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Manchester United 2014 Review Part 1.

Manchester United’s last twelve months will be remembered as unremarkable for a club that had enjoyed unparalleled success, year after year, under Sir Alex Ferguson.

A turbulent year that saw United have three managers, players coming in and players going out, The ‘transition’ period of David Moyes, Louis van Gaal’s ‘revolution’, Ryan Giggs’s promotion, retirement, and promotion, one manager calling the dreaded enemy Liverpool the favourites, another beating them. Fans who have had to endure the worst year in the club’s illustrious recent history, who also had to put up with the ridicule that came with that, but followers who never stopped cheering on the team, home and away, through the good but mostly bad times.

Twelve months in which United were unable to finish the season in the top four of the Premier League, therefore failing to qualify for a place at the top table of the Champions League for the first time in some fan’s living memory. A period in which detractors of United enjoyed twisting the knife into a wounded club, and enjoyed all the pain it caused to the real fans.

In part 1 of my review of the year, I will share my thoughts on the period from January up until the end of the 2013-14 season.

The New Year started ominously for Manchester United and the manager David Moyes.

Sitting in a lowly position in the league they lost three matches with the same scoreline 1-2 within the first seven days. Starting with a loss away to Spurs, a home defeat to Swansea, which meant they were out of the FA Cup in the 3rd round, and lastly losing to Sunderland in the 1st leg of the league cup semi-final, eventually exiting the competition in a penalty shoot out.

The mood was lifted by the record signing of Juan Mata from Chelsea. The Spaniard, Chelsea fan’s player of the season for the previous two years, arrived at Carrington training ground by helicopter. The fee of £37.1 million, seemed a little excessive for a player that had been left on the bench by Chelsea coach Mourinho for most of the season. Having said that, here was a quality play maker, and a signing that gave under pressure Moyes some respite. The downside of Mata joining was that he was cup tied for the upcoming Champions League knock out stage matches.

Over the course of the next two months United would lose to Chelsea and Stoke City, draw with Fulham and Arsenal, but even worse was that both Liverpool and Man City came to Old Trafford and both won with the same scoreline, 3-0.

In between that terrible run were the matches against Olympiakos in the last 16 of the Champions League. Falling to a 2-0 defeat in the first leg in Greece, United faced an uphill struggle in the return leg at Old Trafford. Needing to overturn the deficit by scoring at least three goals. The team put on a performance reminiscent of the European glory nights of the past under the floodlights of the ‘Theatre of Dreams’. Robin van Persie was the hero of the match by completing a brilliant hat-trick as the reds won 3-0 to seal their place in the next round.

However, elation was soon reduced to deflation, as news came of an injury to the team’s star striker. Van Persie, who picked up an injury in the match, would be facing a lengthy time on the sidelines. A huge blow to United and especially Moyes, who had the added problem of trying to beat Bayern Munich in the quarter finals of the Champions League.

Something clearly was not right at United. The fans started to voice their feelings, even going as far to hire a plane to fly over Old Trafford during the home match against Aston Villa, which displayed the message “Wrong One – Moyes Out”

But United ran out 4-1 winners that day, and Moyes told the press afterwards that he still had the support of the fans. Which clearly he hadn’t.

The team’s Champions League journey, where Moyes had enjoyed his best run of results, came to an end with defeat by Bayern Munich over the two legs, 2-4 on aggregate. Pep Guardiola’s team had given United a lesson in organisation and teamwork. They had too much quality over the two matches. Without the goal threat of van Persie, United didn’t really stand a chance.

The remote possibility of bringing silverware to Old Trafford had gone, which prompted calls by the fans, and the media alike, for Moyes, and more importantly United, to be put out of their misery.
The final straw for Moyes came with a 2-0 defeat at the hands of his former side Everton at Goodison Park, two days later the club announced that the ‘Chosen One’ had been sacked.

When it was revealed that Moyes had been chosen by Ferguson as his ideal replacement back in 2013, a lot of head scratching followed, but everybody to a man, and woman, stood behind his appointment. I believe that it was a step too far up the management ladder for Moyes, who had been at Everton for 10 years but won nothing. He lacked the experience for such a huge task at arguably the biggest club in the world. I do have a little sympathy for his situation, but not too much, as his pockets bulged with a sizeable £5 million in compensation. Not bad for ten months of suffering, not by him but by the fans.

After the departure of David Moyes, it was left to the popular choice of Ryan Giggs to step up and lead United through the remainder of the season, and to try and end it on a positive note. Once in place Giggs immediately called up the help of his friends from the class of ’92, all except David Beckham and Gary Neville. What a sight it must have been at Carrington to see Giggs, Butt, P.Neville and Scholes leading the training sessions.

The boost in the teams morale showed in the first match against Norwich City, in which a rampant United team ran out 4-0 winners. Poor Norwich didn’t stand a chance in a pumped up Old Trafford. The atmosphere was electric, as Giggs strolled down the touchline soaking up the rapturous applause from the home fans. He also looked the part in his club suit, and had an air of authority about him. Not only did the suit fit, but also the position of interim manager suited him perfectly.

The team played with a new found confidence that day, as they seemed to be released from the shackles that had held them back under Moyes. They went on the attack with a free flowing style that even Giggs would have been proud to be a part of, had he not dropped himself!

Another away defeat to Sunderland brought everybody back down to earth with a bump as that wasn’t in the script. The final home match of the season was against Hull City. A match in which Giggs showed that he wasn’t afraid to put faith in the youngsters by giving debuts to James Wilson and Tom Lawrence.

Wilson responded to his inclusion by netting a brace, and proved that United had another future star in the making. United ran out 3-1 winners on a day which would see Ryan Giggs play his final match in the shirt of his beloved Red Devils. His retirement as a player being announced in his after match speech to the Old Trafford faithful.

The last match of the season was a dour 1-1 draw away at Southampton. A match which also saw the end of three stalwarts of United’s defence over the previous decade. Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra all ending their playing days with United.

United finished a hugely disappointing season empty handed and an embarrassing seventh in the league. There was a feeling of thank god that was over so the rebuilding could begin. The situation the club found themselves in could only improve.

On the 28th of May it was announced that Malcolm Glazer, the patriarch of the Glazer family that owns the club, had died. His sons would continue to run the club.

After the euphoria of Giggs being appointed interim manager, it was still obvious to all that the squad would need an overhaul in the Summer. The biggest question was whether Giggs would be given the ultimate responsibility, or would the club go for a new team manager with the experience in management needed to take on such a big challenge.

Fans were calling for Giggs to be given a crack of the whip, as he clearly had the players support behind him. Realistically though, they knew if the good times were to return to the club quickly, then the appointment of a manager with the personality and knowledge to turn the club’s fortunes around was needed. The hard work had to start again, a new chapter in this great club’s history was about to begin.

The speculation of who it would be was ended on the 19th of May with the announcement that the Dutch national manager, Louis van Gaal, had been offered, and had accepted the illustrious position of Manchester United manager.

The revolution had begun.

To be continued…

Thanks for taking the time to read part 1 of my Man Utd year review.

Part 2 will be available soon.

Miles Dunton | FacebookTwitter

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Rooney pulls the strings for United.

Manchester United 3 Newcastle United 1

Welcome, and I would like to start by wishing all my readers a Merry Christmas.

After being given a day off on Christmas Day by Louis van Gaal to enjoy the festivities with their families, it was back to business at Old Trafford. United welcomed Newcastle United on a day that has been kind to the Red Devils over the years. In fact the last time United lost a fixture on St.Stephen’s Day was against Middlesbrough back in 2002. United have won a total of 53 points on the 26th December, 15 more than the nearest side.

The team news saw no place for Angel Di Maria, being left out completely, possibly being saved for the Spurs match on Sunday. Once again Fellaini and Herrera were absent. Darren Fletcher was demoted to the bench after his average performance at Villa Park in the last match. This is how United lined up: De Gea, Jones, McNair, Evans, Valencia, Carrick, Rooney, Mata, Young, Van Persie, Falcao. The second start in a row for Falcao to give his partnership with van Persie another try.

The atmosphere inside the stadium was jovial, as it normally is for matches during the festive period, with the home faithful in fine voice.

The first half started rather sluggishly as both teams looked to shake off their Christmas Day celebrations. Falcao seemed to be the liveliest player for United making a few intelligent runs, one in which saw him clatter into the advertising boards, but thankfully he picked himself up unhurt.

The three United defenders McNair, Jones and Evans started nervously at the back yet again, especially Evans. Almost gifting a belated present to Newcastle, which fortunately they didn’t accept. There was also a legitimate penalty claim by the Magpies after Yoan Gouffran and Juan Mata clashed in the penalty area, which was waved away by the referee.

Ashley Young was providing the best outlet down the left with some smart crosses, which were close to being converted by the strikers. Yet, as so often this season some of the breaks were halted by continuous back passing, which doesn’t do anything for the nerves given the quality of our defence.
De Gea was on hand, not for the first time this season, to pull off a smart save after 19 mins to palm the ball over the crossbar for a corner.

On 22 mins some magic from Rooney, as he collected the ball in his own half, laid a pass to Mata, then continued his run into the penalty area, where Falcao unselfishly hooked the ball from Mata’s cross into the captains path, who did the rest. A great move started and finished by an in form Rooney.

Rooney’s and United’s second came in the 36th minute, when the lively Falcao won the ball which released Mata, he gave a lovely pass inside to an unmarked Rooney, who had the simple task of finishing, which he gleefully did.

Half time and United led 2-0. Mata had been involved in both goals but it was Falcao who impressed with his energy and never give up attitude. He played a huge part in both goals even though he and van Persie were battling against a five man Newcastle defence, who were trying to play the offside trap at every opportunity.

Going forward the Magpies posed a threat with their pace against United’s trio of centre halves, especially the talented Perez, who United would have to keep an eye on. Generally, United had been comfortable and deserved their half time lead.

The second half had United attacking the Stretford End of a rain soaked Old Trafford.

The fans didn’t have to wait long for a third. Again Rooney was the inspiration on 52 minutes, with a delightfully judged chipped pass into the area, which was met by van Persie who headed across the goal into the net. Great skill and vision from Rooney who made it all look so simple.

With United enjoying a three goal lead and the players facing another match on Sunday, changes were inevitable. On the hour mark Fletcher entered the match in place of Carrick, who once again had a solid performance in the middle. Shortly after that Falcao was replaced by James Wilson. The home faithful showed their appreciation to the Colombian for his 100% effort towards the cause.

This in no way affected the rhythm of the team as United continued to enjoy the majority of possession. The only downside came when van Persie picked up a yellow card for a late and totally needless challenge, which he immediately acknowledged.

Again, Perez continued to be a pain for the United defence, calling on David de Gea to block a shot at his near post after the diminutive striker had confused a couple of defenders. Once he was substituted the main threat of the visitors had vanished with him.

It was great to see the return of full back Rafael, who came on for Valencia for the last quarter of the match to gain some valuable game time after a long time out.

With five minutes left to play Phil Jones gave away a penalty, which Cisse converted past a helpless de Gea. This meant that there would be no clean sheet for de Gea and United today. That was about the last action of the match as both teams didn’t create anything of any note in the closing minutes.

This was a game that was controlled and won by man of the match and captain, Wayne Rooney. With his brace and assist he ran the show from his midfield position. Always the playmaker, everything came through him. He is looking more and more at home in the position van Gaal has entrusted to him. He seems to enjoy the responsibility the deeper role involves as it allows him to have more of a say in the tempo of the game.

Something that was good to see was the team play of United today. A good example of this was Van Persie, who was the designated centre-forward, unselfishly peeled off into wide positions at times for Rooney to run into the space from deep. a tactic which paid off especially in the first 45 minutes.

The next match on Sunday is away to Spurs. It brings down the curtain on United’s year, a turbulent twelve months to say the least. But a year that is at least ending on a high, and gives us great hope for 2015.

It will be interesting to see who, if anyone, van Gaal buys in the January transfer window. Many names have been bandied around, and it will be fun to see which gossip turns out to be true. My wish list wish would be for a central defender and a midfielder. Vlaar and Strootman would do for a start, at least until the Summer.

Hope you all are having an enjoyable Christmas.

Thanks once again for reading.

Miles Dunton.

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Man United held by ten man Villa.

Aston Villa1 Manchester United 1

Villa Park is a stadium which holds fond memories for the United team and the fans. Throughout our history it has been a happy hunting ground, as we have enjoyed many glorious matches there. Who can forget the scenes that followed the ‘goal of the century’ by Ryan Giggs in the FA Cup semi final replay against Arsenal in 1999, on the way to the historic ‘treble’

You have to go all the back to the opening day of the 1995-96 season, for the last time Villa won against United at home. That day Sir Alex Ferguson’s side, featuring youngsters such as Gary Neville, Paul Scholes and David Beckham, went down 3-1 in a result which prompted BBC pundit Alan Hansen to famously utter this classic comment: “You don’t win anything with kids.” How wrong he was proved to be.

The Manchester United team news, which didn’t include any kids, had Louis van Gaal giving a start to Falcao up front, but more surprising was the choice of Darren Fletcher in midfield. This was due to undisclosed illnesses to Fellaini and Herrera.

Michael Carrick started the match in the middle of a back three along with Jonny Evans and Phil Jones in front of recent hero David de Gea. Then there was Young and Valencia out wide with Fletcher and Rooney in the middle, Mata sat in the hole behind the strikers Falcao and Robin van Persie. On the bench were two players coming back from injury Angel Di Maria and Da Silva.

United enjoyed the majority of possession in the early exchanges without creating any clear chances, but unfortunately Villa took the lead on 17 minutes, when from a free kick Benteke chested down in the penalty area, then without a serious challenge from the United defence, shimmied and curled a left footed shot across three United players and past de Gea, who to be fair didn’t stand a chance. A goal against the run of play, but a warning that this wasn’t going to go all United’s way.

Villa showed that they had the pace up front to worry the United defenders and on one such break their forwards were bearing down on goal, but without a brilliant tackle from Jonny Evans it could have been a lot worse for United.

On the half hour, Young nearly shoved the boos back down the Villans throats, when his curling shot come cross almost sneaked in at the far post if it hadn’t been for Villa keeper Guzan managing to palm it to safety.

United’s attacking play cried out for some invention as it was all so predictable, lots of the ball but no imagination, it was crying out for someone to work some magic. Sadly not many magicians were on show.

Falcao’s first chance came on 23 minutes when he was played through by van Persie, in the end he shot tamely under pressure. The best play was coming from United’s right flank via Valencia, but the Villa defence dealt with any crosses that came over. It was a poor first 45 minutes for the Red Devils, and even though they had the ball in dangerous areas they had nothing to show for it.

At the start of the second half it was no great surprise to see van Gaal make a change by bringing on Tyler Blackett for Fletcher. This meant that Carrick moved up into his preferred midfield role.
Right from the off the United back three, without Carrick marshaling them, were in trouble as the trio of Blackett, Jones and Evans struggled to deal with Benteke, Jones just managing to block his shot. From the resulting corner de Gea made an important tip over from a Benteke header.

On the 50th minute van Persie forced a save from Guzan as United tried to convert their chances. The main objective, apart from equalising, was to keep the ball away from United’s defence.

The pressure paid off in the 53rd minute when Young made a surge down the left and delivered a superb pinpoint cross, a cross which Falcao met with his head to give the keeper no chance. In a rare show of emotion van Gaal punched the air with delight as Falcao raced to share his joy with the away fans. After the equaliser came a push by United to find a quick goal and van Persie came closest with an overhead attempt.

On the hour mark came United’s second substitution with Di Maria, making his return from injury, replacing van Persie. Straight away Di Maria was pressing forward and had three rather tame shots on goal, unfortunately all were easily dealt with by Guzan in the Villa goal.

Then on 64 minutes the match heated up as Agbonlahor was red carded for a foul on Young. He had a case for protesting as the replays showed it was a 50/50 challenge, but the referee decided he had gone over the top on Young. This not only left Villa down to ten men, but the boos for Young reached new decibels every time he touched the ball.

The 73rd minute saw another change as James Wilson was brought on for Antonio Valencia. Young was switched to the right and Di Maria patrolled the left wing. A decision I didn’t understand as the balance of the team would have been better served with Valencia staying on as he had been performing well down the right flank. In contrast to Young who was having a torrid time with the Villa fans, and to take him out of that atmosphere would have made sense. This was proven by the numerous opportunities he had to put in crosses from the right wing, but his deliveries on many attempts were below standard compared to his cross for Falcao’s goal.

United had a flurry of corners and saw one cause confusion in the Villa box, but Falcao just couldn’t reach the ball in time before it was put out of play by the Villa defence. Towards the end of the match Villa came the closest to snatching the winner with a strike from Bacuna that just flew over a relieved de Gea’s crossbar. At the other end Wilson had a lovely effort in the last minute but it lacked any power, how sweet that would have been for the youngster to grab the winner and the headlines.

Once again United toiled in a game that they should have won fairly easily bearing in mind Villa’s injury list, and the fact that they were playing against ten men for the last twenty minutes. Only getting into their groove after the half time change, which saw Fletcher depart and Carrick moved into the middle. Carrick showing once again how brilliant the new vice captain has been since returning from injury. He adapted so easily to the change in the system during the match. It’s no great surprise that the team has still not lost this season when he has been in the side.

Darren Fletcher looked out of sorts in the middle of the park. and he didn’t help himself by giving away the free kick that led to the Villa opener. Having been stripped of the vice captaincy in favour of Carrick you have to wonder how he fits into van Gaal’s future plans, if at all. He only started the match as both Fellaini and Herrera were not well enough to play. Fletcher has given the club great service over the last ten or so seasons, and has overcome a serious illness to get back into the team; however, in all fairness to him, if all the midfielders were fit he probably wouldn’t get a look in.

This was a case of two points dropped at the end of the day. A few months ago I never thought I would be saying this, but our midfield missed Fellaini’s presence, and I thought Mata had his first poor match for a while. Having said all that, after six straight wins, a draw away from home is not the end of the world, and compared to when things were not going United’s way at the beginning of the season this has been a good few weeks for the red devils. We are now unbeaten in the last seven games. The team, under van Gaal’s leadership, is still moving in the right direction and remain in third place.

Next up is the visit to Old Trafford of Newcastle United on Boxing day quickly followed two days later by United’s last match of 2014, an away trip to the capital to take on Spurs. I fully expect United to end the year with two more wins that will send us flying into 2015.

I would like to wish all my readers a very Merry Christmas and thanks for all your continued support by reading my pages.

Miles Dunton.

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