Showing posts with label Daniel James. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Daniel James. Show all posts

In defense of Solskjaer

Manchester United have lost three and drawn one of their first four home games this season. An unacceptable record in any year but the pandemic keeping fans away from attending matches has made a huge difference. These match going die-hard fans who have shown broader perspective to support the team and Solskjaer through thick and thin, and their absence has clearly hurt not just United but many big clubs across Europe this season. Its not unrealistic to summon the spirit of Stretford End to chase teams down and hunt for goals, but misses the spontaneity of fans to respond in their own characteristic way to the changing ebb and flow of the game to the benefit of their team by modulating their vocal chords as if in a symphony. Artificial Intelligence has still some way to go to compensate for that.

Is it simply a case of United unable to dictate play at home unlike playing on the counter away? Tactically Solskjaer has come under lot of scrutiny to be not cognizant of the fact that an underprepared team due to lack of pre-season and given the size of the squad at his disposal did not do enough to protect the team early on. In a results driven business this has taken the gloss away from completing a milestone of 100 games in charge with the defeat at home to Arsenal a first in 14 years! Records seem to tumble more than be created in a positive sense these days. Busy set of schedules ahead and with two weeks of preparation that Solskjaer has so far made good use of to bounce back stronger from an international break, will see United through against West Bromwich Albion this weekend although recently they've had good record at Old Trafford with three wins in last five.

Trophy-less in last three years since the UEFA cup triumph in May, 2017 under Jose Mourinho is a valid cause for concern but overlooks the achievement of finishing 3rd to qualify for the Champions' League which guarantees more revenue that foreign owners brutally demand. Solskjaer has cleared the dressing room of deadwood reducing the wage-bill and make the squad more younger that has seen the emergence of Mason Greenwood, Brandon Williams and Axel Tuanzebe. The youth setup has been revamped which was totally neglected before, to rightly put impetus back on club's core philosophy of being the best club in the world to promote home grown players. These changes hasn't been easy to bring about whilst maintaining a sense of calm and positivity unlike the acrimonious changes under Tommy Docherty and Jose Mourinho.

Task to take United back to the top becomes almost impossible when dominant rivals confirm the extension of their famous coach's tenure. Cup competitions provide the only hope of silverware again this season. Unlike the modern day coach's, Solskjaer remains a manager in the classical sense and that does seem to have its limitations to apply instantaneous changes to impact the game tactically and relies on his staff to carry out detailed training regimen. Decision to play Bruno Fernandes as number 10 has paid off, relegating highly influential World Cup winner Paul Pogba to the bench. His powerful agent Mino Raiola had caused huge embarrassment to the club lambasting them on many occasions in the past. Club betraying the traditions of Busby and Ferguson backed the player who was world's most marketable player at the time instead of serial winner across four countries. Will Pogba's departure become Solskjaer's first bitter experience of his reign remains to be seen? What's become unquestionable is the impact Bruno Fernandes' has had in a very short space of time such that he will certainly be crucial to not just Solskjaer's survival but his longevity as United manager. More importantly fans would like to see the return of the famous United swagger to outclass opponents under a true leader like Bruno Fernandes.

Tottenham and Leicester have vastly improved this season reducing the chances of United finishing in the top four significantly thus increasing the pressure on Solskjaer. Next three matches against West Brom, Southampton and West Ham are crucial to get points before difficult set of fixtures start from the derby with City, United then face Sheffield United away (last year it ended 3-3 after United rallied from 0-2 down to score 3 goals in 7 minutes and ultimately draw), Leeds United, Leicester City and Wolves this year. Pandemic has meant clubs are less than willing to sack their manager to incur further losses in terms of severance pay that runs into millions. December 1st week has been the marker for that and in this season Slaven Bilic in the opposing dugout has emerged as the favourite for becoming the first managerial casualty this season. Progression in the Champions' League group stage will act as a cover for Solskjaer to make the push upwards from lowly 14th place with a game in hand.

Ideally this match would be well suited for Solskjaer to try playing his three best midfielders together in Fernandes-Pogba-van de Beek against West Brom but the lack of victory at home will intensify the need to ensure a win no matter what by playing Fred and McTominay. Fans hope McTominay would carry the momentum from being part of Scotland's incredible run to qualify for a major tournament since 1998 World Cup. Injury to Luke Shaw will mean a first start for Alex Telles and probably Axel Tuanzebe starting ahead of doubtful Victor Lindelof. Daniel James had a great international break scoring for Wales which will bring him back into reckoning. Clamor for him to move on loan is unwarranted as he can learn directly under Juan Mata at United more than anywhere else. His game management considering his age needs to be relooked at by Solskjaer. Structural changes being mostly done its these tiny but crucial adjustments that might turn the Norwegian's reign into a lasting success. Summer signings have added squad depth which was lacking for a long time. His toolset looks almost complete now with the exception of wingers. It's time to deliver on the pitch.

de Gea(GK), Wan-Bissaka, Telles, Tuanzebe, Maguire(C), McTominay, Fred, Fernandes, James, Martial, Rashford

Right players key to sustain top four and avoid bad start to new season

Biggest challenge for Manchester United will be to sustain top four finish that has NOT been achieved since the last season of Sir Alex Ferguson in 2012-13, final league position since then offers pessimistic outlook for upcoming season. Coupled with relative inexperience of United first team against traditional top six rivals especially in a crammed fixtures next season pose additional challenges. FA have removed the replays in FA Cup and second-leg of League Cup semi-final to meet these demands. With such less recovery time between two seasons it becomes even harder for a young side to develop. United were without Martial, Pogba, Rashford, Shaw for long spells last season that saw them make their worst start to English League campaign in 33 years. Simple lesson will be to get the signings done before the pre-season starts to enable the squad integration disregarding the transfer window that stays open beyond 12th September. After the loss to Sevilla, Solskjaer had this to say: "We need to strengthen the squad depth because it's going to be a long season. We're going to keep pushing and keep demanding more of the players that we have, but still, we're looking to improve and it's a strange one. The league starts very quickly, but then the market is open for so long. So we've got to be both good, smart and clever."

2011-12: 2nd
2012-13: 1st
2013-14: 7th
2014-15: 4th
2015-16: 5th
2016-17: 6th
2017-18: 2nd
2018-19: 6th
2019-20: 3rd
2020-21: ?

Tifo football who are one of the earliest proponents of using data science in football came out with their suggestions: Jadon Sancho at ring wing, Ibrahim Sangare at defensive midfield, Moussa Niakhate at left centre-back.


Statman Dave who was previewed by United's twitter account for their game against Copenhagen has suggested five players: Jadon Sancho at right wing, Alex Telles as left back, Dwight McNeil as inverted winger, Gabriel Magalheas as left centre-back, Declan Rice as defensive midfield

One player who might already be challenging David de Gea for number 1 jersey will be Dean Henderson and is due to sign a new long term deal. He might play in the Cup competitions and few pre-season games to enable him to settle down quickly at Old Trafford. Solskjaer had already hinted he can't keep three top keepers happy at the same time! Sergio Romero enters the final year of his contract and might be surplus to requirements.
Will Jadon Sancho be Manchester United's first 100 million pound signing? This summer represents their best chance at landing the Englishman due to the travails of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus, Man City leaving United in sole charge to home-in on the brightest winger in the world with 15 assists and 15 goals already that is only matched by Lionel Messi across the top 5 European leagues! Transfer of this magnitude does have its own complications like the image rights, agents fee, intermediaries, sponsorship, medicals. United look to finally break the hoodoo over their iconic number 7 jersey that's maligned ever since a Liverpudlian Owen wore it. Its four years since United broke their transfer record to sign Paul Pogba for 89 million pounds. Sancho is key to reducing the 33 point gap with champions of last season. United must not let Kai Havertz deal have any influence on deal with Sancho, it might be a smokescreen to push the prices up. With the world economy in recession due to the pandemic and United committed to serve its community, club may deem it extravagant to spend 100 million on a single player and pull out of this transfer. Genuine fans will back the club. If Pogba can be a success on return to United so can Memphis Depay who has excelled consistently in a foreign league and acknowledged the past mistakes.

To fund the other targets to add squad depth United need to sell few of their players Lingard, Smalling, Pereira, Rojo, Jones, Dalot etc. Though Solskjaer remains a huge fan of Jack Grealish it seems impossible to have another massive outlay of 70 million factored in for this transfer window itself. Ironically that's the price West Ham have put on Declan Rice. Donny van de Beek continues to be linked from the famed Ajax academy at much cheaper valuation that might materialize only if the Spanish giants don't proceed with their established interest in the player. Alexis Sanchez is out that frees up the wage bill substantially. This is huge because that transfer screwed United's pay structure and created squad unrest... in short went against everything that 'team sport' is supposed to mean.


To balance these astronomical signings Solskjaer has already inducted academy graduates in pacey 18 year old centre-back Teden Mengi and 19 year old right-back Ethan Laird into the first team as part of Europa League campaign. If James Garner and Dylan Levitt go out on loan like Tahith Chong then United would need to sign at least one back-up midfielder.

Will Maguire have another injury free campaign? United have mostly tended to pursue targets who are least risk option like Maguire or Wan-Bissaka and pay huge transfer fee. Can #MUFC enlist a marquee player entering later years of their contracts from top clubs across Europe like Alessio Romagnoli from AC Milan or David Alaba of Bayern Munich. Romagnoli has already captained Milan and is represented by Mino Raiola as his agent who is due to discuss Paul Pogba's new deal shortly. Another option is Dayot Upamecano who had a consistent season with RB Leipzig including a stellar performance against Atletico Madrid but has just signed a new three year contract diminishing the chances of a transfer this season.
United should continue acquiring best young players like Daniel James from the Championship after his successful first season, initially as a backup. Centre-back Joe Rodon from Swansea or Joe Worrall from Nottingham Forest or Benoît Badiashile from Monaco, left-back Fode Ballo-Toure from Monaco or Rico Henry from Brentford, defensive midfielder Kalvin Phillips from Leeds United or Boubakary Soumaré from Lille or Sandro Tonali from Brescia or Florentino Luis from Benfica or Michał Karbownik from Legia Warsaw, to name a few.

The notion if #SackWoodward is set trending by end of this week transfers will happen next week is wrong. Next week players return for pre-season training after just two weeks rest and that is when evidently deals mostly conclude at United. Sounds absurd but it's unfortunately true. All transfer actions starts from the first week of September giving Solskjaer and coaching staff very less time to prepare for new season. There was no expectation that United would now go on to make smart signings by not paying huge transfer fees as the director of football with considerably reduced role and data analysts have not yet been hired. To establish United again as a top four team and avoid the horrible start to a new season does require the club to get the right players identified by Solskjaer. Last season's signings have proved the doubters wrong and Solskjaer has brought optimism, belief back to Old Trafford.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

Lacking the decisive second goal

Barring the opening day win over Chelsea, MUFC have failed to score more than 1 goal in 4 of the 5 matches played in the English Premier League. One of the familiar problems still haunting the club more than 6 years after Sir Alex Ferguson left. Scott McTominay has earned the right to be the mainstay ahead of Matic, while his partners in the engine room have constantly changed. Paul Pogba when fit is the first pick. The 3rd slot has been up for grabs and Fred against Leicester when he came on as a substitute might have done enough to keep it in the short term. Fred missed majority of the pre-season to be considered for the first team selection. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer retaining the Brazilian speaks about the faith in which he is held by the coaching staff. Unless McTominay-Pogba-Fred tick Ole will have to re-consider his preferred 4-3-3 formation with the players he has at his disposal.

Andreas Pereira hit a good free kick and got into good positions but his final touch lacked composure. Consistent run of games might help Pereira to sort it out. Juan Mata by his own standards was disappointing and the removal of Nemanja Matic lifted the handle on the brakes to attack. Fans have been screaming for Angel Gomes to be involved in the first team following his great form with the reserves. The Europa Cup mid-week game against Astana and League Cup against Rochdale later this month provides Ole with the opportunity. Ole will have to manage the young Daniel James and not wear him out. Right of the front three is a concern as Martial, Rashford and James having a preference for the left.

Injury to Pogba and Martial the defense stood out to sustain the early one goal lead into a victory. De Gea made a fantastic save and MUFC have the 2nd clean sheet at home already this season which equals the tally for whole of last season. Those two clean sheets last season were in a draw while the ones this time around are in victories! That's another turnaround.

James Maddison linked with a possible move in footsteps of Harry Maguire had a decent game. His shot saved by David De Gea after he got the better of Victor Lindelof. How he handles the limelight of being linked with MUFC and drafted into the England team setup will be crucial. Bruno Fernandes might come into reckoning finally as continues to impress with excellent stats in the new season if he holds the ball better and improves his pass percentage. Playing well for Portugal against top sides might decide his fate, esp that win against Netherlands to lift the inaugural Nations League in June. Portugal face leaders Ukraine in the next round of qualifiers for Euro 2020. If MUFC do sign a player in January it might be either and not both. With Wolves struggling this season there might be an possibility to tempt Ruben Neves, while Aston Villa might only agree to sell John McGinn if he stays on for rest of this season at Villa Park. Very early for January transfer speculation.

After Leicester City its the turn of another challenger for top 6 in West Ham who under Manuel Pellegrini have transformed the team with shrewd transfers. Almost a year ago at the London Stadium witnessed the unraveling of Jose Mourinho reign with a horrific 1-3 loss. That team was in complete disarray while for Ole this game against Leicester brought the best 'team performance'. MUFC are yet to win on the road this season and West Ham will offer a stiff challenge with Issa Diop for whom a bid was made will try to justify his undoubted talent, Manuel Lanzini is revitalized after injury and Sebastien Haller has had a great start after his move from Eintracht Frankfurt.

Incidentally its the U23 teams of Manchester United and West Ham who are vying for the top spot in the Professional Development League standings.

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