Saturday, 31 October 2015

No Tricks or Treats from United.

Crystal Palace 0 Manchester United 0

'Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me' was the reply from Louis van Gaal to the criticism of his tactics by United legend Paul Scholes after the bitter disappointment of the defeat by Middlesbrough in midweek.

Following their recent goalless outings there has been backlash from all quarters, not only Scholes, questioning the lack of inventiveness in front of goal by United so here was a great chance for them to prove their critics wrong and show that the recent results were only a blip in their season by putting the frighteners on Palace. Unfortunately, it was the same old story yet again at Selhurst Park.

In the League Cup defeat van Gaal gave the youngsters a chance in attack, but it backfired dramatically as they struggled together against the Championship side so he reverted back to a more experienced lineup hoping that the goals would come.

Starting XI: De Gea, Darmian, Smalling, Blind, Rojo, Schneiderlin, Schweinsteiger, Herrera, Mata, Rooney and Martial.

Without Memphis in the side due to injury, van Gaal kept faith with under performing and under fire captain Rooney, however, Schneiderlin, Schweinsteiger, Mata and Herrera all returned to the side to bolster the team's attacking options.

Subs: Romero, Tuanzebe, Young, Carrick, Pereira, Lingard and Fellaini.

There was one surprise on the bench and that was the inclusion of 17-year-old defender Axel Tuanzebe for his first senior squad involvement.

Crystal Palace had the first chance as early as the first minute as United gave the ball away to allow Gayle a chance to test De Gea's reflexes. There was more sloppy defending from the visitors when they gave Palace hope in attack, not a good start from United who looked nervy all over the pitch in the opening ten minutes of the game.

Not for the first time this season United was a side in complete disarray as Palace threatened to open the scoring and if it wasn't for the brilliance of De Gea and the woodwork then the Red Devils would have been in real trouble within the first fifteen minutes.

A scary start at Halloween for United.

United needed a calming influence on the pitch to instil confidence in the side and to nullify the threat and pace of Palace. One thing was certain the fantastic away support was in fine voice as always.

Mata won a dubious free kick on the edge of the area which he left for Rooney to take, but his effort was poor and lacked the pace to beat Hennessey in goal. However, United were beginning to control the game without threatening Palace too much.

Rooney's poor season was summed up as he failed to latch onto a great weighted through ball from Martial on the half hour. A chance that he would have buried in his prime, but it seems those days are well behind him as his play has lost the edge that made him so threatening.

Herrera had the last chance of the half after Mata and Martial carved out an opportunity for the visitors, but he totally lost his footing at the vital moment inside the penalty area.

Half time and all was square thanks mainly to De Gea's excellent save and no thanks to Rooney's indecision up front. Surely at some point in the second half we would see Rooney replaced by Young allowing Martial to take up the central strikers role, however, as we witnessed later the manager had other ideas.

The second half started with no changes made by van Gaal. Both sides didn't hold back in the challenges as both Smalling and Darmian picked up cautions. The Italian's booking means that he will automatically miss United's next Premier League encounter with West Brom and would shortly force the manager's hand into a change.

After a period of play in which the away side created absolutely no chances van Gaal decided to make his first change of the game in the 66th minute when Young replaced Darmian most likely to prevent the defender receiving a second booking as he had struggled with Zaha all day.

This was immediately followed by Fellaini's inclusion at the expense of Schweinsteiger. Could the lofty Belgian produce the winner as he had done last season. Herrera blotted his copybook in the 70th minute with a dive in the penalty area in which he was fortunate not to receive a yellow card.

At this point in the match, it was the home side who seemed the likelier of the two teams to grab the all-important opener as United struggled to get into any rhythm and it was that man again De Gea who came to his team's rescue with some fine blocks to prevent Palace.

Van Gaal's last throw of the dice saw Lingard replace Mata for the final fifteen minutes of the match. Any number of players could have been dragged off as none of the team, with the exception of Smalling and De Gea, performed anywhere near the acceptable level for a United player.

Two late chances for both sides could have sneaked the win the latter almost falling for Rooney after good approach work from Young.

The match ended with a point shared for both sides, but in all honesty Palace will feel aggrieved they didn't collect all three after they had created the majority of the chances compared to United who failed once again to put on a display worthy of their great name. They looked like a side devoid of any creativity or drive, and were lucky to come out of the game with a point.

Last season's problems stemmed from the defence, however, the main problem with this campaign is the toothless attack of United. Sure, we have the quality there, especially with Martial, but he can't do it all alone and the demand for another striker must be paramount in the manager's mind. This was the third game on the bounce that United had failed to find the net from open play, a statistic that is just not good enough.

If only the striker problem had been addressed in the summer as all knew that entering into a new season without four recognized strikers was going to stretch the side to the limit. Add to that the poor form of Rooney and it makes the situation worse, even more so when the only fallback plan is to utilise Fellaini as a literal springboard in the hope of something coming from his bushy head.

Van Gaal and his coaches have their work cut out ahead of the upcoming Champions League game with CSKA Moscow and unless they want another competition to end up out of their reach they had better come up with a plan to fix the obvious failings and quickly.

Thanks for reading.

Miles Dunton.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

United Pay the Penalty Against Boro.

Manchester United 0 Middlesbrough 0 (aet)
(Penalties: United 1 Boro 3)

United were dumped out of the Capital One Cup after a performance that proved one thing and that is they are a side devoid of ideas and restricted by tactics that are clearly not working.

United took a break from the pressure of the Premier and Champions Leagues to concentrate on the Capital One cup and the visit of Middlesbrough to Old Trafford.

The last time these two sides met in the competition was back in the 2008-09 season when United triumphed with a 3-1 victory in the 3rd round on their way to lifting the trophy at Wembley.

It is well known that the top flight sides tend to utilise their squads in the League Cup by giving a chance to some of their youngsters and in the last tie, it was one of those fringe players that turned out to be the hero, Andreas Pereira.

So, it was no surprise to see that Louis van Gaal once again went down the same route of choosing a side that mixed things up a little: Romero, Darmian, Smalling, Blind, Rojo, Carrick, Fellaini, Pereira, Lingard, Wilson and Memphis.

In total there were nine changes from the derby draw and the side boasted a young forward line that had both pace and ability in large amounts with Memphis, Wilson, Pereira and Lingard set to torment the Boro defence.

United's subs bench was impressive to say the least: De Gea, Young, Schweinsteiger, Herrera, Mata, Martial and Rooney.

As expected United started the more confident of the two sides by passing the ball around neatly, but as the half progressed the home side made little inroads into the visitors defence and for all their quality on show they failed to hit top gear.

Fellaini was the busiest of the United players linking the midfield with the attack, but it wasn't until the 34th minute that the home side had their first shot on goal and that was a very tame effort by Wilson that the visiting keeper had only to bend down and collect.

This was not the start that United was hoping for as they made it more difficult for themselves by allowing Boro to see too much of the ball and it nearly paid off for the Championship side when Downing tried his luck from the edge of the box with a dipping effort which Romero did well to tip over for a corner. That had to be a wake-up call for United that Boro were not here just to make up the numbers.

Half time and it was all square at 0-0 with the visitors coming the closest to breaking the deadlock and a lackluster United unable to get into any groove.

After being given a chance by the manager it was unfortunate that the youngsters hadn't shown their true class by failing to get behind the Boro defence and in the second half you wondered how long it would be until van Gaal freshened things up from the quality bench available to him.

The first of those changes came at the start of the second half when captain Rooney replaced Wilson in attack, but it was Middlesbrough who started the half on the front foot as they clearly believed that the match was there for the taking.

Memphis had a shot on goal which was almost fumbled by Mejias in goal but, to be honest, he made the Dutchman's shot look better than it was.

After ten minutes of the half, United finally started to take control of the game and began to pepper the visitors goal with speculative shots the closest from Felling and Pereira.

It was hearts in mouths time when just before the hour mark Boro thought they had scored when Daley Blind lashed the ball into his own net, thankfully for him and the fans, Boro were adjudged to be offside in the build-up to the blunder.

This was turning out to be embarrassing for the Red Devils and it was summed up by Memphis as he totally miss-hit a shot after dribbling into the area to set himself up for a chance.

Young made a welcome return to the side after an injury layoff when he replaced Rojo for the final half hour of play.

For a neutral this was an exciting cup tie, but for United it was a nervy display as once again Blind almost managed to score at the wrong end as Romero let his back pass squirm under his foot and both looked relieved as the ball went just wide.

The last spin of the dice for van Gaal came when he let loose his French star Martial who entered the fray for the hugely disappointing Memphis in the 70th minute and the change almost had the desired effect as Martial went on one of his trademark runs only to be thwarted by the defence.

Fellaini had a wild shot at goal as United's play became more desperate entering the last ten minutes of the game. A calm head was needed up front while all around were panicking.

With extra time looming you wondered where, if at all, a United goal was going to come from as they laboured in front of a happy 10,000 visiting away support.

Lingard rattled the post in the final minute followed by an effort at the other end from Leadbitter as he tried to lob Romero but the keeper made amends for his earlier mistake by saving well then he dived low to prevent a certain goal from a Downing strike.

There was more action in the last three minutes of normal time than in the whole of the match with Romero being the busiest of the keepers making at least three stops to deny Boro a shock ending.

The first period of extra time saw the home side go for the jugular from the off, but as has been the story on numerous occasions this season the final ball let them down and they soon allowed the opposition to get back into the game.

The home side were reduced to crosses aimed at Fellaini that Boro dealt with far too easily and once again Rooney's touch was terrible to watch as he and Fellaini failed to impress as they struggled to find a way through.

Into the second period of extra time and to avoid penalties United would have to produce something they hadn't managed all match and that would be a moment of brilliance. It was almost produced by the excellent Martial who had a dribble into the area, but was out crowded by at least four defenders before he could deliver the final strike.

Pereira had another chance to become the hero again when he had a thunderous strike that sneaked past the post. there was a late shout for a penalty for United as a cross definitely hit a defenders hand but the referee, Lee Mason, waved play on.

Fellaini almost won it at the death with two headed chances either side of a Martial header which was a hair width wide.

End of extra time and all square as the match headed into penalties.

The penalty shootout ended in a 3-1 victory to Middlesbrough after captain Rooney, vice-captain Carrick then Young all fluffed their lines from the spot and with it ended the first chance of silverware this season.

In all honesty, if United's style of play has been reduced to hoofing the ball into the box aiming for Fellaini's head and hoping for a chance to fall at the feet of one of his teammates then there needs to be a serious overhaul of United's tactics.

All credit has to go to the visiting team for wanting the win more than the hosts, but this has to go down as an embarrassment for United who have clearly not learned from their recent failings and continue to be unable to kill teams off.

Something is clearly not working when we can't even put on a winning performance against a team from the lower leagues with a fairly strong looking side. How long do the fans have to put up with displays of pure inadequacies from players who have always enjoyed the backing of the fans? It's the youngsters who will suffer from this defeat when it should be the experienced players who have to come in for the most criticism along with the coaches.

People will say it's only the League Cup, however, that is not the point the point is United are expected to win everything they play for and if they can't then at least go out with a bang trying and not a whimper.

Thanks for reading.

Miles Dunton.

Sunday, 25 October 2015

A Dull Derby Draw.

Manchester United 0 Manchester City 0

The 170th Manchester derby will go down as a dull one sided affair in which at least United tried to show the passion and commitment needed in such a match but lacked one all important factor, goals.

After the worry of how United would cope with a long round trip to the Russian capital to play CSKA Moscow, the home side responded with a display that dispelled any concerns as they outran, outplayed and outfought their noisy neighbours with a display that only needed someone to put the ball into the back of the net.

Louis van Gaal got his team selection and tactics spot on as he picked a starting eleven that nullified the opposition. It was composed of De Gea; Valencia, Jones, Smalling, Rojo; Schweinsteiger, Schneiderlin, Herrera; Mata, Rooney and Martial.

The only change from the midweek saw Mata return to the team instead of Lingard which meant still no place in the starting line-up for Memphis and Blind. Rooney was once again chosen even-though his form has been questionable lately. The question on people's minds was which Rooney would turn up?

Subs:  Romero, Blind, Darmian, Carrick, Lingard, Memphis and Fellaini.

The Reds got the match underway attacking the Stretford End with Old Trafford, as you would expect, buzzing with the anticipation of a classic encounter.

Valencia started the game by stretching his legs down the right wing but his final deliveries failed to pick out his forwards. It was an enthusiastic start by the home side as they tried to build up attacks utilising both flanks and had an early shout for a penalty after a suspicion of handball inside the box.

The fast tempo of the opening minutes suited United more and seemed to unsettle City but could the home side keep the pace up as they had not started a first half in this vein for most of the season.

Martial's dribbling skills on the left gave the City defence trouble and Fernandinho became the first player to be cautioned after upending the young striker, although the City player should have been booked earlier for an offence that was much worse. It just goes to prove that there has been no consistency in the refereeing of matches this season.

Rooney received a belated 30th birthday present when he was clouted on the head by city captain Kompany and had to leave the pitch to have his scalp stapled to stem the flow of blood.

City still continued to struggle with the running of Martial and on one such foray forward, he played in Mata but the usually cool Spaniard dithered on the ball and the chance was gone.

This was turning out to be a true derby match in the fact that both sets of players were not holding back with their challenges and all showed 100% commitment in the tackle.

The threat of Prince Harry lookalike De Bruyne had been kept firmly in check by the superb defending of Rojo whenever the Belgian ventured into the Argentine's area of defence.

Phil Jones was up to his usual indecisive self by inexplicable heading the ball out for a corner when there was absolutely no danger whatsoever. Rooney then followed that up with a wayward 30-yard pass to nobody. At least Rooney had an excuse having had a bang to the head, Jones on the other hand had no such excuse.

Mata played himself in trouble and went into the referee's book after his challenge to try and retrieve the situation after he had given the ball away in a dangerous area, thankfully for him the resulting free-kick came to nothing.

Kompany was the latest player to be bamboozled by Martial's pace as he unceremoniously brought the French forward down to earn a booking.

At half-time even though the scores were level United had to have been the happier of the two sides after one of their best displays in a first half this season. Despite not having a clear chance on goal they had started brightly and kept the visitors at bay. The only negative had to be the standard of delivery from free-kicks that let United down and without Memphis in the side, it was left to either Mata or Rooney to deliver or in most cases not.

Neither manager made any changes at the beginning of the second-half as United tried to build on their excellent amount of possession of the first half.

Martial and Schweinsteiger combined well down the left to set up a chance for Mata in the box, but the ball was eventually cleared for a corner which provided United with their closest chance of the game up to that point. The ball sailed over everyone and Smalling, who was loitering unmarked at the far post, placed a header back across goal which just crept past the far post. Unlucky by Smalling.

Sterling was taken off by City after only five minutes of the restart following an unconvincing display and at this point in the match United enjoyed 70% of the play but desperately needed to turn it to their advantage with a goal.

Mata was almost played through by Rojo, but Hart was quick to react and cleared before Mata could get to the ball. A lucky escape for the visitors as United continued to press for the opener and City had not offered anything in the way of an attack during the second period.

Van Gaal had seen enough and decided that a change was needed and replaced a disappointed looking Mata with Jesse Lingard for the final twenty minutes to clearly add pace to the attack as the visitors looked there for the taking.

The change almost paid off immediately as Lingard bore down at pace towards the City area and played a nice ball wide to Rooney, whose attempted cross was easily blocked by the away defence.

Fellaini entered the match for the last fifteen minutes in place of Schweinsteiger and didn't seem to have a set position on the field which was obviously meant to confuse the blues, however, it also seemed to confuse the reds as at the same time it coincided with City's best spell of possession in the game.

Valencia was forced to leave the match with a knock to his leg and Darmian became the final substitution of the match for United in the 80th minute.

Magical Martial produced the pass of the match when he played a delightfully flighted ball over the top for Lingard to run onto and the youngster tried an athletic flick towards goal which rebounded off the crossbar. A great ball from Martial and almost a heroes ending for Lingard.

That chance was quickly followed by a close range effort from Smalling that was saved, it has to be said brilliantly, by Joe Hart way down at his near post.

The game finished in end to end play, however, neither side could break the deadlock and the match ended all square at 0-0 in what has to be said was so one sided that United will be angry that they couldn't capatlise on their efforts. City will leave Old Trafford happy in the knowledge they came away with a point after such a tepid display having not troubled David De Gea in the United goal.

The man of the match can only be between two players and they are Martial and Rojo. Martial once again displayed his value to the team whenever he had the ball at his feet and it was his close control at full pace that caused the City defence all sorts of problems. Rojo had De Bruyne completely in his pocket throughout the 90 minutes. The trio of Smalling, Schneiderlin and Schweinsteiger all played at the top of their games, but it has to be Martial who takes the plaudits again.

Once again, it was another disappointing display by Rooney and you do have to wonder how long van Gaal will continue to pick his captain just because he is the captain. With no shots on target and only a 55% pass accuracy enough has to be enough. Pace is the crucial element to United's attack and Rooney's has waned of late. The upcoming match against Middlesbrough in the league cup could be an ideal opportunity to unleash a forward line comprising of Martial, Memphis, Pereira and Lingard to see what is possible with the youngsters.

Thanks for reading.

Miles Dunton.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Manchester Derby Day Passions.

Manchester Passions Run High, Or Do They?

The 170th Manchester Derby could be one of the most interesting and closest clashes between the clubs in years as both teams are sitting pretty at the summit of the Premier League and whoever comes out on top on Sunday will not only have local, and worldwide, bragging rights but will also get their noses in front in the league race.

Here's why it should be interesting as both sides, it has to be said, have had an indifferent start to the season, especially when it comes to certain player's performances, but somehow even playing below par both teams have piled up the points. They have both been humbled in matches and even in victories neither side has hit top gear yet on a consistent basis.

Both sides have individual match winners and City will be buzzing after their last minute winner against Sevilla scored by De Bruyne probably their most dangerous player in the absence of Aguero and Silva, but having said that United have one main advantage going into the match in the shape of French striker Anthony Martial, who has greatly impressed since his arrival at Old Trafford, you can't beat scoring against Liverpool on your debut but a late winner on Sunday will go a long way towards matching it.

United lead the way with 70 wins compared to City's 49 and with the home advantage you would have to put the Red Devils down as slight favourites in a game where league form counts for nothing, or does it?

It used to be true that in a derby league form went out of the window as it was all about local passion and that is still true for the fans, but for the players it is just another big game of many in the league calendar. This has to be put down to the fact that most of the them involved in this weekend's match are foreigners with no one, with the possible exception of Lingard, who was born in Warrington, from anywhere close to the Manchester area.

Gone are the days when we had the likes of the Neville brothers, Scholes, and Butt, who were all Greater Manchester lads and fully understood the importance of the local rivalry as they were players but also fans and they didn't need to be reminded how big a match the derby was. There is no doubt that Ryan Giggs has tried to install in the new recruits how big a deal this is for the club, but even captain Rooney, an Evertonian at heart, must consider the Liverpool clashes more important than playing City.

Will the passion of old ever return? It's highly unlikely as even the new young talent are being shipped in from foreign shores. It's not the players fault as it stems from the modern day football ideal which is built on money and sponsorship deals where the players kissing of a badge means little to the fans these days.

Footballers nowadays are wrapped in cotton wool and protected from the outside world, however, they only have to check social media to gauge the fans' feelings towards the derby and maybe then they could understand how the narrow margins the highs and lows of victory or defeat mean to the supporters who are not so immune to the virals. As hard as they try to understand the deep lying resentment between both sets of fans it's understandable that the players don't have the same emotion going into the match.

One other thing that has been noticed are the rival player's bromances before matches and the images of the opposing Spanish players greeting each other in the tunnel before United's defeat at Arsenal is something that we will be seeing more of, but something that would not have been imaginable in the strict match focused days of Fergie and Keane. A handshake or a nod was all that the players exchanged before they took the field, or in Keane's case a threat, but now it's all hugs and kisses, which surely detracts from the confrontation ahead. Hopefully, Rojo and Otamendi won't be sharing a warm embrace before the derby.

Enjoy the game, passionately.

Thanks for reading.

Miles Dunton.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Martial Makes Amends in Moscow.

CSKA Moscow 1 Manchester United 1

United returned to the city of their famous 2008 Champions League triumph looking to obtain a first away win in their group this season. However, all they managed to come away with was a point following a below par performance.

When the draw was made for this season's Champions League group stages many fans worried about facing CSKA for no other reason than it would involve a long round trip to the Russian capital for the squad, especially considering that on their return to Manchester they would have the small matter of a local derby to look forward to a few days later.

Buoyed by a brilliant display away at Everton the squad looked to be on a high in the build up to the match against the twelve-time Russian champions who like United and the other teams in the group were all locked on 3 points prior to this match.

Louis van Gaal had a small quandary and that was whether or not to stick with the side that performed so well at Goodison Park with fit again Herrera and Rojo the standout performers or recall the players who hadn't featured including Memphis, Blind and Valencia. In the end the manager decided to freshen things up by choosing a starting XI which included: De Gea, Valencia, Smalling, Jones, Rojo, Schneiderlin, Schweinsteiger, Herrera, Lingard, Martial and Rooney.

On the bench were: Romero, Fellaini, Mata, Carrick, Blind, Memphis and Darmian.

So, a surprising start for youngster Jesse Lingard, who got the nod ahead of Juan Mata on the night and a recall for Valencia in place of Darmian. It was Valencia who scored the winner in this same fixture six years ago to the day.

Mata must have done something to irk the manager as he was pulled off against Everton at half-time and overlooked tonight, even though van Gaal stated it was due to the Spaniard needing a little rest, also the Dutch duo of Memphis and Blind had to start from the bench after being overlooked for the second straight match.

United got the tie underway on a bitterly cold night in Moscow and had an early shout for a penalty as Martial looked to have been brought down inside the area, but nothing was awarded, then in the 15th minute Martial was involved in another penalty debate as when CSKA attacked the United area the ball hit the French youngster on his raised hand and the referee had no choice but to award the home side a spot kick. Martial's name was taken by the referee for the offence.

De Gea saved Eremenko's resulting penalty, but it was Doumbia who reacted quicker than the United defence, especially Phil Jones, to poke the rebound home and put the Russians ahead. That was probably Martial's first mistake in his fledgling United career, but one that hopefully he will learn from.

Following the penalty, the play became a little scrappy with some heavy challenges going in with United taking their time to get into any sort of rhythm. On the half hour, David De Gea pulled off a fantastic one-handed save at full stretch to prevent the ball entering the top corner from an audacious attempt from Musa.

At this point, United were toothless in attack and the tactic of Martial wide left was just not paying off and his pace and skill on the ball would have been better suited through the middle. Martial did manage to deliver a great cross with the outside of his boot, but both Herrera and Rooney got in each others way trying to get on the end of it.

At half-time, United went in trailing to the penalty and if not for De Gea it could have been worse. This was a poor showing by the away side who had around 70% of the possession during the opening 45 minutes, but had absolutely nothing to show for it and would be hoping that the situation could be rectified in the second half.

Van Gaal decided that a change was needed at the start of the second half and brought on Fellaini in place of Schweinsteiger. In the opening ten minutes, it was a similar situation to the first as United had the majority of the ball, but this was the tepid display of the Emirates and not the Goodison Park showing.

There was absolutely no cohesion with the players in attack and it wasn't until the hour mark that the visitors managed an effort on goal when Rooney had a near post effort saved. Lingard then tried his luck, however, his perfectly timed run was wrongly adjudged to be offside.

The second change saw Blind enter the fray when he replaced Rojo and straight after the change United pulled level through Martial. The French striker made amends for giving away the penalty by producing a stunning header inside the penalty area following an excellent cross from Valencia.

Martial showed great character to pull himself up after the error of the first half and it is credit to him that he didn't buckle like many young players would have. The way he judged the flight of the ball to run unmarked into the box was a delight to watch.

Not for the first time this season United looked a different side from the first half and began to push forward for the winner as Memphis became the last substitution when he came on for the hard-working Lingard to see out the last ten minutes of the match.

Fellaini had a late chance to grab all three points following good work from Memphis whose deep inswinging cross was flicked back into the danger area by Martial, unfortunately Fellaini couldn't add the finishing touch that was desperately needed. Fellaini was then needlessly cautioned for giving away a free-kick after a dithering Jones failed to support the Belgian, poor play by Jones who dropped his colleague in trouble.

The game ended in a 1-1 draw which overall United will have to be content with after a terrible first half performance with once again many players under performing none more so than the captain Wayne Rooney, who not for the first time this season has done nothing to prove his doubters wrong. He display seemed lethargic and his passing was nowhere near good enough at this level.

How long will it be before van Gaal bites the bullet and leaves his skipper out. In the second half, Martial once again proved that he deserves the chance to play in the central strikers role.

At the back Jones produced his usual unconvincing display and he doesn't exactly fill his colleagues with confidence and the best fit would be either Blind or Rojo playing alongside Smalling with the other filling in at left back.

With a possible banana skin of a match out of the way United can now head back to England and concentrate fully on the 170th derby against City on Sunday, a match that will not only decide which team will have the bragging rights around the city but will also determine which side gains the upper hand in the league.

Until then.

Thanks for reading.

Miles Dunton.

Saturday, 17 October 2015

United back on track at Goodison.

Everton 0 Manchester United 3

After what seemed like an eternity United returned to Premier League action with what could have been a sticky trip to Goodison Park to tackle the Toffees but turned out to be so sweet.

Following the embarrassing defeat to the Gunners, United would have preferred to have had the chance to put the record straight within days of the loss but, unfortunately, they had to bide their time until the latest round of international matches had been completed.

It was a mixed bag for our international players involved in the Euro 2016 qualifiers with England, Italy, Belgium, Spain, Germany and Northern Ireland all making it through along with the hosts France, however, the biggest shock had to be the failure of Holland, which means that the finals will be without the talents of Memphis and Blind.

Time is a great healer, but the international break couldn't have provided van Gaal with the opportunity to address some important issues as the majority of his squad were on duty all over Europe. His main headache would have been the form, or lack of, of his captain Rooney, who hadn't managed to score against his boyhood club since 2007 and in fact Rooney's last league away goal for United was almost twelve months ago against Arsenal.

Louis van Gaal would have been sweating on the fitness of key players, including Rooney, along with Carrick and Schweinsteiger ahead of this crucial clash against a tricky Everton side, who have had the better of the Red Devils in the last three games at Goodison, but all were declared fit with the only player absent Ashley Young.

This meant that van Gaal was able to pick from a strong squad to try and turn things around after the poor showing against Arsenal a fortnight ago.

United's starting XI: De Gea, Darmian, Smalling, Jones, Rojo, Schweinsteiger, Schneiderlin, Mata, Herrera, Rooney and Martial.

After indifferent displays in his debut season, Memphis was relegated to the bench alongside compatriot Blind but there were recalls for both Herrera and Rojo with Jones and Schneiderlin also back in the starting line-up.

Subs: Johnstone, Blind, Carrick, Lingard, Pereira, Fellaini and Memphis.

Both sets of supporters and players warmly applauded former Everton player and manager Howard Kendall, who passed away prior to the game. Kendall was the manager in the 80's at a time when Everton enjoyed their highest level of success.

United's formation meant that Rooney started as the main attacker with Martial and Mata wide of the forward with Herrera tucked in behind. At the back, Jones was to partner Smalling with Rojo slotting in at left back.

In the early minutes of the game Rooney, Mata and Herrera interchanged positions and passes well to try and gain an early advantage which hasn't happened on many occasions this season and it was Rooney, who had the visitors' first effort after ten minutes, but his effort from the edge of the box was pulled wide.

Lukaku proved to be a handful in the opening exchanges, especially for Jones, who looked so uncomfortable when up against the big Belgian. Smalling has enjoyed a great start to the campaign, but when he plays alongside Jones he seems to have his confidence affected.

Herrera called on ex-red Howard to pull off a smart save by tipping over a rasping drive. From the resulting corner, United took the lead in the 18th minute as the ball came out to Rojo who hooked it back into the danger area where Smalling was loitering and he chested the ball into the path of Schneiderlin who calmly placed the ball into the bottom corner of the net. A brilliantly cool finish by the French star for his first goal of the season.

Then the recalled Herrera made it an even greater start for the visitors four minutes later by heading in the second goal from a sublime cross by Rojo. This was by far the best start by United this season away from home.

There was a nice duel developing in midfield as experienced Schweinsteiger came up against the youngster Barkley a case of master and the apprentice with the German using all of his experience to come out on top.

A great chance fell to United just before the break as Rooney beat the offside trap and raced towards goal and instead of shooting he unselfishly squared the ball to Martial, whose shot was blocked luckily by the home defence then Everton went up the other end and De Gea punched away an attempt by Barkley.

Half time and United had played probably their best football away from home in the league this season with Rojo and Herrera both contributing so much on their return. However, Rooney continued to frustrate with another below par performance and more would be expected from him in the second half.

United made a change at the start of the second half as Jesse Lingard replaced Juan Mata. This was a great chance for Lingard to show the manager what a talent he is on a rare appearance for the first team and he was immediately called into action back in defence as he cleared the ball before Lukaku could do any damage.

Barkley and Schweinsteiger continued their tussle in the middle with the elder receiving a booking in the opening exchanges. Everton pressed and won a few free-kicks in dangerous positions with Rojo becoming the second United player to enter the referee's book.

In one attack, De Gea produced a stop with his legs to prevent a certain goal by Lukaku then the Spaniard followed up with further heroics by diving to save from Barkley after yet another Everton free-kick.

Just after the hour mark Rooney made up for his below par first half with a goal that reminded everybody what he is best at by latching on to a through-ball by the impressive Herrera and confidently stroked it past a despairing Tim Howard to give the visitors a comfortable three goal lead.

Let us hope that the goal pulls Rooney out of his slump and gives him the kick-start his season needs. Rooney has now equalled former red Andy Cole by scoring 187 Premier League goals, but is still behind Alan Shearer.

In another one on one with Howard, Rooney showed he still had the pace but was thwarted by the keeper before he could pull the trigger. That is exactly where the captain should play week in week out as the main striker and not be allowed to be pulled back into midfield where his goal scoring talent is wasted.

For the final fifteen minutes, there was the ritual change of Carrick for Schweinsteiger to freshen up the midfield against the background of the fantastic away support that was in fine voice as always.,

Magic Martial almost dribbled the ball through a wall of defenders and into the net only to be thwarted by Howard in goal. The French star is full of confidence when the ball is at his feet and is a breath of fresh air even out of position on the left. A couple of minutes later Fellaini replaced man of the match Herrera in the final change of the match.

The final ten minutes saw United go through the motions with one eye on the upcoming Champions League tie over in Moscow, but Martial was at it again in injury time when he danced through the defence on the byline and pulled an inviting ball back into the danger area which begged for somebody to get on the end but it wasn't to be.

With important matches upcoming including dates with Man City and Crystal Palace in the league and a League Cup tie at home to Middlesbrough sandwiched between the double header against CSKA Moscow in the Champions League it was imperative that United restarted their league campaign in a more positive fashion than they had left it at the Emirates.

This they did and in some style with a determined attacking display combined with some robust defending that puts the team in the right frame of mind for the tough month ahead. Ander Herrera put in a man of the match performance with his all-round enthusiasm and his goal plus assist put the icing on the cake of his display.

Thanks for reading.

Miles Dunton.

Monday, 5 October 2015

United's Dismal Defeat at the Emirates.

Arsenal 3 Manchester United 0

The Philosopher took on the Professor at the Emirates Stadium as Louis van Gaal and his side looked to get back to the top of the league in the capital while hoping to pile more pressure on Arsene Wenger.

After kick-starting their Champions League group campaign off with a victory over Wolfsburg this week United travelled to London full of confidence add to that the Gunners poor start to the season and hopes were high that the Red Devils would return to Manchester with all three points.

The biggest dilemma for van Gaal was who should fill the left back position in the absence of Luke Shaw. In the last two matches right back Darmian has played admirably on the left, but Valencia on the right has been a problem as was seen last Wednesday when he played the Wolfsburg attackers onside for their opening goal. Jones and McNair are able to cover on both flanks along with the versatile Ashley Young.

Another question for United is which Wayne Rooney would turn up on the day. Would it be the Rooney, who has the unrivalled scoring record against the Gunners in the league or the Rooney, who has endured a poor start to the season?

With the announcement of the starting XI by the manager it was clear that Young was preferred to Valencia and would start as the left back and in midfield the returning Carrick would add the valuable experience alongside Schweinsteiger with Schneiderlin on the bench but likely to replace one of the midfield duo at some stage.

Martial was once again chosen to lead United's attack and would be looking to prove his talent against another so called big team after a more than impressive start to his United career, having been directly involved in four goals in his first three Premier League games, netting three and assisting with one.

Man United's starting XI: De Gea, Young, Smalling, Blind, Darmian, Carrick, Schweinsteiger, Mata, Rooney, Memphis and Martial.
Subs: Romero, Jones, McNair, Schneiderlin, Valencia, Fellaini and Wilson.

Wearing their changed strip of all black United started on the back foot as the sides spent the opening few minutes entrenched in the visitors penalty area and the pressure from the Gunners paid off when first Sanchez opened the scoring with a neat near-post flick that was followed by a strike from Ozil to put the hosts 2-0 up in the opening six minutes.

Any game plan that United had disappeared straight out of the window and the match became a real test of the team's character to see if they had it in them to come back from the disastrous start.

Over the next ten minutes, United did attempt to try and conjure up something, but the end result was a massive let down with the final ball failing to amount to anything near a chance.

Then it was that man Sanchez again, who added the third with a blistering strike into the top corner from the edge of the box. The game was quickly becoming an embarrassment for the Red Devils, who had to be very careful that they were not going to be on the end of a rout.

To make things worse, that was the first time that Arsenal had scored three goals against United in the league since 2001.

Sanchez's speed and ability was causing Darmian all sorts of problems on the wing and the Italian went into the referee's book for a cynical foul on the Chilean after he was beaten for pace and pulled the forward back.

At least United had an effort at the end of the half as Martial span on a penny and got a shot away which keeper Cech managed to block and that was the only chance of note that United created all half.

Collectively in the first half United were poor as they struggled to get any type of foothold in the match and at times looked like a team of strangers playing together for the first time and if it hadn't been for some wasteful shooting Arsenal could have gone in at half-time five goals to the good.

To be a fly on the wall in the visitors dressing room would have been priceless as van Gaal must have ripped into his side as no-one could have held their head up as a United player after the most dire 45 minutes by any United team in years. Rooney had to shoulder most of the blame because as captain he should be the one on the field to lead by example but, unfortunately, his performance was one of the worst and not for the first time this season.

The second half couldn't get any worse, could it?

At the start of the second half van Gaal decided to make a double substitution by replacing Memphis and Darmian with Valencia and Fellaini.

Fellaini took up the position that Rooney had been playing in the first period and he himself started on the left wing and as the game went on he moved inside to a more central attacking position. Valencia was a straight swap in the right back position.

Just after the hour mark Rooney had his first effort on goal which was saved at full stretch by Cech and if not for a heavy first touch in the penalty area by Schweinsteiger he could have grabbed a goal back but the ball was smothered by the keeper.

As the game entered the final twenty minutes at least United tried to get something from the game and through some neat passing the ball ended up at the feet of Mata who tried to curl the ball into the top corner but pulled the chance just wide. Even the mercurial Mata was having one of those days to forget.

The final change came in the final ten minutes as Mata made way for James Wilson, who would partner Martial in attack in the hope of salvaging some crumb of respect from the defeat.

In added time, United's performance was summed up when Rooney gave away the ball in a dangerous area and Oxlade-Chamberlain saw his effort rebound off the crossbar. Maybe a fourth would have been too harsh on United after their second half display.

Overall the match was lost in the opening quarter of an hour in which the lack of concentration by United will be a worry to the manager as it is not the first time this season that the team have struggled to get going during the first half and even though they enjoyed more of the possession in the second half this was only because Arsenal had all but done the job. If there was one player who stood out in the tepid display, then it would have to be Anthony Martial who on numerous occasions at least tried to make the breakthrough in attack.

Normally, it is said that one bad result doesn't reflect on the season however, after what the fans witnessed at the Emirates it is a concern as the side lacked any type of cohesion and usually they can get away with one or two players underperforming but as a team it becomes more difficult. To rub salt into the wounds, the Gunners leapfrogged United into second place with a superior goal difference.

There is the now the upcoming inconvenience of the international break so van Gaal has to wait a week before he can address the problems emanating from the Emirates performance before some tough challenges ahead, including Everton and Man City in the league plus back to back matches against CSKA Moscow.

On this occasion, it was the Professor who came out on top and gave the Philosopher a lot to ponder.

Thanks for reading.

Miles Dunton.