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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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Manchester United 2014 Review Part 2.


Hi and welcome back to my review of Manchester United’s 2014.

Part 2: The Louis van Gaal revolution begins.

On the 19th of May 2014, it was confirmed by the club that Louis van Gaal would replace David Moyes as Manchester United manager on a three-year deal. Ending speculation that had surrounded the club since the removal of Moyes.

The appointment of the Dutch coach seemed to generate a very positive feeling among the fans. Social media was buzzing with the news. We all new of his pedigree as a manager, and the success he had brought to his previous sides. Champion at Ajax, Barelona, AZ and Bayern Munich.

He was known as a very strict disciplinarian, but also a manager who brought the best out of his players, players that had nothing but respect for him. Here was the personality that United needed to pick the team up and move them forward.

One question remained though. Was there a place in the new set up for fans favourite Ryan Giggs? Was he even in the plans of van Gaal? The answer quickly arrived. Following a meeting between the two men over in Holland, Giggs was named as the assistant manager. This was a very shrewd appointment by the new manager, as Giggs was not only his link to the history and tradition of United, but most importantly the fans.

There was only one stumbling block to van Gaal joining United straight away, and that was the small matter of him managing the Dutch team at the World Cup in Brazil. The day to day running of the club was left to Giggs and CEO Ed Woodward.

In their first match at the World Cup Holland destroyed Spain 5-1. United striker Robin van Persie scoring the first with a header that seemed to defy gravity, as he started the rout that had United fans drooling with the thoughts of what we could expect from our new manager in the coming season.

While van Gaal was enjoying himself over in Brazil,  back home in Manchester new signings were arriving. Two players that had been rumored to have been courted by Moyes, Ander Herrera and Luke Shaw, were unveiled as the first signings under van Gaal. Many people argued that the deals were already in place well before van Gaal’s appointment. However, the Dutchman confirmed that he had given his approval.

Herrera joined from Athletic Bilbao on a four year deal thought to be around £28 million. Luke Shaw’s transfer from Southampton made him the most expensive teenager in the world at 18. Another four year deal at £30 million. The Summer was getting off to a good start.

Holland comfortably won their group at the World Cup by winning all their matches, and  entered the knock out stage. They defeated Mexico and Costa Rica before being eliminated by Argentina in the semi final on penalties. A great performance from the team under van Gaal’s guidance. But now it was time for Manchester United to welcome their new saviour with arms wide open.

There was a small matter of who would be the new club captain under van Gaal. Some were calling for van Persie, highlighting the Dutch connection, others were pushing for Carrick or Rooney. The manager chose Rooney, citing that an English club needed a British player to lead the team. Darren Fletcher was given the role of vice-captain. Which would change to Michael Carrick towards the end of the year, as Fletcher wasn’t getting enough playing time.

At the end of July van Gaal took his team on a pre season tour to the USA. During that time they won all their matches, beating LA Galaxy 7-0 in van Gaal’s first match in charge.

That was followed by victories over Roma and Inter Milan. What a start to his career with United, and better was to come with victories over Real Madrid, Liverpool and Valencia. That was all the evidence the fans needed to be sure that in the coming season we would be strong competition in the Premier League.

When the team returned to cooler weather back in Manchester there would be more news on the transfer front, and what news it was. Marcos Rojo joined from Sporting Lisbon. A utility defender who could fill in at left back or in the center. Then the big one, Argentine winger Angel Di María bought from Real Madrid on a five-year contract, the £59.7 million fee setting a new record for a signing by an English club, and taking the club’s summer spending to a reported £130 million.

Then on transfer deadline day there were two more additions to the squad. Daley Blind, who had played for van Gaal’s Holland team in Brazil, joined from Ajax to bolster the midfield. The last signing was a coup. Radamel Falcao came to United on a season long loan from AS Monaco. Falcao had had a terrible year with his knee injury, but when fit what a goal scorer.

As the new players came in it was time to say goodbye to a player who had come through the ranks at Old Trafford, Danny Welbeck. He joined Arsenal for a bargain £16 million. Some fans, ex-players and pundits, spoke of the death of United’s soul. This is ridiculous, in the reserves were the likes of James Wilson, who has the pace and eye for goal that we need as back up.

Anyway, who would they rather have, a world class proven striker in Falcao, or a player who in all honesty never lived up to the hype that surrounded him. I never thought Welbeck was up to scratch as a goalscorer, and I for one was not sad to see him depart. This was not a case of van Gaal ripping up the tradition of United’s youth policy, but simply him saying that Welbeck wasn’t good enough for him.

So, on the eve of a new season the stage was set for United to put all the problems behind them, and with a new manager and squad challenge once again for the title. Van Gaal asked the press to judge his progress after three months. After the pre season results, and quality signings, the atmosphere at Old Trafford for the season opener was bouncing with excitement.

Unfortunately, Swansea City hadn’t read the script. Van Gaal lost his first official game in charge, a 2–1 home defeat to the Swans. Then United lost 4–0 to League One side Milton Keynes Dons in the second round of the League Cup. It wasn’t until the fourth match of the league season, a 4–0 home victory over Queens Park Rangers that Van Gaal won his first competitive game.

The main problem to the poor start was down to injuries, especially in defence. The team were already missing the experience of Vidic, Ferdinand and Evra. Also, the players were finding it difficult to adjust to the new system of three at the back and five across the midfield, with wing backs supporting the defence. The philosophies of the Dutch manager were not getting through to the players, but it was early days.

United didn’t have the distraction of the Champions League which meant the team had the luxury of resting between matches. It was not a good sight to see other teams battling it out over Europe without United involved. The main target for the season ahead was to return to the illustrious competition.

After 10 league matches, United were in ninth place with 13 points and two victories, their worst start to the season since 1986–87. They were also suffering from injuries, including to new signings Herrera, Rojo and Falcao. These injuries and suspensions opened the door for two of United’s youngsters to show their qualities. Tyler Blackett, and especially Paddy McNair, were given the chance by van Gaal, and they both performed well. Showing that the youth system was thriving.

United’s first away win of the season came in the capital defeating Arsenal 2–1 at the Emirates Stadium to ascend into a lofty fourth position. The match was a smash and grab win, but a win all the same. This seemed to generate a new found believe within the sqaud, and they embarked on a nine game unbeaten run , 7 wins and 2 draws, right up until the last match of the year at White Hart Lane.
That run included a 3-0 win at home over dreaded rivals Liverpool. The good times were returning.

The last match of the year against Spurs was the first time United had fielded the same eleven players in consecutive games for over two years.

The man of the season so far has to be our No.1 David de Gea, whose performances have been world class. At times his saves have prevented the team from losing. No more so than in the match against Everton at Old Trafford. Not only did he save a Baines penalty, but in injury time athletically got his finger tips to prevent a certain goal attempt by Everton’s Oviedo. United won 2-1. Thanks mainly to him.

With rumours surrounding Real Madrid’s interest, it really is imperative that United get around the table to discuss a new contract for de Gea as quickly as possible to squash any chance of him returning to his homeland.

Two other players that deserve a special mention for their performances are Fellaini and Carrick. Fellaini has looked a totally different player compared to the one who flattered to deceive under Moyes. From a player who looked like his future lay somewhere else to an important cog in the middle of the park alongside Carrick. It’s no coincidence that United haven’t lost a match since Carrick returned from injury. He has shown his class both in midfield and defence.

Ending the year in the top three and unbeaten for two months certainly shows the progress that is being made. Van Gaal has had to cope with an unbelievable amount of players being injured, including the Summer signings, who have all suffered from varying degrees of shoulder, knee, ankle, rib, and pelvis problems. However, once they all return and play together, other teams beware.

There you have it, a year which started and finished poles apart. Twelve months that has ended with the Red Devils riding high where they belong. In a position to challenge for the top honours.

A year in which the supporters had to endure the worst season in the club’s illustrious recent history, fans who also had to put up with the ridicule that came with that, but who never stopped following the team home and away. Getting behind the side through the tough games, and most importantly, never stopped believing that the good times would return once more.

Not so much a phoenix rising from the flames, but more akin to a sleeping giant waking from its slumber ready to trample all over any team that stands in its way.

Roll on 2015.

I hope you have enjoyed reading my Manchester United 2014 year review. Please continue to follow my blogs throughout the remainder of the season.

Miles Dunton | FacebookTwitter

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