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.