Showing posts with label MUFC. Show all posts
Showing posts with label MUFC. Show all posts

United return after 103 days hiatus to push for top four

Manchester United return today to play the remaining fixtures of 2019-20 premier league season after a gap of 103 days since their last match a 2-0 derby win on 8th March. This beats the 77 day gap in 1962-63 season which was interrupted due to severe snow. During this time both Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba have regained their fitness giving Ole Gunnar Solskjaer a huge boost in clubs bid to secure a Champions' League qualification with 5 teams within 7 points gap of 4th spot. Major change will be the absence of fans as matches will be played in empty stadiums. Many lifelong United fans will miss their proud record of attending matches for many decades, memories of travel with their buddies, collection of official United Review and match memorabilia, de-stress from work and support the club they have love 'in person'. Latest bulletin from Premier League confirmed one positive for COVID-19 from 1,200 tests conducted on 11th,12th June a stark reminder of lurking danger for players and their families.

During this forced absence from the pitch in the last quarter of the season United have done admirably to support the community, NHS and its match-day staff to fight the covid coronavirus pandemic. Marcus Rashford lead a crusade for free school meal vouchers and made the government do a U-turn. This movement attracted people from all walks of life across club and party lines to ensure kids are not left without free meals during summer. Rashford has made everyone especially those associated with football and Manchester United feel immensely proud. While Sir Bobby Charlton's Foundation is aiding children all across the globe, Rashford has made the start at home in the right direction at such a young age. He has already captained United, and is its fourth youngest player to play 200 games for the club. Charlton got an 8-year contract after winning the World Cup the lengthiest one ever at United and Rashford deserves to get one too. Certainly hope he wins greater laurels with both England and United, this one certainly on a human level eclipses everything.
Bruno Fernandes dream start to his United career being named premier league's player of the month for February and the return from long-term injury to Paul Pogba have made fans excited as to what their combination could mean to regain that old midfield domination infused with ideas against opponents of any type. Pogba's wider range to see a pass deep in midfield and Fernandes' venturing a little ahead gives room for both to play in midfield if backed by a solid central defensive midfielder where McTominay, Fred and Matic can vie for the sole spot. However this is unlikely to manifest in the very first game. Biggest change in the squad has been the transformation of Fred under Solskjaer compared to Mourinho's time in charge and he would relish sending a message to his ex-manager with a strong performance. One more reason to get a good right winger is to reduce the heavy emphasis on the left side favoured by Martial, Rashford, Pogba and Fernandes. Consistent brilliance of Aaron Wan-Bissaka makes him the leading contender for player of the season while Mason Greenwood and Brandon Williams have had a superb breakthrough year.

Dean Henderson on loan at Sheffield United will try his best to beat the 14 clean sheets record in Premier League held by Michel Vorm even though he will miss the match against Manchester United. Odion Ighalo has had his contract extended till Jan, 2021 while Angel Gomes still has an offer from the club to sign before his present contract expires on 30, June. Solskjaer said "We've offered him a deal, hopefully he'll take it. If not, I wish him all the best. Hopefully, from what I understand it's not too far away, so if not we wish him all the best." during the managers press conference conducted via VC online. Chelsea meanwhile have signed Timo Werner thought to be a target of Liverpool all along. United await the decision of Birmingham City academy player Jude Bellingham who turns 17 on 29th June eligible to sign a professional contract. United's director of football role still remains non-existent as Manchester born Paul Mitchell joins AS Monaco as Sporting Director from Red Bull where Ed Woodward had interviewed him and Jose Mourinho is trying to get Luis Campos at Tottenham but needs to get the support of chairman Daniel Levy.

MUFC won this reverse fixture 2-1 at Old Trafford with Marcus Rashford scoring both goals. Can Solskjaer do the double over Spurs? They will also be rejuvenated with return of captain Harry Kane, Sissoko and South Korean Son Heung-min but will miss Dele Alli due to suspension diminishing their attacking threat. United haven't played yet at their new stadium opened on 03-April 2019 that is slightly bigger than their north London rivals the Emirates of Arsenal. Last year's Champions' League finalists will be probably out of reckoning for top 4 if they lose this game being 7 points off. Master tactician in Jose Mourinho will have taken this extended time to tidy up their leaky defense and missing full-backs. United can knock one rival off the competition for top 4 with a win.

Only ever league game MUFC have played in June was in 1940 when during the war FA organised across 10 regions War Leagues and in West region United played Everton in the last match and their line-up had one and only Stanley Matthews, and two City players Alec Herd and Peter Doherty. United lost 0-3. Sir Matt Busby was supposed to play at right back but could not due to army commitments and was mentioned in the match-day program as A.N.Other, filled in eventually by David Jones from Bury. Alec Herd was close to Busby and his son David Herd joined United in 1961 to propel them back into the big stage.

Since 2016 United have not won the FA Cup and Europa League Cup offers another avenue to claim Champions' League spot but the competition has many top clubs in contention. Solskjaer will hope to continue the good form before the suspension and ride the goodwill created by Marcus Rashford and impact of Bruno Fernandes to finish the season stronger. One thing is certain United will not capitulate like last season due to good squad harmony created by Solskjaer and six of nine league fixtures against bottom half of the table.

Looking at the fixtures below extending into end of August and delayed start of next season in September which has to finish sooner in early May 2021 in order to accommodate the postponed Euro 2021, players might not get to rest any time soon especially if they play for their national teams apart from normal club duties. Football has returned as per wishes of the government to cheer the public in its hour of grief and the same government must not forget about the game when it comes to awarding its top players, managers and administrators for their service and instead chose other sports as it usually does. Marcus Rashford's appeal should see to that this time at least!

Hope nobody does a comeback, quite like United! Superb rendition from Solskjaer.

Remaining fixtures:
Premier League
Sat 20 June: Spurs v Man Utd
Wed 24 June: Man Utd v Sheffield Utd
Wed 01 July: Brighton v Man Utd
Sat 04 July: Man Utd v Bournemouth
Fri 10 July: Aston Villa v Man Utd
Tue 14 July: Man Utd v Southampton
Thu 16 July: Crystal Palace v Man Utd
Sat 18 July: Man Utd v West Ham
Sun 26 July: Leicester v Man Utd

Sat 27 Jun: Norwich v Man Utd
Sat 18-19 Jul: semi-final (tentative)
Sat 01 Aug: final (tentative)

Europa League Cup (single-leg knockout format)
5–6 August: Round of 16 (venues to be confirmed)
10–11 August: Quarter-finals (Cologne, Duisburg, Düsseldorf, Gelsenkirchen)
16–17 August: Semi-finals (venues to be confirmed)
21 August: Final (Cologne)

Summer transfer window for England:
01 Aug: Start date unconfirmed
05 Oct: End date

Manchester clubs should have Mangnall Cup organized annually

Ernest Mangnall has the only distinction to have managed both Manchester United and Manchester City till date. During his reign both clubs moved their home to Old Trafford and Maine Road to become established clubs in the football league. At United he lured City's 1904 FA Cup winners Billy Meredith, Herbert Burgess and Sandy Turnbull who were auctioned off after a match fixing scandal that banned City from playing, to help the new club United win its first major honours the League in 1907, 1910 and FA Cup in 1908. He is the third most successful manager of all time at Manchester United.

"A great, intricate, almost delicate, and to the vast majority of the public an incomprehensible piece of machinery is the modern, up to date, football club. It is a creation peculiarly by itself. There is nothing like it..."  

The Manchester derby on 7th September, 1912 would be the last match he was officially in charge of United before joining rivals City who won the match 1-0 as rumours were rife about his shock switch before the match. At City he guided them to runners up in league in 1920-21 and FA Cup semi-final in 1924. Twelve years in charge interrupted by war that cut short his tenure to 9 seasons is the third longest serving manager of the Citizens behind Les McDowall and Wilf Wild.

His testimonial on 10th September, 1924 saw the best of Manchester face the best of Liverpool in a combined XI. Best tribute would be to organize a season opening U23 fixture between the two clubs alternately staged at Old Trafford and Etihad Stadium to mirror his crucial role during the incipient years that shaped the two clubs.

Solskjaer will be without Rashford and McTominay that sway the odds to a City win. If the Norwegian manages to win he will join the halcyon company of Mourinho and Klopp to have won two away fixtures against Guardiola and that can be counted as a special company. Without sure shot Lukaku the fulcrum of MUFC's win at PSG any repeat of that heroics seem distant for a club that has still not replaced Herrera and Fellaini let only the big Belgian marksmen. City are hoping to win the League Cup for the 3rd straight year. This match again presents Anthony Martial to hog the limelight but can he pull it of against a top side? Else MUFC need to bring in a striker like Moussa Dembele from Lyon who now have a replacement signed up.

Bruno Fernandes seems to be finally moving to Old Trafford after the protracted deal that consumed United the whole of January when they actually needed 3 or 4 players. After Fernandes signed a new contract last year United still put a #50 million bid expecting it to be concluded was being just blind, now the deal is structured to be #55 million + #10 million easily achievable bonus + #15 million difficult to achieve bonus + 10% of sell-on clause that totals #80 million! Micheal Carrick's shirt 16 is being vacated by the loan of Marcos Rojo to Estudiantes for Bruno Fernandes. MUFC linked to Southend goal keeper Nathan Bishop who has represented England at U20.

The green and white of Sporting Lisbon in Cristiano Ronaldo, Nani and Bruno Fernandes reminds of the famous Celtic players who chose to come to Manchester United most notably Paddy Crerand who was the missing link to supply Denis Law with the incisive passes that elevated the Reds to title contenders. Marcus Rashford must be particularly delighted by Bruno Fernandes. 

Solskjaer got the reaction after Watford loss as United have three away games next

Manchester United scored four goals for the first time in a league match vs Newcastle since the opening day match against Chelsea. After the Watford loss Solskjaer fielded a full strength squad with in form Mason Greenwood starting ahead of Daniel James. It was the Magpies that played well initially to take a lead through Matty Longstaff who had scored the winner in the reverse fixture. It put Newcastle above Manchester United in the points table having started the day on equal points tally. That perhaps invigorated the Red Devils into gear as they took advantage of three mistakes from opposing players i.e., their goal keeper, defender and Sean Longstaff for Anthony Martial to score a brace(1st and 4th goals) and Mason Greenwood to hit a powerful shot for the second goal. Aaron Wan-Bissaka's cross was met by leaping Marcus Rashford to score the 3rd goal.

Martial had a great game stretching the opponent defenders to create space and had a shot that hit the post else could have had a hat-trick. MUFC have not had a hat-trick scored in almost 6 years since Robin van Persie against Aston Villa in 2013! Scott McTominay got booked inside 30 seconds of kick-off and later was substituted at half-time due to suspected knee ligament injury being replaced by Paul Pogba. Having a three goal cushion Solskjaer wisely took Rashford and Martial off keeping in mind the hectic schedule. For the 14th consecutive league fixture since the 1-0 win over Leicester City in mid-September have MUFC not kept a clean sheet an ignominious feat that last occurred in 1971 almost half a century ago! This once again highlights the need of protection in front of the new defensive unit by a central defensive midfielder and is not a dig at the huge cost of #130 million spent on Maguire and Wan-Bissaka.

This win continues a remarkable winning streak of MUFC on boxing day at Old Trafford. In the last 19 games they have won 16 and drawn 3 while one has to go all the way back to 1978 some 41 years ago when they were beaten by LFC 0-3 at Old Trafford! It was the first in a hat-trick of boxing day fixtures between two biggest clubs in the English league. MUFC lost again 0-2 in '79 at Anfield and drew 0-0 in '80 at Old Trafford. Sir Alex Ferguson in his first year as manager beat the scousers famously 1-0 at Anfield on boxing day with a goal from Norman Whiteside. The last away defeat on boxing day came at the Britannia in a 0-2 loss to Stoke City in 2015 under Louis van Gaal. The most remarkable set of matches however was in 1963 when Sir Matt Busby's MUFC lost 1-6 to Burnley on boxing day and two days later debuted two wingers George Best and Willie Anderson to win 5-1 against the same opponents at Old Trafford.

WLDLWL is the form guide of the last six away matches across all competitions which suggests MUFC might avoid defeat away to Burnley who had a taxing boxing day match in which they lost to a late goal to Everton. Paul Pogba might start his first league match since the 1-1 draw with Arsenal in September replacing the injured McTominay and might not play as number 10; Daniel James might start ahead of Mason Greenwood and Brandon Williams ahead of Luke Shaw. If Ashley Barnes plays for Burnley they will have a greater goal threat. MUFC hope that their ex-academy player Dwight McNeil does not raise his game against them like Josh King did at Bournemouth that cost them all three points. MUFC assistant manager Mike Phelan came through the youth academy of Burnley. In the 1960's Sir Matt Busby signed two wingers from Burnley in John Connelly who was part of the 1966 World Cup winning squad and Willie Morgan who replaced Connelly at both Burnley and United.

Next MUFC face Arsenal away in the league followed by Wolves away in FA Cup 3rd round match and Man City at home in the league cup semi-final - three games in six days and this match at Turf Moor will be crucial to not slack off, maintain the intensity while personnel are changed to manage a tough schedule. Burnley having lost their last three home matches to Crystal Palace, Man City and Newcastle will be eager to halt the slide against MUFC. The Clarets who usually play 4-4-2 under Sean Dyche might not prompt any change in formation from United but might rely on the pace of James, Williams & company to cope with stern challenge from the home team.

Positive changes but still cannot dictate matches is Solskjaer's first year report card

Solskjaer has eclipsed that night in Paris by scintillating victories over Tottenham and Man City within 3 days, jettisoned the naysayers, rejuvenated the squad with youth from academy as per traditions, spent the budget wisely on three first team starters, 11 changes to the team for an exhausting trip, rejig of the youth setup with head of first team development, amid all the struggles maintained the decorum in his communication, and still there is plenty to be done.

De Gea was tied down with a new contract but errors have crept into his game, Wan-Bissaka hasn't let anyone beat him one-on-one securing the right flank, Maguire leads the side by playing the most minutes, Lindelof now Sweden's best player for 2nd successive year, Williams has been the standout youth taking his chance amid injury crisis, McTominay and Fred consistently being picked have gained confidence, James the 22 year old has carried the team on his young shoulders on many occasions, Andreas runs around energetically and puts a few decent crosses, Rashford has grown in stature to represent the club having already matched his best goals tally before December itself, Martial links the play well yet fizzles out against sturdy opponents, Greenwood great option from the bench has 2nd best goals tally behind Rashford, Tuanzebe ready for first team after two great years on loan. Its a far cry from having Valencia, Smalling, Jones, Young, Fellaini, Sanchez stutter last year and is a welcome positive change by Solskjaer.

Paul Pogba has been absent for most of the year and could easily have opened up teams to improve the league position. Club has moved ahead during his absence to demonstrate how he can still play a crucial part yet being able to cope without its only world class player. Solskjaer has benefited immensely as Pogba turned his magic post sacking of Mourinho but his form could not last as he was asked to do too much. Once again the Gaffer has spoken of Pogba as "best all-round midfielder in the world" pinning his hopes and not well thought out plan for the Frenchman. As his agent Mino Raiola rightly pointed out Pogba needs help around him with better players.

Club needs to pounce on three top midfielders like Sergej Milinkovic-Savic if Pogba leaves, James Maddison to wear the iconic No 7 jersey, Denis Zakaria to add physicality and fill the gaping hole that allows opponents into disbelief as to how a club renowned for Pat Crerand, Nobby Stiles, Sammy McIlroy, Bryan Robson, Roy Keane, Paul Scholes, Micheal Carrick can be so brittle nowadays? Simply put midfield is the most critical element in controlling the game. Agents and opponents are happy for MUFC as they look set to sign Erling Haaland who is a great prospect but clearly points to an incorrect priority in their acquisition.

Manchester United struggle against teams outside the top 6 who sit back and expect the Reds to break them down but cannot and end up dropping points. First loss at home to Crystal Palace in 30 years, converted the visits to London Stadium into a graveyard due to abject non-performance, can't stomach a fight against the rain, wind and determination at Bournemouth, gifted victory to Newcastle who debuted two brothers in arms, continue to lose to the bottom most club in Watford just like Cardiff last season and this season is not yet over so expect few more unpleasant records to blemish the spectacular history of this great club. Critics point to Solskjaer's inability to eek out results to convert defeats into draws and draws into victories by varying his tactics. Result might seem unimportant if the board has given a blank slate.

Can the double winning captain finally win at Old Trafford as a manager? Steve Bruce has never won at Old Trafford in the opposition dugout while Manchester United have the best record of winning the boxing day fixtures. It was in 1930-31 that Newcastle United did the double over MUFC who suffered relegation finishing last in the league! That would be disastrous indeed if the double loss to Magpies were to happen again 89 years later.

Top spot in Europa League group will be crucial

Manchester United meet the second place dutch side AZ Alkmaar tonight in the last fixture of the group phase of Europa League and if United avoid defeat will top the group to get an easier route to progress further in this competition which might be their best bet to secure qualification for next year's Champions' League by winning it just like in 2017.

AZ Alkmaar are without top scorer the youngster Myron Boadu aged 18 years having scored 11 goals this season who recently debuted for Netherlands on 19-November and scored in the 5-0 rout of Estonia. AZ face Ajax Amsterdam this weekend in their own stadium after the roof collapse in late August due to strong winds, in the top of the table clash of Eredivisie separated by just 3 points. Arne Slot has managed an excellent season so far after being promoted from being assistant to John van den Brom currently in a 6 game winning streak having conceded only 8 goals all season the best defensive team in Eredivisie. This certainly won't be an easy game. The reverse fixture earlier drew flak for United not creating a single chance in that game which ended in a 0-0 draw played on artificial pitch.

Ex AZ goal keeper and present United number two Sergio Romero who was signed for both clubs by legendary Louis van Gaal, spoke perfectly "here within this club both the staff and players are like one big family and we have a goal every time we go the field to try and win trophies, to keep our fans happy." LVG created history by winning the Eredivisie with unlikely team in AZ in 2008-09 when the players urged him to stay on despite finishing a disappointing 11th in the previous season. At United, LVG unleashed Rashford after an injury crisis to the strikers and like Ole was promoting youth in a structured manner. Not backing him in the January transfer window of his last year did not help to turn around the season and the club must not repeat that mistake with Ole now.

Buoyed by victories over much fancied Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City, United must maintain the momentum by keeping the intensity of the pressing game despite changing the starting XI. Consistency that's been the biggest lacuna of MUFC which can be addressed if the spine of the team remains same and changes are done to players around them i.e., Maguire, Lindelof, Fred, McTominay, Martial play. Instead Greenwood, Gomes, Chong, Garner, Williams, Laird, Tuanzebe, Romero look set to start ahead of Martial, Lingard, James, McTominay, Shaw, Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, De Gea. Matic might be on the bench who had captained the side in the reverse fixture.

If United top the group they could still face AS Roma where Chris Smalling has been having a very good spell and many clubs are reportedly eyeing his signature in January. Most fans would like him to be the fourth choice centre-back instead of Phil Jones but Chris perhaps has served the club well to earn the chance to explore a different league. And if United lose they could face Inter where Lukaku is excelling. He was harshly treated by fans especially from online video fan casts for his first touch despite scoring 42 goals in two seasons that would merit a serious appreciation. Was still 25 when Zlatan moved on due to injury and that's still very young to don the mantle of senior marksman when his skills could have been further developed. Europa League round of 32 draw takes place on 16-December.

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".

With Ole's blueprint starting to work Poch will have to wait longer

Sir Alex Ferguson met Mauricio Pochettino towards the end of 2015-16 campaign in May, 2016 but Manchester United ended up appointing Jose Mourinho instead to succeed Louis van Gaal. That was perhaps due to the presence of Pep Guardiola at City who had been rivals with Jose Mourinho in Spain with Barcelona and Real Madrid respectively. Many die hard fans questioned the decision as the football philosophy of MUFC and Jose Mourinho are poles apart, although he remains the most successful manager since retirement of Ferguson with Europa League, League Cup trophies and finishing 2nd their highest position since winning the Premier League in 2012-13.

Pochettino will always be admired for bringing the best out of young players under his charge and adopt a Gegenpressing style to play that's trending atop tactical pyramid of football coaching with Jϋrgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola leading the charge from their German Bundesliga stints where it was initiated by Ralf Rangnick with limited success.

With the turnaround by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer there is no risk to his position at the moment. The lack of depth in midfield and absence of backup striker things can go wrong quickly with a few injuries and rub of green going against, but as demonstrated by the Norwegian that his vision is for the long term and in line with the traditions of this great club where he is a legend from his playing days. If and when MUFC do consider a change of Manager the Argentine Pochettino will no doubt be amongst the short-list based on his excellent work at Tottenham Hotspur. That opportunity looks beyond this 2019-20 season and maybe next. Not winning a single trophy is a lacuna where the likes of Brendan Rodgers takes a lead but the context of taking a mid-table club to be a consistent top four side aided by excellent recruitment team under constrained budget cannot be ignored.

Solskjaer has beaten Chelsea twice and Leicester City once, drew with Liverpool and thereby shown big match temperament but what afflicts the side is to turn up against the mid table opponents especially away from home. Getting a midfielder and/or a striker cover in January transfer window and return from injury of almost nine players will ease the task and continue the upward momentum of MUFC. Two points and seven positions being the difference between Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's MUFC and Jose Mourinho's THFC both of whom will be chasing the elusive fourth spot, and that march just got a lot harder with a direct top 6 opponent making managerial recourse. MUFC host Tottenham at Old Trafford on 05-December just two days before the Manchester derby. That game should encourage the World Cup winner Paul Pogba to regain his fitness and form to deliver a world class performance for Ole's reds irrespective of transfer rumours.

Ole's template a blueprint for things to come

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

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

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

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

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

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

That 'Inspired' Ferguson appointment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A week is a long time in football

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

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

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

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

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

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

Solskjaer finally has alternatives to secure crucial away wins

The draw against Liverpool was perhaps the best performance of Manchester United so far but did little to lift them from the bottom half of the table in 14th position. Ole got his first away victory after beating PSG in early March that ends an unwanted record but the away victory is still elusive in the Premier League with Norwich the opponents this Sunday. MUFC with a thread bare squad haven't won the away game after their continental travels this season.

Ole understands he needs to win when specifically put on the spot by Geoeff Shreeves after that horrible defeat in the last game at Newcastle. Ole hasn't got the balance right with getting results and driving changes simultaneously which prompted many pundits to label him as 'out of his depth' at managing a giant football club like Manchester United. Norwich who upset the champions City relish the games against high profile teams.

Ole managed to win away at Partizan Belgrade by handing European debuts to James Garner, Brandon Williams and Harry Maguire who captained the side. He has David de Gea, Victor Lindelof and Fred rested for the challenge at Carrow Road, while Luke Shaw, Nemanja Matic were sent to follow Paul Pogba for quick recovery in Dubai. Ole has finally settled on three at the back and abandoned 4-2-3-1 which he persisted with despite not having the personnel from the start of the season. Having sorted out the defense not by analysis but forced by bad results, how soon can Ole bring his highly understaffed midfield to control the game and create chances?

Ole has been blocking all questions about Pogba's return when asked by the press. Is it aimed at not exposing his team in advance to the opposition or has he genuinely lost the faith of the Frenchman after making him play through injury against Rochdale AFC from third tier of English football in the League Cup third round? Defeat at Newcastle brought the worst out of MUFC in terms of creativity and through ball from the midfield of Brazilian Fred and industrious Scott McTominay. Paul Pogba can change that especially if he plays at No 10 where Juan Mata failed miserably at St James' Park. The frantic display at Belgrade can be healed by the natural composure of Pobga's game, who would like to salvage his career prospects urgently.

Hope Angel Gomes and Tahit Chong get another chance to display their potential. Gomes has many disadvantages like Paul Scholes did in his initial days when Nicky Butt stroll a march on him in terms of progress from the academy i.e., better coverage of midfield due to greater height. Gomes did have a good far east pre-season tour. Gomes play ideal for No 10 role in absence of Pogba.

Another positive from the Partizan game was Ole's use of substitutes with a double change of Rashford and James around the 60th minute to try for the second goal. It's probably the first time Ole Gunnar Solskjaer been praised for game management since made permanent manager.  With Nemanja Matic injured amid speculation of negotiating his summer move from January is rife the alternatives to Scott McTominay is of urgent need to manage his game time to help him recover from back-to-back games at his young age. Axel Tuanzebe can be the option given the street smart nature of his play which makes him adaptable to multiple positions - a rare attribute so crucial to team sport. Rojo has regained his mojo which made him favourite with few fans with his fearless tackles and can partner Maguire and Lindelof freeing up Tuanzebe.

Not scoring from free-kicks in opportunistic positions has been a lacunae that has afflicted this team to score that all important 2nd goal. Nor Maguire and McTominay missing headers when left unmarked in recent games. This is surprising given how Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer would line up at the near and far post to attack a corner especially in the Treble winning season. Nor have they retained Marouane Fellaini nor replaced the Belgian giant. Ashley Young has lost the zip on his crosses with age so has Juan Mata with free-kicks, retirement overdue to both whose best years are behind them yet give their best when called upon. Roberto Carlos at Real Madrid and David Beckham at MUFC ushered in the term 'dead ball specialist' that inspired Cristiano Ronaldo and MUFC can think of no one as automatic choice to take free-kick now let alone be specialist of any sort! Andreas Pereira has made a start and needs time which if team is not winning creates the added stress which can hamper the development.

Wait for the 2000th Premier League goal for MUFC might be over this weekend as Norwich do not sit back which will enable the Reds to run at them with James, Rashford and Martial increasing the chances of earning a penalty. MUFC look likely to score two goals which if the defense holds can finally get them the elusive away victory or emboldened Norwich with a prospect of a huge upset might turn the tables for not just MUFC but Ole's reign itself. Poised for a dramatic contest either way, while a score draw might seem more plausible.

PS: Meanwhile MUFC lose their prolific U18 striker Mipo Odubeko to West Ham academy.

Right time to push Ed Woodward for Jimmy Murphy stand

In an unusual development Manchester United chief executive Ed Woodward has given an interview and chosen a sensible, long running fanzine in United We Stand whose editor is the well known Andy Mitten. It appears as a first in a two part series of interview where wide-ranging topics about MUFC will be openly discussed. Here is a link to Simon Stone's analysis for the BBC. Clearly the commercial arm of MUFC has grown from 28% to 48% of total revenue under the Glazers but unless broadcasting rights do not improve by participating in the Champions' League the club might have just reached a plateau necessitating the urgent need to get back into top 4 for which they might have to invest in players even in January.

Yesterday 22nd, October marked the anniversary of Sir Matt Busby signing on the contract with MUFC in 1945 and the club announced it has added the original contract to be displayed at the MUFC Museum while it was purchased from a private buyer in May, 2018. Such moves about preserving the rich heritage of our club certainly bodes well with the fans. Sir Matt Busby transformed the war damaged Old Trafford stadium and built a philosophy of football against which players and managers of every era shall be forever measured against. As Sir Alex Ferguson put it “I’m privileged to have followed Sir Matt Busby because all you have to do is to try and maintain the standards that he set so many years ago."

There appears to be an initiative to reach out to the media, ease the pressure on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and reduce the impact of #GlazersOut movement. Ed Woodward is trying to front up by answering questions while trying to become the face of MUFC in an event of potential takeover that is never out of news.

One of the key long standing demands to award knighthood to Harry Gregg who saved so many lives on that fatal day 06, February 1958 at Munich was partly realized when in June, 2019 he was conferred with an OBE. While this was definitely late in coming and out of MUFC control, another demand of dedicating the K-Stand on Jimmy Murphy the first signing of Sir Matt Busby to become his assistant from '45 till '71 who kept the club going on the football field despite the Munich tragedy deserves a more fitting tribute than just a memorial in the Munich room of the Museum, a media center at Carrington or MUFC Young Player of the Year award being named after him.

Renaming the Scoreboard end or East Stand will not diminish the fans favourite Stretford End where MUFC usually end their 2nd half attacking the visiting teams. Solskjaer led MUFC to top 4 after beating Southampton 3-2 with a late winner by Romelu Lukaku and said "I have been part of so many games like this, towards the Stretford End in the second half. That Stretford End will always suck a ball into the net for you. That is the best place to score a winner." Wikipedia is split with K-stand fans moving to both top tier of Stretford End and on to Scoreboard End. Plaque dedicated to victims of Munich is also at south end of the East Stand. Renaming Scoreboard End will complete the quartet - others being Sir Bobby Charlton Stand, Sir Alex Ferguson Stand, and Stretford End.

Steve Donoghue has the petition on already set up while Brian Mulholand's is at thepetitionsite. The petition for Harry Gregg is rightly closed after receiving more than 14,000 signatories while this petition at for Jimmy Murphy is just at 1,093. Better to have a single petition at which is widely recognized while Brian has more updates. Requesting fans of MUFC esp the Busby Babes to help secure more signatures. Hoping Andy Mitten might ask Ed Woodward about it and publish the response in next months edition of UWS. Old Trafford's development has been rightly chosen as a question which is indeed good.

Pivotal game against arch rivals amid the shadows of 73-74 relegation

Fans and media must keep the pressure on Ed Woodward esp since Oliver Holt's article in the Daily Mail which hit the nail on its head. There are parallels with end of Busby and Ferguson illustrious trophy laden reign - towards the end the investment in the squad dried up which meant they did not replace their key players like Herd, Foulkes, Stiles, Charlton, Law from 1967 on wards and Keane, Ronaldo, Neville, Giggs, Vidic, Ferdinand from 2005 on wards. In 1974 MUFC hurtled downwards to relegation with a very decent defense in Buchan and Holton but without any prolific striker, a situation very similar now. Is the MUFC team now too good to go down? This accentuates the urgent need for MUFC to buy a proven striker in January.

Ed Woodward has come out with his justifications on wasting most of #850 million dollars under his watch and how can any sane MUFC fan believe him. What worries fans further is that this 6 years & #850 million mess is not the benchmark to rectify other areas like youth policy where they are well behind most of their rivals. He has however backed Ole Gunnar Solskjaer ahead of the most crucial fixture in our calendar but has it come a week early? Does Ed believe that MUFC will get anything out of this game?

MUFC have in the past ended Arsenal's 49 game unbeaten run that stopped the invincible's in the famous 'Battle of Buffet' and now despite being in bad form, crucial players in Paul Pogba and David de Gea injured and the squad being low on confidence, given the nature of this fixture between the two most successful English football clubs they can stop LFC's run of 17 game winning streak. Marcus Rashford, Scott McTominay and Axel Tuanzebe being the academy lads will be crucial to channel their high emotions into decent performances belying their age given the thread bare squad. While the wide area's at full back need to counter LFC surge and Ole might play a three man defense to release Dalot and Young while another exciting prospect at left back Brandon Williams might get some game time.

Huge credit to Marcus Rashford for carrying on despite his lack of form and non-coherent midfield where he does not know where the through ball is going to come from. Yet he has backed himself for the cause of the team and being on the pitch. Having aspirations to be central striker is not bad which means he is prepared to work to make it happen despite being found out a few times or missing a few runs. Marcus Rashford is of the same age as Tammy Abraham and already with 36 caps for his country while Mason Greenwood a good four years younger. One of the traits of players like Cristiano Ronaldo who reached 700 career goals is how they personally look after themselves and avoid injury in spite of  training regimes at club and country. Rashford has at least kept himself in the reckoning for a start always where as Anthony Martial who finally gets his chance at being the No 9 is returning from injury. Martial though has still scored a third of MUFC goals this season and hoping the Frenchmen adds to his tally against LFC to cement his favourite position #AM9.

On paper and form its a 0-3 defeat and anything better especially team coherence and fighting quality with a plan from Ole will take it as a positive sign. 1973-74 season after 8 games 10 points(3W, 4L, 1D - 8GS 10GC) and in 2019-20 season after 8 games 9 points (2W, 3L, 3D - 9GS 8GC) a serious cause for worry. Coincidentally the 9th game of 1973-74 season was against Liverpool at Old Trafford which ended in a 0-0 stalemate, even a similar result in 2019-20 might not be good enough in the eventual league standings at the end of the season.

As for LFC it will be crucial to not only win but do the double over their arch rivals MUFC similar to 1963-64 season that setup them up for a first League Championship win after 1946-47 and not mind the margin of victory. In hindsight Klopp might seek to improve the performance at Old Trafford where they dropped two points last season while at the end they lost the league title by only one point to MCFC. Old Trafford is the last summit LFC need to conquer to avoid complacency of last season and lay down the fears of a meltdown that accompanied Arsene Wenger's Arsenal after the 49 game unbeaten streak was ended by MUFC.

Happy 82nd birthday to the ultimate English sporting legend Sir Bobby Charlton

Of the many famous quotes describing Sir Bobby Charlton the one I like the most is undoubtedly from Geoffrey Green: "He always possessed an elemental quality; jinking, changing feet and direction, turning gracefully on the ball or accelerating through a gap surrendered by a confused enemy."

Just ahead of Arthur Hopcraft's The Football Man in which he met Sir Bobby Charlton's sports master Mr McGuiness who had this to say: "Thin lad of 9 playing football with 14 year old's & just waltzing through them. Even at 9 he had a body swerve & a natural check that would take other man the wrong way."

Apart from that much talked about semi-final win over Portugal in the 1966 World Cup, his 68 goals in 3 seasons immediately after Munich on his less favoured left-wing speak volumes of his dedication for Manchester United Football Club. Sir Matt Busby summarized it as "When things looked their blackest after the Munich accident, and there were times when I felt great despair, I was enormously cheered to think that Bobby Charlton was there. His presence was a great source of inspiration to keep working for the restoration of Manchester United."

The official MUFC dedication last year with a poetry was top class. 
Other notable quotes about Sir Bobby Charlton:
"Dispossessing Kostic about forty yards from goal, this gifted boy leaned brilliantly into his stride, made ground rapidly for about ten yards, and the beat the finest goalkeeper on the Continent with a shot of tremendous power and superb placing. There, one thought, surely goes England's Bloomer of the future."
Don Davies the 'Old International' of Manchester Guardian 5th Feb, 1958, Belgrade

"Bobby Charlton was still there, a cornerstone on which '62 side was to be built. Alongside me, Busby bought Cantwell, Setters, Herd. These were the new 'Busby Babes': Giles, Stiles, Chisnal, Nicholson, Lawton. Little did we know how good it was going to get over the next 5 years."
Sir Denis Law on his arrival from Torino

"I have nothing but respect for Bobby now, but we were totally different characters, and for a long time didn't get on. There was one similarity. Like me, he was his own man." 
George Best

"England beat us in 1966 because Bobby Charlton was just a bit better than me."
Franz Beckenbauer

"He was a global star of his day. Go to any country in the world and even if they couldn't speak English, the two words they did know were: 'Bobby Charlton.'"
Sir Geoff Hurst

"Some say Bobby Charlton was a scorer of great goals, rather than a great goalscorer. Yet no player has scored more for England and no player has scored more for its greatest club , Manchester United. So his 49 goals for England and his 249 for United can’t all have been 25-yard thunderbolts – it just seems that way in the mind’s eye. When he hammered one into the top corner from long range it was as if he were a man possessed, desperate to separate the leather casing from the bladder. I made virtually all of my 57 England appearances alongside Bob and I can remember few greater competitors and few greater professionals. His fellow greats like Best and Moore did not lead blameless lives away from the game but Bob was dedicated to his craft.His sainted image made it difficult when you played against United though, because although I never heard him swear at a referee, Bob would moan at them constantly and they would be so in awe of the great man that they’d usually do as they were told. I can remember, more than once, yelling: “F***ing hell ref, why don’t you just give Bobby the whistle, you might as well!” But this is a man who survived the Munich air disaster in 1958, won the World Cup in 1966, the European Cup in 1968 and played a key role in the appointment of Alex Ferguson as Old Trafford manager in 1986. He’s history in the flesh is Bobby Charlton. He’s our greatest living football man."
Jimmy Greaves

Four-time FA Youth Cup winner, FA Cup winner, Thrice English League winner, 1966 World Cup winner, Ballon d'Or winner/European Footballer of the Year, FWA Footballer of the Year, European Cup winner!!!

Easily the Greatest English sporting legend who conquered it all.

Back Ole but not without specific objectives

Even the most die-hard fans of MUFC have basic demands from the Manager and its not without any riders even if he is an ex-legend who scored that winner in Barcelona to win the unprecedented Treble in '99.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer started very well last December and has not recovered from the loss to Arsenal, Wolves and Barcelona stretching way back to March last season. Away record is pathetic, creativity from open play non-existent, players just active in transitions like counter-attack, two central defensive midfielders stifle the movement while covering for the only area made strong with summer transfers in Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka (i.e., double whammy!), extremely poor free-kicks and corner-kicks worse than a Championship team, inability to drop non-performing players due to thread bare squad, mounting injuries, sticking to only one system 4-2-3-1 despite poor results, making the number 10 nonexistent on the pitch exasperating the situation further, so on and so forth.

Any new manager in charge of MUFC now would struggle, yes, but might on the contrary develop far more detailed technical plan than just hire young and hungry British players. The injury crisis continues before and after Rui Faria the assistant to Jose Mourinho. MUFC cannot dominate the midfield and control a game even against teams in the relegation places. Selling Fellaini is a step in the right direction until fans favorite Ander Herrera was short changed (while the board renewed and rewarded Phil Jones recently voted the worst defender in the world) leaving the 'engine room' woefully inept.

Ole must deliver a top 6 finish and a good run in at least two Cup competitions esp the Europa. Failing which the manner of the play (urgently needs a reset to initial days of Ole) and player morale will be scrutinized (which not surprisingly has improved since majority of dead wood have been removed), and if found satisfactory given the difficult season he might just be "Our Man of Destiny" as Sir Alex Ferguson prophetically described him, to turn around MUFC in the coming years. Anything short will lead to accusations ascribed to David Moyes - lacking the big picture.

The first quarter of a season over MUFC are 12th in the table which is underwhelming to say the least. League table does not hide the poor performances against Newcastle, West Ham and Crystal Palace while the Wolves draw might feel bit unlucky but the penalty miss owing to confusion on who should take it was their own doing. Ole needs to turn things around especially at three away games at Norwich, Bournemouth and Sheffield United with key players in Anthony Martial and Paul Pogba returning from injuries, else it might not be a surprise if Ole isn't around at the end of November.

Ole needs to reset in order to unleash Pobga

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer needs a reset now that he has completed one sweep of evaluating all players including from the academy within a single system that he has finalized upon given that he has cleared majority of the dead wood. He needs it now to arrest the decline of attacking threat considered the 'de facto' USP of any iconic club not least Manchester United.

Central to that is to get the best of Paul Pobga which Ole himself famously said when he took over from Jose Mourinho. Goals from open play has been the problem for MUFC and no one better to provide that incisive pass to create a game defining goal than the Frenchman. No other MUFC player in the meantime has taken the opportunity to make the number 10 role their own which opens the door wide for player of Pogba's caliber. Player of the season thus far Scott McTominay to anchor the midfield with Fred alongside Pogba just in front. Expecting Pogba to do that was a mistake especially when he had such established players at Juventus and France National team set up the platform for his creativity to flow.

Getting Pogba to play where he can express himself better will increase the chances of MUFC scoring goals and in turn increase his worth in the transfer market. Both will be beneficial to the club when his contract comes up for renewal now. In the present context Pobga's worth has fallen based on the his own form and that of the club from approx #180 million to #100 million which is a massive decline coinciding with the MUFC stock finishing the lowest at 16.09 on 01-Oct. Ole's appointment initially reversed the decline in December last year to reach a high in late Feb at 21.21 before the win away in Paris. Stock did not sustain a boost from opening of the summer transfer period in early July and has generally waned down ever since. In summer MUFC relinquished its top spot on Forbes list of most valuable football club to the two Spanish giants with FIVE English clubs also chasing down fast. Although MUFC revenue has been resilient to slump in on-field performance due to its global branding the club needs to be mindful of strides made by its competitors as its the major trophies that ultimately defines this giant club.

Come January, 2021 which is just 15 months away the clubs arguably most prized asset Paul Pobga in his prime age of just 28 can be free to negotiate with other clubs will NOT bode well with club hierarchy either. Pogba himself may aspire to win trophies which may be 2-3 year distant on MUFC horizon considering the rebuild now and he may want out as Gary Neville points out. But for now the Reset with Pogba as a catalyst can be the springboard that the emerging rookies like Greenwood, Gomes, Chong, Garner, Williams et al can rally around to turn the fortunes till fresh reinforcements can be targeted in January else Ole risks the patience of Old Trafford faithful accustomed to winning.

53 years to the debut of Big Al

Alex Stepney made his Manchester United debut today(17 September) in 1966 in goal against Manchester City in a 1-0 win with Denis Law scoring the winner. Overall he made 539 appearances keeping 175 clean sheets. He was born on 18 September, 1942.

A snapshot of his career.
  • Cockney lad who played for Milwall came via Chelsea where Tommy Docherty released him in Aug '66 for a record fee #55,000. Immediately became No 1 choice displacing David Gaskell and Pat Dunne who had shared the goal-keeping duties during the '65 League winning season.
  • Sir Matt Busby credited him for Manchester United winning the First Division league title in '67: "The single most important factor behind our championship success in 1967 was signing Alex Stepney."
  • In a Charity Shield game the traditional curtain raiser for a new season MUFC as league champions faced the FA Cup winners in Tottenham Hotspur on 12-Aug-1967. Their goal keeper Pat Jennings scored a goal from a kick which went past MUFC defenders and bounced off Alex Stepney who had come front.
  • Alex Stepney stood his ground to not only withstand Eusebio's net bursting shot but held it firmly to keep MUFC in the European Cup final of '68 which played a major role in Reds finally realizing the dream of Sir Matt Busby of becoming Champions of Europe. Eusebio immediately applauded the save from Alex Stepney aware perhaps of its consequence. His only cap for England came against Sweden at Wembley only a week earlier than the European Cup final allowing Alex Stepney to get to know the turf better.
  • His fumble cost '70 League Cup semi-final to Manchester City losing 3-4.
  • Broke two fingers while making a save to help MUFC beat West Brom 2-1 and take an important step to avoid relegation in '73. Jimmy Rimmer kept goal in his absence.
  • 89* consecutive appearances between 07-Apr-73 till 01-Feb-75.(* many claim its 92 not 89)
  • Played in all the games of the 1973-74 season when MUFC were relegated and became the 1st MUFC Goalkeeper to play through all games in a season across the League, FA Cup and League Cup. A feat only achieved since by Gary Bailey in 79-80 and Jim Leighton in 88-89 season. The great Dane Peter Schmeichel played through all games of league season only once in 92-93 while Gary Walsh played a game each in League Cup and UEFA Cup that season! Big Al even stepped up to take penalties during the summer and Doc asked him to take the ones in First Division match against Leicester City and Birmingham both of which he duly scored. Was helpless to prevent the back-heel of Denis Law who scored the goal that led to eventual relegation for the Reds.
  • Part of rebuild under Tommy Docherty to lift the Second Division title in '74. Tommy Docherty and Tommy Cavanagh changed the playing style to a simple possession based football with short passes and Alex Stepney was asked to throw the ball to nearest defender to play from the back rather than kicking the ball.
  • Part of two FA Cup finals: losing to an offside goal from Bobby Stokes of Southampton in '76 whose shot had an unfortunate bounce that beat Alex Stepney and winning a year later in '77 to stop Liverpool winning the Treble, which MUFC finally won in '99.
  • His testimonial match was against Benfica in March, 1977.
  • Played his last competitive match for MUFC on 29, April 1978 in a 1-2 loss away at Molineux against Wolverhampton Wonderers. Left MUFC after Gary Bailey was promoted following the aborted transfer of Jimmy Blyth from Coventry due to a failed medical and Paddy Roche could not cement his place. Dave Sexton dropped Alex Stepney in a first significant change to the team of Tommy Docherty in November '77 to arrest the slide favouring Roche but to no avail. For '78 season Sexton started with Roche in goal whose confidence was shattered in 1-5 loss to Birmingham City and Bailey stepped up to face Ipswich in a 2-0 win. 
  • Played in the Manchester United centenary game on 07, August 1978 against Real Madrid in a 4-0 win.
  • His autobiography revealed how Wilf McGuinness once made Sir Bobby Charlton do 20 press-ups in a suit and how Denis Law came to know about the end of his illustrious MUFC career under Tommy Docherty.

Ole the smiling assassin

First thing Ole sensed when took over as the Manager was that Marouane Fellaini's style of play has nothing in common with the traditions of MUFC and promptly he was packed off to China. Fair play to the Belgian who saved the poor team's blushes on many occasions. Then Antonio Valencia's contract was not renewed in March and it was too late to salvage the one with Ander Herrera. In the summer Ole has sent Romelu Lukaku, Matteo Darmian off and loaned Alexis Sanchez, Chris Smalling. That's SEVEN players off the first team squad which is massive.

Questions about Ole unable to handle big name personalities sound premature giving the apparent mismatch in the style of play warranted by the Gaffer and the unsuitability of those players. Only Ander Herrera can be counted as a loss while Romelu Lukaku's guaranteed goals against non-top 4 sides will be definitely missed. These two should have been replaced no doubt.

On the pre-season tour many academy grads have been initiated, can Ole match the records of Sir Matt Busby and Sir Alex Ferguson now by handing debuts to 9 or 10 of them? Certainly as he has left himself with no choice but the number might not as high. This will earn the support of traditional fans and buy him time for the squad rebuild to eventually challenge for the title in 3 years time.

The two penalty misses in two games costing MUFC 4 points have exposed the known flaws very early in the season undoing the pre-season form. Marcus Rashford's penalty was very well taken and beat the goal keeper who went the wrong way. MUFC need to persist with him as first choice. With a weak spine, only Pogba as a player of repute in midfield and no options on the bench other than Mata, results will not be predictable like early 60's of Busby and late 80's of Ferguson era. That calls for Patience from fans which will be regularly tested especially in social media where everyone seems to vent their anger or react instantly than construct a balanced thought.

Poorly taken free kicks and corner kicks in the last game will nudge Ole to pick Andreas Pereira more frequently. However playing Pereira on the right wing is not the answer as he is not a natural winger nor picking a deadball specialist if he does not offer anything else. Pereira though is still in his formative years. Ole has settled on the 4-2-3-1 formation yet the midfield composition needs to be worked out. If the results do not improve Matic will be back in the equation as a damage control exercise. Daniel James might be eventually entrusted with spot kick duties in the long run.

It's a make or break season for 26 year old die-hard MUFC fan in Jesse Lingard. His social media immaturity in the summer rightfully earned him a censure from Ole. He is no longer an academy grad but having played in 170 games and not having cemented his position in the squad. Lingard needs to be selfish to match his instincts to deliver when the team needs it. He has done that against mid-table teams in away fixtures for Jose Mourinho in 2017-18 season. He did not start against top 4 rivals Chelsea the only win of MUFC thus far perhaps highlights his eventual fate.

David de Gea will again be in the spotlight as he has a recent tendency to go for the spectacular save instead of basic keeper tactics. His contract renewal hasn't been sorted adds to the indecision despite MUFC duly naming his as Captain in the absence of Ashley Young. The new #130 million defensive unit had its first jolt and how it responds to defeat will be keenly watched against Southampton. If they do not sort themselves Chris Smalling enhanced with Italian experience might be in the reckoning next season.

Ashley Young for injured Luke Shaw seems a direct swap but considering the urgency to avoid 3 games without a win scenario Ole might bring in Nemanja Matic for Scott McTominay and Juan Mata or Andreas Pereira for injured Anthony Martial. Mason Greenwood on the bench. Angel Gomes played in the U23 match on Friday means he will not feature in this match.

With the international break coming up Ole will know the result best suited for this Saturday lunch time kick-off.

Initiative at Molineux turns a new chapter

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

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

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

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

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

Four goal opening match win sets up MUFC for Top 4 finish

Manchester United beat their main Premier League rivals in terms of trophy's won 4-0 in the opening match of the new season 2019. Last four occasions when they have defeated any opponent by four goals MUFC have at least finished in the top 4 right from the post war years.

In 1985 under Ron Atkinson, United beat Aston Villa 4-0 with goals from Mark Hughes(2), Norman Whiteside and Jesper Olsen. Eventually ended the season in 4th place after such a promising start when they remained unbeaten till November.

In 2003 under Sir Alex Ferguson, United beat Bolton Wanderers 4-0 with goals from Ryan Giggs(2), Paul Scholes, Ruud van Nistelrooy. Finished the season in 3rd place.

In 2006 and still under Sir Alex Ferguson, United beat Fulham 5-1 with goals from Louis Saha, Wayne Rooney(2), Cristiano Ronaldo and an Own Goal. Finished the season as Champions.

In 2017 under Jose Mourinho, United beat West Ham 4-0 with goals from Romelu Lukaku(2), Anthony Martial, Paul Pogba. Finished 2nd which Mourinho considered his greatest achievement.

All of the above huge opening days victories were achieved at Old Trafford. In sports records are meant to be broken but here is hoping for a great season from MUFC.

Chelsea opening day fixtures:
MUFC did beat Chelsea 5-2 in 1958 where Sir Bobby Charlton scored a hat trick and Alex Dawson got two more. Finished runners up famously by drawing upon their indomitable spirit post Munich disaster.

In 1952, United beat them 2-0 with goals from the two Johnny's Berry and Downie.

In 1953, United drew with them 1-1 with goal from Stan Pearson.

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