Showing posts with label Nicky Butt. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Nicky Butt. Show all posts

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.


Point to prove and avoid the double by Cherries

United this season have never won the game when their direct top four rivals in Chelsea have slipped up first. Drawn with Wolves and lost to Burnley, Liverpool, Arsenal when Chelsea had dropped points recently. Now the Blues have lost to their local rivals West Ham and United response is awaited with the visit of Bournemouth to Old Trafford today who are aiming to do the first double over the Red Devils having won the reverse fixture 1-0 in November which was one of the most dismal away performances by Solskjaer's side amid rain and injury to Scott McTominay.

The Norwegian was pragmatic when asked about the seemingly easy run-in against teams from the bottom half of the table whom United have not beaten this season: "I've seen lots of quotes that we have an easy run in. But then the next five games they are against Bournemouth, we lost to them in the previous game. Aston Villa, we drew to them at home at Old Trafford. We have Southampton, which we drew to, we lost to Palace, we lost to West Ham, so there's teams that we've got a point to prove against." If the attitude to prove the doubters wrong is maintained it can be an advantage.

Solskjaer deserves to eclipse the 17 game unbeaten record of Mourinho from Nov, 2016 to Jan, 2017 and is approaching game number 16 today. Finally he has a starting XI that picks itself up and, will they start for third game in a row after astounding 3-0 wins over Sheffield United and Brighton & Hove Albion? Young Mason Greenwood could be rested and instead Daniel James might start. Bruno Fernandes took a knock but might still start and come off in the second half. Fred had a run of more than 20 consecutive games that really transformed him this season and could be back if Matic is to be rested. Eric Bailly has not been convincing to dislodge either Maguire or Lindelof based on that FA Cup win away to Norwich. Andreas looks much better than Lingard to deserve to be in the match day squad. Giving the newly promoted right back Ethan Laird a cameo would be superb.

Fine form has seen Solskjaer nominated for Manager of the Month award for June while Bruno Fernandes and Anthony Martial have been nominated for Player of the Month awards. Reports emerged from Germany informing of Borussia Dotmund completing a deal for Jude Bellingham. After Erling Haaland this is the second high profile teenager that has chosen BVB instead of United which confirms that although Red Devils have done a course correction under Solskjaer by appointing Nicky Butt as head of first team development at the start of this season, it is a recent appointment and sufficient time hasn't passed yet to see the desired results. Angel Gomes did not sign a new contract with United. Positive news on Jadon Sancho that he has agreed personal terms with United and now both clubs need to agree on a transfer price.

Home of AFC Bournemouth is Dean Court known commercially as Vitality Stadium is the only arena in the English Premier league with less than 20,000 capacity, to be precise its just 11,329 that is lowest in the league by a big margin. Five years in Premier League by Eddie Howe is fantastic. Bogged down by injuries to majority of the squad earlier in the season they haven't regained their form of last four years. Tough for them to get back into the top flight immediately if relegated. “If you’d have said to me 12, 15 years ago that Bournemouth would be playing in the Premier League one day, I’d have thought you were off your head. What’s happened here has just been beyond belief." Harry Redknapp who did a giant killing by managing the Cherries to win against defending champions MUFC in FA Cup 3rd round 1983-84. Following that 0-2 loss the first shouts of 'Atkinson Out' were chanted by United fans. United atoned that defeat by thrashing them 3-0 in next years FA Cup 3rd round!

George Best played his last 5 league games of his career for Bournemouth in Third Division in 1982-83 season whose aspiring owner wanted to double the gate receipts and that desired aim was achieved easily. In January when United were desperate for a back-up striker they had approached the former academy graduate Josh King now playing for the Cherries. If that would have clicked it would have been 3rd player to have been transferred directly between the two clubs and remarkably all three were strikers; other two being Jack Rowley 'the Gunner' scored 211 goals in 424 games for United despite the interruption of second world war, and Ted MacDougal a bona fide Cherries legend but flopped at United due to managerial changes. Thankfully Odion Ighalo has not disappointed. United must seize the chance given Leicester City are stuttering and Chelsea blowing hot-n-cold while Wolves are on United's heels.

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