Showing posts with label Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Show all posts

Return of Cristiano Ronaldo

Manchester United were nudged by Jorge Mendes, the expert agent of Cristiano Ronaldo when he opened direct talks with local rivals City about the next move after his most famous client decided to leave Juventus this summer. Sir Alex Ferguson praised Mendes in his autobiography as "the best agent I dealt with, without a doubt. He was responsible, looked after his players to an incredible extent and was very fair with clubs". Credit to the team at United who acted swiftly to secure the services of Ronaldo once again, undoubtedly the intervention of Ferguson perhaps a first since his retirement brought about this transfer coup considering the final fee in five installments of €3million a year!

Ever since Ronaldo scored 42 goals to help United to their European double of Champions' League and English Premier League in 2007-08 his stats has been explosive and consistent. At Real he averaged 50 goals per season and at Juventus 33. Ronaldo broke the men's record of most international goals by scoring his 111th goal for Portugal who defeated Ireland 2-1. In the recently concluded Euro 2020 delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic he was the lead scorer despite Portugal losing in the knock-out phase itself. For the first goal he scored against Germany, Ronaldo ran 90 meters in less than 14 seconds dispelling any doubts about his fitness even at the age of 36. Despite being two years older than Messi he rose to the challenge brilliantly almost matching his 472 goals with 450 of his own during the same time in La Liga. Harry Kane and Romelu Lukaku will have stiff competition for sure.

Does Ronaldo make Manchester United title challengers? Despite lacking a central defensive midfielder of repute to control games, United will solve another major problem of not having a player to score 30 goals a season. This itself will catapult United to challenge for the title but it will not make them favourites like Manchester City, Liverpool or Chelsea. Ronaldo is not an affliction with United's past glory as critiqued by a few notable journalists. Considering the history of Sir Denis Law, United protected their interests now unlike in the 70's earning the unpopular Glazers an important point over the Edwards ownership for sure. Sir Alex Ferguson augmented his coaching staff by recalling legends under Sir Matt Busby in Nobby Stiles to help nurture academy graduates, and promoting Brian Kidd to be his assistant. That worked brilliantly for Fergie. Another incredulous critique was to draw parallels with the disastrous purchase of Alexis Sanchez that completely disrupted the dressing room under Jose Mourinho; here the player in question is an ex-legend and super fit with a coach eager to get the best out of him. Yes, the United wage bill has hit the roof with this one transfer but the benefits far outweigh any negatives.

Cristiano Ronaldo will himself be aiming for glory to give his glittering career a fitting end. He would want to aim for record of Francesco Gento with most UEFA Champions' League wins and put a daylight behind his present records. His Premier League tally is 84 goals now with 34 assists, his overall tally of 112 needs 43 more to enter top 10 scorer's of all time and 67 to match George Best's tally of 179, he missed Denis Viollet's tally of 32 league goals the most by a United player by just one goal in 2007-08 and in the same season his tally was 4 shy of Denis Law's all-time record of 46 goals in 1963-64 that won the Scotsman a Ballon d'Or a first ever for a United player. George Best scored 6 goals in a match against Northampton Town where as Ronaldo has scored five goals in a league match on two occasions. Wayne Rooney rightly argued that Ronaldo has the physique to play into his 40's like Ryan Giggs.

Ronaldo's home-coming promises to eclipse the return of George Best twice, first after retirement under Frank O'Farrell he scored 4 in 19 games and second time after suspension under Tommy Docherty he scored 2 in 12 games before finally quitting United. Ronaldo's age might be a handicap in terms of longevity when comparing to Mark Hughes' spectacular seven years second spell. Paul Scholes made an impactful return from retirement by winning the Premier League. Other returnees have mainly been youth players from Mark Bosnich, Les Sealey to Paul Pogba and Tom Heaton. How hard it is get one's wish to return, just ask Gordon Hill when Ron Atkinson wanted him back at United after excelling in mid-70's but fate conspired against it.

With Ronaldo, United can play two upfront and not just 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1. Edinson Cavani scored 17 goals in all competition last season and would be an ideal strike partner. Rashford or Martial from the left, Fernandes or Pogba through the middle, and Sancho or Greenwood from the right offer plethora of opportunities to create goals for the Portuguese superstar. Pressure on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will increase manifold to keep United in the hunt for the league till the very end and win the club its first trophy in five long years. There is no place to hide anymore!

Most promising season under Solskjaer

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

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

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

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

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

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

Glazers engage with fans after 16 years

Friday afternoon on 4th June, Joel Glazer finally met with Manchester United fans forum representatives - the first meeting between Glazer family and fans 16 years after the heavily leveraged buyout that saddled the club with £540 million of debt and never been wiped out due to interest payments, loans and dividends made out to the Glazer family of over £1.1 billion in the same time. Before Glazers the club was debt-free and self-sustaining, consequently became the most sought after club in world football including being pursued by Rupert Murdoch's BSkyB the chief broadcasters of English Premier League which was vehemently and successfully opposed by unifying all United fans organizations, prominent MPs like Michael Crick and the media. Edwards family owned United between 1958 and 2002 for 44 years but were generally hated by the fans for mismanagement of England's most famous sporting institution as detailed in the brilliant book 'Manchester United: The Betrayal of a Legend', sadly same fate has befallen the Glazers.

Glazers were forced to apologize and meet the fans, it has to be noted not on their own volition but due to the fan protests and widespread condemnation of the disastrous flirtations with European Super League announcement on 19th April. Protests by United fans led to disruption to the training at Carrington on 22nd April and cancellation of the biggest fixture in the English league against their arch rivals Liverpool at Old Trafford. Glazers were forced to pay £22 million fine imposed by the Football Association. Despite the Covid-19 pandemic and Super League fiasco the Glazers still persisted with taking $0.09 per share as dividend that will be issued on 30th July. This makes the mockery of fine imposed by the FA, and further raises questions on why this take-over was not blocked by the Monopolies and Mergers Commission now called CMA. Ironically its the three American owners of three big traditional England football league clubs in Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal who have backed the Super League to mirror their operations in American NFL franchises!

Same top three English teams were involved in the previous flirtation of European Super League in 1998, there again backed by JP Morgan from where the Glazers hired Ed Woodward to work on buying Manchester United. Then JP Morgan had promised $20 million to each of the founding clubs and of being in a group of 16 teams who will participate for six years irrespective of their domestic league position; that sum became $200 million in 2021. Since then the number six has had deliberate evolution in European football - top 6 teams: ignoring traditional giants of the game like Everton or Aston Villa, these top six sides in the league had steadily increased their lead from the rest of the league. Evolution perhaps has a surprise too, in Leicester City's of the world who have worked hard from ground up to evolve into a major club by strategic choice and financial backing by football savvy owners. Contrast Leicester City owners with Glazers who famously cut the net budget in the later years of Sir Alex Ferguson to about £20 million each year. Recall United selling Cristiano Ronaldo for £80 million, lost Carlos Tevez to local rivals City and replaced the duo with Michael Owen (free transfer), Antonio Valencia (£16 million), Gabriel Obertan (£3 million) and Miram Diouf (£4 million) from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer managed club Molde! Consequently the last Premier League winning team under Ferguson had iconic veterans who needed urgent replacing - Giggs, Scholes, Ferdinand and Vidic. Imagine if Glazers would have been in touch with football where might United have been post Ferguson? Brian Glanville wrote this of the Malcolm Glazer in 2005 under the heading 'United they fall': "Utterly ignorant of soccer, owner of Tampa Bay Buccaneers American gridiron club, obsessed by the urge to make money from childhood, at odds with his own sisters over his mothers will, he is the very incarnation of capitalism red in tooth and claw."

This was not the first protest by the Manchester United fans who had previously launched the 'Green and Gold' campaign by Manchester United Supporters Trust (MUST) that was inspired by the colours of Newton Heath LYR (Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway) football club as United used to be known till 1902. Many loyal fans who had been supporting the club for more than two to three generations were part of this protest, and some of them even managed to form a new club FC United who now play in Northern Premier League the 7th tier of English football. They did not get the backing from any of players of the club including the "Class of '92" who instead invested in Salford City FC in 2014 and changed their jersey from tangerine shirt and black short to red shirt and white short. That kit sounds familiar!

In the absence of any football men on United board its the 'Class of '92' who are backing Ole Gunnar Solskjaer just like Sir Matt Busby backed Tommy Docherty when United suffered their last relegation and like Sir Bobby Charlton backed Sir Alex Ferguson when he faced his worst crisis in 1989. It must also be stressed that Docherty and Ferguson had achieved path-breaking success at their previous clubs in Chelsea and Aberdeen respectively unlike modest Solskjaer.

Threat of Super League finally made Gary Neville to take a stand against the Glazer ownership and further shared details of him recalling his medals given to United for display at their museum four years ago, as had a former United captain Martin Buchan. Thus far the "Class of '92" have rightly backed Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in general about the direction of rebooting the club as per its tradition. If Solskjaer does not win trophies this upcoming season be assured this backing might change. Gary Neville had the toughest of tasks to succeed Roy Keane and bridge the chasm that emanated from the bitter fall out between Ferguson and his long standing, most successful United captain. Neville has successfully campaigned for an independent regulator in football to which the government has positively responded, and his assessment of the outcome of fans meeting with the Glazers was spot-on too. Doubts remain if Glazers would ever agree to a fan share scheme but the result of #NotAPennyMore campaign that has led to the The Hut Group pulling out of the training kit deal offers hope.

The Manchester Munich Memorial Fund (MMMF) that spearheads the joint group of major United fan organizations to lobby for recognition of Jimmy Murphy's major contribution in creating the Busby Babes and leading the fightback after the crash at Munich made significant breakthrough in their talks with the club who in principle have agreed to the proposal. Confirmation from Jimmy Murphy's grandson in 'All for United' YouTube channel.

Glazers NFL franchise Tampa Bay Buccaneers despite having the lowest win percentage 0.397 they shrewdly acquired the greatest player in NFL history in Tom Brady and won only their second Super Bowl. Can they replicate the same with Manchester United by getting Cristiano Ronaldo? Since the retirement of Ferguson and only when United are out of top four Glazers have invested heavily, this peak and trough transfer policy without a core guiding principle has back-fired thus far. Ed Woodward the embattled chief executive finally quitting and decision making decentralized to a limited extent makes for a fascinating season ahead, not just the transfers. Solskjaer wisely is being patient in his reboot to fill all facets of a modern football club by getting the youth setup revamped, hiring coaches at all levels, backroom staff, director of football, and this is slowly but surely leading to a crescendo of success as a tribute to halcyon days of Busby and Ferguson. If the Glazers do not stop taking dividends and reduce the debt nor engage with fans, irrespective of any on field success they risk being hated just like the Edwards. Old Trafford needs urgent attention!

2005-06 was the only time I got a postcard from United to join as a overseas member, immediately after the Glazer takeover. I remain hopeful of a positive change.

Disappointing season finale

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer remains in the company of Wilf McGuiness, Frank O'Farrell, Dave Sexton and David Moyes as trophy-less post war manager of Manchester United after fumbling against minnows Villareal in the UEFA Cup final in Gdansk. Final took place on a historic day, 26th May synonymous in United folklore with birthday of Sir Matt Busby and victory over Bayern Munich to complete the treble in 1999 under Sir Alex Ferguson. Solskjaer has managed to finish in top four in last two successive seasons a feat not achieved since retirement of Ferguson, and improved upon four semi-final losses by claiming his first runners-up medal. Progress seems labored and sluggish at best, aided by rivals Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur having a bad season at the same time!

Transfer spending has not been a problem despite criticism of Glazer ownership as Solskjaer has spent heavily on Harry Maguire (80m), Aaron Wan-Bissaka (50m), Daniel James (15m), Bruno Fernandes (67m), Edinson Cavani (free), Alex Telles (18m), Amad Diallo (37m), Facundo Pellistri (9m) totaling a staggering 276 million pounds in two and half years. Style of play still does not reflect the DNA of the club which is well-known to Solskjaer and over reliance on Bruno Fernandes who again won player of the season award for two straight seasons. In contrast flamboyant Ron Atkinson with star signing Bryan Robson won two FA Cups in '83 and '85 while Solskjaer meekly surrendered opportunities against Chelsea in semi-final last year and to winners Leicester City in quarter-finals this year. Outwitted by Sevilla in last year's UEFA Cup semi-finals and in league Cup semi-finals by Pep Guardiola's City for two straight season's. On that previous evidence the loss to 7th placed team Villareal in Spanish La Liga in Gdansk albeit on penalties was not a surprise.

As a player who is fondly remembered for his goal scoring exploits off the bench as a substitute being dubbed 'super sub', Solskjaer the manager is the anti-thesis with inflexibility and lacking plan B. Many point to his bench strength arguing about its depth but the same lot fail to acknowledge that unbeaten away from home record this past season was sustained mainly due to changes introduced in second half in Cavani and Greenwood being 3rd and 4th choice strikers behind Martial and Rashford. United had a brilliant shot stopper in Sergio Romero (released at the end of his contract after 6 years on 04-June) on their books but could not use him as he wasn't anywhere near the squad all season despite earning huge salary. Romero was the keeper when United lifted their only UEFA Cup trophy under Jose Mourinho in 2017 with Valencia, Smalling, Blind, Darmian, Herrera, Mata, Fellaini, Pogba, Mkhitaryan and Rashford. Eight of those have moved on in such a short space of time and replaced by more vaunted players like de Gea in goal, Shaw, Maguire (was injured replaced by Bailly), Lindelof, Wan-Bissaka, McTominay, Pogba, Greenwood, Fernandes, Rashford and Cavani. The result in 2021 was poor but it puts the spotlight clearly on the manager unable to pack a punch let alone punch above.

Fiasco over Super League flirtation will force the Glazers to spend more than usual this summer. That will directly increase the pressure on Solskjaer to deliver next season. In this context a new 3-year deal for Solskjaer seems unlikely to be completed while his existing one enters its final year. An extension sounds more prudent. Solskjaer's repeated assertions about being a man-manager than a coach raises doubts about his present backroom staff which might need augmenting. Assistant manager Mike Phelan, a former United player was crucial to the initial days of success under Ferguson and later his trusted assistant, Michael Carrick and Kieran McKenna are relatively early in their respective coaching careers, Martyn Pert is the latest addition credited with Fred's turnaround and Richard Hartis who is back as goal-keeping coach. Addition of former United defender Michael Clegg as head of strength and conditioning has resulted in lesser injuries to players this season, he now occupies the same position in coaching set-up that his father once did. Bizarrely Mourinho hasn't yet won a trophy without his former assistant Rui Faria when they last lifted that UEFA Cup for United. Rui Faria is yet to sign a contract with any club since he left Al-Duhail SC while Steve Cooper at Swansea prefers 4-2-3-1 like Solskjaer and Carlos Corberan has stabilized Huddersfield Town in his first full season in the championship. Meanwhile United academy under Nick Cox have made an excellent appointment in Justin Cochrane former England U-17s coach to replace Nicky Butt as Head of Player Development.

Credit to Solskjaer for finishing second and go unbeaten away from home for the first time in Manchester United history in a Covid-19 impacted season. Without proper rest between seasons for players and no pre-season either the team got off to horrific start with 3 defeats in first six games claiming 15th position. Tottenham Hotspur coached by Jose Mourinho inflicted joint heaviest defeat 1-6 at Old Trafford that made Solskjaer to fixate Mc(Tominay)-Fred in midfield for majority of games stifling creativity and Donny van de Beek's chances. Not the 9-0 win over Southampton but beating Leeds United 6-2 on their return to top-flight was the best match of the season. Bruno Fernandes' goal against Everton in an Eric Cantona manner was easily goal of the season. Loss to Istanbul Basaksehir away was the low point of the season leading to United crashing out of Champions' League group stage and failing to win any points from their last two group games against Thomas Tuchel managed Paris St Germain and Julian Nagelsmann managed RB Leipzig, both of whom went through. At one point in the season United's local rivals City were favourites for the quadruple until Chelsea under Thomas Tuchel not United stopped their juggernaut in FA Cup semi-final and Champions' League final respectively! Lost to Arsenal at Old Trafford for the 1st time in 15 years! United's joint biggest Premier League win (9-0 vs Saints) and loss (1-6 vs Spurs) occurred in the same season! United also continued to lose at least one match to relegated teams for 4th straight season, in a 1-2 loss to Sheffield United at home! Most bizarre match was 3-2 win over Brighton & Hove Albion with the penalty coming after the final whistle scored by Bruno Fernandes who ended the season as top goal-scorer with 28 goals.


Solskjaer deserves another season for rebooting the club as per its tradition of emphasis on youth development in an non-acrimonious manner unlike Jose Mourinho. Solskjaer did not get the players he requested last summer yet did not lose his composure unlike Mourinho and consequently the team still attacks mainly from the left via Luke Shaw or through Bruno Fernandes in the middle, and if this changes due to United finally getting a right winger like Jadon Sancho or Ousmane Dembele the impact can be huge. John Murtough the first director of football at United assisted by technical director Darren Fletcher will oversee their first transfer window (that opens on 9th June) since being appointed. They will be tempted by the prospect of availability of Cristiano Ronaldo and for sure that will appeal to the commercial side of United. Another tough one will be to convince Paul Pogba to sign a new contract as his present one enters its final year. Losing Pogba and not getting Ronaldo will seem like commercial disaster for Glazers especially Richard Arnold favourite in-house executive to replace Ed Woodward.

Declan Rice must be on top of their radar as McTominay and Fred do not create enough chances from midfield and confidence in Donny van de Beek is low. Maguire-Lindelof does not seem convincing to win the league as they lack speed and the absence of Maguire to injury exposed the lack of leadership that has made United to look at experienced player like Raphael Varane. Ben White is the best English bet to recover from high defensive line. Links to right-back Kieran Trippier who will turn 30 seems odd even though he is a Manchester lad while Max Aarons seems too pricey being in the right age profile. Player sales might generate considerable sum to augment the squad as likes of Jesse Lingard, Anthony Martial, Diogo Dalot, Eric Bailly, Nemanja Matic, Andreas Pereira, Phil Jones seem surplus to requirements but their high salary will remain a constraint to get a move. Juan Mata who has been a brilliant pro but will probably look to play more games in a less competitive league as his contract comes to an end this summer. James Garner on loan at Nottingham Forest and Teden Mengi on loan at Derby County were the two best prospects this season. Solskjaer handed senior debuts to Anthony Elanga, Shola Shoretire, Hannibal Mejbri and Will Fish.

Dave Sexton lost his job despite winning his last seven matches to finish eight in April 1981 but importantly he hadn't won a trophy in 4 years despite finishing second the season before and losing the FA Cup final in 1979. Solskjaer needs to be acutely aware of that! United are in their longest trophy drought in three decades (since 1985 to 1989) i.e., 4 years since beating Ajax in Stockholm.

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.

Wolfsburg, Sevilla and Leipzig

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer could potentially follow the travails of his two predecessors Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho if he does not win a trophy or finish in the top four at the end of this season. Losing to Wolfsburg in the group-stage decider started the end of van Gaal's reign as Sevilla did for Mourinho but in the knock-out phase. One can argue Solskjaer had two matches against PSG and Leipzig to gain a point and not a decider like the two previous managers to retain the confidence of players and fans in his tactical judgement. For all his domestic trophies, Sir Alex Ferguson came up too short and often in Europe. Pressure on Solskjaer to deliver a trophy will only increase as a fallout.

Victory at Southampton from 0-2 down was a throwback to Ferguson years but where Solskjaer first matched the opponents formation and then changed it at half-time. Club realized their mistake of not hiring Edinson Cavani earlier in his stellar career as he scored two superb reflexive goals to claim victory. It set up the mood for PSG game at home nicely. Solskjaer let Fred play on despite transgressions after his first yellow card and later his dismissal ultimately cost the game for United. West Ham United led with an impressive first half display but could not increase their lead, and on came United with a classy assist by Bruno Fernandes which was converted by out of form Paul Pogba with a superb strike. That 3-2 away win meant United claimed a rare new record of nine consecutive away victories.

20 million euro match! Perhaps monetarily the biggest match of the season especially given the absence of 76,000 fans on every match day at Old Trafford and out came Pogba's infamous agent Raiola to proclaim that his prized asset not being offered a new deal will end his association with United. Not a surprise but the tactics of Solskjaer to play 5 at the back and defend while he said earlier its not in United's nature to sit back and defend, was the real issue. Roy Keane and Gary Neville came out bashing Pogba as expected but it was Thomas Tuchel and Julian Nagelsmann who enhanced their credentials at the cost of Solskjaer by overturning their poor start to the campaign and achieved their clubs immediate aims, while United argue the duo were the finalist and semi-finalist of last season's Champions' League. Without fans the most dull and boring derby in recent memory with City ended 0-0.

19th December will mark the completion of two years for Solskjaer as manager of Manchester United. There has been a positive change in the overhaul of the squad backed by massive spending by the club. This last two transfer windows was perhaps the best since retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson. If the club are to win trophies they need a manager to get the tactics right. United need to dominate matches with player of Bruno Fernandes' caliber and for that they may need a Declan Rice (an ex-Chelsea academy player who since Michael Carrick has won every West Ham academy prize) to compliment the defensive aspects of midfield, Fred has had a great resurgence but might not be enough. Any United match without exciting wingers is a sore display to watch. Has Solskjaer learnt from his mistakes to not make a slow start to matches, manage games better, evolve tactics to dominate games not just sit back and hit on counter, of not being influenced by criticism, avoid muscle injuries to his players etc.?

Fernandes, Pogba and van de Beek have not started together till now, nor does Solskjaer still know his best XI having played both Fred and McTominay to stifle not just opposition but themselves. Its the 12th match against Sheffield United tonight and that's high time to hit peak form given the next set of fixtures in the league are against Leeds, Leicester, Wolves and Aston Villa. United need to better their goal difference which is a paltry +2 at the moment.

When Williams, Greenwood and Rashford scored in last season's 3-3 draw at Bramall Lane it was the first time that three players below the age of 22 had scored for United in the Premier League since Giggs, Scholes and Beckham scored against Nottingham Forest in April, 1996. That's another stat that positively highlights the turnaround under Solskjaer that now has to mature into strategic realm and not remain merely at the whims of individual exuberance.

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

In defense of Solskjaer

Manchester United have lost three and drawn one of their first four home games this season. An unacceptable record in any year but the pandemic keeping fans away from attending matches has made a huge difference. These match going die-hard fans who have shown broader perspective to support the team and Solskjaer through thick and thin, and their absence has clearly hurt not just United but many big clubs across Europe this season. Its not unrealistic to summon the spirit of Stretford End to chase teams down and hunt for goals, but misses the spontaneity of fans to respond in their own characteristic way to the changing ebb and flow of the game to the benefit of their team by modulating their vocal chords as if in a symphony. Artificial Intelligence has still some way to go to compensate for that.

Is it simply a case of United unable to dictate play at home unlike playing on the counter away? Tactically Solskjaer has come under lot of scrutiny to be not cognizant of the fact that an underprepared team due to lack of pre-season and given the size of the squad at his disposal did not do enough to protect the team early on. In a results driven business this has taken the gloss away from completing a milestone of 100 games in charge with the defeat at home to Arsenal a first in 14 years! Records seem to tumble more than be created in a positive sense these days. Busy set of schedules ahead and with two weeks of preparation that Solskjaer has so far made good use of to bounce back stronger from an international break, will see United through against West Bromwich Albion this weekend although recently they've had good record at Old Trafford with three wins in last five.

Trophy-less in last three years since the UEFA cup triumph in May, 2017 under Jose Mourinho is a valid cause for concern but overlooks the achievement of finishing 3rd to qualify for the Champions' League which guarantees more revenue that foreign owners brutally demand. Solskjaer has cleared the dressing room of deadwood reducing the wage-bill and make the squad more younger that has seen the emergence of Mason Greenwood, Brandon Williams and Axel Tuanzebe. The youth setup has been revamped which was totally neglected before, to rightly put impetus back on club's core philosophy of being the best club in the world to promote home grown players. These changes hasn't been easy to bring about whilst maintaining a sense of calm and positivity unlike the acrimonious changes under Tommy Docherty and Jose Mourinho.

Task to take United back to the top becomes almost impossible when dominant rivals confirm the extension of their famous coach's tenure. Cup competitions provide the only hope of silverware again this season. Unlike the modern day coach's, Solskjaer remains a manager in the classical sense and that does seem to have its limitations to apply instantaneous changes to impact the game tactically and relies on his staff to carry out detailed training regimen. Decision to play Bruno Fernandes as number 10 has paid off, relegating highly influential World Cup winner Paul Pogba to the bench. His powerful agent Mino Raiola had caused huge embarrassment to the club lambasting them on many occasions in the past. Club betraying the traditions of Busby and Ferguson backed the player who was world's most marketable player at the time instead of serial winner across four countries. Will Pogba's departure become Solskjaer's first bitter experience of his reign remains to be seen? What's become unquestionable is the impact Bruno Fernandes' has had in a very short space of time such that he will certainly be crucial to not just Solskjaer's survival but his longevity as United manager. More importantly fans would like to see the return of the famous United swagger to outclass opponents under a true leader like Bruno Fernandes.

Tottenham and Leicester have vastly improved this season reducing the chances of United finishing in the top four significantly thus increasing the pressure on Solskjaer. Next three matches against West Brom, Southampton and West Ham are crucial to get points before difficult set of fixtures start from the derby with City, United then face Sheffield United away (last year it ended 3-3 after United rallied from 0-2 down to score 3 goals in 7 minutes and ultimately draw), Leeds United, Leicester City and Wolves this year. Pandemic has meant clubs are less than willing to sack their manager to incur further losses in terms of severance pay that runs into millions. December 1st week has been the marker for that and in this season Slaven Bilic in the opposing dugout has emerged as the favourite for becoming the first managerial casualty this season. Progression in the Champions' League group stage will act as a cover for Solskjaer to make the push upwards from lowly 14th place with a game in hand.

Ideally this match would be well suited for Solskjaer to try playing his three best midfielders together in Fernandes-Pogba-van de Beek against West Brom but the lack of victory at home will intensify the need to ensure a win no matter what by playing Fred and McTominay. Fans hope McTominay would carry the momentum from being part of Scotland's incredible run to qualify for a major tournament since 1998 World Cup. Injury to Luke Shaw will mean a first start for Alex Telles and probably Axel Tuanzebe starting ahead of doubtful Victor Lindelof. Daniel James had a great international break scoring for Wales which will bring him back into reckoning. Clamor for him to move on loan is unwarranted as he can learn directly under Juan Mata at United more than anywhere else. His game management considering his age needs to be relooked at by Solskjaer. Structural changes being mostly done its these tiny but crucial adjustments that might turn the Norwegian's reign into a lasting success. Summer signings have added squad depth which was lacking for a long time. His toolset looks almost complete now with the exception of wingers. It's time to deliver on the pitch.

de Gea(GK), Wan-Bissaka, Telles, Tuanzebe, Maguire(C), McTominay, Fred, Fernandes, James, Martial, Rashford

Must win game for Solskjaer, again!

Manchester United travel to Goodison Park to play Everton after two defeats in two competitions, first a loss to Arsenal at home in Old Trafford after a gap of 14 years and secondly a least expected away loss at Istanbul the bottom side of group H in Champions' League that was shambolic. After a run of successive victories when Solskjaer took over, United suffered their biggest defeat of his first season at Goodison Park 0-4 mauling that made the Norwegian to rightly apologize to the fans "I just want to apologise to the fans. They're the only people with the badge on today who can hold their head high, because we can't." Just as now, and back then all criticism was directed at the players.

These defeats highlight the importance of Victor Lindelof, clearly if it wasn't for him United's loss to Arsenal would have been greater instead of being just 0-1. Suffering from a bad back he might miss this crucial game. David de Gea looks like he has regained his lost form, responding positively to induction of Dean Henderson becoming his deputy. Is Harry Maguire the right man to organize United's defense? Has he got the right protection in front of him? McTominay has industry not discipline, Fred is not a specialist central defensive midfield nor best in the world, while Nemanja Matic has lost his pace to play regularly.

Reactions on team selection seems to have gone to the head of Solskjaer. Donny van de Beek started after an intense backlash especially from Patrice Evra who questioned the rationale behind his purchase after spending more time on the bench. Ole Gunnar has persisted with both McTominay and Fred after the 1-6 defeat to Spurs, and removed not one but both of them at Istanbul after Paul Scholes told Premier League Productions "It’s as poor as I’ve seen Manchester United at Old Trafford to be honest with you. You have to give Arsenal credit, they were very good but on other hand you have to expect more from United and the two midfield players especially." Paul Pogba started again after a seemingly unexpected comment by Bruno Fernandes the talisman of last season's revival, but the Frenchman bizarrely few times quite clearly failed to pass to the most influential United player of recent times in Marcus Rashford. Fernandes said this after the Istanbul defeat that further raised eyebrows about the football management team responsible for running the club "We need to do much better, and we need to do something more than say 'Do something in the next game', because it will be a difficult game for us." 

Victory over Leipzig and Newcastle was huge but they came late in the second half. But Solskjaer again sounded overly optimistic when he said "It's not long ago we were the best thing since sliced bread, beating Leipzig and PSG. [You get] ups and downs in football. You've got to have belief." This followed an assertion from him that 3rd win of the season did not come until the 10th game last season easily forgetting that last season was the worst start to a United campaign in 33 years! 

Sir Alex Ferguson sounded out Pep Guardiola, Mauricio Pochettino, Jurgen Klopp and Jose Mourinho to be his successor but was unlucky to not get any of them to become the manager of Manchester United. Instead it was David Moyes. Then Louis van Gaal took over instead of Mauricio Pochettino and later Jose Mourinho instead of Carlo Ancelotti. With Solskjaer the heart is in the right place to restore United to its glory but the means seem missing like a structured consistent performance despite spending close to 250 million on squad overhaul. For the second straight season United have started badly to mount a challenge in the English Premier League that seems to throw up surprising results opening the competition up for many clubs to claim. United thus far seem unable to grab this opportunity, on the back of a delayed Europa League Cup that did not give the players adequate recovery time. Luckily United have a big squad to be able to cope especially the addition of Henderson, van be Beek and Telles add depth which wasn't there earlier. But the club knew this situation all along and still delayed the transfers to not help their man in charge. These are the minutiae that top coaches of the world in Mauricio Pochettino look at before choosing their next move.

United do have a good squad even if its not great like the top three of Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea, to eventually come good and climb the league table with a game in hand. Its these players who for the sake of their careers get going again. Else the upcoming break due to international fixtures might come to haunt Solskjaer. Jose Mourinho was sacked after losing away to Liverpool, today their neighbours Everton host United in a must win game for the Reds.

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'!

Thrashed 1-6 by Spurs at Old Trafford and let down by the board in transfers

United capitulated to let six goals on account of individual errors from Maguire, Bailly, Shaw, De Gea, Pogba let to collectively implode as a team on the pitch while off it ineptness of the board led to not get their top target in Jadon Sancho. Two home games and United have conceded nine goals and overall 11 in three games of the new season. Its a horror show from a team that only let in miserly 36 goals last season. Team was perhaps a reflection of Solskjaer, totally distracted as it let Luke Shaw speak twice about lack of incoming players that's out of his remit. As highlighted before the game Spurs were rejuvenated due to transfers and were clearly on a roll compared to utter chaos in United's last two performances. 

Bit more on the above answer. Longest serving City coach Les McDowall inspired by the display of Hungarian Nandor Hidegkuti against England dubbed as 'match of the century' used his number 9 Don Revie in the same manner as a deep lying centre-forward to a devastating effect that led to beating United three times in a season. Last of which came in February 1955 when United without their talisman Tommy Taylor and a young side were thrashed 0-5 at Old Trafford that led to the lowest attendance of the season in their next match when Taylor was brought back ahead of time to fare slightly better but still lose 2-4 to eventual runners-up Wolves. United finished 5th in that 1954-55 season due to slow start while Duncan Edwards made his England debut as the youngest ever. Revie won the Footballer of the Year award.

Solskjaer picked Fosu-Mensah, McTominay and James in the opening match against Crystal Palace at home and upon getting out-thought by veteran Roy Hodgson reverted to his trusted XI against Brighton away only to win at the death after having being let off by the seagulls hitting the woodwork five times! Brought in Bailly on back of his two improved performances in the League Cup instead of Lindelof but did nothing to stop the opposing teams bossing the midfield in either of the three games. That was the root cause of the debacle which has clearly not been addressed. During the first half of last season United struggled with Fred and McTominay both playing to win just 4 of 14 matches and a repeat would make the learnings useless. Aging Matic needs an understudy like Declan Rice as both Fred and McTominay can't read the game.

Season after the interruption due to pandemic like the big freeze of 1962 can be more disruptive. Chief reason is the lack of recovery from a grueling season, impeding growth of body and no assimilation of lessons learned due to lack of time afforded for reflection. Inevitably performances suffer impacting responses to even actions that are mundane. United already 16th in the table. Initially the slide starts with poor results backed with rearguard defiance and then that fight caves in due to a hammering like the 1-6 result which can suck all energy. Then chaos rules especially if there isn't a natural number #9 striker of Denis Law's caliber to hold things up. Perhaps United did well to sign Edinson Cavani if he remains injury free.

To challenge for the top two United had to get the following positions filled with 1st team starter: centre-half, left-back, central defensive midfield, right wing, centre-forward i.e., FIVE positions. They got one in Alex Telles for left-back which is not a spine like the centre-half, CDM or forward to have an immediate impact. All depends on the fitness of Edinson Cavani to adapt to fast and physical demands of the Premier League, so need to consider him as a backup unlike Thomas Muller or Jamie Vardy. Facundo Pellistri can be fast tracked to first team after 3 months of adaptation. Donny van de Beek offers Solskjaer to change formations in midfield. At best can rate the transfer window 4 of 10. No points for being prudent to avoid the purchase of injury prone Ousmane Dembele and keeping the option open for Jadon Sancho in next transfer window. No disrespect to Pellistri and Amad they are great prospects but club could have signed Declan Rice or Dayot Upamecano before he renewed his deal with RB Leipzig, instead! Last time club took a bet on 18 year old, he won the Ballon d'Or! #CR7 

This will peg back the prediction for this season from 3rd initially to now 6th position which will increase the pressure on Solskjaer as top four will not be attainable. MUFC board have not had any manager post Sir Alex Ferguson stay for more than 2 years 7 months set by Jose Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer reaches that limit in June, 2021. Ferguson used to say it takes four years for a manager to have his players in most positions to be able to make them play in his vision. Solskjaer has done tremendous job of using all four windows at his disposal to remove the deadwood and trim the squad yet he is still left with Jones and Rojo. Ferguson like Mourinho also finished 2nd in their 2nd season followed by very tough struggle to make the changes count but Ferguson was backed by the board while Mourinho was not in his tiff with Paul Pogba. Board must stick with Solskjaer until his 4th season to make a call not May, 2021 else they will not be able to reap the benefits.


Bruno Fernandes was brought from next season's kitty and initial transfer fee is considered not agents fee or add-on's or salary except for Alexis Sanchez in above calculations. United should have agreed to release ever reliable Sergio Romero to Everton like Ferguson had done in the past with many players. Domestic transfer window closes on 16th October. Some of the names that have been linked with United in the past are centre-half Joe Rodon of Swansea whom Ryan Giggs referred, right winger Ismaila Sarr of Watford and David Brooks of Bournemouth. Loan move for Sarr was rejected by Watford already who wanted guaranteed 25 million if the player was not bought at the end of loan period. Polish International defensive midfielder Krystian Bielik of Derby County can be the outside bet despite returning from ACL injury. Rodon, Sarr or Bielik can marginally improve United not significantly, as most of them are backup but given constant mid-week matches till Christmas might be worth it.

Solskjaer lifted the club from 14th to 3rd but given the spend by other major clubs being higher than United the odds are stacked against him. The positivity of finishing 3rd and all the good community work done since the start of the pandemic has evaporated due to mishandling of the transfers. If club had done these exact transfers by 1st week of September citing the economic challenges due to the pandemic fans would have embraced it, especially when it meant funding to the youth team has continued to rise under 'cultural reboot', most recently Willy Kambwala. Solskjaer meanwhile embarks on his toughest season of his three year contract since signing on Mar, 2019 and genuine long time fans acknowledge to back him ever more.

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