Sunday, 29 March 2015

How will United end the season?

Manchester United's Premier League run-in.

As there is no Premier League this weekend due to the latest round of International games, I thought I would take the opportunity of looking ahead to United's last eight matches of the season and share how I feel the run-in will play out.

United are currently in fourth position after soundly beating Spurs and Liverpool in their last two outings. By doing so, they have earned themselves some breathing space with the teams behind them and can start looking at clawing their way past Arsenal and Man City.

There is a total of 24 points available and providing the players remain fit and Louis van Gaal sticks to the winning formula I don't see why we can't aim high.

Whisper it quietly but there is still a mathematical chance of United finishing as Champions, but I wouldn't want to jinx that as surely it's a step too far for this season.

Looking at the fixture schedule ahead United have four home games and four away none of which look like being that big a problem for the Red Devils.

Let's take a look at each match individually.

Aston Villa (h)

The first meeting at Villa Park this season finished all square at 1-1 thanks to an equaliser from Falcao against ten man Villa. Since then Villa have replaced their manager with Tim Sherwood who took over from Paul Lambert.

However, their fortunes have not really changed in the Premier League as they are still in the bottom reaches hovering dangerously over the relegation places.

It's a different story in the FA Cup where they will meet either Blackburn or Liverpool in the semi-final. Since United were knocked out by Arsenal in the last round Villa have become my tip for the Cup.

Prediction: United players to return fresh from the Internationals and continue their good form by thumping Villa 4-0 as the visitors eyes will be on the FA Cup and later relegation battles.

Danger man: Gabriel Agbonlahor.

Manchester City (h)

At last a chance to seek revenge after the 0-1 defeat to City at The Etihad back in November. It looks like Chelsea will beat City to the title and it would be great for United to finish above our noisy neighbours and pip them to the runners-up spot.

Since the turn of the year, City's results have been up and down and this was summed up by their 1-0 defeat at the hands of Burnley.

After crashing out of the Champions League, it looks like City will end the season empty handed amid rumours that a successor to Pellegrini has already been lined up.

Prediction: United to run out 3-1 winners and add City to another of the so called big name scalps we have taken his season.

Danger man: Aguero.

Chelsea (a)

Louis van Gaal's first meeting in the Premier League against his protege Jose Mourinho took place at Old Trafford in October and ended 1-1 after a late, late strike from Dutchman Robin van Persie.

United have enjoyed their travels down to the capital this season all the more reason that they should visit Stamford Bridge full of confidence especially with their track record against the top six teams.

In all honesty, Chelsea should be close to wrapping up the league by the time we play. If they are not then it will be their own undoing as it's their title to lose.

This match will be of equal importance to both sides so I can see a cautious game that could be decided on a mistake at the back. Hopefully not by us.

Prediction: The game to end 1-1 with both teams happy to take a point in another tactical battle between the managers.

Danger man: Eden Hazard.

Everton (a)

David de Gea saved United when the two clubs met at Old Trafford at the beginning of October. The saves he made in the last few minutes of the game ensured United came out on top 2-1 and of course not forgetting the penalty he saved from Baines.

On that day, both the United goals were scored by Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao but since then the two have hardly set the league alight. Both finding it hard to get any rhythm going.

I'm sure Fellaini and Rooney will relish the return to Goodison Park to face their former club and with the great season they are having I can foresee them turning out to be the match winners.

Prediction: United to repeat the same scoreline from the first meeting 2-1 hopefully without David de Gea having to turn on the heroics again. This will also give LvG a good chance to take a closer look at full-back Seamus Coleman who has continually been linked with a move to the Red Devils.

Danger man: Aaron Lennon.

WBA (h)

The first match against WBA was another draw for United on their travels against lower opposition. This time it was a 2-2 draw in October with goals from Fellaini and Blind rescuing a point for the reds when they really should have won.

Since then WBA have been flirting within the bottom reaches of the league and are sitting eight points above the relegation spots.

They changed their manager in January by replacing Alan Irvine with relegation experienced Tony Pulis who should keep them clear of the drop as the teams below them are playing worse.

Their last outing was a 3-0 defeat by Man City a match in which they showed a lack of conviction.

Prediction: 3-0. It should be a mixture of emotions for the returning former red Darren Fletcher. If he plays he will undoubtedly receive a standing ovation from the Old Trafford faithful, but that will be the only hand of friendship United will offer.

Danger man: James Morrison.

Crystal Palace (a)

Yet another trip to the capital and a tricky match against a team that has been revitalised by new manager Alan Pardew. Palace has pace in abundance up front and that could cause the United defence some problems.

Former United winger Zaha will be licking his lips at the chance to put one over Louis van Gaal just as Danny Welbeck did for Arsenal at Old Trafford in the FA Cup quarter-final.

United won the first match at Old Trafford with a late Mata strike, but I can't see too many problems at Selhurst Park.

Prediction: United to win 2-1. A close match full of action but United to continue their good form in London by returning back up North with all three points in the bank.

Danger man: Wilfried Zaha.

Arsenal (h)

This will be the third meeting between the two rivals and it's one win apiece with United coming out on top in the league, but Arsenal balanced the books in the FA Cup.

Arsenal are favourites to lift the FA Cup, but I believe they will not therefore ending the season empty handed like United.

So, the focus on this penultimate league match will be for who finishes the highest.

The United players will be up for this match with the added incentive of gaining revenge for the cup loss. Not that United need any incentive when they play Arsene Wenger's side.

Prediction: United to win their last match of the season at Old Trafford 3-1 to round off a good season against the big clubs.

With a lap of honour but with no silverware to show I believe that the manager, his staff and the players will still feel the full support of the fans after a great end to the season.

Danger man: Olivier Giroud.

Hull City (a)

Here we are at the last match of the season away at Hull who we beat 3-0 earlier in the season.
Managed by former United legend Steve Bruce Hull have again failed to keep themselves out of danger and as I write this they are only three points away from a relegation place.

However as my choices of teams to go down don't include Hull I believe by the time they play United they will be already safe.

Prediction: United to end the season on a high and bang in the goals at the KC stadium as a marker for next season. 4-1 to the Red Devils.

Danger man: Abel Hernandez.

There you have it and if all goes according to my predictions United will end the season with seven wins and one draw to guarantee a Champions League place. And to finish above City would be even sweeter.

Then the hard work begins for LvG preparing for the challenges of next season especially in the transfer market.

Thanks for reading and whatever happens I hope you enjoy the remaining weeks of the season.

Miles Dunton.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Mata's double delight.

Liverpool 1 Manchester United 2

Forget the El Clasico over in Spain this is the big one.The two bitterest rivals in the English game faced off against each other at Anfield on the same day as Real Madrid played Barcelona.

Separated by only two points in the race for an all important top four finish this was by far the biggest match of the season so far for both sides.

The last time Liverpool tasted defeat in the Premier League was at the hands of United back in December. Then the hero of the day was David de Gea as he protected United's three-goal lead with a string of saves that cemented his hero status among the fans.

After the brilliant display against Spurs at Old Trafford last week the question on the fan's minds was whether or not Louis van Gaal would stick with the 4-3-3 system that worked so well and keep Juan Mata in the side even though Angel Di Maria was available after his suspension.

All was revealed when the starting line-up was announced: De Gea, Valencia, Jones, Smalling, Blind, Carrick, Herrera, Mata, Fellaini, Young, and Rooney.

So Louis van Gaal entrusted the same starting side that demolished Spurs in the finest 45 minutes of the season so far. Which meant no immediate return to the team for Angel Di Maria who started on the bench alongside Falcao. Also, Blind was preferred at left back again in place of the returning Rojo following the Dutchman's sterling display last weekend.

Subs: Da Silva, Rojo, Di Maria, Falcao, Januzaj, Valdes, Pereira.

United, in their white strip, started the match on the attack and in the first minute won their first corner. Mata's delivery caused confusion as the keeper flapped at it.

It was a bright start from the away side as they sought an early advantage to quieten down the home support.

Fellaini started the match in a fiery mood nipping at the heels of the Liverpool players to great effect. In the second minute, the Belgian won the ball well and fed Rooney but he chose to come inside when the two United players behind him on the flank would have been the better option.

A minute later David de Gea was called into action as he saved at the feet of Sterling as he ran into the area unchecked by the defence.

In the seventh minute Juan Mata won the first free-kick in a dangerous position and took it himself, however, it was easily cleared. The upside was that it was far better to see the midfield players stepping up to take the free-kicks and, therefore, allow Rooney to get in the box where he can do the most damage.

10 minutes in and United were in confident mood passing the ball around well and not giving the opposition time to settle which made the natives more restless than usual.

Mata had started the match in fine form and was unlucky not to get on the end of a Fellaini header after eleven minutes. But a couple of minutes later Mata was rewarded for his endeavour by scoring a goal of pure class.

It happened in the 13th minute following approach play by Fellaini who fed an inside pass to Herrera who in turn saw the run of his compatriot and slipped the ball perfectly through to Mata who finished comfortably with a right-footed shot across Mignolet and into the far side of the net. What a strike and a great start for United and fully deserved.

Great to see manager and assistant celebrating the goal together with van Gaal fist pumping then jokingly slapping Giggs in delight.

Over the next few minutes, Rooney was unlucky to be caught offside a couple of times as the visitors tried to capitalise on their possession and score the vital second goal.

It wasn't until the 16th minute that Liverpool had their first strike when Sturridge fired harmlessly wide.

Herrera had been targeted by the Liverpool players for the roughest treatment and after twenty minutes Joe Allen picked up a yellow card after fouling the United playmaker.

Another free-kick by Mata was chipped in for Fellaini's head but again it was easily cleared by the defenders. Fellaini was proving to be a handful for the defenders as he had been in recent matches so much so he was keeping Falcao on the bench even in the absence of Robin van Persie.

There was a break in action on 20 minutes after Phil Jones clattered into the back of Lallana and knocked him unceremoniously to the ground.

Just before the half hour mark there was a great play from Blind down the left as he almost played in Herrera for a chance on goal instead he won a corner.

In the first 30 minutes, it had been all United as the home side struggled to get hold of the ball and create any chances. The biggest cheer from the home fans was when their captain Gerrard warmed up along the touchline.

Liverpool wasted a great opportunity in the 34 minute when Lallana blasted wide from 18 yards when in truth he should have done better. A warning to the United defence that the one goal lead was a slender one.

United tried to conjure up a second when Mata and Blind linked up but to no great effect.

Three minutes before half-time there should have been a penalty awarded to Manchester United as following a corner Liverpool keeper Simon Mignolet appeared to rather stupidly push over Herrara, but the match officials obviously didn't see it.

At this point, United was so much on top that even Chris Smalling tried his luck with a long run into the opposing box but lacked the quality pass needed. 8/10 for effort.

On the stroke of half-time, Carrick let fly from distance with a fierce drive which the keeper could only parry clear.

Half-time and it was all United as they continued on from the Spurs win with the same momentum and were in total control and passing the ball around well. Herrera and Mata were the stand-out performers as they never stopped running and looked for an opening at every opportunity.

At the start of the second half there were no changes to the United line-up but Liverpool made a substitution by bringing their inspirational skipper Gerrard into the play and the first thing he did was to lunge into a tackle then stamp on Herrera's leg as he was on the ground.

A straight red for Gerrard and not such an inspiration, after all. It really was an awful challenge that no one can excuse and Herrera was fortunate to get up and play on. Quite why Herrera received a yellow card for nearly having his leg broken is beyond belief.

It couldn't have been any better for United to play against ten men for forty minutes but as is the same with all teams reduced to ten men Liverpool finally started to play, thankfully without applying any real pressure on David de Gea's goal.

The main objective for United was to keep their cool in a red hot atmosphere created by the Gerrard red card. The atmosphere was hostile towards the Red Devils, to say the least.

In the 53rd minute, Coutinho tried to catch de Gea unawares with a long range effort that just went over the bar. United needed to hammer home their advantage and quickly.

One minute later Louis van Gaal decided to bring on a fresh pair of legs with Di Maria replacing Young who had had a fairly quiet match up to that point.

Phil Jones was booked for a clumsy challenge on Henderson of which he could have had no complaints.

Then it happened a moment of pure genius by the player of the match. In the 59th minute, Di Maria picked out Juan Mata in the box with a superb chip and the diminutive Spaniard scored a goal with a scissor kick of the highest quality with his left foot.

2-0 ahead and not only game over but goal of the season decided as the way he executed the goal was spectacular.

On the hour mark, Di Maria broke at pace and unselfishly squared the ball into the box aimed for Rooney but the ball was agonisingly behind the England forward.

Mario Balotelli entered the fray and was immediately booked for a foul on Jones. This was the home side's game plan to rattle the United players with over aggressive play.

On 68 minutes, Sturridge managed to pull a goal back for the home side after Carrick had uncharacteristically given the ball away. With twenty minutes left all United had to do was hold on while being abused on and off the pitch.

A free-kick from Di Maria was punched clear to Carrick who then played the ball back into the danger area where Rooney clashed with Henderson, Skrtel and Mignolet but escaped unharmed and thankfully caution free.

Di Maria was guilty of giving the ball away in a dangerous area but thankfully no harm was done in the end but all the same it could have been worse as United only had the one goal lead.

United was struggling to make their extra man advantage count since the Liverpool goal and needed to defend resolutely while at the same time regaining their composure.

In the last ten minutes, you felt that United needed to grab another goal as Liverpool were starting to create chances and, after all, their hard work would be wasted especially against ten men.

In the 82nd minute, Falcao came on for the hard working Herrera which meant Rooney took Herrera's place in midfield for the last five or so minutes.

The Liverpool keeper Mignolet lost the plot around the edge of his area by nearly gifting United a free strike at goal, but he somehow got away with it.

Rooney conceded a free-kick in a dangerous area which was cleared by Fellaini and United countered with Falcao down the left but his cross missed everyone.

90 minutes on the clock and Di Maria infuriated his team mates by giving away the ball far too easily when possession was the requirement.

Into added time and United eventually started to keep hold of the ball and all that passing paid off when Blind burst into the area and was upended for a penalty by Emre Can.

Rooney strode up and placed the ball towards the corner, but Mignolet managed to save at full stretch. Surely it wouldn't matter as the game had entered it's last seconds.

While everyone concentrated on the penalty Rojo replaced Blind.

Skrtel had the last word as he stamped on de Gea and should have seen red for that terrible challenge but like so many of his colleagues got away with it.

As de Gea writhed in agony the referee blew for full-time. 2-1 to United.

There is no better place for United to win than at Anfield and with the three points they have put some breathing space between themselves and Liverpool and move closer to Arsenal and City.

An absolutely brilliant win for United and fully deserved as they were in complete control for the whole match. Many will say that Gerrard's dismissal changed the outcome of the match, but it had the opposite effect as Liverpool played better when reduced to ten men.

You can't take anything away from the way United approached the match. From the start, they were on the attack and full of purpose a trait rarely seen this season. If only they had turned on the same style earlier in the season.

All the players put in a great team effort, but there are two players who deserve the extra plaudits and they are the Spanish duo of man of the match Juan Mata and Ander Herrera. After being left on the bench many times over this season, they proved their class and warranted the starting place given to them by the manager.

With Carrick in support, they totally overpowered Liverpool and didn't allow the home team to get hold of the ball.

There will be no match next weekend due to the upcoming round of internationals which is a shame as the break could disturb the momentum that United have built-up. However, on a positive note it will give Robin van Persie the valuable time needed to recover from his injury as his goal scoring feats will be needed for the run in.

As always thanks for reading.

Miles Dunton.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

United deliver Spurs a 'knockout punch'.

Manchester United 3 Tottenham Hotspur 0

Louis van Gaal was unhappy with Rooney getting knocked out in a friendly boxing bout but was pleased that his team delivered an uppercut to Spurs.

Following the bitter disappointment of defeat in the FA Cup at the hands of Arsenal it was the turn of their North London neighbours to visit Old Trafford in an attempt to pour more misery over United.

There was a time when a victory over Tottenham was about as sure a thing as you could imagine for United not so anymore as prior to this match they were without a win in five against the Londoners.

This match was the first of the last ten matches that will define United's season and form a bases for a run of wins needed to obtain that all important top four finish therefore guaranteeing a place in the Champions League.

Still without the injured striker Robin van Persie and with Angel Di Maria serving his ban for grabbing the ref's shirt in the last match Louis van Gaal chose a first team consisting of De Gea, Valencia, Jones, Smalling, Blind, Carrick, Herrera, Mata, Fellaini, Young and Rooney. The substitutes were Lindegaard, Rafael, Blackett, A Pereira, Januzaj, Falcao and Wilson.

There were three changes for United, as Jones, Carrick and Mata come in for Shaw, Rojo and Di Maria. Juan Mata made his first start in the Premier League for Man United since January 17th.

Manchester United was led out by captain Wayne Rooney and his young son Kai as the matchday mascot.

United started the match in a 4-3-3 formation with Rooney in his favoured position up front with Fellaini just behind. Young and Mata were out wide with Carrick and Herrera in the middle and a flat back four with Blind at left back.

United's first chance on goal came after a minute as Ashley Young tried his luck from outside the box which the keeper collected easily.

With only two minutes of play elapsed Phil Jones delivered that dreaded back pass again and almost put de Gea in trouble but thankfully the keeper managed to clear for a corner. When will they ever learn?

In the seventh minute, Rooney burst into the area chasing a great through ball from Young and pulled the ball back aiming for Herrera who just couldn't get there ahead of the Spurs defender.

Then a minute later came the crucial early goal and what a goal. Carrick played a brilliant through ball for Fellaini who took it in his stride and confidently smashed it past keeper Lloris. A fantastic start by United with a sublime pass by Carrick add that together with the Belgian's left-footed finish meant that this was the perfect start for the Red Devils.

In fact, it had been a high tempo start from all the team with the fans also in full voice.

This had been by far the best start by United in a game for a long time with the team attacking full of confidence and their passing was spot on. Again Young was impressive down the left and Carrick in tandem with Herrera controlled everything in the middle.

The second goal came in the 18th minute as a corner was swept over by Mata and was headed back into the danger area by Fellaini when it was cleared straight to Carrick who intelligently lobbed a header over all the defenders and back across goal into the far side of the net. Leading 2-0 and playing with a determination rarely seen recently this was like the United of old.

Carrick's goal was similar if not as crucial to the important header by Steve Bruce against Sheffield Wednesday all those years ago as United headed for their first Premier League title.

On 22 minutes, Young's run almost produced a killer pass into the penalty area but no-one was there to take advantage of his great ball. At this time, it was one-way traffic as Spurs had not even managed a shot on target.

Four minutes later a great cross from Fellaini across the area almost played in Mata but he was just unable to get to it in time. Then the stadium shouted for a penalty for a foul on Mata but unfortunately he had been flagged offside.

Chris Smalling tried to bring the ball forward and it looked like he could go all the way to the opposition box but in the end his final pass was too strong for Rooney.

Mata was the only booking of the match for United after he was cautioned for a foul on 32 minutes. That the only blight on a terrific performance by the home side.

The third goal came in the 33rd minute as Rooney collected a poor pass from Spurs and took on the defenders by himself and once in the box there was no doubt about the outcome as he slotted the ball into the corner of the net. A great individual goal by a forward totally on top of his game. And what can we say about the celebration, 'knockout'.

36 minutes in and again it was Fellaini who caused mayhem down the left as he whipped the ball in for Rooney who scuffed it slightly. That was almost the fourth goal and great link up play between Fellaini and his captain.

On the stroke of half-time, there was still time for Rooney to try his luck from distance but he fired wide. Good job he missed as I doubt he could better his goal celebration.

This was by far the best 45 minutes played by United all season a half full of inventive play and confidence with all the team on top of their game, especially Rooney and Fellaini.

It's truly refreshing to write positively about the side after their recent disappointments. The hope was that they could continue in the same vain in the second-half. With the type of start made by United, the biggest question was where had this team been hiding all season. Spurs had had no shots on goal that's how impressive United had been.

United started the second half attacking the Stretford End with no changes made by van Gaal.
In the 47th minute Spurs had their first clear attempt on goal by Dembele which was high over the bar.

Rooney was on fire and once again in the 48th minute he tried to nod one down for Fellaini, but the ball deflected back into his path at the edge of the area. He couldn't quite wrap his foot around it and strikes it over. As I have said before if only he had been used up front more often in the season who knows where we would have ended up.

United continued with their tidy passing play from the first half and Spurs hardly got a sniff of the ball and when they did United quickly snuffed it out.

In the 51st minute, Rooney tried yet again to lay off a chance to a colleague this time for Blind but the Dutchman dithered a little and the chance was blocked.

Mason should have done better for Spurs a minute later but pulled his shot well wide of de Gea's goal. In all honesty Spurs never looked like scoring or even troubling David de Gea.

Over the next ten minutes United enjoyed a period of passing practice as they fully controlled the game none more so than in the middle of the park with the trio of Carrick, Herrera and Mata impressing.

On the hour mark, Blind almost played Herrera in on goal with a slide rule pass which was unfortunate not to come off.

Another blistering run by Young down the left wing earned United a corner which came to nothing however, credit to Young as he has shown in recent matches the old magic has returned and he looks like a player who is really enjoying his football.

64 minutes and the crowd witnessed a wonderful cross-field pinpoint pass by Rooney straight to Fellaini that started a move which ended with Herrera firing his shot into the side netting. Another move of precision by the Reds which was a joy to watch.

With fifteen minutes left on the clock United had the ball in the back of the net but the flag was up well before Rooney had tucked it away as Herrera was flagged offside, perhaps wrongly, after a long ball over the top. Shortly after the Spaniard had an effort from distance which flew wide.

After 76 minutes, there was a fully deserved standing ovation for Juan Mata as he left the pitch to be replaced by youngster Pereira. It was fantastic to see the reception given to Mata as he made his way down the touchline and towards the tunnel he really is a fan favourite and he put in a performance that merited the applause. Here's hoping that he doesn't have an injury problem.

The second change came in the 82nd minute when Fellaini was taken off and Falcao was given another opportunity. Fellaini, another player who had played his socks off and opened the scoring with aplomb received the second biggest round of applause of the day.

In the 84th minute captain fantastic Rooney was back clearing the defensive lines as Spurs tried to salvage something from the match.

Van Gaal's third and final change of the match was in the final minutes which saw Rafael come on for the impressive Carrick who had fully earned his early rest.

As the match reached it's climax Harry Kane almost squeezed the ball into the net but David de Gea made an improvised save by sitting on the ball, not his greatest save, but it kept a valuable clean sheet.

Disappointing there were no goals in the second half, but that doesn't take anything away from the great performance by the team with no goals conceded and a huge morale-boosting three points ahead of some tricky matches ahead.

Spurs were really poor in the match but in all fairness they couldn't have expected United to play as well as they did today and I think they were as surprised as anyone by the way the home side came out of the blocks firing on all cylinders. It would seem that the players have an appetite for achievement this season, after all.

Nine to go and if the Red Devils can keep up the momentum from this match then not only a top four but dare I say a top three finish to the season is a definite possibility. But first there is the small matter of a trip to Anfield to take on our bitter rivals Liverpool.

A repeat of today's performance would be invaluable to the team's confidence for the run in and I fully expect a victory especially with Rooney in his current mood.

Thanks for taking the time to read.

Miles Dunton.

Friday, 13 March 2015

What next for United?

Once former United player Danny Welbeck latched onto the terrible back pass by Antonio Valencia and slotted it past David de Gea to knock Man United out of the FA Cup I started to wonder what lay ahead for the team this season and beyond.

Now that our last chance of silverware has gone United are now locked in a fight to finish in the all-important top four of the Premier League to gain a place in the lucrative Champions League, failure to do so would mean yet another season out of the European elite competition and even worse United could qualify to play in the dreaded Europa League every Thursday night.

Let's take stock of our current position, out of both cup competitions and fourth in the league and looking ahead to the remaining Premier League fixtures it doesn't fill me with confidence the way we have been playing with Spurs, City, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal still to play it would take another unbeaten run to come through all those fixtures unscathed.

At the beginning of the season, the manager banged on about his 'Philosophy' which I'm sure like myself most people and the players are still trying to get their heads around. What exactly was his plan and what formation suits the team better because I really believe he doesn't know himself.

Since August, we have witnessed differing setups including his favoured 3-5-2 but more recently he reverted back to the fans favourite 4-4-2. Neither of which have been played with any confidence by the team and the lack of attacking play, which we have been used to down the years and I'm not only talking about the Fergie era, has lacked any conviction and flair.

The manager doesn't seem to know what his best starting eleven is and has changed the line-up too frequently leaving players to sit on the bench for long periods of time. It started with Januzaj then Herrera and now it's Mata's turn to wonder what they have to do to play regularly.

Januzaj's position I can understand as he is still in the learning curve but Herrera and Mata are experienced players that would walk into other sides, and maybe they will in the summer.

Another point about the manager is the way he comes over in the press conferences. Alex Ferguson was a master of manipulating the press and enjoyed total control in the meetings, even though that riled the journalists he still had their respect. The problem with LvG is that he comes over as a stubborn individual who has a total disrespect for the press and treats their questions as a personal attack on himself.

Louis van Gaal was a very animated figure at the World Cup high fiving Robin van Persie but in the United dugout he is the complete opposite, he honestly looks bored. At Old Trafford, I understand it's a long way to the touchline from his seat but even so!

He has said that his relationship with the assistant manager Ryan Giggs is as good as ever, but I'm not so sure. I would like to hear more from Giggs on how he feels things are going.

Van Gaal has spoken of his distaste of back passing but obviously forgot to relay that message onto his defenders as so often this season we have conceded unnecessary goals or given more work to de Gea by playing the ball around at the back.

Speaking of the defenders they have been woeful this season and even the die hard fans, like myself, must be truly disappointed by the performances of the back line, Evans and Jones have to take the brunt of the blame and Smalling has had his moments of uncertainty.

In Blackett and McNair, we have two defenders for the future but you could see how quickly their confidence fell by playing alongside supposedly more experienced players.

When you see the players and manager in training or enjoying themselves out and about at various functions, including this week's Cheltenham Race Meeting, the team spirit can't be faulted but once they walk onto the pitch that all so important togetherness seems to disappear.

A lot of that is down to the captain but when Rooney was stuck in the midfield he found it hard to increase his own level of play let alone the others. Eventually, van Gaal saw sense and put Rooney back up front where he belongs, imagine how different the season could have been if Rooney had been used as a striker and banging in the goals instead of being wasted in the middle.

The six summer signings that gave all the supporters such optimism haven't really delivered on the promise mainly due to injury and lack of form. The biggest disappointments being the two big name deals Radamel Falcao and Angel di Maria.

Falcao is just not the same player he once was following his knee injury and Di Maria's confidence is at an all time low especially after his red card against Arsenal. It will take all of LvG's experience to dig Di Maria out of his hole.

Ander Herrera had been left out of the side for weeks then enjoyed a return to the starting team putting in some sterling performances and chipping in with the goals. The other signings,  Blind, Rojo and Shaw haven't let the side down too much but have missed crucial games due to various serious injuries.

Ashley Young has come back after his own injury layoff stronger and along with Fellaini has at least improved on last season. Fellaini has at last started to repay the money that Moyes spent on him but again he is another player being used out of position. In the defeat against Arsenal he played up front and the team began banging long balls up field with the hope that he could use his height advantage. That is not the United way and proved we missed the scoring talents of Robin van Persie.

There is no doubt about the player of the season David de Gea. From the very first match he has performed at a level that is way above his team mates and has become a world class keeper and with Real Madrid circling he needs to be tied down to a new contract sooner rather than later as later could be too late. On many occasions, the Spaniard has saved the points for United as the last line of defence. In the run of unbeaten games, it wasn't the goals that gave us the points it was his saves.

Through varying mistakes by the manager and players, we find ourselves once again unsure how the season will finish. Having said that I am a big fan of the manager, if not of some of his decisions, and believe the club can bounce back and will indeed make the last four but not without some more twists and turns before May.

However, come the end of the season I as many others, expect an overhaul of the team. Let's get rid off the players who are quite clearly not up to scratch and get really stuck into the transfer market for quality players with experience starting with the defence. If not, even if we do qualify for the Champions League with the current squad we could be out of it in the group stage.

In summary, in the last two months of the season I would like to see the players really lift their game and get that top four finish at any costs and for the manager to prove that he indeed is the best man for the job.

I'm sure in the end all will be well but it's how we are getting there that hurts.

Miles Dunton.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

FA Cup of woe for United.

Manchester United 1 Arsenal 2

This was the clash of the FA Cup giants a meeting between the two most successful clubs in the illustrious history of the competition as both teams hold the record of 11 wins each.

Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger had many memorable battles in the cup spanning over fifteen years, but this was Louis van Gaal's first taste of a cup match against the Frenchman.

He of course has already tasted success over the Gunners in the Premier League but could he replicate that feat and take United one step closer to bringing a trophy to Old Trafford in his debut season.

United have played Arsenal a total of 14 times in the FA Cup and have won: 7 drawn: 2 and lost: 5. In fact, Arsenal haven't beaten United in any competition since May 2011 and United had lost only 2 matches of the last 22 so the records were stacked in the home teams favour.

With no Robin van Persie or Jonny Evans to choose from van Gaal made only one change to  the Manchester United starting line-up by bringing in Luke Shaw in place of banned Evans.  The starting XI: De Gea, Valencia, Smalling, Rojo, Shaw, Blind, Herrera, Di Maria, Fellaini, Young and Rooney. Subs: Valdes, Rafael, Jones, Carrick, Januzaj, Mata and Falcao.

There was a recall for Rafael to the bench which was the first time he has been involved in the first team since the beginning of January.

Once again there was no place in the starting line-up for Juan Mata who surely must feel what his compatriot Ander Herrera went through a few months ago by not being able to get a place in the team and misfiring Colombian Falcao was also left on the bench.

The match started with a full house in fine voice with almost 9,000 visiting fans adding to a great atmosphere inside the Theatre of Dreams.

The match started at a quick pace with end to end attacking football and within the first two minutes Arsenal had their first chance when Sanchez almost opened up the home defence.

One minute later Young was upended on the left wing by Bellerin, who became the first player booked by referee Oliver.  From the resulting free-kick Rooney whipped over the ball but as with many set pieces this season it came to nothing.

Six minutes in and United won their first corner a good delivery which just evaded all the waiting players but on a positive note the home team had started well by moving the ball around with confidence.

Shaw had a chance to break out after an Arsenal corner but failed to bring the ball under control, unlucky as that would have been a great chance for a counterattack as Arsenal had committed so many players upfront for their corner.

Young was causing the right back Bellerin all sorts of problems down the left wing and won a second free-kick which once again Rooney took but to no avail. I would much rather see our captain take up a position in the box to get on the end of the crosses rather than take them himself.

In the 12th minute Smalling slipped the ball through to Fellaini in the box but the Belgian opted to try and take too many touches when the best option would have been to have a shot with his left foot, a definite chance gone.

Some errant passing, which has been a problem for most of the season, began to appear in United's play which allowed Arsenal to create a few chances that luckily they couldn't take advantage of.

After 18 minutes, United's assistant manager Ryan Giggs made his way to the touchline to make his feelings known. No doubt asking his players to step up the pace and stop giving the ball away in dangerous positions.

In the 20th minute, Young was played in by Fellaini but lost his footing as he was about to shoot and the ball sailed wide. Arsenal forward Chamberlain also wasted a great chance for the visitors at the other end by not being able to keep his effort down.

After 25 mins it was turning out to be an open cup tie with chances for both sides but with United being guilty of wasteful passing and it proved their undoing as Arsenal took the lead when their left back Monreal slipped the ball past de Gea after being left totally left unmarked in the penalty area. A terrible goal to concede by United and first blood to the Gunners.

But the lead lasted only four minutes when in the 29th minute after a flowing passing move by United the ball ended up with Di Maria on the right wing and in turn he crossed the ball into the danger area where that man Rooney was waiting unmarked to meet the cross with a fierce header that gave Szczesny no chance.

In equalising Rooney had kept up his fantastic goal scoring record against Arsenal as that was his 14th goal against them and it proved without a doubt that his best position for the team is up front.

Shortly after the goal there was another wicked delivery from Di Maria that the keeper nearly made a total mess of before collecting at the second attempt.

Young showed the confidence in his play of late by constantly trying to take on the defenders down the left in an attempt to assist his forwards.

United's first of six yellow cards came after 36 minutes when Herrera was cautioned after a foul following sloppy work from Di Maria.

In the 40th minute, Rooney almost returned the favour for Di Maria after bringing down the ball with a deft touch and chipping it up for the Argentinian who just couldn't capitalise on the opportunity. Almost immediately, a chance again fell to Di Maria after a great ball from Valencia but Szczesny saved at his near post.

Just before the end of the first-half the excellent de Gea saved a free-kick down low then it was back down the other end as Fellaini tried his luck with a shot which lacked the power to trouble the keeper.

The two teams went in at half-time locked at 1-1 with United conceding a shocking opening goal but all credit to them by finding a quick reply. When United played direct they looked very dangerous but Di Maria looked a little nervous when given chances on goal and just needs to get his game back on track.

Louis van Gaal made two changes at half-time with Carrick and Jones replacing Shaw and Herrera. The experience of Carrick was indeed needed but quite why Jones came on for Shaw I'm not sure.

United attacked the Stretford End as they looked for an early goal to give them some breathing space in the match. Michael Carrick won a free-kick almost immediately but once again Rooney put over a poor delivery when he really should be on the receiving end of the set pieces.

Di Maria chased a through ball in the 51st minute and was unlucky not to be awarded a foul on the edge of the box as he was clipped on the back of the leg, but the referee was unable to see it clearly. Then the action went down the other end but thankfully de Gea was alert to a deflected effort on his goal.

The match had certainly opened up and it really was anybody's game to win.

Over the next ten minutes, the game got bogged down in midfield with both sides guilty of giving the ball away and both set of players making mistakes especially Fellaini who was booked after two successive fouls. Young quickly followed Fellaini into the book after a clumsy tackle.

On the hour, Fellaini spotted Di Maria well and it looked a certain goal but after doing all the hard work he pulled his shot wide.

Then disaster in the 61st minute as Valencia, after a short pass from Jones, played a suicidal back pass to de Gea which United old boy Danny Welbeck latched onto and had the simple task of placing it past the Spaniard. A terrible mistake to make by Valencia and made all the worse by Welbeck being the scorer. Also, Jones has to take responsibility as he only had to hoof the ball away rather than play it to Valencia.

On 64 minutes, Rojo was booked for a dangerous foul which could have been a lot worse than it turned out to be. One minute later from a corner by Di Maria the ball eventually fell to Smalling six yards out, but it came off his knee and went over the bar as the goal was gaping.

The impressive Young delivered a delightful ball from the wing that was met by Fellaini, however, his header was saved by the keeper low at his near post.

With 20 minutes left Valencia almost made his bad night even worse as he gifted Arsenal a free-kick in a dangerous position by bringing Sanchez down on the edge of the box but de Gea saved the resulting free-kick.

Van Gaal made his third and final change after 72 minutes when he replaced Rojo with Januzaj presumably to protect Rojo from receiving a second caution but why throw on Januzaj when someone like Mata would have been a better choice if not just for his experience but also his knack for picking a defensive lock.

Two minutes after the substitution the crowd witnessed a brilliant one handed save from the player of the season David de Gea low at his post. It was a truly world class save from a world class player. Contract?

Then in the 75th minute there was more bad news for United as Angel Di Maria was booked for diving then as he ran after the referee to explain his innocence he grabbed the back of referee Oliver's shirt and was immediately sent off. A strange decision as the same official did nothing after seemingly being head-butted by Man City keeper Hart earlier in the season.

This was now an uphill struggle for United to claw themselves back into the match.

A surging run from Jones ended with a handball by Arsenal right on the edge of the penalty area but as usual Rooney elected to take it himself and couldn't direct his effort on target.

Fellaini became the target man for the long ball into the area. Is this what United have been reduced to trying to pick out the tallest guy on the pitch in the hope he can get his head on it.

In the 86th minute Januzaj became the second player to be booked for diving as he tried to fool the officials when he ran into the area and fell far too easily to ground when he really should have stayed on his feet and tried to create something. I'm still not convinced about the young Belgian and his decision making in games borders on the selfish and this booking backs that up.

The one player I would pay credit to for his work rate is Ashley Young who never stopped trying to start attacks as well as chasing back to help with defensive duties when called upon to do so.

With five minutes of added time left United, with only 10 men, found the going tough and Sanchez almost added a third but for the fingertips of de Gea.

Full time and a very disappointing loss at home and with it the teams last chance of silverware this season. I honestly thought that it would be our year for the cup but in the end it wasn't to be and we will not be going to Wembley.

Now all the focus must be on finishing in a Champions League place and to achieve that United have to get through some big matches between now and the end of the season.

Starting with Spurs at Old Trafford on Sunday. This will not be easy especially when you consider the goal scoring run that Harry Kane is on and the way our defence has been playing lately odds on he will score.

To use an old cliche every match from here until May will be a cup final for United I just hope that the players can pick themselves up from this morally disappointing defeat and push on hard for that all important top four finish then come the summer the manager can clear the decks of all unwanted players and bring in the new quality that we badly need especially in defence.

Thanks for reading what in the end was a difficult piece to write.

Until next time.

Miles Dunton.