Showing posts with label Sir Alex Ferguson. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sir Alex Ferguson. Show all posts

Return of Cristiano Ronaldo

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

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

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

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

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

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

Most promising season under Solskjaer

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wolfsburg, Sevilla and Leipzig

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

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

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

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

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

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

Must win game for Solskjaer, again!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Ten crucial days off and on the pitch

Manchester United have the biggest stadium in the English Premier League 76,000 seater Old Trafford and with matches since restart for last quarter of the season being played without fans they lost 5.5 million pounds per home game. Over the course of the season that's 111 million pounds and 18% of clubs overall income. Broadcasting revenues constitutes 38% as per 2019-20 figures and the rest 44% comes from commercial deals wherein the Champions' League qualification has meant United do not lose out on adidas clause and retain 20 million pounds instead. Worst case loss of revenue this fiscal year July 1st, 2020 to June 30th, 2021 could be 111 million of match day receipts plus loss of broadcast revenue of 80 million plus loss of revenue from commercial that includes cancellation of lucrative pre-season tour, suspension of tour of Old Trafford and Museum, and loss in shirt sales, all in all its a massive loss of over 200 million i.e., a third of total revenue (627 million in 2019) wiped out!

Loss in last two quarters Q3, Q4 of 2019-20 season might be the sum of 60.5 million from 9 matches in EPL and 2 in Europa League plus 20 million returned to broadcasters already plus about 9 million to nullify Alexis Sanchez's contract i.e., 89.5 million minimum. For Q3 of 2019-20 (01Jan to 31Mar) club had already announced a loss of 28.5 million with net debt increasing to 429 million which was 127 million more compared to previous year affected by pandemic and USD-GBP exchange rate. In the end of May club secured 140 million in revolving credit facility for reasons stated as player transfers and other expenditures but as it turned out they paid 9 cents a share dividend on 3rd of June! If fans are not allowed till March a year from the start of pandemic, player salaries might be impacted as player wages account for about 50% of revenue discounting 3% minimum of Sanchez's astronomical wage bill. United had shown 307 million in cash though as of June, 2019 which can cushion the blow. Q4 and 2019-20 full year results and earnings report conference call has been postponed to October from last week of September.

By the end of the year net debt might reach levels of 660 million which was the case when the Glazers did the leveraged buy out of the club in 2005 and might put MUFC back in the market for Saudi's to try takeover again. Manchester United was mostly debt free from 1931 when James W Gibson stepped in to help the club and remained so till 2005, consequently eyed by every businessman during that time from Louis Edwards to Michael Knighton and Rupert Murdoch via BskyB. David Conn in the Guardian published in 4th October, 2018 said that Glazers via dividends, executive pay to directors, share sale have taken more than 1 Billion out of the club while Man City's owners have put more than 1 Billion into theirs, gulf between two local Manchester rivals is greater than 2 Billion. Pandemic has put the redevelopment of Old Trafford on hold which was long overdue. At a valuation of over 4 Billion there are indeed very few takers. The $559m shirt deal with Chevrolet and training kit deal with Aon expire at the end of this year and a new deal with new sponsors needs to be struck.

With an uncertain and unpredictable future this season it will not be easy to spend 108 million pounds on a single player. United had two scenario's: Jadon Sancho will only be signed in the last week of transfer window to save paying his huge wages till the last minute if Dortmund agree to slightly reduced fee with installments spread over few years OR pursuing cheaper alternatives early in window. They chose the former but fans are getting nervy if Dortmund decline and United do not sign any alternatives like the chase for Raphael Varane under Jose Mourinho. Faith in clubs transfer process has deteriorated steadily since the last years of Ferguson when very few deals were done due to 'lack of value' and later club pursued the strategy of doing transfers with big agents post Ferguson that resulted in most of the talks being in the public domain via leaks to pent up the price. The change in recruitment under Solskjaer is noticeable but much still needs to be done in scouting. When was the last time they signed a player who was tracked for a good number of years and signed without paying a hefty fee without any delay?

They hired Neil Ashton for PR last January and who till the end of last season had done a good job especially while the club was supporting local communities affected due to the pandemic. It isn't as though the club are complaining about the negative sentiments from most of its 1.1 billion fans on lack of transfer activity. Instead this #MUFC hashtag remains relevant throughout the transfer window and reaches a crescendo when the player is actually signed up. This sounds deliberate of how business imperative forces a footballing decision to be delayed in order to maximize social media and online traffic. Both Solskjaer and Ashton haven't been able to change this yet!

Manchester Evening News rightly points out that United deal for Sancho was always planned in the last week of transfer window i.e., the first week of October in order for it to be impacting the financial reporting of Q2(01Oct to 31Dec). Unless player's and agent's terms are agreed in advance its not possible for deal of this size to be concluded within four days. Does that hold good for Alex Telles or Dayot Upamecano? No and Yes due to the size of the transfer fee. Club are in talks to sell Chris Smalling for 18 million while Sergio Romero has not yet returned who is unlikely to play for Solskjaer again after being dropped for the Europa League Cup semifinal against Sevilla. Rojo, Jones, Lingard and Pereira have no concrete offers yet. Two more promising players have gone out on loan - Dylan Levitt to Charlton Athletic and James Garner to Watford who join three other players - Tahith Chong at Werder Bremen, Matej Kovar at Swindon Town and Joel Pereira at Huddersfield Town.

United won 3-0 away at Kenilworth Road against Luton Town with a Mata converted penalty won by industrious Brandon Williams, Greenwood assist for Rashford to get back in form and finally Rashford assist for Greenwood. Matic and Fred both started to provide cover for battered defense to not lose confidence while giving a platform for new signing Donny van de Beek to make his first full competitive start. That protection in front enabled Eric Bailly to provide a sound display alongside Harry Maguire including a goal line clearance and Solskjaer might retain the duo against Brighton and Hove Albion on Saturday. Jesse Lingard played full 90 minutes with good link play only final shot was missing. Dean Henderson made his senior United debut with a stunning save to deny Hatters an equalizer and this made David de Gea to say "I feel the best I've felt in my career" before the match on Saturday. Solskjaer with that win has taken his tally to 50 wins in 92 games as United manager just behind Ernest Mangnall and Jose Mourinho!

After the restart last season United played a weakened BHAFC team that were aiming for survival which will not be the case on Saturday especially after they beat NUFC 3-0 away a fantastic result. Last time United lost their opening two games in English Premier League was in 1992-93 when they went on to win their first league title in 26 years! Solskjaer has his priority set right after an abysmal defeat on the opening game of this season against Crystal Palace "My focus is solely on the game and I can’t be thinking any other way. We need three points in this game.” Probable XI: De Gea, Wan Bissaka, Shaw, Maguire, Bailly, Fred, van de Beek, Fernandes, Greenwood, Martial, Rashford.

United will play the Seagulls again in the League Cup round of 16 on 30-Sep. 04th October they welcome back Jose Mourinho's Tottenham to Old Trafford before the International break with Newcastle, Chelsea and Arsenal to follow next. Tough fixtures in October also adds to the pressure on getting the away win at Brighton today.

Opening day loss at home: how bad is that for United?

Just the second home loss to the start of the Premier League season for Manchester United. First was in 2014 under Louis van Gaal's first match in charge when United lost to Swansea 1-2 with captain Wayne Rooney's consolation strike while Ander Herrera made his debut and subsequently club signed Angel di Maria from Real Madrid who left after just one bad season. United finished 4th in the Dutchman's first season in charge improving from 7th under Moyes previously. Solskjaer had taken the team from 14th after the draw with Liverpool to 3rd in the last season but is a slow start warranted yet again?

Lost 1-3 to Crystal Palace in this seasons' opener. A much heaver defeat for Solskjaer than van Gaal with a much better squad though. Main reason is the lack of rest after a pandemic enforced break and subsequent lack of pre-season to bring players up to match fitness required for the demands of the grueling season. Paul Pogba was rushed back after just recuperating from corona virus. Donny van de Beek came on for Pogba looking sharp and scored a goal on debut. Did Scott McTominay provide enough protection for the defense? Perhaps van Gaal's honest assessment forced United's hand to break British transfer record for di Maria "To win the title this season would be a miracle. But that isn't to say that it isn't possible, I think the Glazer family understand this or I would not have accepted this job." Solskjaer hasn't said anything as striking for Glazers to act.

Prior to 2014 loss the next one was far back in 1972 season a 1-2 loss to Ipswich Town, that's 40 year proud unbeaten home record in between. Frank O'Farrell lost his job midway through that season after a nine-game winless streak at the start did not improve league position enough and United were hovering over the foot of the table ushering in the Tommy Docherty era. That unbeaten record withstood the changes in managers from Docherty(2 matches unbeaten in opening home fixtures), Sexton(2), Atkinson(4) to Ferguson(15). It is a blemish on Solskjaer's reign unfortunately especially since he is so steeped in United's rich history.

Absence of fans makes the loss less scathing but equally affects how tamely the team might respond. Would Solskjaer have used Timothy Fosu-Mensah, Scott McTominay and David James in front of fans at Old Trafford in the first match of the season? Is it a subtle dig at the Glazers to force Jadon Sancho transfer? Even Jose Mourinho managed to win both his two home games at the start of 2nd and 3rd year in charge. Could Solskjaer instead have taken advantage of not having fans to start with two defensive midfielders in order to neutralize the opposition before unleashing Greenwood for the last twenty minutes?

First away loss was in the inaugural Premier League season against Sheffield United 1-2 with Mark Hughes scoring the only goal and ultimately United went on to win their first league title after 26 years. Next one was against Aston Villa 1-3 when Sir Alex Ferguson introduced his fledglings that made Alan Hansen to say "you can't win anything with kids" that helped create a siege mentality to unite the squad winning their second double of Premier League and FA Cup. United lost 0-1 in 2004-05 to Chelsea under their new coach Jose Mourinho in his first match in the English Premier League. United finished 3rd and trophy-less that season. Injury hit squad were without both strikers in Ruud van Nistelrooy and Louis Saha while captain Roy Keane played as centre-half. Team: Howard, Silvestre, Gary Neville, Keane, Fortune, Miller, O'Shea, Djemba-Djemba, Giggs, Scholes

Solskjaer rightly pointed out that United must rebound quickly. They face Luton Town away in League Cup 3rd round on Tuesday wherein the squad will be much different than the one that faced Crystal Palace with Dean Henderson certain to make his debut in goal, before visiting Brighton & Hove Albion in the Premier League at the Amex Arena on Saturday. Amidst an exceptional season due to the pandemic form book goes out of the window more often and United must do their bit first to take advantage. League Cup can serve as a tough practice match as the Hatters defeated Derby County and Reading in their first two rounds, and help United regain their sharpness. Is giving important players a vacation one after another like Ferguson (Beckham, Scholes, Schmeichel) did during the treble winning season the answer? Due to Euro 2021 having been postponed to next summer, next season clubs might face the same issue? Hope Glazers understand that squad depth and rotation certainly helps before the transfer window closes.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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.

De Gea is undoubtedly United's player of the decade

David de Gea will eclipse Manchester United's greatest ever goal keeper Peter Schmeichel's record of 398 appearances when the Red Devils take on Aston Villa at Villa Park today. He will become the second most capped goal keeper behind Alex Stepney whose tally is 539. de Gea having shined brilliantly by winning the player of the year awards four of five seasons between 2013-17 that has enabled United to retain their top 6 status to play in Europe despite having a very poor team in the post Sir Alex Ferguson era has made him a torchbearer much like Bryan Robson in the 1980's.

That game away at Arsenal with 14 saves was the zenith of this middle period where literally he saved the club from losing or drawing vital games and thereby always ensured United stay in the hunt for European places while making them punch above their weight consistently.



Manuel Neuer was the bookies favourite to don the gloves at Old Trafford especially after playing well against United in the Champions' League semi-final loss in 2011 when he was with Schalke. Ferguson did not want a repeat of mistakes following the retirement of Peter Schmeichel when he promoted or brought a string of under-achievers starting with Raimond van der Gouw, Mark Bosnich, Fabien Barthez, Roy Carroll and Tim Howard; others like Massimo Taibi, Any Goram (on loan) and Ricardo were brought to challenge them. In short the goal keeping position was a mess at United for five seasons considering Ferguson is the greatest manager of all time!

de Gea replaced the retiring Edwin van de Sar who had six trophy laden years that was a tough act to follow. He came to United aged only 20 after having won the UEFA Cup with Atletico Madrid. Sir Alex Ferguson persisted with signing the Spaniard after pulling out to sign Petr Cech at a similar age. At United, de Gea struggled with the physicality of the league initially as he himself at 20 years of age was still developing. United devised a programme to help him add muscle mass.

The first match of 2011-12 season was his league debut vs West Brom when let slip a soft goal after a barrage in the penalty box that Ferguson described as his 'welcome to England' in his autobiography, thankfully United won 2-1 to his rescue. He was even challenged by Anders Lindegaard to be the No.1. Weathering out those early hiccups he has emerged as the best shot stopper in the world over the last decade. He has won the league title under Ferguson, FA Cup under Louis van Gaal, UEFA Cup and League Cup under Jose Mourinho. Champions' League medal is the main prize missing from his trophy cabinet.

Sir Alex Ferguson on challenges facing a young keeper: "David couldn't speak the language and he had to learn to drive, another illustration of how young he was. It could never be easy for a goalkeeper coming to England from Continental Europe at 20 years of age." Gigi Buffon was 23 when he joined Juventus from Parma in 2001 and Petr Cech was 22 on joining Chelsea from Rennes in 2004.

He was in the running to be named Club Captain but his frank answer perhaps to questions about United's style of play cost him. This season Ashley Young started as the Captain and de Gea was in the reckoning until his reaction to a shock 1-0 loss to Newcastle on 6th October "The most difficult time since I’ve been here. I don’t know why, what is happening. Sorry to the fans.", made Solskjaer pick Harry Maguire instead. Not since Jack Mew immediately after first world war has United not had a goal keeper as Club Captain. It shows an utter lack of recognition to this vitally important position especially since United have had legends like Stepney, Schmeichel, van der Sar all having won the European Cup or Champions' League with the club.

Oft talked about criticism is that he does not come out to attack the ball floated out from a corner kick to command his penalty box. Since the retirement of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic he hasn't had a steady centre-back pairs patrolling the defense. This could now change with tall and steady Harry Maguire in front of him. He has a poor record of saving penalty kicks given that early on he saved a penalty from Robin van Persie in that 8-2 win over Arsenal. Taking cue from Sir Matt Busby helping Frank Swift during his playing career with City, Solskjaer being a former striker can help de Gea.
What next? This is his third phase where he is getting used to making fewer yet critical saves and perceptible change in levels of concentration required compared to the second phase of his United career where he was bombarded relentlessly by the opposition in a poor team. Can he break Alex Stepney's record? Certainly. There is more in common between the two: they both came to United at a young age and won trophies in last years of United's two greatest managers Busby and Ferguson while having to see barren, struggling years later on. Early thirties is considered golden period for goal keepers and de Gea only turns 30 this November. Stepney also had a great goal keeper as his understudy in Jimmy Rimmer who won European Cup twice first with United in 1968 and later with Aston Villa in 1982. Dean Henderson's rise at Sheffield United and dip in form of de Gea has let to lots of speculation.

The flattening of transfer market due to pandemic and lack of open positions at other leading European clubs like Madrid or PSG or Juventus coupled with David de Gea being highest earning player at United (discounting Alexis Sanchez who is loaned out) has ensured there is no clear cut answer. Schmeichel drawing on his immense knowledge made this assessment “David is our no.1 - he’s still a young lad, by the way. He could play on for another 10 years. Let’s back him. We should support what we have because we know what we have is really good.” Schmeichel tops with 180 clean sheets with one of the best defenses compared to 140 by de Gea in 398 games for United, while Edwin van de Sar has 135, Gary Bailey has 161 and Alex Stepney is at 175 at the end of their careers.

de Gea is the only United player to have won Sir Matt Busby player of the year award four times! "It's amazing to play for the club, the history, the fans, everything. It was hard in the beginning, but I believed in myself, I worked hard and I am proud of myself as well. I want to say thanks to everyone. I didn't expect to win this one. I have four, it's amazing for me and thanks again to everyone.”

Over the nine years David de Gea has become fans favourite and endears them further by active social media presence and interaction with fans especially the younger ones. Like the talisman Bryan Robson lifted the league title and retired, most fans believe it will be far easier for United to win back the English Premier League and perhaps Champions' League with David de Gea in goal. #DaveSaves need to considered in the same manner of superlatives as goals of Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo through the last decade irrespective of United not challenging for Champions' League honours. David de Gea can become United's undisputed greatest keeper in this decade under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. For world football in general he has perhaps blazed a trail for young goal keepers to become mainstay of the first team.

FA Cup provides valuable experience for a young side

Fernandes-Pobga era started with Manchester United beating Sheffield United 3-0 on 24th June, 2020. A date to remember like the debut of another combination Charlton-Crerand on 23rd Feb, 1963 in 1-1 draw at home to Blackpool with David Herd scoring the only goal. Crerand went on to play in all the 19 remaining league games of the season after making his debut. United survived relegation finishing in 19th but won their first trophy after Munich the 1963 FA Cup thanks to home draws in initial stages and goal scoring prowess of Denis Law at his best.

United under Solskjaer broke another unwanted record still lingering from the Ferguson days that of the last hat-trick in the Premier League by a United player in Robin van Persie against Aston Villa in 22nd April 2013. Anthony Martial scored 3 goals which included two assists by Marcus Rashford and one by Aaron Wan-Bissaka. The best goal was the 3rd which included a long pass down the middle by Pogba to Fernandes back flick to Rashford to Martial for a sublime goal. 19 goals apiece for Rashford, Martial and 12 for Greenwood makes it 50 for the forward trio. Nemanja Matic had a great game and United did 5 substitutions in the second half at one-go. David de Gea under spotlight barely had a save to make.

Later United reversed its decision to let go of academy players by retaining all U18's totaling about 202 in number till the summer or help them find their next club. Its a great move to recognize the mistake done and undo the damage especially to the youngest of the lot. Unfortunately that means letting go of 9 senior graduates who could not make it especially Largie Ramazani.

Ahead of the FA Cup quarter finals against Norwich Solskjaer spoke of importance of the cup and how it can be a catalyst to a young side to achieve great things in the future. "For our team, it’s a new team and to win our first trophy or title could be fantastic and, hopefully, a catalyst for things to come. We are very focused on doing our best and getting through to the next round, and then hopefully, to the final." Sounds just like what the 1963 FA Cup did for Sir Matt Busby who had a senior squad that was later infused with youth from 1964 FA Youth Cup winners in George Best and David Sadler.

City's loss to Chelsea conferred the 2019-20 Premier League title to Liverpool who won their first league title after a gap of 30 years, four more years than it took United to reach the summit from Sir Matt Busby in 1967 to Sir Alex Ferguson in 1993. This perhaps shows how hard it is to get back to the top and the long road ahead for Solskjaer's Specials. Chelsea have over the years acted swiftly to sack coaches and get players quickly focused solely on winning the league while City and Liverpool have perhaps the two best coach's in the world right now. To challenge the this top three United would need 2-3 exciting signings like Jadon Sancho(20), Jack Grealish(24), Milan Skriniar(25), Wilfred Ndidi(23), Harry Kane(26). Meanwhile Wolves will give United a tough chase for the top 4 finish as well as in the Europa League.

The Norwich game will be the last chance for United to see Angel Gomes play. If he isn't in the squad perhaps it ends his career with Manchester United where be broke the greatest Duncan Edwards record for being the youngest ever debutant. Wishing him all the best!
Manchester United met Norwich for the 1st time in the FA Cup in 1906 in second round winning 3-0. Later on Norwich won all encounters in 59, 67, 91. Same predicament followed in League Cup in 75 and 79. Only in 1994 United managed to win 2-0 with goals from Roy Keane and Eric Cantona, who later fouled Jeremy Goss described by commentator Jimmy Hill as 'despicable and villainous'. Beat Norwich in 4th round League Cup by 4-0 but lost in semi-finals to unfancied Sunderland to eventually seal David Moyes' fate. Sunderland had three ex-United players in John O'Shea, Wes Brown, Phil Bardsley and escaped relegation under Gus Poyet being bottom of the table at Christmas. Manchester United they moved the very next day to sign Juan Mata from Chelsea to limit the damage instead of getting the deal done as soon as transfer window opened that January. This lethargy in doing transfers still afflicts the club to this day.

In the run up to United's first league title under Ferguson, Aston Villa and Norwich were the main rivals. The Canaries were led by ex-Red striker Mark Robins with 14 goals who previously had scored in 1990 FA Cup 3rd round match from Mark Hughes perfect lob that split their defense to win 1-0 against Brian Clough's Nottingham Forest to save Ferguson's job. Beating direct challengers Norwich 3-1 away set United on a seven match unbeaten run to clinch the league title in 1993. Losing 1-0 to Norwich in March, 1988 Sir Alex Ferguson summoned his team to a Sunday meeting to discuss what went wrong and result was a 10 match unbeaten run enabling United to finish creditable second in his first full season in charge. Winning this historically significant tie will be crucial in advancing Solskjaer's narrative to shape a new team with traditional United ethos.

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