Showing posts with label Brandon Williams. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Brandon Williams. Show all posts

Knock-out European matches like the best of FA Cups

Manchester United have three knock-out matches to win their second UEFA Europa League. Based out of RheinEnergie Stadion, Cologne for all three matches which is also the host for the final gives them an edge. But competition is stiff where they meet FC Copenhagen in quarters tonight, Wolves or Sevilla in semis on 17th and from another half of the table winners of Inter Milan vs Bayer 04 Leverkusen and Shakhtar Donetsk v Basel in the finals on 21st August. The one off nature of this years tournament due to the pandemic has forced this into a knockout which gives all eight teams with an rare and equal opportunity to win like the FA Cups in its heyday as Geoffrey Green recounts in 'The Official History of the FA Cup' as "the sudden thrill of the knock-out blow" and unlike the two-legged affair as "We were to become adding machines, working out aggregates on our finger tips. David had now to face Goliath twice and his chance of glory diminished."

The most telling comment in the press conference from Solskjaer was on the goal keeping situation where he said "I must be the most privileged manager in the world with the goalkeeping department with Sergio, David and Dean Henderson coming back. We have seen this season how important Sergio has been for us and, for me, David is always performing. Competition for places is important but it will be difficult to keep three of them at the club, so we will see what the decision will be there." Unlike the FA Cup loss to Chelsea where he dropped Sergio Romero for David de Gea who by his standards let in two goals, he might stick with the Argentinian who has played in all the Europa League Cup matches so far this season.

Rumours has been rife about Dean Henderson returning to challenge David de Gea for next season amidst his contract negotiations after winning Sheffield United's young player of the year where he was on loan. Sheffield club meanwhile have started their search for alternate keeper with a bid for Aaron Ramsdale from relegated Bournemouth. That would open up the goal keepers in the squad into scrutiny where Sergio Romero, Lee Grant and Joel Pereira enter their final year of contracts. The January signing of Southend United and England U20 keeper Nathan Bishop was a step in that direction, who due to the pandemic that shortened the EPL2 season could not yet make his competitive debut but is listed in the Europa League squad nonetheless!
MUFC U23's got promoted to EPL2 Division One as they were second behind leaders West Ham when the season was halted yet ultimately decided by points-per-game mechanism. The fate of FA Youth Cup is awaited where United are in semi-finals and need to face Chelsea, a stage they have reached for the first time since 2011-12 season when they lost to eventual winners Chelsea. The best part winning the second leg of the round of 16 against LASK 2-1 in a 7-1 aggregate was debut to youth team captain Teden Mengi and refreshing Tahith Chong brought on as left-back.
FC Copenhagen finished a distant second in the Danish Superliga 14 points behind champions FC Midtjylland. They are coached by former team mate of Solskjaer from 1998 World Cup squad the playmaker Stale Solbakken in his second stint winning the league eight times in total. 21 year old forward Jonas Wind scored twice to turn 0-1 deficit against Istanbul Basaksehir and help his team win. Among their ranks is former United right back Guillermo Varela from Uruguay whose tattoo obsession before DFB Podkal final for Eintracht Frankfurt became infectious ending a successful loan spell by a suspension. Solbakken having managed FC Koln for one season will be aware of the demands of playing in North Rhine-Westphalia and managed around 600 games for Copenhagen. He is without four players; striker Santos, attacking midfielder Fischer, Sigurdsson and Thomsen none of whom played against Basaksehir either. This will be the third meeting between the two clubs, previous two coming in the 2006-07 Champions' League campaign. United lost the second leg 0-1 after securing the top spot in Group F while winning the first leg 3-0 at home. Its the first ever quarter-final appearance for a Danish side in a European competition since 1997. Easily the biggest match in the careers of many Copenhagen players!

What United should watch out for is complacency after securing top four finish to play in the Champions' League next season which is coincidentally also the reward of winning the Europa League Cup. Most of the starting XI were rested for the second leg win over LASK giving the likes of Bruno Fernandes two weeks off after playing in every game since his arrival in January that turned the season around. Jesse Lingard having scored in his last two games might be on the bench. Phil Jones, Luke Shaw and Axel Tuanzebe are the only three players who haven't traveled to Germany and with Brandon Williams speaking to the press ahead of the game he might actually start in place of injured Shaw. Two semi-final cup defeats in League Cup and FA Cup will have strengthened the team's resolve to not let another opportunity to win their first trophy go begging, while 14 games unbeaten in Premier League will give Solskjaer's team a confidence boost.

Romero(GK), Wan-Bissaka, Maguire, Lindelof, Williams, Matic, Pogba, Fernandes, Greenwood, Martial, Rashford

Prost! (with Kolsch)🍻

Balance crucial to squad rebuild

Solskjaer finished not just inside top four positions in the English Premier League but third overcoming Chelsea, Leicester City, Tottenham Hotspur and Wolverhampton Wanderers. That in itself is quite a remarkable achievement considering the surprise losses suffered to Crystal Palace, Newcastle United, Bournemouth, Watford, Burnley apart from regular concessions to West Ham, Arsenal and Liverpool especially since the inspirational transfer of Bruno Fernandes in late January as they have dropped just 8 points of possible 42 and remained unbeaten! A tale of two halves. All credit must go to the coaching staff who meticulously planned to keep the players engaged through out the suspension, the medical staff who ensured all players were fit for the season finale, the manager who finally found his starting XI by giving everyone a fair chance and MUFC board who backed the manager by spending huge on Bruno Fernandes mid-season.
In this tough economic climate the qualification for Champions' League gives the club a safety net of earnings much higher than otherwise. Though not in the same breadth as gaining promotion just before second world war to ensure funds in global economic recession, suspension of league for seven seasons and bombing of Old Trafford. Future is yet uncertain but the world is perhaps at its most precarious since September, 1939.

Challenge will be to add not only 2-3 first team players at right wing, centre-half and midfield but also replace the deadwood of Chris Smalling(36 starts on loan), Alexis Sanchez(15 starts on loan), Jesse Lingard(18), Phil Jones(6), Marcus Rojo(7) and resolve the future of Juan Mata(19), Andreas Pereira(22), Diogo Dalot(7). That's eight fringe players with 51 and 79 first team starts at loan and for United respectively out of 58 competitive matches played so far this season. From previous financial calls its believed United have 135 million euro's available after deducting Bruno Fernandes outlay. If Jadon Sancho is prioritized then it leaves room for perhaps only one or two more signing, there in lies the question of balance.

On losing to West Ham in Sep 2018, Jose Mourinho's in his last season called into question the role of United scouts who had failed to identify and sign a centre-half all summer. Not just first choice like Raphael Varane, Harry Maguire, Jerome Boateng, Diogo Godin but none of the upcoming players like Issa Diop who played brilliantly for hammers that day. Now the same scouting team has a chance to redeem in getting left sided centre-half Gabriel dos Santos Magalhaes preferably or Pau Torres of Villareal, and left back Fode Ballo-Toure of Monaco to Old Trafford. This will fit the budget constraints if United move for Jadon Sancho who theoretically can move at much lower price next year as he is in final two years of his contract with Borussia Dotmund. Unless Dotmund do not budge from their high asking price of 110 million euro and negotiations conclude by 10th August as requested by BVB the deal could be at risk. Apparently there is no interest from any other clubs for Sancho so its up to United to conclude. Crucial for United to reduce the initial fee to 60-70 million with add-on's to balance the funds for entire transfer window across multiple targets. Deal on 7th August for 20 year old to wear the famous number 7 jersey!
Aston Villa have reportedly increased their asking price for skipper Jack Grealish from #50 to #80 million after avoiding relegation, hence Donny van de Beek of Ajax at about #40 million becomes more viable. If Paul Pogba stays Grealish or Donny van de Beek interest can be put on hold and contract talks need to start immediately with the Frenchman to avoid risk of letting him go for free next season, but if he chooses to leave then already crammed window with Europa League fixtures becomes even more hectic. After Micheal Carrick swooped all awards at the famous West Ham academy at the start of this century and eventually replaced Roy Keane to the number 16 jersey via Tottenham, its time to hunt for Nemanja Matic's long term successor in another east London prodigy in Declan Rice who has matched Carrick's fete. Chelsea remain favourites to resign their ex-academy graduate but as a centre-half where as at United he is viewed as a central defensive midfield which might sway the decision. For James Garner at 19 to fill this crucial role will take 3-4 years for him to develop. United might not be able to sign all three Sancho, Rice and Grealish during this transfer window.

One player who has no issue is keeper Dean Henderson the Sheffield United young player of the year at maximum age of 23 for the award. With Euro 2021 in view, Solskjaer can help him play regularly for one more season at Bramall Lane thus enabling him to make the England squad given that there are questions on current number one Jordan Pickford. From United point of view David de Gea gets a boost of confidence and final chance in his 10th season to resurrect his legendary status. Sergio Romero now enters his final year of contract at the end of which Henderson can be eased into United.

Setting free transfers for Phil Jones to any club and Marcus Rojo to non-EPL clubs will free up their wages from United player salaries as they have proved most difficult to sell. United must not fall for bait of AS Roma asking for another loan but only agree to sell Smalling outright. Sanchez having played well in last few games for Inter must be pushed through with no obligation to pay any part of his huge wages though this will limit the amount of transfer fee. A change of scene for Lingard will be more beneficial to regain his form that has dipped since the semi-finals with England at the 2018 World Cup. United conservatively should expect to make 60 million euros for these sales and also a percentage from Memphis Depay and Wilfred Zaha sale.

Juan Mata's off-field charity work through Common Goal shades his on-field effort but his technique and professionalism is something junior members of the squad can learn from. United players contractually obligated might have to prefer MU Foundation thus one sees no players having joined Mata's charity that now boasts Megan Rapinoe, Paulo Dybala, Serge Gnabry, Kasper Schmeichel, Jurgen Klopp and Julian Nagelsmann. Pereira and Dalot might have something to offer and should be looked to offload next year if things do not turn out better.

Refreshingly last year United bought Daniel James from Championship and contributed immensely in the early stages of the campaign including a goal on debut versus Chelsea. This approach must not be abandoned. Promotion of Leeds United rules out any chance of signing Kalvin Phillips. Other interesting prospects remain in Matheus Pereira CAM from West Brom, Eberechi Eze CAM from QPR, Jed Wallace RW from Milwall, Joe Rodon CH from Swansea, Joe Bryan and Rico Henry both LB from Fulham and Brentford, Matthew Cash RB from Nottingham.

Mason Greenwood and Brandon Williams had a successful breakthrough this season from the academy. Next season expecting right back Ethan Laird, defender Tenden Mengi and midfielders Dylan Levitt and Hannibal Mejbri. James Garner and Tahith Chong are expected to go on a season long loan. Injury to centre-half Axel Tuanzebe limited his appearances this season. Despite losing Angel Gomes and missing out on Jude Bellingham, United have landed 16 year old keeper from Slovakia Radek Vitek in January and striker Joe Hugill and defender Logan Pye from Sunderland. Awaiting clearance for foreign recruits in Marc Jurado from Barcelona, Alvaro Fernandez Carreras from Real Madrid and Isak Hansen-Aaroen from Tromso. United won three awards at Premier League Academy awards: Marcus Rashford for best Academy Graduate, coach Tony Whelan won the Eammon Dolan award and James Garner for PL2 goal of the season award.

Resolving the issue of deadwood with reasonable returns is crucial to make this transfer window a success. The oft lethargic and slow negotiating team of Matt Judge needs to act fast and not work on just one transfer at a time. Importantly he needs to be given independence to make calls without back and forth with Glazer's operating in different time zones, this is what Ed Woodward as chief executive needs to fix. At corporate level he must ensure dividends are not paid this year as football reels under economic austerity. In last three days of January window United did sign three players Nathan Bishop, Bruno Fernandes and Odion Ighalo. Rivals Chelsea and Man City moving fast to tie-down their players, United can't afford to stand still. With EPL starting on 12th September and Europa League final on 21st August, Solskjaer will need all signings to be completed in August itself irrespective of end of transfer window being 5th October. Signings and exits in total might reach double digits leaving United no time to lose.

Over to Ed and Matt from Solskjaer and fans.

Ole's template a blueprint for things to come

Dispatching Partizan Belgrade and Brighton by 3-0 and 3-1 scoreline at Old Trafford playing a high press counter attacking game is testament to the efforts put in by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and his coaching staff aiding the young team whose average age is just about 23 years, one of the lowest in the league. Not losing at Old Trafford since that loss to Crystal Palace in late August in 7 games is turning it into a fortress.

Harry Maguire led the side despite the presence of David De Gea for the first time perhaps indicating that he is more vocal in the dressing room than the Spaniard and might Captain the side long term. Harry also played every match since that away loss to Newcastle a run of 8 games while Fred has also enjoyed 5 straight starts in the Premier League which showed in his confident passing in this game in particular perhaps his best yet in the jersey of MUFC. Andreas finally had a goal to show for all his running and efforts for the team. Fred and Andreas have come under a lot of criticism in not being the best of Brazilian players let alone at MUFC. They have nonetheless been working hard to make good of their careers despite their apparent limited talent.

Brandon Williams looked very much the answer to MUFC's long standing left back woes as he diligently defended and joined in the attack that very nearly brought an assist to a goal. Ashley Young, a winger originally playing as left back for last many years can finally retire at the end of this season knowing well that in Brandon that position is covered very well for the next decade.

MUFC won 3-1 but missed many chances brought about by the quick interplay between the front three Martial, Rashford and James. They had so much fun playing in the Trafford Park that Marcus Rashford even nutmegged a defender. Daniel James has played in every league match and scaring defenders, is the best prospect since Rooney and Ronaldo endearing himself to fans of all ages. Anthony Martial's return from injury has sparked this revival as he is able to bring others into the play being a pivot upfront. The last MUFC hat-trick in the premier league was in April 2013 with Robin van Persie scoring against Villa - that's a gap of 6 seasons for the attacking pedigree of the Reds! Based on Sunday's evidence of play that wait for hat-trick might be finally over his season.

The only negative was the goal conceded from a corner kick which meant United were unable to extend their tally of just two clean sheets in the league this season. Ever present and MUFC player of the season so far Scott McTominay was taken out on a stretcher unable to complete the match having fallen over his ankle which can be a niggling injury.

No doubt this was the best performance by Manchester United this season. Over the international break they can look to reduce the long injury list in Axel Tuanzebe, Luke Shaw, Nemanja Matic, Angel Gomes, Diogo Dalot, Paul Pogba, Timothy Fosu-Mensah and Eric Bailly. With no International break until March next year and MUFC still in all cup competitions, the matches will come thick and fast. MUFC have come back stronger after a tapering performance before the last break inspired by that game against LFC and sit 7th in the league with a blueprint of their game play finally starting to deliver on the pitch.

That 'Inspired' Ferguson appointment

Defeat to Bournemouth brought the three game winning streak to an early end massively denting hopes of challenging for top 4. Level on points before the game with the cherries who now leapfrog Manchester United to 7th position. Gap of 6 points has already opened up between the top 4 and the chasing pack while MUFC lag leaders Liverpool FC by 18 points after just 11 games in 10th position. 13 points from 11 games is the worst start to a season for MUFC since 1986-87 which saw the sacking of Ron Atkinson and appointment of Sir Alex Ferguson on 6th November, 33 years ago.

Travel for four straight away games and the gutsy conditions needed a freshening up of the squad in Greenwood and Chong nor the alternatives to Scott McTominay were explored by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Brandon Williams merits starting in pacey Premier League while Ashley Young can be used in slower European competitions reversing the policy employed thus far. With Fred and McTominay faring very very poorly in distribution of forward passes the proven Harry Maguire can play as a sweeper in a three man back line to supplement this weakness in midfield.

Sir Alex Ferguson not only led Aberdeen to break the Old Firm hegemony in Scotland but won in Europe beating the mighty Real Madrid in Cup Winners Cup final. Ten trophies in eight and a half years at Pittodrie! At United he faced myriad problems from drinking culture, injuries to major players, poor recruitment that hired mavericks not specialists, scouting and coaching setup. First four seasons were spent correcting those foundations finishing 11th, 2nd, 11th and 13th then trophies followed with FA Cup being the first in 1990. That was the first match from which I started my journey as an MUFC fan while listening on the BBC Radio.

Sir Alex Ferguson had heard from his mentor Jock Stein about his regret of not taking up an offer to succeed Sir Matt Busby which left a deep impression on him. The MUFC board that included Sir Bobby Charlton did not want a repeat of that situation the nor public refusal from Lawrie McMenemy, Bobby Robson, Ron Saunders to succeed Dave Sexton in 1981 and hence met Ferguson a day before sacking Ron Atkinson following a 1-4 defeat in a Cup replay away to Southampton and were 19th in the league(3 Wins, 6 Loss, 4 Draws from 13 games, 10 points). On taking charge Ferguson the optimist said "It's no use me coming here and not thinking that every game we play we can win, that's the only way that we can attack things." Once the enormity of task dawned on him Ferguson said "No manager is prepared for the job at Old Trafford. The legend is huge." and rolled up his sleeves.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has started a similar journey but based on his modest success with Molde in Norwegian league and a resounding failure with Cardiff in the Premier League. He understands the club very well being a legend who scored that goal to win the Treble in 1999. Thread bare squad with eight injured players makes the difficult task improbable.

The fans cannot expect midfield domination so long a staple of MUFC with Paddy Crerand, Ray Wilkins, Bryan Robson, Roy Keane and Micheal Carrick down the years. Solskjaer like Mourinho plays on the counter attack based on the players at his disposal while developing the young Scott McTominay and others. MUFC have an inferior squad compared to Leicester City, Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur let alone the top two but have a very high wage bill that exposes the massive expectation gap. The baggage of incredibly successful history can weigh down or inspire a new evolution of youth rightly being promoted by Solskjaer.

Three away wins last week acts like a tonic to relieve immediate stress but a complete cure needs a longer run and sufficient time to heal. He needs to mix long term corrections with short term fixes perhaps in January transfer window to ensure the club finishes in top 8 if not in top 6. That requires turning defeats into draws or coming from behind to win a game which is a phenomenon yet to happen this season. Key to Solskjaer's next milestone is for the team to demonstrate that 'never say die' spirit else the tame surrender will only yield one result that of another managerial scalp.

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.

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