Chelsea and if they lose this match top four will be almost out of sight increasing the pressure on Solskjaer that Luke Shaw tried to deflect on players.

MUFC close in on Fernandes as #SackWoodward gathers pace

The details of Marcus Rashford's injury overshadowed the loss at Anfield and not the expected news about Bruno Fernandes signing. Ian Wright did not absolve Ole Gunnar Solskjaer from the blame either and rumours of an internal inquiry at MUFC to look into this issue surfaced. United were outplayed for most of the match as 34 clearances revealed while Andreas and Martial blew two big chances. David De Gea came out like a leader to protest against the foul by Virgil van Dijk as the new Captain Harry Maguire looked on. In form Mata and Greenwood were brought on very late by Solskjaer. Fred and Andreas got into positions where they could shoot for the goal but clearly lacked the skill that Bruno Fernandes can easily provide. The Portuguese is definitely an upgrade on MUFC existing midfield but needs a midfield organizer along side him like Donny van de Beek. This signing could possibly mean the start of Paul Pogba moving out of Old Trafford.
As a big club MUFC can easily negotiate with a smaller club in Sporting and the fact that both clubs had unofficial contact last summer so knew about the internal intricacies involved for more than 6 months yet this deal protracts. No excuses to have this deal not wrapped up by 1st week of January so that MUFC could have benefited by being in the Champions' League positions by now! With Rashford out injured potentially till end of the season can United get one additional player like Moussa Dembele a typical #9 who will cost more than #50million and Olympique Lyon have potentially signed a replacement in Karl Ekambi! Brazilian forward Everton Soares plays on the left of the front three much like Rashford but at the right age of 23 while Jarrod Bowen is of the same age but plays on the right of the front three.

Meanwhile Erling Haaland scored a hat-trick on his debut for Borussia Dotmund in a 5-3 comeback win over FC Augsburg. Cavani is beyond the age to make Eric Cantona type of impact realistically while Krzysztof Piatek is behind Ibrahimovic in the pecking order says everything. One thing is certain that without reinforcements the thread bare squad cannot sustain the challenge neither in the Premier League, Europa League nor FA Cup. As previously mentioned MUFC need to develop relations with the erstwhile G-14 clubs to take players on loan which is the best way to plug this gap while saving big on forced player purchases.

Money has never been an issue with MUFC but rather attaching value to it. If Solskjaer had #150 million to spend which he used it on just three players and could not consequently get a replacement for Lukaku while publicly saying he was satisfied with the summer transfer business does raise questions about squad planning for the whole season.

#SackWoodward got trending after the brave Gary Neville spoke the truth about the state of affairs at Manchester United. "I can’t believe, with the investment that has been put into the squad over the last five or six years and you end up with that out on the pitch. I cannot believe it." Once a Captain always a Captain.
This was followed by another correct analysis by Sky Sports reporter Kaveh Solhekol that while Chelsea and Man City owners injected 1 Billion dollars each into their respective clubs the Glazers at MUFC had taken out 1 Billion dollars from the club during the same time. Old Trafford is crying out for modernization.
Jude Bellingham a 16 year old playing in Birmingham City's first team already represents the kind of signings that Real Madrid and Borussia Dotmund regularly do now. 18-month loan deal is a bit too long though for the high transfer fee being placed on him.

MUFC Youth team finally reached the 5th round of FA Youth Cup after their 2-0 win over Norwich and will now face Leeds United. MUFC haven't gone beyond 5th round since 2012!

Its #MUNBUR next in the Premier League without Pogba, McTominay and Rashford. Lindelof was sent off from training due to illness which might lead to Eric Bailly getting into the starting XI. Excellent Mata might start at #10 with Andreas wide on right giving Daniel James much needed rest on the bench. Dalot, Gomes and Chong might get some game time. MUFC have not done the double over Burnley since 1975-76 season. Sean Dyche appreciated Solskjaer for being calm and positive amid all the pressure "It does take time. It’s taken a big transition from Sir Alex (Ferguson) to where it is now and it continues to be that. Ole is doing a good job in staying calm throughout that period." The reverse fixture a 2-0 away win was a resounding mid-week display towards the end of December that won over critics. Repeat performance at Old Trafford will be very difficult with injuries not impossible. Will Anthony Martial lead the forward line, harass the opponent defenders, be injury free and take Greenwood along after that miss at Anfield which he needs to banish as quickly as possible. Burnley have drawn their last three games at the Theatre of Dreams can they go one better?

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.

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!

A week is a long time in football

So it indeed proved when Manchester United clocked three away wins in three different competitions to put an unwanted away record since that glorious early March evening in Paris. Partizan Belgrade, Norwich and Chelsea in Europa League, English League and League Cup were beaten on the trot. Confidence of the team grew from non-coherent display at Belgrade to resounding win at Norwich and finally to an victory from the most improbable free-kick 35 yards out from Marcus Rashford that reminded of Cristiano Ronaldo.
Scott McTominay was at the core of all three matches and rightly voted as MUFC player of month for October. Team played 3-5-2 in the 1st game and 4-4-2 in the 2nd while they absorbed pressure from Chelsea in the former formation to being unleashed in the latter to gain a quarterfinal draw at home to Colchester United for their improved tactical nous. The exchange of passes back and forth between Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford before the Frenchman slotted home with a sublime chip was a treat to behold at Norwich.



Newcastle win away in a last gasp header by Alexis Sanchez probably saved Jose Mourinho from the sack last season while the loss to Geordie's and the game against our perennial arch rivals Liverpool brought out the best of MUFC as the young players have settled down. That win at Norwich meant MUFC jumped 7 places from 14th to 7th in the league table aided by a better goal difference.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is coming to grips with his squad and tactical rotation to ensure the players have optimum game time. Ashley Young and Brandon Williams now share the left-back duties game by game that doesn't load the old or the young upstart. It also revealed the sale by date of hapless Jesse Lingard to have been expired and what an opportunity has he missed - to be at the start of a new evolution that is showing signs of coming of age. Backup for Scot McTominay in the continued absence of Nemanja Matic is a spot that needs a thought, given Axel Tuanzebe's recent injury and Marcus Rojo's lack of discipline besides these two options have never been explored before.

Like Scott McTominay, all the three new recruits Daniel James, Aaron wan Bissaka and Harry Maguire plus Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial have been the constants around whom the rest of the squad have revolved. David de Gea, Victor Lindelof, Fred, Andreas Pereira and James Garner  have been selectively deployed.

Brandon Williams has clearly demonstrated his credentials in two away games to be considered as a first choice at an age of 19. He is in line to emulate the great Arthur Albiston who had a checkered career at left back between 1974 to 1988 from Tommy Docherty to Sir Alex Ferguson. Arthur broke into the first team at a similar age of 19 and had 14 league appearances with 3 as substitutes after a debut at the age of 17 in 1974.

Bournemouth away and two home games to Partizan and Brighton sets up MUFC to improve their league standings further and cement the qualification to the next round of Europa League before the next international break. Harry Maguire leading the side does calm down the nerves which will again be tested against Wilson's Callum and Harry, later being on loan from Liverpool FC. Unbeaten in last 7 games against the Cherries should give MUFC confidence despite the travel exhaustion of this fourth consecutive away game.

Initiative at Molineux turns a new chapter

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer did not match the opponents formation last week who had won all 3 encounters the previous season. Rather he played to United's strength from the start with pace in James, Martial and Rashford. Knowing that Wolves play better in the 2nd half United came back after the scores were level and could have still won the game but for the penalty. Yet apart from the penalty miss there were loads of positives.

Paul Pogba was immense and eager to extend the MUFC tally of 5 goals in first two games of a new season. Against Crystal Palace today Ole might play the diminutive Angel Gomes ahead of Jesse Lingard, who offered a lot of effort and movement but no end product thus continuing his barren run in 2019 calendar year. Behind the closed door fixture last Monday against Sheffield United the team consisted of rest of squad who did not feature on last match day generating a healthy competition at every position. Matic has been on the bench like a safety valve ready to step in if required. The back room staff certainly seem to be preparing for Plan B and C. The youth team have again won their match with a difference of 4 goals. No doubt Manchester United has continued to buzz starting from that emphatic opening day victory.

Roy Hodgson has astutely led Palace to beat City and Arsenal last season and did the double over Leicester. Having drawn the game last season at Old Trafford, can Roy take them one step further to their first Premier League win against MUFC? In their captain, top scorer Luka Milivojević and ex-United winger Wilfred Zaha they certainly have the capability. Eagles have won 5 of their 6 away matches to end 2018 season strongly in 12th position. They are yet to score in this new season which is not an unusual start for them.

The new-look MUFC defense needs to make Old Trafford into a fortress by not conceding goals. This, apart from high wages in the new contract might finally convince David De Gea to sign a contract extension and become the full-time deserving Captain of MUFC given he's been our best player in the post Ferguson era. Apart from Angel Gomes who is a week away from his 19th birthday, Mason Greenwood might get more game time. Angel Gomes made his MUFC debut against Crystal Palace in 2016-17 season making him the 2nd youngest player ever behind the late Duncan Edwards to play for Manchester United. Today Ole might play him from the start i.e., full debut continuing on from last week where Daniel James was given a full debut. Ole gave nothing away in the press briefing if Alexis Sanchez might stay or leave. At least Sanchez has played in the practice match last Monday unlike want-away Lukaku.

Hope for a 2-0 home win with goals from Anthony Martial and Harry Maguire. Juan Mata is one goal away from eclipsing his league tally at Valencia and equaling his overall.

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