Saturday, 29 November 2014

United tame the Tigers.

Manchester United 3 Hull City 0

After the euphoria of United collecting their first away win of the season last week against Arsenal, it was time to return home and welcome to Old Trafford Hull City and their manager, former United captain Steve Bruce.

Bruce, of course, was a wonderful servant to our club and totally deserved the warm reception he received from the home fans on his 700th premier league game as a manager.

In his pre-match press conference Louis van Gaal gave the fans encouraging news on the injury front, especially about Marcos Rojo, but sadly confirmed that Luke Shaw would be out for 4-6 weeks, at the same time poking fun at United's twitter account about how they miss reported Daley Blind's injury.

The United starting eleven included the quick return from a shoulder injury of Rojo in defence along with Valencia, Smalling and Young on the left, in midfield  Di Maria, Carrick, Fellaini, and a return to the starting line-up for Mata. Up front, the two strikers were Rooney and van Persie.

This was a big match for Robin van Persie who has received criticism from many people about his lack of commitment, especially against Arsenal last week, and with Falcao on the bench the pressure was on him. Last but certainly not least De Gea in goal.

All the planning done before the game came to a halt after only 9 minutes when United were again unlucky with an injury when Di Maria pulled up with what looked like a hamstring injury and was replaced by Herrera, playing his first game since his rib injury.

The early breakthrough for United came in the 15th minute from an unlikely source, Chris Smalling, whose shot from close range was bungled over the line by the Hull keeper McGregor.

Smalling played a very positive game in the first half moving forward at every chance and could even have had a second on the half-hour with a shot that wasn't too far away.

United's second came on 41 minutes when Rooney combined wonderfully with van Persie and found the net with a fine strike from outside the box.

The second half continued in the same vein as the first with United having almost all the possession, and the fans were in fine voice filling Old Trafford with renditions of the annual Christmas song dedicated to Eric Cantona, who signed for Man United this week back in 1992.

Robin van Persie almost added a third with a copy of his flying header for Holland, this time it was saved and judged to be offside, but it was great football with a pin point pass from Michael Carrick, who with Fellaini had total control of the midfield.

Then in the 66th minute van Persie answered his critics with a superb strike with his left foot into the roof of the net from the edge of the box to make it 3-0. That was to be his last action of the day as he was replaced by Falcao.

I wonder if van Persie saw Falcao stripping off and decided to go out with a bang. Falcao could have got on the score sheet at the death had it not been for a goal line clearance.

Even though our defence didn't have much to do as Hull's attack was toothless, I thought Chris Smalling had an outstanding game and could have scored a hat-trick, someone must have taken him aside and had a serious talk with him, as his performances have vastly improved in the last two matches. Rojo performed well on his return and had an exceptional pass rate.

The man of the match for me was captain Wayne Rooney, who never stopped running and completed a total of 66 passes, topped with a well taken goal. He looked to be struggling in the end and hobbled off at full-time. I hope it's not too serious.

Herrera also impressed after coming on for Di Maria and should keep his place against Stoke City.

This was very much a routine win for United as Hull didn't offer anything close to a threat, and at times it was a chance for United to improve on their passing as Hull couldn't get a hold of the ball.

A third straight win is exactly what United needed to maintain a run of form that keeps them heading in the right direction, and to keep the confidence high as matches are now coming thick and fast, with another home match against Stoke City on Tuesday night, followed by a difficult away trip to high flying Southampton.

Then we enter the busy Christmas period with games against Liverpool (h), Aston Villa (a), Newcastle United (h) and Spurs (a). It will be imperative that we have a full squad available and hope we don't succumb to more injuries.

I firmly believe that come to the New Year we will be up into the top four of the league, and we can start to finally put the nightmare of 2014 behind us and look forward to the second half of the season and 2015.

Thanks again for taking the time to read my thoughts.

Miles Dunton.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Man United's smash and grab in the capital.

Arsenal 1 Manchester United 2

A week that started so badly with United players falling like flies with injury after injury has ended on an incredible high with a victory over Arsene Wenger's Arsenal in their own backyard.

Before Louis van Gaal's pre-match press conference on Thursday, the concern was what team would he put out against Arsenal.

Daley Blind, Michael Carrick, Luke Shaw and most importantly David De Gea, had all picked up injuries while away on international duty.

Add that to the ongoing list of players already missing including Falcao, who picked up a fresh injury in training, the signs were negative for a difficult away trip. However, following Thursday's announcement that the injuries were not as bad as first thought, apart from Blind, the game began to take on more of a positive vibe.

Louis van Gaal had decided to pick three center backs, Chris Smalling, Tyler Blackett and Paddy McNair with Shaw and Valencia playing as wing-backs alongside Carrick and Fellaini in central midfield.

It was great to see Fellaini not react to Wilshere's deliberate attempt to wind him up, in fact, Wilshere should have at least been given a yellow for headbutting Fellaini's navel.

Di Maria, Rooney and van Persie were given the task of helping out defend and look for the chance on the counter attack. As expected Arsenal, playing at home, spent the first half attacking, but like other opponents this season they couldn't find a way past the ever impressive United keeper David de Gea.

He is literally saving United's season game after game and surely it's time to squash the transfer rumours and tie him down to a new contract. Where would the team be without him?

Losing Shaw to an ankle injury was another blow, but following this United showed a discipline rarely seen this season, especially at the back, and stood tall and resolute against the Gunners. Once again, McNair impressed in defence.

In the four games, he has started United have won all four, and partnered with someone with more experience he will become a steadfast at the back. Blackett also played well if not a little nervous at times, and even Smalling, who has endured a torrid time with the fans and critics this season, could hold his head up high. The discipline paid dividends in the second half.

Two goals, the first an own goal by Gibbs and the winner from Rooney, all but put Arsenal out of the match even though they managed a consolation strike at the end de Gea was able to get a hand to it. As the match went on you could sense the growing frustration in the stadium with some home fans calling for Wenger to be sacked.

Di Maria could and should have settled it before Arsenal scored but fluffed his shot. Di Maria and Rooney ran all day and created the few chances that fell to the team, in fact, this was Di Maria's best match for a while.

Robin van Persie had a difficult time, booed by the home fans and starved of service he was substituted and replaced by James Wilson, who didn't put a foot wrong.

Maybe he will get his chance to start over the coming weeks especially the Christmas period when the games come thick and fast and allow van Persie to have a well-earned rest. It was a smash and grab raid type of match, but 3 points at the end of the day are what's important.

Wayne Rooney's goal means that he is the highest scorer against Arsenal in the history of the Premier League, and he took his chance supremely well, something that Danny Welbeck couldn't do for the Gunners, confirming what van Gaal has said repeatedly that he was sold because he simply wasn't good enough for his team.

To see a jovial van Gaal in his post match interview was a sign that he knows his philosophy is finally paying dividends. He chose a team out of necessity and they nullified the threat of Arsenal, especially their stand out player, Sanchez.

A big well done to the team for giving the fans something to shout about, it's still early days in the van Gaal revolution, but the signs are there that they are starting to believe in the manager's system.

This was United's first away win of the season and the second win on the trot, it moves the team up into 4th place in the league and with two home games to come against Hull City and Stoke City I hope they can keep up the momentum into the New Year, then we should look to buy an experienced center half, and get Falcao fit and playing, and lastly end 2014 on a high as it's been a difficult year and one that has to be put down to experience, the bad kind.

Thanks for taking the time to read my thoughts. Until next time.

Miles Dunton.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Super Sub Mata.

Manchester United 1  Crystal Palace 0

Following the narrow defeat last week at the hands of Manchester City the only objective was to beat Crystal Palace at Old Trafford and get back to winning ways. 

I suppose a win is a win and the three points are the main target at the end of the day but Palace are a team who are tipped for the drop so it should have been a routine win for the reds.

Once again, Manchester United did it the hard way. 

It was a dire goalless first half in which the only clear cut chance was created by the excellent Luke Shaw, who followed a solo run from his own half with a shot that was saved by the Palace keeper, Speroni. In fact, that was the only save he had to make in the first half as United seemed to lack any penetration even though enjoying 80% of the possession.

Due to injuries and suspensions, Louis van Gaal was forced to reshuffle the team yet again.

United starting XI: De Gea, Valencia, Shaw, Blind, Carrick, McNair, Di Maria, Fellaini, van Persie, Rooney and Januzaj.

Blind partnered McNair in the center of defence, Carrick started his first match of the season in midfield behind Rooney and Fellaini. This meant that van Persie was once again alone up front relying on the service from the flanks, which just did not come.

Down the left flank Shaw and Di Maria were linking up well, but the problem was on the opposite wing which saw Januzaj once again struggling to put any decent form or contribution together, even though Valencia, again covering at right back, was doing his best to help him out.

Under par Januzaj.
Januzaj is flattering to deceive at the moment and hasn't contributed anything of note in his last three appearances. He had one shot of note early on and that was it. Is it a question of he had his chance and blew it?

It's a shame as I always remind people I was rallying for him to be used in the team, but after this match I believe he needs to be rested and has to be made to understand his failings and work on his form. He is still young and I'm sure the best will come eventually.

What the team and the match needed in the second half was an injection of urgency, this arrived in the shape of Juan Mata who came on as substitute for Januzaj at the same time that James Wilson replaced the ineffectual Di Maria.

Within a short time of his arrival, Mata had put United into the lead with a left-footed strike that was deflected into the net. He also later had an effort which hit the post.

Mata breaks the deadlock.
The game had come to life, Fellaini, playing his best football since joining United, had a header cleared off the line. However, United made the fans sweat it out again by not finding the killer goal which would have totally ended any hope that Palace had of getting a result.

Instead, like in other games this season, the opposition smelt the weakness in United and the possibility of a goal because we let them have too much of the ball.

It's been a long time since Old Trafford had that fear factor for visiting teams and I can't see it coming back anytime soon.

On a positive note, this result was United's first clean sheet in six games and David De Gea recorded his 50th clean sheet for the side.

DeGea's 50th clean sheet.
Once again, young defender Paddy McNair had an impressive match for the Red Devils, what a player this boy is going to be. The confidence he showed during the match by bringing the ball out of defence and trying to kick start moves was very encouraging.

Some fans are saying that he is only in the side due to the injuries to the first choice defenders, but I believe he should be considered first choice and the others should fight to play alongside him.

I understand that he has a lack of experience, but that is only achieved by playing. When I see his name on the team sheet I have a different feeling of confidence than when I see Evans or the injury-prone Jones.

What McNair needs is an established defender alongside him to learn from, hopefully, next season that player will come.

My choice of man of the match is Luke Shaw, who never stopped running and looks so assured on the ball. He is showing all the qualities that deserved an England call up along with Carrick and Rooney. The only hope is that he can keep fit for long periods of the season.

Man of the match Shaw.
This was United's 4th home win of the season and lifts the reds up into sixth place in the league. Looking at the teams above us I don't see any reason why we can't aim for a top three finish.

If we could only start to get results away from home starting at Arsenal in two weeks time that would surely calm the nerves of the team and fans at home, and allow us to play with the speed and flair that United are used to.

With another international break, it gives Falcao and the other injured players time to recover and get back to help the team up the table.

So enjoy the two-week break and thanks for taking the time to read my thoughts.

Miles Dunton.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Manchester United's Aug-Nov Review.

So far not so good.

When Alex Ferguson took over at United from Ron Atkinson, it took him four years to win anything and build his own team to his particular high standards. Mainly, the united fans were patient, but there were some calling for his head, and if reports are to be believed, he was so close to being fired had it not been for a through ball from Mark Hughes that Mark Robbins latched onto to score against Nottingham Forest in the FA cup 3rd round in 1990. Manchester United, of course went onto win the cup that season and the rest, as they say, is history.

Fast forward to the present day and United have made their worst start in the league since 1986, which coincidentally was only months before Fergie was hired. The way that football as a business is conducted these days new manager Louis van Gaal hasn't got the luxury of the amount of time that Fergie enjoyed at the beginning of his reign, just ask David Moyes. If United, with all the money that they have spent this year don't finish in the top four then they will once again have to review the managers situation. United are now on a par with other teams, in so much as results are more important than loyalty to the manager. Our fans demand success as we have been spoiled over the last two decades, but we have gone from a position of unrivaled success to also ran since Fergie hung up his hairdryer. As big worldwide as we are we have no divine right to be consistently at the top, it has to be earned. I'm sure that when Moyes took over he didn't think how badly his first season would go, after all he was taking over the champions. But to be honest, he didn't have the pedigree to take control of such a huge club. How could someone who hasn't won a trophy possibly motivate his players who are used to success season in season out. It's not his fault, anybody would have said yes to United, and if they say they wouldn't have, then they're lying. So enter Louis van Gaal, known as a strict character with a C.V. that shows his quality as a manager, and following a superb run in the World cup, and an undefeated pre-season in the States, all the fans were licking their lips at the prospect of a great start to the present campaign. However, here we are 13 points from 10 games, no away wins and lying a lowly 10th in the league. So what is wrong?

Louis van Gaal talks repeatedly about players excepting his philosophy of playing the game, that it will take time to evolve and wont happen overnight. This is backed up by the slow starts to the seasons at his previous clubs especially at Bayern Munich. Some directors wanted him out after a poor start but he stayed and they won the championship in the same season. So if his history repeats itself then we should be in for an exciting remainder of the season.

Slow starts are not new to van Gaal.
He has been very unlucky with key injuries especially in defence and three unnecessary red cards. But realistically the premier league is a lot stronger than the Bundesliga, so its going to be more difficult. But to van Gaal's credit he did get it right at his past clubs so there is a higher than average chance he will turn it around. At his side he has Ryan Giggs, and if anybody knows exactly what is expected at the club with its history and traditions, it's him. Also, I for one would love to see van Gaal or Giggs on the touchline more often during the games, especially when things are not going the teams way.

Having done what most fans wanted and spent so heavily in the summer on star names such as Di Maria, Blind, Shaw, Herrera, Rojo and the loan of Falcao, van Gaal has a job to get them all working together with the the players he inherited. Of course, it will take time for them to all gel together as a unit.
Six new signings.
But there is one area that more money needed to be spent and that was in defence. The defenders van Gaal inherited from Moyes and Fergie are either injury prone or just not up to the standard that we are used to at Old Trafford. Losing one key central defender is hard to replace but two is nearly impossible. The sales of Vidic and Ferdinand at the end of last season has left a huge gap in the back four of not just talent, but also leadership and stability. In hindsight maybe we should have kept one of them. With the transfer window coming in a couple of months I would like to see Blackett and McNair given a chance alongside each other at the back until we can buy someone with the experience to help the youngsters along. Rojo is a big loss but Shaw has proved capable in the last few outings. The right back spot is Rafael's over Valencia.

The likes of Di Maria need time to bed into their new surroundings and I'm sure they will all click together, and when they do it will be a joy to watch. I'm a little concerned with the injury to Falcao and I hope it's not a repeat of his troublesome knee. Blind looks to be solid in his roll, and even last seasons misfit Fellaini has been transformed by van Gaal, or fear, or both. He has even been keeping new signing Herrera out of the side. It was pleasing to see Carrick back in action for the derby even though in defence. His experience will be vital over the coming winter months. My one worry is Januzaj, I for one have been championing for his inclusion after encouraging displays for the reserves. Unfortunately he hasn't taken his chances when presented with them and needs to take a step back so as not to lose his confidence. One saving grace quite literally has been David De Gea in goal.

World class De Gea.
He has produced so many brilliant displays already this season, against Everton he was truly world class, with the possibility of having Victor Valdes as cover the No.1 spot seems to be in safe hands.

Up front we have had a barren time but Rooney, Van Persie, Mata and Falcao are all world class strikers, and any talk of them being dropped or sold is ridiculous. They will come good and start scoring again you can be certain of that, you only have to look at their records to squash any doubts.
van Persie & Rooney need to click.
Once the team is playing at the right tempo the strikers will find their stride and the goals. But all the players need to produce a high standard week in week out.

So after three months we are not where we want to be. But I firmly believe that in van Gaal we have a manager that will do everything to stamp his mark on this great club, and that this has been a teething period. United have traditionally come alive after the new year but with a new manager, new players and a new system we will have to wait and see. He will be judged next May and I predict a top four finish and a good run in the FA cup. If I'm right all will be happy at United, but if I'm wrong when does Pep Guardiola's contract finish?

Enjoy the rest of the season and remember United never do it the easy way.

Miles Dunton.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Derby Day Defeat.

Manchester City 1 Manchester United 0

There are two matches every season that Man United fans look forward to and desperately want to win, not just for the points but mainly for bragging rights. Man City and Liverpool.

During the build up to the derby everything in the United camp was positive, City had lost two matches on the trot, and Wayne Rooney was to return after his three match suspension.

City were there for the taking. Everything had started well, City were not posing a major threat and the referee, Michael Oliver, was doing United favours by waving away penalty shouts against our defence. Then in the 39th minute Chris Smalling lost his head and brought down James Milner outside the box to earn his second yellow card and a red.

Smalling gets his red card.
His first yellow was given for time wasting as he tried to block Joe Hart's clearance. So many times one incident can dictate the outcome of a match and this one certainly did.

Quite what Smalling thought he was doing to earn his first yellow only he can explain, and he should. Down to ten men, and soon to lose Marcos Rojo with what looks to be a dislocated shoulder, City rubbed salt into United's wound and scored through Aguero.

The reshuffle of the team meant that Michael Carrick, in his first match of the season after his recovery from an ankle injury, had to fill in at the back along side the ever impressive Irish youngster Paddy McNair.

Manager & captain
All credit must be given to the United players for not only keeping the score down to 1-0, but for also trying to rescue a point, a point they would have fully deserved, and would have surely achieved if it hadn't been for missed chances.

In the second half the United players rallied magnificently to almost produce an equaliser, and they would have if it hadn't been for Hart in goal, Fellaini's misjudged header and Di Maria's poor deliveries at corners.

United almost produced a comeback that would have surpassed even last weeks result against Chelsea, but it wasn't to be.

Rojo is carried off.
There were excellent displays from captain Wayne Rooney, as he tried to spur his troops on, David De Gea, who once again came to United's rescue as he has done so many times already this season. Also, Fellaini put in another solid display.

A special mention must go to full-back Luke Shaw who is growing in confidence with every game.The tackles he made were outstanding and with the unfortunate injury to Rojo he has the opportunity to cement his place in United's defence.

McNair shines again.
But we are crying out for a new central defender in the January transfer window. With Rojo, Smalling and Jones out this is the chance for Louis van Gaal to go with the youth of Blackett and McNair.

Over the next two months he should give them a chance to see if they can form a partnership at the back, why not, we have nothing to lose but everything to gain for now and the future.

The derby defeat is a bitter pill to swallow, but we can keep our heads held high as it was only after being reduced to ten men, a defender, that City found the breakthrough.

However, with only 13 points from 10 games this is United's worst start to a league campaign since 1986, a month before Sir Alex Ferguson took over.

So the only way is up and our next match is at Old Trafford against Crystal Palace, which in all fairness to Palace, United should win easily.

There are many positives we can take from losing the main one being the performance of United's ten men in the last 30 minutes. Let's hope they can take that spirit into the upcoming matches.

Until next time thanks for taking the time to read.

Miles Dunton.