Showing posts with label Marcus Rashford. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Marcus Rashford. Show all posts

Can Erik ten Hag break the losing jinx of post-Ferguson managers against City?

188th Manchester derby arrives with the red half at a major disadvantage of not having played a league game since 3-1 win over Arsenal on 4th September, which was their fourth consecutive victory after two disastrous defeats at the start of 2022-23 English Premier League campaign. While City are in-form winning five and drawing two with target man Erling Haaland scoring 11 of their 23 goals and Kevin de Bruyne already notched up six assists this early in the season. Reds have only scored eight goals and conceeded similar number. This highlights a massive gulf between the two sides despite United turning things around, lot of work lies ahead to close the gap.

David Moyes lost 1-4 in his first league match against City, Louis van Gaal lost 0-1, Jose Mourinho lost 1-2 at home,  Ole Gunnar Solskjaer lost 0-2 at home as interim manager but won both home and away fixtures next season as permanent manager, Ralf Rangnick also lost 1-4. Another grim reminder of United falling behind their local rivals who have won the Premier League in four of last five seasons. Sir Alex Ferguson triumphed 2-0 over City in March, 1987 when United finished 11th and City were relegated in the old First Division with 22 teams. First derby match for Ferguson was in fact the FA Cup 3rd Round which United won in January by a single goal scored by Norman Whiteside. 

Overall United still edge the derby stats with 77 wins to 57 with 53 games being draws and will take at the minimum 10 years to eclipse if City win all home and away games. Erik ten Hag has already shown glimpses of turning things around and if he remains in-charge United will not need 10 years to win the Premier League again. After Sir Matt Busby it took United 26 excruciating years and now after Sir Alex Ferguson it already has been 9 seasons. Erik ten Hag has managed to lose just one of eight 'Der Klassieker' derby in Dutch league against rivals Feyenoord. In is short span he has managed to out-wit Jurgen Kloop to win 2-1 vs Liverpool and won less convincingly against Arsenal 3-1. He knows what this fixture means for local fans and to continue the momentum of last four games.

Erik ten Hag won 'Manager of the month' award and Marcus Rashford won the 'Player of the month' awards simultaneously for the September. International break saw the best of Diogo Dalot, Cristiano Ronaldo, Bruno Fernandes for Portugal, Casemiro and Fred for Brazil (Anthony came on as sub in both games), Lisandro Martinez for Argentina, Luke Shaw for England, Tyrell Malacia for Netherlands, Christian Eriksen for Denmark, Raphael Varane for France who won with him 2-0 and lost without 0-2 vs Denmark. Harry Maguire the United captain drew the biggest criticism for the penalty conceded against Germany. While England boss Gareth Southgate backed his man as expected, his injury rules him out of the derby.

Jadon Sancho can be the star of this match. Not being named in the squad for England during the International break should have given him more time to prepare and get himself back in the squad for the World Cup. He has played with Haaland while at Dortmund and can share his first-hand tips to stop the Premier League top goalscorer. Sancho who also came from the City academy and will cherish to score against them in order to firmly be entrenched as United folk hero. A certain parallel with Ryan Giggs cannot escape attention. Anthony Martial returns from injury and will be on subs bench.

Two most important players will be the fullbacks Diogo Dalot and Tyrell Malacia, both just 23 with the task of stopping crosses meant for Erling Haaland. Scott McTominay based on his excellent form continues to displace the Brazilian Casemiro from the first team. Lisandro Martinez has not allowed Haaland to score in three games the duo have played head-to-head in their Ajax vs Dortmund stints bodes well for the Argentinian who came under scathing examination for his short stature in the English media. Shrewd signing of Akanji by City shows the leaps United need to make to catch up in recruitment. Defeat against Real Sociedad in the very first game of Europa League at home highlighted a stark reality i.e., changing habits takes time and persistent effort. A solid performance against the best team in the country sans the result will still soothe the fans.

Erik ten Hag cracks the whip

Erik ten Hag stamped his authority by dropping Ronaldo, captain Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw for the crucial do or die match against Liverpool at Old Trafford. He clearly stated the reason to drop Maguire and Shaw was to "want mobility and agility" in defense. Raphael Varane and Lisandro Martinez as the latest centre-back pairing combined well with full-backs Diogo Dalot and Tyrell Malacia to produce one of the best defensive displays in recent memory despite giving a goal away. Arrivals of Ibrahimovic, Lukaku, Cavani, Ronaldo had stunted the game time of Martial in particular and Rashford but the duo were given their chance on Monday night to combine for the second goal. Entire team were proactive and took the game to Liverpool in stark contrast to previous two games as revealed by the distance covered of 114km vs just 95km in earlier matches.

Scott McTominay covered the pitch with thought and restraint while Christian Eriksen sprayed the passes. Elanga had a wonderful chance to open the score but hit the post. Not to be detered Jadon Sancho received the ball in crowded penalty area and reversed his movement to out do the marker and slot in a direction pointed by Captain for the day, Bruno Fernandes to score. Old Trafford erupted in joy. Liverpool then upped their game and domintaed the rest of first half. After restart Anthony Martial replaced Elanga on the left and his weighted pass found Marcus Rashford who might have been just off-side and beat the keeper to make it 2-0. Liverpool scored with 9 minutes left to setup a finale but United's high spirit tended to that and even enabled a triple substitution of Ronaldo, van de Beek, wan Bissaka for Rashford, Eriksen, Dalot in 86th minute.

Before the kick-off #GlazersOut protests started from Media centre towards Old Trafford through the Munich tunnel and chants continued throughout the game. Hugh McIlvanney of the Times lamented in 2005 about "supporters are cannon fodder in football’s money wars, virtually guaranteed victimhood."  while Brian Glanville took direct aim at the Glazers "Utterly ignorant of soccer, owner of Tampa Bay Buccaneers American gridiron club, obsessed by the urge to make money from childhood,.. he is the very incarnation of capitalism red in tooth and claw." After the disastrous touting of European Super League by the Glazers who reached out to fans in order to appease them 16 years after their massively leveraged take over, the English media in general have finally woken up. 

Kaveh Solhekol of Sky Sports started pointing out the reasons for United's downfall despite United being on a 5-game winning streak in last full season under Solskjaer while senior United and ex-Telegraph reporter Mark Ogden said 'diminished status and expectancy is down to the owners' after the humiliating 0-5 loss to Liverpool last October. Failure to conclude the transfer business not just before the pre-season but even after English Premier League has started just highlights the constraints under which Erik ten Hag has to operate. This repeated failure of Glazers is no longer hidden from most of the media nor are they enamoured by lavish signings and wages on last choice players who end up at Old Trafford instead. For once Fans and media are in sync.

Before the match fans paid tribute to players who were part of England's Euro 2022 winning squad Ella Toone, Alessia Russo, Mary Earps and unveiled their latest signing Casemiro. The Brazilian despite his age might be one of the most influential signings United have ever made. He was the lynchpin of the most successful era in Real Madrid's recent history and allowed rest of the team to thrive and elongate their careers. Casemiro was man of the match when Madrid won the UEFA Super Cup and is match fit. Diego Simeone called him out “For the balance of the team, he is without a doubt their most important player.” while Zinedine Zidane brought him into the first team by noticing qualities similar to Claude Makelele with whom he played and won handsome laurels. Murtough and Arnold must be congratulated for having pulled out a coup of a transfer. Martinez and Casemiro fill the void of steely resolve and tenacity to the squad. Casemiro will wear shirt #18 of Paul Scholes.

United did not bow down to super agents in their quest to sign quality players. Ajax holding United to ransome over Anthony and 90 million is too much when their own fans claim 60 million is sufficient. This is especially true as club looks at back-up goal keeper, right back, striker and another midfielder. Erik ten Hag not only made the team run 13.8km which they lagged against Brentford team in their 0-4 humiliating loss but he himself ran with them to demonstrate he is with the team while helping them recover and not merely passing instructions. ETH exploited United's pace againts Liverpool to secure a memorable win and showed remarkable flexibility to change tactics. This is one of the key reasons why fans preferred him over Pochettino. Key now is to string up a winning run of games that includes Southampton and Leicester City.

New era dawns at Old Trafford

Erik ten Hag ushers in new begining on the field while Richard Arnold the former head of commercial operations who took charge as CEO (from embattled Ed Woodward) in February does the same off field. Not just six players who came to the end of their contracts but also director of football negotiations, chief scout, global head of scouting, etc and appointed a deputy director of football in a club wide restructuring. In a positive development the new CEO has created an advisory group that includes Sir Alex Ferguson, David Gill and 'Captain Marvel' Bryan Robson along with John Murthough. Club has even moved ahead with its plans for  'Fan Advisory Group' and 'Fan Share Scheme' that it initally announced in June, 2021 to win the fans back after the disastrous courting of European Super league. One crucial appointment missed was the head of recruitment which has severely impacted the most anticipated transfer window into a damp squib.

Despite Cristiano Ronaldo's return the club chose to write-off last season by appointing an interim manager Ralf Rangnick to replace the sacked Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. This is the main reason why fans have sympathy with the Portuguese star. To make up for that mess and loss of so many players on a free transfer, fans were anticipating both quality and quantity of incoming players. Erik ten Hag's voice on the field at Ajax the Argentine Lisandro Martinez, Christian Eriksen on a free transfer and young left-back Tyrell Malacia are the only three new recruits. Club remain in pursuit of Frenkie de Jong presently of Barcelona after agreeing on a 75 million deal but the player is refusing to accept as he is owed deferred wages of around 17 million. A striker, right back and another midfielder are three area's club are yet to firm up an offer. Although striker appears to the most glaring gap due to unavailability of Mason Greenwood and Ronaldo's eagerness to play in Champions' League the lack of midfield options might deter the club from finishing off teams especially in away destinations. 

Erik ten Hag preparations for the new seaon began with a bang, a 4-0 win over Liverpool in Bangkok and followed by 4-1 win over Melbourne Victory, a 3-1 win over Crystal Palace and 2-2 draw with Aston Villa. However in the more serious matches United lost 0-1 to Atletico Madrid in Oslo and drew 1-1 with Rayo Vallecano at Old Trafford last week. Aside from these results several changes to the playing style was observed. Erik ten Hag was repeatedly heard shouting at players if they did any mistakes, five a sides were punished physically for letting a goal, all players are now required to eat together, more sessions on one-touch passes under tight spaces, Sancho and Dalot appear to develop an understanding on the right wing, Zidane Iqbal, Charlie Savage, Ethan Laird, Alejandro Garnacho all played well on tour. ETH has added Kevin Keij from Ajax as performance analyst and Benni McCarthy only South African to have won Champions' League while at Porto under Jose Mourinho to the coaching staff. ETH has retained Harry Maquire as captain dispelling all rumours about squad unrest. Phil Jones is by the way still registered as a player with Manchester United!

With net spend of 70 million on Martinez and Malacia it is the lowest after appointing a new manager at United except that of David Moyes who was given just one signing of Fellaini. How have Arnold and Murtough prepared to handle the hicupps especially after transfer window closes? Ferguson used to famously say that its a crisis if Manchester United loses two matches in a row. How will online fan trolls, media scutiny be managed by the new management team? Murtough, Arnold and Ferguson might talk to media after 3rd, 6th and 9th defeat of the season while ETH only talks about winning the next match. 16 matches to be played before first winter World Cup in Qatar including tough October against City, Spurs, Chelsea and 22 matches after. Blooding of FA Youth Cup winning players might induce patience from fans longing for silverwere since Stockholm, 2017 against Ajax side led by Erik ten Hag!

First signs of issues ETH has to handle aside from coaching occured in friendly game against Rayo when Ronaldo and few others left the stadium after being substituted at half-time. ETH later spoke with Dutch media outlet Viaplay describing this behaviour as "unacceptable". Earlier Ronaldo who had skipped the Asia-Australia-Norway tour for family reasons had posted on social media that he would be playing against Rayo "Sunday, the king plays". ETH might be forced to play Ronaldo for the 1st game of the season against Brighton as in-form striker Anthony Martial suffered a recurring hamstring injury. Fans though have already earmarked Alejandro Garnacho as the breakout player of the season. But who would United replace Ronaldo with at such late notice? Rashford to score more than 20 goals, yes. First the team needs to ensure 0-4 humiliation in last game against Brighton will not be repeated.

Manchester United exceeded the target yet again for commercial operations by two-fold before the start of the new season thanks to Ronaldo wanting out and being involved in fund raising of Barcelona for interest in Frenkie de Jong. Guessed it right the social media hype. Are United being played by Barcelona to garner investors as they seek to come out of economic collapse which made them sell Messi last season? ETH has identified FDJ as his main summer target as per reports from many credible journalists who track Manchester United. Chelsea who offer Champions' League football enter the fray for both Ronaldo and FDJ. Implications if United were to lose out, disastrous to be in this position in the first place. Due to lack of recruitment specialist the last word is yet to be written on this one. Till then its going to McFred in midfield. Unpardonable!

Erik ten Hag recently said "to win in a certain way, being proactive, brave and with adventure. This is also what belongs to the culture of Man United." Aye. Aye.

New United kit is smashing by the way, credit where its due.

(Rang)Nick of time

Two wins against differing tactical sides in Brentford and West Ham United brought much needed optimism about the remainder of this season and dispelled doubts about Ralf 'the professor' Rangnick's mettle being out of day-to-day coaching for majority of last decade. His tactical switch to 4-3-3 but with one holding number 6 and two number 8's in these games, and getting the result brought cheer to fans who were a bit depressed after he fell back to Solskjaer's 4-2-3-1 at Villa and Wolves to salvage those two games. Big question now is how will Rangnick integrate Paul Pogba into that system after the Frenchman returns from injury in time for the FA Cup fourth round clash against Middlesbrough.

After suffering his first loss to Wolves and scraping through Villa in FA Cup, Rangnick picked Anthony Elanga to start in the next three games drawing one and winning two. The young Swedish international's energy galvanised the left of front three as had when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer introduced Mason Greenwood(right) and Louis van Gaal put his faith in record youth signing Anthony Martial. Elanga is starting ahead of much fancied Jadon Sancho and Amad Diallo says a lot about the effort the lad has put in to get noticed in training and then perform on the big stage when given that opportunity. His composure to score his first goal of this season from a tight pass from Fred while showing awareness about goalkeeper's position was simply awesome. United fans responded in kind by having a new song based on a fav song from my childhood SNAP!'s 'Rhythm is a dancer'. German band is having a revival of this classic song in its 30th year of release, and under a German boss at United.

Rhythm is a dancer, Anthony Elanga
Try to stop him if you dare
He came from Scandinavia
To be United's saviour
Scoring goals from everywhere
Wooooah its Elanga
Wooooah you can feel it in the air
Wooooah its Elanga

Futher goals by Greenwood and then Rashford coming off the bench sealed a memorable 3-1 away win at perhaps the best atmosphere in this season's Premier League at newly promoted Brentford. Manchester United last played them in the first season after the war in 1946-47 winning the home fixture 4-1 with Jack 'Gunner' Rowley hat-trick and drawing the away match 0-0. Brentford under Thomas Frank outplayed and outpressed United in the first half who only survived thanks to yet another masterclass from David de Gea in goal and rightly proclaimed "We destroyed them in the first half, they didn't have a sniff, three huge chances and there could only have been one winner of this game. They are unbelievably lucky. I know all the stuff about taking chances. They changed the system against little Brentford."

In the closing stages after United led 2-0 Rangnick substituted Cristiano Ronaldo in 71st minute for Harry Maguire to play three at the back. This was in direct response to late second half capitulation against Aston Villa after being 2-0 up to draw 2-2. Ronaldo was furious and Rangnick was seen explaining to perhaps the greatest player of all time. Media latched on to this and Anthony Martial's comments to press Rangnick who was calm to douse any flames and handled both episodes well.

Marcus Rashford regaining his form to score his first goal since October and then score the matchwinner in the last minute against West Ham will give a big boost to United's chase for the top four. That last minute goal involved United's all three substitutes Martial, Cavani and Rashford. Such an attacking change to go all out for a result against a quality side like West Ham is reminiscent of United under Sir Alex Ferguson. Harry Maguire battling for his position got a start ahead of Victor Lindelof who had a breakin at his home when United were playing Brentford and rightfully chose to be with his family. Maguire had a great start to the game and dominated aerially to fight for his place in the starting XI despite being the captain. Thats the scale of transformation done by Rangnick in short time.

David de Gea had a clean sheet at last to show for his tremdous saves to move ahead of Gary Bailey to become Manchester United's third best keeper in terms of clean sheets; David de Gea's tally is now 162 just shy of Alex Stepney at 175 and Peter Schmeichel at 180. David de Gea was part of Sir Alex Ferguson's last Premier League trophy win, won the FA Cup under Louis van Gaal, and won League Cup and UEFA Cup under Jose Mourinho to easily be the best player at United of the last decade.

Anthony Martial has just agreed a loan move to Sevilla; good luck to him and hope he fulfills his potential on a consistent basis. Amad Diallo has yet to confirm his option of loan move, Jesse Lingard is being approached by Newcastle, Eric Bailly had an enquiry by AC Milan... Outgoings raise expectations for a defensive midfield cover for Scott McTominay as cut-price deals for secondary targets like Denis Zakaria and Boubacar Kamara are available. While both primary targets Declan Rice and Reuben Neves had nice things to say about Old Trafford recently after their games against United, the club is unlikely to sanction a purchase of a player out of uncertainity over its manager in the summer. Club under new CEO Richard Arnold is now likely to start the process to appoint a permanent successor to interim Ralf Rangnick ostensibly to avoid Brian Glanville's favourite quote of Karl Marx "History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce."

Most promising season under Solskjaer

Manchester United begin the season on the back of their best transfer window in the post Sir Alex Ferguson era with additions of centre-half Raphael Varane, winger Jadon Sancho and reserve keeper Tom Heaton. Diogo Dalot back from his successful stint at AC Milan is like a new signing. And two weeks are still left to the end of summer transfer window! Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has augmented his coaching staff with Eric Ramsay the youngest coach to get a UEFA Pro license at 27 in 2019, he joins United from Chelsea as 'set-piece specialist' an area of concern from last season having conceded the most goals amongst the top four with 44. Trophy is the only thing missing now at United.

Unlike last season United managed to play four pre-season friendlies(2W, 1L, 1D) to build the momentum leading up to the opening game of the season against rivals Leeds United. It will be the first game at Old Trafford with fans since the 2-0 win over Manchester City in Mar, 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. United will have a new shirt sponsor this season in Germany's Team Viewer and look forward to "ground-breaking augmented reality solutions and remote access to Old Trafford – Manchester United’s famous stadium". Solskjaer also signed an extension to his contract until 2024, the departing chief executive Ed Woodward rightly said "Ole and his staff have worked tirelessly putting the foundations in place for long-term success on the pitch."

Based on the fixtures released United have a relatively easy start until facing Liverpool on 23rd October. Three matches each in November and March will be the toughest. Aim for Solskjaer will be to have United in the hunt for the title until April. This will be a very tough task as the standards set by Manchester City and Liverpool have been of the highest order. 12 points behind City last season and 33 points behind scoucers in season before that; on both occasions the champions ran away from rest of the pack in December. Chelsea have invested heavily to win the Premier League as they endure the longest league trophy drought under Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich. Strength in depth still does not favour United with deadwood at the club in Phil Jones, Jesse Lingard, Eric Bailly, Andreas Pereira and aging Juan Mata, Nemanja Matic, Lee Grant. This is despite the purge of more than a dozen players like Fellaini, Sanchez, Rojo, Smalling, Romero that has positively brought down the wage bill significantly to move United from top to 7th in space of two seasons. Following players have been loaned out: Axel Tuanzebe, Facundo Pellistri, Tahith Chong, Nathan Bishop, Ethan Galbraith, Ethan Laird and the futures of Amad, James Garner, Brandon Williams, Teden Mengi is not finalized.

United face Leeds on the opening day of the season only for the 2nd time. First time they met was in 1970 on August 15th losing 0-1 at Old Trafford. Last Leeds United win at Theatre of Dreams was on 28th February, 1981 and since then United have mostly the upper hand. Premier League welcomes 50th club in Brentford this season, with Norwich and Watford the two other promoted teams. Much maligned VAR has adopted the successful model from the Euro 2020 in terms of offside and handball rule; the substitutions has been limited to 3 from 5 while the squad can still have 20 players.

Marcus Rashford will miss the opening 2-3 months due to long delayed shoulder surgery. This will put the onus on Anthony Martial to make the most to sustain his United career which was blighted by injury last season. Will Paul Pogba be consistent? Will Donny van de Beek get more game time? Will Solskjaer still persist with double pivot of McTominay and Fred? Will the acquisition of Sancho hinder the development of Amad? Will Bailly be happy being fourth choice centre-back? Will United be as lucky as last term with injuries? United will need to create more goals to augment the loss of penalties from changes to VAR. Last three seasons United have won 12, 14, 11 penalties! Two legged League Cup fixtures are back unfortunately. Top three finish in league but within single-digit points difference from the winner, make it to the knock-out stage of Champions' League and a trophy like FA Cup or League Cup sounds risky as a good Cup run usually depends on the draw.

United will get off to a better start this season than the terrible ordeal of last season, try to avoid losing to relegation teams and convert many of the 11 draws into wins. To win trophies they would need to win the crucial moments in crucial matches by making right use of all available resources. This will entirely depend on the judgement of the manager in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. If Sir Alex Ferguson chose Solskjaer to be his 'man of destiny' who in turn has build the club back step-by-step, will surely be cognizant of the pivotal moment this season is going to be. United faithful have never been so optimistic in last five seasons, not just our super-sub.

Winning in style against arch rivals gives United a massive boost

Despite the 3-2 score suggesting a close match, Manchester United out-classed their arch rivals Liverpool in the FA Cup fourth round draw. Just a week before Solskjaer had picked both Fred and McTominay in the midfield to play out a 0-0 draw against the Scousers in the English Premier League. On Sunday the Norwegian picked an attacking XI with just McTominay as holding midfielder alongside in-form Paul Pogba and Dutch midfielder Donny van de Beek. United had the better chances throughout and should have wrapped up the match in the first half itself. Dean Henderson had a confidence boosting stint in goal playing ahead of David de Gea.

Thus far Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had not beaten Jurgen Klopp and this hoodoo is now comprehensively overcome by this thrilling victory. Bruno Fernandes was rested and this raised a few eyebrows. United went behind to a Mohamed Salah goal in the 18th minute and United responded instantly when Marcus Rashford provided a 60 yard pass for a racing Mason Greenwood to slot home the equalizer. Immediately after half-time Greenwood returned the compliment for Rashford which meant United led 2-1. Edinson Cavani gave the ball away for Liverpool to score via Salah again to make the scores level at 2-2. Fernandes came on for Donny van de Beek who had found the space for Rashford to deliver the assist for the first goal and had a decent outing. Cavani hit the post from a free header before Fernandes scored the winner from a free-kick.

Bruno Fernandes has changed the fortunes of United and Solskjaer. His run of winning four of the seven English Premier League player of the month awards is the testament to his being the best player in England since his arrival last January. This cast a shadow on Paul Pogba and eventually has now made him the most improved United player behind Luke Shaw. Pogba tracked back his to win the ball for the first goal and this has enabled Solskjaer to play with only one holding midfielder. This is a massive change that helps United to play attacking football from the start  instead of starting slow and later hitting teams on the counter. Question has always been how long will the form of Pogba last? The club and Pogba have not started talks about potential contract extension but exercised the option to extend his current deal by a year that invited his in-famous agent to rant against United. Since the rant Pogba has buckled down and put in hard yards reminiscent of his form that made him a World Cup winner and initial 3 months of Solskjaer's unbeaten reign.

Harry Maguire switched positions with Victor Lindelof at the back and as soon as the first goal was conceded reverted to his left of centre role where he has predominantly played. This again demonstrated the changes that Solskjaer and his coaching staff are striving for to make the squad more versatile. Addition of tactics-obsessed former player in Darren Fletcher to the coaching staff has augmented the footballing think-tank. Rashford and Greenwood stayed wider and gave the opposing fullbacks plenty of problems. Cavani led the line superbly and was unlucky not to be on the scoresheet. Conceding two goals does seem concerning. 

Impact of Fernandes and Cavani have been transformative in the midfield and the forward areas, missing a similar X-factor in the heart of defense. Will the experience of the likes of David Alaba, Raphael Varane, Kalidou Koulibaly required to add that sense of invincibility required to win trophies? Knocking Liverpool off in the FA Cup will give a huge confidence boost to United's belief to challenge for the league title. Man City seem to be the hot favourites now as they have sorted out their defense by the signing of Ruben Dias last summer and return to form of John Stones. Eric Bailly's recent performances this season after that abysmal 1-6 thrashing by Tottenham, has given United concrete options that was always lacking given his injury record and perhaps put off signing a centre-back this January. Bailly's contract is up for extension too!

Solskjaer deserves credit for taking Manchester United to the top of the table at the half way of the English Premier League season, a feat not achieved since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson. His man management of his players has been exemplary. Seeing the instant impact of Amad Diallo in training, Solskjaer has inducted him straight into the core 22-man squad at the expense of Jesse Lingard as per reports. Shrewd signings of Alex Telles and Donny van de Beek have nudged Luke Shaw and Paul Pogba positively to sustain their form so far, Dean Henderson has forced David de Gea to regain his mojo while the young forwards learn from Edinson Cavani. Although Timothy Fosu-Mensah has joined Bayer Leverkusen; Marcus Rojo, Sergio Romero, Phil Jones and Jesse Lingard still remain on United books. Piece by piece the structure to a strong squad with good characters is taking shape eliminating the deadwood simultaneously.

Solskjaer notches up 100 games as United manager

Time has flown either quickly as a result of two fine winning runs or exasperatingly when United have yearned for a win. Squad has undergone a definite transformation with most players wanting a move have been dispatched while the newer ones are regular's in captain Harry Maguire, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Bruno Fernandes, Alex Telles, Donny van de Beek and Edinson Cavani. Most tellingly there is a general optimism about the future as academy graduates Mason Greenwood, Brandon Williams, Dean Henderson are integrated, and established ones rediscovering their form in David de Gea, Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, Juan Mata, Victor Lindelof, Luke Shaw, Nemanja Matic, Fred and Scott McTominay. Depth is the new dimension this season that should allow Solskjaer to tweak his line-up and tactics to ensure a result no matter the opposition. 

His record so far in 99 games has been 55 won, 21 draws and 23 lost. He is close to overtaking Louis van Gaal's 103 matches in charge and near to Jose Mourinho's 144. Both those legendary manager's however won trophies in that time! Having achieved Champions' League qualification in his first full season in charge, the next aim will be to win a trophy before mounting a challenge to the English Premier League. Injuries, lack of squad depth nor disappointment over not getting Jadon Sancho can no longer be an excuse. Certainly United need wingers (signed two youth players Facundo Pellistri from Penerol and Amad Diallo from Atalanta) a specialist position for which they were known to have had the best over the years in George Best, David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo. Array of options in midfield now overcomes that caveat by playing 4-3-3 with Rashford and Greenwood in wider positions or playing with three at the back by pushing wing-backs further up or utilizing Juan Mata, Daniel James. Coming from 0-1 down to win over Newcastle, Solskjaer said "our season starts now" after lack of pre-season having started with two home defeats. Scrutiny will increase with every points dropped as they are already playing catch-up.

United face Arsenal at home after thrashing last year's semi-finalists in RB Leipzig 5-0 including a hat-trick for Marcus Rashford who came on as a sub. Last person to achieve that feat was the current manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer who put four past Nottingham Forest in a 8-0 demolition job. Emergence of Axel Tuanzebe to cover for Harry Maguire away in Paris to keep Kylian Mbappe quiet, and Dean Henderson's assured performances in the League Cup games indicating that he's settled after spending season's away on loan have been the two best positives that adds to squad depth further. United lead their group with maximum 6 points and now play two back to back matches against the weakest team in Istanbul Basaksehir which should tee them up to finish as group leaders.

Arsenal under Mikel Arteta won the FA Cup last year beating United's conqueror's Chelsea and managed to keep hold of their star player in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Arsenal have not won at Old Trafford since 2006, while United are desperate for points to move up from 15th position having taken only one point from three home games, their worst run since 1972-73. Every United match now on there will be a discussion on who was left out, why and did that work out? Donny van de Beek's presence has impacted five of the nine goals United have scored this season, mostly in late second half. He got his first start against RB Leipzig and match was evenly placed till his substitution. Paul Pogba played on the left of midfield his natural position and had a good game. Goals however rolled in after Bruno Fernandes came on.

Alex Telles is out after contracting covid-19 without displaying any symptoms. As per reputed journalist Christian Falk, United are in talks with AC Milan midfielder Hakan Calhanoglu to sign him up for free after his current contract runs out in June, 2021 and is another number 10 rather than a winger. Rumours of links with a Turkish player before the squad flies to play in Istanbul is good to gain attention locally and positively highlights that the club are scouting for players for the next transfer window. Letting in five goals would have an adverse effect on Dayot Upamecano's immediate potential but clubs will look for his response in the next matches. Jadon Sancho scored midweek after a poor start to the new season at Dortmund after being linked with United all summer.

United are yet to dominate the match from the start and win convincingly. Tactically PSG away was great team effort but it's been the substitutes who have given United the wins in the final 20 minutes against both Newcastle and Leipzig. This is the next milestone. Only wins against Arsenal and Everton before the second international break will assuage fans after another poor start to the season. United need to be mindful of being complacent after that huge mid-week win. Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford who were on the bench midweek will return to the starting XI, meaning Donny van de Beek will go back to being a sub. As its a home match Greenwood may start in his second straight match while Cavani might need to wait a while longer to make his full debut. Anthony Martial will miss this match the last of his three match ban. Willian's return to Arsenal's starting XI will worry United.

de Gea(GK), Wan-Bissaka, Shaw, Lindelof, Maguire(C), Fred, McTominay, Pogba, Fernandes, Greenwood, Rashford

After Jack Charlton the elder brother of Sir Bobby Charlton, another World Cup winner in England and Manchester United's finest Nobby Stiles passed away. Being just 5"5' he played as centre-half in the 60's alongside Bill Foulkes to help Manchester United win two league championship and European Cup in 1968. He missed out the 1963 FA Cup final through injury. He man marked Eusebio to help both United and England overcome Benfica and Portugal in crucial stages of the great run. His joyful dance at the end of 1966 World Cup win and toothless grin is permanently etched in folklore.

'#Happy' made everyone succeed. Central to Busby & Ramsey's teams to knit together talents to win all major honours with #MUFC & '66 #WorldCup with #ENG. Perfect foil for @SirBobby,read the game well,a ball winner. Two ops ended his career at just 27. Youth coach. #RIPNobbyStiles

— Srinivas Rao (@srinivasjrao) October 30, 2020

Nagelsmann test for United

Its the top of the table clash in group H between Manchester United and RB Leipzig. Leipzig coached by the sensational Julian Nagelsmann who has consistently broken records of being the youngest coach to achieve notable firsts including managing 100 Bundesliga matches and make it to the semi-finals of Champions' League last season. Despite losing their star striker Timo Werner he has coached the club to top the Bundesliga after 5 matches ahead of fancied Bayern Munich. And he is just turned 33!

Players like Serge Gnabry the treble winning Bayern Munich winger are in awe of him after having specifically asked to work under him at Hoffenheim despite completing his dream move to go out on loan to improve his overall game saying "Julian Nagelsmann fascinated me... their style of play appealed to me, it was so attacking." In last season's Champions' League campaign Gnabry scored six goals against London opposition in Tottenham and Chelsea.

Another player from his current team is perhaps the most sought after defender in Europe in Dayot Upamecano. He was crucial in winning the quarterfinals against Atletico Madrid. Previewed by Statman Dave in April as one whom Manchester United should pursue before he signed his contract extension. Given that Dave appears regularly on United's social media channels to preview matches, the Red Devils would have given him a serious consideration. It still beggars belief that if United were not going to sign a 100 million player during the pandemic, Upamecano at 40 million would have been perfect foil for Harry Maguire. As it turns out Victor Lindelof though unusual in his ways has been more effective partner to Maguire and even without the skipper shepherded the defense against PSG in Paris very well that also saw Axel Tuanzebe being unfazed against Kylian Mbappe on European stage.

Nagelsmann makes effective changes to system during the game and by substitutions means Solskjaer would need to be more nimble to respond which translates to requiring players of high caliber in Paul Pogba, Juan Mata and Donny van de Beek on the field to support Bruno Fernandes. Solskjaer has tended to start cautiously and then use second half substitutions to force the result which did not work against Chelsea unlike Newcastle and PSG. To get an extra man in midfield either United switch to back four, or drop one of Fred or McTominay. 4-5-1 would seem ideal but neither Fred or McTominay have the vision to control the game but effective to shield the defense, nor Nemanja Matic the legs. 

Four at the back will be preferred as Bundesliga might be more akin to Premier League than Champions' League. With Alex Telles able to provide crosses to the strikers and Axel Tuanzebe's pace to thwart counter-attacks, Solskjaer might be tempted to drop Luke Shaw. Tuanzebe would need game management to avoid injury. Fans would want a system to play Fernandes, Pogba and van de Beek together but Solskjaer might chose to not experiment in the middle of crucial run of games that includes Arsenal and Everton next and wait until United face West Brom. Will Donny van de Beek start due to the fan and media frenzy? Not likely. He certainly has more capability than most players except Fernandes and Pogba, great choice to come on as sub. Goes to show the squad depth at Old Trafford now. Rather Mason Greenwood might start on the right as Mata played against Chelsea last Saturday. Meaning Anthony Martial on the bench.

Win for Leipzig will raise stakes of Nagelsmann when a vacancy at a big European club opens up. His mentor Ralf Ragnick was interviewed by Ed Woodward for director of football role and said the following much of which isn't wrong "There is a lot of space for a vision for United,... Since Sir Alex [Ferguson] left they were underperforming... At any club, if you cannot get the right players, then you should at least not sign the wrong ones... Then you must have the best possible coaches to develop these players... You can look at the money that team has had available in the last five years and say there has been an underperformance."

de Gea(GK), Wan-Bissaka, Telles, Lindelof, Maguire, McTominay, Fred, Pogba, Fernandes, Greenwood, Rashford

Confident United look to pick their first points at home

Buoyed after another "We'll always have Paris" win Manchester United welcome Chelsea in the Premier League as they seek their first points at Old Trafford after losing both their home games so far this season. Will Solskjaer persist with back three? Will captain Harry Maguire be brought back? Will Edinson Cavani make his debut? Of the two club legends Solskjaer and Lampard who will outlast the other in their favorite dugout's? United won the double last season over Chelsea including opening day 4-1 win and beat them in the League Cup 5th round before losing in the FA Cup semi-final by dropping the influential Paul Pogba.

Following end of their two window transfer ban last February, Chelsea have spent the most in this summer's window signing Timo Werner, Kai Havertz, Hakim Ziyech, Thiago Silva, Ben Chilwell, Edouard Mendy, Malang Sarr for massive outlay of 222 million drawing envy of most other club fans worldwide but lost their most effective player and penalty taker in Willian of Brazil. That's six potential changes to their starting XI inducing fair bit of unpredictability in the results losing 0-2 to Liverpool, thumping Crystal Palace 4-0, drawing 3-3 with both West Brom and Southampton. Three different combinations of centre-half's and three different keepers (Arrizabalaga, Caballero and Mendy) have been used in the four matches, highlighting the area causing most distress in their ranks. Goal scoring though has not been a problem with 8 different players contributing 10 goals including a brace by Timo Werner in the last match.

United announced their full year results this week. As usual the key points highlighted the player acquisitions, global partnerships and sponsorships, and football results in that order not the reverse keeping in mind its the PLC first and football club next. Broadcasting revenues declined by 41.9% to 140 million from 241.2 million, made a loss of 23.2 million compared to profit of 18.9 million a year before, cash equivalents declined 83.3% from 307.6 million last year to 51.5 million, net debt increased 132.9% from 203.6 to 474.1 million this year. Club will not be providing EBITDA guidance for 2021 fiscal year due to the uncertainty resulting from covid-19 pandemic. They are negotiating to extend the shirt sponsorship deal with General Motors (Chevrolet) by six months to 31, December 2021. Within a year of current contract expiring usually the next deal in announced which has not been the case. While it can be argued that club are waiting for return of booming economy to negotiate a new deal to avoid the risk of agreeing a lower one considering the shirt sponsorship is the most important, lucrative and long term in nature. Despite the pandemic club paid dividends mostly to Glazer family to the tune of 23.2 million almost same as last season, this is despicable.

Solskjaer got all the big decisions and tactics right to win in Paris. Clamor of starting the excellent Axel Tuanzebe will only grow after his pace efficiently nullified Kylian Mbappe. Perhaps adequate recovery after injury that kept him out for 10 months be more prudent. Harry Maguire might be back to lead the side after his impressive header led the comeback against Newcastle to win 4-1 in the last league match. Crosses from the wings has been sorely missed at United that Alex Telles showed he can rectify. Match fitness of Shaw and Telles might decide the left back slot. Brandon Williams having played in the U23 game will miss this match day squad.

Scott McTominay and Fred have been industrious to recover the ball and shield the defense. Duo might play to earn United their first points at Old Trafford this season and ease the nerves. Nemanja Matic though has been absent since being substituted at half time in the 1-6 hammering by Spurs. In form Marcus Rashford will lead the line instead of suspended Anthony Martial with Edinson Cavani coming on for his debut. Juan Mata and Daniel James or Mason Greenwood might start on either side of Rashford. Greenwood will be included after missing two matches against Newcastle and PSG as Solskjaer rightly defended his player amid rumours in the press "He's a fantastic boy to work with. He's never, ever late for training. He's never a problem when he's at the training ground. He's always on time. We've got photographers outside the training ground every day so they can see he's on time every day. He's got a good family behind him, he's got a good background in the academy and he's a good trainer. He trains really well. I've seen some ex-United players talking about him and they don't know what they're talking about. That's something we have to deal with. Many other players at United have had that."

Busy boy Bruno Fernandes can be made an option from the bench with the next Champions' League match at home to RB Leipzig in mind, giving Paul Pogba the chance to get more playing time after his excellent assist holding on the ball and inviting Rashford to shoot the winner against PSG. Donny van de Beek will definitely come on as a substitute as he has done in most matches so far.

Lineup: de Gea(GK), Wan-Bissaka, Shaw, Lindelof, Maguire, McTominay, Fred, Pogba, Mata, Rashford, Greenwood.

Cannot afford to lose in the toughest group on return to Champions' League

Manchester United finished 3rd surprising everyone to qualify for Champions' League only to be drawn against last years finalist's Paris St Germain and semi-finalist's Red Bull Leipzig in the toughest draw of the group stages. They start their campaign against PSG in Paris where they memorably came back from first leg loss of 0-2 to win 3-1 and progress on away goals rule after Marcus Rashford converted the penalty which could have been Romelu Lukaku's hat-trick. 18 months later both teams have changed a lot and its the group stage not the knock-out yet due to involvement of three top teams in the group every point counts.

PSG will certainly want to erase that memory with a solid display befitting the second best team in Europe. They will be without a few players like Icardi, Verratti, Paredes, Kehrer and Bernat yet the threat of Kylian Mbappe heir to Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar will be enough to beat the best of teams. PSG after a shaky start to the season have won five on the trot scoring 16 goals. United could face two of their ex-players in Angel di Maria and favourite Ander Herrera. New signings Rafinha Alcantara from Barcelona and Danilo from Porto are available as are Gueye, Draxler and captain Marquinhos.

United will be without captain Harry Maguire who hasn't travelled just like Mason Greenwood, Eric Bailly and Edinson Cavani. Victor Lindelof might have Axel Tuanzebe and Luke Shaw partnering him in what looks like a 5 man defense, meaning new signing left back Alex Telles might make his debut and Wan-Bissaka in the right back role. Nemanja Matic playing alongside Scott McTominay in midfield and behind Bruno Fernandes. Martial up top with Rashford on the left cutting in. Much improved David de Gea might continue in goal ahead of Dean Henderson. Last time in Paris Pogba spoke of his wish to play for Real Madrid after he contributed to two goals for the opposition in the 1-6 loss to Spurs that no longer makes him an automatic starter tonight, while Parisian Ander Herrera still speaks eloquently of his love for Manchester United wanting to say goodbye to fans, contrast is stark and real.

Interestingly the announcement of Bruno Fernandes to lead the side took place during the press conference when Solskjaer said "The captain sits next to me. Bruno will captain the team tomorrow." to which Fernandes responded "I was not expecting this. I know the same time as you." Why? Did Solskjaer needed to show his faith in Fernandes after supposed reaction to being thrashed by Tottenham? Having captained Sporting this role comes naturally to Fernandes, but hopefully Rashford was taken in confidence beforehand who speaks first to fans after every bad display including the loss to Spurs, had led United against City in the league cup semi-final loss, and was spoken as future leader by everyone for his drive to help disadvantaged children.

First match of the group stages should be viewed by most teams in the Champions' League as an opportunity to get the maximum points as the favourite teams might not be ready yet. PSG usually run riot in the French Ligue 1 winning the title in 7 of last 8 seasons and aiming to win the Champions' League under Qatar Sports Investment headed by ruler of the state. Of United Thomas Tuchel rightly said "They are one of the best teams in transition. We need to keep the ball and impose our own game on them and prevent the counter-attack." Having averted a crisis by winning at Newcastle would ease the pressure significantly on United players who can express themselves more tonight. Starting cautiously and shifting to counter attacking style suits United to nick the points away in Paris, its the home match next in the Premier League the worry.

My favourite memory from that night in Paris was the shot of Marcus Rashford much like Mr. Manchester United Sir Bobby Charlton in his heyday, struck the ball with full power only to fall just ahead of the keeper who now has to adjust to the bounce that increases the chances of ball spilling over, and Lukaku slotted home his second goal.

United need a convincing performance to avert a crisis

Speculation will always be rife about the future of their manager and of their main players if United lose two of their three games let alone get thrashed like they did against Spurs and at home in Old Trafford without fans. It gets another dimension when the very player who was inspirational for turning around the fortunes of the club since his arrival in late January, Bruno Fernandes is substituted at half time when the team is down 1-4. Team failed to buckle up in the second half and conceded two more goals. As the players return to Manchester from their international duty, Fernandes responded to the rumours "What was said is in no way true. I was replaced at half-time, it is true, by technical option. The coach told me that game was almost over and that we would a have lot of games ahead of us. I was not satisfied but said nothing that could harm the group."

Paul Pogba played for United in the first match against Palace despite having just recovered from coronavirus and recently while representing France once again spoke of his desire to play for Real Madrid one day. It seems MUFC had exercised the option to extend Pogba's contract by one further year till June, 2022 which made Solskjaer to say "Paul’s our player and he's going to be here for another two years." Both Fernandes and Pogba are crucial for United to get out of this slump in form. Will Pogba pay the price for his comments and Solskjaer choose Donny van de Beek instead who scored his first international goal for Netherlands against Italy? United were outplayed in the midfield where McTominay and Pogba played in the first match, and Matic and Pogba the next two. Pogba will relish the opportunity to shine against PSG in his native France.

United let in 11 goals in just 3 games that highlights disjointed display through out the squad. It started before the season even began when skipper Harry Maguire was involved in an serious incident in Greece courting arrest. Solskjaer obviously having spoken with his captain decided to start him from the word go. To continue the misery he got sent off in a 0-1 loss to Denmark at Wembley this Thursday. Maguire served United well last season playing in all 38 league matches with David de Gea to concede just 36 goals. Eric Bailly was brought into the starting XI to partner Maguire against Spurs on back of his two games in the league cup instead of Victor Lindelof, while Juan Mata was continued to be ignored as an attacker despite two man of the match awards. If Harry Maguire is fit and has not been sent on vacation other than to Greece to take a break and recharge, he is likely to start. Lindelof looks unconventional while tracking back but was effective last season that might get him the nod ahead of Bailly who is quick but not sure about his positional sense.

Anthony Martial is serving his three match suspension and Edinson Cavani is under quarantine which might mean a rare start for Odion Ighalo in the league. Solskjaer is most likely to start Marcus Rashford honored with an MBE or Mason Greenwood in the 20-man short list for Golden Boy award. Solskjaer usually does not drop his main players unless they are injured while at the same time resource management will take centre stage as Champions' League starts next week with an away match to Paris St Germain. Ferguson made five changes to his side after they lost 1-6 to City in Oct, 2011 for the next league match away at Everton including a recall for Phil Jones! The claim to name Fernandes or Rashford as captain instead of Maguire will not be considered. Dean Henderson will not be content in playing just the League Cup and FA Cup, and will want to play more games coupled with the fact that Champions' League might be more demanding, can replace David de Gea this weekend in goal in the Premier League. Alex Telles might be on the bench.

Probable starting XI against Newcastle United might be:
Henderson (GK), Wan-Bissaka, Shaw, Lindelof, Maguire(C), Fred, van de Beek, Fernandes, Mata, Greenwood, Rashford

Board not getting the players that Solskjaer had asked for isn't a surprise nor the excuse for bad performance. United and their local rivals City were the only teams still playing till middle of August in Europe unlike the rest of the league that has had a direct effect on both their standings being 16th and 14th respectively. It calls into question the strategy they employed to counter the lack of recuperation between two seasons and without pre-season to get into optimal physical conditioning. City have had a tougher set of fixtures than United having to face Wolves(A), Leicester(H) and Leeds(A) while United faced Palace(H), Brighton(A) and Tottenham(H). Both clubs could have asked their players to continue with pre-season instead of vacations, not easy but necessary due to the pandemic, and should have completed their transfer activities early. Both clubs might have erred in their strategy.

An unpleasant news regarding my club from my country in the tweet below: Cannot expect logic to dictate sports as human elements are involved at all levels in playing, administration, officiating and governance. Key is to find the pockets of positivity like policy to hire about 15 of the best youth players from across the continent to strengthen the youth setup, inspired actions of Marcus Rashford and the club during the pandemic, Bruno Fernandes proving to be as inspirational as Cantona and emergence of Mason Greenwood. United finished 3rd reaching three semi-finals in the first full year in charge of Solskjaer and as expected second season will be a lot tougher.

MUFC Board were certainly busy preparing the project 'Big Picture' which was rightly vetoed at the Premier League meeting this week. Meanwhile Gary Neville has backed the alternate proposal by ex-FA chairman David Bernstein for an independent regulator. The unfinished FA Youth Cup of 2019-20 that was halted at semi-final stage will re-start on 30-Oct with all games being played at National Football Centre in St George's Park and finals on 02-Nov. United play Chelsea while Blackburn play City in the two semi-finals. Good luck lads.

Clubs Q1 and full year results of 2019-20  will be delayed from 12-Oct to 21-Oct (United play PSG) when the true extend of loss in revenue due to COVID-19 will be known. Here's hoping Solskjaer turns things around by then to avert a certain crisis. If United lose that will be the worst start to a league campaign since 1986 when Ron Atkinson eventually lost his job to Sir Alex Ferguson who had defied the old firm dominance in Scotland. Will bank on the good away form and are unbeaten since the unexpected loss to Burnley in January before Fernandes joined the club. Solskjaer has big calls to make to set the right tone ahead of very difficult set of matches after today's visit to St James' Park in Paris St Germain, Chelsea, RB Leipzig and Arsenal. Playing Newcastle instead of Chelsea or Arsenal is a blessing to regroup right after international break, for that same reason pressure will also increase exponentially if the result this weekend isn't right. Former United captain Steve Bruce at his boyhood club got his first managerial win last season with a dream debut for Longstaff brothers a sublime moment in sport. Another inspired display from the Gerodie's can wreck havoc in Manucian sails that Solskjaer will be wary about hoping 'Lightning never strikes the same place twice'!

Amid last minute deals United face rejuvenated Spurs

Tough negotiator Daniel Levy had convinced Jose Mourinho to agree deals for Pierre-Emile Højbjerg, Matt Doherty and Joe Hart only under the economic circumstances, but later moved to sign duo from Real Madrid in ex-favourite Gareth Bale and left back Sergio Reguilon followed by a loan move for forward Carlos Vinicius while still being in the hunt for a centre-back like Milan Skriniar. This flurry of activities has been done as English Premier League rivals indulged in a spending spree. That rivals does not include Manchester United! Spurs will play their 4th match inside 10 days when they meet United at Old Trafford having cleared the 3rd round and qualified for Europa League, unlucky to not win against Newcastle due to handball rule and beat Chelsea on penalties in League Cup. Form and momentum is with the lilywhites from North London managed by ex-United manager seeking his first win at Old Trafford as Tottenham coach having won the home game last year but lost the away match due to two inspired Marcus Rashford goals.

In contrast United lost their opening home game to Crystal Palace and in the next match away at Brighton, to borrow Don Davies' words, 'were suffering the fortunes of a chicken having its neck wrung by someone with a mighty strong grasp, but who couldn't quite finish the job'. To be fair without pre-season United players performance has gradually increased. Will Solskjaer change the formation by starting with two CDM's or a diamond against master tactician Mourinho? Still without a natural right winger but now has this luxury of adapting formations thanks to the shrewd purchase of Donny van de Beek. Conceded 5 goals in two games and being hit 5 times on their woodwork reveals a porous shield in midfield that is making defense to leak goals needing urgent attention. Anthony Martial will be repeatedly watching the Harry Kane masterclass of holding up the ball, creating and scoring against Southampton. Son is doubtful and Bale is not yet match fit.

Solskjaer did a stellar job of defending the clubs transfer activity by stating he needs to get more out of the squad by giving chance to greater number of players in the first team. Did not confront the owners like Louis van Gaal or Jose Mourinho. Pressure of playing in the Champions' League will be far greater than far flung exploits to lesser known clubs in Europa League hence the need to add quality depth to the squad. Final weekend before the extended summer transfer window closes has seen United do a panic buy for Edinson Cavani on a free transfer since leaving Paris St Germain in July where he was their all time leading goal scorer. Deal supposedly includes just less than 10 million in agents fee and 10 million annual salary. Fans would think the club could have used this to complete the deals for their primary targets in Jadon Sancho and Alex Telles which they are haggling to come to terms for a long time! 

United bet their entire transfer window success on Jadon Sancho and let it be known to everyone by agreeing personal terms with the player and his agents, and for most part had no alternatives. Selling club set a price that United haven't matched due to the economic implications of the pandemic decreasing the likelihood of reaching the deal unless of course they budge on their stance and pay up. This makes mockery of United. In the last month they have spoken to Ousmane Dembele of Barcelona but pause a while to what the Frenchman might be thinking if he is signed - that he was second choice all along. To complicate matters United seem to have agreed to buy Uruguay's 18 year old winger from Penerol in Facundo Pellistri an exciting and inspired choice, coached by former striker Diego Forlan. In couple of years time he has the chance of becoming the next Ryan Giggs although he reminds more of Michael Platini. This also raises questions of Daniel James' future.

Daniel Levy for years having run the club on tightest of budgets, changed the recruitment structure after selling Dimitar Berbatov to United, converting Tottenham into a top four contenders from mid table club and building a new stadium the envy of everyone in Europe, can do a better job than Ed Woodward who can just concentrate on his specialty of doing commercial deals. Glazers have the right to make every penny count. This change will demonstrate their long term interest in the club and seek an definite upgrade on their current chief executive. Or Ed Woodward hires a competent Director of Football finally. If United fail to get either Sancho or Dembele will they sign Declan Rice or Dayot Upamecano or Harry Kane for Solskjaer finishing 3rd and not just in top four to show the largesse that Joe Lewis and Daniel Levy have at Tottenham? Probably not cause the clubs will not have time to bring in an alternative to fill the gap and that's the major downside of doing deals late, in United case not just one but majority of their deals are pending for final days of this window. Doing transfers in Q2 and not Q1 seem less consequential than last year vs this year for accounting principles. 

Matches between #MUNTOT have been thrilling down the years with United scoring more points against them than any other team in Premier League. Players regaining match fitness and a point to prove especially Anthony Martial will make it another one to remember for sure before the break for International matches. 5th October will be a frenzied day in Manchester as deals get sorted, will they satisfy Solskjaer is not certain. The famous #7 jersey meanwhile remains vacant...

Disparate double over Brighton

Manchester United won twice over Brighton and Hove Albion in two completely contrasting ways; firstly an escape at the final whistle with a penalty to clinch 2-3 away victory, and another a 0-3 win where the second string teams played out in the League Cup. Won both away games and are unbeaten in a run excluding neutral venues (Sevilla in  Europa League) that includes Tranmere Rovers, Man City, Chelsea, Club Brugge, Everton, Derby County, LASK, Tottenham Hotspur, Norwich City, Aston Villa, Crystal Palace, Leicester City, Luton Town, Brighton & Hove Albion thrice i.e., 16 games! Many of the clubs are modest but aids the cause to increase confidence in a young side whose average age is the lowest in the Premier League.

League match at Brighton had Solskjaer pick his trusted XI that won him most of matches at the end of last season. That first team was torn to shreds by Seagulls who hit the woodwork five times! Both United full backs were barraged relentlessly, Matic alone unable to stem the tide overwhelmed by an additional midfielder in the opposing ranks who played with three at the back, 18 shots on goal vs only 7 for United, and two fine saves from David de Gea. United had two goals rightly ruled offside. VAR got all decisions right though. Lamptey won a penalty when Fernandes fouled him and Maupay sent a 'panenka' over de Gea, Matic pull back to oncoming Maguire led to Dunk scoring an own goal, Fernandes superb through ball down the left led Rashford to race ahead and beat scores of their defenders to score a superb goal the 10,000th United history, March who all day had a free run on the far post headed the equalizer in the injury time before a Maguire header from a Fernandes cross led to Maupay putting his hands up that led to Fernandes scoring a crucial penalty. Solskjaer rightly said “We know we're not fit yet... We’ll get there but the reaction was brilliant to both goals. We didn’t play before the first goal and that’s something we need to address. The reaction to the last one as well was great. You can’t sum it up at all really. Emotions, drama. We got away with one, to be fair. I have to say.”  

 

Juan Mata continued his fine run in the League Cup with second consecutive Man of the Match performance as the second string XI won 3-0. Eric Bailly had a good game with Victor Lindelof in the middle of the defense. Diogo Dalot though looked rusty. Goals from McTominay, Mata and Pogba via huge deflection. Face Everton at Goodison Park on 21 December in the quarterfinals.

Champions' League draw has United in the H group with last years finalist PSG, semi-finalist RB Leipzig and Istanbul Basaksehir.

As for transfers outgoing Andreas Pereira on loan with buy option to Lazio has been completed. Talks with Roma for Chris Smalling underway. Dalot and Fosu-Mensah might move with a few clubs enquiring. No news for Jones, Rojo, Romero, Lingard. No breakthrough in talks with Porto for Brazilian left-back Alex Telles yet. As consistently reported on the Transfer Window podcast United are in talks with Barcelona for Frenchman Ousmane Dembele to join on loan. His injury record is terrible missing 80 matches for Barcelona in three seasons. That's a red flag! His value has dropped from 105 to 56 million consequently but the Catalans insist he is still worth 100 million. That makes paying every penny for Jadon Sancho worthwhile: thorough professional athlete, next best stats to Lionel Messi and England international. Famous #7 #MUFC jersey is eagerly waiting. The 12th October conference call for annual and Q1 financial results might necessitate a deal and agony for fans through out the transfer window that generated millions in traffic on social media platforms the highlight! 

Don't panic if Messi joins...

Louis van Gaal's term as Manchester United manager ended on a winning note, FA Cup the last United triumph at Wembley. On the final day itself news seemed to have been leaked of his sacking and appointment of Jose Mourinho in response of Pep Guardiola joining the neighbors. Not only that, Guardiola not extending his contract with Bayern Munich was agreed back in December(20-12-2015) itself and overshadowed the second half of season especially in red half of Manchester. United lost four matches in a row in December and no wins in seven straight matches dropping off the top four, their worst run since January 1990. No incoming transfers in January due to indecision of the board to back its existing manager - similar to the summer of 2018 when Jose Mourinho was demanding a centre-back but got Fred and Dalot instead. Guardiola's confirmation to join City on 1st February buoyed our rivals to finish in top four edging past United who lost to West Ham 2-3 despite being 2-1 ahead in the final match at Upton Park.

After losing to Stoke City 0-2 on boxing day when Louis van Gaal dropped Wayne Rooney the following home match at Old Trafford against Chelsea there emerged scarves with Jose Mourinho as United manager. Mourinho was sacked on 17th December, 2015 after five months of his second stint as Chelsea manager and champions of previous season were just above relegation. United with their skipper Rooney reinstated 'dared to play' and had very good chances of winning the game lifting the spirits of fans. It finished 0-0.

Messi's arrival will be far greater than 'Welcome to Manchester' campaign of Carlos Tevez for local rivalry between the two clubs. In terms of profile of the player has been the world's best for more the a decade. It might help Pep Guardiola to extend his contract. During United's domination under Sir Alex Ferguson the Italian Serie A initially and later the Spanish La Liga were clearly far ahead of English Premier League. This isn't the case now with both Spanish giants working under constraint of Financial Fair Play whose terms have been relaxed this year due to the pandemic which City can use after winning their case against two year ban. Italian league is still recovering from 'Calciopoli' match fixing scandal in 2006 when Juventus, Lazio, Fiorentina were relegated and AC Milan had 30 points deducted.

United in contrast by sticking to Solskjaer and his immediate transfer requirements need to send out a message of 'who cares' and not panic. The delaying of Jadon Sancho transfer until after Messi's signing might bring back a sense of balance in social media parlance that has long been highlighted as important by Manchester United board in its financial conference calls frequently. United board must also ensure it does not pay dividends this year as the world economy reels under recession. Dividends goes mainly back to owners as payout. If board do show largesse it must be for an additional quality player after getting the ones on the list given to them by Solskjaer and not contravening him i.e., after getting the top three targets of right winger, defender and holding midfielder by opting for Declan Rice or Jack Grealish. Solskjaer craves a good character like Harry Maguire not a big name draw like Alexis Sanchez. Unfortunate incident involving Harry Maguire in Greece will hasten the acquisition of a centre-back as the United captain might be absent for playing due to court commitments over the next two years.

Some fans would want Cristiano Ronaldo back at Old Trafford. Ronaldo has admitted in the past he would like to return, and that is something most past players of Manchester United say to stay relevant among the biggest fan base in the world. Ronaldo is two years older than Messi although fit physically he is determined to stay on top of his game in any league he plays in. The whole project at Juventus is centered around Ronaldo to help them lift the elusive Champions' League after winning the Italian Serie A nine times in a row despite change of managers. If Juventus fail to be in the top four by December and play miserably with an aging squad in the new season under first time coach Andrea Pirlo, rumours can fructify. Seems unlikely. Does Ronaldo see a 'project' at United to win back the league in two years? Fans would love to hear that coherence at all levels of the club and Solskjaer is trying his best to convey that. Solskjaer would welcome Ronaldo back, most managers would. In the last decade this idea has been suggested numerous times without any hint of conviction. According to his latest post he remains committed to Juventus!

If Messi or Ronaldo is the only thing few United fans can think about as a counter, they should look at one of their own in David de Gea whose heroics in goal has kept below par team fighting for Europe consistently. David de Gea in his 10th year at United will now be challenged by Dean Henderson after another error prone season that's unlike his high standards he set himself by winning Sir Matt Busby player of the year four out of five years. 3M's - Martial, Marcus and Mason scored 61 goals and the tally will only get better as the trio play more often and gain experience buoyed by Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba. Sancho will take the attacking threat up another notch and being in the same age group as the 3M's will auger well. Sancho had left the comfort of his surroundings to pursue his dreams by going to Germany and succeeded in having double digit goals + assist second only to Messi but with the prime of his career ahead of him in the next decade unlike the Argentinian. If any three of these six manage to play together for over 200 games they will bring back the success of original United trinity of Best, Law and Charlton.
If anything the last season justified was the faith in the manager ultimately led United to overcome its shortcomings to finish the season strongly than they had started. They must keep this in mind at all times especially when going gets tough.

Solskjaer held firm on 'United way' but inflexibility cost dearly

Manchester United ran out to dominate and attack Sevilla from the start creating most of the chances befitting the United way of playing football. Credit to Solskjaer for opting exuberance that provided good attacking display but as Sir Alex Ferguson found out European football is a different ball game altogether. Overlooking experienced players, not exploring alternatives and defensive errors cost them ultimately against five time winners of the Europa League on Sunday. Losing their third cup semi-final of the year despite Solskjaer extolling all season long how a cup win could give his young team an identity and belief. Inevitable analysis and conclusions follow suit after their 61st match of a prolonged season.
No substituition until 86th minute for United whereas Julen Lopetegui did his first in 56th minute to engineer the game with fresh legs. Nemanja Matic the mainstay of United's revival post lock down and despite signing the new three year contract wasn't even used! Juan Mata's introduction in the previous game settled the nerves for extra time and could have had a positive influence much earlier than from 87th minute. If Solskjaer got Odion Ighalo to extend his stay why not utilize him much sooner than in extra time? Sergio Romero dropped yet again in favour of erroneous David de Gea and looked uninterested in pre-match warm-up routine. All four will definitely review their futures when the manager clearly did not trust them with responsibility but their age will deter any forced exits and adds unwisely to the deadwood category that already has Jones, Rojo, Lingard, Smalling, Dalot. United stuck to a game plan but were not adept to change once they could not get second breakthrough.

Penalty kings of Europe! is a new moniker to be tested in Champions' League next season. Scoring penalties especially in the season when VAR was introduced does not seem dreadful but only when it becomes the sole avenue of goals. Marcus Rashford was fouled in the follow through, a rare decision and the ensuing penalty expertly dispatched by Bruno Fernandes his 12th goal since his January move. Anthony Martial has improved leaps and bounds this year and claimed the top scorer gong at United with 23 strikes, he missed to hit the target in 33rd minute and couple more chances in second half when their keeper Bounou made excellent work to block the Frenchman. Only 24 he could still become the best marksmen entering the prime of his career. Mason Greenwood had great start to both halves then became less involved as game wore on, too young yet notched up credible 17 goals in his breakthrough year. Paul Pogba played his part well but could not create from a midfield that pressed non-stop limiting his scope.

Aaron Wan-Bissaka kept the in form Ocampos quiet to such an effect that the Argentinian was substituted and confronted many opposing runs extremely well. Inexperience of right-footed Brandon Williams shone at several times that once again stressed the importance of back-up left back to Luke Shaw. There simply isn't any competition to Maguire-Lindelof that puts them under pressure and raises question on injury prone Eric Bailly's long term future. Bruno Fernandes ranted at Victor Lindelof after conceding the 2nd goal that reminded many of Roy Keane demanding nothing but the best from his teammates. The ultimate responsibility of organizing the defense clearly falls on captain Harry Maguire who must have hoped for a disciplined Matic shielding the defense. David de Gea doesn't come off the line enough to negate the threat of the cross to dominate his penalty box like great keepers of past.


Solskjaer had the tools to beat Sevilla but could not having spent big on Maguire and Fernandes. Most fans welcome the manner of this loss than the bitterness that followed Mourinho's dull display but that does not hide the fact that Solskjaer had a team that could have done much better. If the logic of this game's selection, tactics and substitutions were to be relied upon to make a judgement on United's summer transfer it would seem that strengthening the spine with a first choice centre-back and classic  number 9 type centre-forward would be the priority, not Jadon Sancho! This clearly does not seem to be the case based on consistent rumours of perhaps the biggest transfer of this summer that Dortmund are demanding 120 million euro's for. The argument that Solskjaer did not have anyone to bring on to effect the change is entirely flawed as it puts forth the idea that he wanted to highlight the lack of squad depth than to reach an prestigious European final making best use of available resources that was clearly miles better than at Jose Mourinho's disposal.

Solskjaer has got Alexis Sanchez off the wage bill already vacating the illustrious number 7 jersey and his optimism rubs off on everyone in United setup drawing constantly on his playing days under Sir Alex Ferguson. It is to this fact that most fans base their trust upon to get this summer's transfer priority right and cementing a top four finish next season closing the huge gap of 33 points 'significantly' with the Champions next season. Club hierarchy should realize that director of football not only aids the manager to shortlist the tracked targets but while searching keeps in mind the ethos of what it means to be a United player despite the changes to manager himself reducing the squad burn in between and keeping the challenge alive through the transition.

Now a well deserved rest.

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