Monday, 31 August 2015

United Sink to Defeat at Swansea!

Swansea City 2 Manchester United 1

This was Louis van Gaal's 50th match in charge of United and against opponents who not only ruined his unveiling as the new manager of the Red Devils but went on to take six points off the Old Trafford outfit last season.

Swansea has proven that they are a tricky opponent and are difficult to play against especially on their home turf, but United are a different team compared to the previous campaign and are at last starting to find their rhythm after the new signings have started to get used to the level that they are expected to play at for United.

After the success of qualifying for the Champions League group stages and being placed in what seems a relatively easy group the away side were on a high going down to South Wales and why not? Wayne Rooney was back among the goals after his European hat-trick against Club Brugge, Ander Herrera repaid van Gaal's faith in him with a goal in his first start of the season and Fellaini was available after completing his three-match ban.

The biggest question was whether United could take their Champions League form and goals into the Premier League against sterner opposition. The answer was a resolute no as Swansea once again took advantage of a lacklustre United and claimed another victory.

The only absentee for the game was Adnan Januzaj who had picked up an injury, but this provided another chance for Herrera as it meant he could stake a claim for his place in the team as the number 10. Marcos Rojo was still unavailable for selection but is almost ready as he came through 60 minutes in a behind closed door match against Ajax this week.

Man United's starting XI: Romero, Darmian, Smalling, Blind, Shaw, Schneiderlin, Schweinsteiger, Mata, Herrera, Memphis and Rooney. Subs: Johnstone, McNair, Valencia, Carrick, Young, Fellaini and Chicharito.

Herrera kept his starting place and Schneiderlin and Scweinsteiger returned to the midfield which meant that Carrick would start on the bench.

United got the match underway with the backing of the away fans ringing in their ears. The away side started the match brightly on the attack and were awarded a free kick in the very first minute, which Memphis hit low towards the corner but, the Swansea keeper Fabianski was alert to the danger and saved low.

Then a nice run on the left by Memphis almost produced an opening for Mata but after a neat exchange of passes the Spaniard fired his shot high and wide.

In the first quarter of an hour Swansea kept hitting the ball over the top and each time Smalling was there to clear up continuing his improved form. It was pleasing to see that when the home side did attack United defended as a unit with all the players helping out to regain possession.

United had two chances to take the lead within a couple of minutes half way through the half when first Rooney was put through on goal by a superb threaded pass by Shaw but the striker was caught up by defender Williams who managed to get a toe on the ball before the captain could pull the trigger, this was followed by a great chance which fell to Mata, who was lurking unmarked on the right of the box. He picked up the pass from Herrera and when it looked odds on a goal he blasted his effort wide. Poor from Rooney and Mata.

It wasn't all United as Swansea had their own chances to go ahead, first with a shot by Gomis followed by a glaring miss by Sigurdsson and an attempted lob by Shelvey which Romero managed to get back and catch on the line.

On the half hour mark United were living dangerously and struggling to contain striker Gomis, who was unlucky when his shot hit the post. Rooney had another chance to reedem himself, however his attempted lob over the keeper was weak to say the least, yet another chance had gone begging in a half that was a hard fought affair. Herrera hit a right footed shot from the edge of the area which he pulled wide.

United saw out the last five minutes of the half in control after the home side had a period of ten minutes of threatening attacking play.

An uninspiring first half summed up by the lack of atmosphere inside the Liberty Stadium as both sides were badly let down by their finishing. The main culprits for United were Memphis and Rooney, who had obviously left his scoring boots back in Belgium after his heroic hat-trick and both Mata and Herrera really should have done a lot better with their shots that weren't even on target.

Both Schneiderlin and Memphis received cautions the Frenchman after a needless tackle and the Dutchmans' booking seemed to be a harsh decision by the referee.

Half-time 0-0.

More was expected in the second half from United and that's exactly what they delivered with a goal by Mata after only three minutes of the restart. The goal was created by Luke Shaw as he made a run down the left wing and powered over a cross which eluded Rooney, but found Mata at the far post and the Spaniard didn't miss this time as he fired home the opener. Superb play by Shaw, who continues to impress this season.

A Memphis cross was almost deflected into his own net by Williams but his keeper managed to save the defenders embarrassment.

The goal seemed to reinvigorate United and the ground filled with the away fans celebrating with chants for the goal hero Mata. The goalscorer had a chance to double the lead just before the hour mark, but he couldn't find a way past the keeper when one on one, then within seconds Rooney gave away the ball while on the attack and Swansea went straight down the other end and equalised through Ayew.

Captain Rooney has to hold his hands up and take the blame for the goal as it was his mistake that led to the home side breaking forward and making the match all level and in turn ensuring United lost their clean sheet in the Premier League.

Then disaster in the 66th minute when Swansea took the lead through Gomis, who stole in-between Smalling and Darmian to latch onto a through ball and tuck it away past Romero at his near post.

The Argentinian keeper has to take some of the responsibility for the goal as he shouldn't be as easily beaten from that type of angle as he was. What a difference a goal makes as Swansea were buoyed by their earlier equaliser and United seemed to have had the stuffing knocked out of them.

Louis van Gaal decided that a change was needed and replaced Mata and Schneiderlin with Young and Carrick for the last twenty minutes of the match. United tried to come up with the goods but failed to deliver the strike that would have given them hope.

The final change for United saw Herrera make way for Fellaini who took up his position up front with the hope of causing havoc in the home defence.

With ten minutes left on the clock it was increasingly difficult to see where United's equaliser would come from as they struggled to put any moves together that troubled Swansea's defence.

Rooney had the last chance at the death, but after showing superb control to bring the ball under control from over his shoulder, he then took one too many touches before losing the ball even though he claimed incorrectly that he was fouled.

That chance summed up the captain's day as he reverted to his lacklustre style of play where he looked distinctly off the pace and didn't show the leadership qualities that United badly needed. His last chance was similar to the own goal in the opening game against Spurs where he dithered on the ball in the box, but this time the defender didn't put the ball in his own net.

The match ended in a repeat of last season and Swansea are quickly becoming Louis van Gaal's bogey side . A disappointing result but one that Louis van Gaal and his staff have time to remedy as there will no matches this coming week due to Internationals. Let's hope that no player receives any injuries while away with their home countries.

This week saw the departures of two defenders from Old Trafford Jonny Evans and Tyler Blackett. Evans has joined West Bromwich Albion for an undisclosed fee, but which is thought to be around £8m. He leaves Old Trafford after an 18 year association and with three Premier League titles and two League Cup medals. Blackett has joined Scottish giants Celtic on a season long loan which can only improve him as a player and hopefully when he returns, he and United will both benefit from the valuable experience. Good luck to both.

As regards new players arriving there's not that much time left. It's clear United need more firepower up front as they are thin on the ground when it comes to players to put the ball in the net and with four trophies to play for this season if van Gaal thinks he doesn't need another striker then he is greatly mistaken.

As Sir Alex Ferguson believed, quite rightly, that a team needs four recognised strikers in their squad to be able to compete at the highest level and United do not have that number, so let's see what the next couple of days brings.

The goalkeeper situation needs to be resolved and although Rojo is making strides the defence United could do with one more experienced center back.

There is an international break over the next week and then United have a small matter of Liverpool at Old Trafford.

Until then thanks for reading.

Miles Dunton.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Man United back where they belong.

The 2015/16 UEFA Champions League draw.

At last Manchester United were back where they belong in the draw for the group stages of the UEFA Champions League after an absence that in reality was only one season but which seemed like an eternity.

As soon as United Captain Rooney scored his first of three goals last night in Belgium everyone's thoughts were turning to the group stage draw and choosing who they would prefer to play and probably more importantly the sides they didn't want to come up against until the knockout stages.

Since United last played in the competition many changes have taken place at the club from management, Moyes was replaced by Giggs who in turn made way for Louis van Gaal, to the players, with Carrick, Rooney and Smalling being the only players that started in last night's qualifier against Club Brugge who were also in the starting XI in the second leg defeat by Bayern Munich at the quarter-final stage in 2013/14. Interestingly Hernandez was also on the bench that night in Germany.

However, there has remained one constant, a status quo that can never be altered and that is the fans, fans that had to endure ridicule from rivals, which hurt, but never knocked them down as the faithful knew that it was only a matter of time before United took their place at the table reserved for Europe's elite.

The excitement of the draw had returned along with the dread of whose name would be picked alongside United. People always say that there is no easy draw which could be correct, but this year there were some really difficult but tasty possibilities. For example, United could have shared a group with one of these giants Barcelona, Bayern Munich, PSG or Juventus.

In the end they managed to avoid the so-called big teams and were pitted against PSV Eindhoven, CSKA Moscow and Wolfsburg. No disrespect to our opponents, but even United legend Peter Schmeichel, who was hosting the draw, found it difficult to hide his pleasure of the outcome.

Once the draw had been made and the dust had settled it turned out to be quite favourable for the Red Devils and the fans alike who would travel to places such as Moscow, the city of United's 2008 final victory over Chelsea, Eindhoven, a return home for our newest star Memphis, and Schweinsteiger's home country Germany to play Wolfsburg.

The hardest tie will probably be against German outfit Wolfsburg but the long trip to the Russian capital is always a draining one and PSV are well known to United's Dutch backroom staff and Memphis will have some pointers.

United will open the group away at PSV 15 Sept then Wolfsburg (h) 30 Sept, Moscow (a) 21 Oct, Moscow (h) 3 Nov, PSV (h) 25 Nov and lastly Wolfsburg (a) 8 Dec.

As Sir Alex Ferguson always said the target is to get to ten points and as long as United win their home games, then I can foresee no problem in them progressing to the knockout stages and if they can add a striker to strengthen the forward line then who knows how far we can go.

One thing is for sure it is great to be back involved with the pinnacle of club football.

Thanks for reading and enjoy the European adventure.

Miles Dunton.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Rooney fires United into seventh heaven.

Club Brugge 0 Manchester United 4 (agg: 1-7)

One small step for man, one giant leap for Man United.

Manchester United made it back into the Champions League group stages after waiting and watching Europe's elite battle it out last season from a distance.

Fellaini's last kick, or header, of the game in the first leg of this tie gave United the critical two-goal breathing space they needed to take with them for the away leg in Belgium. With a definite lack of punch in attack 2-1 would have been a tight call, but as it was, there was no need to worry as the game turned out to be a one-sided affair..

With Fellaini available for inclusion and with Louis van Gaal stating in his pre-match press conference that the Belgian would be used as a number 9 or 10 this season it was a little surprising to see him start on the bench. However, on a positive note there was a welcome return for fans' favourite Ander Herrera making his first start of the season in place of Schneiderlin in midfield and Carrick was given back his starting place over Schweinsteiger.

United's starting XI comprised of Romero, Darmian, Smalling, Blind, Shaw, Carrick, Herrera, Januzaj, Mata, Memphis and Rooney.
Subs: Johnstone, McNair, Schneiderlin, Schweinsteiger, Young, Fellaini and Hernandez.

First half:
There was a cautious start from United who seemed content to pass the ball between their defenders. It was Chris Smalling who eventually played the ball forward down the wing, and a few moments later that led to a half chance. Adnan Januzaj slipped a through ball into the box for Luke Shaw, who was beaten to the pass by the onrushing Bruges keeper Sinan Bolat.

After 5 minutes danger from Brugge with Shaw doing well to block a close-range volleyed effort by De Sutter. Rooney had an effort following a one-two with Mata, but he spooned his chance high.

Herrera made an instant impact on his first start of the season by collecting the first caution of the match for a foul on Vazquez in the 13th minute. Not exactly what the Spaniard would have wanted.

A cautious start to the match from United which is understandable as nerves come into play with so much at stake.

The 20th minute saw a breakthrough for the away side and the goal drought for Wayne Rooney was over as he latched on to a superb pass from Memphis and dinked the ball effortlessly over the keeper. That's just what was needed to relax the side and almost guarantee their qualification.

Rooney's all-round game was an improvement on his other games this season as not only did his scoring touch return, but also his first touch, unlike Januzaj who once again failed to impress in the opening half hour and looked off the pace not for the first time this season.

Memphis had an accidental collision with the keeper when he was in his right to attempt to get on the end of a through ball much to the anger of the Brugge fans. This was followed just after the half hour mark with another chance for Memphis to run at goal and this time he chose to shoot when the better option would have been to square the ball in the box to Rooney.

A flurry of Brugge attacks didn't amount to much as the United defence cleared the high balls that peppered the penalty area. Memphis was a threat again inside the box as he tried to work a chance with Januzaj but the Dutch winger couldn't make room for a shot.

To Brugge's credit they kept attacking United in the last ten minutes of the half and drew a smart save from Romero and also forced Blind into a back headed clearance that almost crept in at the far post.

Then there was a close decision from the linesman when he allowed the Brugge striker Diaby to continue his attacking run despite originally looking offside but keeper Romero showed all his experience as he kept his head and saved at the striker's feet.

Half time and United deservedly led 1-0. This had been a mature performance even with the youngsters playing and once Rooney had put the side ahead it became a game that was out of Brugge's grasp. Having said that the hosts didn't give up and tried their hardest to save face and could have grabbed a goal on a couple of occasions if it hadn't been for Romero.

Second half: Louis van Gaal made an expected change for the second period by replacing the ineffective Januzaj for Schweinsteiger which meant that Herrera would take up the number 10 position.

A positive start from United as Rooney was involved in a possible penalty shout but the referee got the decision correct in Brugge's favour.

Then in the 49th minute the tie was definitely over as a fantastic team passing move involving Memphis and Herrera, who found Rooney and the striker was given the easiest of chances to slot the ball home for his and United's second.

Within five minutes of the restart, Herrera had proved exactly what many fans knew that he was a better option in the position behind the striker than Januzaj.

Memphis should have been awarded a penalty after being clumsily brought down, however the referee saw it differently and waved play on but from the clearance Herrera shot weakly and the keeper collected easily.

United were in total control and it became a question of seeing the match out without sustaining any injuries or more yellow cards.

57 minutes and Rooney grabs his hat-trick by finishing off a neat pass from Mata. United's captain capitalised on another superb passing move and they were all over the home side.

62 minutes in and van Gaal made his second substitution by bringing on Young for Mata and a minute later it was 4-0 as Herrera latched onto a brilliant defence-splitting pass from Schweinsteiger and the Spaniard had no problem as he finished with aplomb.

Herrera had done enough for the night and was replaced by Hernandez in the 64th minute.

Shortly after Brugge's Vanaken hit the bar with a stunning strike and meant that another clean sheet was on the cards for United.

The brilliant away fans were clearly in a joyous mood going through their renditions of all the United favourite anthems. So good to see and hear the best fans in the world at an away match in Europe again.

Romero tried to keep himself busy when he threw the ball straight at the opposition, however they couldn't capitalise on the mistake.

Memphis was brought down unceremoniously in a dangerous area as the match entered its final ten minutes, but the free-kick came to nothing.

In the 80th minute, the Red Devils were awarded a dubious penalty and it fell to Hernandez to try and convert but he slipped at the vital moment and screwed his attempt wide. A wasted opportunity for the Mexican who had another chance to impress his manager, but failed miserably as he ballooned the ball over the bar from close range.

The game went through the motions until the referee called it a day and the away team and fans celebrated together upon guaranteeing Champions League football for the coming season with a victory over the two legs of 7-1 on aggregate.

The result aside, this game was about the man of the match Wayne Rooney, who proved his naysayers wrong as he scored a wonderful hat-trick by finishing mouth-watering attacking moves created by his teammates.

The way that United set out their stall bodes well for future endeavours across Europe with the defence holding firm to produce another clean sheet. The movement from the players was outstanding and showed that they are starting to click.

Now, it's only a question of who United will face in the group stages with some of Europe's top sides waiting to test the Red Devil's metal on the biggest club stage as the draw takes place tomorrow. However, on this performance maybe other teams should worry about United.

Let's hope that Manchester United can take this form into the Premier League starting with Swansea City.

Thanks for reading.

Miles Dunton.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

'Krul' turn of events deny United.

Manchester United 0 Newcastle United 0

Following the euphoria of United's winning return to the Champions League, it was back to the bread and butter of the Premier League and the visit of Newcastle United to Old Trafford.

United welcomed former assistant manager Steve McClaren back to Old Trafford as the away team manager. McClaren, of course, was Sir Alex Ferguson's right-hand man in 1999 when United completed the historic treble and was revered for his coaching skills, but has not really hit the same heights as a club or international manager since then.

United's home record against Newcastle in the Premier League is almost 100% perfect as they have only lost once at home to the Geordies and that was as recently as 2013.

In last season's corresponding fixture, it was captain Wayne Rooney, who put in a man of the match performance scoring a brace and adding an assist in the 3-1 win. With all the criticism, he has endured at the start of this campaign, he would have wanted to repeat those exploits in this match.

Louis van Gaal had used an unchanged starting eleven in the last two victories against Aston Villa and Club Brugge but this time he decided that he would slightly tinker with the team selection as he looked to achieve a four match winning start to the season something that hadn't been done since 2011.

United's starting XI: Romero; Darmian, Smalling, Blind, Shaw, Schneiderlin, Schweinsteiger, Mata, Januzaj, Memphis and Rooney. Subs: Johnstone, McNair, Valencia, Carrick, Herrera, Young and Chicharito.

Schweinsteiger made his first start for United in place of Carrick, who in turn would be on the bench alongside McNair, who had been recalled to the side because of Fellaini's absence as he served the last match of his ban. There was still no place for De Gea as Romero continued in his place and deservedly so.

First half: The away side got the match under way as they attacked the Stretford End. Luke Shaw made the first move forward as he collected the ball and attempted a low cross which was easily cleared this was followed by a shot from distance by Memphis which didn't trouble his compatriot keeper Krul.

A bright start from the red devils and a continuation of the attacking flair they had shown against Club Brugge.

In the first five minutes Rooney had been at the core of all United's attacks and even had the ball in the back of the net, but it was ruled out for a very close and debatable offside decision.

In the 10th minute, United won a free-kick in a dangerous area after Darmian was scythed down. Memphis left it for Mata whose effort was easily caught by Krull. With his track record of scoring from free-kick situations, Memphis has to step up and take control of the set pieces more.

Mata had a low drive palmed away at his near post by the impressive Tim Krull as United piled the pressure on the visitors penalty area and Rooney tried his luck from the edge of the box, but it was too weak to trouble the keeper.

After a quarter of an hour, the home team was in total control as Schweinsteiger and Schneiderlin governed the middle of the park with authority and didn't allow the opposition to have time on the ball.

Darmian received United's first caution after catching Haidara late then the Newcastle forward had his name taken for a similar challenge on Blind in United's penalty area.

Memphis tried his luck in the 20th minute but decided to make it easy for the keeper by placing his shot rather than blasting the ball. This was followed by a close call for the reds as Newcastle nearly stole the lead when Mitrovic's dipping header alluded Romero but struck the crossbar. A real let-off for United.

Back on the attack Memphis almost opened up the visitors defence, but his final ball into the area was a little behind his teammates. The match was turning out to be an enjoyable one as Newcastle at least tried to create some chances, especially with the lively Mitrovic.

In the first half hour, Januzaj was having little or no effect on the proceedings and the game was crying out for a player like Herrera to help out the hard working Mata.

Blind's thunderous strike from distance almost took the head of a defender as United strived for the vital opener before half-time. Darmian ended a great United passing move by delivering  a delightful cross that Rooney only just failed to meet.

As the half progressed, you got the feeling that with no goal to show for the effort United had to be careful at the back as Newcastle possessed enough pace to trouble the defence but the confident Smalling and Co. kept any threat at bay.

United had one last chance before the half ended as Januzaj, Rooney and Mata attacked, but the young Belgian dithered on the ball and by the time Memphis had joined the attack the momentum had been lost.

Half-time 0-0 and for all their sweat United were all level at the end of a half that at the beginning had promised much but failed to deliver on the end result. The forwards came up against Tim Krul, who had excelled for Newcastle in goal with a string of fine stops and had a personal battle with his Dutch teammate Memphis.

The usually critical United manager would surely have had stern words for his team in the dressing room after the side failed to capitalise on their possession and would want to see an improvement in the second half.

Second half: United got the second half underway and it was their turn to attack the Stretford End hoping to have more luck in finding a way to beat a keeper who was on top of his game.

Within the first few minutes, full back Darmian made another excellent run into the Newcastle area and earned a corner for his industry and he was straight down the other end stopping an attack.

After ten minutes, the play had become fairly balanced as both sides tried to find a way through the resolute defences and you got the feeling it was going to take something special to break the deadlock.

Memphis went on a typical run towards the opposition area, but was upended by former red Obertan to earn a free-kick that he took himself and smacked the ball straight into the defensive wall. Memphis then collected the rebound and crossed to the far post where Smalling tried a looping header, but Krul once again collected easily.

Just before the hour mark Schweinsteiger, who was clearly feeling the effects of a heavy first-half challenge, was replaced by Carrick. Soon after Memphis had another effort deflected for a corner and the resulting cross found Smalling at the far post, but his shot was blocked.

In the 66 minute van Gaal decided to beef up his attack as he brought on Hernandez for the ineffective Januzaj. The Mexican last scored for United against the Toon, which was hopefully a good omen.

Mata's creativity provided Rooney with an opportunity in the 71st minute but the captain's turn and shot was well blocked, then a minute later Rooney returned the favour with a cross to the far post which Mata caught full on the volley only to see his effort fly well over the bar.

Hernadez had a shot that was almost deflected into the net by Memphis and since his introduction Carrick was helping his side turn the screw. In one attacking foray, Luke Shaw found himself in a shooting position but once again Krul proved hard to beat.

76 minutes of play and Valencia was brought on to replace Darmian who had once again shown his quality in the right back spot.

Tim Krul was turning on the heroics as he saved from Hernandez at point-blank range when a goal looked certain. It was going to take something extraordinary to beat the Dutch keeper today.

In the last ten minutes it was all the home side as they tried to grab the winner that would give them a perfect start to the season and three valuable points ahead of some tricky matches.

Valencia almost found a route to goal but his effort was blocked for a corner which was cleared for another. It was all United as the fans urged their side on for the last five minutes.

The closest United came was as the clock showed the 90th minute and Memphis floated over a corner that was met by Smalling's head, but as it wasn't to be United's day the ball was cleared via the last defender and the post. Then the away side went on the counter attack which was wasted as they had a three on two advantage.

There was still time just before the final whistle for Michael Carrick to blast a shot goalwards which was blocked for another corner.

That was to be the last action of the match and the game ended in a disappointing goalless draw.

This was one of those games that has been witnessed so many times down the years at Old Trafford where the visiting goalkeeper has the match of his life and the same was true for Newcastle's Tim Krul as you got the feeling that United could have played all day and still not got past the Dutchman. The visitors grew in confidence as the match progressed and had their own chances to win the match.

Two points were abundantly clear after this result one is that Januzaj is still under performing while Herrera's talent is being wasted on the bench and secondly United need an out and out striker but having said that even they would have struggled to get past Krul today.

On a positive note the team performed well and Italian full back Matteo Darmian once again produced a performance of a high standard earning him man of the match.

All this week the media and a section of fans have centered on United's failure to attract players such as Pedro and Otamendi who joined our main rivals Chelsea and City respectively. Louis van Gaal insisted that if he had wanted those players then he and Ed Woodward would have signed them.

However, it doesn't alter the fact that United desperately needs a striker that can bolster the forward line and add the goals on a regular basis together with a central defender to ease the burden on the likes of Daley Blind. Sure, Marcos Rojo is close to a return to first-team action, but if the team suffers from the injuries and poor defensive form as last season then this will be an issue.

Next up for United is the important away leg of the Champions League playoff in Belgium which they will take a healthy score line of 3-1 to thanks mainly to the efforts of Memphis and the late, late goal by Fellaini in the first match that will then be followed by a tricky away match at Swansea City in the Premier League.

Until then, thanks as always for reading.

Miles Dunton.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Memphis lights up Old Trafford.

Manchester United 3 Club Brugge 1

The Theatre of Dreams opened its curtains once more as it staged the return of the Champions League.

There is something special about European nights at Old Trafford, the atmosphere, the floodlights, the anticipation among the fans and not least the chance to see the best teams and players in Europe visit the famous stadium.

United welcomed Club Brugge for the first leg of their qualifying tie and it was the first time that United had faced the Belgian team in any competitive match. However, United's first ever venture into the European Cup was against another Belgian side, Anderlecht, whom United beat 10-0 in the second leg at Old Trafford beginning their illustrious association with the competition.

The last time United found themselves in this position was exactly a decade ago when they beat Debrecen fc of Hungary 6-0 over two legs with the likes of Ronaldo, van Nistelrooy and Rooney leading the attack with the latter coming under criticism from many quarters this week after his below-par displays in United's opening two games of this season. Here was a chance to prove the naysayers wrong.

There were many players making their United European debuts in the starting XI which was unchanged from the victory at Villa Park: Romero, Darmian, Smalling, Blind, Shaw, Carrick, Schneiderlin, Mata, Memphis, Januzaj and Rooney.

The only change was on the bench where Fellaini replaced McNair: Johnstone, Valencia, Schweinsteiger, Herrera, Fellaini, Young, Chicharito.

1st half: United kicked off the match attacking the old scoreboard end and immediately went on the attack with a superb through ball by Mata into the path of Januzaj who delivered a low cross which Rooney only just failed to meet. A great start by the Red Devils and by the fans who were in fine voice.

Rooney then found Memphis with a cross-field pass, but the young winger couldn't make a clean connection. At the other end slight confusion in the home penalty area almost gifted Brugge a penalty thankfully the ref waved play on.

An exciting opening five minutes that even saw Chris Smalling create an attack by confidently running out of defence and passing the ball to the lively Rooney who crossed but too close to the keeper.

Then in the 8th minute an early blow for the home side as Brugge won a free-kick 30 yards out and when the ball was floated into the area Michael Carrick sliced his clearance into the back of the net giving the Belgians the all-important away goal. Januzaj has to also take partial blame as he could have blocked the ball but instead chose to turn his back to play.

After a great early start for United, that goal was a bad blow but there was plenty of time to bounce back.

And bounce back they did five minutes later when Memphis collected a ball from Carrick on the edge of the box and dribbled into the area after lifting the ball over Cools' head, then he produced a low right-footed shot into the bottom corner of the net. What a fantastic first goal to start his United account with.

From that point on United applied the pressure with a succession of corners of which Rooney came agonisingly close to adding a second on two occasions.

Then just before the half hour Mata once again played a delightful through ball to Januzaj who went down in the box after being easily muscled off the ball but again the referee was having none of it. In fact, the German ref seemed to have a disliking for young Adnan as he reprimanded him like a teacher to a school kid.

United had a let off after the half-hour mark when Brugge attacked and a low Dierckx cross from the right thankfully eluded everyone in the penalty area, but it was a warning. Then United went up the other end with Memphis clear on goal but with only the keeper to beat, he inexplicably decided to square the ball across towards Mata but it didn't reach the Spaniard, a wasted chance. Then the Dutch winger tried to make amends with a rasping drive from the edge of the box but the keeper punched it clear.

Then it became 2-1 to United after 43 minutes and it was the No.7 Memphis at it again with a superb thunderbolt from outside the area that left the keeper with no chance. A great strike and one that past No.7 legends would have been proud of.

Half Time: After falling behind to an unlucky own goal United took control of the game and really deserved to be ahead at half time. Memphis gave by far his best performance in the red of United and aided by the running of Januzaj, Mata and Rooney the attack looked to be clicking for the first time this season. The defence were also holding up well, however Brugge still posed a threat when attacking.

2nd half: In the second half United were hoping to score more goals at the Stretford End to make the tie more comfortable ahead of the return leg in Belgium next week. Louis van Gaal made only one change at half time by making his customary swap of Carrick for the German Schweinsteiger, who would add both steel and experience to the midfield.

United started the livelier of the two teams with both Mata and Memphis trying their luck on goal. Memphis almost completed his hat-trick after he was allowed to shoot from the same distance as his two goals but this time the keeper was more alert than his defenders.

Darmian collected the first United yellow card for a needless foul in the 50th minute and with the referee's hardline he would have to tread carefully for the rest of the match.

After an hour it was all United as they totally controlled the game and were passing the ball around comfortably and at this point had achieved eleven shots to Brugge's one but still needed to add to the score line.

Then it was squeeky bum time as Schneiderlin played a suicidal back pass to Romero, who was clipped by  Oulare as he tried a rushed clearance. Luckily no goal and no serious foot injury to Romero. After the treatment to Romero, Darmian tried to put things right by launching an attack and winning a corner.

In the next attack goal hero Memphis really should have added his third after a great cross from the right by Shaw and a back heel from Rooney which the winger tried to score with a spectacular volley when he had more time than he realised to slot the ball home. That was a great opportunity to put the tie to bed.

In the 66th minute, Schweinsteiger almost added his name to the scoresheet when he nearly converted a corner but the defence managed to clear.

In the 71st minute, the fans saw the return of Hernandez, after his season-long loan spell, return to action for United to replace Januzaj.

Memphis was desperate to get his third and he even tried his luck with a free-kick from distance which sailed wide but at least he was trying.

With 20 minutes left United became a little too anxious to add another goal and it took the likes of Schweinsteiger to calm the less experienced players down.

Brugge defender Mechele fouled Hernandez which earned him a second booking and a subsequent red so United would play the last ten minutes against ten men. This was followed by a caution for Smalling.

Louis van Gaal decided that it was time for the introduction of the  'unmarkable' Fellaini as he replaced captain Rooney in the 83rd minute.

Fellaini immediately set about at making a nuisance of himself in attack as United tried to make use of his height in the penalty area and it almost worked as the Belgian planted a header just wide of the far post.

During the last five minutes, United threw everything at Brugge and Smalling almost delivered with a close range header that the keeper somehow managed to save.

Then in the 93rd minute with the last action of the game Fellaini delivered on his threat after converting a cross by Memphis to make it 3-1 with a header and make the tie a lot safer than it would have been one second before.

After missing out on the elite competition last season it was imperative that United didn't slip up at the first hurdle and by winning they have taken a huge step towards the Champions League proper. It wasn't just the win that was important, but the manner in which they achieved it with some breathtaking attacking football that had the crowd on its feet with almost every attack. It was like the United of old.

Brugge didn't help their cause with the red card and will find it difficult to overcome the score line in Belgium but United still have to be wary of their forwards on their own ground. However, you would expect United to grab at least one away goal.

There were many performances of note from the home side, especially in the back four and Schneiderlin in midfield, who quietly and efficiently went about his job, but there was only one man of the match and that had to be Memphis Depay.

The opposition couldn't deal with the mercurial winger as he was allowed so much room on the left to display his vast talents and apart from the excellent goals if his passes had had the same accuracy then his teammates would have benefitted more themselves. He rounded off an excellent night by providing the assist for Fellaini's last minute goal.

United are back in Europe and back with a bang.

Until next time thanks for reading.

Miles Dunton.

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Januzaj seizes his chance.

Aston Villa 0 Manchester United 1

Over the last two decades, United's record at Villa Park is an exemplary one to say the least as Aston Villa have not beaten the Old Trafford side at home in the Premier League since August 1995.

That was the infamous defeat that produced the quote 'You can't win anything with kids'. This time they did just that with the kid Januzaj winning the match.

It was up to Louis van Gaal to continue that record going as he took his new-look team to the midlands trying to add his first away win of the season to the opening home defeat of Spurs last weekend.

United enjoyed the perfect start to the season in the 1-0 win over Spurs, albeit by an own goal, as all five of the summer signings had a part to play in the victory with special mention going to Matteo Darmian who had an impressive home debut at right-back and goalkeeper Romero who made a string of saves in the final ten minutes that kept United ahead.

However, it was the performance in the middle of defence of Chris Smalling that stood out as he was a commanding figure playing alongside Daley Blind. The defence came under fire many times from all angles last season, but towards the end of that campaign Smalling raised his game and that continued last week and into this match. The hope among fans is that United will purchase an experienced partner for Smalling before the transfer window closes.

In his pre-match interview, Louis van Gaal declared a clean bill of health for his squad all except Phil Jones who was still suffering from thrombosis in his calf. David De Gea was deemed not to be in the right mindset for the match and the game proved to be too soon for defender Marcos Rojo.

The starting XI chosen by the manager had only one change from the side that featured last week and that was Adnan Januzaj would start in place of former Villan Ashley Young who would begin on the bench.

Line up: Romero, Darmian, Smalling, Blind, Shaw, Carrick, Schneiderlin, Mata, Memphis, Januzaj and Rooney.
Subs: Johnstone, Valencia, McNair, Schweinsteiger, Herrera, Young and Hernandez.

1st half: United, wearing their new white away kit, kicked off the game with Januzaj playing slightly behind Rooney in the number 10 position with Memphis taking over wing duties on the left.

The match started with many empty seats in the stadium due to the terrible motorway road works around the area, causing many fans to be late, but that didn't seem to hamper the loud atmosphere.

United got into their stride after five minutes by neatly passing the ball around but without creating any chances. It was a cautious start to try and gain control of the proceedings. In the early exchanges, Januzaj was either knocked off or beaten to the ball far too easily which halted the attacks of the away side.

Former Man City defender Micah Richards wanted United to know he was back in the Premier League by clattering into Morgan Schneiderlin giving away a free-kick on the edge of the box in the 16th minute. The resulting free-kick was whipped over to the far post by Memphis and was met by Schneiderlin who couldn't direct his header on target.

Two minutes later Memphis was almost through on goal but the Villa keeper Guzan reacted quickly to the danger.

Chris Smalling continued his fine form by reading the game at the back so well in the opening 20 minutes clearing all the balls that were played towards United's penalty area.

After 25  minutes, the game was stuck at 0-0 with United on top, but with only half chances falling their way most of which fell to Memphis.

Then in the 29th minute came the opening goal following a great passing move by United that was started by Januzaj and ended with the ball at the young Belgian's feet inside the penalty area after a superb through ball from Mata and as cool as you like he placed the ball into the net even though there were defenders all over the place. The ball took a slight deflection on the way, but it didn't matter as that was a brilliantly worked goal.

1-0 to United and fully deserved as Villa had not produced any attack of note.

The home side did manage to get into United's face after the goal, but the away defence stood firm and Smalling and his defensive colleagues mopped everything up.

Half time and United were deserving of their slight lead, but in fairness the match was one sided and it's was a shame United hadn't been able to add to the score. Villa, for a side playing at home, were very poor and offered nothing in the way of a threat on Romero's goal. United just needed to keep the possession as they had in the first 45 minutes and the game would be theirs for the taking.

2nd half: The game started with no changes made by van Gaal and with the away fans in fine voice as ever.

Villa had the first chance of the half, but Ayew fired well over without even troubling Romero when he really should have done better with the home side's first real chance of the match.

United looked solid and were defending higher up the pitch to give Villa little chance of mounting any serious attacks and when they did the back four tidied up or Villa's final passing was wasteful. Even their free-kicks amounted to nothing.

In the 54th minute, Agbonlahor planted a header from a corner goalwards but Romero showed good strong hands by catching the ball on the line. The home fans naturally started to get behind their side, urging them to attack which they started to do, but of course that left them open to United's counter-attacks.

Then just before the hour mark Louis van Gaal decided to strengthen the side by making a double substitution as he brought on birthday boy Herrera and Schweinsteiger to replace scorer Januzaj and Carrick.

The plan seemed to work as United blunted Villa's forward play from midfield and began once again to control the match. Herrera received an early present from Villa's Amavi when he had a very late lunge on the Spaniard's shins.

After 70 minutes United was playing some lovely football, especially the two amigos Herrera and Mata who were linking well down the right hand side add that to the work rate of Shaw and Memphis on the opposite wing and all that was needed was another goal to make the game safe.

Two minutes later Mata produced the pass of the match to put Memphis clean through, however, the forward put his effort wide when the whole ground was certain that he would score. It was a great chance for the winger to open his United account but more will come for the Dutch youngster with the pace he has.

77 minutes in and Herrera picked up the first yellow card for United after a foul out of frustration after he had been upended a few times himself and got nothing from the referee Mike Dean.

For the second match running Memphis was replaced in the last ten minutes this time by Ashley Young, who received his customary boos from the home crowd.  A like for like change on the left. The substitution was quickly followed by United's second caution of the match for Darmian.

United tried their best to kill the game off during the final minutes but failed to do so and the game ended in a 1-0 victory for the Red Devils.

A solid professional performance and at times a bruising outing for Louis van Gaal's side who never looked in any doubt to secure their first away win of the season and made it a positive start to the new campaign with a second successive victory.

To be fair Villa is a work in progress and they didn't give United any cause for concern. It would have been great if United had cemented their superiority and added to the scoreline, having said that a win is a win plus another clean sheet is always a bonus.

There were a handful of players that stood out during the game Smalling, Darmian and Schneiderlin. However, the man of the match award has to go to Juan Mata as it was his vision that opened up the Villa defence time and time again and if the forwards had been on target from his assists then it would have been a higher winning goal margin. All the more reason van Gaal should strengthen the forward line with an out and out goalscorer.

United will face Newcastle United at Old Trafford in the Premier League next Saturday in another early kick-off but before that there is the small matter of the return of the Champions League this coming Tuesday as United will take on Club Brugge at Old Trafford in the first leg of the qualifying match.

The United squad is full of experienced internationals old and new who should be able to carry the team into the group stages of the competition that the Red Devils have won on three occasions.

There is no escaping United's illustrious history in the competition and even the new signings will be swept along on the tide of support that comes whenever there is a European match at the Theatre of Dreams.

Until next time thanks for reading.

Miles Dunton.