Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Time is up for Van Gaal as Mourinho eyes Old Trafford

Louis Van Gaal looks a beaten man. The Dutchman's reign as Manchester United manager has almost certainly come to its end. With Jose Mourinho lurking in the background, it is almost a foregone conclusion that the ex-Chelsea boss will take over at Old Trafford.

According to reports, Louis Van Gaal's position as
manager of Manchester United is now untenable
Reports on Tuesday evening suggested that Louis Van Gaal had been sacked by Manchester United. Although no official announcement has been made by the club, the overwhelming feeling felt by the majority of the footballing world is that the 64-year-old Dutchman will lose his job in the extremely near future. A run of six games in all competitions without a win, including an early exit from the Champions League and back-to-back Premier League defeats against Bournemouth and Norwich, has ultimately left Van Gaal facing the prospect of an early retirement. The sacking of Jose Mourinho by Chelsea has only added to the pressure, and the many thousands of restless United fans who have watched their side play so poorly at times this season feel that this should be the end of the road for the Dutchman.

During his eighteen months in charge, Van Gaal has spent over £250 million on new players, and many have argued that the team United have now is actually weaker than the side inherited by David Moyes when the Scot took over from Sir Alex Ferguson. The players that have been allowed to leave Old Trafford under the Dutchman's reign, including the likes of Robin Van Persie, Angel Di Maria and Javier Hernandez, have raised question marks over whether United are going in the right direction under the current regime. After the club's premature exit from the Champions League, former defender Rio Ferdinand said:
"Manchester United are going backwards again and I don't see that changing. Players are playing it safe because they are afraid of the consequences if they try to take chances."
Speaking before the game against Norwich, it is clear that it is not just the United supporters that feel that their side is not living up to expectations. Defeat on Saturday saw Tottenham replace the Red Devils in the top four, and Van Gaal and his players now find themselves level with Crystal Palace on twenty-nine points, a further nine points adrift of shock leaders Leicester.

Juan Mata was sold by Chelsea under Jose Mourinho
and the Manchester United playmaker will fear the
worst if his old boss takes over at Old Trafford
With what looks like being another barren season at Old Trafford in terms of silverware, many have called for an immediate change in management. The availability of one of the best coaches in world football has quickly cranked up the pressure on the United hierarchy to make an immediate decision on their current manager. With Pep Guardiola seemingly bound for Manchester City, will United really want to risk falling further behind their fearsome rivals? Mourinho may go against the club's longstanding traditions. He may be controversial and at times send the club into disrepute. And he may not appear to fit in with the attacking philosophy United has prided itself on over the years. However, what Mourinho will deliver is trophies. Manchester United have to win the biggest trophies in the game, it's as simple as that. With Mourinho, they will have the perfect manager to ensure that happens.

The temptation to replace Van Gaal with the Portuguese is growing stronger and stronger, and it feels as if it is only a matter of time before an official announcement on the Dutchman's future is made. If it hasn't already happened, a defeat or failure to beat Stoke on Boxing Day will undoubtedly mark the end of Louis Van Gaal's eighteen month tenure in charge of the world's biggest football club. With Jose Mourinho waiting impatiently, it seems only fitting that the Portuguese's first match in charge of United will be against Chelsea at Old Trafford.

Jose Mourinho will be hoping for a return to management sooner rather
than later, with Old Trafford his preferred destination

Monday, 5 October 2015

Gunners Shoot Down United

If you are a Manchester United fan, then Sunday 4th October 2015 will not live long in the memory. In fact, it will want to be forgotten about as quickly as possible. United went to the Emirates on the back of four consecutive wins in all competitions, but they were simply blown away in twenty first half minutes by Arsene Wenger's men. Alexis Sanchez scored two superb goals and Mesut Ozil tucked away the other to seal a commanding 3-0 win over the Red Devils. It was embarrassing to say the least, and the game could have easily ended five or six nil. That scoreline wouldn't have flattered the London side either. United, who topped the table after their dominating performance over Sunderland last weekend, were simply obliterated. If they are going to challenge for the title, then they need to be claiming points against their main rivals.
The Emirates Stadium was the place to be yesterday
afternoon if you were an Arsenal fan

Manchester United were gradually starting to build momentum. Sitting pretty at the top of the Barclays Premier League, coupled with cup wins over Ipswich and Wolfsburg meant that they were in an extremely strong and commanding position. The team looked like they meant business. The acquisition of Anthony Martial had given United a new-look forward line that boasted both pace and power, and along with a settled defence for the majority of this season, Louis Van Gaal's side had started to make their presence felt. However, on Sunday it all went horribly wrong when they made the long trip to North London to face Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium. 

On the front foot from kick-off, the Gunners looked in devastating form. They were in the mood, and it was clear from the very beginning that United were going to struggle to contain them. Positionally Louis Van Gaal's players were all over the place, failing to mark their men and follow runners, and it wasn't long before they got exactly what they deserved. Six minutes into the game and it was 1-0, Sanchez finishing expertly at the near post after beating David De Gea to a low cross. It got worse for United when seconds later a blistering attack from the home side ended in Theo Walcott playing the ball back for an unmarked Mesut Ozil to firmly plant the ball past De Gea and into the corner of the net. The game was effectively over after seven first half minutes. It was a case of 'how many more?' This rampant Arsenal side looked like scoring every single time they raced into their opposition's half. It was a storm that United simply could not weather.
Mesut Ozil had arguably his best game in an Arsenal shirt
A horrible dream soon became a terrifying nightmare. Barely twenty minutes into the match, Sanchez scored his second of the game to stun United into silence and send the majority of 60,000 supporters delirious. It was 3-0 already, and with Arsenal in this kind of form, the scoreline could have been literally anything up until the final whistle. United fashioned one glorious chance at the very end of the first half when Martial produced a fantastic piece of skill to turn his marker and fire his shot low across the ground. Petr Cech, however, prevented the 19-year-old Frenchman from scoring his fifth goal for United by saving with his legs. In the opening forty-five minutes, United had created one effort on goal. Realistically, the game was dead and buried. However, no matter what situation they find themselves in, you cannot rule out Manchester United.

Sanchez (pictured left) scored two superb goals 
to seal victory for his side
In the end though, it just wasn't to be. Arsenal were too good. It was their day, and no matter what anyone says, they fully deserved all three points. Although United had the lion's share of possession and arguably created the better chances in the second half, they never really looked like clawing their way back into the game. It was the first time United had ever conceded three goals in the first 20 minutes of a Premier League match. The Gunners already had the game wrapped up, so they knew that as long as they stayed compact and defended resolutely then they would secure the win quite comfortably. Louis Van Gaal said that 'when you give a team like Arsenal so much space to play football, then you know that you shall lose.' He is right, and perhaps the Dutchman realised that his tactics and team selection on the day were not tailor-made to cope with Arsenal's electrifying pace going forward. Obviously it is too late now, but no matter what team the United manager selected yesterday, the pure speed at which Arsenal moved the ball, along with their incredible movement up front would have been far too much for any side to handle. They were brilliant, and I am not someone to compliment Arsenal just for the sake of it.

What this defeat will do is bring United back down to earth. There is still an awful lot of work to do in order to mount a serious title challenge. They have the quality and the potential in their ranks, along with an excellent manager and an assistant who knows the club like the back of his hand. It is a sudden setback that is hard to take considering the good vein of form United were in, but I still believe that they can fight on all fronts this season. They are still only two points behind neighbours City and level on sixteen points apiece with Arsenal after yesterday's defeat, so it is far from the end of the world. All eyes will be on United now to see how they respond. Will they bounce back and show that they are title-material? Or will they falter and become a distant memory? Only time will tell. We'll just have to wait and see.
Louis Van Gaal will demand an immediate response from his players

Thursday, 1 October 2015

United In Cruise Control

Manchester United are flying high at the moment. A comfortable win against Ipswich last week, a return to the Premier League summit and a hard-fought victory against Wolfsburg yesterday evening has made it a quite remarkable week for Louis Van Gaal's men. If you had told any Manchester United fan at the beginning of the season that they would be top of the table at the start of October, they would have probably bitten your hand off but at the same time would have urged you to be realistic. It is very early days, but the quality and potential that the Old Trafford side are showing, particularly since the capture of 19-year-old forward Anthony Martial, is extremely promising and exciting for everyone associated with the club. With Chelsea's faltering start and back-to-back Premier League defeats for neighbours City, United are starting to sense and believe that this could be their year.

Luke Shaw's devastating injury and disappointing defeats to Swansea and PSV Eindhoven have been the only real dampeners on United's season so far. Without playing extremely well, United have started to pick up the victories and the points they need to gradually become serious title contenders. The next three games are crucial, starting with Sunday's trip to the Emirates to face Arsenal. If Van Gaal and co can come through the next few matches relatively unscathed, then this new-look United side can start believing that the Premier League title is there for the taking. The players have the perfect manager for making sure that their feet are firmly on the ground and that they don't get carried away, but even the Dutchman himself will know in the back of his mind that his side have the potential and the quality to challenge until the end. Keeping the squad fully fit and injury-free is going to be the key to a successful campaign. If United are still there or thereabouts come Christmas, then the feeling around Old Trafford is going to be electric. The fans will start to believe again. Van Gaal and his players are building up a head of steam. Can anyone stop them?

Old Trafford is slowly beginning to feel like a fortress again

Friday, 18 September 2015

Shaw To Return

Whether you're a Manchester United fan or not, Luke Shaw's horrific injury on Tuesday night is something you would never wish on anybody. You could be the most cold-hearted individual out there, but watching the close-up footage of that challenge is enough to send shivers down anyone's spine. After starting the season so well for both club and country, the 20-year-old is now likely to miss the rest of the 2015-16 campaign and possibly the European Championships next summer. It is a deeply devastating situation for the young man to find himself in.

After a disappointing start to his career in Manchester, which was mainly hampered by injury, Shaw had started to show the form that had interested a number of big suitors in the Premier League and in Europe, including both Chelsea and Real Madrid. United, however, were willing to gamble on the young Englishman, paying Southampton around £27 million and Shaw himself approximately £120,000 per week in order to lure him to Old Trafford. It was clear he had the talent, but whether he could live up to that huge price tag was a different story altogether.

At first Shaw struggled. During his first season at United the full-back only managed 20 appearances in all competitions. Due to injury and also down to the fact that his manager Louis Van Gaal suggested that he was not fit enough to secure a regular starting place, Shaw in the end did well to compete in that many matches. Then when he was starting to slowly get back to match fitness he was kept out of the side, particularly from March onwards, by fellow team-mate Daley Blind who was impressing in the left-back position. So Shaw had to wait. However, when his time did arrive, he was arguably United's best player.

During United's pre-season tour of America, a new-look Shaw was playing brilliantly. Stronger, sharper and faster, the young Englishman was replicating the performances he delivered time and time again in a Southampton shirt. United fans were finally beginning to see, if they hadn't already, what this kid was all about. Shaw continued this remarkable form into the start of the new Premier League season, playing in every game and arguably being United's stand-out performer in each match. However, on Tuesday night, against PSV Eindhoven in the Champions League, Shaw's season was ended in drastic circumstances.

After a brilliant trademark burst into the box, Shaw was challenged by PSV defender Hector Moreno. At first glance there didn't seem to be a problem, but as the ball flew out for a corner and Shaw remained completely unmoved on the turf, it was obvious that something serious had happened. Shaw suffered a double leg break and after receiving oxygen on the pitch for near enough ten minutes, he was then taken to hospital where he underwent surgery. After watching the replay, United could have easily been awarded a penalty and Moreno arguably could have been walking back to the dressing room. It was a forceful and rather reckless challenge that went unpunished. The Mexican did play the ball, but in this day and age and the way football has changed over the years, the sheer force of the challenge would have been enough for many referees to brandish the red card. However, according to former United captain Roy Keane the tackle on Shaw was a fair one. He said "I thought it was a brilliant challenge. I love the physical side of the game." The physical side of the game is fantastic but considering the consequences of Moreno's tackle it is a quite unbelievable thing for Keane to say. There's physical, and then there's ending someone's career, something which the Irishman has done intentionally over the years. Maybe I shouldn't be that shocked by Keane's opinions after all.

Fortunately, Shaw's injury isn't a career-ending one. Hopefully he will be back to full fitness for the start of next season. Although it is possible, it is highly unlikely that he will return during this current campaign. The 2-1 defeat to the Dutch champions was severely overshadowed by what happened to the England full-back on Tuesday night. It is good to hear that Moreno has apologised for the tackle but it is even better to hear that he has visited Shaw in hospital. It was the right thing to do and he will be applauded for it. Unfortunately, it doesn't improve anything for a 20-year-old lad who has had his season dramatically cut short. I, along with every single Manchester United and England supporter, am extremely gutted for the young man. To have worked so hard to finally get to where you want to be, I can only imagine how disappointing it must be for him. Age is on his side though, and I am sure he will bounce back from this and establish himself as his club and country's first choice left-back for many years to come. The whole nation will be wishing him a safe and speedy recovery. Get well soon, Luke.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Magical Martial Debut

Anthony Martial took the Premier League by storm yesterday after his stunning solo goal ensured victory for Manchester United against Liverpool at Old Trafford. A 3-1 result means United are now five points adrift of rivals City, and although he only came on as a second half substitute, 19-year-old Martial enjoyed a moment that he will never forget.

Anthony Martial lit up Old Trafford yesterday evening
He has been the subject of conversation since September 1st, when Manchester United broke the bank to make the Frenchman the most expensive teenager in football history. A staggering starting price of £36 million that could well rise to an even more astonishing £58 million, there was certainly pressure on the young man to hit the ground running, even if his new manager Louis Van Gaal insisted that there wasn't.

At only 19, I don't think anybody expected the youngster to make an immediate impact. It would surely take time for him to settle in England and adapt to the new surroundings and expectations at his new club. At such a young age, it would surely take him at least a couple of months to fully adjust to the physical demands and high intensity of the Barclays Premier League. How wrong could we be? Martial made quite an introduction.

Sir Alex Ferguson watched
on at Old Trafford
Louis Van Gaal opted not to start his deadline day signing against Liverpool on Saturday evening, even after club captain Wayne Rooney was ruled out through injury. Instead, the Dutchman decided to start Marouane Fellaini up front on his own, leaving Martial on the bench. After a dull first half, United took the lead through a superbly worked set-piece, converted in the end by Daley Blind. A perfectly weighted pass by Juan Mata was finished fantastically by the Dutchman, curling the ball high into the top corner of the net and far out of reach of Liverpool goalkeeper Simon Mignolet. It was 2-0 in the 70th minute when Ander Herrera converted a penalty after being brought down in the area by youngster Joe Gomez. With the game seemingly out of sight, Christian Benteke scored a wonderful overhead kick for the visitors in the 84th minute to give his side a glimmer of hope and a chance to rescue at least a point. However, just two minutes later, the most expensive teenager in world football took centre stage at the Theatre of Dreams.

With United under real pressure for the first time in the match, Martial delivered a moment of pure brilliance. Latching onto a ball from Ashley Young, the youngster weaved majestically through the Liverpool defence, past both Clyne and Skrtel, before slotting the ball low into the bottom corner of the goal to send the Old Trafford crowd wild.

Martial scored his stunning solo goal in front
of the Stretford End
The hype surrounding the youngster these past couple of weeks hasn't seemed to faze him at all. A hefty price tag and a move to one of the biggest clubs in the world is enough to dramatically affect anyone's mind, let alone a 19-year-old forward who has been branded the new Thierry Henry and the next star of his generation. Martial's debut strike yesterday certainly drew comparisons with the Arsenal great, and I am sure that the former Gunner would have been proud to have scored that goal himself. It is very early days of course, but if Saturday is anything to go by, then Manchester United fans have potentially found themselves their next golden boy. At 19 years of age, scoring on your Manchester United debut against Liverpool at Old Trafford, in front of more than 75,000 people, really is what dreams are made of. It doesn't get much better than that.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Manchester United - Top Ten Premiership Comebacks

Manchester United are well-known for their late, late comebacks. Particularly during the Sir Alex Ferguson years, United's never-say-die attitude was a significant reason as to why they were so successful. Countless trophies were won not only because of the quality in the side, but also because of the togetherness and determination of the team to never give up until the final whistle. Here we look at United's top ten Premiership comebacks.

Sunday, 6 September 2015

Who is Anthony Martial?

Anthony Martial joined Manchester United from Monaco for £36 million on transfer deadline day, a move that made the 19-year-old the most expensive teenager in football history. With the transfer fee potentially reaching a staggering £58 million, every single United supporter wants to know what the young Frenchman is all about. This article takes a closer look at his career so far.

The following statement is from Manchester United's official website:

George Best made an immediate impact at Old Trafford and
Martial will be hoping to make a flying start
to his United career too
"He began his career in the junior ranks of CO Les Ulis, where Henry and former Old Trafford favourite Patrice Evra both started their illustrious careers. At the age of 14, Martial joined Lyon and became a regular for the France Under-16s, scoring nine goals in 17 games. More strikes followed for the Under-17s (nine in 13 games) and Under-18s (three in four games) as his reputation continued to soar at international level. Domestically, he also plundered over 30 goals for Lyon's Under-17s as it became difficult to contain the hype surrounding his promise.
Although he broke into the Lyon team in 2012/13, making four appearances, more experienced strikers such as Lisandro Lopez, Alexandre Lacazette and Bafetimbi Gomis, who scored the winner for Swansea City against United in August, naturally barred the way to the starting XI. However, Martial's excellent potential was so obvious Monaco paid €5million for his signature in a transfer that rocked French football.
Martial would love to get his hands on one of these trophies
before his debut campaign is over
The attackers competing for a starting place included Radamel Falcao but Anthony still managed 11 league appearances, scoring twice as the team finished runners-up behind Paris Saint-Germain in Ligue 1. Falcao’s loan switch to Old Trafford at the beginning of 2014/15 enabled Martial to take over the mantle as the main striker and he responded with nine goals, while also only missing three league fixtures all season. Monaco later finished third and even reached the Champions League quarter-finals.
Although Martial did not score in Europe, he did set up a goal for former Reds striker Dimitar Berbatov and impressed against United's Premier League rivals Arsenal in the competition's second round. The performance at the Emirates Stadium was one of his finest as the Gunners suffered a shock 3-1 defeat.
Martial is already off the mark for 2015/16 after netting against Young Boys in the Champions League qualifiers, though it was Monaco’s exit from the competition at the hands of Valencia that reportedly opened the door to broker a deal for a player who had only signed a new contract in early July.
He is capable of playing as a right-sided attacker and his youth-team pedigree suggests he will become more prolific in front of goal as he matures. A fan of Brazilians including Ronaldo and Sonny Anderson as a schoolboy, he has elements of South American-style flair in his game and should prove popular with fans."
Anthony Martial is Manchester United's third most expensive signing
after Angel Di Maria and Juan Mata
It is clear that Martial is highly rated not only in France but also across the rest of Europe and even South America. He has bags of ability and has the potential to become a world-class superstar. Being likened to Arsenal great Thierry Henry is a compliment in itself, and if the young forward performs even half as well as the Premier League legend once did, then the Old Trafford crowd will have a new name to shout about.
It will be interesting to see where he features in Louis Van Gaal's plans. So far this season the United manager has played one striker in Wayne Rooney. With Martial capable of playing as an effective winger, will he take the place of either Mata or Memphis? Or will the Dutchman alter his formation and play the Frenchman up front with the England captain, with Rooney reverting to his traditional number ten role that many regard as his best position? My feeling is that Martial will fill the void left by Adnan Januzaj, after the young Belgian moved to Borussia Dortmund on a season-long loan. Rooney will drop back and play just behind the youngster, not straight away, but gradually once Martial has adjusted to his new surroundings and has started to adapt to the high intensity of the English game.
I hope he does well for United. Having a £36 million price tag hovering above your head cannot be easy for any footballer, let alone a 19-year-old boy who has just signed for one of the biggest clubs in the world. If he is given time to settle in England and is well looked after by United, then from what I have read and heard about him, I am sure he will do very well. If you're good enough, then you're old enough. After all, age is just a number.

The promising youngster will soon have to get used to
speaking to the media at Old Trafford