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Rants & Musings

Who Should Stay & Who Should Go? Part 2

Added by Philip Meese on 19 Apr 2019 10:17

Part two of our article ask the same question of Manchester United’s midfield and attacking options.

By Philip Meese

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In Part One of this article, we looked at Manchester United’s defence and goalkeeping departments, and assed the likelihood of each player being at Old Trafford next season. Now we focus on the midfield and attack, the players who are brought in to generally excite the fans. So which players deserve to be at United next season, and which will ones actually will be?

Juan Mata

Possibly the nicest guy at Old Trafford, but probably not for much longer. When Mata signed for the club during David Moyes’ one and only turbulent season, much was expected of the two-time Chelsea player of the year. Although the Spain international clearly loves the club, the truth is that he has never shone on a consistent basis. The reason for this may be that United have mostly used him in a wide role, rather than his preferred number 10. With his contract due to expire this summer, United’s reluctance to offer him more than a one-year extension speaks volumes of his importance to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s plans. Maybe it’s best for him to make a fresh start, as he deserves better than to be a bit part player.

Opinion: Get rid. Prediction: Leave.

Nemanja Matić

The Serbian was one of United’s best outfield players last season, but this year he has been largely poor. He looks like he has lost a yard of pace (something he wasn’t particularly blessed with in the first place) and seems a shadow of the player who protected Chelsea’s defence in their last two title triumphs. Although his contract expires next year, the club have the option to extend it by a further twelve months. With so many potential comings and goings this summer, it’s possible that Matić won’t be one of them, but at this stage of what seems to be a declining career, he wouldn’t be a huge loss. If United want to get back to the pinnacle of English and European football, they’ll need a better anchor-man than him.

Opinion: Get Rid. Prediction: Leave

Ander Herrera

Another Spanish international whose time at the club appears to be drawing to a close, and the cause of much unrest among the fans. Herrera’s passion for the club is not in question, never has been, but United have been so far unwilling to match his wage demands. As a result, rumours that he has signed a pre-contract with Paris Saint-Germain have surfaced in recent weeks. Given how United have wasted money over the last few years, if he is a part of Solskjaer’s plans then they should pay it. After all, what he is asking for (reportedly in the region of £170,000 per week), is a fraction of what some less deserving players are earning.

Herrera is a quality player, sure he isn’t world class and he’s never going to be. Then again, neither were Darren Fletcher or Phil Neville, but look how successful they were at Old Trafford. Players like that who give their all can be an asset to any team. If some of United’s more talented players had had his work rate and attitude over the last few years, they might not have fallen as far as they have. Given that it would probably cost at least £40 million to replace him, why would you let a player like that go for free?

Opinion: Keep.  Prediction: Leave.

Andreas Pereira

The talented Brazilian’s future is still up in the air and is unusual because the one-year option in his contract has to be agreed by both player and club before it can be triggered. Under José Mourinho, Pereira was sidelined for the first half of the campaign but has worked his way into Solskjaer’s plans in recent weeks. Having been much touted as one for the future throughout his early career, Pereira has still yet to completely show what all the fuss is about. With so many players possibly leaving this year, it could be his chance to finally do that.

Opinion: Keep (for now).  Prediction: Stay.

Fred

The other Brazilian in United’s midfield has had a troubled campaign, but in recent weeks has started to show why United paid Shakhtar Donetsk £52 million for him, and why Pep Guardiola was interested at one stage. He was immense in Paris, and probably United’s best player in the home defeat to Barcelona. At one stage it looked like he might be on his way after just one season, but he has probably shown enough in recent weeks to suggest he is worth persevering with for at least another year.

Opinion: Keep (for now).  Prediction: Stay.

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Scott McTominay

Another player who has changed many fans’ opinions over the last few weeks, mine included. When Matić pulled out of the Liverpool game, the young Scotland midfielder was drafted in his place. McTominay put in one hell of a shift against United’s biggest rivals and did the same against PSG ten days later. He recently scored his first goal in the defeat to Wolves and was one of the few players to emerge from the Barcelona catastrophe with any credit at all. Even if United sign another defensive midfielder this summer, it’s hard to imagine McTominay being among those shipped out. Could have a bright future if given the chance. He certainly seems to have the right attitude.

Opinion: Keep.  Prediction: Stay.

Paul Pogba

Supposedly the jewel in United’s crown, it might be time to get rid of the World Cup winner while they can still make a profit from him. There is no doubting Pogba’s talent, but that alone doesn’t make a player great. The application and desire to be the best, like Cristiano Ronaldo has shown throughout his entire career, must be there as well. For every world class through ball Pogba makes, there is a performance where he looks disinterested. After his showing in Barcelona, his ambition to win the Balon d’Or has never looked further away.

Apparently United have told Real Madrid, who he flirted with lately in a press conference, that they must pay £130 million to sign Pogba. Given their financial problems, it would be surprising if he moved there this year, but would it really be the worst thing in the world if they stumped up the cash? Added to what will already be a sizeable transfer budget, maybe Solskjaer can use that money to build a team full of young hungry players, rather than the kind who are more interested in personal glory than being a team player.

On the flip side, Solskjaer has maintained that he sees Pogba going nowhere, and is keen to build a side around him. If he can do this, maybe United fans will see exactly why the club paid a world record fee for him in the first place. Given that he has two years, with the option of a third, still on his contract, United are under no pressure to sell him this summer. They should probably give him one more year to prove he is among the best in Europe. Next season could be make or break for Pogba.

Opinion: Keep (for now). Prediction: Stay.

Jesse Lingard

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Having come through the academy, Jesse Lingard will always be given more of a break by the fans than someone who was brought in for big money. On his day he can be fantastic, but it’s fair to say that this comes in patches, rather than with any consistency throughout the season. He has scored some important goals, two of them in cup finals, which suggests he is a big game player, but often goes missing in others. With so many players likely to be on the move, it is unlikely he will be going anywhere just yet. But if Solskjaer does get it right, and gets the team challenging again for the big trophies, the question needs to be asked; is Lingard good enough for that level? For me, the jury is still out on that, but he’ll be going nowhere this summer, and nor should he.

Opinion: Keep.  Prediction: Stay.

Romelu Lukaku

Few players who have a strike rate of almost a goal every two games divide opinion quite like the big Belgian. Like Lingard, his best form seems to come in streaks rather than consistently, and his ability to trouble the big teams is still in question. He hasn’t scored since his double in Paris, and there are not only rumours that Juventus are admirers of him, but that the interest is mutual according to his agent. It’s hard to imagine Europe’s top defenders, or even the Premier League’s, being terrified of him. If United get a decent offer for him in the summer, based on the fact that Solskjaer seems to prefer Marcus Rashford up top, a move might be best for both parties. It doesn’t seem like too many clubs are queuing up to sign him, though.

Opinion: Get rid. Prediction: Stay.

Alexis Sánchez

In danger of being one of United’s most high-profile flops of all time. The Chilean has scored five goals in fifteen months since his move from Arsenal, and the fact that he is the club’s highest earner has ruffled a few feathers in the dressing room. This is understandable when a lot of players who have contributed far more receive a fraction of his salary. Sánchez has a big month ahead of him, all that is now left of United’s season, to convince his manager that he can be a part of the club’s future. 

The rumours are that Solskjaer wants him out, but the problem is finding someone who will pay his wages based on his recent form. None of Europe’s big clubs would want him, and the smaller clubs wouldn’t be able to afford him. Unless he is willing to accept a move to China, expect him to still be at United next season.

Opinion: Get rid. Prediction: Stay.

Marcus Rashford

Without a doubt, one of the most improved players under Solskjaer. The confidence that his new manager instilled in him, just by playing him in his favoured central striking role, paid dividends in the opening weeks of his reign. Rashford has struggled since the Liverpool game, where he played most of the match injured after receiving a kick on the ankle. In that time, the team have lost the momentum they had six or seven weeks ago but, make no mistake, this is one player who neither the fans nor the manager want to leave.

He is coming to the last year of his contract, but United can extend that by a year, which they no doubt will. Barcelona have reportedly been sniffing around him in recent weeks, believing him to be a good potential replacement for Luis Suárez, but it is widely expected that Rashford will sign a new deal soon. He’s a born and bred Mancunian, a lifelong United fan and has not expressed a desire to leave. He is one of the few players in the squad who can benefit the club in the long term going forward.

Opinion: Keep at all costs. Prediction: Stay.

Anthony Martial

A player who was in danger of leaving under Mourinho now looks like the least likely of all to go anytime soon. Earlier this season, shortly after Solskjaer took over, he penned a new long term deal which seems to have put paid to any rumours of him departing.

Martial is hugely talented, yet inconsistent, but with plenty of years to develop into the player United fans hope he can become. With a better selection of players around him next season, he is expected to become a major part of the Red Devils’ attack for years to come.

Opinion: Keep. Prediction: Stay.

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Final Thought

In most circumstances, ripping up a squad and starting from scratch is a bad idea. When Alex Ferguson finished second in the league in his first full season as manager, this is exactly what he did and it initially looked like a mistake. United finished 11th and 13th in the following two seasons, before the glory days of the 1990’s kicked in. It is usually best to do it gradually, so that there aren’t too many players struggling to settle in. The problem with this is that United have been doing this for years, and too many average ones have remained. This squad needs a complete overhaul.

Of the 25 players I have assessed over the course of this two part article, there are only 14 that I believe should have any type of future at Old Trafford, be it long or short term. Two of that group are backup goalkeepers, and three outfield players, one of whom is Pogba, are in the last chance saloon as far as I’m concerned. This means that only nine of them are players that I can see being important to United going forward – and one of them is Ander Herrera, who seems certain to leave anyway. If these wishes came true, United would need to sign around ten new players in the summer.

What Manchester United currently have is a squad that bears various hallmarks of their last four managers. Some of them have outstayed their welcome, others were never good enough in the first place. Whatever your opinion, most of them have had more than enough chances to prove their worth to the club and have failed.

One of the true tests of how good the current squad is will be in the summer transfer talk. Almost every one of them will be linked with a move away in the summer. The types of club that are reportedly interested in them will tell the story of how good they are. Pogba, Rashford, De Gea and possibly Lukaku (if the Juventus rumours are correct) will interest the elite clubs like Barcelona and Madrid. Herrera and Mata possibly will because they are out of contract, and maybe there will be interest in Martial. The rest of them will be linked with moves to clubs with a profile nowhere near that of United. This is because most of the squad don’t deserve to be there. They aren’t good enough for the level that United expect, and are expected, to be at.

That is the harsh reality of it.

For Part One of the Article click here.

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Rants & Musings

Who Should Stay & Who Should Go? Part 1

Added by Philip Meese on 18 Apr 2019 20:46

The first of a two part article on which players should leave Old Trafford this summer, and which ones probably will.

By Philip Meese

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It’s coming to the business end of the season, with the media filled with stories about which players will be making big money moves this summer. Naturally, Manchester United dominate a lot of these headlines in any transfer window, but with a clear overhaul needed at Old Trafford the speculation is in overdrive this year.

The Champions League exit to Barcelona showed that United have a lot catching up to do, in order to get back to the level that a club of their size should be competing at. Despite a bright start in the Nou Camp, two perfectly avoidable errors gifted their opponents a lead they were never going to lose. What is clear is that the United team that starts the first game of next season will most likely have a very different look to it than the current one. Some players are just simply not good enough, others have outstayed their welcome.

This is my prediction, looking at the current first team squad, as to which ones should stay or go, and which ones actually will. One thing is certain, Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s first spending spree will be the one that shapes his managerial career in M16. But which ones will still be here next season?

Part one of this article focuses on the defence and goalkeeping departments and part two, which will be published tomorrow, will look at the midfield and attack. If Solskjær sees things in the same way as me, the majority of this overpaid, underperforming squad won’t be United players much longer.

David De Gea

The Spanish goalkeeper is probably the best shot stopper in the world right now, his clanger in the Nou Camp aside, and is coming into the last year of his contract. He has made his intentions to the board; he wants to be the best paid player at the club. Considering he is the only undisputed world class player in the squad this is not an unreasonable request, given that United’s current highest earner has done little to justify his salary so far in his eighteen-month spell at Old Trafford.

United face a dilemma here as they have the option to sell him for anything up to £100 million, or risk letting him run down the last year of his contract, in the hope that he will sign a new deal, and potentially lose him for nothing next summer. Make no mistake, United should move heaven and earth to keep him, but it wouldn’t be the first time they have proved their incompetence in these situations. Ask Ander Herrera.

Opinion: Keep at all Costs.  Prediction: Stay.

Sergio Romero

If De Gea does go, at least United have a more than decent back up for him. Sure, he is not in the same league as the Spaniard, but not many are, but it’s doubtful that any club in the world has better goalkeeper as number two. On the plus side, if De Gea stays, Romero seems perfectly content with his role as back up, so it would be a surprise to see him leave.

Opinion: Keep.  Prediction: Stay.

Lee Grant

The third-choice goalkeeper was brought in on a free transfer from Stoke City last summer, and has only featured once for the first team so far. It’s hard to see him getting past De Gea and Romero, but the fact that he knew his position before joining, plus the fact that he still has a year left on his contract suggests that he will probably be at Old Trafford next season, unless he pushes for a move.

Opinion: Keep.  Prediction: Stay.

Antonio Valencia

It seems almost pointless putting the current United captain on here, as Solskjær has confirmed that he will be going in the summer. The fact remains, however, that given how the current board deal with problems, it would surprise nobody if they offered him a new contract now that the option to trigger his one-year extension has expired. The reality is that this won’t happen, as Solskjaer quickly identified that Valencia is years past his peak. A far cry from the explosive winger who Real Madrid were once interested in, he has become a converted full back who seems to have developed a fear of crossing. Unfortunately, in spite of a decade of loyal service, he won’t be missed when he leaves,

Opinion: Get rid. Prediction: Leave.

Ashley Young

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The decline in the former England winger’s form in recent weeks has been alarming. Young was one of the few players to seemingly improve under both Louis van Gaal and José Mourinho, especially after being converted to a full-back, and was regarded as possibly the best crosser at the club. Unfortunately, in both games against Barcelona, and in several others leading up to that, it is quite clear he is no longer cut out for this level. He has a year left on his contract so he will probably stay as a squad player, but if anyone expresses an interest in buying him, only United’s haters would be upset to see him leave.

Opinion: Get rid. Prediction: Stay.

Chris Smalling

The centre of defence is where United really need to splash the cash this summer. The club are so short of reliable options in that position, it’s not even funny. With Smalling recently given a new contract, it is hard to see United selling, especially when they are likely to be moving other defenders on but sell him they should. In recent weeks, he seems to have become part of United’s first choice centre back, along with Victor Lindelof, but it’s not like he is keeping world class centre backs out of the team.

The harsh reality is that after nine years in a Red shirt, Smalling still doesn’t look like a United quality player. He lacks concentration and focus at key moments, he isn’t the quickest and his distribution from the back is questionable. Compare him to some of the United centre backs from the past, would he have kept the likes of Jaap Stam, Gary Pallister, Nemanja Vidić, Steve Bruce, Rio Ferdinand, Ronny Johnson, even David May or Mikaël Silvestre out of the team? No, he isn’t just not in their league, in fact he’s barely even playing the same sport. He’ll probably stay, but they should sell him if possible. After all, if he isn’t good enough for England, why is he good enough for United?

Opinion: Get rid. Prediction: Stay.

Phil Jones

Another one who was recently given a long contract, Jones’s career looks like it will be a case of what could have been. There is a quality player in there, but the man cannot stay fit long enough for that player to develop. With that in mind, it’s questionable whether any club would want to spend the kind of money it would probably cost to sign someone who can’t be relied on to play 25 games a season. It’s also unlikely that Solskjær would let both Smalling and Jones go in one transfer window, especially when so many others are likely to leave. As Smalling is the one most likely to stay fit, it would point to Jones being the more likely of the two to depart Old Trafford.

Opinion: Get rid. Prediction: Leave.

Marcos Rojo

Five years after his arrival from Sporting Lisbon, it is still hard to see what it was that “enchanted” Louis van Gaal about the Argentina international. He is far from being a United player, from his limited pace, his rash tackling, and the fact that he clearly likes his food more than his football, which probably contributes to his inability to stay fit. What sense there was in giving Rojo a new five-year contract last year is anybody’s guess, especially when he has played more times for his country in that time than the club who pays him. If United can find a club to take him off their hands, they should jettison him out of Old Trafford as quickly as possible.

Opinion: Get rid. Prediction: Leave.

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Matteo Darmian

It’s hard not to feel a little bit sorry for the Italian full back. He looked like a real bargain in the first couple of months after his arrival, but it all went downhill after a 3-0 defeat to Arsenal at the Emirates. Darmian never recovered from that and has struggled for game time in the last couple of seasons. He doesn’t seem particularly well suited to the Premier League, with his lack of pace well exposed on several occasions. With his contract down to the final year in the summer, it looks like Darmian will be saying arrivederci to Old Trafford. This is providing that his stock hasn’t fallen so far that nobody wants him. 

Opinion: Get rid. Prediction: Leave.

Luke Shaw

This time last year, it looked as though the young left back would be very likely heading out of the Old Trafford exit. Fast forward a year and he is one of the few defenders that seems an absolute certainty to stay. Despite harsh criticism in the past from both van Gaal and Mourinho, Shaw has battled back from a career threatening double leg break to make the left back spot his own. He was without doubt United’s standout performer of the first three months of the season, and though that isn’t saying much, it’s unlikely he will be moving on in the summer.

Opinion: Keep.  Prediction: Stay.

Eric Bailly

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When the Ivory Coast international first signed in 2016, it genuinely looked like United had stumbled upon a gem of a defender. Strong, athletic, fast and a tough tackler, finally it seemed they had a proper leader at the back. Three years on and it looks like the defender will be one of the first to be sacrificed this summer. While he has had his fitness issues, he also seems to be suffering from a lack of confidence as well. Given that he is into the last year of his contract, it might best for United to cash in now and let the player make a fresh start, given that he doesn’t appear to be in Solskjær’s plans.

Opinion: Get rid. Prediction: Leave

Victor Lindelöf

Probably the only centre-back that most United fans are convinced can be a part of the club’s long-term future, possibly even a future captain. Like Shaw, twelve months ago it looked like Lindelöf could be on his way out after an underwhelming first year at Old Trafford. This season has seen him turn a corner and become a leader at the back, and with a real quality centre half beside him he could form part of a solid partnership going forward. United just need to find him a top class partner, the kind he currently lacks.

Opinion: Keep.  Prediction: Stay.

Diogo Dalot

One of the few real success stories from United’s season. The young Portuguese full back looks a quality player, fast, fearless and with fantastic crossing ability. Given that he has four years left on his contract and seems to be a major part of Solskjær’s plans, it would be a major surprise if he was playing anywhere else next season.

Opinion: Keep.  Prediction: Stay.

Verdict

In my opinion, out of these thirteen players that have featured this season, only six of them have any business being there next term. The sad thing about that is that three of them are goalkeepers, two of which are merely back up. Ten outfield defenders, and only three of them good enough to wear that red shirt.

The back line is the main area where Manchester United need to do some serious surgery in the summer. It has been well publicised that four of United’s back five that started in the Nou Camp (De Gea, Smalling, Jones and Young), also lined up in their defeat to Basel in 2011. That’s one of the main reasons a change is badly needed. They have been in an environment where mediocrity is acceptable for too long, with De Gea the only one of that quartet who deserves to wear the shirt.

Anyone who rates the players I believe should be gotten rid of might want to ask themselves one very simple question. How many of them would get near the squads of Manchester City, Liverpool, Tottenham, or even Chelsea or Arsenal?

Even some of the ones I believe still have a future at Old Trafford probably wouldn’t, either.

 

For Part Two of the Article click here.

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Features

5 Talking Points from a Difficult Week

Added by Philip Meese on 28 Feb 2019 20:43

A look at some of the Manchester United talking points from the last two matches.

By Philip Meese

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It’s been quite an eventful week for Manchester United, and one which has come at a price. The goalless draw with Liverpool cost the Red Devils three players, and seriously compromised the fitness of another. Last night’s win over Crystal Palace will have also given Ole Gunnar Solskjær serious food for thought, as he attempts to navigate United’s path to a top four finish, which would surely guarantee him the job on a permanent basis.

Sánchez is Clearly way down the Pecking Order

Alexis Sánchez is in danger of becoming one of the biggest transfer flops in United’s history. While they may not have paid a transfer fee for the Chilean, he is the highest paid player at the club on a reported £500,000 per week. It’s fair to say that in the thirteen months he has been at Old Trafford, he has done very little to justify that salary.

Make no mistake, the Sánchez of three years ago would be a fantastic asset to the current United setup. Unfortunately, he has lost at least a yard of pace since then and looks a shadow of the player that had a ratio of a goal every two games for Arsenal. At United this has declined to one in every eight, hitting just five goals from 40 appearances.

When Juan Mata had to come off injured after 25 minutes against Liverpool, Solskjær selected Jesse Lingard to replace him. The is the same Jesse Lingard who was deemed not fit enough to play 90 minutes at the start of the game due to concerns that he hadn’t fully recovered from the hamstring injury sustained against Paris-Saint Germain. Lingard didn’t even last half an hour and Solskjær was forced to bring on Sánchez for him. He probably should have just done this to start with, one of the very few mistakes he has made since taking charge.

Andreas Pereira was the first substitution of the game, replacing Ander Herrera after 21 minutes. The fact that he would rather have a half-fit player and a bit-part squad member on the pitch than United’s highest earner tells its own story. Sánchez was probably only selected at Selhurst Park last night due to lack of alternatives.

McTominay and other Academy Players Have Hope for the Future

While no official decision has been announced about Mourinho’s permanent replacement, it seems to be generally accepted that Ed Woodward would be foolish to give the job to anyone but Solskjær. The fans and media are both expecting the announcement, although it’s unlikely to come before the end of the season.

Scott McTominay was definite favourite of Mourinho’s but has been more or less side-lined since the Norwegian took charge. It seemed that Solskjær just didn’t rate the academy product but was forced to play him in the last two games following an injury to Nemanja Matić. To McTominay’s credit he performed impressively, especially against Liverpool. While nobody expects him to keep the Serbian out of the team once he is fit again, similar performances in the future may give him a selection headache when that happens.

Solskjær is a big believer in promoting youth prospects, and knows that it is expected of any United manager. He has been true to this philosophy since returning to Old Trafford, having handed first team debuts to Dutch youngster Tahith Chong, and giving James Garner his first appearance against Palace last night. He also gave Angel Gomes a run out in his first home game against Huddersfield Town in December.

If he is given the job full time in the summer, it will be interesting to see whether he integrates some of the players United have loaned out this season, such as Axel Tuanzebe, Tim Fosu-Mensah and Demetri Mitchell.

Lindelof could be a future Captain

This has been something of a breakthrough season for Victor Lindelöf. Twelve months ago, he was being talked about as another expensive flop who United were going to be forced to cut their losses on. He was also being linked with moves to other clubs throughout the summer.

Even before José Mourinho was sacked Lindelöf seemed to have settled down to become an integral part of the team this season, and this has continued under Solskjær. Even from his first appearance in 2017, it was quite clear that the Swedish international was the type of defender who was very adept at playing the ball out from back. The questions that were being asked were in relation to his lack of pace, stamina and positioning.

Unlike his team mate Eric Bailly, Lindelöf will never be the quickest of players, but he seems to have adapted the other areas of his game to ensure that he is not fazed by the demands of the Premier League any more. He has been United’s standout centre-back in the last three months, and seemingly one of the first names on the team sheet.

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If he keeps up this level of performance, or even improves further, he would surely be a fantastic candidate for a future captain. Centre-backs usually make great skippers and given that he is still only 24 years old, and has his best years ahead of him, this must be in Solskjær’s thinking should he be given the manager’s job full time.

Possible solution to United’s right-wing problem

Over the last few years, United have had a variety of wingers who have come and gone. The likes of Memphis Depay, Wilfried Zaha and Adnan Januzaj have all long since departed the club. Alexis Sánchez, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford are all forwards who are still at the club that are more than capable of playing out wide. The problem is that all these players are more comfortable on the left but only Zaha, who was never given much of a chance at Old Trafford, is at ease with playing on the right flank. The only regular first teamer on United’s payroll who has excelled in that problem position is the currently injured Jesse Lingard, and occasionally Juan Mata has too. Neither of them would consider it their natural position, however.

Against Palace last night, Solskjær was forced to once again juggle the squad and tried something which could be very effective in the future. Portuguese right-back Diogo Dalot, who played on the wing in his youth days at Porto, and Ashley Young were put on the right together, interchanging positions at various points in the game. As a result, the team looked more balanced down that side than it has done in years.

Young’s advancing years mean that this is clearly not a long-term solution, but with the treatment room at Carrington full to bursting at the moment, it could be a viable option for the remainder of this season.

Time for Fred to be Red or Dead

Fred started his first United game since the F.A. Cup tie with Reading last night, and his lack of match fitness showed. This was especially apparent in the first ten minutes when he wildly misplaced two passes. As the game wore on the Brazilian seemed to settle down, keeping it simple rather than attempting anything spectacular. For the first time in months, he didn’t look out of place in a United shirt. Many United fans weren’t convinced, however, with many of them taking to social media to say he ought to sold.

Like Sánchez, Fred hasn’t had the best of times since joining from Shakhtar Donetsk last summer. He has looked lost at times, seemingly struggling to adjust to the pace of the Premier League. There is also the added pressure that he was United’s biggest signing of the summer, but he looks far removed from the player that Pep Guardiola was reportedly interested in taking to Manchester City last year. There’s a theory that the Blues are just pretending to be interested in certain players just so that United will step in and take them.

Victor Lindelof has proved that a bad start doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re not fit to be a United player. Given how many injuries the club have right now, especially in midfield, Fred will never get a better chance to stake his claim for a regular place in the first team. If he doesn’t, the fans who voiced their displeasure last night may well get their wish.

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Features

Surely Ole has earned his chance?

Added by Philip Meese on 21 Feb 2019 21:29

Why Ole Gunnar Solskjær has surely done more than enough to be given a chance at managing United permanently.

By Philip Meese

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Since Ole Gunnar Solskjær took over as interim manager back in December, a massive cloud has been lifted from above Old Trafford that had been there for over five years. This was mainly down to the fact that for most of that time, the football on offer has been dull and uneventful. Despite Manchester United always having plenty of attacking options during that time, the style of play has been so defensive that the club weren’t getting the best use of those players.

When Solskjær first stepped in, he had a favourable run of fixtures against teams that United would be expected to beat, and duly did. The critics’ point of view, seemed to be that his real test would be against the bigger teams. Two months later, he has won all but one of the fixtures where United were not clear favourites. One or two pundits have speculated that a win against Liverpool this Sunday would guarantee him the permanent position.

Regardless of how United do in this weekend’s fixture, and the rescheduled derby against Manchester City later this season, surely the Norwegian has done enough to justify giving him the job on a permanent basis?

Return of the Attack

In Solskjær’s first game in charge United won 5-1 at Cardiff City, the first time they had scored five goals in one game since 2013. It was almost inevitable that Cardiff would be on the receiving end of at least a comfortable win once José Mourinho had been sacked. One of the sticks used to beat Solskjær with was that all he had done was simply let them off the leash, without any real tactical nous. There seemed to be a hint of jealousy in Paul Ince’s belief that he could have done just as good a job.

Fast forward two months and it is a slightly different picture. United have played away games against the ‘big three’ London teams, Tottenham, Arsenal and Chelsea, and won them all. Although David de Gea (for a change)pulled off some unbelievable save against Spurs, in all of those games, Solskjær showed that he is up to standard tactically, without sacrificing the attacking football the fans have carved for the last half decade. Monday’s game at Stamford Bridge was a masterclass; it never even looked like Chelsea would get back into it.

The only real blot on his copybook was the home defeat to Paris Saint-Germain, but even this needs to be put into perspective. PSG were hot favourites to win the tie, even without the injured Edinson Cavani and Neymar, and for forty-five minutes United matched the French giants. It was only when Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial went off injured that the whole game changed. Their replacements, Juan Mata and Alexis Sánchez are totally different type of players to Lingard and Martial. Suddenly, the counter attacking football that had devastated United’s opponents wasn’t an option. After all, it’s not as though United can currently claim to have a better squad than PSG.

The important thing is not only that he has returned to an attacking style of play, but he has got the squad playing like most fans knew they could. It’s a style that reminds them not to neglect their defensive duties, but also one that lets the opposition worry about what United can do to them, not the other way around. They’re enjoying their football and certain players at Old Trafford, Marcus Rashford being an obvious example, have never before been permitted to do that.

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Same Players, Different Outcome

The only change Solskjær has made to United’s squad since taking over is the departure of the much maligned Marouane Fellaini, a decision popular with most fans. It’s unclear whether he was given any money to spend during his interim period and chose not to, or whether Ed Woodward told him to work with what he had. The important thing is that he has the same group of players that Mourinho did, minus a certain Belgian plan B, and has gotten a much better tune out of them.

Since Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013, United have regularly struggled to beat teams that, with the players they have had, they should have been winning comfortably. This is exactly what the Red Devils have been doing since Solskjær stepped into the hot seat. Old Trafford is on the way to becoming a fortress once more, one which few teams will relish coming to they way the team are playing right now.

If he does get the job permanently, he will no doubt be given funds to spend in the summer. Knowing how meticulous Solskjær is in his planning, it’s probably safe to assume he has known for some time exactly who he would bring in to strengthen the squad; and who he would get rid of. The fact that Antonio Valencia’s United career seems already consigned to realms of history seems testament to that.

Following the defeat at Anfield, which turned out to be Mourinho’s last match, a top four finish looked beyond United. But that’s where the club are at the moment, and most pundits are backing them to remain there.

The Pochettino Effect

Whether or not Woodward has already made his decision regarding Mourinho’s permanent successor is hard to say, but until it is announced officially then the rumours that Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino will be appointed will persist.

The link with the Argentine manager is understandable, given that he ticks the main boxes required of a Manchester United manager. Like Solskjær he firmly believes in promoting youth players and he plays attractive attacking football. Another attractive prospect for the board is that the fantastic job he has done in North London was achieved on a budget which is fraction of that which he would receive at Old Trafford.

Although he would cost a lot of money to prise away from Spurs, there is a bigger issue that should concern Woodward. Another club that have made no secret of their admiration for Pochettino is Real Madrid. What if United did appoint him and later down the line Madrid come calling? He wouldn’t be the first player or manager unable to resist the lure of the Bernabéu.

Surely the smart thing to do would be to let Madrid have him first, seeing as they go through managers quicker than Roman Abramovich at Chelsea. Let them do the negotiating with, and pay the huge amount of compensation to, Daniel Levy. Nobody stays at the Bernabéu any longer than three years and once he has got Madrid out of his system, assuming United need a new manager, maybe then they could appoint him.

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The Goods in the Back

One of the first things Solskjær did upon returning to Old Trafford was to immediately appoint Ferguson’s last assistant manager, Mike Phelan alongside him. With Michael Carrick already on the coaching staff, he has the basis of a good backroom team, all of whom understand exactly how the club works. Maybe David Moyes might have had half a chance had he not been so quick to dispose of the staff already at the club when he arrived.

Some have speculated that Solskjær is merely the face of this coaching team, the shop window if you will. So what? If it works, which it has done so far, then who cares. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it. Since this coaching team took charge, Manchester United seems to have gotten its identity back.

It’s all about the club

The most endearing thing about Ole Gunnar Solskjær is that he seems to care more about the club itself than his own role in it. Make no mistake, this is his dream managerial job, and he probably couldn’t believe his luck when he was given the opportunity, but first and foremost he is a United fan. This was demonstrated a couple of times when he was Cardiff manager. In his first game, ironically at Old Trafford, when asked what the most difficult thing about the game had been, Solskjær replied “not celebrating when United scored”. Later that season he was asked about Liverpools title chances and declared “couldn’t care less.”

The man is United through and through and just wants what is best for the club, unlike Mourinho and Louis van Gaal where it was all about their own egos. If Solskjær is to be appointed the club’s full-time manager, it’s a good bet he will be more bothered about the money in his transfer budget than what he is getting paid. It’s probably also fair to say that if the job went sour and he didn’t know how to fix it, he would probably walk away rather than just wait around for the board to sack him so that he gets his contract paid up in full.

Final Thought

Many people seem to believe if United beat Liverpool on Sunday, the job will automatically be his. The reality is that he has probably done more than enough to secure the job, even if they lose. The last two managers have been among the most decorated of the last 25 years, and look what a disaster that turned out to be.

It’s about time they gave the job to a young, hungry manager who looks more at ease in the job than either van Gaal or Mourinho. The fact that he is a United legend, who bleeds red, white and black, is an added bonus. It would also give Woodward and the Glazers some much needed browning points with the fans, most of whom have no love for either.

It is even possible that Ole Gunnar Solskjær has already been given the job, but if so, that would probably be kept under wraps until the end of the season. The board wouldn’t want to risk upsetting the momentum the team have built up as the business end of the season approaches.

But give it him they should. He’s earned it.

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Goodbye, farewell, toodlepip!

Fellaini: A Symbol of Post Fergie United

Added by Philip Meese on 31 Jan 2019 14:26

By Philip Meese

As Marouane Fellaini prepares to depart Manchester United, we look back on his time at the club, and why he was always fighting a losing battle.

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For many Manchester United fans, Marouane Fellaini epitomizes everything negative about life at Old Trafford since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson. Since Ole Gunnar Solskjær replaced José Mourinho in December, the big Belgian hasn’t started a first team fixture. He is currently injured but even when he has been fit, Fellaini has just two appearances as a substitute under the Norwegian.

According to reports in the media, the midfielder is set for a big money move to China, having passed a medical. As the transfer deadline over there doesn’t expire until February, there is no hurry to rush through a deal. When the transfer does go through, a lot of fans who believe a player such as Fellaini has no right to wear the red shirt will breathe a huge sigh of relief.

Transfer

The irony about Fellaini’s transfer from Everton in 2013 is that not only was he the first big signing of the post-Fergie era, he is also a central midfielder. This is an area that United fans had been complaining about for several years, due to the fact that the last players signed for that position were Owen Hargreaves and Anderson, both in the summer of 2007.

Despite being linked with a whole host of midfielders in that six-year period, Wesley Sneijder being the most prominent, Ferguson preferred to go with home grown options such as Darron Gibson and Tom Cleverley. It was almost as though he was proving a point that he didn’t need to strengthen that area, especially when he played Rafael in central midfield ahead of a young Paul Pogba.

After a summer transfer window where United were linked with huge names such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Thiago Alcântara, the signing of Fellaini left the fans severely underwhelmed. What didn’t help matters is that because they waited until the last day of the window to secure his signature, United paid £4 million more than they would have six weeks earlier, due to an expired clause in his contract at Goodison Park.

Moyes

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If the signing of Fellaini didn’t leave the fans feeling flat enough, the defence of their Premier League title was an unmitigated disaster. The fact that David Moyes gave the impression of a man who didn’t believe he was good enough for the job was probably one of the reasons why United went from Champions to 7th place in less than a year. It also meant that Moyes didn’t even last the season.

When Ryan Giggs took over as caretaker manager following Moyes’ dismissal, Fellaini played just one of his four games in charge. This would seem to indicate that Giggs didn’t believe he was a United player any more than the fans did.

Van Gaal and Mourinho

When Louis van Gaal became United’s first foreign manager in 2014, Fellaini quickly became one of his trusted lieutenants. With the Belgian not being noted for blistering pace or acceleration, the Dutchman’s slow, pedestrian style of play suited him well. He scored his first United goal, an absolute belter, in 2-2 draw at West Bromwich Albion. He followed it up with another six that season, one of which put United ahead in a 4-2 win over Manchester City, and was a key part of the side which secured a top four finish.

After van Gaal was sacked following the 2016 F.A. Cup Final, it was widely expected that Fellaini would follow him out of the Old Trafford door. On the contrary, the Belgian became one of the few players Mourinho came to rely on. This is no surprise, as Fellaini fits the profile of the type of footballer Mourinho favours; big, strong and aggressive. The fact that he is not a particularly skilful player was irrelevant. The manager trusted him, and he always gave 100% in a United shirt; nobody could ever say otherwise.

Why Fellaini was always Doomed to Fail

When the word Manchester United is mentioned, Marouane Fellaini is just not the sort of player who springs to mind. In fact, he is kind of the antithesis of everything that Ferguson and Sir Matt Busby and stood for. His height, strength and aerial ability make him a very viable Plan B, and therein lies the problem. No great United side has ever needed a player like that, and the fact that they have relied on it so often under the last two managers shows just how much standards have fallen.

Even before his move to Old Trafford, the Belgian had the kind of reputation for elbowing opponents that Luis Suárez has for biting them. He seems like a red card waiting to happen, even though he has only been sent off twice in his time at United.

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One point that is worth noting is that he is one of the most committed players at the club. His effort and work rate are matched by few. In the 2017 Europa League Final, many believed he was the real man of the match, despite the official award going to Ander Herrera. It’s also worth noting that he has scored in three semi-finals over the last few years, so nobody can say he was a total waste of money.

One of the biggest problems is that Fellaini’s style of play pretty much sums up Manchester United in the last five years; slow, clumsy, painful to watch. The fact that Solskjær is seemingly sanctioning his departure from the club, despite there being no guarantee that he will be in charge next season, tells its own story. Like Giggs, he is United through and through, and knows that there is no place for that type of player at Old Trafford.

After five years of sleep-inducing football, it looks like United are planning on returning to the style of football for which they have been famous. Fast, exciting attacking play that gets bums off seats is even more important to the fans than a full trophy cabinet. In no way does Fellaini fit into that category.

Final Thought

When Fellaini does leave United, it’s unlikely that too many fans will remember him with any fondness. They will probably forever associate him with David Moyes, and all that came after it. It seems fitting that, just as Mourinho’s sacking lifted the gloom at Old Trafford, one of the biggest symbols of the past five grim years is set to follow him out of the door.

Some of the abuse Fellaini has endured from the fans over the years may seem a bit harsh, especially as it’s not really his fault. The whole world knew what type of player he was before United bought him. Nobody can blame him for wanting to play for one of the biggest clubs in the world, as it’s hard to imagine a side like Barcelona or Real Madrid coming in for him. All he has done is play his natural game, and he has done it to the best of his ability.

Maybe one of the reasons he gave his all in every game is that he himself realised how lucky he was to be putting on that shirt. It’s a shame some of his more naturally gifted team mates haven’t always put his level of effort in over the years. The fact is that everything that has happened at Old Trafford over the last five years just isn’t Manchester United. Marouane Fellaini is the biggest example of that; he just isn’t a United player.

Never has been, never will be.

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