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Manchester United Season Review 2015/16


He came, he saw, he failed to conquer. Louis’ reign as the Manchester United manager came to an end 48 hours after lifting the FA Cup.

He was fired by the United board for not achieving the aims of the club mainly the failure to qualify for Champions League football next season.

Van Gaal has departed without anybody being any the wiser on what exactly the Dutchman’s philosophy was. All he has left is a legacy of tactical ineptitude that bemused the fans and left them frustrated.

Louis van Gaal came to United in 2014 saying all the right things, but ended his second season, saying all the wrong things. Of course, the fans’ expectations are high we are talking about Manchester United after all but to say that we put too much expectation on the team is ridiculous, to say the least.

The Dutch coach arrived at the club with an impressive CV after many successful years in club football and at the helm of the Dutch national squad. However, in two full seasons his philosophy got us absolutely nowhere, in fact, in the league they even went one step backwards.

Last summer Old Trafford was all abuzz with the marquee signings van Gaal had made, including the German international Bastian Schweinsteiger, Morgan Schneiderlin from Southampton, little-known Italian defender Matteo Darmian, exciting young prospect on the wing Memphis Depay, Argentine keeper Romero and the most expensive teenager at the time Anthony Martial.

Out of those summer buys only Martial proved his full worth as was evident on his scoring debut against bitter rivals Liverpool. That scoring form continued throughout his debut season ending up United’s leading scorer with 17. A total that sounds low until you consider that he spent the season out on the left wing.

Schneiderlin also performed admirably as did Darmian, but the others not so much. Schweinsteiger spent the last two months out injured and Memphis endured a torrid season blighted by a dramatic drop in confidence which meant he spent most of his first season on the bench. Romero played the first six games until De Gea’s new contract was signed then he managed only four more appearances.

Van Gaal, like a lot of the players, talked up a good game especially in his famous press conferences. But when it came to the important part they failed to deliver time and time again on the pitch. Ten defeats in a league season is simply unacceptable.

The biggest problem had to be the distinct lack of goals that cost us a top four place as we ended the season on equal points with Man City who enjoyed a far greater goal difference.

In total United scored only 49 goals in the Premier League, which is the lowest achieved by a United team since the 1989-90 season, 46. The top scorer in the league was Anthony Martial with 11. Therein lies the problem. For all the possession they enjoyed the main problem was the inability to put the ball in the back of the net especially when you consider Wayne Rooney scored the only hat-trick of the season in August against FC Club Brugge in the Champions League qualifier.

In the past, all the players contributed to the goals for column, but this season, the highest scoring midfielder was Mata with 6 and the defenders only managed two goals between them. On the subject of the defence it was one of the meanest in the league conceding 35.

At Old Trafford, the visitors only managed to score 9 times. This was down mainly to the partnership of Smalling and Blind and of course the brilliant De Gea who rescued his team on countless occasions.

Playing players in different positions, also had the fans scratching their heads in disbelief and at times amusement. Young, a winger, as the main striker while Martial, a centre forward, was on the wing. Rooney was utilised more in the midfield where he had some decent games. But Paul Scholes he is not and his scoring ability was wasted there.

Some players were used sparingly during the season and others too much. Herrera often had to take a back seat to Felliani and Carrick looked off the pace at times.

Goalkeeper David De Gea picked up his third player of the year award in a row and this shows how inadequately the outfield players grasped the manager’s tactics and were left to play without any urgency or in a cut throat attacking style.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom. United did play well against the so called big teams, including a double over bitter rivals Liverpool, a tremendous performance against Arsenal at home, beating City at the Etihad and the 3-0 win at Goodison which was probably the best away performance of the season. And they ended the campaign with their 12th FA Cup win and their first silverware for three seasons.

However, it was the inability to put the lower sides to the sword, especially in defeat to the likes of Swansea, Bournemouth, Sunderland and relegated Norwich after dominating in those games that hurt the most. Newcastle, also relegated, held United to two draws. Lost points that had an adverse effect on the final league position.

The fact that Leicester City have been crowned Premier League champions shows that there has been a shift in power from the standard big four. It will be interesting to see how the Foxes fare next season along with West Ham, Spurs and Southampton who all brought a breath of fresh air to the league.

If there is any consolation in finishing fifth in the league it is that Chelsea and Liverpool will miss out completely on Europe after both had replaced their managers and still failed to deliver.

As regards United’s endeavours, or lack of, in Europe that didn’t go so well either. They finished third in what looked a fairly easy group and ended up in the Europa League where they were eventually knocked out by Liverpool after basically a no show at Anfield in the last 16 first leg.

The terrible double leg fracture suffered by Luke Shaw early in the campaign was a major blow to the United defence, but it did signal the rise of the youngsters to be given a chance by van Gaal in the first team.

There is one thing that van Gaal can take from his two-year tenure and that is, he brought the youngsters through from the lower ranks and gave them their chances in the first team. However, it has to be said that was due mainly to necessity rather than choice. He had released Adnan Januzaj and James Wilson on loan before the new year and didn’t make any cover signings during the January transfer window, so in effect he had no choice but to turn to the reserves and Under-18’s academy players.

The first of those introduced to join by now regular and cup final hero Jesse Lingard was Cameron Borthwick-Jackson at full back then the likes of Love, Varela, Poole, Weir and the great young talent Fosu-Mensah also had opportunities presented to them due to many injuries in the defence. Marcos Rojo missed a huge chunk of the season after shoulder surgery and the same went for Antonio Valencia.

It has to be said that the youngster that had the biggest impact on the side had to be 18-year-old local lad Marcus Rashford. Talk about a Roy of the Rovers introduction to life as a Man United hero.

Two debut doubles in two matches against Midtjylland in the Europa League and Arsenal in the Premier League had the fans and media foaming at the mouth at this talented goal scorer who clearly wasn’t daunted by the prospect of playing regularly for the first team.

The United reserves retained their League Champions crown which speaks volumes for the work that the coach Warren Joyce did to bring such a talented group of players together and become a feeder for the first team.

So, another chapter in Manchester United’s illustrious history has come to an end and now it’s time to turn the next page. One that will hopefully see our great club return to where it belongs and knock Leicester off their perch. Over to you Jose!

Thanks for reading.

Miles Dunton | FacebookTwitter

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Lingard Lords It Over Palace


2016 FA Cup Final: Crystal Palace 1 Manchester United 2

Local lad Lingard became the hero as he won the FA cup in extra time for ten-man United with a blistering strike that lit up an otherwise ordinary final.

Manchester United have enjoyed a special relationship with the oldest club cup competition down the years that goes back to their first win back in 1909. Since then they have lifted the trophy eleven times but hadn’t tasted success since 2004.

So, here was an ideal opportunity at the end of a poor league season to equal Arsenal’s record by beating Crystal Palace and lift their first piece of silverware in the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era.

Louis van Gaal and his players made a point of saying that this one was for the long-suffering fans who have had to endure yet another campaign in which United have failed to deliver on the promises of a squad that unfortunately didn’t materialise.

In what many believe, and the majority hope will be van Gaal’s last match as the manager he chose a starting XI that didn’t hold any surprises: De Gea, Valencia, Smalling, Blind, Rojo, Carrick, Fellaini, Rooney, Mata, Martial and Rashford.

Rojo came back into the side at left-back and Carrick kept his place in midfield in what could be his swansong for United. Fellaini was preferred to Herrera to partner Carrick along with Rooney.

There are always players who will be left disappointed in not starting a match of such importance among those must have been Lingard who was left on the bench in favour of Mata.

However, the one United player who must have felt devastated to be left out of the squad all together had to be Memphis who has endured a season in which his confidence seemed to have taken a battering and his omission won’t help him in any way.

Palace got the final underway amid a wonderful atmosphere provided by both sets of fans.

Right from the off it became abundantly clear that Crystal Palace’s tactics involved getting all the players behind the ball and use their pace on the counter-attack.

United played the majority of the first half around the edge of the opposition area but failed to take advantage of the chances that came up. Too many times they attempted to play through the middle with Rooney without the use of the wings.

Palace were happy enough to stand off Rooney and limit his passing options. The frustrations of the United players were clear for all to see as they were punished by the referee with three bookings for Smalling, Rojo and Mata.

Referee Mark Clattenburg didn’t exactly endear himself to the Palace fans as not once but twice he didn’t allow the advantage to be played following fouls by United. On the first occasion, they actually had the ball in the net but the play was called back and the second would have seen Ward through on goal but again Clattenburg blew his whistle much to the despair of an animated Palace manager Pardew on the touchline.

The first half ended, not for the first time in United’s season, goaless, as they laboured in a pedestrian fashion at times. The match needed an injection of pace and imagination if goals were to come.

The United defence didn’t really have a lot to do as most of the play was up at the other end. There were flashes of brilliance from Rashford and Martial who both spent the half looking for a way through the tight Palace defence. Carrick, in what was probably his last match, gave the ball away far too easily in dangerous positions and his lack of pace showed against the younger Palace players.

Van Gaal made no changes at the start of the second half. The match didn’t take long to spring into life as first Fellaini crashed an effort against the bar after great approach play from Rashford. Then Martial saw his headed effort come back off the post. It was looking as if it could be one of those days.

Rojo’s final came to an end on the hour mark when he was caught by a late lunge from Delaney that on closer inspection warranted more than the yellow he received. The Argentinian did try to carry on but was replaced by Darmian at left back.

This was followed by the departure of youngster Rashford after a defender had stamped on his knee. The way Palace were aggressively going into tackles was reminiscent of the 1990 replay.

Ashley young replaced Rashford and immediately slotted in at centre forward with Martial on the left. A positional tactic that not for the first time baffled the fans.

All of Palace’s plans came to fruition in the 78th minute when they took the lead through substitute Puncheon who managed to beat De Gea from the tightest of angles. Not a mean feat. 1-0 to the Eagles and boy did their fans celebrate.

Ten minutes to go in the final and fans wondered how United would react. The answer came so quickly, within two minutes to be exact.

United levelled when Rooney decided the only way past the tight Palace defence was to run at them with the ball which he did with fantastic effect. Eventually, he sent over a cross which Fellaini chested down into the path of Mata who dispatched a shot that found the net after a slight deflection.

The game had come to life and with extra time looming van Gaal introduced Lingard for scorer Mata.

The Red Devils looked to have the upper hand at the start of the first period of extra time as the Palace players looked shattered both physically and mentally. Only former red Zaha continued to be a thorn in United’s defence and it took heroic defending from Blind to prevent a goal.

Then as is always the case with United they made it harder for themselves when Smalling was sent off for a second yellow card after he had brought down Bolasie. To be honest, it was a harsh booking for Smalling but he was deceived by the forward’s pace.

Down to ten men, it would take a huge amount of effort for United to win the match before being resigned to penalties.

United’s player of the season came to the rescue in the second period as De Gea managed to get a boot to deny an effort by Gayle.

Then a chance for Carrick to write his name in United history as he found himself unmarked in the Palace area only to send his header wide of the goal when it looked certain he would become the match hero.

That honour fell to the feet of Jesse Lingard who netted the winner in the 110th minute. A cross from the right from the ever busy Valencia was only half cleared and there was Lingard lurking in the box to smack home a shot that was so sublime in its execution it will one of those Wembley goals that will be drooled over with every viewing.

There was still time for De Gea to thwart Zaha as he dived bravely at the wingers feet and received a knock on his head for his troubles.

When the final whistle blew it prompted jubilant scenes from the players and the bench as the reality sank in that they had actually won the cup after being reduced to ten-men and came from behind to fully deserve their victory. Even Louis van Gaal leapt from the bench jumping with joy into the arms of his assistant Ryan Giggs.

In all reality, it wasn’t the greatest of finals but a lot of that was down to the way Palace had set out their stall. United were left frustrated many times but to their credit, they never gave up even when they had fallen behind and a player short.

Performances from the likes of Blind, Mata, Fellaini and Martial kept the dream alive. However, Rooney was the man once again who was at the centre of all United’s moves and even though he was guilty at times of wasteful passes it was his inspirational run that provided the equaliser. As regards the man of the match then that would have to go to Valencia who completed his duties in defence and attack to great effect.

A last special mention has to go to the hero of the day Jesse Lingard. How refreshing it is in this modern game of football and its millions that it was a local lad from Warrington who came up through the ranks at United to score the goal that will be forever remembered and celebrated by United fans all over the world.

With the cup victory United have finally ended their drought with the first major trophy in three years. The big question has to be whether it is enough to save van Gaal’s tenuous position as manager? No sooner had the final whistle blown the media vultures circled the Dutchman looking for answers. At least let the man celebrate the victory before writing his obituary. There will be plenty of time for that.

Thanks for reading.

Miles Dunton | FacebookTwitter

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Rooney Runs The Show


Manchester United 3 Bournemouth 1

The final day of the season is not usually known for its drama off the pitch, but on it. That was exactly the case at Old Trafford on Sunday following the bomb scare that caused the stadium to be cleared and the match to be rescheduled.

After the suspect package had been discovered the security staff have to be praised for the calm way they conducted the evacuation of 75,000 people in such an orderly fashion.

However, questions have to be raised at the club in regards to the way a suspect package had been left unnoticed for four days. And the security company that left it there have to be dragged over the coals for their ineptitude.

The last league game of the season eventually saw United welcome Bournemouth to Old Trafford after the understandable postponement of the match on Sunday.

This rescheduled match meant two things. Firstly,  United knew that barring a victory of 19 plus goals, there would be no Champions League football next season. Secondly, it would interrupt preparations for the upcoming FA Cup final against Crystal Palace this weekend.

How would these factors effect van Gaal’s team selection from the one he chose for the original game? The answer was it didn’t as he picked the exact same eleven: De Gea, Valencia, Smalling, Blind, Borthwick-Jackson, Carrick, Rooney, Lingard, Mata, Martial and Rashford. In came the recalled trio of Borthwick-Jackson, Carrick and Lingard at the expense of Rojo, injured in training, Schneiderlin, ill and Herrera who started on the bench.

In all honesty, there was very little to say about the first half as it had been pretty much unremarkable until Rooney gave the fans something to cheer as he netted his 100th Premier League goal at Old Trafford in the 43rd minute.

The captain had the easiest of finishes as he buried the ball into the back of the net after Martial and Mata had played a neat one-two with each other and the former produced a cross that Rashford stepped over which left Rooney able to pounce. One down, only 18 to go.

Before the opener the closest the sides came to raising the pulse of the fans was when Carrick almost got a touch to a Rooney delivery from a free kick and at the other end, Pugh had an effort blocked by Valencia. The match had that feeling of a pre-season friendly written all over it.

At least at the start of the second half, both sides had decided to make a go of it with Rooney eyeing up a shot that was blocked and Mata who went to ground in the penalty area after being caught from behind but referee Jon Moss waved play on.

The visitors had their moments when Pugh and Wilson tried their luck from the edge of the area but would need to do better to beat De Gea.

Carrick was the next player to jolt the fans into life as he blasted a swerving, long-distance drive against the crossbar.

At the centre of United’s attacking forays were Martial’s quick feet on the left and the precise passing of Rooney from his midfield position.

Somehow the score remained 1-0 after a spot of football pinball inside the Cherries box after great play by Rashford. The ball just wouldn’t go in after every shot was blocked by the defenders.

United had found the desire to kill the game off and Valencia came close with a cracker of a shot that Bournemouth keeper Federici brilliantly saved with his fingertips.

What a difference the two halves were proving to be.

The home side had another penalty shout when Lingard was brought down. However, the referee wasn’t interested in the appeals of United.

The visitors did manage to put the ball in the net, but to their disappointment, Wilson was correctly ruled offside. It was a reminder to United that one goal might not be enough.

Right on cue Rashford made it 2-0 in the 75th minute. The move started with a delightful ball played deep into the box by Rooney which was headed back into the danger area by Valencia and there was Rashford to fire a low shot into the net and celebrate his call-up to England’s provisional squad for the European Championships.

Van Gaal made three substitutions in the last ten minutes with Herrera, Memphis and Young replacing Mata, Rashford and Martial. And it was the forgotten man Young, who produced the icing get on the cake in the 87th minute with United’s third goal of the game after great work from the man of the match, Rooney. He beat the defence with a well-timed chip to provide Young with the easiest of chances to score to which he duly obliged.

The match had time for one more twist when in added time Smalling managed to put the ball into his own goal which denied De Gea a share of the league’s golden glove, much to the Spaniards dismay judging by his reaction.

After an anti-climatic first half at least the players brought the game to life in the second half. Rooney pulled the strings from his midfield role and provided a master class of passing combined with his never say die attitude when chasing back.

The main objective apart from the win was to not sustain any injuries before the cup final. In that respect mission accomplished.

United had chances so many times this season to make sure they booked their seat at the caviar and champagne table of the European elite and only have themselves to blame for ending up picking up the scraps in the Europa League.

Have we witnessed the van Gaal farewell at the Theatre of Dreams? Which in all reality has turned out to be nothing less than a nightmare for the coach who arrived with such high expectations following an impressive career across Europe. However, once again the season has fallen short for the club under his so-called philosophy.

Surely the time has come to put everyone, including van Gaal, out of their misery. No matter what happens in the FA Cup final the board have to find the right person who can take United in a new direction or witness the further demise of our great club.

Thanks for reading. Next stop Wembley.

Miles Dunton | FacebookTwitter

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