Monday, 29 August 2016


Rashford wheels away to celebrate his winner with the away fans

In the end, football justice was delivered at the KCOM stadium. Manchester United had no business looking for a goal deep into injury time against an admittedly well organised Hull City side. At 29 attempts on goal, United had shown enough attacking intent to deserve what came from Rashford's stabbed in winner. Indeed, some United fans still suffering under the Louis van Gaal stigma will have struggled to come to terms with a 0-0 score line after so many attempts on goal.

Thankfully though, the side showed the character and desire to press on to the last minute. That in itself is an important observation. Despite the schizophrenia of the last couple of years, it is important to note that United have still got that never say die attitude about them. United did salvage a few games late last season but it was in the Cup competitions. They were not doing what they did on Saturday in the league and as such lost so many points out of that character flaw.

Every top side will have games like that on a given Saturday. Not all will come away with three points. It has therefore become cliche to suggest that such wins are the stuff of Champions to be. It's a prospect that will be put to the ultimate domestic test in just under 10 days.

In keeping with his methods of keeping a winning team, Jose named an unchanged line-up, meaning that Henrick Mikitaryan was yet again left out of the team. The Armenian did come on for the last 25 minutes or so and by the end of the game we learned that he will fit in just perfectly with the rest of the attack. We new that he was such a fine player in possession and so was never going to be fazed by being closed down or finding little pockets of space. With Fellaini ruled out for a month, Henrick should get more opportunity to start from the off.

 United have not really set the world alight with their performances so far. That said, the improvement is marked from the days of Louis van Gaal and David Moyes. The defence though has been nothing short of imperious. Indeed the one facet United can claim to have over their title rivals is that their backline has settled in much better than anyone else's. That improvement can greatly be attributed to Eric Bailly who was awarded his third Man of the Match award for the club in four games. The Ivorian has proved to be the perfect foil for the intelligent Daley Blind who continues to use his game reading ability to make forwards appear mentally disabled. Admittedly, United finished last season with the joint best defence in the league. But not with David De Gea having his goal pummelled with shot after shot to such extents that he merited the Club's Player of the Year award again.

The difference this time round is that De Gea has been required to stop just a couple of shots per game so far. A solid base of midfield and a strong centre of defence has shielded him from the asteroids he had to deal with last season and before that.

Victory at Hull ensured that the club have now made their best start to a league season since 2011/12 when the club lost the title on goal difference to Manchester City. Perhaps it is a touch of de ja vu that both clubs are only separated by goal difference ahead of the first International break. What is for certain is that the next round of fixtures will include the most anticipated Manchester derby at least since the 2012 derby decided the destiny of the league title.

With almost two weeks until the D-Day, the build up will take quite the while. For United though, August has proved that this season at least will be different from the last three. Most fans will take that.  

Monday, 22 August 2016


Ibrahimovic towers above all else to open his Old Trafford account

On the night when it was supposed to be about Paul Pogba and his return to Manchester United, Zlatan Ibrahimovic ensured that by the end of Friday evening, conversations among Reds fans were dominated by him. The towering 6'5 striker powered above Jose Fonte, another six footer, to open the scoring on Friday evening against Southampton. He completed his brace with a well taken second half penalty and, at least according to him, would have gotten a third if Pogba had squared a chance for him late on.

What fans and neutrals are quickly coming to terms with about the Swede is that his body frame allows him the sort of dominance in the air that most strikers moving to England are asked to be wary about. Wes Morgan and Jose Fonte might not be the best centre backs that Ibra will come up against in the league but they are the illustration of a typical premier league aerial battle on a matchday. That he has easily dominated battles against the pair has settled major concerns about his transfer to English football.

More than that though, Ibrahimovic is extremely athletic for a soon to be 35 year old. That he is always willing to go airborne to execute scissor kicks is testament to this. His touch upfront is a breath of fresh air too given what we've become accustomed to in that position and the Singing Section will undoubtedly keep reminding whoever cares to hear that we got him on a free!

Friday was supposed to be all about Pogba though. The Frenchman played the full 90 minutes despite training for just a week with his new teammates. His shift drew comparisons with Patrick Vieira back in his native France but thankfully for United, he has much more to his game than what Vieira was all about. For starters, Pobga can beat a few players at close range, drawing a chunk of opposition players to him and therefore leaving the rest of his teammates free of attention.

In world football, he is the best at what he does. It's not even easy to find a player who can combine the tasks of holding a defence line and transitioning to attack until the penalty box. That energy and industry is what Jose Mouirnho will seek to harness going forward.

It's only two games in but at least we've already come to the conclusion that United are a different proposition this time round. There were imperfections in the game on Friday but given the pre-season schedule, most of the players deserve a stay of execution before judgement can be passed. Six points out of six means that United have marked themselves out as one of four sides with a 100% record going into the last fixture before the first International break.

August will become a perfect month if the Reds sign it off with victory over Hull City at the KCOM stadium on Saturday. The aim must be to build momentum ahead of the Manchester derby on September 10th. There is every chance that both sides will go into that game with maximum points. A look at the summit of the league table suggests that Manchester is where the league title will be resident come May next year. The build up to September 10th is well and truly underway.    

Thursday, 18 August 2016


It's been 94 days since Old Trafford was graced with Premier league football and on the occasion of the first ever Friday Night Live game of the premier league, it was always apt that the competition's most successful club would feature. Whilst United played a league game on Friday Night last season, it was only for logistical reasons to fit in with the club's Champions League qualifier schedule slated for the following Tuesday. Friday night kickoffs are now well and truly a part of top flight football.

If United were ominous in their opening league fixture at Bournemouth, then the opportunity is there to keep riding on a tidal wave of form by keeping top spot for themselves for another week. Indeed, it helps that cause that this time, United get to play first and put a degree of psychological pressure on their rivals who play during the weekend proper.

Not that it will be easy. The Reds have not beaten Southampton at Old Trafford since January 2013 when Sir Alex Ferguson was still manager of the club. The Saints most recently recorded a 0-1 victory last January as part of the club's horror run of results in the three weeks preceding. Indeed, its easy to see that victory over the south coast club will be further evidence that United are in fact turning a new corner under new management.

The lead up to the game will undoubtedly be dominated by Paul Pogba's potential debut for the club since his return. The Frenchman's imminent arrival in the starting line-up has led to question of how Jose Mourinho intends to use him and or how the rest of the starting XI fit in. If he does start on Friday, perhaps we'll start to get some answers in that respect.

Eric Bailly's impressive start to life at the club means that we've not really missed Chris Smalling and so many might not care to learn that he has completed his suspension and will also be available for selection. You do feel though that the manager will prefer to keep what has been working for him in Daley Blind. Jose Mourinho is not one to attempt to fix things that are not necessarily broken.

Southampton on their part are now managed by Claude Puel who some United fans will remember was in charge of Lille when Ryan Giggs scored a very controversial quick free-kick in a Champions League match back in February 2007. Puel as seen in the aftermath of the goal urging his players to leave the pitch in protest. The game did continue after awhile. You feel he probably still has a score to settle.

United will have to pay special attention to Nathan Redmond who joined from Norwich and found the net on the opening weekend. The other star attractions from a Saints side that has been depleted by departures is the Portuguese pair that now boast European Championship winners medals in Jose Fonte and Cedric Soares.

Jose Mourinho and Manchester United have so far captured the imagination of many after the opening weekend. Not for the style of play but for the efficiency with which they passed a tricky test on Sunday. The challenge on Friday night, infront of their home fans, is to make an even bigger statement on Matchday 2. 

Monday, 15 August 2016


Man United players celebrate Zlatan's goal
In the end, Jose Mouirnho ensured that there was no hanging about for the opening weekend of his managerial reign at Manchester United. For the Portuguese, leading from the front has always been the antecedent to a decent campaign. Jose doesn't do come-from behind title wins. If he is not leading the log, then it will quickly unravel for him. One stray comment here or there and one bad thing will quickly lead to another.

It's just as well then that Manchester United have come away from the opening weekend of the premier league in first place. United were the only side to win by more than one goal and as such, pending a bigger victory margin in the MNF game, the club will remain in situ for MatchDay 2.

Away on the South Coast at the Vitality stadium was destined to be an awkward fixture for United, not least because the last United manager to win there was Sir Matt Busby. For Jose therefore, it was no mean act to follow. A professional 3-1 victory was marked by some excellent defending to repel the home side and capped by a fruition of the attacking potency in United's ranks.

Even so, it could just as easily have gone all wrong for the visitors. Up until the half-hour mark, the home side were the better on the balance of performance but one unfortunate error, two actually, let in Juan Mata to stab home the opener and ease United's progress from thereon.

It will bode well for the manager's plans that Wayne Rooney and Zlatan Ibrahimovic found the net on the opening day but it was the Swede who capped another brilliant 'Number 9' display with an equally brilliant ball. It's easy to see why Jose likes the 34 year old to stay on for the 90 minutes.Not since Didier Drogba has Jose had a striker to whom every pass, every long ball sticks. The sublime and the physical in equal measure. As such, United were able to quickly transition opposition to the final third quicker to catch Bournemouth out of position. It was a far cry from the recent past when United could recycle the ball so much that the opposition gets back into shape before the Red Devils muster any opportunity.

For the captain, the goal added a point or two to his ratings on the day but it could not hide what was another dour display. He remains not quite in sync with what the rest of the side are doing but his mobility from deep at least affords him the luxury of getting an opportunity to score like he got yesterday. He was involved in the start of the move that saw him get on the end of it with a well placed header. More importantly on a personal note, he is now within four goals of breaking the club's goal-scoring record for a player. It will be some feat.

The biggest cheer on the day was reserved for Eric Bailly who has scooped a second consecutive Man o the Match award following his performance in the Community Shield. The Ivorian has made quite the impressive start to life at the heart of the United defence. Indeed, there is the argument that Daley Blind's positional awareness and tidy touch are a perfect foil for the 23 year old. Even though the pair are yet to register a clean sheet, it is already apparent that United have, in two games, shown the mettle to cope with the physical demands of the league. It will hold the club in good stead if the same resilience can be kept up.

There is nothing much to read into the opening game of a campaign that will end well into the following year, but for side whose preparations threatened to leave the side under-cooked for the new campaign, they can look back on the opening weekend with satisfaction. The first job was done as required. 

Friday, 12 August 2016


Manchester United are in for an awkward trip to the Vitality Stadium

And so it begins! The most anticipated premier league season to-date for its sheer managerial quality kicks off this Saturday with pressure abound on more than a handful of managers to make an early impression.

When United completed the signing of Frenchman Paul Pogba in midweek, bookmakers started receiving money into United's stream for the column: Champions. If punters were not ready to back United for the title after forming an alliance with Jose Mourinho, having the most expensive player in the world on their books certainly did.

Indeed, Jose Mourinho's signings have ensured that there will be more than enough star dust around United's fixtures this season, creating a show-biz feel to games where some fans will prefer a 'get-on-with-it' approach. The fear around players firmly immersed in social media and plying their trade as brands as opposed to being 'just footballers' is that there will be more clamour to be a part of the first dab of the season as opposed to getting through the first weekend with all three points.

This is why Manchester United could have done with an opening home game in front of their own fans, with an expansive pitch on which to find solutions. The joys of playing Everton last week at Old Trafford and the Community Shield last Sunday at the even more expansive Wembley pitch will be quickly arrested at Bournemouth's Vitality stadium that boast just over 11,000 seats!

Like last season, the length and width of the Vitality will allow Eddie Howe's side to sit back and cover the spaces, hit on the break with limited fatigue, but most crucially, maximise set piece opportunities in a congested penalty box. Such were the spoils that the Cherries capitalised on to score twice against Louis van Gaal's side last season. The advantage Manchester United have is that there is nothing new he will encounter on Sunday.

Of all his managerial rivals, he can claim to having seen in all----including when it all goes horribly wrong as it did for Chelsea last season. He will know what to expect from a tight pitch and opposition that will put in the hard miles to ruffle United's feathers. And he will, in the least, attempt to avoid the pitfalls. We learnt as much in the Community Shield last weekend when he took preferred the physical qualities of Marouanne Fellaini and the directness of Jesse Lingard to the talents of Henrickh Mkhitaryan and Juan Mata form the start. As such, United were able to match the hard running, physical challenges and effort of the league Champions whenever they lost possession.

One of the biggest sub-plots to Sunday's early kick off will therefore be Jose Mourinho's team selection. Wayne Rooney should remain the headline act in terms of will he or won't he play. The England captain turned in another dour performance at Wembley raising further concerns as to whether he is part of United's best XI. The general feeling is that United finally have a manager who will not be afraid to drop his captains if he feels he needs to. From that perspective therefore, it leaves Mourinho with the task of answering questions about his captain's performances when things do not go according to plan. Certainly, the acquisition of Paul Pogba ends the debate about Wayne dropping so deep to help out move the passage of play forward. It leaves the manager and indeed fans desperate to see their captain put in a decent shift.

Chris Smalling is suspended so Daley Blind should get to continue in the centre of defence alongside Eric Bailly. The goal keeper and a couple of other positions aside, the rest of the selection will be about who the manager feels can best cope with the helter-skelter conditions that United will be up against on the South Coast. It should make for entertaining viewing for fans of both sides and neutrals alike.

With the media desperate to get on the back of the manager that slips up first and in a season when the touchline rather than the pitch will dominate football columns, there will be more than three points at stake on Sunday for Manchester United and Jose Mourinho. Indictments do come fast in this league, and trends can be very difficult to turn around. It is why sometimes getting through the first weekend with your tail still up is no mean feat. 

Ahead of the new campaign, there is a few changes that fans will have to get acquainted with during the flow of the game. Besides the obvious trivial seasonal changes such as the Nike ball to be used, the triple jeopardy rule has been done away with.  Previously, a player who denied a goalscoring opportunity within the penalty area would give away a penalty (punishment one),be sent off (punishment two) and be suspended for a future game (punishment three). It has now been decided that a player committing an accidental foul that denies a goal-scoring opportunity in the penalty area should not be automatically sent off.  A yellow card will be handed out instead. 

Another important change that could get fans in a twist is in regard to treatment of a player on the pitch. Previously, the player would have to go off after treatment. Not anymore. If this rule was adjusted last season, Eden Hazard wouldn't have been required to leave the pitch against Swasea at Stamford Bridge, leaving his side with just 8 outfield players to defend a set piece. Therefore we wouldn't have had the Eva Caneiro saga that started the beginning of the end for Jose Mourinho at his second Chelsea spell.

Another that could get fans off guard is that referees can now send off players pre-match and post-match. For instance any violent conduct during a warm-up is punishable by starting the game short of the player sent off!  

It all adds to a welcome change of the dynamic in what should be a more entertaining football fest than what the European Championships served up in the summer. 

Monday, 8 August 2016


Wayne Rooney lifts Manchester United's 21st Shield

The one element you feared that Manchester United have desperately lacked in their pre-season was a raw British test. It's why the called off Manchester derby was always seen as a huge blow to United's preparations for the new season.

On Sunday, United finally got in that in the shape of Champions Leicester City who were desperate to win the Shield on the occasion of their first appearance at the new Wembley. The Champions attacked United with hard running from all angles and sought to expose United's presumed deficiencies at the back. That directness is exactly what United will come up against next week at the Vitality Stadium. To emerge as victors therefore will hearten the manager in terms of his squad's readiness for the big kick off. That new signing Eric Bailly turned in a quite 'Vidic-esque' performance to neutralise the threat of Jamie Vardy will have further pleased the manager. United look like they finally have a dominant centre back on the books.

Being the first British test under the new management, it was always fascinating to see who the manager would pick in his first eleven. When the team news came out, it was just as anyone who knew Jose could have predicted. The Foxes are one of the tallest teams in the division with a few six footers and and an eye for aerial balls. The nature of the game to come therefore meant that Henrickh Mkhitaryan or Juan Mata or Ander Herrera were never going to start the game. In Marouanne Fellaini, Micheal Carrick and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the manager effectively cancelled out the height advantage of the opposition.

On the pitch, United still looked decidedly ponderous with the players instinctively intent on recycling possession when the opposition backs off. The manager has asked for time to get his side more direct in terms of their play, but what will not need time for any adjustment is the fact that in Zlatan Ibrahimovic, United finally have a dominant number 9.

Wes Morgan will win just about every aerial duel in the league next season, but he will not often come up against a player taller than Zlatan Ibrahimovic. To put it into perspective, the Swede towers above Marouanne Fellaini, albeit by just centimetres. It means that even from a standing position, like it was yesterday, Zlatan was destined to cause Morgan all sorts of challenges when the two competed for that Valencia cross.

United do not have a striker with his dominant qualities in the box and so it makes sense when Jose says that he has the perfect balance of forwards at his disposal. Late on, whilst United were wobbly, trying to deal with the hard yards of Gray, Musa and Vardy, Leicester were left occupied at the back dealing with the enduring threat of Zlatan and the slippery feet of Marcus Rashford. In the end, the exchanges of punches fell in United's favour as first; Zlatan was a shade offside and second, he, unlike Okazaki in the first half,  managed to get the inside of the post to give Schmeichel no prayer in goal.

Manchester United were at Wembley in the first place because of Jesse Lingard's charm of the pleasantly unexpected. His Wembley winner to win the Cup in extra time was quickly added to the club's famous highlights reel. On Sunday, he made a stake to the list of the club's all time best Community Shield goals. There were 7 blue shirts between him and goal when he started out on that mazy run 45 yards from goal at the half-hour mark. He rode just about every challenge until he was clear but also kept a cool head to slot past Schmeichel with his right instep. Lingard, remained buzzing throughout the game until his substitution. He certainly looked fitter and ready to go than the rest of the lot.
More than anything, the Shield win serves to add a spade of confidence to United ahead of a season when the pressure will be squarely upon the club to make a return among the country's elite. Crucially, there is reason to look ahead with genuine optimism.      

Thursday, 4 August 2016


Old Trafford paid its due tribute to the Captain with a full stand mosaic.

For Wayne Rooney, the millions raked in last night should mean that the major goal of last night was achieved. There will be a substantial contribution to make for the various charities that stood to benefit from the gate collections and donations. A noble gesture.

For Manchester United and Jose Mourinho, last night was another very necessary outing in a pre-season schedule that feels one game short. Indeed, often times before the Old Trafford leg of every pre-season schedule, United have not required the number of substitutions Jose Mourinho made last night.

The argument is that with just a few days to the big kick off, the manager ought to have used pre-season to settle upon a select group of players to play more than the minutes they racked up yesterday. On Sunday, in the Community Shield against the Champions, the manager might be short of personnel who can last the '90 in peak shape. It could very well be that the manager's priority on Sunday will be to stay injury free as bodies will be a little more stretched than they've been on tour.

The most niggling concern on the night was how United looked LVG-ish with plenty of possession, playing infront of the Everton back four without really hurting them. Leicester City will not mind if this scenario is repeated on Sunday. At least there was more goal mouth action than a typical LVG game. Zlatan Ibrahimovic fired his two clean chances straight at Marteen Skelenburg. That both his chances came from Wayne Rooney will have heartened the manager.

The game itself on a whole passed for a drub affair with the tempo a far cry from the helter skelter of the premier league. That's testimonials for you. At least both managers respected the occasion with full strength sides.Fitness aside, it didn't really matter for much to either of them. For United, on Sunday, it will matter a little more. There will be confidence gained from starting the season with a victory over the defending Champions and the reverse is also true.

The preparation has not been the most adequate but with the exception of one extra addition, the group has pretty much been together for a while now. It is a far cry from the days Jose Mourinho prefers to lead from the front when the season starts. It never really works for him in any other way. Indeed twice he has struggled when his Chelsea side failed to start the season with peak form. As such, United will hope that they are in shape to make the first month of the season count.

Wayne Rooney has revealed that Mourinho is yet to raise his voice at his players. I imagine that state of events will not last for long now that from hereon it starts to matter.

Monday, 1 August 2016


A teenage Wayne Rooney wheels away to celebrate one of his debut goals

On Wednesday evening, Old Trafford will pay homage to their captain, Wayne Rooney for more than a decade of service. The subject of Wayne Rooney has remarkably sustained the contr
oversy from that August day in 2004 when Manchester United agreed an eye watering (at the time) 28m with a Merseyside club for a teenage Scouser. Indeed, Sir Alex had this to say about the United board's initial reaction to the transfer;

''There were plenty of eyebrows raised"

True to script, a teenage Rooney scored thrice on his debut in a Champions League group stage game with Turkish side Fernabache. That hattrick set him on his way to breaking the club's goal-scoring record held by Sir Bobby Charlton--a feat he will undoubtedly achieve before Christmas this year. At 18 years and 335 days, he became the youngest player to score a hattrick in the Champions League.

Not that it was all glorious in his first campaign. Indeed, Wayne endured three barren years by United's standards as the club has bettered on the pitch by first Arsene Wenger's invincibles and then Jose Mourinho's rampant Chelsea side. The tough start did not hinder Wayne from creating personal marks in the club's history that fans can always look back on with fondness. There was that wonder strike against Newcastle United at Old Trafford when he transitioned from having a go at the referee to thundering one in the top corner. And then there was the 'Battle of the Buffet' in October 2004.

Forget the job Phil Neville did on Jose Antonio Reyes; Wayne Rooney turned out to be the real thorn for Arsenal on that October evening. In a fixture that had become synonymous with cheating and bullying of all sorts, Wayne did well to tumble inside the penalty box under the slightest of challenges from Sol Campbell. Ruud van Nistelrooy converted. The teenager then swept in the insurance goal in the 90th minute to end English football's longest unbeaten run in top flight football. It's safe to say Arsenal as a football powerhouse by those standards have never recovered since.
His first season was to end in the disappointment of an FA Cup Final defeat to Arsenal and it was not until last season that he was able to scratch that particular itch. He did however, finish his first campaign with United as the club's top league scorer with 11 goals and the PFA Young Player of the Year award.

Last season's FA Cup medal was only the latest in a career littered with silverware for the club. Whilst he was made to wait for his first major honour, in the form of a 2006 League Cup triumph over Wigan Athletic, they came in in quick succession afterwards.

He as only 21 when he won the first of his five premier league titles with Manchester United in 2007. Indeed, the speed at which he came of age on the pitch is highlighted by the fact that at age 22, he was on 200 premier league appearances and an integral part of United's Champions League winning team in 2008.

And then there was the temper. Sir Alex Ferguson claimed that it was an essential ingredient to being Wayne Rooney. He loved the aggression and he felt if it were coached out of him, he'd lose his footballing gifts. As such, United had to contend with the consequences of his temper. In September 2005, Rooney was sent off in a Champions League clash against Villarreal for sarcastically clapping the referee. More bemusingly, he got himself sent off in a pre-season tournament in 2006 for elbowing FC Porto's Pepe. The bemusing part is the FA received a 23 page report of the incident and handed him a 3 match ban despite a lack of jurisdiction over the matter.

Rooney's most productive season for the club was the 2009/10 season. He started the season by becoming the 20th Manchester United player to score 100 goals for the club, netting twice in a 5-0 away win at Wigan Athletic. 

Injury curtailed his ability to inspire United to major silverware that season but he did pick up the League Cup, scoring the winner in a 2-1 win over Aston Villa at Wembley. His 26 goal haul in the league earned him the PFA Player of the Year award.

He matched the scoring heights of 2010 in 2012 with another 34 goal campaign even though the title ended up in another Manchester trophy cabinet. 

More than anything, United fans love longevity and consistency. Like Ryan Giggs, his ability to remain relevant to the club, even today, marks him out as a club legend. That longevity is essentially why he is going to break the club's goal-scoring record despite not often ending up as the club's top scorer every season.

Love him or hate him; it is admirable that last season under the straight-jacket routine of Louis van Gaal was the only season that Wayne has failed to hit double figures in terms of league goals for the club in a season.

Whilst his loyalty to the club's cause has been thrown into disrepute twice by engineering a move away from the club, his determination to get United on the right side of a result has remained apparent whenever he is on the pitch.

The debate around whether he is truly a world class talent raged on as he collected milestone after milestone. At age 27, he scored his 200th goal for the club in a Champions League tie with Bayer Leverkusen. His incredible bicycle kick that won the Manchester derby in 2011 was voted as the Premier league's best goal on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the competition in 2012. Speaking post match about the goal, Sir Alex said;

''It was stunning. Unbelievable. We've had some fantastic goals here but in terms of'll never see that."

Now the club captain, Rooney has emerged as a leader and example for the younger players at the club. He might not be as marauding and ferocious as he was back in his early years, but he retains a goal-scoring ability that new manager Jose Mourinho seeks to exploit this season. Who knows, the captain's goals might yet inspire the club to another league title!

Wayne Rooney will donate proceeds from his testimonial on Wednesday to four Charities of his choice.