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

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.

United should make their experience count against masters of Europa League

Manchester United have never beaten Sevilla the 5 time UEFA Europa League winning specialists whom they face tonight in the semi-final knock-out. They have faced each other twice in 2018 Champions' League round of 16; drawing the away leg 0-0 thanks to David de Gea masterclass and lost the home leg 1-2 that was the beginning of the end of Jose Mourinho's reign. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's team needs to overcome another Sevilla side whose manager Julen Lopetegui is in the middle of a career resurrection having being sacked by Real Madrid and opting to leave Spain national team on the eve of 2018 World Cup inviting the sack by Spanish FA; has ensured respectable 4th place despite overhauling the whole squad last summer and remain unbeaten in their last 19 matches!

Argentinian duo the winger Lucas Ocampos and veteran midfield dynamo Ever Banega provide the major threat to United. The squad revamp was made possible by the return of their Sporting Director Monchi who had created a conveyor belt of talent in Sergio Ramos, Jesus Nevas, Alberto Moreno et al from 2000 to 2017 earning the club huge profits before leaving for Roma. Testament of his talent spotting and bargains is reflected in their starting XI where six of the eleven players joined last summer including their centre-backs Koundé and Carlos, and leading scorer Ocampos. Sergio Reguilón the left-back on loan from Real Madrid who is in much demand after a great season. They lack a cutting edge striker like Wissam Ben Yeddar the United nemesis last time. Red Devils however have cultivated pace and goals in their attack with 3M's - Marcus, Martial and Mason.

United team for that second leg match in March, 2018 was: David De Gea, Eric Bailly, Chris Smalling, Antonio Valencia, Ashley Young, Marouane Fellaini, Nemanja Matić, Jesse Lingard, Marcus Rashford, Alexis Sánchez, Romelu Lukaku.

Five of them no longer play for Manchester United and other three are not part of their present first team: David De Gea, Harry Maguire, Victor Lindelof, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Brandon Williams, Nemanja Matić, Paul Pogba, Bruno Fernandes, Mason Greenwood, Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford.

That also represents a massive change at Old Trafford under Solskjaer. Bruno Fernandes in the pre-match press conference restated the goal to win this competition and brushed aside the comparisons with Eric Cantona "For me it’s really good to listen and to be talked about those names. But for me, Cantona was an amazing player for the club - I need to do much better to be compared with him. I’m really happy for what I did, but I’m not satisfied like the coach said. Coming to Manchester is about winning trophies. I come to the club to win some trophies and I will be happy in the end of this season if we win the Europa League."

Solskjaer won't repeat the mistake of Jose Mourinho by dropping Paul Pogba and might retain Sergio Romero in goal. Only selection issue will be whether to continue with rookie Brandon Williams or bring in Timothy Fosu-Mensah at left-back. Williams still lacks positional sense but more than makes up with his tenacity that can backfire like it did against Riyad Mahrez while Fosu-Mensah has made just five appearances on his return from injury. This highlights the successful season that Luke Shaw has had and the lack of back-up where the club are reportedly looking at Monaco's Fode Ballo-Toure. Will Ocampos swap wings to avoid Wan-Bissaka? Another concern will be having only Nemanja Matic in midfield who is not as energetic as Ander Herrera so Fred might get a look-in at the expense of Mason Greenwood who might be brought on in second half to conclude the result. Though Sevilla themselves play 4-3-3 but use the channels rather than wings that can make United change to a 3-5-2 formation.

Marcus Rashford hasn't had the best of times since his return but can't see Ighalo or Dan James starting instead while Juan Mata can't last the whole match. The head-to-head with Anthony Martial to be the clubs leading scorer should be sufficient challenge for the Mancunian. United cannot start slowly as they did in their last match. Marcus Rashford led the line when United won its only Europa League in 2017 under Jose Mourinho while Anthony Martial was used as a substitute; Juan Mata, Paul Pogba, Sergio Romero and Jesse Lingard also featured in that final.

After the heroics against Paris St Germain no one expected United to beat Barcelona in last year's Champions' League quarter finals. This game presents a stern tests of tactical nous of Solskjaer and his players against experts of the tournament if not the favourites. United though have the tools to do the job and experience in six players from 2017 final plus David de Gea who won the 2010 final with Atletico Madrid beating Fulham and Nemanja Matic who lost the 2013 final for Benfica against Chelsea. In contrast Sevilla can count only five Ever Banega, Jesus Navas, Sergio Escudero from their last two triumphs in 2015, 2016 and Fernando won it with Porto, Ocampos who lost in finals when Marseille played Atletico Madrid. That's why a defeat will raise questions on Solskjaer and his coaching staff. To their credit they have delivered Champions' League football for next season by finishing third in English Premier League by dropping Paul Pogba and in form Anthony Martial for FA Cup semi-final that set the club's priority.

It's these five starters in Romero, Matic, Pogba, Martial, Rashford in United starting XI plus three in De Gea, Mata, Lingard on the bench plus club skipper Harry Maguire and their newly acquired talisman Bruno Fernandes plus Eric Bailly the star of 2017 campaign who missed the final due to being sent-off in semi-finals, whom Solskjaer was thinking about when he said "It is time to step up for big players, big game moments. You have to have 100 per cent focus because any little moment can change the game, can win you the game, can lose you the game."

Will it be third time lucky for Manchester United in their third cup semi-final of the season? Two clubs in a rebuild with new managers go head-to-head to defend their 100% record in semi-finals. Sevilla have not lost in any of their 5 semi-finals in UEFA Europa League as yet!

Cliffhanger end to a season of great progress in United rebuild

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

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

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

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

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

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

One match at a time can do the trick for United

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

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

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

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

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

Test of Solskjaer's mettle

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

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

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

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

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

FA Cup provides valuable experience for a young side

Fernandes-Pobga era started with Manchester United beating Sheffield United 3-0 on 24th June, 2020. A date to remember like the debut of another combination Charlton-Crerand on 23rd Feb, 1963 in 1-1 draw at home to Blackpool with David Herd scoring the only goal. Crerand went on to play in all the 19 remaining league games of the season after making his debut. United survived relegation finishing in 19th but won their first trophy after Munich the 1963 FA Cup thanks to home draws in initial stages and goal scoring prowess of Denis Law at his best.

United under Solskjaer broke another unwanted record still lingering from the Ferguson days that of the last hat-trick in the Premier League by a United player in Robin van Persie against Aston Villa in 22nd April 2013. Anthony Martial scored 3 goals which included two assists by Marcus Rashford and one by Aaron Wan-Bissaka. The best goal was the 3rd which included a long pass down the middle by Pogba to Fernandes back flick to Rashford to Martial for a sublime goal. 19 goals apiece for Rashford, Martial and 12 for Greenwood makes it 50 for the forward trio. Nemanja Matic had a great game and United did 5 substitutions in the second half at one-go. David de Gea under spotlight barely had a save to make.

Later United reversed its decision to let go of academy players by retaining all U18's totaling about 202 in number till the summer or help them find their next club. Its a great move to recognize the mistake done and undo the damage especially to the youngest of the lot. Unfortunately that means letting go of 9 senior graduates who could not make it especially Largie Ramazani.

Ahead of the FA Cup quarter finals against Norwich Solskjaer spoke of importance of the cup and how it can be a catalyst to a young side to achieve great things in the future. "For our team, it’s a new team and to win our first trophy or title could be fantastic and, hopefully, a catalyst for things to come. We are very focused on doing our best and getting through to the next round, and then hopefully, to the final." Sounds just like what the 1963 FA Cup did for Sir Matt Busby who had a senior squad that was later infused with youth from 1964 FA Youth Cup winners in George Best and David Sadler.

City's loss to Chelsea conferred the 2019-20 Premier League title to Liverpool who won their first league title after a gap of 30 years, four more years than it took United to reach the summit from Sir Matt Busby in 1967 to Sir Alex Ferguson in 1993. This perhaps shows how hard it is to get back to the top and the long road ahead for Solskjaer's Specials. Chelsea have over the years acted swiftly to sack coaches and get players quickly focused solely on winning the league while City and Liverpool have perhaps the two best coach's in the world right now. To challenge the this top three United would need 2-3 exciting signings like Jadon Sancho(20), Jack Grealish(24), Milan Skriniar(25), Wilfred Ndidi(23), Harry Kane(26). Meanwhile Wolves will give United a tough chase for the top 4 finish as well as in the Europa League.

The Norwich game will be the last chance for United to see Angel Gomes play. If he isn't in the squad perhaps it ends his career with Manchester United where be broke the greatest Duncan Edwards record for being the youngest ever debutant. Wishing him all the best!
Manchester United met Norwich for the 1st time in the FA Cup in 1906 in second round winning 3-0. Later on Norwich won all encounters in 59, 67, 91. Same predicament followed in League Cup in 75 and 79. Only in 1994 United managed to win 2-0 with goals from Roy Keane and Eric Cantona, who later fouled Jeremy Goss described by commentator Jimmy Hill as 'despicable and villainous'. Beat Norwich in 4th round League Cup by 4-0 but lost in semi-finals to unfancied Sunderland to eventually seal David Moyes' fate. Sunderland had three ex-United players in John O'Shea, Wes Brown, Phil Bardsley and escaped relegation under Gus Poyet being bottom of the table at Christmas. Manchester United they moved the very next day to sign Juan Mata from Chelsea to limit the damage instead of getting the deal done as soon as transfer window opened that January. This lethargy in doing transfers still afflicts the club to this day.

In the run up to United's first league title under Ferguson, Aston Villa and Norwich were the main rivals. The Canaries were led by ex-Red striker Mark Robins with 14 goals who previously had scored in 1990 FA Cup 3rd round match from Mark Hughes perfect lob that split their defense to win 1-0 against Brian Clough's Nottingham Forest to save Ferguson's job. Beating direct challengers Norwich 3-1 away set United on a seven match unbeaten run to clinch the league title in 1993. Losing 1-0 to Norwich in March, 1988 Sir Alex Ferguson summoned his team to a Sunday meeting to discuss what went wrong and result was a 10 match unbeaten run enabling United to finish creditable second in his first full season in charge. Winning this historically significant tie will be crucial in advancing Solskjaer's narrative to shape a new team with traditional United ethos.

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