Showing posts with label David Moyes. Show all posts
Showing posts with label David Moyes. Show all posts

United dominate opposition after years in doldrums

Manchester United totally bossed the game with 28 shots 10 on-target against 3rd placed Antonio Conte's Tottenham Hotspur who were also 6-points ahead. Casemiro, Eriksen or Fred, and Fernandes have given United the impetus to dictate the game and set the tempo. Brazilian duo Casemiro and Fred battled against Spurs while Eriksen was brought back in to partner Casemiro after being unwell to totally outclass Chelsea in the first half at Stamford Bridge yesterday to draw 1-1. United for their dominance should have at least scored one goal in 1st half from three clear cut chances created. Casemiro's imperious header sealed a point in 3rd minute of injury time after going behind in 87th minute through a penalty clumsily given away by McTominay. Scotsman's strike in injury time was enough to beat Omonia Nicosia 1-0 in Europa League. It was United's first injury time winner in European competition since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's stunning goal to win the 1999 Champions' League over Bayern Munich. Fergie time is back in the reckoning!

Erik ten Hag has clearly brought back team spirit and sense of purpose with a clear vision of how to play. He has now demonstrated the complete 'control' of footballing side of the club, a trait as outlined by Sir Alex Ferguson as the most important inorder to restore the club back to its glory days. David de Gea has started to come off the blocks to stop opponents from creating a chance while Luke Shaw is re-energised creating a healthy competition with Tyrell Malacia. Diogo Dalot is a constant presense with his keen footballing brain while Lisandro Martinez adds street-fighter mentality missing since Steve Bruce, Jaap Stam and Nemanja Vidic days. Raphaeal Varane is able to balance the unit by organising it to face the threats like a leader by accelerating at key stages to clear the danger that Harry Maguire has not been able to in recent past. Defense has provided a strong foundation and now midfield is starting to dominate and create chances but the Forward line has yet to click to convert the dominance into easy victories.

Four games in nine days: 1-0 over Nicosia at home, 0-0 vs Newcastle at home, 2-0 at home to Tottenham and 1-1 away at Chelsea. Cristiano Ronaldo started in first two games, refused to come on as a sub in the game against Spurs in a clear case of misjudjement on his part, and was rightly suspended by the club for the match against Chelsea. This explosive incident did not disturb the cohesion in the dressing room and the togetherness of the squad was on display in the reaction to scoring the equaliser in injury time. Ronaldo unsettled, Martial often injured, Greenwood remains suspended; this leaves Marcus Rashford as the only fit and proper centre-forward. Anthony Elanga was preferred by Rangnick came on as a sub against Chelsea while Alejandro Garnacho was on the bench but unused as his contract talks have not progressed. United need to play three more games before the World Cup and a further 24 games in English Premier League has to be played after the event in Qatar. United should not be in such a precarious position in the forward department.

United board are constrained by the excess spent of £20 million each on the Ajax duo Martinez and Anthony that will hamper efforts to buy a top striker in January like Victor Osimhen. Osimhen will not leave Napoli in the middle of the season especially when they are on top of Serie A and top of their group in Champions' League including Ajax against whom they scored 10 goals in two games! Joao Felix at Atletico Madrid is not getting enough game time this season due to presence of Greizemann and Morata but Felix is more of a second striker than an out and out striker with a price north of £65 million. Rafael Leao of AC Milan has to be ruled out as he predominantly plays off the left of front three or on left wing. Christopher Nkunku of RB Leipzig appears to have agreed to join Chelsea next summer. Benjamin Sesko of RB Salzburg remains a promising option aged only 19 which rules him out from being a first team starter in case of injury to Rashford. Jonathan David of Lille is on an upward steady trajectory in last three seasons and carries major goal scoring responsibility for his team. Part of the squad that qualified for World Cup with Canada as winners of their group and scored 9 goals. Approx £40 million is the valuation for both Jonathan David and Ivan Toney; the former looks slightly better prospect than Ivan Toney, 26 of Brentford who already plays in Premier League with a call up for England National team recently.

United must sign either Jonathan David or Ivan Toney in January transfer window else risk losing top four and repeat last season's mistake when Ralf Rangnick was not allowed to sign a striker as Greenwood was initally suspended late in the window and wantaway Anthony Martial was loaned to Sevilla. Rangnick alerted United to availability of Dusan Vlahovic, Christopher Nkunku, Darwin Nunez, Julian Alvarez. United lost last six away matches to finish 13 points adrift of 4th place scoring only two goals. As Rashford emerged under Louis van Gaal, Mason Greenwood under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Anthony Elanga under Ralf Rangnick, the fans were expecting to see Alejandro Garnacho promoted. The Argentinian was part of 33-man squad in March, 2022 but has not yet played for the senior squad. Erik ten Hag has been consistently picking him in the first team squad but not given game time. Forward line of Rashford, Osimhen, David and Elanga or Garnacho would be the expectation for next season.

United this season have beaten Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham at home, losing to City away and drawing to Chelsea away. Good home record is the essential base for a solid finish and eventual title challenge in a few seasons given the high standards of City. Erik ten Hag has handled the situation around Cristiano Ronaldo firmly yet respectfully. United finally have a midfield in Casemiro, Eriksen, Fernandes and Fred to play on their strengths and not take counter-attacking route which was used too often in recent past especially under Solskjaer. Eriksen has no backup as yet and thus the interest in Frenkie de Jong while Donny van de Beek has missed most of the season through injury. Erik ten Hag has seen out a tough set of fixtures in first eleven games, while 20 points and 5th position is the same as David Moyes at this stage of the seaon, the Dutchman has evolved a clear playing style that dictates the player selection and a much better squad to chose from. United are back... but here is the World Cup in the middle of the season and risk of injuries to players that can yet derail the season!

Erik ten Hag presentation

Manchester United suffered their 12th loss in the last match of 2021-22 English Premier League season 0-1 to Crystal Palace and finished with lowest points tally in EPL history with just 58 points that is 35 points adrift of the champions City. Goal difference was a perfect naught with only 57 goals scored thanks mainly to Cristiano Ronaldo's 18 and conceded as high as 57 goals placing the club 12th in goals against. United lost 5 of their last 8 matches ceding 16 goals as Ralf Rangnick era quaked to a meltdown due to player's apathy. Sensing the urgency of the situation Erik ten Hag rightly decided to advance his joining date, got his two assistants on board - Mitchell van der Gaag and Steve McClaren, and even attended the Palace game in London. The Dutchman formally took charge the very next day on 23rd May after the final matchday and was presented to the media.

Erik ten Hag sounded confident and methodical in his explanation having won his 3rd Eredivisie title in 4 years with Ajax Amstredam. On next steps he said "What we are now doing is first constructing the staff, constructing the squad and constructing a good plan. First it's the pre-season plan that we are now working on." His remit from the club was clear "They have to set conditions and I have to work with my squad to achieve success." and demands from a big club like Manchester United "We want to win every game, so we go from game to game and then we will see." with some big name players "But it is always players who dictate the way of play. I have the ideal, I will line up my best team, and I will line up my players like that to get the best out of them."

He simply had to sound ebullient when asked if the dominance of Klopp-Guardiola can come to an end before they leave? "I think, yes." After the worst season in 30 years the fans hope the only way is up and he echoed that "Although it is a fantastic history, the reason is there is a high potential for the future. That's why I am here." Most stinging criticism came from the first Dutch manager of Manchester United Louis van Gaal when he branded it as "commercial club" and hoped ETH will not join them. ETH naturally rejected that "I draw my own line and I’m convinced that is not the case. I spoke to the directors about it and football is one, two, three these days. Every club these days is commercial. Every club needs it. To be successful you need to do what is necessary, but football is one, two three in this club.”

Most important information that came out was his sharp dismissal of Ralf Rangnick's consultancy role and he simply cut the answer short "That is on the club." and refused to elaborate any further. Days later first it was Rangnick after being unveiled as Austria manager announced that he will end his role at United. "We have come to the conclusion that it is better for me and the club to concentrate fully on the Austrian national team. I cancelled the consultancy contract." Rangnick didn't salvage the situation at United rather added fuel to the fire with claims of board not backing him to recruit a striker in January after Mason Greenwood was ruled out. Fans do thank him for exposing the club but that situation cannot continue for long without becoming untenable. 

ETH distanced himself from Rangnick's conclusion of the club needing upto 10 new players after 0-9 thrashing over two legs by their biggest domestic rivals Liverpool, by harking back to era under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer "I am still in the process of analysing...The season before, this squad was second in the league, so there is huge potential." This perhaps gives a clue that despite United losing 6 experienced players whose contract expire this summer and central midfield positions still vacant that there will not be any wholesale changes but rather a evolution in squad. This dampened the spirits of many leading broadsheets who gave a pessimistic reading of ETH presentation. The Telegraph opined "New Manchester United manager deserves time to prove he won't be remembered as Erik Ten Months" while The Times were more considerate "Straight-talking Erik ten Hag will take no nonsense at Manchester United."

ETH has started work 5-weeks early compared to David Moyes who consequently failed to add any significant players to the ageing squad that had won the league in previous season. ETH is bringing in a known hand in Steve McClaren while Moyes failed to persuade Rene Muelensteen to stay while disbanding rest of Sir Alex Ferguson's formidable backroom staff. Richard Arnold and John Murtough have a new setup taking shape after a string of departures in Jim Lawlor the chief scout, Marcel Bout head of global scouting, Matt Judge director of football negotiations, Hemen Tseayo chief strategy officer and Ed Woodward the chief executive. This can be a boon for ETH to push through his requests or a bane if the new hierarchy cannot deliver the transfers in time for the pre-season - a deadline crucial for the new manager. Manchester United appointed Andy O'Boyle as Deputy Director of Football reporting to John Murtough, and like Murtough himself O'Boyle joins from Premier League's head of elite performance. This puts an end to the rumours of links with Paul Mitchell who has signed on for another season at AS Monaco or Luis Campos who has joined Paris St Germain.

Best piece of advise came from the gaffer Sir Alex Ferguson "Well, I hope he does well because the club needs someone to get in control. I hope he does well, yeah." No Dutch manager has won the English Premier League title yet(Guus Hiddink, Louis van Gaal, Dick Advocaat, Martin Jol, Ruud Gulit, Ronald Koeman, Rene Muelensteen, Frank de Boer) and that's a stiff challenge for ETH in itself. David Moyes flew to Thailand for pre-season so will ETH in July but hope history does not repeat itself any further.

Erik ten Hag it is!

David Ornstein of the Athletic broke the news of Manchester United having reached a verbal agreement with Erik ten Hag to become their next permanent manager. United had considered a four man shortlist for the job that included Mauricio Pochettino of PSG, Julien Lopetegui of Sevilla and Luis Enrique the Spanish national team coach. It was a dead heat between ten Hag and Pochettino after the other two ruled themselves out and in the online twitter poll that Gary Neville conducted the Dutchman was the overwhelming fans favourite by 82:18 margin while most of ex-United players backed the Argentine. Pochettino was strongly rumoured to take over from Louis van Gaal after meeting Sir Alex Ferguson in May, 2016 and has been linked with United job ever since. Erik ten Hag is seen as more steady with his stock on the rise while Pochettino had a difficult season at PSG with superstar players.

Erik ten Hag will be the second Dutch manager at United after Louis van Gaal, and

  • at 52 years of age would be around the same age as when Jose Mourinho took over in 2016
  • with a 4-years contract is the second lengthiest after Moyes' 6-years in post Ferguson era
  • he was assistant to former Sir Alex Ferguson assistant Steve McClaren at FC Twente in 2008 and McClaren could return to United if ten Hag wants
  • perhaps the first defender in his playing days to manage United since 1946 and played for FC Twente in 3 stints winning the Dutch Cup in 2001. All other previous United managers were either wing halfs or forwards as players.
  • None of the previous managers after Ferguson have even last 3 years. Gaffer used to say it takes 4 years to have all XI starting players of ones choice.

His best moment came in 2018-19 season in Champions' League when Ajax defeated Real Madrid who were attempting to win 4th straight trophy, by 4-1 and at Santiago Bernabeu with Dusan Tadic getting a perfect 10 score for his performance in that match! Ajax then beat Juventus in quater-finals but lost to Tottenham managed by Pochettino in semis in 96th minute. That season Ajax won Eredivisie for the first time in 5 years! United have not won the league since 2013. Both clubs have good academies and Erik ten Hag is known to bring players through. Despite losing most of his brightest young players he not only created a new winning team and won Eredivisie again in 2020-21 but changed the style, from false 9 and inverted wingers to out-an-out number 9 with wingers. In this seasons Champions' League Ajax won all 6 of their group stage matches against Borussia Dotmund, Sporting Lisbon and Besiktas but lost in the knock-out phase to Benfica with Darwin Nunez, a target for United to replace Edinson Cavani scoring the winner. In the knock-out phases ten Hag has had more favourable results away than at home at the Amstredam Arena.

At United the Glazers love big name players like Paul Pogba, Cristiano Ronaldo who generate lot of social media buzz. Hope Joel Glazer, Richard Arnold and John Murtough understand that they would need to stand by their manager in any event of a contest with those big name players. If they repeat the stance they took against Jose Mourinho they will help repeat the chaos of last 9 years not rectify it. Having understood the setup first-hand Ralf Rangnick can play a crucial role to ease Erik ten Hag who has thrived under director of football at Ajax but the structure at United is still vague with most decisions deferred to Glazers. Stadium re-development plans having been initiated the board must ensure that does not drain the resources for investment in the first team. Board must act quickly to get the transfers done early in order for Erik ten Hag to have a full pre-season(Thailand and Australia) to mould the squad that failed previously to adapt to Rangnick's 4-2-2-2 itself. He often stresses on a particular trait "creating space for others with off-the ball runs" which United players can only embrace in training. Incidentally lack of standard 'training'  was one of the major issues pointed out by players about the regime of Solskjaer and Rangnick, with ten Hag that will be firmly resolved.

After an underwhelming season a host of United players are nearing their end of contracts(6) which will clear the squad for a rebuild - exit of Paul Pogba, Edinson Cavani, Nemanja Matic, Jesse Lingard, Juan Mata, Lee Grant should free up the wage bill enomously. Under utilized players(3) like Dean Henderson, Eric Bailly, Phil Jones and decide the futures of players returning from loan(7) like Donny van de Beek, Anthony Martial, Axel Tuanzebe, Andeas Pereira, Tahith Chong, Amad, Facundo Pellistri. Thats easily about 12 players as Amad and Pellistri are highly rated youngsters! One player most thrilled by this appointment will be Donny van de Beek. Crucial will be to bring in 4 to 5 young and hungry players to spruce up the squad and not repeat the mistake made under Moyes where only Fellaini and Mata were brought in. Availability of Anthony Elanga and James Garner will be of tremendous help. While the biggest question is not the future of Cristiano Ronaldo but of Mason Greenwood and especially if he cannot play regularly next season United will have to prioritize the signing of a forward like Darwin Nunez urgently.

Based on available resource Erik ten Hag has modified the team's style of play at Ajax. At United will Harry Maguire be able to play a high defensive line? Will the handicap of McTominay and Fred be finally over? Luke Shaw's defensive liability be tolerated? Over reliance on Bruno Fernandes be reduced? Struggling Marcus Rashford regain his form? Chose between David de Gea or Dean Henderson? Problems of plenty but lacking the ability to control the game from midfield. A single high profile signing of Declan Rice or combination of Reuben Neves, Aurelien Tchouameni, Amadou Haidara, Yves Bissouma or Kalvin Phillips. On a positive note Erik tan Hag can in the future look to pick from players who have reached the FA Youth Cup finals in Alejandro Garnacho, Charlie McNeil, Kobbie Mainoo, Daniel Gore, Marc Juardo, Rhys Bennett et al, an option and quality in such numbers unavailable to most of his predecessors as United's previous final was in 2011.

United move from having the guru of Jurgen Klopp in Ralf Rangnick as interim manager to former assistant to Pep Guardiola at Bayern Munich where he trained the players to be ready for the first team while playing in the same style. Tottenham's ascent to 4th spot with the best manager available then in Antonio Conte proves yet again that it is the singlemost important appointment at a football club. Guardiola, Klopp, Tuchel and Conte all but fortifying the top 4 the best that can be expected of ten Hag is 5th place finish next season but importantly a clear style of play with Manchester United DNA.

Disappointing season finale

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer remains in the company of Wilf McGuiness, Frank O'Farrell, Dave Sexton and David Moyes as trophy-less post war manager of Manchester United after fumbling against minnows Villareal in the UEFA Cup final in Gdansk. Final took place on a historic day, 26th May synonymous in United folklore with birthday of Sir Matt Busby and victory over Bayern Munich to complete the treble in 1999 under Sir Alex Ferguson. Solskjaer has managed to finish in top four in last two successive seasons a feat not achieved since retirement of Ferguson, and improved upon four semi-final losses by claiming his first runners-up medal. Progress seems labored and sluggish at best, aided by rivals Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur having a bad season at the same time!

Transfer spending has not been a problem despite criticism of Glazer ownership as Solskjaer has spent heavily on Harry Maguire (80m), Aaron Wan-Bissaka (50m), Daniel James (15m), Bruno Fernandes (67m), Edinson Cavani (free), Alex Telles (18m), Amad Diallo (37m), Facundo Pellistri (9m) totaling a staggering 276 million pounds in two and half years. Style of play still does not reflect the DNA of the club which is well-known to Solskjaer and over reliance on Bruno Fernandes who again won player of the season award for two straight seasons. In contrast flamboyant Ron Atkinson with star signing Bryan Robson won two FA Cups in '83 and '85 while Solskjaer meekly surrendered opportunities against Chelsea in semi-final last year and to winners Leicester City in quarter-finals this year. Outwitted by Sevilla in last year's UEFA Cup semi-finals and in league Cup semi-finals by Pep Guardiola's City for two straight season's. On that previous evidence the loss to 7th placed team Villareal in Spanish La Liga in Gdansk albeit on penalties was not a surprise.

As a player who is fondly remembered for his goal scoring exploits off the bench as a substitute being dubbed 'super sub', Solskjaer the manager is the anti-thesis with inflexibility and lacking plan B. Many point to his bench strength arguing about its depth but the same lot fail to acknowledge that unbeaten away from home record this past season was sustained mainly due to changes introduced in second half in Cavani and Greenwood being 3rd and 4th choice strikers behind Martial and Rashford. United had a brilliant shot stopper in Sergio Romero (released at the end of his contract after 6 years on 04-June) on their books but could not use him as he wasn't anywhere near the squad all season despite earning huge salary. Romero was the keeper when United lifted their only UEFA Cup trophy under Jose Mourinho in 2017 with Valencia, Smalling, Blind, Darmian, Herrera, Mata, Fellaini, Pogba, Mkhitaryan and Rashford. Eight of those have moved on in such a short space of time and replaced by more vaunted players like de Gea in goal, Shaw, Maguire (was injured replaced by Bailly), Lindelof, Wan-Bissaka, McTominay, Pogba, Greenwood, Fernandes, Rashford and Cavani. The result in 2021 was poor but it puts the spotlight clearly on the manager unable to pack a punch let alone punch above.

Fiasco over Super League flirtation will force the Glazers to spend more than usual this summer. That will directly increase the pressure on Solskjaer to deliver next season. In this context a new 3-year deal for Solskjaer seems unlikely to be completed while his existing one enters its final year. An extension sounds more prudent. Solskjaer's repeated assertions about being a man-manager than a coach raises doubts about his present backroom staff which might need augmenting. Assistant manager Mike Phelan, a former United player was crucial to the initial days of success under Ferguson and later his trusted assistant, Michael Carrick and Kieran McKenna are relatively early in their respective coaching careers, Martyn Pert is the latest addition credited with Fred's turnaround and Richard Hartis who is back as goal-keeping coach. Addition of former United defender Michael Clegg as head of strength and conditioning has resulted in lesser injuries to players this season, he now occupies the same position in coaching set-up that his father once did. Bizarrely Mourinho hasn't yet won a trophy without his former assistant Rui Faria when they last lifted that UEFA Cup for United. Rui Faria is yet to sign a contract with any club since he left Al-Duhail SC while Steve Cooper at Swansea prefers 4-2-3-1 like Solskjaer and Carlos Corberan has stabilized Huddersfield Town in his first full season in the championship. Meanwhile United academy under Nick Cox have made an excellent appointment in Justin Cochrane former England U-17s coach to replace Nicky Butt as Head of Player Development.

Credit to Solskjaer for finishing second and go unbeaten away from home for the first time in Manchester United history in a Covid-19 impacted season. Without proper rest between seasons for players and no pre-season either the team got off to horrific start with 3 defeats in first six games claiming 15th position. Tottenham Hotspur coached by Jose Mourinho inflicted joint heaviest defeat 1-6 at Old Trafford that made Solskjaer to fixate Mc(Tominay)-Fred in midfield for majority of games stifling creativity and Donny van de Beek's chances. Not the 9-0 win over Southampton but beating Leeds United 6-2 on their return to top-flight was the best match of the season. Bruno Fernandes' goal against Everton in an Eric Cantona manner was easily goal of the season. Loss to Istanbul Basaksehir away was the low point of the season leading to United crashing out of Champions' League group stage and failing to win any points from their last two group games against Thomas Tuchel managed Paris St Germain and Julian Nagelsmann managed RB Leipzig, both of whom went through. At one point in the season United's local rivals City were favourites for the quadruple until Chelsea under Thomas Tuchel not United stopped their juggernaut in FA Cup semi-final and Champions' League final respectively! Lost to Arsenal at Old Trafford for the 1st time in 15 years! United's joint biggest Premier League win (9-0 vs Saints) and loss (1-6 vs Spurs) occurred in the same season! United also continued to lose at least one match to relegated teams for 4th straight season, in a 1-2 loss to Sheffield United at home! Most bizarre match was 3-2 win over Brighton & Hove Albion with the penalty coming after the final whistle scored by Bruno Fernandes who ended the season as top goal-scorer with 28 goals.


Solskjaer deserves another season for rebooting the club as per its tradition of emphasis on youth development in an non-acrimonious manner unlike Jose Mourinho. Solskjaer did not get the players he requested last summer yet did not lose his composure unlike Mourinho and consequently the team still attacks mainly from the left via Luke Shaw or through Bruno Fernandes in the middle, and if this changes due to United finally getting a right winger like Jadon Sancho or Ousmane Dembele the impact can be huge. John Murtough the first director of football at United assisted by technical director Darren Fletcher will oversee their first transfer window (that opens on 9th June) since being appointed. They will be tempted by the prospect of availability of Cristiano Ronaldo and for sure that will appeal to the commercial side of United. Another tough one will be to convince Paul Pogba to sign a new contract as his present one enters its final year. Losing Pogba and not getting Ronaldo will seem like commercial disaster for Glazers especially Richard Arnold favourite in-house executive to replace Ed Woodward.

Declan Rice must be on top of their radar as McTominay and Fred do not create enough chances from midfield and confidence in Donny van de Beek is low. Maguire-Lindelof does not seem convincing to win the league as they lack speed and the absence of Maguire to injury exposed the lack of leadership that has made United to look at experienced player like Raphael Varane. Ben White is the best English bet to recover from high defensive line. Links to right-back Kieran Trippier who will turn 30 seems odd even though he is a Manchester lad while Max Aarons seems too pricey being in the right age profile. Player sales might generate considerable sum to augment the squad as likes of Jesse Lingard, Anthony Martial, Diogo Dalot, Eric Bailly, Nemanja Matic, Andreas Pereira, Phil Jones seem surplus to requirements but their high salary will remain a constraint to get a move. Juan Mata who has been a brilliant pro but will probably look to play more games in a less competitive league as his contract comes to an end this summer. James Garner on loan at Nottingham Forest and Teden Mengi on loan at Derby County were the two best prospects this season. Solskjaer handed senior debuts to Anthony Elanga, Shola Shoretire, Hannibal Mejbri and Will Fish.

Dave Sexton lost his job despite winning his last seven matches to finish eight in April 1981 but importantly he hadn't won a trophy in 4 years despite finishing second the season before and losing the FA Cup final in 1979. Solskjaer needs to be acutely aware of that! United are in their longest trophy drought in three decades (since 1985 to 1989) i.e., 4 years since beating Ajax in Stockholm.

Must win game for Solskjaer, again!

Manchester United travel to Goodison Park to play Everton after two defeats in two competitions, first a loss to Arsenal at home in Old Trafford after a gap of 14 years and secondly a least expected away loss at Istanbul the bottom side of group H in Champions' League that was shambolic. After a run of successive victories when Solskjaer took over, United suffered their biggest defeat of his first season at Goodison Park 0-4 mauling that made the Norwegian to rightly apologize to the fans "I just want to apologise to the fans. They're the only people with the badge on today who can hold their head high, because we can't." Just as now, and back then all criticism was directed at the players.

These defeats highlight the importance of Victor Lindelof, clearly if it wasn't for him United's loss to Arsenal would have been greater instead of being just 0-1. Suffering from a bad back he might miss this crucial game. David de Gea looks like he has regained his lost form, responding positively to induction of Dean Henderson becoming his deputy. Is Harry Maguire the right man to organize United's defense? Has he got the right protection in front of him? McTominay has industry not discipline, Fred is not a specialist central defensive midfield nor best in the world, while Nemanja Matic has lost his pace to play regularly.

Reactions on team selection seems to have gone to the head of Solskjaer. Donny van de Beek started after an intense backlash especially from Patrice Evra who questioned the rationale behind his purchase after spending more time on the bench. Ole Gunnar has persisted with both McTominay and Fred after the 1-6 defeat to Spurs, and removed not one but both of them at Istanbul after Paul Scholes told Premier League Productions "It’s as poor as I’ve seen Manchester United at Old Trafford to be honest with you. You have to give Arsenal credit, they were very good but on other hand you have to expect more from United and the two midfield players especially." Paul Pogba started again after a seemingly unexpected comment by Bruno Fernandes the talisman of last season's revival, but the Frenchman bizarrely few times quite clearly failed to pass to the most influential United player of recent times in Marcus Rashford. Fernandes said this after the Istanbul defeat that further raised eyebrows about the football management team responsible for running the club "We need to do much better, and we need to do something more than say 'Do something in the next game', because it will be a difficult game for us." 

Victory over Leipzig and Newcastle was huge but they came late in the second half. But Solskjaer again sounded overly optimistic when he said "It's not long ago we were the best thing since sliced bread, beating Leipzig and PSG. [You get] ups and downs in football. You've got to have belief." This followed an assertion from him that 3rd win of the season did not come until the 10th game last season easily forgetting that last season was the worst start to a United campaign in 33 years! 

Sir Alex Ferguson sounded out Pep Guardiola, Mauricio Pochettino, Jurgen Klopp and Jose Mourinho to be his successor but was unlucky to not get any of them to become the manager of Manchester United. Instead it was David Moyes. Then Louis van Gaal took over instead of Mauricio Pochettino and later Jose Mourinho instead of Carlo Ancelotti. With Solskjaer the heart is in the right place to restore United to its glory but the means seem missing like a structured consistent performance despite spending close to 250 million on squad overhaul. For the second straight season United have started badly to mount a challenge in the English Premier League that seems to throw up surprising results opening the competition up for many clubs to claim. United thus far seem unable to grab this opportunity, on the back of a delayed Europa League Cup that did not give the players adequate recovery time. Luckily United have a big squad to be able to cope especially the addition of Henderson, van be Beek and Telles add depth which wasn't there earlier. But the club knew this situation all along and still delayed the transfers to not help their man in charge. These are the minutiae that top coaches of the world in Mauricio Pochettino look at before choosing their next move.

United do have a good squad even if its not great like the top three of Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea, to eventually come good and climb the league table with a game in hand. Its these players who for the sake of their careers get going again. Else the upcoming break due to international fixtures might come to haunt Solskjaer. Jose Mourinho was sacked after losing away to Liverpool, today their neighbours Everton host United in a must win game for the Reds.

Opening day loss at home: how bad is that for United?

Just the second home loss to the start of the Premier League season for Manchester United. First was in 2014 under Louis van Gaal's first match in charge when United lost to Swansea 1-2 with captain Wayne Rooney's consolation strike while Ander Herrera made his debut and subsequently club signed Angel di Maria from Real Madrid who left after just one bad season. United finished 4th in the Dutchman's first season in charge improving from 7th under Moyes previously. Solskjaer had taken the team from 14th after the draw with Liverpool to 3rd in the last season but is a slow start warranted yet again?

Lost 1-3 to Crystal Palace in this seasons' opener. A much heaver defeat for Solskjaer than van Gaal with a much better squad though. Main reason is the lack of rest after a pandemic enforced break and subsequent lack of pre-season to bring players up to match fitness required for the demands of the grueling season. Paul Pogba was rushed back after just recuperating from corona virus. Donny van de Beek came on for Pogba looking sharp and scored a goal on debut. Did Scott McTominay provide enough protection for the defense? Perhaps van Gaal's honest assessment forced United's hand to break British transfer record for di Maria "To win the title this season would be a miracle. But that isn't to say that it isn't possible, I think the Glazer family understand this or I would not have accepted this job." Solskjaer hasn't said anything as striking for Glazers to act.

Prior to 2014 loss the next one was far back in 1972 season a 1-2 loss to Ipswich Town, that's 40 year proud unbeaten home record in between. Frank O'Farrell lost his job midway through that season after a nine-game winless streak at the start did not improve league position enough and United were hovering over the foot of the table ushering in the Tommy Docherty era. That unbeaten record withstood the changes in managers from Docherty(2 matches unbeaten in opening home fixtures), Sexton(2), Atkinson(4) to Ferguson(15). It is a blemish on Solskjaer's reign unfortunately especially since he is so steeped in United's rich history.

Absence of fans makes the loss less scathing but equally affects how tamely the team might respond. Would Solskjaer have used Timothy Fosu-Mensah, Scott McTominay and David James in front of fans at Old Trafford in the first match of the season? Is it a subtle dig at the Glazers to force Jadon Sancho transfer? Even Jose Mourinho managed to win both his two home games at the start of 2nd and 3rd year in charge. Could Solskjaer instead have taken advantage of not having fans to start with two defensive midfielders in order to neutralize the opposition before unleashing Greenwood for the last twenty minutes?

First away loss was in the inaugural Premier League season against Sheffield United 1-2 with Mark Hughes scoring the only goal and ultimately United went on to win their first league title after 26 years. Next one was against Aston Villa 1-3 when Sir Alex Ferguson introduced his fledglings that made Alan Hansen to say "you can't win anything with kids" that helped create a siege mentality to unite the squad winning their second double of Premier League and FA Cup. United lost 0-1 in 2004-05 to Chelsea under their new coach Jose Mourinho in his first match in the English Premier League. United finished 3rd and trophy-less that season. Injury hit squad were without both strikers in Ruud van Nistelrooy and Louis Saha while captain Roy Keane played as centre-half. Team: Howard, Silvestre, Gary Neville, Keane, Fortune, Miller, O'Shea, Djemba-Djemba, Giggs, Scholes

Solskjaer rightly pointed out that United must rebound quickly. They face Luton Town away in League Cup 3rd round on Tuesday wherein the squad will be much different than the one that faced Crystal Palace with Dean Henderson certain to make his debut in goal, before visiting Brighton & Hove Albion in the Premier League at the Amex Arena on Saturday. Amidst an exceptional season due to the pandemic form book goes out of the window more often and United must do their bit first to take advantage. League Cup can serve as a tough practice match as the Hatters defeated Derby County and Reading in their first two rounds, and help United regain their sharpness. Is giving important players a vacation one after another like Ferguson (Beckham, Scholes, Schmeichel) did during the treble winning season the answer? Due to Euro 2021 having been postponed to next summer, next season clubs might face the same issue? Hope Glazers understand that squad depth and rotation certainly helps before the transfer window closes.

Trust Solskjaer to take a call on De Gea

FA Cup semi-final 1-3 loss to Chelsea at Wembley was this season's worst performance - resting Pogba, changing a winning formation, tired players who didn't turn up and David de Gea's two howlers. Solskjaer needs to immediately get back to winning ways to secure the lucrative Champions' League spot. Last season United lost tamely to Wolves in FA Cup quarter-finals after a run of good results that effectively derailed the season winning just two of last nine games and missed top four finish.

Solskjaer set the stall of the press conference as soon question on David de Gea was raised "This is not going to become a David De Gea press conference, We're just going to stick together." Will David de Gea be dropped after a steady decline over last two years that culminated in the shambolic display last Sunday in London? Sir Alex Ferguson had a similar conundrum when his then main keeper Jim Leighton had a bad day in the 1990 FA Cup final drawing 3-3 with Crystal Palace when in fact the loss of form was glaring from 0-4 loss at Nottingham Forest earlier and two unconvincing displays against Oldham Athletic in semi-final that also needed a replay. To make the call for the final replay Ferguson watched Leighton's response to the loss which was "In the dressing-room afterwards I noticed Jim Leighton with his head in his hands, completely shattered. I went over and gave him a pat but received no response. He looked to me like a beaten man." recalled Ferguson in his finest autobiography 'Managing My Life' co-written with perhaps the best football writer ever Hugh McIlvanney.

Alternative the Argentine Sergio Romero only plays in secondary matches of Cups in League, FA Cup and Europa League even with about 59 games in 5 seasons does not warrant a start in an extremely important league match. Again going back Les Sealey who deputized brilliantly in place of Jim Leighton in the FA Cup final replay which United won 1-0, Ferguson recalls "Les was cocky and at times downright arrogant, so I did not foresee a failure of his nerve at Wembley. Was he a better goalkeeper than Jim? No." Appearances can be deceiving and language another barrier for foreign players but is Sergio Romero who has been capped 96 times for Argentina confident going into today's game against West Ham United having not played a single English Premier League match this season and importantly was poor against Norwich in FA Cup quarter-finals which made Solskjaer to drop him for Chelsea? Think not.

Barring Luke Shaw's injury Solskjaer might choose the same lineup which played in five consecutive games from Sheffield United to Southampton scoring 16 goals, conceding 4, getting 13 points out of maximum 15: de Gea, Wan-Bissaka, Shaw, Lindelof, Maguire, Matic, Pogba, Fernandes, Greenwood, Martial, Rashford. Timothy Fosu-Mensah might play if Shaw is unfit ahead of rookie Brandon Williams. Maguire and de Gea are on course to play in all 38 matches this season, today's game will be number 37. United lost another Busby babe in Alex Dawson the former centre-forward who played a prominent role immediately after Munich air-crash that fast-forwarded his inclusion in the first team ahead of time as the club did not have sufficient senior players having forever lost eight of them plus two more to injury that is almost their first starting XI.

West Ham managed for the second time by former United manager David Moyes comes to Old Trafford in good form by beating Norwich and Watford to escape relegation. Micheal Antonio and Tomas Soucek have contributed immensely and will dominate aerially where MUFC are weak. Declan Rice and Issa Diop being previously linked with MUFC will want to give a solid display to increase their prospects for the future. Moyes does not have a good record vs MUFC at Old Trafford with both Everton and Sunderland. Last time an ex-United manager won at Old Trafford was Dave Sexton with Coventry City in Mar, 1982 who did the double eventually with Les Sealey in goal for the sky blues and if Moyes succeeds in today's game West Ham also will complete the double. MUFC lost 0-2 at the London Stadium when Manuel Pellegrini was in charge at West Ham in September.

Moyes was wrong to say that the only difference between him and Solskjaer was "Ole has been given time." Question was not about time because although he inherited an aging side with most of the players coming towards the end of their careers, he also dismantled the backroom staff of Sir Alex Ferguson who had developed and accumulated so much knowledge of the game over the years; and secondly Moyes had a very bad transfer window with only Fellaini in summer and Mata in January coming in. Solskjaer spotted this glaring error and was quick to bring back Ferguson's assistant Mike Phelan as his number two. Moyes in short blew his chance as Rio Ferdinand also recounted when he tried to do everything at perhaps the biggest club in the world in Manchester United instead of delegating to his trusted staff to take decisions.

The crunch match that United fans recollect was the final game of 1994-95 season when leaders Blackburn Rovers lost to Liverpool and United needing to beat West Ham at Upton Park could only draw failing to take advantage and not win the league. Hammers celebrated as if they had won the title! Today's match is at Old Trafford where United are unbeaten in 12 matches with Anthony Martial scoring in the last five. West Ham have had more time to prepare and so will Leicester City who get a week before facing Manchester United this Sunday. United players will no doubt be geared up to finish the season on a high to represent in Europe's best competition next season and to remove the 25% wage cut if they do not qualify for the Champion's League again. Matches with West Ham at this stage of the season will always be interesting to say the least.

Defining week for Solskjaer that seem familiar with McGuinness and Moyes era

Wilf McGuinness and David Moyes had taken their teams at Manchester United to the semi-finals of the League Cup which they lost in 1970 December and 2014 January and went out of the FA Cup 3rd round respectively with the former's reign ending in December itself while the later lasted till April. That predicament could soon befall Ole Gunnar Solskjaer if the tie against Wolves in the 3rd round of FA Cup and against Man City in the league cup semi-finals over two legs do not go right, nor if he fails to stitch together a run of victories in the league to secure the 4th spot.

The patchy results in the league despite the victories over Spurs and Man City he has clearly failed to bring consistency that normally would have meant a run of 5 or 6 straight victories increasing the confidence of his young charges. Unbeaten at Old Trafford since the loss to Crystal Palace in late August and six game unbeaten run that included three draws are the only two positives that have protected Solskjaer in the results oriented business of football management. Loss to Arsenal was a consequence of two bad choices by the Norwegian: Lingard instead of in-form Andreas and James instead of Greenwood. No Angel Gomes in the squad either who traveled but did not make it to the bench due to issues over his contract. To resurrect the confidence of David De Gea MUFC appointed a new goal keeping coach Craig Mawson from Burnley.  Fans would have loved to see a hard fought draw given the hectic schedule and eke out a result to maintain another run of games unbeaten.

All focus was once again and unfairly on Paul Pogba who did not play in the match after Solskjaer had hinted that he might be involved earlier in the week. Two events clearly points to non-cohesion between the football and commercial management at the club. Firstly after MUFC pulled out of Haaland deal Pogba's agent gave a damning indictment saying "It’s a club out of touch with reality and without a sporting project. I wouldn’t take anyone there, they would even ruin Maradona, Pele and Maldini." Huge loss of commission from that Haaland deal seem obvious but why should MUFC allow such a diatribe from an agent of a player employed by the club. Second is more worrisome actually spoken by Solskjaer "How long is Pogba out for? Three or four weeks maybe, I don't know. He's been advised to have an operation by his people and he'll probably do that." It reminds of Mourinho wanting the Frenchman out but could not due to Management disagreement over the loss of revenue vis-a-vis social media. Despite Solskjaer maintaining utmost restraint so far this season to put a brave face on a tough situation given the weak squad this admission does demand an transparent revelation of the exact injury suffered by Pogba. No talks about contract extension with Pogba who is already in his final 17 months of his existing one does bare out the hard truth.

Without Pogba and more importantly McTominay for a whole month could jeopardize what could possibly be achieved this season. James Garner and Dylan Levitt may get more game time but its probably a year too early for them to be playing in the Premier League every week. MUFC must reignite the interest in Kalvin Phillips or Sandro Tonali based on Solskjaer's template of young and hungry, after sounding out their first tier targets in Grealish and Maddison. The iconic number 7 jersey remains vacant and is still a big draw for an aspiring midfielder seeking world wide acclaim. Ferguson wasn't a fan of January signings either but did bring Vidic and Evra when required. Saul Niguez, Donny van de Beek, Arturo Vidal, Fabian Ruiz, Marco Verratti are pricey options that should be considered. Although experience is the key driver to bring a midfielder given that McTominay might be the first choice Denis Zakaria or Boubakary Soumare may be looked in purely from availability point of view only if none of the other names work out.

The sheer passion shown by Solskjaer coupled with courage to chart through the tough times for the club does deserve more praise than scorn. He is also perhaps caught in the clash of classical manager versus the modern hands on coach from varied background that has inundated the game. The loss to Arsenal away followed by the loss to Wolves in the FA Cup quarter-finals in March was the start of unraveling of deeper issues that led to a collapse towards the end of last season. The same opposition and a year later will the performance and result be any different now? Worse given the same two fixtures are early in January this season if the deficiency in midfield isn't managed by the way of player acquisition the fallout can be disastrous for the 17 remaining league games.

Year when Woodward finally turned the corner

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

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

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

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

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

Can Mourinho emulate Dave Sexton and do the double over United

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

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

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

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

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

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