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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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Back to the drawing board.


Manchester United 0 Southampton 1

“Unbelievable!” was Louis van Gaal’s answer when asked about the injury situation in his pre-match press conference this week. An expression he could have used for the outcome of this match.

This was Southampton’s first win at Old Trafford in the league for 27 years, and only the second time United have been beaten at home this season. Sadly, it was the weak manner in which they lost against Southampton without even having a shot on goal that riled the most.

The first time the manager has had a fully fit squad to choose from in five months. That is apart from Ashley Young. On Friday in his press conference van Gaal seemed to enjoy the headache he would have in selecting a starting eleven. On Sunday evening he would have a headache for completely different reasons.

In the end he chose a Manchester United starting XI consisting of: De Gea, Valencia, Jones, Smalling, Shaw, Blind, Carrick, Rooney, Mata, Di Maria and Van Persie. To be used in his preferred 3-5-2 formation. There was no place for Falcao, who was not involved in the squad at all. Angel Di Maria was chosen to play alongside Robin van Persie in attack, clearly for his pace. Daley Blind was recalled to play with Smalling and Jones at the back.

It was no surprise to see Robin van Persie head the forward line as he has netted a total of six times against the Saints, while at United, including two goals in this reverse fixture in the win at St. Mary’s in December.

Angel Di Maria’s pace would be crucial in attack today, but after only playing a limited amount of minutes in the last month or so, the worry was whether he would last the pace.

All in all this United team seemed to be strong enough to get the three points and move closer to Man City who only drew on Saturday.

The opening to the first half saw Southampton enjoy the early exchanges, and in the first seconds Southampton’s Clyne had a chance when United’s defence didn’t react to a through pass, but luckily for United he pulled his shot wide.

From the fifth minute United took control and started to put some neat passes together. Di Maria floated a delightful ball across the box, unfortunately nobody reacted quickly enough to make any contact.

In the 14th minute Rooney chipped a pass to Mata who just couldn’t get past the last defender, but at least the chances were starting to develop. Rooney was controlling the play from his midfield role, spraying passes left and right and generally finding his men. One of those passes was intercepted by Alderweireld, but as he did he pulled up and had to be replaced. As the substitute was waiting to come on Di Maria tried his luck from the edge of the box but fired his effort wide.

Chris Smalling got it into his head at one point that he was a classy center back, and tried to dribble the ball out of defence only to lose it, then he lunged in on the Saints player. He was lucky to escape a booking. It’s mistakes like that which have proven costly for us this season. Likewise, Phil Jones kept joining the attack only to give the ball away when an easier choice was available.

On the half hour mark wing back Valencia went on a powerful run down the right, but he was matched for pace by the defender who managed to block the cross for a corner. Another Valencia run was illegally checked, and from the resulting free-kick Di Maria’s delivery was woeful.

A great chance opened up when van Persie put Di Maria clear. However, the ball drifted a little too wide for a shot, so Di Maria attempted to pull it back across the box, but the keeper beat Mata to the ball. Chance gone. A second clear chance came when van Persie had a shot in the box which seemed to hit a defenders hand. Mata was busy protesting when he should have been busy challenging for the ball. Chance once again gone.

United were on top throughout the first half without scoring. Lots of half chances, but you did get the feeling that Southampton were more than capable of grabbing a goal. So United needed to turn up the heat in the second half and put this match to bed as quickly as possible.

The second half got under way with no changes for United, who were attacking the Stretford End. Again, as in the first half Southampton had a chance to open the scoring within seconds. On this occasion United defended well to put the ball out for a corner.

Di Maria showed the quality of his pace as he chased a speculative long ball from Valencia down the right channel. He managed to reach it but once again his pass to van Persie was poor. The match was the same at both ends, half chances for both sides, but each time the last ball was dreadful.

The match was crying out for somebody to get a grip of the game, take it by the scruff of the neck and produce a match winning performance.

United were starting to get things together down the left with Blind, Shaw and Di Maria causing headaches for the Southampton defence. Once again all the effort wasn’t being turned into any clear- cut openings. Frustration was beginning to be felt around the stadium, and out on the pitch as van Persie needlessly picked up a yellow card.

After an hour of play Ander Herrera replaced Robin van Persie, which meant Rooney was moved back up front as the main striker, and in turn Herrera took over the captains midfield role. Straight away Rooney had a chance but failed to get his head to a cross.

The second substitution came within a few minutes of the first as Shaw was taken off. Clearly still feeling a knock from an earlier defensive interception. Tyler Blackett came on in his place.

United continued to probe away but Southampton were proving a tough nut to crack. Then in the 69th minute the Saints cracked United. After hitting the post the ball rebounded out to Dusan Tadic. He in turn slotted home the opener through a penalty area strewn with five United defenders. Once again second-rate defending from United.

The last throw of the dice from van Gaal saw Fellaini come on for the ineffective Di Maria, for the last twenty minutes, a sentence I never thought I would ever write.

The dismal mood of the day was summed up on 76 minutes when Michael Carrick was booked for a professional foul that halted an attack by Southampton.

Mata went the closest three times in the last twenty minutes. First he had a shot across the area which traveled wide of the far post, then the Spaniard put a close range effort over the bar, lastly he attempted a drive, which was deflected for a corner. It clearly was not going to be United’s day.

When the fourth official held up 5 minutes of extra time you just didn’t get that feeling of excitement from knowing United always grabbed a goal at the death. So bad was this display you felt that it gave Southampton time to add a second on the break.

In the end this result was a huge disappointment. A loss that dents any dreams of United winning the league. This was a very poor showing bearing in mind United were back to full strength, and with the attacking quality we had on display, not to manage one shot on goal is just unacceptable.

Falling to our first defeat in 12 matches the team needs to pick themselves up and start again on a run to cement a top four position. United’s next 7 premier league matches are against QPR(a), Leicester(h), WHU(a), Burnley(h), Swansea(a), Sunderland(h) and Newcastle(a). Matches that before today’s debacle seemed to hold no worries, but now take on a feeling of uncertainty.

As I’ve mentioned in past articles, our best chance of silverware has to be the FA Cup. Next up is another tricky away fixture at Cambridge United. Similar in size to Yeovil Town with a stadium of the same capacity this will not be easy, but definitely winnable.

Lastly, a big United welcome to Victor Valdes who officially joined the Red Devils this week. Now all United need to do is get David de Gea to sign a new contract and we will have a couple of World class keepers on the books. Sadly, it probably spells the end for Anders Lindegaard, if so, I hope he finds a team and gets the playing time he deserves.

Until next time thanks as always for reading.

Miles Dunton | FacebookTwitter

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Man United edge past gritty Yeovil.


Yeovil Town 0 Manchester United 2

 

The last time Manchester United won the oldest cup competition in world football was back in 2004. On that day only one player from the present United squad collected a winners medal, Darren Fletcher. Other players in the side have won it with other teams including Robin van Persie (Arsenal 2005 vs Man Utd) and Juan Mata (Chelsea 2012)

So, for most of the players facing Yeovil Town today this was new territory. A walk around the museum at Old Trafford would enlighten the players as to how United hold this cup close to their hearts. Sharing the record with Arsenal of 11 wins. Sure the Champions League has taken over as the most prestigious cup competition in football, but there is something special about the FA cup that will never die.

The romance of the competition continued this season as United were picked to play away at Yeovil Town from League 1. David versus Goliath.  However, on this occasion David failed to defeat the giant that is Man United.

The last time these two teams met was also in the FA Cup in 1949. The match was played at Maine Road, Man City’s old stadium, as Old Trafford was still undergoing refurbishment after the WWII bombings. United won comfortably 8-0 with Jack Rowley scoring five in front of over 81,000 spectators.

The team news showed that Louis van Gaal was taking the match seriously. DeGea, Smalling, McNair, Blackett, Rafael, Fletcher, Herrera, Rooney, Shaw, Wilson and Falcao. A strong side with Di Maria and Mata on the bench.  James Wilson was chosen ahead of van Persie to lead the attack alongside Falcao. Rooney continued his stint in midfield alongside Fletcher. Michael Carrick was given a well earned rest.

Yeovil spent the first 10 minutes trying to bully the United players and remind them that this was an FA cup tie. De Gea was clattered in the first seconds and Luke Shaw took a blow to the head as did Rafael. This was starting out to be a bruising affair. United’s first effort came from McNair who tried his luck from outside the area but skyed his shot high.

There were 2,025 United away fans, out of around 9,000 in total, crammed into the small ground, who were continually singing and trying to spur the team on. Unfortunately to little effect.
As usual this season, United took their time getting into any sort of rhythm. After 14 minutes Rooney did try a curler but misjudged his shot after nice interplay with Wilson. Chris Smalling spent the first quarter of an hour trying to set a record of hoofing the ball out of the ground.

Yeovil’s plan was to put high balls into the United area knowing how poorly United’s defence have performed this season. A succession of Yeovil corners gave the Red Devils a few headaches, literally for McNair after a nasty clash of heads with Yeovil’s Moore, but generally they defended them well, even Falcao came back to help out. McNair needed treatment to his head wound which included staples to close the cut.

This was turning out to be a real cup tie with the United defence gifting corners, Herrera and Fletcher made some errant passes, and the side were not creating anything in the attacking third. Darren Fletcher wasn’t keen to get stuck in and his passing was that of a man who knows his career is coming to an end. Blackett was showning no urgency in his play strolling around the defence. Generally the first 30 minutes was poor from United.

Just afer the half hour Herrera played a great ball to Wilson, who should have done better with his effort. His poor shot summed up the start for United. This was confounded a few minutes before half time when Herrera himself had a woeful effort well wide of the goal.

A first half that lacked conviction from Man United. Again performing poorly away from home and making the bottom of the League 1 side look better than they are. Careless passing from the midfielders mixed with poor concentration, and again no confidence in the defence. At no point did United force the Yeovil keeper, Steer, into a save. This was an embarrasing 45 minutes in which United looked more intimidated than the home side.

Changes would have to be made at half time by van Gaal or it could turn out to be another MK Dons nightmare. The substitutions were made at the beginning of the second half, not for tactical reasons, but as we would find out after the match due to even more injuries.

Juan Mata and Jonny Evans replaced the wing backs Shaw and Rafael. This means that in one week we have lost four players who play in those positions: Young and Valencia and now Shaw and Rafael. A nightmare scenerio.

The first job Evans had to do was to clear his lines after a Yeovil cross into the box. Again rather shaky defending gave Yeovil the impetus to attack. Their forward Moore had a great chance to put the hosts in the lead, but luckily for United fluffed his shot by underhitting it straight to a grateful David de Gea, by far the best chance of the match after 55 minutes.

Another change was made by van Gaal on 58 minutes. Enter Angel di Maria for Radamel Falcao. Falcao had had a tough time and didn’t really have any chances. United needed pace up front as the Yeovil players understandably started to tire and they would have trouble keeping up with the pace of di Maria and Wilson.

Then in the 64th minute Herrera scored a wonderful goal. Rooney started the move by squaring the ball to Fletcher, who in turn nearly lost possession, but the ball came to Herrera prowling on the edge of the area, with his back to goal he turned and hit a delightful shot into the top corner from 20 yards, a brilliant strike and exactly what United needed to relax. The one downside was that Herrera was booked for over celebrating with the away fans.

The goal seemed to give United the lift they needed. Rooney fired a free kick just over. At the other end di Maria cleared an effort off the line following a Yeovil corner. It was all for one as United hung on for the win.

On 75 minutes Rooney had another chance from a McNair cross, but couldn’t do much with it. Di Maria also tried his luck from way outside the area but pulled the ball well wide of the goal.

Angel di Maria finally settled the tie in injury time, The Argentinian added the second as he raced onto a through ball and gave the keeper no chance when one on one by chipping a shot into the net. Breaking brave Yeovil’s hearts.

United were playing against a side 60 odd places below them in the league, but all credit to Yeovil for a gritty and valliant effort. In no way did they let themselves or their club down. It was definitely not a walk in the park for van Gaal’s men.

On the way back to Manchester Louis van Gaal has to convince the directors to give their rubber stamp on any new player, or players, he requires. Quite clearly some more new additions are needed if United want to move forward in 2015. Time and again I’ve said that our defence is a shambles, I understand we didn’t concede today and are now unbeaen in 11 matches, but some of our players out there were so very ordinary.

It was another disaster on the injury front with a possible fractured cheekbone for Rafael and an ankle injury to Luke Shaw. This is why they were both replaced at half-time. Both players having only returned in the last week after lengthy spells on the sidelines. I can’t remember a season that’s been as bad as this one for injuries. I hate using the word unlucky, but it is just that.

The positive from today is that we are in the draw for the 4th round tomorrow. The way our away form has been lately I’m praying for a home tie.

Next week it’s back to the Premier League as United welcome Southampton to Old Trafford. Who knows, by the time we next play we could have some new players on the books. God knows with the injury list and unconvincing performances from some players we need them.

Until next time.

Miles Dunton.

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