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

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

De Gea's Deadline Day Disaster

To put it bluntly, deadline day was a complete and utter shambles as far as Manchester United fans were concerned. Their club's outgoings on the final day of the transfer window were more than questionable, and with only one new signing arriving through the doors at Old Trafford on Tuesday evening, it has left even the most upbeat followers of the club astounded and bemused. The proposed David De Gea transfer to Real Madrid epitomised this overwhelming feeling felt by almost every single Manchester United supporter.

A transfer that has dominated the news all summer, it was surely only a matter of time before Spanish goalkeeper David De Gea achieved his dream of moving to Real Madrid. It wasn’t until Monday, the deadline day in Spain, that negotiations finally started between the two clubs. A deal had been reached late in the day in excess of £29 million - £18 million in cash for De Gea, as well as Real goalkeeper Keylor Navas, who Madrid valued at £11 million. The deal looked likely, and United fans all around the globe were beginning to accept the fact that the 24 year-old would be making a permanent move back to his homeland for a fee far below their valuation of him.

Late on Monday night, however, reports started to surface that the deal had fallen through. La Liga had not received the relevant documents on time. United and Madrid blamed each other, neither wanting to admit that it was their fault that the transfer had failed to take place. The Spanish club chose not to appeal to the league, which makes you wonder whether they intentionally withdrew from proceedings themselves at the very last minute knowing full-well they could get their man for free next summer. What was clear though, was that the deal was dead. David De Gea’s dream move to the Spanish capital is now on hold.

From start to finish, this whole situation has been a complete disaster. Club legend Peter Schmeichel described the saga earlier in the week as an “absolute joke” and it is hard to disagree with him. Louis Van Gaal has known for some time that De Gea would not be signing a new contract. He has known for some time that his first-choice goalkeeper wants to move to Real Madrid. He also knows that he could have either sold him in this window and received a slight profit for someone they paid just over £18 million for back in 2011, or let arguably the best goalkeeper in world football leave on a free transfer next summer at the tender age of 25. As it stands, the latter is almost certain.

Let’s face it, nobody involved with the football club wanted De Gea to leave. United’s player of the season for the last two years, he has shown time and time again that he has the potential to go on and become one of the best goalkeepers in history. But this has been a nightmare for both the player and the club. Van Gaal, after claiming that his number one was not in the "right frame of mind" to start any of his side’s six games in all competitions so far this season, now has a decision to make. Does he bring De Gea straight back into the side now that this summer’s transfer window has ended? Will the Spanish goalkeeper immediately return to the form he has shown for the last two seasons during the current campaign, or will his thoughts still be with Madrid? Sergio Romero was exposed against Swansea on Sunday afternoon, and although he hasn’t done terribly, it is quite clear that the Argentinian is nowhere near the Spaniard’s exceptionally high standards. You would expect De Gea to return to the starting eleven and act professionally. After all, he owes it to himself more than anyone else to reach the heights of last season and prove why Madrid were so adamant on making him their major summer signing and their next Galactico. Who knows, if he returns to the form he has shown so often, United may end up finishing higher than fourth place this season. De Gea won points on his own last year, and with a more assured defence in front of him this time around, expect him to shine once again in the United shirt.

The outcome is inevitable. In a year’s time David De Gea will belong to Real Madrid. For the time being, however, he needs to get over the disappointment of this summer and focus on doing what he does best, and that’s performing on the pitch. United may lose him on a free transfer next year, but for at least one more season they will have questionably the world’s best goalkeeper back in their side. His first start of the season won’t be far away, I’m sure of that. It wouldn’t come against Liverpool at Old Trafford on September 12th, would it?

Monday, 31 August 2015

Hernandez Leaves United

After 5 years at the club, Javier Hernandez has today left Manchester United for Bayer Leverkusen. The Mexican has signed a three-year contract with the Bundesliga side for a reported fee of around £7.3 million.

Hernandez scored 57 goals in 159 appearances
Hernandez joined United in the summer of 2010, making his competitive debut and scoring his first goal for the club against Chelsea in the FA Community Shield. He played an important role that season, scoring an impressive twenty goals during his debut campaign as well as helping United to regain the Premier League trophy.

Make no mistake, Chicharito was not a failure. In my eyes he has been a huge success, and he is someone who United desperately needed to keep hold of. With no obvious marquee signing imminent, letting the Mexican leave seems somewhat of a mystery. The reported arrival of young Frenchman Anthony Martial for £36 million, a fee that will make the Monaco striker the most expensive teenager in world football, suggests that Louis Van Gaal is more than happy to have the nineteen year old, youngster James Wilson and captain Wayne Rooney as the only recognised strikers in his current squad. Unless he brings in a stellar name before the deadline tomorrow evening, it seems very bizarre that the Dutchman is willing to rely on those three alone, given the current form of his club captain and the fact that Wilson and definitely Martial are yet to prove themselves at this level.

Robin Van Persie has also left Old Trafford this summer
In the eyes of many Manchester United fans, Van Gaal has made a mistake in letting Chicharito leave so close to the transfer deadline. If United fail to make any more signings before tomorrow evening, their business this summer will be seen as a disappointment. The players the Old Trafford club have brought in are excellent footballers and great additions to the squad, but the departures of so many faces have significantly overshadowed that. With Robin Van Persie, Nani, Angel Di Maria, Radamel Falcao and now Hernandez all leaving United during this transfer window, the options Van Gaal now has at his disposal in the attacking third are extremely limited. Adnan Januzaj, the young Belgian who the Dutchman described as being more than capable of playing the same striking role as Wayne Rooney when required this season, has today also left the club to join Borussia Dortmund on a season-long loan deal. Something seems to be missing at the moment. It is as if a major piece of information is yet to be released from the club. Surely a club the size of Manchester United is not going to rely on a nineteen year old to lead the line for them in the absence of Wayne Rooney? Surely they do not expect him to hit the ground running during his first season in England? I am not doubting the kid's ability for one second, it is just strange that United are willing to pay a staggering sum of money for potential when they could have paid £15 million less for ex-Barcelona forward Pedro, someone who has proved himself and has a wealth of experience at the highest level.

I don't blame Hernandez for wanting regular football. I don't blame any player for wanting regular football. Too many footballers nowadays are happy to sit on the bench and accept their huge weekly pay-packets, regardless of whether they spend any minutes on the pitch. Chicharito isn't like that. Yes, he spent the majority of his time at Old Trafford as a bit-part player, and the same applied when he moved to Real Madrid on loan last year. He has always played second fiddle, first to Wayne Rooney or Robin Van Persie at United, and then to Karim Benzema or Cristiano Ronaldo at Madrid. The time has come for the Mexican international to move on in his career and assert himself as one of Europe's leading strikers. Diego Forlan transformed his career after leaving United, finishing top of the goalscoring charts in La Liga whilst at Atletico Madrid, before finishing level with Thomas Muller as the joint top goalscorer at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. Guiseppe Rossi was also a huge success in Europe after leaving Manchester. The Italian scored 54 goals in 136 games for Spanish side Villarreal, before netting an impressive 16 goals in 21 games for Fiorentina during the 2013-14 season.

Chicharito was loved by the United fans
I will be extremely surprised if Hernandez fails to make an impact in Germany. He has scored goals wherever he has been. If he has a regular run in the side, expect him to find the net at least twenty times this season. A poacher, a natural goalscorer and when required from the bench a fantastic substitute, you cannot help but feel that United will regret letting him go. Hernandez would certainly make my United squad.

Manchester United fans will now be waiting impatiently. With the transfer window closing at 6pm tomorrow evening, the arrival of a marquee signing is the news that everyone is hoping for. Will tomorrow provide a mouth-watering finale to what has already been an extremely busy summer? Will Louis Van Gaal pull out all the stops to secure the services of one of Europe's biggest names? Only time will tell. The clock is ticking.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

UEFA Champions League Final 1999: Manchester United 2-1 Bayern Munich

Arguably the greatest night in Manchester United's long and successful history, the 2-1 victory over Bayern Munich in the final of the UEFA Champions League will live long in the memory. Wednesday 26th May 1999 is a date that Manchester United fans will never forget. It capped off an extraordinary season for Sir Alex Ferguson and his side.

Here is a chance to relive the last few moments of the match, along with some exclusive interviews given by United's players at the time.

League & Cup Competitions 2015/2016 - Predictions

Following on from the article 'Premier League Predictions 2015/16', here are my predictions for the main European leagues across the continent. Including La Liga, Bundesliga, Serie A, Ligue 1, Eredivisie, Primeira Liga and the Scottish Premiership, who will be crowned champions and who will finish in second place remains to be seen. There are some obvious predictions that the majority of football fanatics will agree with, but there are also a couple of surprises that will almost certainly raise a few eyebrows.

Also included are the potential champions and runners-up of the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League.

La Liga

Champions: Barcelona
Runners-Up: Atletico Madrid


Champions: Bayern Munich
Runners-Up: Borussia Dortmund

Serie A

Champions: Juventus
Runners-Up: Roma

Ligue 1

Champions: Paris Saint-Germain
Runners-Up: Lyon


Champions: Ajax
Runners-Up: PSV Eindhoven

Primeira Liga

Champions: Benfica
Runners-Up: Porto

Scottish Premiership

Champions: Celtic
Runners-Up: Aberdeen

UEFA Champions League

Champions: Barcelona
Runners-Up: Paris Saint-Germain

UEFA Europa League

Champions: Wolfsburg (predicted to get knocked out of the Champions League at the group stages)
Runners-Up: Villarreal

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Rooney Runs Riot

Wayne Rooney scored a superb hat-trick as Manchester United beat Club Brugge 4-0 (7-1) in the second leg of their Champions League qualifier on Wednesday night. Ander Herrera grabbed the other as United returned to the group stages of Europe's elite competition for the first time since the 2013/14 season.

On a damp and drizzly night in Bruges, what could have been a tricky and tight affair proved anything but as United outclassed their Belgian opposition in every department. Wayne Rooney returned to his goalscoring self in emphatic style, first finishing a Memphis through ball in the 20th minute, before adding his second in the 49th after a brilliant team move ended in Ander Herrera squaring the ball back across the face of goal to give the United and England captain a simple tap-in. Rooney completed his treble in the 57th minute when a delightful ball from Juan Mata split open the Brugge defence and, without hesitation, was dispatched into the bottom corner of the net.

Ander Herrera marked his return to the side with a goal in the 63rd minute, latching onto an inch-perfect pass from Bastian Schweinsteiger to finish coolly from 12 yards. Javier Hernandez missed a penalty late on in the game, putting his spot-kick wide of the goal after slipping when making contact with the ball. He arguably missed an even better chance in the 90th minute, blazing the ball high over the crossbar from a few yards out after good work down the right from Ashley Young. At first glance, it seemed easier to find the net than find the crowd, and the Mexican will undoubtedly be extremely disappointed that he hasn't yet marked his return to United with a goal.

United were impressive tonight, especially going forward. A side that has only scored twice in the Premier League so far, a lot of confidence will be taken from a game which in truth could have ended six or seven nil. Memphis again showed what a crucial player he could be for United this season, and the link-up play between the Dutchman, Adnan Januzaj, Juan Mata and Rooney was just too hot for the Brugge defence to handle. Make no mistake, United will have to improve domestically, the failure to defeat a poor Newcastle side at Old Trafford on Saturday shows the steps they still need to take in order to bridge the gap on Chelsea and Manchester City. Brugge were poor, but the way in which United dispatched them was highly promising. United have been on the wrong side of a Champions League upset before. A 2-1 defeat to Swiss side Basel in December 2011 knocked the Manchester club out of the competition at the group stages, something they will not want repeated this time around considering they have qualified so convincingly. Brugge were still capable of upsetting the odds, but United stuck to their game plan and dominated pretty much from start to finish.

Wayne Rooney ending his worst goal drought in seven years will only help to ease the so-called 'forward crisis' at Old Trafford, and the way the back four and keeper Sergio Romero are playing at the moment suggests that no major transfers are needed in that department. Four clean sheets out of five so far in all competitions is close to perfection, so why change something that seems to be working? It is likely that Van Gaal will stick with this defence, a defence that has already served him so well this season, and with Wayne Rooney back among the goals, it makes you wonder whether the Dutchman will dip back into the transfer market at all before it closes next Tuesday.

The feeling around Old Trafford is that United still need a couple of world class players in order to compete for the biggest trophies. Whether United are good enough to mount a serious title challenge in the Premier League remains to be seen, and as far as Europe is concerned, reaching the semi-finals of the Champions League would be an extraordinary achievement. With the size and history of the club, anything less than silverware is considered a huge disappointment. United have gone over two years without a trophy now, and everyone involved with the club will be hoping and expecting that drought to come to an end this season. Only time will tell. What is certain, however, is that Manchester United will be back in Europe's elite competition after an 18-month absence. Champions League nights will be returning to Old Trafford.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Premier League Predictions 2015/16

The Premier League season has only just started. With most of the teams having only played three league games so far, there is an extremely long way to go before we begin to see who will be challenging for the title and which sides will be battling to avoid the drop. At this moment in time, we can only make assumptions as to who will dominate domestically and whether the title will be returning to Stamford Bridge for a second successive year. In my opinion, having watched the first few weeks of the new season, this could be the most competitive campaign since its introduction in 1992. This is how I think the league table will look come 5pm on Sunday 15th May 2016.

1) Manchester City (C)
2) Chelsea
3) Manchester United
4) Arsenal

5) Liverpool

6) Tottenham Hotspur
7) Swansea City
8) Everton
9) Stoke City
10) Crystal Palace

11) West Ham United
12) Southampton
13) Leicester City
14) West Bromwich Albion
15th) Newcastle United
16th) Bournemouth 
17th) Aston Villa

18th) Norwich City
19th) Sunderland
20th) Watford
Domestic Cup Competitions

FA Cup: Manchester City
League Cup: Manchester United

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Manchester United 3-1 Club Brugge

Manchester United’s long awaited return to European football started with a win on Tuesday night in the 1st leg of their champions league qualifier, as they beat Belgian outfit Club Brugge 3-1 at Old Trafford.  New signing Memphis Depay scored a first half brace after Brugge took an early lead through a Michael Carrick own goal. Marouane Fellaini scored in the dying seconds of the match to give United a much needed two goal cushion going into the return leg next Wednesday.

It was the moment every Manchester United had been waiting for. As the two teams lined up on the pitch before the game, the champions league anthem echoed around Old Trafford and reminded everyone involved with the club what they had been missing out on. United named an unchanged team from the side that beat Aston Villa last Friday, with Adnan Januzaj keeping his place ahead of Ashley Young. It was United who posed the first real threat of the game, when in the first minute a drilled low cross by the young Belgian narrowly evaded Wayne Rooney at the far post. Brugge were playing a high-pressing game and this nearly paid off in the third minute when a Michael Carrick back pass almost caught out Sergio Romero in goal, but the keeper just managed to scamper across his line and clear the ball up the pitch.

In the eighth minute of the game the unthinkable happened. An in-swinging free kick just outside the box found the outstretched leg of Carrick, and with the former Sampdoria keeper nowhere to be seen, the ball deflected past him and into the back of the net. The Old Trafford crowd were stunned, and Club Brugge had a vital away goal.

It took only five minutes for United to equalise. With Carrick in the thick of the action once again, his sublime ball into Memphis Depay was controlled on the chest of the Dutchman, who then coolly flicked the ball over the on-rushing defender and calmly slotted the ball into the bottom corner, far out of the reach of Brugge ‘keeper Sébastien Bruzzese.

Wayne Rooney was still struggling to show his best form, but the England striker showed glimpses of his ability and should have put United ahead. His tame overhead kick in the 25th minute was cleared off the line, and from the resultant corner he failed to meet the ball firmly at the near post with his header flashing wide of the goal.

United were ahead in the 43rd minute through Memphis Depay’s second goal in a United shirt. A delightful through ball by utility man Daley Blind after a great run from Memphis, the winger quickly cut inside, wrapped his foot around the ball and found the far top corner of the goal. A magical attempt from who promises to be a magical footballer. United went into the break in front. After a shaky start they had completely dominated the first half and were good value for their lead.

Early second half attempts from Mata and Memphis didn’t trouble Bruzzese, and in the 60th minute the Belgian side almost scored themselves. Sergio Romero failed to come out and meet a Morgan Schneiderlin back pass, resulting in the Argentine only just reaching the ball ahead of Brugge substitute Oularé. A free kick was rewarded to United after Oularé had caught Romero, but it could have been far worse and if he hesitates like that again, the outcome may not be so generous.

The 63rd minute produced undoubtedly the best move of the match. Luke Shaw gave the ball away cheaply in his own half before winning it back superbly, driving forward and exchanging passes with Juan Mata and delivering a brilliant cross into the box towards Rooney. Rooney’s exquisite touch set up Memphis Depay, but the Dutch international fired over to miss out on what would have been a well deserved hat trick.

United continued to dominate and the introduction of Javier Hernandez added more pace to the attack. Brugge were reduced to 10 men in the 80th minute when central defender Brandon Mechele was shown a second yellow card after bringing down Hernandez, and all hopes of finding an equaliser seemed to have diminished with only ten minutes remaining.

As long as the score line remained 2-1, Brugge would have been more than happy to take that result back to Belgium. Their crucial away goal meant that just a 1-0 win back at the Jan Breydel Stadium in a week’s time would have been enough to put them through to the group stage of the competition and knock out the 3-time European champions. However, United got a third and final goal in the 94th minute courtesy of Marouane Fellaini. Just as referee Deniz Aytekin looked certain to blow for full time, Memphis delivered an inch perfect cross onto the head of the big Belgian which ensured United would take a two goal lead to Brugge next week.

So on their return to the Champions League Manchester United started with a win. After conceding early on and what looked like a potential disaster, United quickly found their feet and dominated the rest of the match. Man of the match Memphis Depay has given the Old Trafford faithful something to shout about, and barring a complete catastrophe in Belgium next week, European football will be returning to Old Trafford for the foreseeable future. 

Monday, 17 August 2015

Falcao and Di Maria: Unlucky or Disappointing?

The arrivals of Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao in the summer of 2014 alerted the entire footballing world that Manchester United meant business. Splashing out a club record £59.7 million on bringing Di Maria to Old Trafford from Real Madrid and a reported £6 million loan deal to secure Colombian Falcao's services, the message coming out of the club was loud and clear. Two such high profile signings suggested that Louis Van Gaal and his side were ready to take the Premier League by storm.
Angel Di Maria will no longer wear the iconic number
seven jersey at Manchester United

That couldn't have been further from the truth. In fact, if it hadn't have been for United's late run of form towards the back end of last season which saw wins against Liverpool, Tottenham and Manchester City, they would have found themselves a lot further behind the top three than how it actually ended up.

Di Maria started the season brightly. Showing the form that saw him named man of the match for Real Madrid in the 2014 Champions League Final, he scored sublime goals against QPR and Leicester to become the latest foreign superstar to grace the Premier League. Wearing the iconic number 7 shirt, the Argentine winger looked ready to tear apart opposing defences with his sublime skill, control and technical ability.

Falcao on the other hand was a slightly different story. Returning from a lengthy injury lay off which saw him miss the majority of 2014 including the World Cup in Brazil, the Colombian forward had a point to prove. He was ready to show everyone that he was still a world class striker, the same player who caught the eye of the entire continent whilst at Porto and Atletico Madrid. Falcao showed those signs early on in his United career, although not everybody saw it. A phenomenal assist away at Leicester which saw Robin van Persie score demonstrated the quality of the man, and a well taken goal against Everton at home, his first for the club, indicated that there were many more to come. However it didn't quite happen for him.

Nobody can deny the quality that has left Old Trafford
Many blamed his injury for his poor run of form which saw him net only four goals during the whole of last season, a statistic that heavily undermines a player of his quality. Others suggested that he was either past his best, too old to compete at the highest level, or unable to cope with the high intensity and demand of the English game. However, Falcao wasn't given a good enough chance at United to show what he could do, and it's as simple as that.

True, he made a creditable 29 appearances last season, which may suggest that he had plenty of opportunities to showcase his talent, but when you consider many of those appearances came from the substitutes bench and included a number of ten minute cameos, you realise that perhaps Falcao was not given the opportunity he deserved.

It was obvious that United would not pay £40 million plus for a 29 year old who failed to make an immediate impact in the Premier League, regardless of the fact that he hardly played a full 90 minutes. Now at Chelsea, the growing concern is that he will find his best form again and show United what they missed out on. However, unless Diego Costa suffers an injury or serves a suspension, it is difficult to see how Falcao will play regularly in the champions' starting eleven. Unfortunately, the Colombian may find himself in exactly the same situation as he did at Old Trafford. He is not getting any younger, and the longer he finds himself struggling for minutes, the longer it will take him to rediscover his best form.

It didn't quite happen for the Colombian at
Manchester United
For many United fans the departure of Angel Di Maria to Paris Saint Germain was the biggest disappointment of the summer. He started his Old Trafford career in sensational style, scoring and assisting left, right and centre. However, it all took a turn for the worst when the Argentine's Manchester home was raided by burglars at the beginning of February 2015. Di Maria's form dropped dramatically, and eventually so did his place in the starting line up. 

A petty red card against Arsenal in the FA Cup and struggling to perform consistently, Di Maria's future at United looked uncertain from that moment on. The majority of the footballing world, however, would have expected him to have given it one more season before deciding to move on to pastures new. A man with exceptional ability, at one of the biggest clubs in the world and Britain's most expensive ever signing, his decision to move on so quickly after arriving in Manchester came as a bitter disappointment to everyone involved with the football club. 

No one will know what might have been had Di Maria stuck it out for another season, and many expect him to find his feet quickly in France and show the world why United paid so much money for a player deemed surplus to requirements at Real Madrid. It is a sad end to what could have been an incredible story. We will never truly know how good he could have been in a United shirt, and unfortunately for him, it is likely that he will be remembered as another high profile signing that failed to deliver. 

It was a huge shame to see both players depart after only one season at United. They have both been unquestionably two of the best players in Europe during the last 5 years or so, and to see them both struggle to make a significant impact on the Premier League is deeply frustrating. You would expect both men to regain confidence at their new clubs and perhaps become the players that they once were. Unfortunately for United fans, that will happen somewhere else other than Old Trafford.

The Old Trafford careers of both players ended prematurely

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Do United look the real deal?

Two wins out of two. Six points out of six. Two goals, two clean sheets. Are Manchester United ready to challenge for the Premier League title once again? 

There can be no excuses for Louis Van Gaal and his players this season. Since he took charge of United last summer, the Dutchman has spent over £200 million on new players and the suggestion that they are still a 'work in progress' is unlikely to wash with the Old Trafford faithful this time around. The return to the Champions League was a must and was the first stepping stone to Van Gaal's rebuilding process, and on paper United should get through their qualifier with Club Brugge fairly comfortably. If they do, United will be back where they undoubtedly belong. However, how ready are they to compete domestically? Before challenging in Europe can even be considered, dominating domestically has got to top the list of priorities. Van Gaal has spent almost £90 million on new signings for the 2015/16 season, and many expect there to be a couple more before the transfer window shuts on September 1st. So who are they? And what will they bring to United that's been lacking in recent years?

The arrivals of Memphis Depay, Matteo Darmian, Morgan Schneiderlin and Bastian Schweinsteiger have reiterated Van Gaal's desire to bring the Premier League trophy back to Old Trafford. Memphis brings a confidence and arrogance to United which has not been seen since the days of Cristiano Ronaldo. He is strong, quick, powerful and can score from almost anywhere, something he showed time and time again last year at his former club PSV Eindhoven. Reportedly asking to wear the famous number seven jersey after the departure of Angel Di Maria, it is no secret that Memphis has confidence in his own ability. The question now is whether he can fulfil his potential and become one of the Premier League's most consistent performers. He has all the makings to be a hit with the Old Trafford faithful.

A shrewd yet what appears an excellent addition to the squad is Italy full back Matteo Darmian, signed from Torino for approximately £13 million. He was impressive on his debut against Tottenham and again on Friday night at Villa Park. Comfortable on the ball, tactically sound and willing to attack, the Italian looks the real deal. United have not had a regular right back since Gary Neville retired - Wes Brown and Rafael Da Silva were always there or thereabouts, but in Darmian it looks like they have found a gem, and he looks certain to secure the right back position for the forthcoming campaign.

Then there's the duo of France international Morgan Schneiderlin and 2014 World Cup winner Bastian Schweinsteiger. These are arguably the two most important signings considering the lack of options United have had in midfield during recent seasons. A position they have failed to strengthen since the departures of Roy Keane and Paul Scholes, Schneiderlin is the best tackling midfielder in the Premier League and Schweinsteiger when fit, can pass the ball as well as anyone. For the first time in years, United have plenty of options in the middle of the park.

The one ongoing saga overshadowing United's transfer business so far this summer is the situation regarding David De Gea. The arrival of Sergio Romero suggests De Gea's imminent departure to Real Madrid, even though the Old Trafford club have already said he will not be leaving this month. Louis Van Gaal's decision to play Romero in the opening two league games because the Spanish international was 'not in the right frame of mind' strongly suggests he wants out. Either take what you can for him now and give in to the clutches of Madrid, or see a keeper widely regarded as the best in the world leave on a free transfer next summer at the tender age of 25. Whatever he decides, Van Gaal must make a decision quickly before it begins to affect the dressing room.

From the opening two league games, United have failed to make any real impression. They have played fairly poorly, and aren't creating a great deal of chances in front of goal. However, all that really matters is getting the points, and with two wins out of two, six points out of six and two clean sheets for newcomer Romero, it's not a bad way to kick off your league campaign. I'd say that not many United fans are complaining at the moment.