Showing posts with label Mason Greenwood. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mason Greenwood. Show all posts

(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."

Solskjaer invites pressure

Manchester United lost the easiest game of the group on paper against Young Boys of Switzerland with matches versus two tactically astute teams in Villareal and Atalanta yet to be played. Young Boys came through two-legged qualifying rounds to beat three teams scoring 16 goals and reach the group stages, consequently looked sharper. United had only 2 shots on target in the whole match which is the least since 2003-04 says a lot about the dysfunctional tactics and substitutions by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer despite having the greatest player of all time Cristiano Ronaldo open the scoring early on via an inspired pass by Bruno Fernandes. It will be catastrophic if United do not make it to the knock-out stages of the lucrative Champions' League after marquee signings of Jadon Sancho, Raphael Varane and Ronaldo.

Did Sir Alex Ferguson always had a perfect squad to win all the trophies? Even during the treble winning season he had Roy Keane and Paul Scholes suspended for the final, won one league title with Wes Brown and Mikael Silvestre as centre-backs, one Robin van Persie inspired rest of the aging team to win his last title etc. Ferguson usually took out a full-back to bring on an attacker in the later stages of the match to try and score more goals. They did score loads of late goals and a certain Norwegian scored four times as a substitute against Nottingham Forest. Between the victory in Cup Winners Cup in '91 and reaching semi-finals of Champions' League in '97, Ferguson's United struggled against sides like Torpedo Moscow, IFK Goteborg and Rotor Volgograd. Fans had no doubt about Ferguson's ability as he had guided Aberdeen to '83 Cup Winners Cup glory beating the mighty Real Madrid and won the same competition with United eight years later beating Barcelona despite English clubs being banned from European competitions for previous five years! 

Solskjaer has no such record. That is why it is mandatory for him to not repeat mistakes. Last season the loss to Istanbul Basaksehir made United to fail to qualify for knock-out stages and were relegated to Europa League. That day he rested his first choice partner to Harry Maguire in Victor Lindelof by playing Axel Tuanzebe; in Bern he rested Raphael Varane for the first half by starting with Lindelof. Donny van de Beek started both these games and was not at fault in either. Solskjaer took off Tuanzebe and brought on Matic to revert to five at the back at half-time and did so again by introducing Varane for van de Beek. Then Juan Mata and now Jesse Lingard were at fault to allow a goal to slip by, both of whom should have moved on from United. In form Mason Greenwood was an unused substitute this Tuesday. In fact at Bern, United slipped alarmingly from a good start in both halves unlike at Istanbul where they got one goal back.

United have previously played on plastic pitches against Young Boys themselves in 2018, Astana FC and AZ Alkmaar in 2019. More than half of Norwegian league home grounds have artificial surfaces! Despite FIFA and UEFA certifying artificial turf since 2004 and the technology evolving into third generation perceptions of increased player injury, tiredness for players and different ball behavior still exists. For Young Boys the result could prove to be 'Miracle of Bern' moment for Swiss football if they qualify.

Nor has Solskjaer outmaneuvered his opponents to win a trophy yet like the loss to Sevilla and Villareal in Europa League, to Paris St Germain and RB Leipzig in Champions' League group stages, to Chelsea and Leicester City in FA Cup and to Manchester City in successive League Cup runs. Solskjaer is the only manager to have beaten Pep Guardiola three times in a row, yet could not get reach the League Cup final. He has managed to beat other stalwarts Thomas Tuchel and Julian Nagelsmann but could not progress through to group stages of the Champions' League last season. A well settled West Ham United provide a stern test this weekend but initiative has been lost bringing more scrutiny and pressure so early on in the season evaporating the feel good factor of Ronaldo's homecoming.

Declan Rice on his European debut with West Ham produced a virtuoso performance against Dinamo Zagreb and scored a wonderful goal too, will be eager to remind United what they have missed. Not since Michael Carrick the most underrated footballer in history, has anyone won all player awards at all levels at West Ham academy after joining from Chelsea at the age of 14. United can no longer get away by not snapping up exceptional talents as they did for Carrick and Rio Ferdinand, but have to get them before and directly as clubs are no longer hard pressed to sell their top talents because English Premier League is the richest in the world and due to excessive transfer fees involved especially if the player is English. After dismissing Declan Rice as 'sloppy' earlier ex-United captain Roy Keane now said "He's is way ahead of where I was at 22." recently. To remove two positions occupied by McTominay and Fred, Solskjaer needed someone like Rice to free up another spot for an attacker without losing the defensive shield. With the present squad it's still possible to win games with 3-2 score-line rather than 3-0. 

Darren Fletcher might intervene to not only check but mark those errors in tactics and substitutions by Solskjaer against Young Boys for John Murtough to analyze. This tracking might have escaped in previous seasons but not now. As a club United have gone up a few notches with key personnel all around not just in summer signings and that will make more demands to get the right results. Its not a doomsday scenario for Solskjaer but he can't postpone anymore to impose 'style of play' dubbed the 'Man United way' with the squad at his disposal now.

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.

Away to high flying Saints

United were expected to beat Istanbul midweek at home which they duly did by a big 4-1 score-line that again highlighted how shocking it was to lose the reverse fixture 1-2 with shambolic defending. Donny van de Beek started with Fred in the middle with Anthony Martial on left and Marcus Rashford on right of front three as Edinson Cavani led the line. Only concern United have is the knocks to Marcus Rashford, Victor Lindelof and Aaron Wan-Bissaka, and will continue to be without Luke Shaw, Paul Pogba and Scott McTominay. Its McTominay's absence that forced the positive change! The best part about Tuesday was the accurate crossing of Alex Telles that led to two goals.

Its Southampton away for Manchester United next, whose manager Ralph Hassenhuttl many argue could as a coach do a far better job at managing elite teams to improve their performance considerably. The turnaround that he has managed after that abysmal 0-9  home defeat to Leicester City, a joint record for biggest score in English Premier League with Manchester United beating Ipswich Town 9-0 at Old Trafford in 1995, has been simply incredible. He has played 5 to 8 players from that same group in almost every game since then, improved them individually and collectively as a team. Playing high-pressing 4-4-2 or 4-2-2-2 that many clubs and club owners in England take a liking to, he certainly will manage a much bigger club soon. Main risk to mitigate this season was the over reliance on Danny Ings for goals and the two wins in last two games are a testament to that, and thus far have scored 4 more goals than United. Presently they are on a 7 match unbeaten run including three successive 2-0 home wins. He knows what his first team is unlike Solskjaer who has much bigger squad and more players to integrate. His main changes have been on the left wing with Djenepo, Redmond and Walcott trying to make it their own.
 
A thoughtful Ole Gunnar Solskjaer gave a day-off to his squad due to a rare 4-day gap between two games. Most pressing thing is to bring back goals from Anthony Martial, and it could be via penalty with Fernandes and Rashford showing good team spirit. Discipline of Saints to check the opposing flanks will force Solskjaer to play oft-used Aaron Wan-Bissaka ahead of Brandon Williams despite the home game next to PSG where United still need a point to qualify for the lucrative knock-out phase of the Champions' League. Last match between these two sides had a controversial moment when Saints enforcer Romeu fouled Mason Greenwood which many believed deserved a red card. 19 year old hasn't appeared enough this season and this match could be a test of his developing mentality given the history, can become more of a folklore if he were to get the better of his avenger in the right spirit. Bruno Fernandes has been involved in staggering 34 goals in 35 games since joining United is clearly an outlier, no wonder rumours of him being linked with two Spanish giants surfaced.

Amongst the most odd things to have taken place in football was the kit-change by United from grey to blue at half-time after being 3-0 down in April 1996 at the Dell, previous home of Southampton. That change brought about a consolation goal in injury time by Ryan Giggs and a fine of 10,000 pounds for Sir Alex Ferguson who claimed the players could not see each other on a sunny day in the south coast. Later that year in October, United lost by an unbelievable 6-3 score again at the Dell when Roy Keane was sent off on 21 minutes.

United are on a 3 match unbeaten run including 7 consecutive away wins and this could be record equaling win of 8 last achieved under the illustrious Sir Alex Ferguson. Although a draw is more likely outcome given the results of last season, injury to Danny Ings should tip the balance in United's favour but the rise of Che Adams being linked with Scotland call-up makes this a tough match. Having drawn with Chelsea and seen off Everton, Hassenhuttl isn't fazed to meet the United challenge but clearly is cognizant of the need to have everything fall in place perfectly. Solskjaer compared his impact with Jurgen Klopp's arrival at Liverpool and that's a great compliment. After getting the better of another upstart in Leipzig's Nagelsmann, will the Norwegian emerge victorious against the Austrian with the might of Manchester United?

de Gea(GK), Wan-Bissaka, Telles, Lindelof, Maguire, Fred, van de Beek, Fernandes, Greenwood, Martial, Rashford

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.

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'!

United crave to be consistent through the season to retain top four status

An unusual 2019-20 season drew to a close in late August in which United's fortunes contrasted with their worst start in 33 years before the pandemic forced break and the joint best finish aided by 14 game unbeaten run culminating in finishing 3rd to qualify for lucrative Champions' League. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side earned a maximum four week rest after Europa League Cup semi-final loss to skip the opening round of the new English Premier League season and instead play their season opener against Crystal Palace on 19th September. Transfer window though remains open until 5th of October as UEFA has extended the business hours to facilitate spending in a market hit hard by the lock-down. United thus far have made only one signing of Donny van de Beek from Ajax as clubs look to do late deals to either save paying high wages for couple of weeks or strike a late bargain at the cost of squad integration.

United will have Bruno Fernandes available for the whole season and Dean Henderson returning to challenge David de Gea. Solskjaer has settled on a starting XI post restart last season and will hope that will give United a greater share of points this season than paltry 66. First choice right winger and backup is thin be it in central-defense, left-back or left-wing. Fans skepticism is valid based on what transpired just two years back when Jose Mourinho asked for a top quality centre-back as his first priority for which the club set aside 100 million but got no one except Fred the midfielder and Dalot the young right back. United have fortuitously signed Donny van de Beek as Real Madrid backed out of their stated interest and credit to the board for closing the deal swiftly. The main target however has always been Jadon Sancho costing around 100 million. Will United fail their manager again? Bruno Fernandes played in all matches for Sporting Lisbon in January and signed for United at the end of the month, will same hold true in case of Sancho? Is the delay in transfer due to his completing more than 10 caps for England and 100 caps for Dortmund to earn his agents bonuses?

Mason Greenwood has moved into 100 most valuable players in the world as per transfermarkt who value him at 40 million. Its huge for a home grown player from the academy. The front three Martial, Rashford, Greenwood contributed 44 premier league goals last season though none of them played more than 31 league games suggests more can be expected of them this term. Sancho has the stats that are better than Fernandes to take United up another notch to close the huge 33 points gap with Champions. That's the reason behind the obsession with Sancho. Next season he might prefer other clubs hence the urgency to complete the deal now. Fans hope he will not be remembered like Alan Ball the 1966 World Cup winner whom United missed to sign from Blackpool when the player himself and his father wanted to join but destiny proved otherwise. 


United have a home game on 6th February, 2021 against Everton that coincides with the services to mark the tragedy at Munich in 1958 as per the fixtures released. Play Liverpool away on 16th January and at home on 1st May, both in later half of the season which will be good news as Solskjaer hasn't beaten them yet and United can hope to build good momentum till then to mount at fierce fight with their traditional rivals. First Manchester derby will be at Old Trafford on 12th December followed by reverse fixture on 6th March. Games against biggest spenders Chelsea are on 24th October, home and 27th February, away. Much hated rivals Leeds under maverick Bielsa are back in the top division after 15 years and intense matches are due on 19th December at home and 24th April away. West Bromwich Albion and Fulham are the other two promoted sides. October presents a tough proposition with Tottenham, Chelsea and Arsenal all to play for.

Club has continued its focus on youth following last season's rejig with Nicky Butt being appointed head of first team development and Nick Cox taking over the academy. U23s got promoted to EPL2 consequently under coach Neil Wood. They have acquired a slew of young players Marc Jurado from Barcelona, Alvaro Fernandez Carreras from Real Madrid,  Isak Hansen-Aaroen from Tromso, Joe Hugill and Logan Pye from Sunderland and Radek Vitek from Sigma Olomouc. Quinton Fortune leaves his U23 assistant manager role to be part of first team setup at Reading. United reached the semi-finals of FA Youth Cup for the first time since winning it in 2011 with Paul Pogba and Jesse Lingard, the FA are still hopeful of completing the last three matches to declare a winner. United face Chelsea while Blackburn face City in another semi-finals.

United after Sir Alex Ferguson have never finished in the top four in consecutive seasons, and that's the next test for Solskjaer to overcome. Club needs to mitigate the risk of hedging summer transfer on just one important target in Jadon Sancho by having room to sign-up alternatives if the deal fails. Challenge is that only Lionel Messi was better than Sancho last season! Instead United could bid 50-60 million for Dayot Upamecano and chase Sancho again in the next transfer window but sustaining top four will become very challenging. Ideally United need both Sancho and Upamecano to challenge the top two. The struggle to get the right value for Chris Smalling after an excellent first season on loan to AS Roma reveals the cautious spending by clubs across Europe. United still regard him highly and he could end up as a dependable backup to Maguire-Lindelof though not as a challenger. Teden Mengi the U18's captain has been fast-tracked due to his pace to compliment club captain Harry Maguire, and came on as a sub against Aston Villa in a practice match last Saturday. Sergio Romero will look to exit after being snubbed for Europa League semi-final. Will United pay compensation to release Marcos Rojo and Phil Jones like they did for Alexis Sanchez if they sign one centre-back?

Predicting the league standings after a disrupted season is always going to be tough, given the transfer window being still open and VAR rules modified for new season. After the winter disruption of 1962 next season saw Liverpool under Bill Shankly crowned as Champions after being promoted from division two just two years before and having finished 8th in previous season! If Jadon Sancho sings United could retain 3rd spot and if not, have enough faith in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to secure fourth. Under Solskjaer team has evolved through the last year to a settled starting XI that can still improve and having Bruno Fernandes for the whole season in addition to new recruits does make a formidable force by itself.

Its 30 years this May since I started following Manchester United. Back then they played Crystal Palace in the FA Cup final and won in a replay, today they start their new league campaign against the same opposition. Sadly football and its finances of today dictate the need to finish in the top four ahead of FA Cup final. Solskjaer to his credit did not let the three semi-finals distract him from the goal of achieving Champions' League football which deserves to be backed up by top quality signings from the board, and that focus will see him through a far tougher and unpredictable season through the pandemic where it still remains unclear if and when fans will return to the stadiums to give life back to football. 

Earnestly hope though the club do away with this new zebra kit and introduce a retro one.


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.

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!

Balance crucial to squad rebuild

Solskjaer finished not just inside top four positions in the English Premier League but third overcoming Chelsea, Leicester City, Tottenham Hotspur and Wolverhampton Wanderers. That in itself is quite a remarkable achievement considering the surprise losses suffered to Crystal Palace, Newcastle United, Bournemouth, Watford, Burnley apart from regular concessions to West Ham, Arsenal and Liverpool especially since the inspirational transfer of Bruno Fernandes in late January as they have dropped just 8 points of possible 42 and remained unbeaten! A tale of two halves. All credit must go to the coaching staff who meticulously planned to keep the players engaged through out the suspension, the medical staff who ensured all players were fit for the season finale, the manager who finally found his starting XI by giving everyone a fair chance and MUFC board who backed the manager by spending huge on Bruno Fernandes mid-season.
In this tough economic climate the qualification for Champions' League gives the club a safety net of earnings much higher than otherwise. Though not in the same breadth as gaining promotion just before second world war to ensure funds in global economic recession, suspension of league for seven seasons and bombing of Old Trafford. Future is yet uncertain but the world is perhaps at its most precarious since September, 1939.

Challenge will be to add not only 2-3 first team players at right wing, centre-half and midfield but also replace the deadwood of Chris Smalling(36 starts on loan), Alexis Sanchez(15 starts on loan), Jesse Lingard(18), Phil Jones(6), Marcus Rojo(7) and resolve the future of Juan Mata(19), Andreas Pereira(22), Diogo Dalot(7). That's eight fringe players with 51 and 79 first team starts at loan and for United respectively out of 58 competitive matches played so far this season. From previous financial calls its believed United have 135 million euro's available after deducting Bruno Fernandes outlay. If Jadon Sancho is prioritized then it leaves room for perhaps only one or two more signing, there in lies the question of balance.

On losing to West Ham in Sep 2018, Jose Mourinho's in his last season called into question the role of United scouts who had failed to identify and sign a centre-half all summer. Not just first choice like Raphael Varane, Harry Maguire, Jerome Boateng, Diogo Godin but none of the upcoming players like Issa Diop who played brilliantly for hammers that day. Now the same scouting team has a chance to redeem in getting left sided centre-half Gabriel dos Santos Magalhaes preferably or Pau Torres of Villareal, and left back Fode Ballo-Toure of Monaco to Old Trafford. This will fit the budget constraints if United move for Jadon Sancho who theoretically can move at much lower price next year as he is in final two years of his contract with Borussia Dotmund. Unless Dotmund do not budge from their high asking price of 110 million euro and negotiations conclude by 10th August as requested by BVB the deal could be at risk. Apparently there is no interest from any other clubs for Sancho so its up to United to conclude. Crucial for United to reduce the initial fee to 60-70 million with add-on's to balance the funds for entire transfer window across multiple targets. Deal on 7th August for 20 year old to wear the famous number 7 jersey!
Aston Villa have reportedly increased their asking price for skipper Jack Grealish from #50 to #80 million after avoiding relegation, hence Donny van de Beek of Ajax at about #40 million becomes more viable. If Paul Pogba stays Grealish or Donny van de Beek interest can be put on hold and contract talks need to start immediately with the Frenchman to avoid risk of letting him go for free next season, but if he chooses to leave then already crammed window with Europa League fixtures becomes even more hectic. After Micheal Carrick swooped all awards at the famous West Ham academy at the start of this century and eventually replaced Roy Keane to the number 16 jersey via Tottenham, its time to hunt for Nemanja Matic's long term successor in another east London prodigy in Declan Rice who has matched Carrick's fete. Chelsea remain favourites to resign their ex-academy graduate but as a centre-half where as at United he is viewed as a central defensive midfield which might sway the decision. For James Garner at 19 to fill this crucial role will take 3-4 years for him to develop. United might not be able to sign all three Sancho, Rice and Grealish during this transfer window.

One player who has no issue is keeper Dean Henderson the Sheffield United young player of the year at maximum age of 23 for the award. With Euro 2021 in view, Solskjaer can help him play regularly for one more season at Bramall Lane thus enabling him to make the England squad given that there are questions on current number one Jordan Pickford. From United point of view David de Gea gets a boost of confidence and final chance in his 10th season to resurrect his legendary status. Sergio Romero now enters his final year of contract at the end of which Henderson can be eased into United.

Setting free transfers for Phil Jones to any club and Marcus Rojo to non-EPL clubs will free up their wages from United player salaries as they have proved most difficult to sell. United must not fall for bait of AS Roma asking for another loan but only agree to sell Smalling outright. Sanchez having played well in last few games for Inter must be pushed through with no obligation to pay any part of his huge wages though this will limit the amount of transfer fee. A change of scene for Lingard will be more beneficial to regain his form that has dipped since the semi-finals with England at the 2018 World Cup. United conservatively should expect to make 60 million euros for these sales and also a percentage from Memphis Depay and Wilfred Zaha sale.

Juan Mata's off-field charity work through Common Goal shades his on-field effort but his technique and professionalism is something junior members of the squad can learn from. United players contractually obligated might have to prefer MU Foundation thus one sees no players having joined Mata's charity that now boasts Megan Rapinoe, Paulo Dybala, Serge Gnabry, Kasper Schmeichel, Jurgen Klopp and Julian Nagelsmann. Pereira and Dalot might have something to offer and should be looked to offload next year if things do not turn out better.

Refreshingly last year United bought Daniel James from Championship and contributed immensely in the early stages of the campaign including a goal on debut versus Chelsea. This approach must not be abandoned. Promotion of Leeds United rules out any chance of signing Kalvin Phillips. Other interesting prospects remain in Matheus Pereira CAM from West Brom, Eberechi Eze CAM from QPR, Jed Wallace RW from Milwall, Joe Rodon CH from Swansea, Joe Bryan and Rico Henry both LB from Fulham and Brentford, Matthew Cash RB from Nottingham.

Mason Greenwood and Brandon Williams had a successful breakthrough this season from the academy. Next season expecting right back Ethan Laird, defender Tenden Mengi and midfielders Dylan Levitt and Hannibal Mejbri. James Garner and Tahith Chong are expected to go on a season long loan. Injury to centre-half Axel Tuanzebe limited his appearances this season. Despite losing Angel Gomes and missing out on Jude Bellingham, United have landed 16 year old keeper from Slovakia Radek Vitek in January and striker Joe Hugill and defender Logan Pye from Sunderland. Awaiting clearance for foreign recruits in Marc Jurado from Barcelona, Alvaro Fernandez Carreras from Real Madrid and Isak Hansen-Aaroen from Tromso. United won three awards at Premier League Academy awards: Marcus Rashford for best Academy Graduate, coach Tony Whelan won the Eammon Dolan award and James Garner for PL2 goal of the season award.

Resolving the issue of deadwood with reasonable returns is crucial to make this transfer window a success. The oft lethargic and slow negotiating team of Matt Judge needs to act fast and not work on just one transfer at a time. Importantly he needs to be given independence to make calls without back and forth with Glazer's operating in different time zones, this is what Ed Woodward as chief executive needs to fix. At corporate level he must ensure dividends are not paid this year as football reels under economic austerity. In last three days of January window United did sign three players Nathan Bishop, Bruno Fernandes and Odion Ighalo. Rivals Chelsea and Man City moving fast to tie-down their players, United can't afford to stand still. With EPL starting on 12th September and Europa League final on 21st August, Solskjaer will need all signings to be completed in August itself irrespective of end of transfer window being 5th October. Signings and exits in total might reach double digits leaving United no time to lose.

Over to Ed and Matt from Solskjaer and fans.

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

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