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United lose it at The Liberty.


Swansea City 2 Manchester United 1

There was most definitely not a warm welcome in the valleys for the visit of United to the Liberty Stadium.

Swansea had of course inflicted defeat on Louis van Gaal’s team in his first official game in charge at the beginning of the season at Old Trafford. This was a chance for United to gain revenge for that defeat and to consolidate third place in the Premier League. Going into the match the Reds had only suffered one defeat in nineteen matches and were also going well in the FA Cup.

The team selected by the manager to return to England with the three points comprised of: De Gea, McNair, Jones, Rojo, Shaw, Herrera, Blind, Di Maria, Fellaini, Rooney and Van Persie. The subs were: Mata, Falcao, Januzaj, Smalling, Young, Valencia and Valdes.

Van Gaal tinkered again at the back by making two changes from the side which beat Preston 3-1 in the FA Cup on Monday, Paddy McNair replacing Antonio Valencia at right-back and the fit-again Phil Jones came in for Chris Smalling in the centre of defence.

Wayne Rooney started as a striker in the league for the first time since December. Falcao was left on the bench as Robin van Persie was the preferred choice to partner Rooney up front.

As van Gaal had kept the captain in attack there was also a first start since December for Fellaini in midfield.

The first half started with an early foul by Fellaini who was either trying to stamp his authority on the game or just plain clumsy.

Rojo uncharacteristically gave an early ball away from which Routledge tried his luck, but the Argentinian defender righted his wrong by blocking the shot for a corner.

Swansea went close to taking an early lead but Ander Herrera just, and only just, cleared Gomis’s header off the line. That was certainly an early let off for United and a warning for the visitors defence.

The stress on the United players started to show as Herrera lost his temper with Paddy McNair as a simple pass to the Irishman went out for a throw-in. It had been a bad start for United, how many times have we seen that this season.

10 minutes into the game there was another corner from Swansea and again poor marking from the visitors which allowed Gomis a free header which he totally wasted by heading over.

After patient passing from United, McNair won a free-kick on the right. Angel Di Maria lashed a ball into the middle which fell to van Persie, but the Dutchman fired so wildly from an acute angle that it went out for a throw-in on the other side of the pitch.

United’s marking at the back was woeful, as was shown when Jones was nutmegged on the left then as the ball was crossed nobody was picking up Routledge who could only shoot weakly at goal which David de Gea saved easily.

Fellaini was walking a fine line with his niggling fouls, something that he had to be careful with.

Wayne Rooney started brightly with some fine one touch football around the opposition’s box and nearly latched onto a nice ball at the near post from Di Maria.

At the other end, Phil Jones inexplicably gave away a corner, another example of how poor his has performed this season. Too many times this season United’s play forward has been halted by passes that have ended up going backwards which has resulted in mistakes at the back.

On 26 minutes Robin van Persie had a good run to the byline and managed a cross which the keeper Fabianski reached before Rooney could get a foot to it, shortly afterward the Dutchman had a run and shot on goal, unfortunately, he sliced high and wide.

United finally started to turn the screw and it paid off in the 27th minute with some fantastic approach play down the left involving Fellaini, Shaw, Di Maria and Rooney that saw the ball fall to Ander Herrera who was lurking unmarked inside the penalty area. The Spaniard struck a right-footed shot into the bottom corner. That was his third goal from his last three starts in the side.

However, the joy didn’t last long as Swansea drew level within a couple of minutes as Ki ended a move by flicking the ball past de Gea far too easily in the six yard area. A soft goal to concede so soon after taking the lead, which was down to a total lack of concentration in United’s back four.

The majority of United’s attacks were coming down the left with Shaw and Di Maria heavily involved in everything. Their endeavours, just before half-time, produced another corner from Rooney, which was played much too close to the keeper again. It should be noted that United have only scored from eleven set pieces all season.

Referee Neil Swarbrick eventually lost his patience with Fellaini, who finally received his yellow card after having conceded four free-kicks.

Half-time and it was all square at 1-1. More purpose was to be expected from the Red Devils in the second half. There were some fleeting glimpses of the old partnership between Rooney and van Persie coming together up front but not enough. However, it was good to see the captain back where he belongs.

At the beginning of the second half, United’s first change saw Antonio Valencia replace McNair to add pace and experience to the right back position. Phil Jones began the half by picking up an early caution.

Ki almost grabbed his second from an identical move to Swansea’s equaliser, but this time he was thwarted by de Gea. It was good to see Daley Blind lose his temper with Shaw as that’s exactly what the defence needed, a kick up the backside. If van Gaal was an animated character he would have surely pulled out all his hair after what he was witnessing at the back.

A flurry of corners from United didn’t really trouble the home defence as they easily cleared their lines. As the half settled down United once again enjoyed some nice passing moves across the pitch but lacking any penetration.

After 58 minutes, van Gaal had seen enough and substituted Luke Shaw for Ashley Young. A positive change which nearly paid off immediately with the subs first touch as he laid the ball into the path of Rooney who in turn touched the ball to van Persie whose shot hit the side netting.

You got the feeling that if the Reds could stay strong at the back the game was there for the taking with the speed of Valencia and Young out wide. Young especially was looking lively and putting in some decent crosses from the left.

Rojo headed over a corner when he really should have gone closer with his effort. Then a second corner caused confusion in the box as nobody quite knew where the ball was until the keeper dıved on top of it.

Van Persie came close after some stunning passing in midfield, but he just couldn’t connect with his volley with any power.

With 20 minutes left in the match, United were in total control and were pushing for the winner as the away fans kept up their ’99 Anthem.

Rooney had a shot blocked resulting in yet another United corner. Everything was going the visitors way, surely it was only a question of time before they found the breakthrough.

Then out of the blue disaster struck as Shelvey found himself unmarked 30 yards out and let fly with a deflected shot that flew past the wrong-footed David de Gea. It’s not good to put the blame on a single player when the opposition score, but in this instance I feel I have to as Fellaini gave the ball away in the center circle and made no effort at all to chase down the ball after his mistake.

This is not the first time he has been guilty of this, but at least he didn’t fall to the ground clutching his neck this time. After all their promising work, United found themselves chasing the game, not for the first time this season.

United’s last change of the match came after 78 minutes when Di Maria, who had looked jaded in the second half, was replaced by Juan Mata.

Ashley Young was booked for what the referee deemed a dangerous challenge after 84 minutes.
Fellaini played the last 10 minutes as an out and out striker as van Persie struggled with an injury and as van Gaal had used up his three substitutes he had to struggle on.

United’s fourth caution came after Rojo was booked for a debatable challenge on the keeper from a United free-kick in the last few minutes.

Every ball forward from United in the last ten minutes of the game was aimed long towards the head of Fellaini which would have pleased Big Sam, but today the tactic didn’t pay off.

In the end, United had fallen to their first defeat since the home loss to Southampton, but full credit to Swansea, who have now done the double over United this season. The only positive to be taken from the loss is the man of the match performance of Ander Herrera, who once again fully justified the decision to start him. His clearance off the line in the end was futile, but his goal was well taken.

For Manchester United, this was a result which took the wind out of their sails and put more pressure on the challenge of finishing in the top four. Another toothless display from the United forwards who needed to convert the few chances that were created, and rarely did they ever look capable of doing that.

With the new philosophy and system being used by Louis van Gaal gone is the swashbuckling attacking style of old which has been replaced by a dour approach play that is far too predictable. Teams are simply not scared of United in the way they used to be, the fear factor has totally disappeared.

United desperately need a stable back four with players who can actually defend then we might have a chance at competing for the league again.

Next up is the visit to Old Trafford of Sunderland and a chance to put a run of victories together in the push for the Champions League places. It would be a disaster for the club to miss out on the competition for the second year running, but on this performance nothing is guaranteed. It is time for socks and sleeves to be pulled and rolled up collectively by the team.

Thanks for taking the time to read.

Miles Dunton | Facebook | Twitter

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Smalling is Man United’s Head Boy


Manchester United 3 Burnley 1

Much criticised defender Smalling turned hero against Burnley with two goals to put a shine on another low key display by United.

After the poor showing against West Ham at the weekend, it was a quick return to action for United and a chance to get back on track with the visit of Lancashire rivals Burnley. The first meeting between the two sides ended 0-0 earlier in the season. Read the full story

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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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