United 0-0 Newcastle United: *audible sigh*

We played pretty well against Brugge in the week, and, on the whole, we were actually pretty good against Newcastle this weekend. But we didn’t win, we didn’t extend our perfect run, and we didn’t even score. Bar a (wrongly) disallowed goal against this weeks media scapegoat Wayne Rooney, we didn’t even look like testing the ‘keeper. Positives and Negatives. This ought to be fun.

Positives

The opening 20 minutes were some of the most confident and exciting minutes of the season so far. We could have legitimately been about 4-0 up after about 15 minutes, had it not been for the aforementioned disallowed goal, that might have been the case. Memphis had a chance or two, Mata had an effort skewed wide, and a free-kick plucked out of the air, but we had nothing to show for it. Chances are being created, on another day they could go in. If we keep creating those opportunities, goals will come.

Bastian Schweinsteiger started, and looked every bit as classy as you’d expect him to look. Rarely misplacing a pass, Schweini conducted the play, he actually looked like a babysitter playing football with a bunch of kids in a park at times. If it weren’t for Geroginio Wijnaldum sitting on him for the last 15 minutes of the first half, he could have easily become unplayable against. Schweini has settled in nicely at Old Trafford thanks, in part, to van Gaal’s manner of slowly integrating him into the line up. If only he were 5 years younger…

Both Luke Shaw and Matteo Darmian looked very good. Shaw is quickly becoming one of my favourite players to watch in this side. He’s so quick. It’s refreshing to actually have a player that can run at teams with pace, given how slow we are all over the park. As for Darmian, aside from being a walking booking, he is a genuinely good defender. A fine career, I predict for the Italian.
On the subject of the defence, it’s nice to get another clean sheet on the board with the Blind and Balling pairing, and even dodgy Serge can be happy with that. Plenty to build upon, still, but a very solid start.

Negatives

0-0 against Newcastle United is poor. van Gaal summed it up when he suggested it was a good performance, but we didn’t reward ourselves. We deserved to win by about 3 or 4 goals, but you don’t win solely on the run of play. You have to take your chances when they come, and we had plenty. We were poor, in that aspect. Seemingly content in passing the ball between the 3 attacking midfielders, allowing Newcastle to get numbers back. Which brings me onto my next point…

We were far too slow in possession. It’s all well and good having 70% of possession, but, again, that doesn’t win you games. It certainly doesn’t help when a large chunk of that number can be attributed to Blind, Balling and Schneiderlin. There were times last season when we played like that, and got no where, and that’s happening again. With 15 minutes to go, we were still looking to pass it about at the back. We lacked someone to carry the ball between the midfield and the attack, instead of having our midfielders pass it backwards and sideways. When Schweini was subbed in the second half, that was the perfect opportunity to have that sort of player brought on.
Ander Herrera proved last season he is more that capable in playing that role. He’s deceivingly quick for a central midfielder, and he’s got the ability to score and create opportunities. Against a side that were happy to have all hands on deck, like Newcastle, and like Villa last week, there really is no need to have two players happy to keep the ball between themselves. I like Schneiderlin, and I like Carrick, but they are not compatible. Both are far too similar. Herrera is a true box to box type, and would have offered an attacking option when Mata cut inside, or when Rooney dropped deep. Just like last season, when he was inexplicably dropped, his exclusion from this side is truly baffling, and absolutely unnecessary. The sooner he’s recalled as a starter the better.

Rooney might not be the answer by himself up top. Aside from the non-goal, he looked lost. Rooney has become a mature player, and looks a leader, but he lacks the basic discipline to hold the line up top. Too often he was happy to drop deep in search of the ball, and it left us light up front. ‘nandez made an appearance late on, and managed to fashion an opportunity for himself, but he’s neither consistent or good enough to head the attack. Dare I say it, another body is almost required up front to, if for nothing else, provide a bit of competition for that spot.

Januzaj needs to improve, because, right now, he’s living off being the only player on out team with a goal to his name. And, I’m not being funny, it wasn’t even that good. He’s offered so little in the last few games, he managed to break down a 3-on-2 in our favour. I love the kid, and i think he has the potential to become a big piece of this side, but I’m not convinced he’s what we need right now. I’d rather have Herrera as an extra body in the middle of the park for Schneiderlin and Carrick/Schweini to give the ball to.

Memphis started well enough, but when he drops, he’s a liability. At times, he was trying to win the game by himself, and it hindered us massively. Ashley Young must be wondering what he has done to deserve this silent treatment, because he could have improved that left sided attack in the second half. I hope van Gaal isn’t just sticking with him because he cost £30 million or whatever.

It was a solid performance, but there was no plan B. We had one game plan, one mindset, and we applied that for 90 minutes. van Gaal needs to become more pragmatic in his approach to these teams. Two holding midfielders aren’t required when the ball is barely gonna enter your half. This side is still a work in progress, so games like this can only help in the long run, but it’s frustrating to see a side basically asking for your address so they can post you the three points, and you politely decline before attempting to pick pocket them from your opposition. Metaphor aside, we should have won, end of. Failure to do so should be seen as such: a failure.
Anyway, we move onto Brugge on Wednesday, before travelling to Swansea on Sunday. I’ll do a thing after the Brugge game, and preview the Swansea game on Friday I imagine.

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Preview: United vs Newcastle United

The fixture goads have been kind to United so far this season. 3 games in 12 days for a side in Europe is oft desired, however to have 3 games against 3 very manageable sides is like hitting the jackpot. After navigating past Aston Villa in comfortable, if unspectacular, fashion, all eyes turned to the hosting of our Belgian friends Club Brugge, which you can read about here. Not only were Brugge defeated, they were dispatched in a very exciting manner. This all bodes well for a side that has been less than so so far this year. It also means our expectations are raised ever so slightly. Enter: Newcastle United; a side so sorry they could make a blind homeless gentleman feel bad for them.

Newcastle United ended last season with a grand total of 4 points out of a possible 30, losing to the already relegated Queens Park Rangers on the way. It took a victory over West Ham on the last day to keep them up, but it wasn’t enough for Groundsman-turned-Mike Ashley’s puppet John Carver to keep his job, rightfully dispatched for being terrible. His replacement (former England failure and Fergie’s right hand man during the treble season and slightly beyond Steve McClaren) hasn’t fared much better in his short time in charge, managing to lose to the reserve side of the MLS’ Portland Timbers in pre-season, and, though they did pick up a battling point against Southampton on the first day of the season, they barely put up a fight against Swansea City. For them, this is a game that could have waited a few more weeks.
Newcastle really aren’t much to be feared, when all is said and done. They’ve been without a potent centre forward since Demba Ba inexplicably moved to Chelsea‘s bench in 2012 (Papiss Cisse‘s record is deceiving, trust me), and their midfield is less than impressive, even with the actually quite good Georginio Wijnaldum the crown of it. Wijnaldum, of course, played alongside our very own Memphis at PSV. And, without their pretty alright full-back Daryl Janmaat at the back, the defence is pretty awful. In all, Newcastle don’t really pose much of a threat.

For United, goals are the order of the day. In this tie last season, Wayne Rooney managed to bag a brace, but fans will be hoping for even half of that, as the centre forward hopes to end his barren goal drought at 9 games. Really the only way he can do that is by shooting, and I’m pretty certain he’s yet to register a shot as of yet.
The only change I can see possibly see being made to the side the brushed Brugge aside would be Bastian Schweinsteiger coming in for Michael Carrick. Tuesday’s early replacement was the clearest indicator that van Gaal would prefer to be starting Schweini sooner rather than later, so perhaps this is the week the £6.3 million man (how the fuck did we con Bayern that much?!?) finally makes his start. Aside from that, I can’t imagine many other changes being made. Given Young nabbed the winner in the away tie last season, perhaps he might start in place of young Adnan Januzaj, however that would be at a push. David de Gea‘s self imposed/van Gaal imposed exile will continue, with Serge keeping his place in goal, and looking to extend his run of clean sheets to 3 games. There is not really any need to change the back four at this point. As such, I imagine the starting XI will look something like this.

united vs newcastle
(In regards to this line-up builder, it looks like you can buy a kit pack that lets you have this seasons kits on it. Might do it. Thoughts?)

I’m anticipating a carbon copy of mid-week, to be honest. Hopefully Memphis can re-enact his European heroics and open his domestic account (and start scoring some fantasy points). As ever, the points are more important then the scoreline, but some more goals on the board would be delightful.

Prediction: United 3-0 Newcastle United

Aston Villa 0-1 United

Another week, another unconvincing victory. Against a side that struggled against the drop last season, United gave up possession in very unnecessary areas, carved very few goalscoring opportunities, and just looked disjointed in all areas. Basically a repeat of last week. That being said, if we want to win the next 36 league games 1-0, I won’t complain. Let’s just get into it.

Positives

Matteo Darmian received a lot of praise last week for his performance against Spurs, however I’d barely noticed him. I kept an eye out this week, and, low and behold, it turns out he’s actually very good. He positioned himself well, offered himself in support of John’s attacking play, and rarely lost a tackle. A silly booking marred an otherwise excelled performance.

Boy wonder turned touted Sunderland loanee Adnan Januzaj made his first start in about 18 months, and managed to get himself on the score sheet. A delicious pass from the aforementioned John Mata threaded Adnan in, before a simple check back left Micah Richards on his arse. A placed, deflected, finish capped the move, that, ultimately, won the game for United.

The defence seemed solid enough for the challenge in front of them. While Balling and Blind were rarely challenged, they dispelled every attack they faced, and Luke Shaw looked ever confident in his role at left back. Two clean sheets out of two for Serge Romero, who is easily the luckiest man in football right now, should improve the man’s confidence, though I’d still say his situation is utterly ridiculous.

Bastian Schwiensteiger looked so composed in his 30 minutes on the pitch. Everything he does is conducted with such grace and elegance you might wonder what might happen when he’s fully fit.

Negatives

Wayne Rooney looks a slip of the man he was at the end of last season. Two very ineffectual performances for anyone else on that pitch would see them dropped. This isn’t something Rooney has to worry about, given the lack of competition in the strikers position, and the untouchable status van Gaal has bestowed upon him. Just about every attempt to receive a pass cannoned off him into the wilderness, I’m not sure he’s actually had a shot so far this season. van Gaal claims bonus one is guaranteed of a start in this side. One performance like that would give him chance to prove this.

In spite of his goal, Adnan lost the ball more often than not, and that resulted in his departure early in the second half. One goal doesn’t make a performance, though it appears to paper the cracks, given no one’s talking about it. Still a long way to go for the young man.

Memphis still has a long way to. Another match that saw him shrugged off the ball with ease, and fall to the floor far too easily. He rarely looked a threat, to be perfectly honest. Barring a one on one that inched wide (he has to finish those, by the way), every time he struck the ball, it either balloon’d over, or was so pathetically tame Brad “Mini Me” Guzan could pick the ball up without worry. It is still early days yet, but you want him to be showing up soon.

Another negative day at the office for Carrick and Handsome Morgan. Pick up the ball, and pass it forward for christ sake. This is a growing problem. We have wonderfully talented forward players, but they’re seeing the ball less and less. Add Herrera into the mix, and let him link the play.

Two wins out of two is a great start, and early performances matter not in the grand scheme of things. It might take a few weeks yet for things to click into place, but it’ll come. Show some a bit of patience, and you’ll be rewarded.

Anyway, we’ve Club Brugge tomorrow, so I’ll do a preview as best I can based on my limited knowledge of that side a bit later I imagine.

Preview: Aston Villa vs United

After a satisfying, if uninspiring, victory over Spurs, our attentions are turned swiftly to a Friday Night match! Friday nights are due to come into play from next season under the terms of the latest money spinning TV Broadcasting deal. At the time of drawing, no one knew whether United would have a Tuesday or Wednesday night Champions League play off, twin that with an upcoming, Saturday afternoon EDL march in Birmingham (I assume Tim Sherwood is due to speak or something (THIS IS A JOKE. PLEASE DON’T SUE, TIM)), Sky saw it as the perfect opportunity to trial their new toy before it’s due for release.

Saturday afternoon’s victory over Spurs saw United manage to get points on the board in an impressively unimpressive manner. Off memory, United managed to get maybe 5 shots away, with perhaps 2 of those on target. The gulf between Spurs and Villa is vast, so I’d expect at least twice as many attempts and attempts on target. With everyone a game sharper, and captain Wayne Rooney hopefully rust free after a trip to the mechanics, you’d hope to see a return of the expansive and expressive football that often threatened to overcome this side towards the end of last season.

Squad wise, van Gaal is a creature of habit. For all his rotation and tinkering last season, he did pick the same XI for about 3 months at the end of last season. It was abundantly clear to anyone watching that a spark was missing on Saturday. The midfield pairing of Carrick and Handsome Morgan required an extra body in the middle to carry the ball through to the forwards, and Memphis, unfortunately, was not that player, given how high he was playing. I would suggest the addition of Ander Herrera to the midfield to at least give the aforementioned pairing an option other than turning around and giving the ball to Daley Blind. It’s who you drop to accommodate that addition that’s difficult. Memphis did enough in the first half to warrant another look this evening,  Ashley Young absolutely schooled Kyle Walker, who, if nothing else, if a better player than Villa option Leandro Bacuna, and John Mata‘s interception directly led to the goal. If I were to hazard a guess, if Herrera were to drop in, I’d say it would be for Young.

It’s all hypothetical, either way. van Gaal won’t change this side. Even, despite David de Gea declaring himself available and ready for this one, he’s already ruled Dave out for the next 4 weeks, so expect Serge Romero to start again this evening. In all, my predicted line up is thus

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As for this week’s opposition, Aston Villa kicked off the season with a smash and grab victory over Premier League new boys Bournemouth, with Christian Benteke replacement Rudy Gestede bagging the winner from a corner. What this means for United is that Villa are gonna try to lump it into the box at every opportunity, testing the collection of Serge, and the aerial ability of our centre halves. While this isn’t a problem for Balling, there are still questions to be answered over the standard of Romero’s abilities, and the quality of Blind in the air as a centre back. This will be a different type of test for those two, one I’m unsure of how it will end.

Villa are a different sort of beast under Sherwood than they were under Paul Lambert. Gone is the Villa that would set up to defend a draw, and in comes a more gung-ho style. For all Sherwood’s faults (of which there are many), you can’t fault his desire to win at all costs. Free signing Micah Richards captains the side after successfully convincing Fabian Delph to defect to Manchester City mere hours after making a YouTube video telling fans he would stay, and young Jack Grealish carries the burden of expectation bestowed on him at the tender age of 14 years old.

I don’t expect much of a game from Villa, truth be told. We haven’t lost at Villa Park since 1999, we beat Villa 3-0 in our last meeting, and Villa have lost their best 2 players since then. Doesn’t expect liquid football to be in effect for the next few weeks, but a form of total football to on show tonight.

Prediction: Villa 0-3 United

United 1-0 Tottenham Hotspur

For the second season running, Saturday lunchtime saw United open the Premier League season a home. Whereas last season, Old Trafford played host to an uninspiring, drab, loss, the 2015-16 curtain raiser was an uninspiring, drab, WIN. The early weeks of the season can be forgiven for being disjointed in performance, and this tie epitomised that, with both sides failing to create many clear chances. In a game that won’t be remembered by many for long, the result was more important than the performance.

I’m not going to do a review of the game, there are plenty of websites across the internet that offer an in depth analysis of a football match. I’ll focus only on the positive and negatives of our performance, given this is a blog dedicated to Manchester United (and I’m not very good at remembering key moments from games).

Positives

Louis van Gaal must have read my preview, and thought it might be hilarious to throw my credibility into a fire before this blog has even come close to taking off, because Sergio Romero started ahead of Sam Johnstone, in replacement of David de Gea, who was deemed unfit to play. Credit to Romero, then, to make your debut against a side often falling in the top 5 in the league, about a week after signing for the club, off the back of two seasons where you made about 12 appearances at club level, and not be dreadful. Serge made two fine saves as the game edged towards its close, probably snatching a win from the jaws of a draw by himself. Twin this with a desire to leave his line and collect the ball early, and very confidently, and you’ve got yourself a very good performance. Something we’ve become accustomed to from our goalkeeper in recent seasons.

Chris Balling proved once again he can be a vital member of this squad if United are to compete this season. The man mountain managed to turn around what could have easily been a dismal season last year, with a string of fabulous performances that completely changed my perception of what he can be. Balling began 2015/16 in a very similar manner. It wouldn’t surprise me if he begins to charge Harry Kane rent for the residence of his back pocket, considering kane hasn’t left it since April. Twin that with two vital stops (that looked effortless), and you’ve got a Man of the Match performance from a man I don’t expect to leave the back four.

Speaking of picking up where you left last season off, Ashley Young celebrated a new contract with a very impressive performance. The left wing tandem of Young and Luke Shaw made poor Kyle Walker look every bit as poor as he is. As the game wore on, Luke became more adventurous in his runs. If these two can stay fit for more than 2 weeks at a time, hopefully a bit more of a connection can be established, and we can see a bit more of what this pairing has to offer.

The first half performance of the much lauded Memphis Depay was encouraging and exciting. He carved a few half-chances for himself, and I’m certain he played the ball that, ultimately, led to the goal, but it was his desire to be a passing option at all times, and equally his ability to know when to move it on, that impressed me most. Going into the game, I’d heard stories of a player that demands the ball at all times, that loses the ball, and refuses to work back. On Saturday, I saw a player that, granted, did go down under the softest of contacts, but one that wanted to impress his new suitors. While it’s far too soon to judge him on where he can fit in (his second half performance paled in comparison to his first), there were early signs that Memphis has enough about him to make something of a success of this season.

Both Ander Herrera and Bastian Schweinsteiger managed to impress, despite coming off the bench. While Herrera is a known quantity in Manchester after a more than solid first season (given the amount of shirts with his name emblazoned on the back that I saw around the ground, it’s fair to say he’s a little bit popular), Bastian came into the tie with nothing but a reputation (albeit an incredibly good reputation to his name). Replacing Michael Carrick, he played the role of a director rather than that of a lead star, organizing the midfield to suit every Spurs attack. While he looked rusty, and maybe a few pounds over weight, he showed why he is so revered in world football. As for Herrera, he injected some pace and directness into a midfield that was flagging from sitting very deep for the 70 or so minutes prior. Further proof, I feel, that this side performs best in a 4-3-3.

Negatives

While Romero dealt with snapshots and collections well, his distribution left alot to be desired. Over the last two seasons, out back four have played in the knowledge that de Gea is comfortable on the ball, and is able to pick a pass to just about anyone on the pitch. Romero looked less than comfortable playing this roll, often playing out the phrase you learn at youth level: “If in doubt, kick it out”. While I’m sure this can be improved, and I sincerely it does, it wasn’t particularly encouraging to witness first hand.

Chris Balling’s partner for the afternoon was one Daley Blind. Blind, usually so composed and calm on the ball, lost both of these attributes early on, often conceding the ball, and putting his team mates under unnecessary pressure. Against more season centre forwards in this division (Aguero and Costa and the like), those mistakes will be punished. It served as a constant reminder that a commanding centre back is still a must for this squad to be a real contender.

New signing Handsome Morgan Schneiderlin was very strong in the tackle (pretty certain he won every dual he was involved in), but then proceeded to make a 180 degree turn and pass it back to Balling. While it’s nice to have a player that’ll win the ball with every tackle, he needed to be more positive once he had the ball at his feet. This is a defence that will look shaky at the best of times, the last thing they need is to have the ball near them more than they need to.

Wayne Rooney was virtually nonexistent for 90 minutes. Aside from NOT taking the chance that Kyle Walker eventually pounced upon, Rooney was a bystander in a game that needed to be have all 11 men fighting for the same cause. Given we have 3 striking options, one of which is a 13 year old with a paper round, this doesn’t bode well. There is, however, an entire season left to play, and Rooney often takes a while to get back to his best, so we ought to see improvement against Villa and Newcastle.

The midfield looked really, really disjointed. Perhaps it was the last shedding of the summer rust, perhaps it was just growing pains in what could become a blossoming partnership, but Handsome Morgan and Carrick didn’t appear to be on the same page for a lot of the game. A third man in the centre of the park (4-3-3 nonsense again) would have given each an extra passing option, as well has an extra man for John Mata to give the ball to. Just play Herrera, for fuck sake.

All in all, the performance left a lot to be desired, but we’re 3 points better off than we were last season, and that’s all the matters. We move on to Aston Villa away, which I will preview on Thursday. Until then, keep your eyes peeled as I attempt to finish the state of the squad pieces I started.

Preview: United vs Tottenham Hotspur

Despite a pre-season tailored to suit his style, and a transfer window of relative success thus far, Mr Louis van Gaal enters the first game of his second season in charge of the club under a fog of uncertainty. Mere hours before United play out 2015/16’s Premier League curtain raiser, Big Lou announced first choice goalkeeper David de Gea would not be considered for selection vs Tottenham Hotspur, questioning the Spaniard’s frame of mind as a result of a summers worth of being linked with the talent vacuum that is Real Madrid.

Last season’s hosting of Tottenham Hotspur came days after a bitterly disappointing elimination from the FA Cup, and saw United finally play with an attacking intensity sorely missing from the majority of the matches previous. In many ways, the performance came out of nowhere, and changed many peoples perceptions of what a van Gaal United might look like. Being 3-0 after 35 minutes, and never relinquishing that lead, was a pleasant change to the scrappy 1-0s and 2-1s we’d become accustomed to.

Based on word of mouth (stuff I read on twitter), it appears Sam Johnstone will be given the chance to show his worth, after an American tour that saw him play more minutes than any other goalkeeper. I assume it’s too soon for Sergio Romero to step into the hurricane, though expect him to start on the bench. A back four consisting of Darmian-Balling-Blind-Shaw will likely be tasked with protecting the young man between the sticks., with Michael Carrick and “Handsome” Morgan Schneiderlin shielding the defence. I expect new number 7 Memphis Depay, best player in the side Juan “John” Mata, and Ashley Young, celebrating a new contract, no less, to play back up to Wayne Rooney. Using an app called “Lineup11” (Not being paid to endorse these, full disclosure), I believe this is how we will line up tomorrow afternoon.

Screenshot_2015-08-07-22-57-09-1

That’s not to say I want this side to look like this. van Gaal has been a long time user of a 4-3-3, believing it to be the definite way to cover every zone on the pitch. United’s best performances of last season came when using a 4-3-3, (that run of form started against Spurs, it has to be said), so it’s only natural for me to hanker for this set up more than I would the 4-2-3-1 from pre-season. a 4-3-3 would allow for a bright light from last season (Ander Herrera) to play as well, and I think we all agree that can only be a positive thing, given the liquid football played at times down the right hand side last season. Given this information, I’ve selected a preferred XI.

Screenshot_2015-08-06-17-12-09-1

In regards to the opposition, Spurs retained their 5th place title for an incredible 15th season in a row. Gaffer Mauricio Pochettino appears to have cleared out just about all the planks brought in to replace man-machine Gareth Bale in 2013. However they haven’t made too many moves by the way of replacements, with wunderkid-turned-future greatest player of all time Harry Kane being lined up to shoulder most of the responsibility off the back of a season that saw him bag 21 league goals. despite this, Kane has only had one real season at this level, and to put too much expectation on the kid could be detrimental to his development. Then again, he might be the real deal, and get up scoring about 35 goals next year. Kane was silenced at Old Trafford last season by Chris Balling, so at least we have that.

Spurs will be without Hugo Lloris, due to a freak wrist injury over the summer, so Michel Vorm (of Swansea City fame) will likely be between the sticks. Former Southampton loanee Toby Alderweireld looks to partner actually good centre back Jan Vertonghen, with former Burnley full back Kieran Trippier and Welshy Ben Davies acting as full backs. That’s a back four made up of two new signings, so hopefully out attack can take advantage of a lack of chemistry in the defence. From that point forward, things become slightly clearer, and I imagine Nabil Bentaleb will partner Ryan Mason in the centre of the park, with Nacer Chadli, Christian Eriksen, and Erik Lamela behind the aforementioned Harry Kane. Please don’t quote me on any of this, though. I don’t have any idea who plays for Spurs these days.

Any side we put out against this Spurs squad should get a side (within reason), and, in spite of the last minute disruption to our goalkeeping plans, I expect to have 3 points on the board come 3pm tomorrow afternoon.

Score Prediction: 2-1 win