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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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Man United didn’t rule Britannia.


Stoke City 1 Manchester United 1

Man United started the New Year as they had ended the last one by only managing a draw away from home.

The last time we visited the Potteries was a 1-2 loss back in February. How times have changed. New manager and new players, third in the league and unbeaten in the last nine games. Things were definitely looking up for the Red Devils as we entered 2015.

The Britannia Stadium has always been a tricky place to get results and today was no different, as the wind blew across the pitch making high balls hard to defend. Former United favourite Mark Hughes had the extra height of Peter Crouch in attack to cause havoc with the ball in the air. This was going to be a real test for United’s defenders

Man Utd’s starting eleven brought a recall for Luke Shaw and Chris Smalling to the starting line up in place of Antonio Valencia and Paddy McNair. The team: De Gea, Jones, Smalling, Evans, Carrick, Young, Rooney, Mata, Shaw, Falcao, van Persie.

When the team was announced I cringed at the thought of Smalling, Jones and Evans together at the back, as something usually goes wrong, and after only 1 minute 45 seconds it did just that.

From a corner Crouch, unchecked in the box, rose to head towards goal, it was smacked into the net by Shawcross. The worst possible start for United as the defenders were found napping in the box. Van Gaal had said before the match that he wanted his players to dream of matches beforehand, here they were actually sleeping during play.

United must have known about the threat Stoke posed from set pieces, why they had so many players in the box doing nothing was totally unacceptable. I guarantee van Gaal, the perfectionist, was seething on the touchline that his side had conceded such an early goal in that manner.

It took 8 mins for United to win their first corner, but the delivery by Mata was not good enough, and Begovic collected easily. The second corner from Mata had exactly the same result. He again took the responsibility to take the third corner, which again was poor.

When you have an opposition keeper as tall as Begovic, what is the point of lofting crosses into the box that he’s going to eat up all day. I remember a time when Robin van Persie was taking the corners on the right in his first season with better results.

The uneasiness in the United side was summed up on the quarter hour by an over hit pass down the wing from Young which was meant for Falcao. Young is best suited playing on the left as has been proved with this match and the away match at Villa. he is quite simply wasted on the right.

United won a free kick on the edge of the Stoke area which Rooney took control of, but his effort was high and and not so handsome. You began to get that feeling it clearly was going to be one of those unfortunate days. Not much was going right for the team in blue.

The first mistake from Evans was on 18 minutes. He was out hustled and bustled off the ball by former red Diouf. Luckilly for Evans, Diouf pulled his effort wide when he should have done a lot better. Maybe David de Gea’s performances made him panic into shooting too early. That was big let off for Evans and the team. This is not the first time Evans has put the team in danger this season, and I have to question his reliability.

United’s equaliser came in the 26th minute when a Rooney corner from the left was heade on by Carrick’s through to Falcao, who swept the ball into the net. A goal from nothing but welcome all the same. That was Falcao’s third goal for United, and it came at a perfect time in the game.

After the goal United started to take control of the game more. The only real threat from Stoke came from the height of Crouch, and that unforgiving wind. Stoke had a slight chance as an inswinger from their left confused all in the penalty area until Shaw miskicked the ball over the crossbar for a corner.

The Stoke keeper Begovic angered van Persie by showing his studs as he kicked out his leg in the Dutchman’s direction. Van Persie was rightly incensed, but the referee Michael Oliver and his assistant didn’t see what happened. On closer inspection Begovic was lucky he didn’t make contact with the forward or it could have been very nasty indeed.

The away fans were in fine voice out singing the home fans who had long given up booing United’s every touch of the ball.The first half ended all square at 1-1.

The second half got under way with no changes in the United side. With Young still on the right and Shaw on the left you got the feeling that United were going to struggle to create chances. Stoke were closing down quickly and our midfield trio of Carrick, Rooney and Mata failed to stamp their authority on the game. Poor passing and dwelling too long on the ball gave Stoke a self belief, and they started to play the better football.

United had a look of uncertainty about their play and really needed to have a spell of keeping the ball, but Stoke were not giving them any time to settle into a rhythm. Just after the hour mark, van Gaal made a double change. Bringing on Ander Herrera and Adnan Januzaj for Falcao and Shaw. I totally understood the confused way Falcao looked as he was substituted. Not sure why he was the fall guy when others around him were just as equally under performing.

There was a moment of controversy after Jones had headed behind from a Stoke cross. From the resulting corner the ball struck Smalling on the arm, as the home fans screamed for a penalty the ref waved play on. A minute later the same thing happened to Smalling again, once more Michael Oliver angered the locals by showing no interest in their claims for a penalty.

From the resulting clearance, United  broke down the left only for Januzaj opting to shoot when a cross would have been the wiser choice. Shortly after, van Persie nearly managed to convert a lobbed shot, but sadly for him pulled it wide.

Crouch was causing all sorts of problems for United. In a two minute spell Stoke hit the post and Diouf had a blast from the edge of the box, which only just flew over the crossbar.

This was proving to be a tough New Years Day for the visitors. There was no urgency in our play and no chances were being created. Then, as Young galloped away on a counter attack, he pulled up sharply with what looked to be a hamstring problem. This meant that Rafael made it on in Young’s place. Another injury to add to the list.

In the last 20 mins United had their own appeal for a penalty waved away, when Rafael looked as if he had been impeded. Maybe the referee was addressing the balance. When Januzaj did deliver a cross from the left, van Persie just couldn’t quite convert it at the near post.

United finished the match on the attack with a flurry of corners and crosses, which in the end didn’t result in any clear cut chances to grab a winner. It ended all square. Our poor performance made Stoke look the better side in the second half.

This was not the type of start to 2015 that everyone expected from Manchester United. It meant that van Gaal was still waiting for his ‘perfect’ match. From the look of things it will be a long time before he gets it. The side were short of ideas and lacked the balance from the last few weeks.

Valencia was missed today, as when he and Young played out wide there was a cohesion in the side. Now that Young and Valencia will be missing for the foreseeable future the need for other players to return is imperative. We desperately need Di Maria and Blind to make a speedy return and start winning again. On a positive note, United are now unbeaten in the last ten games.

The transfer window opens this weekend and as I’ve said many times this season the defence is our biggest problem area. We desperately need someone at the back with the experience to bring stability. How many points have been dropped by our inept defenders? To say that Smalling was the best defender on show today doesn’t exactly fill me with confidence. Smalling, Jones and Evans are our own ‘Bermuda Triangle’ as strange things happen when their together.

Next up for United is the 3rd of the FA Cup in which they will face League 1 outfit Yeovil Town. The main hope is that van Gaal approaches the match differently to the loss against MK Dons back at the start of the season. I’m hoping for a good cup run as it could be our only realistic chance of silverware this season. The last time we lifted the old trophy was back in 2004, so it’s well overdue.

United have faced Yeovil twice before, both matches in the FA Cup. The first was at Old Trafford in the 1937-38 season in the 3rd round that was won by United 3-0. The second match was in the 1948-49 season. This time it was in the 5th round. United played the match at Manchester City’s ground, Maine Road. United netted 8 goals without reply. Incredibly the attendance that day was 81,565, amazing.

The first match of 2015 has ended rather disappointingly, but there is still a lot to look forward to, I’m sure.

Thanks for checking out my thoughts.

Miles Dunton | FacebookTwitter

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Missed chances ends United’s 2014


Tottenham Hotspur 0 Manchester United 0

Manchester United brought down the curtain on their rather indifferent year at White Hart Lane against a Spurs team who also had a year to forget.

New management and squads for both teams, and both Louis van Gaal and Mauricio Pochettino bringing in new ideas and styles of play. The stage was set for an encounter that in the past had never failed to deliver entertaining football. The last time Spurs won this fixture was way back in May 2001.

Going into the match United had been impressively unbeaten in the last eight matches, seven of those being wins. Also, the goals for column was looking good, in the last eight matches they had managed to score 17 goals, and thanks mainly to goalkeeper David de Gea only conceded 5. The last time the Red Devils came to the capital they escaped with all the points against Arsenal.

The team news prior to the match revealed that Fellaini (rib), Di Maria (pelvis), Herrera (muscle) would not be involved, however, on a positive note Luke Shaw was included in the squad after being absent since that win over Arsenal.

The eleven to face Spurs were: De Gea, Jones, McNair, Evans, Valencia, Carrick, Rooney, Mata, Young, Van Persie & Falcao. Van Gaal showing faith in the same players that started against Newcastle on Boxing day. It was the first time that he had been able to choose the same XI all season.

Before the first half started there was a minutes silence for former Tottenham defender Ron Henry who passed away yesterday.

Once the match was underway Spurs had the first sight on goal in the 6th minute from Mason, but the reliable de Gea collected easily. From the resulting clearance Rooney almost played in Falcao, but there were too many defenders around him.

United carried on from where they had left off on Boxing Day by controlling the opening exchanges, Mata especially looking the biggest threat. However, the first quarter of an hour was littered with free kicks as both sides tried to get the upper hand.

Falcao missed a golden opportunity to put United in the lead, when he was put through on goal by Juan Mata, only to be put off by two defenders closing him down from behind. Straight away Spurs had their own clear chance but were thwarted by de Gea.

On 22 minutes United were awarded a free kick just outside the penalty area. Rooney left it for Mata, who curled it over the wall but it struck the post and both van Persie and Falcao failed to net the rebound.

A minute later mayhem in the spurs area as Jones headed towards goal, the keeper flapped at the ball and it crossed the line, only to be ruled that Falcao or Jones were offside. A harsh decision to say the least.

Mata again thread a great ball through to Falcao, but when one on one with the keeper Lloris, he shot weakly and the chance had gone. Then a brilliant ball from Carrick only needed to be converted by van Persie, but unfortunately he couldn’t bring the ball under control quickly enough before Lloris collected.

Just before half time Young tried his trademark cut inside and unleashed a shot calling on the keeper to produce a fine save. That was to be the last action of a half in which Mata had produced some lovely touches and was the main outlet for the team’s chances.

At the end of the first half it was unbelievable how United had not managed to score after all the chances they had created for themselves. The hope was those missed chances wouldn’t came back to haunt them.

The second half saw one change for United. Rafael in a straight swap for Valencia. United continued to attack, and forced a couple of early corners, which had no end result.

Another chance, another miss by van Persie, this time on 55 minutes. Good work from the industrious Mata, but the striker failed to direct his header on target.

Van Persie showed his frustration by pushing Vertonghen off the ball, and was extremely fortunate not to receive a yellow card. Had he done so he would have automatically missed the next match at Stoke City.

After the hour mark the match became rather stale with neither side creating any chance of note until Mata made his first error by blasting over when it seemed easier to score.

It was time for another change by van Gaal when Evans was replaced by Chris Smalling. Evans had a poor match and it’s obvious he is not comfortable on the left of the three central defenders. His distribution at times was awful.

Shortly after, Luke Shaw made his comeback by coming on for Paddy McNair, who had picked up a yellow card minutes before.

Spurs had a golden opportunity when Mason got goal side of Carrick, but shot over the bar from close range. At this time the home team were enjoying their best spell of the day which clearly rattled United as Falcao’s name was taken for a needless foul. Quickly followed by Rafael.

The match ended in a goalless draw with some tired legs on show at the end. A match that United should and could have won if only the chances had been taken when they presented themselves. The closest being Mata’s free kick, which struck the post, and his blast over inside the box.

Now unbeaten in nine matches at least they ended the year more positively than it was started.

There we have it the last game of 2014. Time to look ahead to 2015, and dare I say it, a successful year. To be honest, it won’t be too difficult to do better than the last 12 months.

New Year’s resolutions time. Mine are for Louis van Gaal to buy a central defender and a midfielder in the January transfer window. Who will come only he knows, but until the Summer I wouldn’t say no to Vlaar and Strootman.

Many people are saying Vlaar is not a good fit for United, but I would counter that by saying the defenders we have at the moment aren’t exactly setting the world alight with their performances.

Vlaar is experienced in the premier league and being Dutch, communication won’t be a problem. He knows van Gaal and the other players from the Holland squad. At his age, he should be available at a good price, and will add strength to a weak back four, or three for that matter.

My second resolution is for the team to embark on an FA Cup run all the way to Wembley. I hope van Gaal takes the competition seriously as it’s been too long since we last lifted the old trophy. This could realistically be our only chance of silverware this season.

Lastly, the target should be a top 3 finish, anything above that would be an absolute bonus. Don’t get me wrong winning the league in his first season would be amazing for van Gaal, but to keep our feet on the ground is wiser.

I hope you all have a great New Year, and that 2015 will turn out to be better for United than the outgoing 2014.

As always, thanks for taking the time to read.

Miles Dunton.

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