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

United 3-1 Club Brugge: Walking in Memphis

That’s better! On a night billed as the most important of our season so far, United put together one of the most exciting performances in recent memory. Full to the brim with attacking verve, United saw off an early own (and away, might I add) goal, and raised it with a performance fitting of one of England’s finest. We travel to Brugge next Wednesday with a two goal lead, and, really, it ought to be over at this point. Here’s your Positives and Negatives.

Positives

Memphis was gooooooooooooooooooooooooood. United went down after 8 minutes through a Michael Carrick own goal, however the Englishman responded magnificently with a pass so delicious you could serve it at Wings as a starter and it would be a house favourite. What followed was incredible. Jinking the ball over the Brugge defender, somehow finding space in a crowd of about 5 other Brugge players, before curling the shot bottom bins. Not a bad first goal. The second was better. A thunderbolt from left to right; something he’s tried a few times without reward this season. He almost capped a hattrick in the most perfect manner (more on that later), but he had to settle for a brace and an assist in the dying moments. Twin that with genuine flashes of brilliance, and a blossoming relationship with Luke Shaw down the left, and you’ve got a performance of class. Not bad going for the young man.
What was incredible to see was his post-match interview, where he was visibly disappointed not to have gotten his hattrick. The kid wants to rule this club, that much is clear. A few more performances like that will certainly help him achieve that sooner rather than later.

On the topic of Luke Shaw, the full back put in another first class performance, suggesting this season could be one of the highest quality. He was more than willing to throw himself forward when needed, and had enough pace to get himself back. His defensive positioning does need some work, but that will come in time.
We was also the architect of the move of the game. After losing the ball in our half, he proceeded to win it back, then flat out sprint from the left hand side over to the right, up the right wing, delivered a perfect cross into Rooney, who deftly nudged it back to Memphis, who balloon’d it over the bar. It was an unfortunate end to a breathless move. Let’s hope for more of the same soon.

Defensive partners Chris Balling and Daley Blind looked as assured as ever. Former United centre half-turned-professional pundit Rio Ferdinand described Balling’s performance as “beast mode”, and with good reason. Balling was quick, he was strong, he rarely looked troubled. He’s been specifically mentioned in every one of these summary’s this season so far, which suggests to me this is more than just excellent form. His showing suggests he’s improved as a player. This could be par for the course for the man. And, if that’s the case, we’ve got a very good player on our books. I hope I’m right, because this kid call ball. As for Daley, what he lacks in aerial presence he makes up for in composure, which he has in spades. I will say he’s looked good in the last couple of games. Let’s hope he continues to improves as well.

Negatives

Serge Romero looked uncomfortable in possession. This is a side that have spent the last two and a bit years using the goalkeeper as on outlet for keeping the ball, and Romero did not look like a ‘keeper that could handle that. Case in point: a second half back pass rolled to him, and he failed to notice the oncoming Brugge centre forward as he dallied his way to the ball. He picked up a knock in the process of atoning for his mistake.

3 goals wasn’t enough. When you create as many opportunities as you do against Club Brugge, you’re expecting about 5. And that comes down to another frustrating night for Wayne Rooney, who, even though he’ll score sooner rather than later, cuts a figure far less inspired than his former self. And, with Javier “‘nandez” Hernandez looking sharp in his cameo appearance, Rooney needs to buck his ideas up.

Those are mere nitpicks, mind. We were dominant against a side we were expected to be dominant against. Our thoughts turn now to Newcastle United on Saturday lunchtime, which I will be previewing tomorrow evening. Many thanks for reading.

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.