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Man United outgun the Foxes.


Manchester United 3 Leicester City 1

The last time these two sides met it produced a match filled with goals, eight in total, an early entry for goal of the season, defensive mistakes, baffling referee decisions, two penalties, a red card and a win for Leicester City. What would today’s match have install for everyone?

That match was back in September. It was, as van Gaal described it, his darkest moment as manager of Manchester United. Now Leicester are propping up the Premier League and the 5-3 defeat of United seems an age away for the blues, but for United the embarrassment is still fresh in the memory, therefore today was a perfect opportunity to put the record straight.

The last match at Old Trafford was the deflating defeat to Southampton followed by two away games, first came the scrappy win away at QPR then the depressing scoreless draw in the 4th round of the FA Cup at Cambridge. A positive response was needed by the team to lift the fans and themselves.

The main team news prior to the match was of a muscle injury to Michael Carrick, which is likely to sideline him for around four weeks. The United starting XI van Gaal put out comprised of: De Gea, Valencia, Jones, Rojo, Shaw, Blind, Januzaj, Rooney, Di Maria, van Persie and Falcao.

No place for Fellaini, Herrera and Mata who would all start on the bench presumably with one eye on the FA Cup replay coming up in mid week.

The players wore black armbands as a sign of respect for the Munich victims who will be remembered this coming Friday the 6th of February.

As the match got underway Robin van Persie started as brightly as the weather as he tried to latch onto a couple of through balls over the top. In the opening minutes it became obvious that Leicester were more than happy to sit back and let United have the majority of the ball and defend in numbers to limit the amount of chances the home side would have. It was a tactic that seemed to be working.

In the first twenty minutes only a tame effort from Di Maria from outside the box was all United had to show for their possession. Then van Persie had a chance following good work by Luke Shaw who crossed from the left but the Dutchman uncharacteristically totally miscued his shot.

Then in the 27th minute van Persie’s persistence paid off when Blind hit a ball over the top of the defence which the striker did well to hit home first time to put United 1-0 up. A true case of ‘Double Dutch’. The goal seemed to give the home side new found confidence which spurred them on to score again after five minutes.

Robin van Persie turned provider as he laid a delightful pass into Angel Di Maria who let loose a shot which Mark Schwarzer in goal could only parry into the path of an on rushing Falcao who got in-between two defenders to toe poke the ball home from close range. 2-0 ahead and cruising.

Once again Di Maria and Falcao linked up well as they searched for a third goal but unfortunately Di Maria’s final ball to the Colombian was behind him and the move broke down.

A minute before half-time and United won a corner on the left which was taken by Rooney, yes that’s right Rooney not Jones, as the ball came over Blind flicked it on with his head and the unfortunate Wes Morgan managed to put it in his own net.

The end of the first 45 minutes and United were in total control leading 3-0.

As the second half progressed United passed the ball around with ease as Leicester seemed to have given up any hope of getting back into the game. Adnan Januzaj was beginning to shine on the left as in one particular moment he went past ex-red Simpson as if he simply wasn’t there.

Rojo was playing with a growing assurance and Daley Blind hardly put a foot wrong. Blind’s anticipation of the play was outstanding and he was definitely having his best game in a red shirt.

David de Gea had had nothing to do until yet another mistake in a match from Phil Jones who after a poor back pass allowed Leicester striker Ulloa a run on goal. Thankfully the Spanish keeper was alert enough to get a hand to the ball just before the striker could do any damage.

Louis van Gaal showed his intentions on 70 minutes when he replaced van Persie for defender Paddy McNair, a clear sign that he wanted to sit on the 3-0 lead. Then Valencia made room for Mata and Wilson came on for the remaining ten minutes at the expense of goalscorer Falcao.

Then as United were coasting Leicester scored a consolation goal in the 80th minute when Wasilewski headed in at the far post from a Drinkwater cross. I’m certain van Gaal will be less than pleased with the lack of marking to allow the visitors their only goal from their only attempt on target.

United offered little in the way of chances with the only clear opportunity falling to the record signing Di Maria who did all the hard work to put himself in a great scoring position then inexplicable ballooned the ball way high.

It ended in a 3-1 run of the mill win for United and a valuable three points which moves them up into third place in the league.

Many positives can be taken from the match. For example the displays of Blind, Rojo, Di Maria and Falcao, and the two strikers scored a goal apiece. Having said that, I was a little disappointed that we didn’t go for the kill in the second half to cement our total dominance of a poor visiting team.

The match was won in the first 45 minutes, but I would have liked United to have stepped up a gear and not let Leicester have any glimmer of hope. At times the reds were a little too complacent and against stronger sides we will be made to pay.

On a side note with Carrick out for the next month I wonder why van Gaal went with Januzaj and not Herrera in the midfield diamond formation. A role which I believe the Spaniard is better suited to more so than the Belgian youngster, who once again let the game go on around him without stamping any authority on the play.

The transfer window has been relatively quiet with more activity on the exit door than the entry. Long serving Scot Darren Fletcher looks set to complete a move to West Ham after giving his best years to United, Brazillian Anderson is likely to put an end to his misery with a move home to Internacional and Ben Amos has joined Bolton on a month loan. As regards players in, at the time of writing, only defender Sadiq El Fitouri has been signed from Salford City.

Even though Louis van Gaal stated in his press conference that no new players will be signed in this transfer window the rumours surrounding an offer for German international Mats Hummels still persist as do the reports still linking David de Gea with Real Madrid, the sooner we tie the keeper down to a new contract the better.

Next up is the FA Cup replay with the visit to Old Trafford of Cambridge United who fully deserve their moment in the spotlight, but that’s all it should be, a moment. I fully expect United to knock them out convincingly and set out a marker that the side want to win the oldest cup competition. With the teams that are still involved, or more to the point not involved, the cup is United’s best chance of silverware. Here’s hoping the team and the manager feel the same.

Thanks for taking the time to read.

Miles Dunton | FacebookTwitter

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Man Utd’s FA Cup bore draw.


Cambridge United 0 Manchester United 0

An FA Cup 4th round tie between two sides, one of which is struggling in their league to find any cohesion and rhythm and with no realistic chance of ending the season as champions, the other was Cambridge United.

There was a big question following the victory over QPR last week. Would Louis van Gaal succumb to the shouts of the fans and keep a back four or prove his stubbornness and start with his favourite 3-5-2 system?

Van Gaal admitted this week that he was ‘twitching his ass’ when watching his side play the 4-4-2 formation, I have the same feeling watching 3-5-2 with Evans, Jones and Smalling at the back.

All was revealed when the starting line-up was announced. A strong line up that consisted of De Gea, keeping his place in goal over new boy Valdes , Valencia, Jones, Rojo and Blind at the back. Carrick, Di Maria, Fellaini and Januzaj in midfield with Falcao and Wilson up front. So the majority of the fans got their way.

A first start for Adnan Januzaj since the beginning of November. There were no places for captain Rooney and Mata in the squad, most likely being rested. Robin van Persie, Shaw and Herrera all started on the bench.

The first half kicked off with the sides playing with a pink ball which gave the match a comedy feel, little did I know how unfunny the match would turn out to be. As expected United started the tie looking to take control. However, it was Cambridge who won the first corner quickly followed by a free-kick. In both set pieces the home side pushed their big players up into United’s box, but on both occasions nobody could connect with the ball.

United’s first chance came in the 10th minute with good link up play between Blind and Januzaj down the left with the keeper Dunn saving from Blind’s effort. If Blind had crossed before shooting Falcao was in a superb position in the six yard area. From the resulting corner bafflement again as Phil Jones took responsibility as he had done against QPR, the result being a poor delivery. I really can’t understand what that is all about.

As expected Cambridge went heavy into the challenges especially in the middle of the park but to a man United’s players certainly didn’t shirk away from any of them especially Marcos Rojo who was putting in a solid display at the back.

United were struggling to get any momentum going, this wasn’t helped by the poor distribution from the back. The main culprit was Jones, who once again just didn’t play with any quality. Januzaj had a tame effort from inside the box after good work from Valencia down the right. Fellaini picked up the first yellow card of the match for a needless challenge after 26 minutes.

On the half hour mark the home side almost took the lead from a corner as a header from Coulson was just inches over the bar. What a let off for United as the defenders were standing around watching the ball. LvG’s bum must have been twitching uncontrollable. Cambridge player Donaldson looked very lively and was causing United a few headaches every time he had the ball at his feet.

Towards the end of the half Angel Di Maria managed a shot on target which the Keeper almost fumbled. That was it as regards chances.

The first half from United was extremely poor with a distinct lack of ideas across the pitch. Boring is not a word I would usually associate with the Red Devils, but that’s exactly what the first half was.

James Wilson hardly touched the ball in the whole 45 minutes and once again Phil Jones didn’t exactly fill anybody with confidence. Adnan Januzaj was once again flattering to deceive. The biggest problem was that Cambridge were well marshaled in defence and limited United to speculative shots from distance as well as nullifying the threat from midfield.

The second half got underway with no changes on both sides. Man United appeared after receiving an earful from van Gaal and you could tell as they started with a more positive look. They went on the attack with Januzaj at least starting to be more direct on the left by winning an early corner, which was once again taken by Jones, and once again came to nothing. I always believed when a player who was taking a corner raised his arms it meant the ball would be delivered deep into the danger area, obviously to Jones it means something completely different.

A couple of high balls into the Cambridge penalty area came to nothing as Falcao stood no chance in the aerial battles against the taller defenders. He did come very close to scoring when through on goal but his effort was well saved by Dunn.

Wilson’s first and last impact on the match was to be shown a yellow card shortly before being replaced by Robin van Persie after 66 minutes. At the same time Herrera came on in place of Fellaini. Could Herrera repeat his heroics of the last round against Yeovil?

Van Persie almost had an immediate impact after he came on with a left footed effort flashing over the bar. Since the two substitutes came into the match United picked up a gear with Herrera linking up with Valencia on the right, but their crosses into the danger area were poor.

For the final 15 minutes ex-United player Luke Chadwick made an appearance for the home side. Would he be able to write a fairy tale ending by scoring the goal to send his old team out and his hometown club through?

Herrera was definitely the busiest of the United players. He combined well with Di Maria to prise open the home defence with a delightful one-two, but again the defenders were up to the task and cleared. When Januzaj finally crossed a decent ball into the danger area there were no white shirts in the box. Phil Jones headed clear from a dangerous Cambridge cross in the six yard box, another let off for the visitors.

Louis van Gaal’s final change of the match came in the 85th minute with Luke Shaw coming on for Blind. Cambridge hero Dunn pulled of a double save from Januzaj and Di Maria as they tried their luck in the dying minutes. That was the last of the action as the match finished 0-0.

All credit to the home side for holding United to the draw, but I must admit this was probably the worst performance from the Red Devils this season and there have been a few. Cambridge fully deserved the draw and the money spinning replay at Old Trafford. They will earn an expected £1.5 million from the match. With that much revenue maybe their manager will allow his players to swap shirts with the United stars after the replay.

On the bright side United are still in the competition and should deal with Cambridge when they meet at Old Trafford. For me the problem is the style of play, or lack of it that is. I understand it was a difficult pitch and the size of the ground made the atmosphere more intense, but please with all the expensive talent on display United should have dispatched Cambridge with ease. No excuses.

Let’s be honest this is not the first match where the team has underperformed and not been beaten. There are cracks appearing in the manager’s philosophy that can’t be papered over any more. Those cracks are the players and as the transfer window is nearing it’s end something has to be done quickly. We nearly blew our only realistic chance of silverware at Abbey Road. Imagine four months of only playing for a top four finish.

Next up is the visit of Leicester City to Old Trafford in the Premier League. Time to dish out a little revenge after they defeated us 5-3 back in September. I’m hoping the team can put on a performance that will give me something positive to write about.

Until then thanks for reading.

Miles Dunton.

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The transformation of Fellaini.


His bush like hair is the same if not a little shorter, he still possesses the same lanky run with his elbows turning like the sails on a windmill. However, there is one distinct difference about Marouane Fellaini and that is the boy can actually play football.

Brought to United from Everton by David Moyes on transfer deadline day in 2013 for far too much money. He was paraded in front of the media, and from the start the Belgium midfielder did not look comfortable, if anything a little sheepish in his new surroundings.

In his first season at Old Trafford he played as if he wanted to be somewhere else, most likely back at Everton, where the demands on his talents were lower. He was probably happy when he was sidelined with a wrist injury as it kept him away from the critical eyes of the fans and media.

When Louis van Gaal marched into the hot seat at United it seemed that Fellaini’s days were numbered. Poor form and low confidence combined with the departure of his ally Moyes, it was obvious to all that he would depart for pastures new.

But surprise, surprise that did not happen. Fast forward 6 months and here we have a completely new player at United. A midfielder whose all round game and team contribution has changed a thousand fold. Not only more tactically astute and aware of what’s happening in the game, but also contributing with goals.

The biggest question has to be how did this transformation happen? The answer is clear, Louis van Gaal and his coaches must have taken Fellaini aside and informed him that he has a talent that they can use to maximum effect and a future in the new systems being implemented. How else can the change be explained?

Is it really that simple? Yes, because in the modern game the players are too spoilt and sometimes they just need to be told how good and needed they are. The arm around the shoulder philosophy does actually work. There is no other possible explanation to the new found confidence and performance levels in Fellaini’s game.

 

His all round contribution has made it a little difficult for him to be left out of the side, and he seems to be higher up the pecking order than the likes of let’s say Ander Herrera. Also, his more artistic team mates seem to relish it when he’s on the park as he does most of the leg work. He has more importantly won the respect of the faithful fans.

It said a lot about his new found self-belief when he scored the opener at Loftus Road on Saturday and immediately ran straight over to the bench to celebrate with his compatriot Adnan Januzaj. He explained that it was because they are best friends in the squad, but I’d like to think it had a deeper message. I believe Fellaini was displaying an empathy for Januzaj due to his lack of chances in the side and telling him ‘If I can turn it around so can you.’ I would like to think that was the real reason.

I have a simple message for Mr.van Gaal. Whatever you have said or done to Fellaini to produce a completely different player to last season could you please do the same with Evans, Jones and Smalling. That would be just great.

Thanks to all as always.

Miles Dunton | FacebookTwitter

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