Showing posts with label Luke Shaw. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Luke Shaw. Show all posts

Cliffhanger end to a season of great progress in United rebuild

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

One match at a time can do the trick for United

Prospect to face the joint holders for the most semi-finals, 30 times with Arsenal and to equal their record for most FA Cup wins, 13 will galvanize Manchester United in today's clash at Wembley against Chelsea. Secret for any sides unbeaten run is to consider one match at a time after having consistently done long term planning, example Solskjaer picking Timothy Fosu-Mensah for his first appearance in more than two years to play against the club where he was previously loaned out and Nemanja Matic did not start against Palace considering this semi-final clash. United have faced Chelsea in each of the last four seasons in the FA Cup, losing twice including the 2018 final and avenging that loss in 5th round 2019 before surrendering tamely to Wolves in quarter-finals.

Results in the last match day of English Premier League week 36 meant United guarantee a top five finish and winning 2-0 away to Crystal Palace where VAR decisions hogged the headlines lifts the pressure slightly to give this semi-final clash the importance it deserves. Frank Lampard chose to pick on those decisions to put the referee under pressure ahead of this game. Solskjaer expertly responded "Well, how long have we got? I can sit here for hours now and try to talk about this. It looks like there's a narrative. It looks like people want to influence whoever's making the decisions, but I hear people talking about luck." Confidently taking aim at comments made by both Lampard and Mourinho. "Then, if you look at the factual decisions - I don't want to sound like a certain manager, talking about facts - but if you're offside, you're offside. That's clear. Talking about lucky, the penalty that we got against Tottenham in the last minute that was taken away from us, that might be two points for us." Blues will be without influential N'golo Kante while Luke Shaw will miss out due to injury for the Reds.

Repeatedly Solskjaer has stressed the need to win the first trophy for his young team to become springboard of sustained success "It's important for this team to win their first trophy or to get to their first final together. That will help the winning culture because we have to start winning things." Momentum is crucial in the season ending run-in of games to achieve the goals be it finishing in top four or winning either FA Cup or Europa League Cup. United with 19 games unbeaten have it and now more than ever its about sustaining it to the last day of the season.

Win in extra time against relegated Norwich clearly suggests that personnel picked for FA Cup thus far in Romero, Bailly, Dalot, Lingard need not be persisted with for today's game. Ighalo was sharp to score the goal and might lead the line and spoke about his desire to better the semi-final loss while he was with Watford. Skipper Harry Maguire has played in every game which makes him a definite starter. De Gea for Romero in goal, Williams for Shaw, Wan-Bissaka for Dalot, Maguire, Lindelof, Matic, Pogba, Fernandes, Mata, Ighalo and Rashford to start. Martial and Greenwood on the bench. In the last league match a 2-1 win Solskjaer used 3-5-2 as Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba were injured and both being available for today he might prefer to play in the predominant formation used during this unbeaten run 4-3-3.

Will Tommy Docherty make it to Wembley to watch the two famous teams he managed? At 92 would be eagerly watching from home due to the pandemic hoping for a great attacking game of football. At the core of both teams are the youth pushing through from academy aided by young managers doing a rebuild. Wembley will present its own challenges as Geoffrey Green famously pointed in 1949 "That immaculate stretch of Wembley turf . . . its rich, thick surface being something not found by April on any club enclosure in the country, and this means that many a ground pass is not given sufficient bite, and falls short of objective. The proportions of the huge stadium are another, making distances so difficult to judge in the opening phases." Gone are the twin towers in the new Wembley but the world's oldest cup competition FA Cup these days devoid of famous upsets still offers fantastic opportunity to create amazing footballing memories. United fans of certain vintage hope to seek retribution of Alan Sunderland's goal for Arsenal in 1979 after United clawed a two goal deficit to level the match, and recently in 2005 where United again lost to Arsenal on penalties in the Millennium stadium when Wembley was under construction. Chelsea stand in the way.

Test of Solskjaer's mettle

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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