Preview: FA Cup Final – United vs Crystal Palace

For the first time since 2007, Manchester United will travel to Wembley Stadium in  pursuit of a, now record leveling, 12th FA Cup title. Only Arsenal can boast more victories than United in the Cup, having both equaled, and then broken, that record over the last two seasons. United will be hoping to come away from a truly disappointing season with at least something to smile about.

The FA Cup has proven to be something of a saving grace for Louis van Gaal. Going into the last game of the season knowing 4th position was all but out reach, many other clubs may have cut ties and moved onto another manager with another approach to things. United’s progress in the famous cup has given King Lou something of a stay of execution. Success in the FA Cup may well give him another season to implement his philosophy.

United’s path to the Final has been one navigated with minimal difficulty.  A 1-0 win over Sheffield United in the Third Round, courtesy of a 93rd minute Wayne Rooney penalty, led to a trip to Pride Park on a Friday night, and a 3-1 victory over hosts Derby County in the Fourth Round. Shrewsbury Town were dispatched 3-0 in the Fifth, and United faced their first Premier League opposition in West Ham United in the Sixth Round. United looked down and out when Dimitri Payet dispatched one of his trademark free kicks, however United equalized 7 minutes from time thanks to boy wonder Anthony Martial. A replay at Upton Park saw fireworks as United’s OTHER boy wonder, Marcus Rashford, buried from outside the box, and the human chest himself, Marouane Fellaini, smuggled a second moments later. A late charge from the Irons yielded a consolation, but United hung on, and a trip to Wembley was on the cards.
Everton were all that stood in United’s way, and early signs were that United would not only see safe passage through to the final, but would embarrass the Toffees in the process. Fellaini picked up where he left off by scuffing his effort past Joel Robles, and United led 1-0 at half time. Then, pandemonium. Everton earned a penalty, which gave David de Gea the perfect opportunity to save United for the 1800th in April, however he could nothing about the Chris Smalling own goal which leveled the tie. United looked rattled, but survived wave after wave of Everton attacks. And then, when extra time looked all but certain, the ball fell to Ander Herrera. He was literally wrestled to the ground by Phil Jagielka, but he did not give up. As he fell, he extended his leg ball-wards, and managed to fashion a half chance, which fell to the FIRST boy wonder. The result? See the picture. Bedlam. From the final whistle, to the walk to the station, “TONY MARTIAL CAME FROM FRANCE…”. 92nd Minute. 2-1. Oh how we have toiled for moments like that.

After seeing out a 3 match ban following a fracas that Louis van Gaal described as “only acceptable in sex masochism”, Marouane Fellaini, the oft maligned, yet recently reliable, 8 foot 10 inch chest of a man, is widely expected to start in the centre of the park. In the 3 games Big Felli has missed, United have laboured to a 1-0 win over Norwich, lost 3-2 (after leading 2-1 with 20 minutes left) at West Ham, and are ,at the time of writing, playing out a victory over Bournemouth. One wonders whether United would have been more ready to deal with the physicality of West Ham United with Fellaini in the side, and I’m certain van Gaal laments not having his go-to ball winner available for the run in. He is almost certain to start, after neither Ander Herrera nor Juan Mata have managed to impose themselves on the vacant slot in the centre of the park. Marcos Rojo appears to have picked up an injury in training, and, while he’ll hope to be fit and ready for selection, I certainly do not. Cameron Borthwick-Jackson looks the far more natural left back, and seems more than comfortable whenever he plays. The team almost picks itself, bar one position. In my eyes, the only position worthy of debate is the Right Midfield position. Mata has been deployed there, Lingard is a natural there. My thoughts are that Jesse Lingard will line up at right midfield, with United playing the same Midfield/Forward as the Semi-Final. In all I imagine United will line up as suchLINEUP111463518834380

United’s opposition comes in the form of Crystal Palace, who have seen out a season that threatened to be great, yet fell apart as quickly as it came together. Registering only 2 league wins since Boxing Day, and 12 points in the same period of time, saw Palace go from outsiders for Europa League to relegation candidates in less than a month. As with United, Palace have found the FA Cup to be a welcome distraction from the nightmares of league football. Palace won 2-1 at Southampton in the Third, at 1-0 at home to Stoke in the Fourth, 1-0 and 2-0 at Spurs and Reading in the Fifth and Sixth rounds respectively, before overcoming Watford 2-1 in their Semi Final. Palace will be hoping to win their first major trophy in their 110 year history, and will be keen not see a repeat of their last FA Cup Final. The 1990 FA Cup, against United, no less, ended 3-3 on the day. United won the cup 1-0 in the replay, and Palace have only now managed to match their best ever finish. United managed a 2-0 victory over Palace in their last meeting.

It may be something of a moot point, given it’s a cup final, but for everything we’ve seen this season, to even give van Gaal an argument to stay on this season, this game is a must win. 5th position and a Cup Final is not good enough for a club that has spent close to £250 million over the past 2 years. Nothing but a win will do here. With the rise of Leicester and Spurs this year, Klopp getting a full season at Liverpool, Conte taking over at Chelsea, and Pep Guardiola himself joining the cause at the blue half of Manchester, van Gaal knows that, unless tangible evidence of improvement is shown, he will likely be moved on in favour of a monster he helped create. But that’s for another day…

Kick Off Time: 5.30pm
Venue: Wembley Stadium, London
Referee: Mark Clattenburg
Last 5 Games – United: WLWDW
Last 5 Games – Crystal Palace: LWLWL

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Preview: West Ham United vs United

Thank Christ for the FA Cup. After a positively hellish weekend that saw City open up a 4 point gap that may ultimately become a bridge too far for Louis van Gaal’s incompetent soldiers, United have the opportunity to banish the demons of Sunday afternoon only days later. Wednesday evening sees United travel to East London for the replay of the FA Cup Quarter Final, a tie that, should United fail to progress, may well spell the end of the season for the Red Devils.

Amazingly, in circumstances almost parallel to last season, the FA Cup has proven to be something of a welcome distraction. Much has been made, in recent years, of the dwindling relevancy of the competition, compounded by Manchester City opting to field the Under-9’s against Chelsea in the Fourth Round, however it says something for the regard van Gaal holds it in (or the quality of van Gaal’s tenure thus far leading him to believe that literally anything trophy shaped will do his cause justice) when you realise a full strength United side has been played in every round of the competition over two years.

United square up against a West Ham side hot of the heels of a swashbuckling tie against current FA Cup holders Arsenal, coming back from 2-0 down to nab a 3-3 draw that all but ends their top four aspirations. They, like, United, will recognise that they may never have a better opportunity to lift the the famous trophy, with a Semi-Final against outstanding underachievers Everton awaiting the victor of this replay, and a Final against Watford or Crystal Palace for those bold enough to take one step further. In my eyes, the winner of the FA Cup this year will come from the winner of this match.

West Ham have made their final season at the Boleyn Ground one to remember. West Ham have gone toe to toe with England’s finest, and currently sit 6th in the Premier League. As mentioned, West Ham, until recently, were right in the middle of the top-four hunting pack. Like Spurs last week, West Ham have carved themselves into a position where I may well go off on a tangent talking about how wonderful they are. West Ham are truly blessed in that they currently hold the undoubted signing of the season in Dimitri Payet. The outstandingly talented Frenchman signed form Marseille in the summer for to the tune of £11 million(ish), and has ushered in a new era of free-flowing technical football under former Croatian national team coach Slaven Bilic. Payet put West Ham 1-0 up in the initial tie, through a free kick, something that almost goes without saying with the frequency he knocks them in. With Payet, Manuel Lanzini has come from absolutely nowhere to steal my heart in this West Ham side. I could go on; West Ham have gone from a side peddling 19th century football under Sam Allardyce to intricate tiki-taka under Bilic, and they will likely head to their new home at the Olympic Stadium with some form of European Football to look forward to. An FA Cup win would be the cherry atop the finest icing you could possibly buy from a mid-tier supermarket.

Right, onto United. We got tonked by Spurs 3-0, and looked absolutely hopeless doing so. Major questions need to be asked of the tactics employed by van Gaal last weekend. At half time, at 0-0, keeping Spurs at bay with relative comfort, though without creating anything of note, van Gaal opts to replace Marcus Rashford with Ashley Young. A decision I could probably get behind, if he didn’t proceed to deploy United in a makeshift 4-4-2, with Ashley Young and Jesse Lingard as the centre forwards. 4-4-2, with one recognised striker on the pitch, and he’s played on the left wing. A total collapse after man-machine Tim Fosu-Mensah was taken off saw United ship 3 goals in 5 minutes, and a reported dressing room mutiny ensue post-game. United need this more than ever. Failure to dispatch West Ham may see van Gaal’s position become untenable.
How fitting, then, that van Gaal’s captain fantastic has become available mere days before the most important game of our season so far. Wayne Rooney managed an hour for the under-21’s on Monday evening and, by all accounts, didn’t look completely awful. I full believe van Gaal will overlook his policy of having a player go through 18 weeks of rehabilitation post-injury, and Wayne Rooney will lead the line, likely at the expense of young Marcus Rashford.
Given the absolute ineffectiveness of the front-line, I half expect a complete overhaul of the front four that managed just one shot on target against Spurs, save for Martial. Mata, as he often has when deployed there, looks completely wasted on the right wing. Lingard, while speedy, lacks the technical ability to create chances that aren’t telegraphed. Both were largely ineffective on Sunday, and, while Mata was replaced by Memphis, I imagine he’ll get the nod due to his FA Cup scoring record. Herrera would make sense over Lingard. United lack pace in just about every position, but what use is pace if no one uses it? Herrera would add stability to the side, and would at least help us keep the ball away from Payet and company. In all, I imagine we’ll line up like this.LINEUP111460491482975

So often we’ve heard from United players this season how important it is not to dwell on a recent loss, and how we must look forward to the next game. Well, this is it. A season of missteps has led us to this point; if anything is to come of this season, victory is a must. United fans have stood by and witnessed (coming up) 3 totally joyless, trophyless years, without any sign of improvement or success looming. There have been fairly muted calls for him to be moved on among the Old Trafford faithful, however, the man once dubbed King Louis, may well hear demands for the guillotine should progress not be secured. The FA Cup may well prove to be the only chance van Gaal has to win something in England. He must make it count, both for his sake, and ours.

Preview: United vs Liverpool

Another blog post, another apology. Sorry for disappearing for a while, United for it handed to them by Swansea, then the emotional rollercoaster that was Transfer Deadline Day, in which David de Gea was a Real Madrid player, if only Real had remembered to tell FIFA about the transfer, before the International Break rendered any review I did obcelete. So I won’t be reviewing that game. Sorry. I’m back now, though, so, lucky you.

In reality, this game barely needs looking at in depth. A tie between two of the bigger names in English Football history, United and Liverpool rank 1 and 2 in terms of success, and they won’t let anyone forget it. Liverpool have been irrelevant in the title picture for all but 2 seasons in the last 15 years, whereas United are in a position where they could legitimately go without a Premier League crown for the next 5 years. In the context of this game, it could be seen as an early “battle for fourth” indicator, if not for the history between these clubs. Make no mistake, for the fans, this is a massive tie. On a personal level, I’d rather win this game than any other. I know far more Liverpool fans than any other club, so, for purely selfish reasons, this is the most important game of the season for me.

And I guess it helps we were so inept against Swansea. This side have a lot to prove. van Gaal has a lot to prove. Game number 5 and questions have started to be asked given United’s less than stellar start to the season. What better way to since any critics by getting one over a storied rival? The United faithful will hope for a repeat of the performances that saw the Scouse positively dismantled at Old Trafford 3-0, and at Anfield 2-1. This is one occasion, however, where no one will care for the performance so long as we end the day with an extra 3 points.

Squad wise, Real Madrid’s number 1 David de Gea SHOULD return to the starting line up. The poor kid has spend a month in the stands, and witnessed Serge con his way through game after game, before coming unstuck against Swansea. Dave offers another level of security behind the back four, and it would be stupid not to play him at this point.
The club puts on its own player of the month competition, and August’s nominee’s were made up of 3 of the back 4. An unchanged defence comprised of Darmian-Smalling-Blind-Shaw should line up on Saturday evening. I would like to take this opportunity to express my doubts over Daley Blind as a centre back against the bigger centre forwards. Bafetimbi Gomis is no mug, but there are better forwards than him in this league, and he had Blind for breakfast in the Swansea game. Improvement is a must in the forthcoming weeks, otherwise a change will be necessary.

Can we please see a return of the midfield 3? I’m starting to think our scoring woes are because we have too many players trying to play in the same space. A lot of this could be sorted by removing the Central Attacking Midfielder and going back to the 4-3-3 that saw us play our best football last season. Preferably, a midfield of Carrick sitting, with Handsome Morgan and either the Deuscher Fußballmeister or Ander Herrera slightly more forward, with Memphis and Mata on either side of Rooney.
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This won’t happen, though. Things are never that simple. We’ll stick with the 4-2-3-1, and Carrick and Schneiderlin will hold. What makes it slightly more interesting, however, is what we’ll do going forward. Memphis, Mata, and Rooney will remain, but it’s the 4th option that will intrigue. Herrera didn’t have anything close to a good game against Swansea, which certainly doesn’t go in his favour. He’s adored in the terraces, however, and van Gaal may be inclined to keep him, if nothing else to keep the fans onside.
He may want to give Fellaini his first start, however. Fellaini’s bullish nature would give United a brute against Liverpool’s clownish centre half Dejan Lovren, as well as someone to at least hold the play up while Rooney charges about the park. Fellaini still has a number to critics to convince in regards to his true purpose, and it doesn’t help we tend to lump it to him when he’s on the pitch. van Gaal may see otherwise, and I fully expect him to opt for Fellaini, personally.
But where does this leave the new next best thing? Young Anthony Martial made the switch from Monaco on deadline day for anywhere between £35 million and £65 million, depending where you look. I’m not gonna pretend like I know anything about him, but so called experts are confident he will prove he’s worth every penny. I would say that it’s too soon to throw him in right away. Let the kid have a bedding in period. It can’t be easy to move country, but to do it at 19 takes guts. Let’s hope he succeeds. Just don’t throw him I straight away.
As such, I fully expect United to line up like this on Saturday evening.

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Liverpool have had another season of big spending, however they appear to have been more concentrated in their efforts, targeting players that offer a genuine upgrade over what they had previously. Out go Mario Balotelli and Lazar Markovic, and in come Christian Benteke and James Milner; two established Premier League names that can offer more improvement to a side that ended last season with a 6-1 loss to Stoke City. Liverpool have managed to muster 7 points from a possible 12, dropping points away to both Arsenal (0-0), and West Ham United (0-3), and have hardly looked convincing in their victories. The lack of their “genuinely actually pretty good” star Philippe Coutinho (through suspension) this week will be huge for the United defence as they aim to keep a stuttering attack from exploding into life.

Both sides are coming off the back of tough losses, and will see this as a perfect opportunity to get back on track. I’d make United slight favourites, but there might be an element of bias to that. That said, both teams will view this as a must-win, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they ended up cancelling each other out.

Prediction: United 1-1 Liverpool

Preview: Swansea City vs United

Quick note before we kick this off; no review of the Brugge game, I’m afraid. Time constraints stopped me from putting that together. Hopefully that doesn’t become a regular hindrance, but, for this week at least, it’s not gonna be possible to do a Positives and Negatives for that game, I’m afraid. Anyway, let’s crack on.

Just over 12 months ago, Mr Louis van Gaal walked his Manchester United side out for the very first time in the Premier League. Coming off the back of a successful pre season tour that culminated in the defeat of Liverpool in some nonsense preseason tournament, AND a personally successful World Cup for the Dutch genius, confidence, and expectations, were naturally high for a United side looking to right the wrongs of a season to forget. Their opponents that day; Garry Monk’s Swansea City. A side that had, and continue to, redefine what is capable of a mid table side. United were beaten that day. Comfortably, if memory serves. Swansea managed to do the double over us last season, and that’s not something van Gaal will have forgotten.

United go into the game off the back of a 4-0 victory in the second leg of a Champions League qualifier vs Club Brugge. While you have to anticipate Swansea will put up a bit more resistance than that side, you have to take the positives from what was professional performance. Wayne Rooney is finally off the mark, and you’d fancy him to start to look a bit sharper in front of goal. Behind him, and after making his first start of the season, Ander Herrera will be hoping van Gaal will have taken notice of, what was, a really good second half for him. Herrera offers something different to Memphis, Mata and Januzaj, in that he actually makes positive runs forward. In the second half, Herrera made a delightful run in behind the Brugge defence, resulting in a pass for the ages from the Deutscher Fussballmeister himself, Bastian Schweinsteiger, and led to Ander slotting home to end the rout. Personally, the aforementioned Memphis, Mata and Janujaz trio slow our attack play down too much. All three prefer to have the ball given to their feet, which frustrates Rooney, and forces him to drop deep to find the ball. Playing Herrera behind Rooney will allow him to drop deep if needed, as we then have an option to drive behind the defence. Injury to Adnan might allow Herrera this opportunity.
The back five managed to keep another clean sheet, and is starting to look like something. While I’d still prefer to have de Gea behind the defence, Serge is proving to be the greatest goalkeeper to ever play the game, often making saves with his mind. You’d assume de Gea will return to the side once the transfer window is closed, and he’s realised he’d much rather play out his career in sunny Salford, rather than Madrid, which is often described as Europe’s cesspit. However, there is a case to be made for the caretaker-turned-Premier League goalkeeper. He’s yet to concede in the Premier League, though you’d expect the trio of Befetimbi Gomis, Andre Ayew and Jefferson Montero will provide a bit more of a challenge for the Argentine.
The only changes I can see being made from the side that demolished Brugge, in that case, would be the reintroduction of Handsome Morgan, Schweini from the very start, and Herrera in place of Adnan. As such, I expect the side to look like this:

Screenshot_2015-08-29-14-27-09-1
(
Bought the shirt pack, by the way. So expect the prettiest posts in the football blogosphere from now on.)

For Swansea, Garry Monk’s side currently sit in 5th place with 5 points; a well earned point against Chelsea, a comfortable 2-0 over Newcastle, and a surprise 1-1 draw against the worst side in the league, Sunderland. Given the last of those results, there’s reason to believe United could well do something against, what have become, one of the Premier League standards. A very good side, with a very good manager at the helm, Swansea have the pace and the power up top to cause us some real problems, however, and with Gomis managing to bag 3 goals from 3 games, finally a real yardstick to judge the Blind-Balling partnership.

I anticipate far more pressure from the Swans than any side previous, and, most likely, an end to the clean sheet run we’ve managed to get ourselves on in the Premier League. I fancy us to take a point, but perhaps a win would be pushing it a bit. Our unbeaten run will extend, though.

Prediction: Swansea City 1-1 United

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.

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 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.