Saturday, 30 January 2016

United Up For The Cup.

Derby County 1 Manchester United 3

The darkest week in Louis van Gaal's tenure as Manchester United manager ended on the bright side as his team booked their place in the draw for the FA Cup 5th round with a resounding win against plucky Championship side Derby County.

Following a torrid time in the press and on social media, it was imperative that van Gaal and his side answered their many critics by putting on a performance that was more akin to a United side than had been witnessed last weekend against Southampton.

To do so, the manager made two changes to his starting XI by replacing the injured Darmian with Varela and he dropped Herrera to the bench in favour of Mata. Line up: De Gea, Borthwick-Jackson, Smalling, Blind, Varela, Schneiderlin, Fellaini, Mata, Lingard, Rooney and Martial.

Fellaini was once again van Gaal's preferred choice to partner Schneiderlin in midfield and it would be interesting to see if the Belgian would cause havoc to the Rams' defence or be the hindrance to his own side that he sometimes is.

Derby got the tie underway amid an electric atmosphere inside the iPro Stadium, with the away supporters numbering almost 5,500, once again in superb voice.

Martial had the first chance of the match when he was played into a shooting chance by Rooney, but the French youngster curled his effort high over the bar. The idea was right only the execution was all wrong.

The opening exchanges belonged to United as they had an encouraging start by bossing the play and not allowing the home side anytime on the ball. In fact, Derby's first effort on goal came in the tenth minute when a shot from Christie was easily collected by De Gea.

Then just after the quarter hour mark, up stepped Rooney to give United a rare goal in the first half of a match when he collected a pass on the left-hand edge of the area from Martial, then as cool as you like he curled a superb effort wide of the despairing dive of the keeper into the opposite corner. Although there was the slightest hint of offside in the build-up nothing can take away the brilliance by Rooney and a lead fully deserved by the away side.

Exactly the start United had hoped for. Now could they keep control of the game and hopefully find the second crucial goal to kill the tie off?

Derby to their credit did try and hit back immediately after falling behind with a header inside the area from Blackman that required De Gea to save at full stretch. One player who was bossing the play on the quiet was Schneiderlin as he made sure that his side didn't lose the ball in midfield.

It could and should have been 2-0 when Martial collected a return pass from Mata, but his first touch was too heavy as he bore down in the area.

Eight minutes before half time the iPro Stadium erupted as Thorne levelled for the home side to make a dent in all the hard work United had put in. A goal totally against the run of play and one where Thorne controlled the through ball well before evading the United defenders and poking the ball past De Gea.

Man United responded positively and a few minutes later Martial had a low shot somehow cleared from danger by the Derby defence and De Gea was grateful to see a long range effort from Blackman flash past his post.

The Reds had a good shout for a penalty after Martial's tracker seemed to handle the ball inside the area while making a tackle on the United forward.

Cup tie well and truly on as it was all square at half-time and it was Derby who ended the half with their tails up after the equaliser had given them a new sense of belief.

United had done everything that was expected of them, but once again came unstuck in one moment of hesitation at the back that allowed the Rams back into the game. But it was Martial who had caused the most damage to Derby with his spirited attacks.

The question now would be how would the Red Devils react in the second half?

The away side got the second half started with no changes having been made by van Gaal and showed their intent by attacking from the off. The ever lively Martial made a run down the left and tried a cross come shot which evaded everybody.

Blackman almost produced an identical goal to Rooney's from almost the same spot. Thankfully for United his attempted curler whistled over De Gea's bar.

As in the first half Martial was United's main outlet in attack as the game was now all United with Mata coming within a whisker of a goal with a header back across goal from a Lingard cross.

Thrilling play as first Mata and Lingard combined well inside the area, then Martial found the ball tied up between his feet in the crowded area and was unable to get away a shot.

Derby was somehow hanging on as United poured forward seeking the second goal with Varela providing the outlet down the right and Martial doing the business on the left with Lingard and Mata utilising their pace and guile respectively.

All that effort paid off in the 65th minute when Blind smashed the ball into the back of the net from close range as he latched onto a great cross from Lingard to restore the lead with a blistering finish. Exactly how he found himself in the most forward position only he will know but thankfully he was.

Close attention still had to be paid to Derby's attacks and full concentration would be needed for the last twenty minutes of the tie.

Van Gaal made his first change of the match by replacing the impressive Schneiderlin with the fit again Carrick.

The final nail in Derby's coffin came with seven minutes left on the clock as Mata finished off the hard work done by the man of the match Martial with a low left-footed drive into the bottom corner of the net. Fantastic play by the young Frenchman to provide an assist of the highest quality which goes to prove what a true talent he is.

The goal was Mata's last kick of the game as he made way for his compatriot Herrera, who would add fresh legs to the side for the final few minutes of the game.

The game was over as a competition following Mata's decisive strike, but still Derby didn't give up hope of salvaging some pride and if it hadn't been for a couple of errant shots they could have.

Full-time and it ended 3-1 to United which was nothing more than they deserved with an attacking display and finishing not witnessed for a long while. Most importantly, it was a potential banana skin avoided by the Red Devils and one that they will hopefully take into their next game in midweek at Old Trafford against Stoke City.

The star of the show was Anthony Martial who gave the home defence a merry dance every time he attacked and his footwork and vision is a wonderful thing to witness in a player so young. The good news for United, but bad news for opposing teams, is that Martial will only get better and when he moves into the middle as the leading striker then the side will truly reap the benefits of his immense talent. It was just a shame he couldn't find the goal to put the icing on top of his endeavours.

Another star of the night had to be the fantastic away supporters who never gave up singing and encouraging the United players to keep on the front foot. It's often overstated that fans can be the 12th man for a team. However, our travelling fans have to be the best as they continue to blast out their chorus of chants at every away stadium up and down the country and they, more than anybody, deserved this result.

So, United are the first side into the bag for the 5th round draw. Whisper it quietly but could this be the season to win back the old trophy?

Thanks for reading.

Miles Dunton.

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Derby County v Man United: FA Cup Preview.

Will the FA Cup provide a welcome relief for Louis van Gaal or will it add to his woes?

Both Man United and Derby County will set their sights on the diversion of the FA Cup 4th round from their league campaigns as both teams had a torrid time last time out.

United, as has been well documented, lost at home to Southampton last Saturday and Derby had a night to forget as they were well beaten by Burnley away 4-1 on Monday evening. But as they say, league form counts for nothing when the cup comes around.

Derby has failed to win their last five league games and are currently lying 5th in the Championship, but having said that they will be well up for the visit of the Red Devils and will look to pile more pressure on van Gaal and his team, who are fairly easy pickings these days.

Manager Paul Clement will be hoping that his leading scorer Chris Martin can add to his season tally of 9 goals, all coming in the league, against United. The Rams overcame Hartlepool 2-1 in the 3rd round with goals from Butterfield and Bent.

Manchester United have always had a love affair with the FA Cup throughout their illustrious history and the way the season is taking shape it could be their only realistic chance of silverware in this campaign. However, they almost blew their chance in the 3rd round eventually needing a penalty from Rooney in the 93rd minute to break the hearts of a spirited Sheffield United side who were seconds away from a money spinning replay.

Van Gaal has a lot more on his plate than his Derby counterpart. The main problem is getting the fans back in his corner, however, judging by social media that could be way too late. Also, he has to get his team back to the style of play that has been missing in his time as manager as it's not just the fact that his team are losing matches and points it's the way they are doing it. Last weekend the players' body language said it all after the latest defeat as they trudged off the pitch to a chorus of boos.

United's tactics have to be to kill the game off as soon as possible and in doing so silence the home crowd. To do this they will have to score in the first half, something they have struggled to do this season. If they don't then it will quickly become a cauldron of a typically boiling hot cup atmosphere that could make the away team feel the heat and just want to escape the kitchen. A lot depends on which United turns up at the iPro Stadium. Will it be the team that won at Anfield or the nervy version that lacked ideas and confidence against Southampton?

The Red Devils can take heart that their record against The Rams in the FA Cup is respectable, having played 9 won 6 drawn 1 and lost 2. The last victory came in the 5th round in 2009 when United ran out winners with a scoreline of 4-1. On target that day was a certain Ronaldo, how van Gaal would love to have a player of his quality in his team during these difficult times

The biggest advantage United will have on their side on Friday evening will be the tremendous away support that has followed the team around all season and have wholeheartedly got behind the players even through the bad times.

Here's hoping United can use this game to turn their fortunes around and not slip on the latest banana skin that could become the final nail in van Gaal's almost completed coffin.

Thanks for reading.

Miles Dunton.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Saints & Sinners

Manchester United 0 Southampton 1

Following the euphoria of grabbing all the three points from Anfield, it was back to home with a bang for United as Southampton inflicted a defeat on the Red Devils that could have a huge reverberating aftershock on the club.

United were looking to continue their unbeaten start to the year, an unbeaten start in which the results have glossed over the performances which to be honest have been well below than what is expected at United.

There was more bad news on the injury front as van Gaal revealed that Ashley Young will be absent for 'a long time' with an operation expected on his groin problem. The Dutchman actually admitted that it might force him into the transfer market if the right player became available.

Add to that the missing Schweinsteiger, Jones and Carrick and the team selection had a familiar look to it: De Gea, Darmian, Smalling, Blind, Borthwick-Jackson, Schneiderlin, Fellaini, Herrera, Rooney, Lingard and Martial.

The only change from the victory over Liverpool saw young defender Borthwick-Jackson given a chance to start in place of Young. Mata was once again demoted to the bench with the unpredictable Fellaini given the thumbs up by van Gaal to start.

The last time that United beat Southampton at home was back in 2013 in a 2-1 victory that included a double from Rooney and if he could manage the same feat in this match he would reach 100 Premier League goals at the Theatre of Dreams.

The visitors got the game underway with their latest signing Charlie Austin on the bench.

Could United manage something they had only achieved once in their last eleven matches at Old Trafford and that was to score a goal in the first half? Their first effort came in the eighth minute when Martial's tame shot squirmed woefully wide of the post.

It was clear that the Saints had come with one plan in mind and that was to defend then look to counter pretty much as every team has done this season to thwart United.

Blind tried his luck from distance with a shot that had the power, but not the accuracy to get past Forster in the Saints goal. Herrera managed to get on the end of a through ball inside the opposition area but failed to get the ball under control. At last, the home side had lifted the tempo which had the desired effect on the home fans as they started to get behind their side.

Rooney had a blast wide in the 20th minute as it looked increasingly like it was going to another barren 45 minutes if they continued in the same vein. Because of this Southampton grew in confidence as the half progressed and started to play higher up the pitch seeing that United was lacking in ideas up front.

Lingard was having another poor outing and even the mercurial Martial looked particularly jaded. Herrera was trying his best to generate some forward momentum that had the fans chanting his name.

After half an hour it had been another frustrating display by United who distinctly looked void of ideas. Saints striker Mane slipped through the home defence and had a great chance to put the visitors ahead but thankfully for the home side, he completely missed his kick with only De Gea to beat.

Five minutes before the break and the boos could be heard aimed towards the manager more than the players after what has to be said was an awful display and the body language of some of the players spoke volumes about their own dismay at their lack of creativity. It was all a case of hit, hope and see.

Half-time and no surprise at the scoreline of 0-0. What can be said that hasn't been said before about United's inability to produce the goods in the opening 45 minutes of a match this season. Nothing.

Last week at Anfield it was reported that the players had a shouting match at half-time in which some home truths were laid out on the table. One can only hope that the walls inside the home dressing room were vibrating from a similar tirade this time around.

United got the second half underway as they attacked the favoured Stretford End with an immediate change that received the biggest roar of the day when Mata replaced the ineffective Fellaini.

Mata had an immediate impact by spraying a great ball into the path of Lingard down the right wing and his through ball almost picked out the forward run of Rooney. Mata's introduction seemed to have the desired effect not only with his teammates but also the crowd.

Rooney and Martial almost combined to open the scoring but the ball failed to sit right for either of them. This was miles better from the Red Devils.

United's passing was crisp and they had an air of urgency about them that was distinctly missing in the first half. Still the danger from the visitors hadn't disappeared and Darmian took one for the team as he was unceremoniously clattered by Long as he cleared a dangerous cross. The Italian clearly couldn't continue and had to be replaced by Paddy McNair. Yet another casualty added to the already lengthy injured list.

The lengthy delay in the match for the injury to Darmian came at the wrong time and definitely disturbed United's drive as they took their time to get back into the attacking rhythm. It was Southampton who had a couple of close chances from two corners that had the watching home fans holding their breath. The visitors were getting closer.

McNair almost played Lingard through on goal with a ball that would have been the pass of the match, but it was slightly overhit even for someone with Lingard's pace.

The game had totally opened up as Southampton had the belief that they could pull off a win against a United team devoid of confidence or imagination.

As the match entered the last ten minutes everything about United's play had become stale with absolutely no efforts on goal or a sense of urgency from the home side.

A cheer rang out for Borthwick-Jackson when he made way for Januzaj. However, the first action the returning Belgian was involved in was to give away a foul in a dangerous area. When the ball was delivered there was the unmarked debutante substitute Charlie Austin to power home a header to pour more pressure on van Gaal and his team. The striker was left free in the area once Schneiderlin decided to leave him alone to help out McNair.

There was a late flurry by the home side as the referee added five extra minutes to the clock, but apart from an off-target effort from Januzaj United offered nothing in response to the visitors goal.

It ended 0-1 but it's not the defeat that hurts the most it was the way it was lost. All the staff at United have to take responsibility for the way in which this famous club has been transformed into a side that isn't feared by any team.

Apart from a ten-minute spell at the start of the second half, this was yet another dismal display by United that left the watching faithful bemused and bewildered at not only the way they played but in the manner they went about it.

This was not a case of a bad day at the office it was deeper than that. Not one player performed to anywhere near a level that is expected from a United player. They looked devoid of ideas and demoralised in their general outlook on the pitch.

The name Manchester United doesn't automatically earn you the right to win games that right has to be earned and that is just not happening at the moment. Fingers of blame will be pointed, but in the end they have to be directed at the manager and his coaches.

It's not just the first team that has questions to answer as the U18's suffered a demoralising 5-1 defeat at the hands of Chelsea in the FA Youth Cup 4th round. It seems all is not well with the youngsters as they have struggled in the league having lost ten games on the bounce.

For a club that had been built on a proud youth policy, this cannot go unnoticed as it has been a long time coming. The traditions have been slowly ignored and left to be run down in recent years and it is a situation that has to be addressed and quickly. I wonder what was going through Sir Bobby Charlton's mind as he sat in the stand watching the young Reds capitulate as easily as they did.

Where does the club go from here?

Thanks for reading.

Miles Dunton.

Thursday, 21 January 2016

United Is Safe In De Gea's Hands.

"Edwin Van der Sar and Peter Schmeichel are legends in this club and that's what I want." Words spoken by David De Gea prior to helping his team to yet another victory at Anfield.

Time and time again, he has proven to be the one constant in a side that has struggled for stability at the back. Voted player of the year two years running by the United faithful and man of the match on numerous occasions for outstanding performances for his team.

All this has endeared him to the United fans. However, all that nearly changed at the end of last summer. Was there any doubt that he would renew his United contract? The answer is a resounding yes.

No one can really blame the Spanish keeper for almost joining Real Madrid last summer as he wasn't the first and most certainly won't be the last young player to have their head turned by the lure of the Spanish giants.

Consider for a moment what was on offer for the keeper. A return to not only his home country, but also his home city to play for a team that could guarantee rich rewards in not just financial benefits but also trophies.

In the end, for whatever reason was behind the decision, he stayed and penned a new lucrative deal at Old Trafford, much to the delight of van Gaal, his teammates and the loyal fans who never gave up hope of him staying. The saga had ended and De Gea could get down to the business of saving his team week in week out.

Sure, people doubted his loyalty to the club, but once he had committed his future to Old Trafford nobody could bring into question his professionalism whenever he pulled on the No:1 jersey. He clearly loves playing for the club and the fans as is shown in his wholehearted displays.

Brought to Manchester by Alex Ferguson as a skinny youngster back in 2011 he struggled at first with the expectations put on his narrow shoulders, but Fergie knew that he had unearthed a diamond that just needed smoothing out to produce a real gem.

Bullied, harassed and prone to being beaten from distance, it was a difficult baptism for the young Spaniard especially after he was ridiculed in the media every week. Criticism that would have crushed a lesser person.

However, after bulking up and getting his eyesight sorted out he has grown into a shot-stopper of world class proportions. It only needed time, which unfortunately Fergie didn't have as his mentor and now other managers like Louis van Gaal are reaping the rewards.

The people who mattered, the coaches and the fans, saw his potential and stuck by him through his difficult times. It must be so gratifying for Fergie to sit watching in the stands as his protege fulfils all the promise that he had seen in him while monitoring his improvement at Atletico Madrid.

His name will always be the first on the teamsheet and if he continues to progress at his present pace, then there is no doubt he will become a legend at the club and for his home country. Unless, of course the vultures from Madrid come circling again.

De Gea is constantly posting images onto social media showing how comfortable he is in his adopted city of Manchester. He has also had his compatriots around him, including Ander Herrera and Juan Mata, who as a trio can often be spotted together out and about in Manchester even carpooling to training. De Gea's love of heavy metal music is taken care of by the many concerts held at venues in and around Manchester.

At 25, his value to the side is not measurable in money, but quality, as United will hopefully retain his services for the full four years of his contract and beyond. Now, the hope is that after his commitment to the team they will be rewarded with a defence that will allow him to have more confidence in the players in front of him.

Thanks for reading.

Miles Dunton.

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Rooney's Belter Beats Liverpool

Liverpool 0 Manchester United 1

Louis van Gaal made it five wins out of five against United's bitter rivals Liverpool thanks to a wonder volley from in-form captain Wayne Rooney.

The win means that the Red Devils continue their unbeaten start to 2016 and ensured that Klopp and the Kop were left second best in this latest installment between the two most successful teams in English football.

It doesn't matter what anybody says this fixture is still the 'big one' in the Premier League, the one that not only grabs the attention of both sets of fans from all over the world but the match everyone wants to experience first hand. This was borne out by the fact that Carrick, Jones and Rojo decided to watch with the away supporters at Anfield to join in celebrating what would be another famous victory.

For the relatively new foreign players in each squad, it must seem surreal to read and listen to the vitriol banter ahead of the clash as it can only be really understood by the locals. Many rivalries between clubs are based on either religion or politics or in some cases both. However, United versus Liverpool runs deeper.

Louis van Gaal's record against Liverpool as United manager was played four, won four having won three league meetings and a friendly in the USA, but for his opposition number Klopp, it was his first experience of the heated fixture.

Van Gaal decided to field an unchanged team that drew at Newcastle in midweek which meant that last seasons two-goal Anfield hero Juan Mata would have to bide his time on the bench as Fellaini was preferred. Starting XI: De Gea, Darmian, Smalling, Blind, Young, Schneiderlin, Fellaini, Herrera, Lingard, Rooney and Martial.

The atmosphere was buzzing as was to be expected as Liverpool got the match underway.

It was the away side that mounted the first attack as Martial won a free kick on the edge of the box which was wasted by a poor delivery by Blind. A lively start from United and especially Martial who looked up for the fight. Remember that it was against Liverpool that he announced his presence in England on his scoring debut.

There was a nasty clash of heads between Lucas and Felliani in the 10th minute and it looked like Fellaini wouldn't be able to continue as Mata started to strip off on the bench but the Belgian managed to shrug it off and carried on. Lucas and Fellaini would come to blows on a few more occasions during the afternoon.

The home sides' first attack quickly followed as first Lallana had his header superbly blocked by De Gea then Firmino shot wide when he really ought to have done better. Then Milner had a chance but his shot was nowhere near the target.

Fellaini and Lucas were soon at it again as both players squared up to each other on the touchline after Fellaini seemed to kick out at Milner. The referee Clattenburg used some common sense and gave both players a warning and nothing else.

Fellaini was in the thick of the action from the start, but anytime he came anywhere near the ball in the early exchanges you got the feeling that a free kick against United would be the outcome and it took all of Rooney's diplomacy to keep his teammate from being booked more than once.

After half an hour there had still been no clear cut chance on target for either side as the play had been contested mainly in the midfield with both sides attacking sporadically but to no avail.

Henderson had a chance for Liverpool, but failed to find a decent enough shot to trouble De Gea. He followed that up with a woefully hit effort over the bar. Thank god for United the chances were falling to him.

With five minutes of the first half to go United were starved of ideas until at last they broke through Martial on the left who then cut infield and fed the ball wide to Rooney who had ample time to pick out a decent cross but his ball was overhit to the far post where Fellaini managed to, at least, win a corner.

Apart from that move, United lacked the quality needed for such a high profile game and the ball spent more time out of play than in.

Martial made a crucial tackle in his own penalty area to stop a certain goal scoring chance for the home side. A brilliant piece of tracking back by the youngster.

Ashley Young received a knock to his leg in a heavy challenge from Milner that required attention, but it quickly became clear that he couldn't carry on so he was replaced by Borthwick-Jackson.

On the stroke of half-time Martial went on another of his thrilling runs showing great control of the ball at his feet, unfortunately he ran into a wall of defenders before he could manage a shot.

Half-time and it was all square at 0-0. Yet again United had failed to find the net in the opening 45 minutes and apart from Martial no other player looked up to the task. It was a dire half to say the least without the usual passion associated with this fixture.

The quicker Mata makes an appearance for either Fellaini or Lingard the better as United needed a player to provide the spark and ingenuity to prize open the defence and create the chances needed to overcome a Liverpool side that were there for the taking.

United got the second half underway and went on the attack right from the off as Rooney almost made something from nothing but had no support and by the time Martial joined the attack the defenders had made it back in numbers.

Then David De Gea pulled off another of his routine stops as he blocked a definite goal chance from Emre Can. How many times has the keeper gone about his business of saving his team while all others around him have fallen short of what is expected?

After ten minutes of the restart, it was Martial who was proving to be the biggest threat up front when he narrowly pulled his shot agonisingly wide from a similar position in which he scored on his debut at Old Trafford.

There were shouts from the United players for two penalties in quick succession, but Clattenburg was well placed and waved play on amid protests from the away fans.

Mata replaced Lingard in the 66th minute and to be honest, Lingard had been invisible for most of the afternoon.

When the home side attacked the visiting defence handled them well enough, but at this point the game had opened up and either side could have taken the lead if not for better finishing.

That man De Gea was at it again as he proved he is world class with a double save that included a wonderful stop diving at full stretch then he followed that up with a high handed tip away that any basketball player would have been proud of to deny the home side.

The third and last change by van Gaal saw Herrera make way for Memphis hopefully to provide the width and pace needed for the last fifteen minutes. Not a popular choice with the away fans, judging by their reaction as the popular Spaniard left the pitch with his name ringing around the stadium.

Fellaini eventually received a booking for a late foul and continued to argue his innocence with the referee when he should have accepted the decision and walked away.

Then in the 78th minute euphoria among the fans in the away end as United took the lead. A short corner was played into the area by Mata and Fellaini rose the highest to power a header against the crossbar and there was Rooney unmarked to volley home the rebound.

It was United's first shot on target and it produced a goal for the in-form Rooney, who is on a hot streak this month. That strike was his first goal at Anfield for 11 years but was well worth the wait. Another interesting statistic is that Rooney now holds the record for most Premier League goals for one club, 176.

Could United do what they couldn't against Newcastle and hold on for the valuable win against their arch rivals for the final five minutes? Liverpool tried to find the equaliser but each time they attacked, they came up against a resolute United defence that battled away to clear every ball from the danger area.

Full-time and hold on they did to register their second win on the trot at Anfield and ease the pressure on the manager. The game was won by a fabulous strike from Rooney, United's 100th goal at Anfield, which settled a match that had been short on goal attempts from both sides. All that doesn't matter as in this fixture it's only the winning that counts.

In all honesty, the result does cover over the fact that most of the United players were well below par and made Liverpool look too good at times. Liverpool is a team in transition under Klopp and were also poor, but United let them see too much of the ball and were fortunate that the majority of chances fell to the feet of Henderson and not the injured Coutinho.

There was only one player who fully deserved the man of the match accolade and that has to be David De Gea, who produced a string of saves to thwart the home side and in doing so saved the blushes of his defenders. Time and time again the Spaniard has come to his side's rescue and he was quoted prior to the match to have said he wants to become a Red Devil legend well he is certainly on his way to realising that dream.

Not a performance to remember, but it is a result that will remain in the memory of all United fans for a long time as once again they have conquered their arch rivals on their home turf.

After a fantastic result thanks for reading.

Miles Dunton.

Saturday, 16 January 2016

Man United vs Liverpool Rivalry Part 2.

A lot has changed for both teams since United beat Liverpool 3-1 back in September. That match was possibly the Red Devils' best performance of the season so far and it was a match that introduced a new hero on the 'Theatre of Dreams' stage, French starlet Anthony Martial.

However, since that victory United's game has become all too predictable and their tactics and results are nothing to write home about. The pressure on Louis van Gaal has risen to such a level that some sections of fans want him gone. Out of the Champions League with a whimper, knocked out of the League Cup by a Championship side and out of the top four in the league shows all is not well at Old Trafford.

Over at Anfield, they dispensed with the services of Brendan Rodgers and brought in the animated German coach Jurgen Klopp. However, apart from his entertaining touchline antics which involves a lot of chest pumping and the over the top celebrating of draws with his players, they are still a work in progress.

Having said all that there is one thing that will never change and it is that this fixture is without doubt the biggest game in the Premier League calender. It is the one that has all the fans' veins pumping with hate for each other. Come Sunday all the problems will be forgotten as there will be only one aim for both teams and that is to win at all costs. Millions will be watching worldwide, so the stakes are high.

Everybody in football has their adversaries, however, none more so than the reds from either end of the East Lancs. A rivalry that has been built up over the years and one that is not likely to get any friendlier anytime in the future.

The tension between the two cities and clubs has been well documented down the years as both teams have fought it out to be the top dog of English football and no matter how hard the hierarchy have tried to broker peace deals there is more chance of a peace agreement between Israel and Palestine. For the hatred is inbred having been passed down from generations to future generations. If you are a Man United fan then you hate Liverpool and definitely vice versa.

It was fanzines sold outside the stadiums during the 80's, 90's and into the new millennium that fueled the fire and gave fans the platform from which to vent their anger and this was followed by the development of social media that has only provided supporters with a bigger stage on which to show their bitterness towards each other with fans using the medium to poke fun at their rivals or more seriously take it to the extreme and downright vile levels of hatred.

Past jealousy has had a lot to do with the friction as in the fifties and sixties it was all about United then during the long wait for the title to return to Old Trafford it was Liverpool who was the top Liver birds until Alex Ferguson famously restored the balance and knocked them off their perch. Now it is the scousers who find themselves in the unenviable position of waiting for their next league success as it's been a quarter of a century since they were last crowned champions and in that time United leapfrogged the Anfield outfit to win the most titles.

Lately, the title has been a step too far for both clubs which has meant a battle to finish in the top four to enable Champions League qualification. Of course, United's priority is to win the title, but if they do not, then to finish above Liverpool becomes crucial and this they achieved last season and by doing so claimed fourth place.

The players down the years have added that extra spice to the matches, especially during goal celebrations, none more so than Gary Neville, who ran the length of the pitch at Old Trafford to show the away fans in no uncertain terms where his loyalties lay that day and he even had his own anthem in which everyone one was reminded of who he hated.

Wayne Rooney seems to be the main target of the Liverpool fans' vitriol due to his allegiance to Everton, but with the departure of Steven Gerrard to the USA the United fans will have to find someone new to aim their particular hatred towards.

However, now that both sides have added new foreign stars to their squads will the intensity of the United vs Liverpool matchday recede? The answer has to be a resounding no as both set of players will only have to walk the streets of their new cities, read what the fans are saying on the internet or listen to the players who have had first-hand experience of what to expect from the games.

In recent times teams like Man City and Chelsea have risen to new heights thanks to the investment of billions into their transfer kitties, but Man Utd vs Liverpool is always the first match that both United and Liverpool fans look for when the Premier league announce the new season fixtures, whether it be at home or away the faithful on both sides plan for those days more than any other games.

So the continuation of the rivalry turns to this weekend as both sets of players and fans will attempt to outdo each other both on the pitch and on the terraces, sorry in the seats. Van Gaal has an unbeaten record against Liverpool as the United manager having won all his four matches which include three league wins and the preseason friendly victory in the USA. But he will have to be on his toes against Klopp as the German coach was partly responsible for the Dutchman's demise at Bayern while he was at Dortmund.

The build up has already started and will rise to a crescendo of hatred by the time the match kicks off. Without any shadow of a doubt this is the big one.

Thanks for reading.

Miles Dunton.

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

United Held By Newcastle.

Newcastle United 3 Manchester United 3

United boring? Not on this evidence.

Manchester United let a two-goal lead slip through their fingers in a night of drama and controversy at St. James' Park.

Having done what they had failed to do on numerous occasions by scoring not one, but two goals in the first half of a game United then proceeded to shoot themselves in the foot by allowing Newcastle to fight their way back into the match after Rooney had looked odds on to have sealed all the three points with a wonder strike.

Paul Scholes noted after the weekend victory that United were boring to the core and was happy he wasn't playing in the current side. The fact is that United aren't exactly filling their fans with confidence even though they have won the last two games, just. Boring is not a word that can be used for this match which produced goals, debatable penalties and even an animated Louis van Gaal.

There was no rest for the wicked and that was the case for Man United, who on the back of their late, late win over Sheffield United in the 3rd round of the FA Cup were off to the North East to tackle Newcastle United in the Premier League looking for their third win in a row.

Managed by former United coach Steve McClaren the Magpies have had a torrid time this season and are rooted in the bottom three of the league and were knocked out of the FA Cup at the first time of asking by Watford.

Earlier in the season, The Magpies frustrated the hell out of the Red Devils at Old Trafford holding out for a 0-0 draw. Since then it seems that Man United has gone on to frustrate everybody with their style of play including former players.

The biggest problem remains a lack of goals which stems from the lack of chances being created in the final third of the pitch. Former United player Ray 'the crab' Wilkins would have loved to play in the current midfield as sideways is the latest United tactic.

To address the goal scoring problem van Gaal made three changes from the side that scraped through in the FA Cup out went Mata, Schweinsteiger and Borthwick-Jackson in came Young, Schneiderlin and Lingard. The starting XI: De Gea, Darmian, Smalling, Blind, Young, Schneiderlin, Fellaini, Herrera, Lingard, Rooney and Martial.

A minute's applause for the recently deceased former Magpies goalkeeper Pavel Srnicek preceeded the kickoff and this seemed to have a positive effect on the home side and their fans as they had the majority of the ball in the opening minutes.

Fellaini, playing alongside Schneiderlin in the midfield, started the game by conceding a few free kicks, then his ungainly style resulted in a rare first-half goal for the Reds as referee Mike Dean controversially turned the game on its head by awarding the visitors a penalty in the 9th minute after Fellaini had made a nuisance of himself in the opposition penalty area and Mbemba was adjudged to have handballed the Belgian's header.

It was captain Rooney, who coolly and calmly stepped up to slot home his third goal of the new year and his 240th goal for United to make sure his team started on the front foot.

A soft penalty to say the least, but United will take anything that goes their way at the moment.

The goal had the desired effect on United as they used the width of the pitch to stretch a suspect home defence with Martial looking the liveliest on the right-hand side of the attack.

Fellaini was booked after a foul in the Magpies' area after it looked more likely another penalty would be awarded for a handball by the defence.

Rooney went close to scoring his second after he was played through by Lingard but his effort went agonisingly wide. That was immediately followed by a great chance for the home side as once again De Gea, making his 200th appearance, saved his side this time with his legs from what would have been a certain goal by Wijnaldum.

Just before the half-hour mark, Herrera became the second United player to be cautioned for a clumsy tackle. This was followed by a penalty shout for the home side as Lingard clattered clumsily into Janmaat. Thankfully the referee waved play on. Then in the 38th minute, the United youngster made a name for himself at the right end when he finished a smart United move to make it 2-0.

The interchange saw Herrera feed Rooney, who after a clever switch played the ball brilliantly into the path of Lingard, who in turn finished off the move in some style by placing the ball through the keepers' legs then celebrated with a bit of 'Dabbing'.

Of course, it wouldn't be a United game without a slip up at the back and it came three minutes before half-time when Wijnaldum pounced on a poor Fellaini headed clearance to put the home side back into contention.

Newcastle's Coloccini tried his luck from distance and thankfully his blast went over De Gea's bar, then the ever lively Martial had a great opportunity to extend the lead on the stroke of half-time but after doing all the hard work he pulled his shot wide of the mark.

Half-time and after so many first halves without a goal United had two and it really should have been more as the home defence struggled with the visitors pace in attack.

Rooney was having one of his better matches of the season playing in the position where he should always be. He was aided by Lingard and Martial who at times made the defenders look pedestrian in comparison.

The second half got underway with van Gaal having made no changes to his side as they looked to build on the positives of the first half and put the game to bed as soon as possible without allowing the hosts back into the match.

De Gea once again proved how invaluable he is to the side when he was made to block a one-on-one effort by Sissoko. He must wonder at times what his defence is up to as they were easily deceived by the twists and turns of the Newcastle forward.

Van Gaal showed a rare moment of emotion on the bench as his anger boiled over when Lingard missed what has to go down as a sitter from a fantastic unmarked position inside the penalty box. The creative play from Herrera and Martial in the build up deserved a better ending. What a miss but hopefully it wouldn't come back to haunt Lingard.

On the hour mark, it was end to end football as both sides went in search of the all-important goal for different reasons. A Rooney run ended with him losing the ball before he could manage a shot and then the home fans leapt to their feet as Fellaini seemed to have brought down Colbeck. At this point, the match resembled a classic cup tie rather than a league game.

Van Gaal made his first change of the match when he replaced Lingard for Memphis. Hopefully, it wasn't for the miss a few minutes earlier if so, that would have been harsh.

Following the change, Newcastle attacked and were awarded a very debatable penalty when Smalling was penalised for wrestling Mitrovic to the ground. Up stepped Mitrovic to convert the spot kick to bring the scores level.

Maybe Mike Dean had thoughts of making up for his award of a penalty to United as it was a case of two players scrapping in the box. The forward quite clearly was doing the majority of the tugging as he had his hands round Smalling's throat at one point and looking at the defenders ripped shirt it was the wrong decision.

After the equaliser, it was Newcastle who could smell the fear within United's defence. They even managed to score a third, however, luckily for United it was disallowed for offside.

How would United react after seeing their two-goal lead evaporate in unfortunate circumstances?

Van Gaal had a plan of his own as he replaced Mata with his compatriot Herrera for the last fifteen minutes with the hope of dragging the visitors back into the lead. It certainly had the desired effect.

In the 79th minute Memphis collected the ball on the left wing then cut inside where he tried a shot which was only cleared into the path of Rooney, who rifled home a 20 yard drive to restore the visitors' lead. What a strike it was and it came at the perfect time to knock the stuffing out of Newcastle who were full of confidence following their penalty.

Fellaini had an excellent chance to put the game beyond reach, but his close range shot at the far post was saved by keeper Elliot.

The brilliant away support was in superb voice as they told Alan Shearer to cheer up and cheer up he did as his side equalised with a deflected strike by Dummett in the last five minutes to make it level at 3-3 and break the visitor's resolve.

Both teams ended the match looking for the winner but it wasn't to be and the final whistle blew on an intriguing game where the spoils were shared.

The missed chances that fell to Lingard and Fellaini did in fact come back to haunt the Reds as the match ended all square. It was a definite case of two points dropped by United after letting the lead slip through their fingers which was a shame as they had finally found a way to score but at the same time concede.

It really doesn't seem to be going van Gaal's way at the moment and there is a small matter of a trip to Anfield to face arch rivals Liverpool and their latest coach Klopp. Let's hope van Gaal and the players can build on the positives of this match by the time next Sunday comes around. At least man of the match Wayne Rooney has found his shooting boots after a double and an assist.

Thanks for reading.

Miles Dunton.