Saturday, 28 November 2015

Bastian Rescues United

Leicester City 1 Manchester United 1

Who would have thought at the start of the season that United would be playing Leicester City for the top spot in the Premier League at the end of November, but here they were.

It was a day that a long standing record was broken and that was when Bastian Schweinsteiger became the first German player to score for Manchester United.

Following the failure to score and, therefore, guarantee qualification from their group against PSV it promised to be a tough match against lead leaders Leicester especially when you consider the latest players to join the injured on the sidelines. Lingard's hamstring and Rojo's unspecified problem meant that once again United was left short-handed going into battle.

LvG gave his backing to Rooney in his press conference stating that he had faith in his captain to come good, however the more he drops deep the less effective the team becomes and after the numerous 0-0 draws this season we need him in the attack or not at all.

The starting XI chosen to right the wrongs were: De Gea, Darmian, Smalling, Blind, McNair, Carrick, Schweinsteiger, Mata,Young, Rooney and Martial.

Carrick made a welcome return from injury to replace Schneiderlin in the middle, Mata started for the injured Lingard and McNair was handed a rare start in defence in place of Rojo. Memphis would have to accept a place on the bench once again alongside two academy players Borthwick-Jackson and Rashford.

United's team sheet indicated that van Gaal would revert to his favoured 3-5-2 formation with Young and Darmian occupying the wing back roles and that is how the away side began the match on a wet night in the East Midlands.

It was an open start to the game as both sides tried to get a feel for each other and it wasn't until the 7th minute that United got behind the home defence as Darmian won the first corner.

A change of tactics at corners has been noticeable as the team seems to have dispensed with the short pass and at last started to deliver the ball into the danger area where the most damage can be afflicted.

A gasp rang around the stadium following a mistake by Carrick that allowed Vardy a run on goal but all he could manage was to win a corner.

Young collected the first booking of the game on the quarter hour as he brought down Mahrez in the centre circle. Then Young tried to make amends with a nicely constructed break for United that ended when he delivered an overhit cross from the left, which was clearly aimed at Fellaini, problem was the Belgian was sat on the bench.

It was Martial's turn to try and open the defence when he squared for Schweinsteiger whose effort was deflected from danger.

Records are there to broken and so it came to pass as Vardy collected a defence-splitting ball in the 24th minute and whipped a shot across De Gea's goal to put the Foxes in the lead. That would be the first and last shot on goal for Vardy but quality finishers only need the one chance.

The goal came from a break following a United corner and it caught the defenders totally wrong-footed as they struggled to cope with the speed of Vardy.

The question was how United would react. The answer was poorly as their passing was awful and thus provided Leicester with the impetus to attack and if not for De Gea it would have been even worse as he produced a wonderful save from Okazaki.

Darmian and McNair were having a dreadful time of it at the back as they struggled to contain Vardy and Mahrez.

Martial had another of his typical twisty runs on the byline and fully deserved more than the corner he won. When the ball was delivered Rooney must have wished a hole would have opened up as he totally misjudged his header which he directed into the ground. Summed up his season.

De Gea and Vardy exchanged angry words as the forward caught the keeper late as he collected a through ball, but true to form the English darling received no word of warning from the referee.

United ended the half on the front foot and were rewarded in the first minute of injury time when Schweinsteiger got his head on a well- delivered corner from Blind to not only score his first goal for the club but to drag United back into the match at the perfect time.

The determination the midfielder showed to even get anywhere near the ball was immense as he was almost wrestled to the ground by his marker.

At the break it was 1-1 and it has to be said the away side struggled yet again with the three at the back system which gave the home side the belief that every time they attacked they had a chance.

However, what a time for Schweinsteiger to score and hopefully that would provide the stimulation his side needed for the next important forty-five minutes.

Van Gaal made no changes at the start of the second half and it was the scorer Schweinsteiger who went close to adding a second as he met a Young free-kick with a thundering header that Schmeichel saved with a reflex stop that his dad would have been proud of.

The German's goal on the stroke of half-time clearly had the desired effect as United looked the side most likely to get the breakthrough.

Leicester had offered nothing since scoring and you got the feeling that they were there for the taking if only United would press more on their defenders and deliver quality balls for Rooney and Martial to get on the end of.

The Foxes did have a great chance to score as they countered, but Ulloa's shot produced a fine stop from De Gea with his foot from what seemed a certain goal.

Fresh legs in the attack were needed and right on cue van Gaal replaced the under performing Rooney with Memphis for the final twenty minutes. If ever United needed the young Dutch forward to step up to the plate it was now.

An instinctive turn and snapshot inside the area by Mata was only just deflected away for a corner after good play from Memphis.

The play had become slightly predictable from both sides. As they entered the final ten minutes it was clear United wanted the win more, but the home defence remained firm as they repelled all that was thrown at them, including a chance from Memphis at the far post when he fired over the bar under pressure from Morgan.

Darmian had the last chance of the match to be the hero as he fired a shot on goal from the edge of the box but his effort sailed over the bar.

It ended in a 1-1 draw and both sides will be angry after they both squandered the few chances they had to top the league. None more so than United as not for the first time this season they struggled to breakdown the opposition and too many players performed to a below par standard.

On a day records were broken it was Bastian Schweinsteiger who deserves to grab the headlines as he scored his first goal for the Red Devils and he could have possibly scored at least one more if it hadn't been for Kasper Schmeichel in the Leicester goal. The German worked hard in the midfield and with four efforts on goal, which was three more than Vardy, he fully deserves the man of the match award.

The busy Christmas period is almost upon us as we enter December and the main hope for United will be that the injured players make speedy returns as van Gaal will need all hands on deck to get through a month with six games that starts with West Ham and ends with Chelsea with a small matter of a make or break Champions League tie in between.

Thanks for reading.

Miles Dunton.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

No Dutch Courage For United

Manchester United 0 PSV Eindhoven 0

On a night in which the Old Trafford faithful paid tributes to George Best one thing is for certain, the legend would not have enjoyed the display from his beloved Reds as they lacked any attacking prowess and inventiveness in front of goal.

The 3,000 visiting fans from Holland brought banners of sympathy for Luke Shaw, who was lucky enough to have been given time off so as not to witness a game that was so dull most of the fans must have wished they hadn't bothered turning up as well.

Following a week of injury woes Louis van Gaal at last had the luxury to choose from a fit strike force that included Martial and Rooney after Memphis had filled the main attacking role against Watford to much critical acclaim.

Phil Jones and Ander Herrera were the latest casualties of the weekend, but the manager was able to call upon the majority of his main troops for the last home tie of the group stage: De Gea, Darmian, Smalling, Blind, Rojo, Schweinsteiger, Schneiderlin, Lingard, Memphis, Rooney and Martial.

In came Rooney and Martial as expected in place of the injured Herrera and Mata, who would start the match from the bench. Memphis continued in the side against his old team, Lingard was given the green light to continue in the starting XI after his stellar performances of late and Darmian came back to strengthen the defence.

PSV got the game underway, but it was United who started on the front foot and attacked from the off and earned a corner which Smalling almost made contact with.

The home side's attack had Martial as the main striker with Rooney in the hole behind and Lingard and Memphis out wide, but it would seem that they all had a licence to interchange positions to try and confuse the defenders.

Schweinsteiger had the first attempt on goal from the edge of the box but the keeper collected the shot easily.

A nice touch from the home crowd after 7 minutes as they held up their phones lighting up the Theatre of Dreams in tribute to the greatest son of United, George Best.

The first ten minutes witnessed a rather cautious start from United as they sensibly bided their time in search of the opener.

Memphis tried his luck from distance but his effort was rather weak and didn't trouble the opposing keeper.

It was all rather pedestrian on the quarter hour mark with neither side intent on pushing too hard for the breakthrough and no player seemed to want to stamp their authority on the game.

Darmian tried to raise the excitement level with a wonderful ball across the face of the goal which Rooney was a hair's breath away from connecting with for a certain goal. Then it was the captain's turn to be the provider as he carved out a chance firstly for Martial and then Lingard to try their luck, but their communication in the box was on a different wavelength but at least United was starting to turn the screw.

In the first half hour, it had been Schneiderlin who had impressed for the Reds as he tried on numerous occasions to start the attacks with some delightful diagonal through balls.

Another cross almost provided the opener this time from the left and the boot of Rojo which was just cleared in time by a defender. From the resulting corner, Schneiderlin almost nudged the ball over the line, however, the keeper was quick to react and saved on the line.

De Gea made his first contribution of the game as he saved, it has to be said rather dramatically, at full stretch from an effort by Hendrix on the half hour.

Martial came the closest when he was fortuitously played in on goal in the box by a Lingard deflected drive and his right footed shot that only needed to be either side of the keeper, ended up straight in the stoppers grateful hands, a great chance to take the lead.

As one minute of extra time was announced Martial once again created a chance with a thunderous shot that the keeper saved yet again.

United ended the half at least trying to go in a goal to the good, and would have if their shooting boots had been on. It ended 0-0 with the Dutch visitors contented to sit back, defend and, therefore, frustrate the Red Devils. With the pace up front surely it would be only a matter of time for United to find the breakthrough in the second half.

Not for the first time at Old Trafford a visiting keeper, this time Jeroen Zoet made a name for himself with a string of saves to deny United.

United kicked off the second half attacking the Stretford End and immediately, as they had at the start of the match, won a corner that was met by Schneiderlin's head but sailed over the bar.

It was all United as first Memphis was thwarted by the busy PSV keeper then Schneiderlin made a decent run into the box but the ball ran out of play.

Not for the first time this season United had to be careful of a counter attack from an away side as most of the action was up at the other end the defenders needed to be alert and on their toes.

After almost an hour gone in the match van Gaal decided to make a double substitution in an attempt to liven up the proceedings by bringing on Fellaini and Young for Schweinsteiger and Memphis.

The change of Young for Memphis was understandable as the Dutch youngster had struggled against his former club and Young's deliveries could be crucial. However, Fellaini for Schweinsteiger was a head scratcher to say the least, unless of course the German had a knock.

The Old Trafford faithful began to make their feelings heard as groans ran out around the stadium as United struggled to get a grip on the game and the visitors started to enjoy their brightest spell of possession.

As the match entered the final twenty minutes United's passing had completely gone to pot and they began to gift the visitors chances to attack on a plate.

Young did deliver a ball if note into the path of Lingard, who rushed his half volley ten yards out and it ended up well over the bar.

Rooney dropped back into midfield and Fellaini moved up into the attack, which begs the question why Mata wasn't introduced in place of Schweinsteiger as his ability to open defences is far superior to the lanky Fellainis', who was now just the focus of long balls to his head in the opposition's area, waste.

At last Mata was brought into the game for the final five minutes in place of Darmian. This change meant that Young was moved to the right wing back position. However, there wasn't enough time for the Spaniard to have any impact on the result. Right idea, but twenty minutes too late.

Two observations to be made at this point in the game was that once again Rooney was dropping way too deep and Fellaini was a hindrance by conceding too many free kicks in promising areas.

Another point of note was that Martial was not receiving any service and it has to be said that during the second period he was not involved in any attack as it seemed the only tactic was to aim balls up to Fellaini and hope that his teammates would feed off the scraps.

United's night was summed up when Lingard was booked for an over aggressive reaction after he had been awarded a free kick. That was the last action of a very disappointing match that ended in a stalemate.

The post-mortem began following the final whistle by all quarters as United blew their chance of qualifying on the night and will now have it all to do away in Wolfsburg in two weeks time. It means that United have to win or at least match PSV's result against CSKA Moscow. So, their Champions League destiny rests firmly in their own hands.

All that could have been avoided with a victory over PSV, however, due to a number of poor tactical decisions by the manager and players on the pitch it wasn't to be. One player that can hold their head up high is Morgan Schneiderlin who was by far United's outstanding player, but even the Frenchman faded as the match progressed.

One thing is clear and that is if United are to qualify in the Champions League then Rooney should not play in midfield as he cannot have an effect on the game from deep as on many occasions the play totally broke down due to his inadequacies in that position.

Hopefully, in the final group match in Germany Fellaini won't be involved as he really is nowhere near the player he was last season as just maybe the opposition have totally sussed out how to play against him. The fact that United spent the final minutes of the game hoping to find his head in the box sums up how hapless the team's ideas are when he is on the pitch.

On the night, United were crying out for a player akin to the Irish legend to take the game by the scruff of the neck but they clearly do not exist anymore. There will only be one George Best.

Next up sees the Red Devils face a tricky encounter against Leicester City away in a top of the table clash. Now there's something nobody expected to see when the season started.

Thanks for reading.

Miles Dunton.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

The Hornets stung late by United.

Watford 1 Manchester United 2

After what has been an emotional week it was a return to the Premier League for Manchester United and an early kick off against newcomers Watford at Vicarage Road in which they showed a collective team spirit to come away with all the points.

There had been a question mark as to whether the friendly against England and France should have gone ahead, but it did and of course it was inevitable that a United player would pick up an injury and true to form they did as Anthony Martial left Wembley hobbling on a pair of crutches and Michael Carrick withdrew from the England squad with an injury.

Wayne Rooney did manage to notch up another goal for England and United badly needed him to continue that form in the absence of Martial, however, he was hit by an illness.

The bottom line was that Louis van Gaal had the hard task of putting out a side that could provide the firepower needed to overcome a Watford team who must have been delighted to hear of the visitors' injury woes.

With the lack of goals a problem during the last month the question was who the manager would play in attack to compensate for the missing players. In the end he decided to put out a starting XI consisting of: De Gea, Young, Smalling, Jones, Blind, Schneiderlin, Schweinsteiger, Herrera, Mata, Lingard and Memphis.

Subs: Romero, McNair, Pereira, Rojo, Goss, Darmian and Rashford. The manager continued to blood young players by including Goss and Rashford in the squad.

The absence of United's two main strikers meant a return to the side for Memphis Depay and a chance for him to turn his season around after starting the campaign brightly only to be hit by a lack of form and it has to be said confidence. There was another opportunity for the man of the match in the last two outings, Jesse Lingard along with recalled Ander Herrera.

The choice of the back four was a little surprising with Young and Jones included at the expense of Rojo and Darmian who were both on the bench.

After both sets of players and fans stood together for a rendition of the French national anthem United started the match with the away fans once again in superb voice with their own chorus of Ooh-ahh Cantona and the players responded by attacking straight from the kick-off.

United started the game with a forward line composed of Memphis as the main striker flanked by Lingard and Mata with Herrera slotting in at No.10.

The home side tried their best to help United out with their striker crisis as Nyom almost sliced a clearance into his own net.

A bright start by the visitors who looked to attack whenever they had the ball and it was encouraging to see them do it at pace.

It didn't take long for Memphis to remind people that he wasn't a spent force after he volleyed United into a deserved lead in the 11th minute following a great cross into the box by Herrera. The way that Memphis waited on the shoulder of the defender before blasting the ball home was the stuff of a seasoned forward.

It was a start to the match that we haven't seen from United much this season a start full of pace, inventiveness and hunger provided by the improvised front line backed up by the midfield.

Watford did have an opportunity to equalise after United gifted them possession in midfield and gave them a two on one advantage, but the final strike by Ighalo was way off target which is no surprise as it's not the first time the Watford forward has bottled it under pressure this campaign.

Herrera's day ended early in the 24th minute when he pulled up with a hamstring problem and was replaced by Rojo which meant van Gaal had to reshuffle the team with Young switched to midfield, Rojo slotted into the center back spot and Jones moved to right back.

Schneiderlin had two chances to add a second the first when he almost smacked in a superb volley at the far post that was just inches over the bar and the second when he just failed to connect with a corner that was whipped into the area.

Exciting play from United but a second goal was needed to put the game to bed.

Memphis' new found confidence was on view as he tried his luck from distance which the keeper had to dive at full stretch to turn away for a corner.

An entertaining half by the visitors who fully deserved their lead in the match after controlling all positions on the park and even after the early departure of Herrera they didn't let up with the attacking play supported by the midfield with Schneiderlin in brilliant form and it was the Frenchman who could have ended the half with at least two goals.

United got the second half underway and immediately went on the attack as Memphis played in Lingard whose effort was saved by Gomes. Even Schweinsteiger tried his luck with a dipping drive that wasn't that far away.

Watford's Deeney tested whether De Gea was fully awake with a rasping shot that the keeper had to use both hands to save. This was the Hornets best period of play just before the hour mark and Schneiderlin had the awareness to block an effort in front of his keeper. United at this point badly needed a second goal.

After an hour, United's play had gone slightly off the boil and Watford began to creep more into the game and the home fans, who had been quiet, began to get behind their team.

They were almost silenced again as Mata broke forward and played a neat pass to Memphis, who after positioning himself shot wide of the far post when a pass to Lingard looked the better option.

Phil Jones was replaced by Paddy McNair for the final twenty minutes after it looked like Jones had succumbed to yet another injury.

Straight after the change De Gea proved once again why he is considered the best keeper in the world by making an unbelievable low reflex save down at his near post after a shot had been deflected goalward by Smalling. Truly world class goalkeeping by the Spaniard.

Young was cautioned on his return to his former stomping ground for a cynical foul as Watford looked to be on the break. The safe hands of De Gea came to the rescue again as he held on to a thunderbolt by that man Feeney from outside the area.

After all the attacking verve of the first half, this was turning out to be a nervy ending from United and if not for the outstanding saves of the keeper it could have been a very different story. With twelve minutes on the clock van Gaal pulled off Mata and brought Pereira into the play.

Then in the 85th-minute drama as Watford were awarded a slightly dubious penalty after Rojo was adjudged to have brought down Ighalo. Up stepped Deeney who smashed the spot kick past De Gea to equalise and set up a grandstand finish to the game.

United immediately went in search of the winner and Gomes came to the rescue when he acrobatically made a fingertip save to deny an impromptu back heel from Smalling.

In the next attack, the ball fell to Lingard, who was on the left of a crowded box and his snapshot was parried by the keeper only into the path of Schweinsteiger who showed great determination and managed to reach the ball and squared it back across the goal where it was bundled over his own line by Deeney. Justice had been done and the pure delight on the German's face as he ran away in celebration told the whole story as did Herrera's celebration in the dugout.

Game over and a valuable three points plucked at the death of a game that should have been wrapped up a lot sooner than it was.

United clearly coped brilliantly for the majority of the match with so many missing players and looked fluid in their movement until Herrera left the play and then they started to stutter a little. To be honest, the only player who could have slotted easily into the team's makeup would have been Martial.

Smalling, Rojo and Blind performed to their usual high standards and were for the most part in complete control of any attacks Watford mounted. In the midfield Schneiderlin and Schweinsteiger had by far their best match together in United's colours. Memphis and Lingard put in morale-boosting performances up front, but they obviously tired towards the end after non-stop running.

However, the man of the match has to be David De Gea who produced saves of such high class that they had to be worth at least a couple of goals.

At the end of the drama United sat at the top of the league table if only for a short time and the last five minutes of the match brought back memories of days gone by. It was nice to see the team fight to the death and then celebrate with such aplomb and togetherness. Long may it last.

Thanks for reading.

Miles Dunton.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Manchester United's Season So Far.

United's start to the season.

With the clubs on another forced break for the latest round of international matches I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to take stock of how United's season has been going so far.

The top of the Premier League is as close as it has been for a while with the top four clubs within a few points of each other and it has to be said that no team has taken this season by the scruff of the neck and turned the screw.

All the usual suspects in the mix for the race to be champions have not exactly had an easy ride as the teams who are usually considered inferior have turned out to be early season surprises. The likes of West Ham, Southampton and Leicester have produced displays far above their usual level and have earned the right to be up there with the big boys.

As everyone in football tells us the league is never won in November and I expect those teams to fall away as the season progresses as their squads are nowhere near big enough to sustain a challenge. If players like Vardy, Mane or Sakho were to pick up serious injuries then that would throw the hammer in the works for their clubs.

Look at Man City and Liverpool who without Aguero and Sturridge respectively have lost that attacking threat in front of goal which has seen a mixed bag of results and, as a result, Liverpool replaced Rodgers with a manager that earned respect for the work he did with Dortmund, Jurgen Klopp.

Chelsea is the biggest surprise at the moment languishing in the lower reaches of the table with the pressure mounting on Mourinho after problems on and off the pitch. All the talent that they have and they are just not coming together as they did as champions last season. Costa is getting angrier with every match and injured Falcao looks to be another waste of time and money. Maybe they should replace Jose with Moyes, who is now a free agent after his sabbatical in Spain.

What about United, well overall we have to happy with the way things have gone so far. Sure there was another early exit from the League Cup, but sitting in fourth place where if results go our way after the break we could be top going into December and one win away from the knockout stage of the Champions League it's hard to complain, but complain we do.

There is still something lacking from van Gaal's style of play or his football philosophy that just doesn't seem to have clicked yet. There has been no settled system and recently he has reverted to a 4-4-2 formation that has paid dividends and one in which the players seem to prefer.

There can be no complaints about the defence. Once De Gea agreed on a deal and returned to the side in place of new keeper Romero plus the leadership qualities of Chris 'Mike' Smalling they brought stability to the rear guard. This has been proven by the fact that they haven't conceded a goal in the Premier League since the defeat at Arsenal at the beginning of October.

Smalling's partnership with Blind looks solid enough, however a new experienced centre-back will still be needed either in the January transfer window or in the summer to free up Blind for the midfield. Luke Shaw's injury was a huge blow as the England youngster was enjoying a great start to the season compared to last year. Rojo seems to be the best choice for cover at left-back.

On the other side Matteo Darmian proved what a great buy he was with outstanding displays at the beginning of his debut season, however, he does have a habit of picking up yellow cards and that has been proven to be slightly disturbing as during his recent ban the only choices were Valencia and now winger Ashley Young.

It's in midfield where van Gaal enjoys an abundance of talent to choose from with new summer additions Schneiderlin and Schweinsteiger adding the bite in the middle that had been lacking since the days of Roy Keane. Along with Mata, Herrera, Fellaini, Young and Carrick it became clear that the manager couldn't keep them all happy at the same time and in that respect Herrera, Carrick and Fellaini have spent the most time on the bench.

What is evident is that van Gaal leans towards the partnership of Schweinsteiger and Schneiderlin in the middle with Mata given the nod ahead of Herrera to take up a more forward position.

However, it's those forward positions that have provided the major talking points this campaign as even though clean sheets are a regular event at the back the distinct lack of goals has provided the manager with his biggest headache.

The fans have started to vent their dismay by regularly chanting Attack! Attack! Attack! during recent matches. One thing that has to be said is that the manager has, to some extent brought this on himself by not reinforcing the attack before the season began when he offloaded forwards either for good or on loan.

One shining light has been the young French forward Anthony Martial who has been nothing short of a revelation since he was bought for a huge amount of money for a relatively unknown teenager, but since his debut goal against arch rivals Liverpool he has gone from strength to strength and seems to have settled into life at United very well. Even playing out on the left his skill and confidence with the ball at his feet is a joy to watch.

The same can't be said of Memphis who has not enjoyed the same start to his United career. He has a bucket load of talent, but his form has been on the wane since Holland were eliminated from the upcoming Euro's. I'm sure he will settle down eventually and get his head around what is expected of him and will end up a true star at the club.

Fringe players have come to the fore already this season, none more so than Jesse Lingard. The Warrington lad has been at Old Trafford for 16 years and after loan spells he has patiently bided his time and boy has it paid off. A couple of scintillating man of the match displays topped off with a wonder strike against WBA has proven that patience is truly a virtue. The question is whether van Gaal will now give him a longer run in the side.

I suppose the main talking point of the season and one that has divided fans is the form, or lack thereof, of the captain Wayne Rooney. I think it's important to look at what he brings to the team now and not to be blinded by his fantastic achievements for the club over the last decade or so. Rooney is a striker and his greatest talent is putting the ball in the back of the net as his records for both United and England show quite clearly.

Rooney is not a midfielder as he doesn't have that quality you need to play in the middle of the park and whoever put that idea in his head a few years ago was plainly mistaken. Too many times this season play has broken down when he has dropped deep to such an extent that it has clearly affected the goals for column. Add that to the many times he has dithered when in front of goal and it is obvious something is not right with his confidence.

Van Gaal's insistence that he will always play a skipper that is fit, has backfired so many times in matches that we should have won. The only performance of merit was when he played as the main striker away at Brugge and what happened? He scored a hat-trick.

At 30, sure his pace and overall play will not be on a tandem with the younger players, but he still has an eye for goal which means he should play in attack or not at all. Another position that will hopefully be strengthened when the transfer window opens.

As regards the manager I still think van Gaal needs one or two more additions to the side to get them where he wants them to be as even he has admitted that the lack of pace up front has been a problem. Also, he must instil in his squad that even though United are statistically among the best passing sides in the league they need to do it going forward rather than sideways or even backwards.

It would be great if he could continue to give chances to the younger players as he has been doing, most notably with Perreira and Lingard, along with bringing up young stars of the future from the U18's even if it's only to use them as subs to give them the valuable experience of being part of the first team.

Based solely on performances here is my first XI of the season so far: De Gea, Darmian, Smalling, Blind, Rojo, Schweinsteiger, Schneiderlin, Mata, Herrera, Lingard and Martial.

The best home match was the victory over Liverpool in which we overpowered and outplayed Liverpool once again and the match saw a debut goal for a certain French striker.

The best away match had to be the victory over Everton at Goodison Park. After three straight defeats there it was a relief to see the team perform so well. There has not been many away games to cheer about but this win was one that lifted the fans and players as it was close on the heels of the 0-3 defeat by Arsenal.

Player of the season so far: Chris Smalling.

High of the season: The goal by Anthony Martial after coming on for his debut against Liverpool. The newest hero for the Stretford End.

Lows of the season: Luke Shaw breaking his leg and the opening 20 minutes at the Emirates.

I fully expect United to challenge for the title as they are currently in 4th position without yet hitting top gear and especially if van Gaal strengthens the forward line in January. As regards the Champions League I believe that it's possibly a bridge too far this season, but will provide valuable experience. A longer run in the FA Cup would be a more realistic aim. Whatever the outcome my I hope is that we don't end up empty-handed once again.

Thanks for reading.

Miles Dunton.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Patience is a virtue for United.

Manchester United 2 West Bromwich Albion 0

After breaking their goal drought in midweek, it was a return to the bread and butter of the Premier League for United and the visit of WBA to Old Trafford.

Could the Red Devils build on that win against CSKA Moscow and start to mount a serious challenge in the league? The 4-4-2 system against the Russians gave the fans what they wanted which was a more attack-minded side with Rooney and Martial utilised in tandem up front.

When Louis van Gaal announced his starting XI it became clear that he had embraced the style of play that best suited United by continuing with the same side and system that worked so effectively on Tuesday evening. The starting XI was made up of: De Gea, Young, Smalling, Blind, Rojo, Schweinsteiger, Carrick, Mata, Lingard, Martial and Rooney.

Subs: Romero, Borthwick-Jackson, Jones, Schneiderlin, Herrera, Pereira and Memphis.

Included in the squad was 18-year-old left back Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, who had been drafted in as cover for the injured Shaw, Valencia and McNair and also due to the suspension of Darmian. Another example of the youth being given a chance following Axel Tuanzebe's inclusion last week against Palace. There could be a new chant around Old Trafford of 'Louis' Lads' if this continues.

Fellaini missed out completely after picking up an injury in training, but Schneirderlin made a welcome return to the bench following a short illness. Former United players Jonny Evans and Darren Fletcher started the match for the Baggies.

United got the game underway in the autumn sunshine that bathed the Theatre of Dreams following a well observed minute silence for remembrance weekend.

It was a usual start by the home side as they enjoyed the majority of the possession but with nothing to show for it. West Brom had clearly come with a gameplan  to defend and hope for a chance on the break so United had to be careful of not becoming complacent at the back.

The first real chance fell to Mata on the quarter hour mark after Rooney had opted to play in the Spaniard rather than take a shot himself. Mata tried to bend his effort into the far corner from inside the area, however, the ball sailed just wide.

The United attacking formation took shape after the first twenty minutes with Lingard out on the left and Rooney, Martial and Mata roaming around the front line with all three popping up here and there as they tried to find a way through the away defence.

As the Baggies had only come to defend Carrick and Schweinsteiger found themselves in the thick of the attacking play in and around the penalty area and had a couple of opportunities where they maybe should have had an effort to test Myhill in the visitors goal.

Half an hour played and although they had enjoyed more than 80% of the ball the Red Devils still hadn't troubled West Brom.

Ashley Young was having a nightmare at the Theatre of Dreams as not once but twice he gave the ball away first with a long pass to, it has to be said, no one, then dribbling past himself to concede a throw in and the picture on van Gaal's face was priceless. But what would Roy Keane make of it?

Five minutes before the break Lingard was put through on goal but was thwarted by a brilliant challenge from Jonny Evans. The speed of Lingard is something that United need to make more use of as he really is a player who possesses lightning pace.

Just before the break Martial almost created a chance for himself as he showed excellent ball control inside the area to turn and unleash a shot that was well saved by Myhill. Best play by a United player so far and it deserved a goal, reminiscent of Mark Hughes in his prime.

Half time and not for the first time this season it was all square at 0-0 after United had found it difficult to find a way through to goal against a side clearly under instructions to defend at all costs and play for time.

An example of this was when the visitors had won a corner and the length of time it took the player to walk over to take it was pure gamesmanship and the referee did nothing about it, time wasting at its most ridiculous.

West Bromwich Albion is not the first and certainly won't be the last to use such negative tactics at Old Trafford, but it is up to United to learn how to overcome such play and brush these teams aside.

The second half saw no changes made by van Gaal as the home side looked to break down a resolute Baggies defence as they attacked the Stretford End.

At least West Brom did venture forward in the opening minutes of the second half, but without troubling birthday boy David de Gea.

Not only were the players flat so were the fans who had had nothing to shout about until Jesse Lingard changed all that when he produced a moment of pure excellence in the 52nd minute as he collected the ball from a headed clearance outside the box and showed exceptional composure to curl the ball past the diving keeper and into the bottom corner to score his first goal for the club. Brilliant and just what the game needed.

The first change of the match followed the goal and saw a straight swap as Phil Jones replaced Ashley Young.

Since the goal, the visitors realised what football was all about and tried their utmost to mount some kind of attack, but Smalling and company were in complete control at the back as usual.

Rooney's attempt at a long-range pass from a position he shouldn't have been in was the springboard for the visitors best chance of the match as they countered attacked and following the cross an unmarked Berahino headed over from close range. A big let off for the home side, and Rooney.

Then a very special moment for a young player as Cameron Borthwick-Jackson made his debut when he came on in place of Rojo in the 76th minute.

United came close mainly through the running of Martial and Lingard, but Rooney didn't help his cause with some poor passes and van Gaal decided to replace the captain with Herrera for the final ten minutes of the match.

A smart header from Martial played in Mata for a chance that he blasted high, wide and not so handsome over the bar.

Once again a former player had the game of his life upon returning to Old Trafford this time it was the turn of Jonny Evans, who managed to block almost everything United threw at his defence. If only he had shown the same commitment on a consistent basis while at United maybe he wouldn't have been let go.

With the match in its final throes French starlet, Martial, went on one last lung-busting run all the way into the penalty area only to be upended by McCauley, who not only conceded the penalty but also gave referee Mike Dean no option but to send him off.

The resulting spot kick was blasted down the middle by Juan Mata to give United a more respectable winning margin of 2-0.

Overall the three points along with another clean sheet are what matters and the play from the team fully warranted the win over a West Brom team who until United took the lead offered nothing in the way of an attacking threat.

There were numerous performances that merited a special mention including Schweinsteiger for his control of the midfield, Smalling for his marshalling of the defence, Mata and Martial for their non-stop running on and off the ball.

However, it has to be Lingard, who deserves the man of the match award again as nothing seemed to phase him and his pace was a problem for the opposition defenders all day. The way he finished his goal was probably worth the accolade on its own and the joy etched on his face said it all after he scored his wonderful opening goal for the club and what a way to do it right in front of the adoring Stretford End.

An important morale-boosting win before the players depart for international duty is just what the manager would have hoped for and all fingers will be crossed that not only will the players return injury free but that United can keep up this form into the busy winter period.

Thanks for reading.

Miles Dunton.