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Man United replay joy.


Manchester United 3 Cambridge United 0

After the anti-climax of the transfer deadline day it was back down to business with the visit of Cambridge United in the 4th round FA Cup replay.

Following United’s disappointing performance in the first match it was time they stamped their authority on a tie that they should have settled first time around.

For the visitors it was a no lose situation as they expected a financial windfall from their well earned replay. The Cambridge players were certainly enjoying their final as they took ‘selfies’ from inside Old Trafford before the match.

Louis van Gaal showed his intent by choosing a strong line up made up of De Gea, McNair, Smalling, Evans, Rojo, Blind, Fellaini, Mata, Rooney, Di Maria and Van Persie. Interestingly van Gaal seemed to have chosen his tallest players, excluding Mata, to counter the height advantage in the opposition.

Fellaini would be used up front alongside van Persie but once again there was no starting place for Ander Herrera who was joined on the bench by Valdes, Jones, Falcao, Young, Valencia and Wilson. Herrera’s omission once again sparked debates between fans as to why he had been overlooked again.

The kick off was delayed for 20 minutes due to heavy traffic but when it did start it was almost a dream beginning for the lowest ranked team left in the competition. Elliott hit the outside of the post after only 1 minute following an uncharacteristic mistake in midfield by Blind who stumbled while attempting a back pass.

Elliott was winning all the early balls knocked up to him as Cambridge started full of confidence and were clearly enjoying their big night out.

It took United ten minutes to get into their stride and to start to make in roads into the visitors defence mainly via Di Maria from the inside left position and youngster Paddy McNair filling in as wing back on the right. Fellaini, playing in a forward position, utilised his height to great effect when balls were played up front.

United got the breakthrough their play deserved after 25 minutes following good work by McNair who brought the ball out of defence then fed a fine pass to Di Maria out on the left. Di Maria in turn lofted the ball to the far post where Fellaini rose to head the ball back into the penalty area for Mata to pounce and flick the ball home. 1-0 ahead after an excellent move with Fellaini using his height to great effect.

Mata almost grabbed his and United’s second but miss hit his shot which then rebounded out to McNair who fancied his chances from outside the box. He connected well with the ball but his shot was well blocked for a corner.

On the half hour mark defender Marcos Rojo claimed his first goal as a United player by heading in a wonderful chip into the box by Robin van Persie after he had collected the ball from Fellaini’s attempted shot. The way van Persie dinked the ball onto Rojo’s head with the outside of his left boot was sublime.

By this time Fellaini was causing all sorts of problems for the Cambridge defence with his presence inside their box. At 2-0 the tie was virtually over and it became a damage limitation exercise for the away side. However, to their credit they kept going and Donaldson had a shot across goal when he should have done better.

Chris Smalling provided a rare moment of class with a superb through ball for Di Maria but as quick as the Argentinian was the keeper managed to get to the ball before him on the edge of the box. On another break forward Di Maria played a great weighted cross field ball aimed for Rooney who met it on the volley but fired well off target.

Half time and so far so good from United. It was refreshing to see the team using the wide areas when on the attack, something that has been lacking in recent games. Di Maria is so much more effective out on the left, as he proved in the first 45 minutes in this match. Paddy McNair was also putting in a mature performance as the right sided wing back.

At the start of the second half Rojo’s debut goal had clearly gone to his head as he ventured forward down the left and attempted two crosses which both ended up way too high and behind the goal. At least he was trying. McNair was making a better go at crossing than Rojo with one nice cross to van Persie who headed wide.

The Dutch striker had a chance again after a lovely ball over the top this time from Mata, but was disappointed with his weak header. After 53 minutes Rooney had a shot well saved by keeper Dunn, as the ball spilled out van Persie just couldn’t tidy up the leftovers.

The fans enjoyed seeing the tricks and flicks on show by van Persie and Di Maria, the latter trying hard to score direct from every corner he took. You got the feeling as though it was not going to be van Persie’s night and so did van Gaal who replaced him with James Wilson on 66 minutes. The striker headed straight down the tunnel, maybe he had a prior arrangement that he was desperate to get to.

Two minutes later Di Maria had a powerful effort pushed over the bar by the keeper for a corner. If it wasn’t for Dunn in the visitors goal the score would have been a lot higher. That was the last action for Di Maria as in the 70th minute he was replaced by Ander Herrera. The midfielder got his chance to impress the manager, who for some reason doesn’t seem that enamoured by the Spaniard.

United’s third and final goal came in the 73 minute through James Wilson with a fine left footed strike from just outside the box. A well taken goal from a player who is growing in confidence with every game. It was a shame RvP wasn’t there to see it.

Another youngster who was having the match of his career playing down the right was Paddy McNair. He continually delivered some fine balls into the danger area especially to Rooney who unfortunately couldn’t take full advantage.

The last change of the night for United was the substitution of Rojo for Ashley Young who came on to make his 100th appearance for the Red Devils after being out injured.There was still time in the match for Smalling to make a customary mistake and give the ball away in a dangerous area, which thankfully led to nothing.

The visiting Cambridge supporters kept on singing until the end and nearly got their reward as the visitors had the last effort at the death.

The match ended with a 3-0 win for the home side who in the end were too organised and purposeful and fully deserved their win with quality performances from most of the players against opposition that would not lie down. They will now face Preston in the 5th round at Deepdale.

I would like to take this opportunity to wish Darren Fletcher all the best for his future after leaving United to join WBA after almost twenty years on United’s books. A true gentleman of the game and one of the most generous personalities in football. On the same day Anderson returned to his native Brazil and Fergie’s last signing Zaha rejoined Crystal Palace. The only player in was on loan defender Andy Kellett from Bolton.

Before United face West Ham over the weekend it will be a time for reflection on Friday the 6th as it will be the 57th anniversary of the Munich air disaster in which our club, country and football lost the majority of a team that was on the brink of European glory, a team made up of young men who were doing something that they fully enjoyed, playing football. There can be no bigger incentive for the present team to qualify for a competition that half a century ago the pioneers gave their lives for.

The Flowers of Manchester. Never forgotten.

 

Roger Byrne, Mark Jones, Eddie Colman, Tommy Taylor, Liam Whelan, David Pegg, Geoff Bent and Duncan Edwards.

Thanks for reading my thoughts.

Miles Dunton | FacebookTwitter

 

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Man United’s January buys.


The January transfer window is open and already Manchester Unied have made one new addition with the not so surprising news that Victor Valdes has agreed an 18 month contract to be David de Gea’s understudy!

I sincerely hope that is not the only business done by Mr.van Gaal this month as United have a desperate need for new defenders along with at least one quality midfielder.

With all the gossip flying around it got me thinking. Which players have United signed in this window in the past? Who turned out to be a shrewd bit of business? Who didn’t fulfill their potential?

Let’s take a look.

Lou Macari: 1973-1984 app: 400 goals: 97

The diminutive Scot arrived at Old Trafford in 1973 from Celtic for a fee of £200,000. Bought by manager and fellow Scot Tommy Docherty he became an instant hit, which continued throughout the seventies and into the eighties. He scored in his first game for United against West Ham United in a 2–2 draw.

Nearly signed for Bill Shankly’s Liverpool but fortunately his head was turned United’s way with a little help from Paddy Crerand.

Originally bought as a striker, Macari eventually found his niche in midfield. In a team that included Coppell, Pearson, Hill and Buchan, they soon brought United back into prominence after suffering relegation in 1974.

Doc’s Army was a team famous for it’s attacking play and kept the tradition of playing attractive football that the fans had been fed on from the Busby days.

He continued in an attacking midfield position under Dave Sexton and reached the FA Cup final in 1979 only to lose in the last minute to Arsenal. When Ron Atkinson took over from Sexton, Macari spent so long on the bench he gained the nickname of ‘The Judge’. In 1984 Lou left United to enter the world of management.

Probably most famous for the shot that rebounded of Jimmy Greenhoff’s chest before entering the Liverpool net to win the FA Cup for United in 1977. Still a fans favourite with his honest no nonsense views on everything United.

Joe Jordan 1978-1981 app: 126  goals: 41

Nicknamed ‘Jaws’ due to his toothless grin, this hard man center forward terrorised defences up and down the country with his fearless style of play, never afraid to fight for the cause by sticking his head into places it had no right to be. This never say die attitude cemented him as a terrace favourite. With his big team mate from Leeds, defender Gordon McQueen, they gave United a fearsome look.

Bought by then manager Dave Sexton from Leeds United for a fee of £350,000 which at the time was a new record for a deal between two British clubs.

Although trophyless during his time at United it wasn’t for the lack of trying. He was in the side that lost to Arsenal in the 1979 FA Cup final. Not really at the club long enough to warrant a legend tag, but those who remember him playing will do so fondly.

Diego Forlan 2002-2004 app: 98 (61 sub) goals: 17

Bought to United at a cost of £6.9 million on 22 January 2002 he is probably the unluckiest striker to have worn the red of United as he took an absolute age to get off the mark. Made a total of 13 Premier League and five UEFA Champions League appearances in the 2001–02 season but did not score. His first United goal, a penalty, came against Maccabi Haifa on the 18th of Sept 2002.

In every match the fans were willing him to score or for him to take every penalty. The Stretford End would have sucked his shots into the net if they could have.

Forlan earned immediate legendary status with a double in a victory at Anfield in December 2002. This was the match that the adoring Old Trafford faithful gave him his own terrace chant to do with the fact he comes from Uruguay and Scousers emotions. In the same season he finished third in the goalscorers charts behind van Nistelrooy and Solskjaer.

Ironically when he left United to join Villarreal he smashed records with his goals, Sod’s law really.

Andy Cole 1995-2001 app: 275 goals: 121

Signed by Fergie from Newcastle United, where he had a goal conversion rate of 81%, in a deal of £7 million which included Keith Gillespie, valued £1 million, going the other way.

This proved to be excellent business for United as ‘Cole the Goal’ went on to head the fearsome attack alongside Dwight Yorke which culminated in the Treble of 1999.

Cole played up front in three partnerships of note Cantona, Sheringham and Yorke. Rumoured to not get on quite so well with Cantona and definitely not on speaking terms with Sheringham, it is his partnership with Yorke that produced Cole’s best results. In the treble season they amassed a total of 53 goals between them in all competitions.

The partnership with Yorke proved particularly potent in the UEFA Champions League. Who can forget how their goals dismantled Juventus in the semi final 2nd leg in ’99 on the way to the glorious final.

Now working as an ambassador of United.

Les Sealey 1990-1991/1993-1994 app: 56

Cheeky Cockney Les Sealey was given his big chance at United when Ferguson dropped No.1 keeper Jim Leighton from the 1990 FA Cup final replay against Crystal Palace.

His heroics in goal that evening against an overly aggressive Palace team turned him into a cult hero with all United fans. After the final, ever the true gentleman, Sealey offered his winners medal to Leighton but thankfully the FA intervened and awarded both players medals.

His cult status was to get even higher a year later when he kept goal in the 1991 European Cup Winners Cup final against Barcelona. United ran out 2-1 winners and it was his save from Koeman’s free-kick that kept United ahead in the match.

Signed on loan from Luton Town he left United then returned in 1993 as back up for Peter Schmeichel but only making a couple of appearances.

Les sadly passed away in 2001 of a heart attack at the young age of 43. A great character and underrated for his talent as a keeper.

Louis Saha 2004-2008 app: 124 goals: 42

Unfortunately Saha’s United career was blighted by injuries, but when he was fit he certainly knew how to score goals.

Saha was transferred to United for a fee of £12.4 million in 2004 having scored 15 goals so far that season for Fulham.

Got off to a great career at Old Trafford scoring seven goals in ten starts. The next season was the start of his injury woes especially to his knee then hamstring. He began partnering  Ruud van Nistelrooy and then the teenage Wayne Rooney.

In 2006 a fully fit Saha was among the goals again and was on a roll. However, the injury jinx returned. When he returned the last time United had a forward line including Rooney, Tevez and a certain Ronaldo. He played mainly from the bench and when called upon did his job. His United career ended when he was sold to Everton in 2008.

A quality striker and his love for United was plain to see, it was only the injuries that held him back.

Patrice Evra 2006-2014 app: 329 goals: 10

Brought to Man United from AS Monaco for a fee of £5.5 million. Evra took his time to settle at the club making his debut in a 3-1 defeat to Manchester City. So poor was his performance in that match Fergie took him off at half time.

Fast forward eight years and the Frenchman left United having won almost everything in the game. The only trophy to allude him was the FA Cup.

Probably his greatest achievement was winning the double of Premier League and Champions League in 2008.

At left back Evra became an important cog in United’s defence forming an understanding at the back with Ferdinand and Vidic. This was the rock that Fergie built his last great teams on. Evra had the honour of captaining United on many occasions and did so with a great gusto.

It was a sad day when he departed for Juventus as I’m sure he still had plenty of playing time in him and judging by our current defence his leadership and defensive awareness are being missed.

Nemanja Vidic 2006-2014 app: 300 goals: 21

Captured by United from Spartak Moscow for a bargain fee of £7 million at  the same time as Patrice Evra.

Vidic would go on to form a solid partnership with Rio Ferdinand in the middle of defence that was comparable to the double act of Bruce and Pallister over a decade before.

Vidic was famous for his no nonsense tough man approach to defending and was the perfect foil to Ferdinand’s more stylish play. Along with Evra at full back United enjoyed having a defense that they could build another great side upon. Fergie did just that by winning the double in 2008.

In his later years at the club he was awarded the captaincy, which was a popular choice with the fans. Again, like Evra he was released to early and could surely have helped the club through the transition period of the last year and kept some much needed stability.

Henrik Larsson 2007 Jan-March (loan) app: 13 goals: 3

Ferguson managed to bring the world class striker from Helsingborg on loan during their league’s off season. What an impact he had. Not so much for his goals but his persona.

He gave Old Trafford a buzz and would have been a perfect fit at United as a permanent signing, but he had already given his word that he would return to Sweden after the loan spell.

A couple of months after he left United the team went onto win the league and even though he hadn’t played enough games he was awarded a winners medal. His time as a Red Devil was short but sweet.

Chris Smalling 2010-Present app: 136 goals: 6

The jury is still out on Smalling who joined United from Fulham in 2010 for an undisclosed fee. Fergie obviously saw something in a player who was playing non-league football for Maidstone United in 2008.

Maybe due to the change in management and systems over the last two seasons his performances have not been to the standard expected of himself or a Manchester United player. His place will come under threat should Louis van Gaal purchase a new central defender this month.

I’m sure he tries his best and I can’t fault him for that; however, for me his best is not what we have been brought to expect at Old Trafford.

Juan Mata 2014-Present app: 34 goals: 11

Mata arrived in a helicopter last January from Chelsea for a fee which was then a club record of £37.1 million.

With the expectation of being the saviour of Man United and David Moyes the season firmly rested on his shoulders. Sadly, it wasn’t to be as United continued to struggle until the end of the campaign.

Under new manager Louis van Gaal, Mata has had ample opportunity to show why he was the fan’s player of the season two years running at Chelsea. He has produced man of the match performances and goals this season and I firmly believe Mata has a valuable part to play in the team.

Part of the new wave of Galacticos at Old Trafford alongside Di Maria, Herrera, Falcao, and Rojo. Together I’m sure they will eventually bring the flair back to the Theatre of Dreams.

There are the January buys from Manchester United’s past. I hope you enjoyed looking back and let’s see if the next purchases in this or future transfer windows go towards improving the team and become legends.

Thanks for taking the time to read.

Miles Dunton | FacebookTwitter

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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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