Showing posts with label Paul Pogba. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Paul Pogba. Show all posts

Winning in style against arch rivals gives United a massive boost

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Confident United look to pick their first points at home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

United need a convincing performance to avert a crisis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Right players key to sustain top four and avoid bad start to new season

Biggest challenge for Manchester United will be to sustain top four finish that has NOT been achieved since the last season of Sir Alex Ferguson in 2012-13, final league position since then offers pessimistic outlook for upcoming season. Coupled with relative inexperience of United first team against traditional top six rivals especially in a crammed fixtures next season pose additional challenges. FA have removed the replays in FA Cup and second-leg of League Cup semi-final to meet these demands. With such less recovery time between two seasons it becomes even harder for a young side to develop. United were without Martial, Pogba, Rashford, Shaw for long spells last season that saw them make their worst start to English League campaign in 33 years. Simple lesson will be to get the signings done before the pre-season starts to enable the squad integration disregarding the transfer window that stays open beyond 12th September. After the loss to Sevilla, Solskjaer had this to say: "We need to strengthen the squad depth because it's going to be a long season. We're going to keep pushing and keep demanding more of the players that we have, but still, we're looking to improve and it's a strange one. The league starts very quickly, but then the market is open for so long. So we've got to be both good, smart and clever."

2011-12: 2nd
2012-13: 1st
2013-14: 7th
2014-15: 4th
2015-16: 5th
2016-17: 6th
2017-18: 2nd
2018-19: 6th
2019-20: 3rd
2020-21: ?

Tifo football who are one of the earliest proponents of using data science in football came out with their suggestions: Jadon Sancho at ring wing, Ibrahim Sangare at defensive midfield, Moussa Niakhate at left centre-back.


Statman Dave who was previewed by United's twitter account for their game against Copenhagen has suggested five players: Jadon Sancho at right wing, Alex Telles as left back, Dwight McNeil as inverted winger, Gabriel Magalheas as left centre-back, Declan Rice as defensive midfield

One player who might already be challenging David de Gea for number 1 jersey will be Dean Henderson and is due to sign a new long term deal. He might play in the Cup competitions and few pre-season games to enable him to settle down quickly at Old Trafford. Solskjaer had already hinted he can't keep three top keepers happy at the same time! Sergio Romero enters the final year of his contract and might be surplus to requirements.
Will Jadon Sancho be Manchester United's first 100 million pound signing? This summer represents their best chance at landing the Englishman due to the travails of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus, Man City leaving United in sole charge to home-in on the brightest winger in the world with 15 assists and 15 goals already that is only matched by Lionel Messi across the top 5 European leagues! Transfer of this magnitude does have its own complications like the image rights, agents fee, intermediaries, sponsorship, medicals. United look to finally break the hoodoo over their iconic number 7 jersey that's maligned ever since a Liverpudlian Owen wore it. Its four years since United broke their transfer record to sign Paul Pogba for 89 million pounds. Sancho is key to reducing the 33 point gap with champions of last season. United must not let Kai Havertz deal have any influence on deal with Sancho, it might be a smokescreen to push the prices up. With the world economy in recession due to the pandemic and United committed to serve its community, club may deem it extravagant to spend 100 million on a single player and pull out of this transfer. Genuine fans will back the club. If Pogba can be a success on return to United so can Memphis Depay who has excelled consistently in a foreign league and acknowledged the past mistakes.

To fund the other targets to add squad depth United need to sell few of their players Lingard, Smalling, Pereira, Rojo, Jones, Dalot etc. Though Solskjaer remains a huge fan of Jack Grealish it seems impossible to have another massive outlay of 70 million factored in for this transfer window itself. Ironically that's the price West Ham have put on Declan Rice. Donny van de Beek continues to be linked from the famed Ajax academy at much cheaper valuation that might materialize only if the Spanish giants don't proceed with their established interest in the player. Alexis Sanchez is out that frees up the wage bill substantially. This is huge because that transfer screwed United's pay structure and created squad unrest... in short went against everything that 'team sport' is supposed to mean.


To balance these astronomical signings Solskjaer has already inducted academy graduates in pacey 18 year old centre-back Teden Mengi and 19 year old right-back Ethan Laird into the first team as part of Europa League campaign. If James Garner and Dylan Levitt go out on loan like Tahith Chong then United would need to sign at least one back-up midfielder.

Will Maguire have another injury free campaign? United have mostly tended to pursue targets who are least risk option like Maguire or Wan-Bissaka and pay huge transfer fee. Can #MUFC enlist a marquee player entering later years of their contracts from top clubs across Europe like Alessio Romagnoli from AC Milan or David Alaba of Bayern Munich. Romagnoli has already captained Milan and is represented by Mino Raiola as his agent who is due to discuss Paul Pogba's new deal shortly. Another option is Dayot Upamecano who had a consistent season with RB Leipzig including a stellar performance against Atletico Madrid but has just signed a new three year contract diminishing the chances of a transfer this season.
United should continue acquiring best young players like Daniel James from the Championship after his successful first season, initially as a backup. Centre-back Joe Rodon from Swansea or Joe Worrall from Nottingham Forest or Benoît Badiashile from Monaco, left-back Fode Ballo-Toure from Monaco or Rico Henry from Brentford, defensive midfielder Kalvin Phillips from Leeds United or Boubakary Soumaré from Lille or Sandro Tonali from Brescia or Florentino Luis from Benfica or Michał Karbownik from Legia Warsaw, to name a few.

The notion if #SackWoodward is set trending by end of this week transfers will happen next week is wrong. Next week players return for pre-season training after just two weeks rest and that is when evidently deals mostly conclude at United. Sounds absurd but it's unfortunately true. All transfer actions starts from the first week of September giving Solskjaer and coaching staff very less time to prepare for new season. There was no expectation that United would now go on to make smart signings by not paying huge transfer fees as the director of football with considerably reduced role and data analysts have not yet been hired. To establish United again as a top four team and avoid the horrible start to a new season does require the club to get the right players identified by Solskjaer. Last season's signings have proved the doubters wrong and Solskjaer has brought optimism, belief back to Old Trafford.

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

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

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

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


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

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

Now a well deserved rest.

United should make their experience count against masters of Europa League

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Balance crucial to squad rebuild

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Over to Ed and Matt from Solskjaer and fans.

Cliffhanger end to a season of great progress in United rebuild

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

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

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

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

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

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

One match at a time can do the trick for United

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

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

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

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

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

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