Showing posts with label Sergio Romero. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sergio Romero. Show all posts

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!

Knock-out European matches like the best of FA Cups

Manchester United have three knock-out matches to win their second UEFA Europa League. Based out of RheinEnergie Stadion, Cologne for all three matches which is also the host for the final gives them an edge. But competition is stiff where they meet FC Copenhagen in quarters tonight, Wolves or Sevilla in semis on 17th and from another half of the table winners of Inter Milan vs Bayer 04 Leverkusen and Shakhtar Donetsk v Basel in the finals on 21st August. The one off nature of this years tournament due to the pandemic has forced this into a knockout which gives all eight teams with an rare and equal opportunity to win like the FA Cups in its heyday as Geoffrey Green recounts in 'The Official History of the FA Cup' as "the sudden thrill of the knock-out blow" and unlike the two-legged affair as "We were to become adding machines, working out aggregates on our finger tips. David had now to face Goliath twice and his chance of glory diminished."

The most telling comment in the press conference from Solskjaer was on the goal keeping situation where he said "I must be the most privileged manager in the world with the goalkeeping department with Sergio, David and Dean Henderson coming back. We have seen this season how important Sergio has been for us and, for me, David is always performing. Competition for places is important but it will be difficult to keep three of them at the club, so we will see what the decision will be there." Unlike the FA Cup loss to Chelsea where he dropped Sergio Romero for David de Gea who by his standards let in two goals, he might stick with the Argentinian who has played in all the Europa League Cup matches so far this season.

Rumours has been rife about Dean Henderson returning to challenge David de Gea for next season amidst his contract negotiations after winning Sheffield United's young player of the year where he was on loan. Sheffield club meanwhile have started their search for alternate keeper with a bid for Aaron Ramsdale from relegated Bournemouth. That would open up the goal keepers in the squad into scrutiny where Sergio Romero, Lee Grant and Joel Pereira enter their final year of contracts. The January signing of Southend United and England U20 keeper Nathan Bishop was a step in that direction, who due to the pandemic that shortened the EPL2 season could not yet make his competitive debut but is listed in the Europa League squad nonetheless!
MUFC U23's got promoted to EPL2 Division One as they were second behind leaders West Ham when the season was halted yet ultimately decided by points-per-game mechanism. The fate of FA Youth Cup is awaited where United are in semi-finals and need to face Chelsea, a stage they have reached for the first time since 2011-12 season when they lost to eventual winners Chelsea. The best part winning the second leg of the round of 16 against LASK 2-1 in a 7-1 aggregate was debut to youth team captain Teden Mengi and refreshing Tahith Chong brought on as left-back.
FC Copenhagen finished a distant second in the Danish Superliga 14 points behind champions FC Midtjylland. They are coached by former team mate of Solskjaer from 1998 World Cup squad the playmaker Stale Solbakken in his second stint winning the league eight times in total. 21 year old forward Jonas Wind scored twice to turn 0-1 deficit against Istanbul Basaksehir and help his team win. Among their ranks is former United right back Guillermo Varela from Uruguay whose tattoo obsession before DFB Podkal final for Eintracht Frankfurt became infectious ending a successful loan spell by a suspension. Solbakken having managed FC Koln for one season will be aware of the demands of playing in North Rhine-Westphalia and managed around 600 games for Copenhagen. He is without four players; striker Santos, attacking midfielder Fischer, Sigurdsson and Thomsen none of whom played against Basaksehir either. This will be the third meeting between the two clubs, previous two coming in the 2006-07 Champions' League campaign. United lost the second leg 0-1 after securing the top spot in Group F while winning the first leg 3-0 at home. Its the first ever quarter-final appearance for a Danish side in a European competition since 1997. Easily the biggest match in the careers of many Copenhagen players!

What United should watch out for is complacency after securing top four finish to play in the Champions' League next season which is coincidentally also the reward of winning the Europa League Cup. Most of the starting XI were rested for the second leg win over LASK giving the likes of Bruno Fernandes two weeks off after playing in every game since his arrival in January that turned the season around. Jesse Lingard having scored in his last two games might be on the bench. Phil Jones, Luke Shaw and Axel Tuanzebe are the only three players who haven't traveled to Germany and with Brandon Williams speaking to the press ahead of the game he might actually start in place of injured Shaw. Two semi-final cup defeats in League Cup and FA Cup will have strengthened the team's resolve to not let another opportunity to win their first trophy go begging, while 14 games unbeaten in Premier League will give Solskjaer's team a confidence boost.

Romero(GK), Wan-Bissaka, Maguire, Lindelof, Williams, Matic, Pogba, Fernandes, Greenwood, Martial, Rashford

Prost! (with Kolsch)🍻

Trust Solskjaer to take a call on De Gea

FA Cup semi-final 1-3 loss to Chelsea at Wembley was this season's worst performance - resting Pogba, changing a winning formation, tired players who didn't turn up and David de Gea's two howlers. Solskjaer needs to immediately get back to winning ways to secure the lucrative Champions' League spot. Last season United lost tamely to Wolves in FA Cup quarter-finals after a run of good results that effectively derailed the season winning just two of last nine games and missed top four finish.

Solskjaer set the stall of the press conference as soon question on David de Gea was raised "This is not going to become a David De Gea press conference, We're just going to stick together." Will David de Gea be dropped after a steady decline over last two years that culminated in the shambolic display last Sunday in London? Sir Alex Ferguson had a similar conundrum when his then main keeper Jim Leighton had a bad day in the 1990 FA Cup final drawing 3-3 with Crystal Palace when in fact the loss of form was glaring from 0-4 loss at Nottingham Forest earlier and two unconvincing displays against Oldham Athletic in semi-final that also needed a replay. To make the call for the final replay Ferguson watched Leighton's response to the loss which was "In the dressing-room afterwards I noticed Jim Leighton with his head in his hands, completely shattered. I went over and gave him a pat but received no response. He looked to me like a beaten man." recalled Ferguson in his finest autobiography 'Managing My Life' co-written with perhaps the best football writer ever Hugh McIlvanney.

Alternative the Argentine Sergio Romero only plays in secondary matches of Cups in League, FA Cup and Europa League even with about 59 games in 5 seasons does not warrant a start in an extremely important league match. Again going back Les Sealey who deputized brilliantly in place of Jim Leighton in the FA Cup final replay which United won 1-0, Ferguson recalls "Les was cocky and at times downright arrogant, so I did not foresee a failure of his nerve at Wembley. Was he a better goalkeeper than Jim? No." Appearances can be deceiving and language another barrier for foreign players but is Sergio Romero who has been capped 96 times for Argentina confident going into today's game against West Ham United having not played a single English Premier League match this season and importantly was poor against Norwich in FA Cup quarter-finals which made Solskjaer to drop him for Chelsea? Think not.

Barring Luke Shaw's injury Solskjaer might choose the same lineup which played in five consecutive games from Sheffield United to Southampton scoring 16 goals, conceding 4, getting 13 points out of maximum 15: de Gea, Wan-Bissaka, Shaw, Lindelof, Maguire, Matic, Pogba, Fernandes, Greenwood, Martial, Rashford. Timothy Fosu-Mensah might play if Shaw is unfit ahead of rookie Brandon Williams. Maguire and de Gea are on course to play in all 38 matches this season, today's game will be number 37. United lost another Busby babe in Alex Dawson the former centre-forward who played a prominent role immediately after Munich air-crash that fast-forwarded his inclusion in the first team ahead of time as the club did not have sufficient senior players having forever lost eight of them plus two more to injury that is almost their first starting XI.

West Ham managed for the second time by former United manager David Moyes comes to Old Trafford in good form by beating Norwich and Watford to escape relegation. Micheal Antonio and Tomas Soucek have contributed immensely and will dominate aerially where MUFC are weak. Declan Rice and Issa Diop being previously linked with MUFC will want to give a solid display to increase their prospects for the future. Moyes does not have a good record vs MUFC at Old Trafford with both Everton and Sunderland. Last time an ex-United manager won at Old Trafford was Dave Sexton with Coventry City in Mar, 1982 who did the double eventually with Les Sealey in goal for the sky blues and if Moyes succeeds in today's game West Ham also will complete the double. MUFC lost 0-2 at the London Stadium when Manuel Pellegrini was in charge at West Ham in September.

Moyes was wrong to say that the only difference between him and Solskjaer was "Ole has been given time." Question was not about time because although he inherited an aging side with most of the players coming towards the end of their careers, he also dismantled the backroom staff of Sir Alex Ferguson who had developed and accumulated so much knowledge of the game over the years; and secondly Moyes had a very bad transfer window with only Fellaini in summer and Mata in January coming in. Solskjaer spotted this glaring error and was quick to bring back Ferguson's assistant Mike Phelan as his number two. Moyes in short blew his chance as Rio Ferdinand also recounted when he tried to do everything at perhaps the biggest club in the world in Manchester United instead of delegating to his trusted staff to take decisions.

The crunch match that United fans recollect was the final game of 1994-95 season when leaders Blackburn Rovers lost to Liverpool and United needing to beat West Ham at Upton Park could only draw failing to take advantage and not win the league. Hammers celebrated as if they had won the title! Today's match is at Old Trafford where United are unbeaten in 12 matches with Anthony Martial scoring in the last five. West Ham have had more time to prepare and so will Leicester City who get a week before facing Manchester United this Sunday. United players will no doubt be geared up to finish the season on a high to represent in Europe's best competition next season and to remove the 25% wage cut if they do not qualify for the Champion's League again. Matches with West Ham at this stage of the season will always be interesting to say the least.

Top spot in Europa League group will be crucial

Manchester United meet the second place dutch side AZ Alkmaar tonight in the last fixture of the group phase of Europa League and if United avoid defeat will top the group to get an easier route to progress further in this competition which might be their best bet to secure qualification for next year's Champions' League by winning it just like in 2017.

AZ Alkmaar are without top scorer the youngster Myron Boadu aged 18 years having scored 11 goals this season who recently debuted for Netherlands on 19-November and scored in the 5-0 rout of Estonia. AZ face Ajax Amsterdam this weekend in their own stadium after the roof collapse in late August due to strong winds, in the top of the table clash of Eredivisie separated by just 3 points. Arne Slot has managed an excellent season so far after being promoted from being assistant to John van den Brom currently in a 6 game winning streak having conceded only 8 goals all season the best defensive team in Eredivisie. This certainly won't be an easy game. The reverse fixture earlier drew flak for United not creating a single chance in that game which ended in a 0-0 draw played on artificial pitch.

Ex AZ goal keeper and present United number two Sergio Romero who was signed for both clubs by legendary Louis van Gaal, spoke perfectly "here within this club both the staff and players are like one big family and we have a goal every time we go the field to try and win trophies, to keep our fans happy." LVG created history by winning the Eredivisie with unlikely team in AZ in 2008-09 when the players urged him to stay on despite finishing a disappointing 11th in the previous season. At United, LVG unleashed Rashford after an injury crisis to the strikers and like Ole was promoting youth in a structured manner. Not backing him in the January transfer window of his last year did not help to turn around the season and the club must not repeat that mistake with Ole now.

Buoyed by victories over much fancied Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City, United must maintain the momentum by keeping the intensity of the pressing game despite changing the starting XI. Consistency that's been the biggest lacuna of MUFC which can be addressed if the spine of the team remains same and changes are done to players around them i.e., Maguire, Lindelof, Fred, McTominay, Martial play. Instead Greenwood, Gomes, Chong, Garner, Williams, Laird, Tuanzebe, Romero look set to start ahead of Martial, Lingard, James, McTominay, Shaw, Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, De Gea. Matic might be on the bench who had captained the side in the reverse fixture.

If United top the group they could still face AS Roma where Chris Smalling has been having a very good spell and many clubs are reportedly eyeing his signature in January. Most fans would like him to be the fourth choice centre-back instead of Phil Jones but Chris perhaps has served the club well to earn the chance to explore a different league. And if United lose they could face Inter where Lukaku is excelling. He was harshly treated by fans especially from online video fan casts for his first touch despite scoring 42 goals in two seasons that would merit a serious appreciation. Was still 25 when Zlatan moved on due to injury and that's still very young to don the mantle of senior marksman when his skills could have been further developed. Europa League round of 32 draw takes place on 16-December.

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