Manchester United

Manchester United fans will think fondly of Louis van Gaal…in about five years time

 

Manchester United’s 1-0 home humbling at the hands of Southampton was the latest in a long line of disappointments for the club that were once so dominant in England and it could lead to the departure of Louis van Gaal, but the Dutchman has sewn some seeds for future successes.

Since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson in 2013 United have been a shadow of the sort of teams that had seen them win 13 of the previous 21 possible Premier League titles under the stewardship of the Scotsman. David Moyes’ appointment on the recommendation of Ferguson turned out to be an unmitigated disaster and on-the-pitch van Gaal has not been streaks ahead much to the bemusement and downright annoyance of the fans.

As a result of Saturday’s slip against the Saints at Old Trafford, United sit in fifth with 37 points from 23 games. After 23 matches in the Moyes season the Red Devils were seventh but had three more points.

Despite results though it is not as doom and gloom around Greater Manchester as it times it may seem – there are some reasons to think the grass is greener on the other side at the very least.

Van Gaal has rightly been on the end of vitriol for his patient and frankly boring football that has seen the club score a measly 12 home goals in the league all season and has in the past led to British record signing Angel di Maria leave England just one year after joining due to being restricted under the ex-Barcelona and Bayern Munich manager’s rigid system that had the Argentine playing like he was on shackles just a matter of months after he helped guide Argentina to a World Cup final.

Said system though has led to an improvement in the team’s defence.

Accidentally calling Chris Smalling “Mike” in a press conference was not the only change of identity van Gaal instilled in the centre back as the 26-year-old has been transformed into one of the finest centre halves in the league and one of the leaders of the squad.

Best of Friends: Chris Smalling is one of few to improve under van Gaal

Best of Friends: Chris Smalling is one of few to improve under van Gaal

In addition to this, ‘LvG’ has signed a whole host of young talent that, while needs nurturing, could make United a real force in the space of the next five years.

Luke Shaw, Memphis Depay and Anthony Martial have all signed on the dotted line from Southampton, PSV Eindhoven and AS Monaco respectively over the last two years and have all been tipped to be real stars of the not too distant future. Shaw in particular already looked like the real deal before he suffered a sickening leg break in the Champions League clash at PSV that still keeps him sidelined while Martial was given the 2015 Golden Boy award for the hottest young prospect in Europe.

Another signing in Daley Blind has shown that he could be the man that can be the deep-lying playmaker they have craved since the gradual decline of Michael Carrick and at 25 he still has plenty of years left in him, as does Morgan Schneiderlin who has enjoyed a few successful years in the Premier League already.

It has been youth that has always been at the forefront of van Gaal’s sometimes infamous philosophy though. Jesse Lingard, Paddy McNair, Michael Keane, Tom Thorpe, Tyler Blackett, Andreas Pereira and Cameron Borthwick-Jackson have all been given their senior debuts during the two-year tenure.

James Wilson has been sent  out on-loan to Championship outfit Brighton and Hove Albion and he is blossoming on the South Coast as he continues his development while Adnan Januzaj, who endured a disappointing time away at Dortmund, was recalled from his loan to the Bundesliga in early January and was introduced into the first-team fold again straight away against Southampton, albeit as a second-half substitute.

If results do not rapidly improve then van Gaal’s time at Manchester United will surely be up, if it is not already, and his sacking would be justified, but if past glories return to the Theatre of Dreams in the next few years then supporters will do well to remember where some it all began.

 

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Felipe Anderson to Manchester United is not without its risks

Manchester United’s fans are crying out for new blood as a result of poor performances and tedious displays currently being seen at Old Trafford, but one target Felipe Anderson probably will not solve any problems.

There are of course obvious bonuses to the potential arrival of Anderson, which is reported to be pretty close to being done during this January window, but the signing carries more negatives than positives.

One reason for optimism for the United faithful would be the addition of more offensive talent that the Red Devils undoubtedly need as almost unbelievably they are the lowest scorers at home out of the entire 92 clubs in the English Football League with a painfully low 15 goals from 10 games.

Anderson, 22, is also touted as one of the most promising young talents in Europe, and therefore would add to an ever-increasingly youthful United side with Luke Shaw, Memphis Depay and Anthony Martial who have also been given the ‘wonderkid’ label. Martial has just been crowned the 2015 Golden Boy – the best young talent in Europe. Shaw and Adnan Januzaj (on-loan at Borussia Dortmund from United) were also on the 40-man shortlist.

Furthermore, Louis van Gaal’s side are without any out-and-out wingers with any real class. Depay as mentioned has a promising future but is as yet struggling to adapt to the Premier League since his £25 million move from PSV in the summer, Ashley Young is currently being deployed as a full-back, Martial is used as a left winger but he prefers to be played as a centre forward while Juan Mata is more of a number 10 and Antonio Valencia has never been a ‘top drawer’ player.

Worth the risk? Should United welcome Anderson with open arms?

Should United welcome Anderson with open arms?

Lazio’s Anderson is an attractive prospect to United due to their aforementioned struggle to score, but van Gaal’s tactics – the main reason the club have worries in-front of goal – will restrict the Brazilian winger.

Angel di Maria is van Gaal’s biggest signing to date in terms of price tag – a British record £59.7 million, but he was sold just a year later to Paris Saint Germain for £44 million.

Di Maria was one of the finest talents in the world when he joined from Real Madrid and he was restricted by van Gaal’s rigid system. Anderson has a lot more nurturing to go yet.

Players that land on British shores from Serie A tend to struggle too.

Once upon a time the likes of Gianfranco Zola, Marcel Desailly, Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira and Dennis Bergkamp were impressing in England after moving from Italy but nowadays we see a generation of players who come from the typically defence orientated Italian league and fail to keep up with the pace and rigour of the Premier League.

In the last 15 years players such as Juan Sebastian Veron, Andriy Shevchenko, Adrian Mutu, Juan Cuadrado, Erik Lamela, Mario Balotelli (twice), and Stevan Jovetic have failed to make any sort of impact.

Not only this, but Anderson is not exactly setting the world alight at current club Lazio.

He has scored four goals, made just one assist, contributed only 11 key passes and created a minuscule 12 chances. Anderson outdoes Depay at all of these, but only just, and that is a player used to a league compared to one who has been described as a ‘flop’ six months into their Manchester United career.

Anderson is an attractive option for United fans, but he might not be the right one yet.

Fellaini Could be a Useful Striker, Just Not on His Own

Central midfielder Marouane Fellaini was deployed as a makeshift lone striker in Manchester United’s 3-1 win over arch enemy Liverpool last Saturday and was largely ineffective, but he could be useful in that role in the future.

Wayne Rooney’s injury and Louis van Gaal’s reluctance to expose new signing Anthony Martial, the world’s most expensive teenager at £36 million, to a debut start against one of United’s fiercest rivals led to Fellaini’s inclusion up front.

Initially it seemed that van Gaal may have been naïve to offload forwards Javier Hernandez and Robin van Persie this summer to Germany’s Bayer Leverkusen and Fenerbahce of Turkey respectively, but a strong second half performance, including a stunning goal from the aforementioned new boy Martial off the bench, secured the three points for the Red Devils.

The first half at Old Trafford was a tame, tedious and tepid affair that largely reflected an afternoon kick-a-bout at the local park rather than a red hot derby clash that stretches back decades and was once upon a time the encounter that decided titles and trophies.

Fellaini looked isolated up front and through balls were going astray as he simply did and does not have the speed to get to them. The passes were begging out for the pace of Martial to run onto and create goal scoring opportunities, and he probably would have had a lot of joy too, as the Liverpool back four of Nathaniel Clyne, Martin Skrtel, Dejan Lovren and Joe Gomez failed to win a single tackle in the first half.

United were a different team after the interval, they ripped Liverpool apart with three second half goals. Daley Blind’s cultured, curled finish came just five minutes after the break before Ander Herrera’s penalty and Martial’s well taken goal with his first shot in a United shirt finished Brendan Rodgers’ side off after Christian Benteke’s outrageous overhead kick got them back in it at 2-1.

Despite the complete change in United’s display in the second half, Fellaini’s was very much more of the same, as he failed to make an impact and was not involved in any of the goals scored by the home side.

As part of a two though, Fellaini could be a great option as a striker.

Attribute wise, Fellaini would work perfectly as a target man. His six foot, four inch frame makes him a handful for any defender in an aerial sense, and the Belgian does have a reputation for using his elbows, which, although dangerous play and a risky strategy, it did work well for traditional English striker Alan Shearer – the Premier League’s all-time top goal scorer, formerly of Southampton, Blackburn Rovers and Newcastle United.

Fellaini and Martial could work in a partnership similar to that of Emile Heskey and Michael Owen for Liverpool in the 2000-2001 campaign that saw the Reds win the treble of the League Cup, the FA Cup and the UEFA Cup (Robbie Fowler played instead of Owen in the League Cup).

Although not renowned for his goal scoring ability, Heskey did net 14 that season, but was most used to link up play and knocking long balls down to Owen which led to the then 21-year-old winning the Ballon d’Or.

Contrary to perception, Fellaini does know where the back of the net is. With 14 goals in 63 caps for the Belgium national team he is the joint 21st record scorer for the side now ranked second in the world. Fellaini has found the back of the net six times in his last four outings in a Belgium shirt.

In the bag: Fellaini scores a spectacular equaliser against West Brom

In the bag: Fellaini scores a spectacular equaliser against West Brom

Goals have come in a large amount for the man who sports a unique afro at club level too. When used as a number 10 at Everton during the 2012-13 season he ended up on the scoresheet on no less than 11 occasions in 31 games. During that campaign he managed to score against the likes of Arsenal, Manchester City and current club Manchester United.

He was also United’s joint fourth top scorer last season with six goals, one of which was a fierce piledriver from just inside the box against West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns.

If he is given enough game time, Fellaini could even adjust to being a lone striker, but for now van Gaal has to introduce him slowly, using Rooney or Martial as an out-and-out strike partner, otherwise the man signed by David Moyes could well be accused of being a Manchester United flop once again.

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Chelsea’s signing of Pedro further enforces how much the top English clubs are lagging behind

Chelsea today announced the signing of Barcelona forward Pedro for £21 million, beating rivals Manchester United to his signature, but it highlights the fall in the Premier League’s pulling power.

There is no doubting the quality of the man who boasts three Champions League medals, five La Ligas, one World Cup and a European Championship among others in his collection, but he has only come available once deemed surplus to requirements at Barcelona following the arrivals of Neymar and Luis Suarez in recent years.

One of Jose Mourinho’s big money additions last summer Cesc Fabregas arrived in England under similar circumstances, leaving Catalonia after only winning one La Liga and one Spanish Cup domestically back home as well as Ivan Rakitic pushing him out the eleven.

Making himself at home: Pedro reunites with friend Fabregas

Making himself at home: Pedro reunites with friend Fabregas

Not only that, but back in 2011 he departed the club that gave him his professional debut, Arsenal, as soon as boyhood team Barcelona came calling again.

Arsenal’s big money moves from recent seasons, Mesut Ozil (£42.4 million) and Alexis Sanchez (£35 million) were too both castaways from La Liga giants Real Madrid and Barcelona respectively.

The Gunners are currently too in the hunt for Madrid’s Karim Benzema, a talented striker, but one that scored just 15 goals last term, 33 behind leading scorer Cristiano Ronaldo.

Even giants Manchester United are losing the ability to attract the biggest talents on the planet. Angel di Maria joined from Madrid this time last year for a British record fee of £59.7 million after he found himself out of favour due to political reasons of not being as globally marketable as James Rodriguez who shone at the 2014 World Cup prior to joining the Spanish capital.

Di Maria flopped at Old Trafford and promptly signed for PSG, the club he reportedly wanted to be at instead of Manchester United, earlier this month.

City of Love: Di Maria has left for PSG after never being fond of England

City of Love: Di Maria has left for PSG after never being fond of England

Louis van Gaal’s side added Bastian Schweinsteiger to their ranks during pre-season, but his ex-manager Pep Guardiola has said the German is past his best so was evidently happy to sell the one time World Cup winner.

Fellow Bayern Munich man Thomas Muller is also being targeted, but the chances of signing Bavaria’s favourite son will be slim, with a £60 million bid already rumoured to have been rejected.

Attempts to sign Sergio Ramos too were rebuffed, while first choice goalkeeper David De Gea is also likely to leave if Real Madrid show the desire to sign him.

The Premier League may well be the most watched and most competitive league in the world, but when it comes to the transfer market, the world’s elite would rather stay at home.

How do you solve a problem like Di Maria? Manchester United’s Argie Bargy

Angel Di Maria is again the target for flush French club Paris Saint-Germain, the side that missed out on the Argentine just last summer. After a disappointing debut season in England, should Manchester United dismiss Di Maria?

Numerous reports today suggest that PSG would be willing to splash the £59.7 million that United paid for Di Maria back in August (which broke the British transfer record in the process).

It would not be unfair to suggest that he has been a let down since his arrival, contributing just nine assists and three goals in the Premier League since arriving at Old Trafford.

Only PSG’s financial frustrations prevented the winger signing the dotted line at the Parc des Princes eight months ago, with UEFA implementing a spending restriction on the club after they breached Financial Fair Play regulations.

Di Maria told French broadcaster Telefoot in November that “PSG, I think they had a money problem and they couldn’t buy players, this is the main reason I didn’t go there”.

Real Madrid cast him aside in favour of the more marketable and star of the-then recently finished World Cup James Rodriguez as well as Gareth Bale who was signed for a world record £80 million from Tottenham the previous summer.

Right from the start, life in England seemed like hell for United’s Angel.

In an open letter to the Madridstas (Real Madrid fanbase) after leaving, the unwanted man admitted he never wanted to say sayonara to Santiago Bernabeu.

“Unfortunately, I have to go but I want to make clear that this was never my desire.

“I went to the World Cup with the hope of receiving a gesture from the board, which never arrived. Many things and many lies were told. Someone may not like me. The only thing I asked for was something fair. There are many things that I value and many of them have nothing to do with my salary.”

Big heart, but shown no love: "broken promises" led to Real Madrid binning Di Maria.

Big heart, but shown no love: “broken promises” led to Real Madrid binning Di Maria

Now United could too sell to recoup their transfer fee for a player who has not produced the sort of world class performances that were displayed during Real Madrid’s run to La Decima (a 10th Champions League triumph) just the season before.

The decision Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal faces, however, is one of does Di Maria want to be here, or is he just struggling to settle?

Van Gaal defended his stellar signing pre FA Cup defeat to Arsenal, noting “we are all human beings and we all have bad days.

“When you bring players into a team from a number of different countries it always takes time for them to settle both personally and with their family but also on the pitch as part of the team,” he wrote in his programme notes.

“Away from the football you have to adapt to a new culture that you are living in, while on the field you have to learn the new rhythm of the game, which is very high in the Premier League and very different to any other league, plus the competition is also very high”, Van Gaal continued.

“We are all human beings and we all have bad days but I am very pleased with the players we have here. They are improving all the time and I don’t think it will be very long before we see the team competing as a unit.”

Off-the-field issues are beyond simply missing home, though. Di Maria has had his house raided and his wife is rumoured to have recently relocated back to Spain.

Paris Potential: Could PSG be saying "Halo" to Angel this summer?

Paris Potential: Could PSG be saying “Halo” to Angel this summer?

If Di Maria’s debacle is simply down to cultural differences, and these are overcome, then United have the player on their hands that has won domestic and continental honours, but this is a conclusion that needs to be drawn between now and August.

If not, United may not get the required transfer fee and end up selling what could have been a star asset for a cut-price deal next January.

Patience is a Virtue: Radamel Falcao Needs Time at Manchester United

Radamel Falcao has had a rocky start to life in Manchester, but given time, he will become the man that many expected him to be back in August.

Expectations were high on the Colombia striker when he arrived at Old Trafford on Transfer Deadline Day for £6 million on a season-long loan deal and has only managed four goals in 16 league games.

United have not been their usual fluent best this season with the playing staff appearing nervous and trapped under a rigid system by manager Louis van Gaal – a coach famous for his abrasive nature but decorative trophy haul.

Falcao is no exception to this, with the aforementioned poor goal return. but there is enough reason behind that.

A serious knee injury was suffered on January 23 2014, which ruled him out of the rest of the season and the World Cup in the summer – his return was confirmed in mid July – six months out in total.

Goals soon came in pre-season, and at the beginning of Monaco’s Ligue 1 season (two in three matches, one of which a penalty), but they have dried up since his arrival in England.

Although he looked fit and firing in France, coming into one of, if not the, most physical league in the world cannot be easy for someone who has faced that long on the side lines.

The class of the Colombian has came in glimpses, his first for the Red Devils was a crucial winner in the 2-1 win over Everton, as well as goals in 1-1 draws against Aston Villa and Stoke City.

If he can finally lose the shackles of a serious injury, adjust to the Premier League, and break free of Van Gaal’s regimented tactics – we could see the rebirth of one of the finest goal scorers in the modern game.

 

The FA Cup is Manchester United’s Holy Grail

It may not be the ultimate prize in English football, but for Manchester United, the FA Cup might just lead to bigger and brighter things in the next era of the club.

The Red Devils are the highest ranked team left in the prestigious cup competition, following the shock exits of Chelsea and Manchester City to Bradford City and Middlesbrough respectively.

It should lead to a relatively easy route to Wembley for United, who have so far bumped off League One Yeovil Town 2-0 at Huish Park and League Two Cambridge United 3-0 in an Old Trafford replay and will face a second League One side, Preston North End, in round five.

Darren Fletcher’s deadline day move to West Bromwich Albion made him the last member of the 2004 winning FA Cup squad to leave Carrington, meaning not one member of the current team has won an FA Cup while at Manchester United.

Absent: It is 11 years since Manchester United lifted the FA Cup

Absent: It is 11 years since Manchester United lifted the FA Cup

None of the current class have won a trophy at the club since Sir Alex Ferguson retired, with David Moyes enduring an awful solemn season at Old Trafford, finishing seventh, but Louis van Gaal has started the rebuilding process.

Unlike teams such as Arsenal and Liverpool, Manchester United have not struggled to attract the global stars during their decline with Ander Herrera, Juan Mata, Angel di Maria and Radamel Falcao being just four of the nine high profile arrivals since Ferguson’s farewell.

Although United are doing well in third, they seem out of the title race and were unceremoniously dumped out of the Capital One Cup 4-0 by Milton Keynes Dons as well as being out of continental competition due to last season’s lowly league standing.

Which means the FA Cup is the only competition they are fighting for this season, and fight they should do, as it could give the trophy-less dressing room the catalyst it needs to become a great again.

 

 

PREVIEW: Manchester City vs CSKA Moscow (19:45 BST)

MANCHESTER City go into their fourth game of this season’s Champions League still looking for their first win of the group stage.

Manuel Pellegrini’s men have two points from a possible nine going into tonight’s clash at the Etihad, seven fewer than leaders Bayern Munich.

Opposition CSKA Moscow only have one point themselves, which they picked up in the reverse of this fixture, a 2-2 draw in Russia on October 21.

Russian champions CSKA fought back from two goals down, although Bedras Nacho’s equaliser from the spot four minutes from time came in controversial circumstances as Seydou Doumbia went down easily in the box.

That game was played in a near- empty stadium due to a ban on CSKA fans for racist abuse.

Premier League holders City have won four of their last five matches in the league, their most recent three points coming in the 1-0 Manchester derby win at home to Manchester United with Sergio Aguero’s goal separating the sides.

Moscow meanwhile are without a win in two domestically following a 0-1 home defeat vs Zenit St. Petersburg and a 3-3 draw against FC Ufa

Frank Lampard is expected to be fit for City and could make his first appearance since the Citizens’ 4-1 win over Tottenham.

Eliaquim Mangala and David Silva are also in contention to return but Aleksander Kolarov will definitely sit out the match with a calf injury.

CSKA however will be without Kirill Panchenko and Rasmus Elm who have knee and stomach problems respectively.

 

Arsenal must toughen up to become a top side again

As a result of their 2-0 loss away to Chelsea on Sunday, Arsenal have now gone 14 games without being able to defeat a side in the previous season’s top four.

Eden Hazard and Diego Costa provided the goals while the away side did not even fashion a shot on target at Stamford Bridge.

Arsenal have been bullied by the top sides in recent seasons. Chelsea have notched eight goals and conceded none in the last two meetings between the sides, Liverpool romped to a 5-1 win at Anfield last season, Manchester City won 6-3 at the Etihad and even David Moyes’ under performing Manchester United side took four points off their old adversary in the 2013/14 campaign.

Many suggest the reason behind this is that Arsenal get out-thought in midfield, esteemed pundit Gary Neville labelled them “confused” after their 3-0 loss away at Everton in April.

“Arsenal become so confused by it, if you’re going to defend in a four-four-two system you need legs and you need discipline, everything this Arsenal team didn’t have.

“They don’t understand how to defend a cross, they don’t understand the fact that when a left sided player goes across to the left side, the midfield player comes across.

“This is why Arsenal will never move forwards playing attacking players with attacking mindsets”

The likes of Patrick Vieira, Ray Parlour and Gilberto Silva who were all so prominent in the 2003/04 “Invincibles” side are long gone and have been replaced by a new brand of midfielder who play a with a delicate passing style.

Jack Wilshere, Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini are the three players most likely to provide bite in the middle but Wilshere is too often sidelined and it is no secret that Wenger is looking for a new defensive midfielder.

Happier times: Arsenal haven't quite been the same since Viera's departure.

Happier times: Arsenal haven’t quite been the same since Viera’s departure.

Sami Khedira and William Carvalho were both heavily linked to a move to the Emirates but neither signed on the dotted line at the North London club.

Chelsea, Manchester City and Manchester United have all added top class defensive midfield players in the shape of Nemanja Matic, Fernando and Daley Blind respectively.

Arsene Wenger’s outfit are already nine points behind the league leaders only seven games in, only two of which have been won along with four draws.

McNair set for Northern Ireland call up

Manchester United defender Paddy McNair is to be named in the Northern Ireland squad for their forthcoming Euro 2016 qualifiers.

McNair has been drafted in as a replacement for club team mate Jonny Evans who has withdrew from the squad with an ankle problem.

The 19-year-old has been capped at under 17, 19 and 21 level for his country.

He has played in the last two games for his club side due to an injury crisis in defence.

Northern Ireland face the Faroe Islands at home on Saturday and then a trip to Greece the following Tuesday.

Michael O’Neill’s side won their qualification opener 1-2 in Hungary thanks to two late strikes from Niall McGinn and Kyle Lafferty.