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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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Man United edge past gritty Yeovil.


Yeovil Town 0 Manchester United 2

 

The last time Manchester United won the oldest cup competition in world football was back in 2004. On that day only one player from the present United squad collected a winners medal, Darren Fletcher. Other players in the side have won it with other teams including Robin van Persie (Arsenal 2005 vs Man Utd) and Juan Mata (Chelsea 2012)

So, for most of the players facing Yeovil Town today this was new territory. A walk around the museum at Old Trafford would enlighten the players as to how United hold this cup close to their hearts. Sharing the record with Arsenal of 11 wins. Sure the Champions League has taken over as the most prestigious cup competition in football, but there is something special about the FA cup that will never die.

The romance of the competition continued this season as United were picked to play away at Yeovil Town from League 1. David versus Goliath.  However, on this occasion David failed to defeat the giant that is Man United.

The last time these two teams met was also in the FA Cup in 1949. The match was played at Maine Road, Man City’s old stadium, as Old Trafford was still undergoing refurbishment after the WWII bombings. United won comfortably 8-0 with Jack Rowley scoring five in front of over 81,000 spectators.

The team news showed that Louis van Gaal was taking the match seriously. DeGea, Smalling, McNair, Blackett, Rafael, Fletcher, Herrera, Rooney, Shaw, Wilson and Falcao. A strong side with Di Maria and Mata on the bench.  James Wilson was chosen ahead of van Persie to lead the attack alongside Falcao. Rooney continued his stint in midfield alongside Fletcher. Michael Carrick was given a well earned rest.

Yeovil spent the first 10 minutes trying to bully the United players and remind them that this was an FA cup tie. De Gea was clattered in the first seconds and Luke Shaw took a blow to the head as did Rafael. This was starting out to be a bruising affair. United’s first effort came from McNair who tried his luck from outside the area but skyed his shot high.

There were 2,025 United away fans, out of around 9,000 in total, crammed into the small ground, who were continually singing and trying to spur the team on. Unfortunately to little effect.
As usual this season, United took their time getting into any sort of rhythm. After 14 minutes Rooney did try a curler but misjudged his shot after nice interplay with Wilson. Chris Smalling spent the first quarter of an hour trying to set a record of hoofing the ball out of the ground.

Yeovil’s plan was to put high balls into the United area knowing how poorly United’s defence have performed this season. A succession of Yeovil corners gave the Red Devils a few headaches, literally for McNair after a nasty clash of heads with Yeovil’s Moore, but generally they defended them well, even Falcao came back to help out. McNair needed treatment to his head wound which included staples to close the cut.

This was turning out to be a real cup tie with the United defence gifting corners, Herrera and Fletcher made some errant passes, and the side were not creating anything in the attacking third. Darren Fletcher wasn’t keen to get stuck in and his passing was that of a man who knows his career is coming to an end. Blackett was showning no urgency in his play strolling around the defence. Generally the first 30 minutes was poor from United.

Just afer the half hour Herrera played a great ball to Wilson, who should have done better with his effort. His poor shot summed up the start for United. This was confounded a few minutes before half time when Herrera himself had a woeful effort well wide of the goal.

A first half that lacked conviction from Man United. Again performing poorly away from home and making the bottom of the League 1 side look better than they are. Careless passing from the midfielders mixed with poor concentration, and again no confidence in the defence. At no point did United force the Yeovil keeper, Steer, into a save. This was an embarrasing 45 minutes in which United looked more intimidated than the home side.

Changes would have to be made at half time by van Gaal or it could turn out to be another MK Dons nightmare. The substitutions were made at the beginning of the second half, not for tactical reasons, but as we would find out after the match due to even more injuries.

Juan Mata and Jonny Evans replaced the wing backs Shaw and Rafael. This means that in one week we have lost four players who play in those positions: Young and Valencia and now Shaw and Rafael. A nightmare scenerio.

The first job Evans had to do was to clear his lines after a Yeovil cross into the box. Again rather shaky defending gave Yeovil the impetus to attack. Their forward Moore had a great chance to put the hosts in the lead, but luckily for United fluffed his shot by underhitting it straight to a grateful David de Gea, by far the best chance of the match after 55 minutes.

Another change was made by van Gaal on 58 minutes. Enter Angel di Maria for Radamel Falcao. Falcao had had a tough time and didn’t really have any chances. United needed pace up front as the Yeovil players understandably started to tire and they would have trouble keeping up with the pace of di Maria and Wilson.

Then in the 64th minute Herrera scored a wonderful goal. Rooney started the move by squaring the ball to Fletcher, who in turn nearly lost possession, but the ball came to Herrera prowling on the edge of the area, with his back to goal he turned and hit a delightful shot into the top corner from 20 yards, a brilliant strike and exactly what United needed to relax. The one downside was that Herrera was booked for over celebrating with the away fans.

The goal seemed to give United the lift they needed. Rooney fired a free kick just over. At the other end di Maria cleared an effort off the line following a Yeovil corner. It was all for one as United hung on for the win.

On 75 minutes Rooney had another chance from a McNair cross, but couldn’t do much with it. Di Maria also tried his luck from way outside the area but pulled the ball well wide of the goal.

Angel di Maria finally settled the tie in injury time, The Argentinian added the second as he raced onto a through ball and gave the keeper no chance when one on one by chipping a shot into the net. Breaking brave Yeovil’s hearts.

United were playing against a side 60 odd places below them in the league, but all credit to Yeovil for a gritty and valliant effort. In no way did they let themselves or their club down. It was definitely not a walk in the park for van Gaal’s men.

On the way back to Manchester Louis van Gaal has to convince the directors to give their rubber stamp on any new player, or players, he requires. Quite clearly some more new additions are needed if United want to move forward in 2015. Time and again I’ve said that our defence is a shambles, I understand we didn’t concede today and are now unbeaen in 11 matches, but some of our players out there were so very ordinary.

It was another disaster on the injury front with a possible fractured cheekbone for Rafael and an ankle injury to Luke Shaw. This is why they were both replaced at half-time. Both players having only returned in the last week after lengthy spells on the sidelines. I can’t remember a season that’s been as bad as this one for injuries. I hate using the word unlucky, but it is just that.

The positive from today is that we are in the draw for the 4th round tomorrow. The way our away form has been lately I’m praying for a home tie.

Next week it’s back to the Premier League as United welcome Southampton to Old Trafford. Who knows, by the time we next play we could have some new players on the books. God knows with the injury list and unconvincing performances from some players we need them.

Until next time.

Miles Dunton.

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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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