Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Manchester United 2014 Review Part 2.

Hi and welcome back to my review of Manchester United's 2014.

Part 2: The Louis van Gaal revolution begins.

On the 19th of May 2014, it was confirmed by the club that Louis van Gaal would replace David Moyes as Manchester United manager on a three-year deal. Ending speculation that had surrounded the club since the removal of Moyes.

The appointment of the Dutch coach seemed to generate a very positive feeling among the fans. Social media was buzzing with the news. We all new of his pedigree as a manager, and the success he had brought to his previous sides. Champion at Ajax, Barelona, AZ and Bayern Munich.

He was known as a very strict disciplinarian, but also a manager who brought the best out of his players, players that had nothing but respect for him. Here was the personality that United needed to pick the team up and move them forward.

One question remained though. Was there a place in the new set up for fans favourite Ryan Giggs? Was he even in the plans of van Gaal? The answer quickly arrived. Following a meeting between the two men over in Holland, Giggs was named as the assistant manager. This was a very shrewd appointment by the new manager, as Giggs was not only his link to the history and tradition of United, but most importantly the fans.

There was only one stumbling block to van Gaal joining United straight away, and that was the small matter of him managing the Dutch team at the World Cup in Brazil. The day to day running of the club was left to Giggs and CEO Ed Woodward.

In their first match at the World Cup Holland destroyed Spain 5-1. United striker Robin van Persie scoring the first with a header that seemed to defy gravity, as he started the rout that had United fans drooling with the thoughts of what we could expect from our new manager in the coming season.

While van Gaal was enjoying himself over in Brazil,  back home in Manchester new signings were arriving. Two players that had been rumored to have been courted by Moyes, Ander Herrera and Luke Shaw, were unveiled as the first signings under van Gaal. Many people argued that the deals were already in place well before van Gaal's appointment. However, the Dutchman confirmed that he had given his approval.

Herrera joined from Athletic Bilbao on a four year deal thought to be around £28 million. Luke Shaw's transfer from Southampton made him the most expensive teenager in the world at 18. Another four year deal at £30 million. The Summer was getting off to a good start.

Holland comfortably won their group at the World Cup by winning all their matches, and  entered the knock out stage. They defeated Mexico and Costa Rica before being eliminated by Argentina in the semi final on penalties. A great performance from the team under van Gaal's guidance. But now it was time for Manchester United to welcome their new saviour with arms wide open.

There was a small matter of who would be the new club captain under van Gaal. Some were calling for van Persie, highlighting the Dutch connection, others were pushing for Carrick or Rooney. The manager chose Rooney, citing that an English club needed a British player to lead the team. Darren Fletcher was given the role of vice-captain. Which would change to Michael Carrick towards the end of the year, as Fletcher wasn't getting enough playing time.

At the end of July van Gaal took his team on a pre season tour to the USA. During that time they won all their matches, beating LA Galaxy 7-0 in van Gaal's first match in charge.

That was followed by victories over Roma and Inter Milan. What a start to his career with United, and better was to come with victories over Real Madrid, Liverpool and Valencia. That was all the evidence the fans needed to be sure that in the coming season we would be strong competition in the Premier League.

When the team returned to cooler weather back in Manchester there would be more news on the transfer front, and what news it was. Marcos Rojo joined from Sporting Lisbon. A utility defender who could fill in at left back or in the center. Then the big one, Argentine winger Angel Di María bought from Real Madrid on a five-year contract, the £59.7 million fee setting a new record for a signing by an English club, and taking the club's summer spending to a reported £130 million.

Then on transfer deadline day there were two more additions to the squad. Daley Blind, who had played for van Gaal's Holland team in Brazil, joined from Ajax to bolster the midfield. The last signing was a coup. Radamel Falcao came to United on a season long loan from AS Monaco. Falcao had had a terrible year with his knee injury, but when fit what a goal scorer.

As the new players came in it was time to say goodbye to a player who had come through the ranks at Old Trafford, Danny Welbeck. He joined Arsenal for a bargain £16 million. Some fans, ex-players and pundits, spoke of the death of United's soul. This is ridiculous, in the reserves were the likes of James Wilson, who has the pace and eye for goal that we need as back up.

Anyway, who would they rather have, a world class proven striker in Falcao, or a player who in all honesty never lived up to the hype that surrounded him. I never thought Welbeck was up to scratch as a goalscorer, and I for one was not sad to see him depart. This was not a case of van Gaal ripping up the tradition of United's youth policy, but simply him saying that Welbeck wasn't good enough for him.

So, on the eve of a new season the stage was set for United to put all the problems behind them, and with a new manager and squad challenge once again for the title. Van Gaal asked the press to judge his progress after three months. After the pre season results, and quality signings, the atmosphere at Old Trafford for the season opener was bouncing with excitement.

Unfortunately, Swansea City hadn't read the script. Van Gaal lost his first official game in charge, a 2–1 home defeat to the Swans. Then United lost 4–0 to League One side Milton Keynes Dons in the second round of the League Cup. It wasn't until the fourth match of the league season, a 4–0 home victory over Queens Park Rangers that Van Gaal won his first competitive game.

The main problem to the poor start was down to injuries, especially in defence. The team were already missing the experience of Vidic, Ferdinand and Evra. Also, the players were finding it difficult to adjust to the new system of three at the back and five across the midfield, with wing backs supporting the defence. The philosophies of the Dutch manager were not getting through to the players, but it was early days.

United didn't have the distraction of the Champions League which meant the team had the luxury of resting between matches. It was not a good sight to see other teams battling it out over Europe without United involved. The main target for the season ahead was to return to the illustrious competition.

After 10 league matches, United were in ninth place with 13 points and two victories, their worst start to the season since 1986–87. They were also suffering from injuries, including to new signings Herrera, Rojo and Falcao. These injuries and suspensions opened the door for two of United's youngsters to show their qualities. Tyler Blackett, and especially Paddy McNair, were given the chance by van Gaal, and they both performed well. Showing that the youth system was thriving.

United's first away win of the season came in the capital defeating Arsenal 2–1 at the Emirates Stadium to ascend into a lofty fourth position. The match was a smash and grab win, but a win all the same. This seemed to generate a new found believe within the sqaud, and they embarked on a nine game unbeaten run , 7 wins and 2 draws, right up until the last match of the year at White Hart Lane.
That run included a 3-0 win at home over dreaded rivals Liverpool. The good times were returning.

The last match of the year against Spurs was the first time United had fielded the same eleven players in consecutive games for over two years.

The man of the season so far has to be our No.1 David de Gea, whose performances have been world class. At times his saves have prevented the team from losing. No more so than in the match against Everton at Old Trafford. Not only did he save a Baines penalty, but in injury time athletically got his finger tips to prevent a certain goal attempt by Everton's Oviedo. United won 2-1. Thanks mainly to him.

With rumours surrounding Real Madrid's interest, it really is imperative that United get around the table to discuss a new contract for de Gea as quickly as possible to squash any chance of him returning to his homeland.

Two other players that deserve a special mention for their performances are Fellaini and Carrick. Fellaini has looked a totally different player compared to the one who flattered to deceive under Moyes. From a player who looked like his future lay somewhere else to an important cog in the middle of the park alongside Carrick. It's no coincidence that United haven't lost a match since Carrick returned from injury. He has shown his class both in midfield and defence.

Ending the year in the top three and unbeaten for two months certainly shows the progress that is being made. Van Gaal has had to cope with an unbelievable amount of players being injured, including the Summer signings, who have all suffered from varying degrees of shoulder, knee, ankle, rib, and pelvis problems. However, once they all return and play together, other teams beware.

There you have it, a year which started and finished poles apart. Twelve months that has ended with the Red Devils riding high where they belong. In a position to challenge for the top honours.

A year in which the supporters had to endure the worst season in the club's illustrious recent history, fans who also had to put up with the ridicule that came with that, but who never stopped following the team home and away. Getting behind the side through the tough games, and most importantly, never stopped believing that the good times would return once more.

Not so much a phoenix rising from the flames, but more akin to a sleeping giant waking from its slumber ready to trample all over any team that stands in its way.

Roll on 2015.

I hope you have enjoyed reading my Manchester United 2014 year review. Please continue to follow my blogs throughout the remainder of the season.

Miles Dunton.

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Missed chances ends United's 2014

Tottenham Hotspur 0 Manchester United 0

Manchester United brought down the curtain on their rather indifferent year at White Hart Lane against a Spurs team who also had a year to forget.

New management and squads for both teams, and both Louis van Gaal and Mauricio Pochettino bringing in new ideas and styles of play. The stage was set for an encounter that in the past had never failed to deliver entertaining football. The last time Spurs won this fixture was way back in May 2001.

Going into the match United had been impressively unbeaten in the last eight matches, seven of those being wins. Also, the goals for column was looking good, in the last eight matches they had managed to score 17 goals, and thanks mainly to goalkeeper David de Gea only conceded 5. The last time the Red Devils came to the capital they escaped with all the points against Arsenal.

The team news prior to the match revealed that Fellaini (rib), Di Maria (pelvis), Herrera (muscle) would not be involved, however, on a positive note Luke Shaw was included in the squad after being absent since that win over Arsenal.

The eleven to face Spurs were: De Gea, Jones, McNair, Evans, Valencia, Carrick, Rooney, Mata, Young, Van Persie & Falcao. Van Gaal showing faith in the same players that started against Newcastle on Boxing day. It was the first time that he had been able to choose the same XI all season.

Before the first half started there was a minutes silence for former Tottenham defender Ron Henry who passed away yesterday.

Once the match was underway Spurs had the first sight on goal in the 6th minute from Mason, but the reliable de Gea collected easily. From the resulting clearance Rooney almost played in Falcao, but there were too many defenders around him.

United carried on from where they had left off on Boxing Day by controlling the opening exchanges, Mata especially looking the biggest threat. However, the first quarter of an hour was littered with free kicks as both sides tried to get the upper hand.

Falcao missed a golden opportunity to put United in the lead, when he was put through on goal by Juan Mata, only to be put off by two defenders closing him down from behind. Straight away Spurs had their own clear chance but were thwarted by de Gea.

On 22 minutes United were awarded a free kick just outside the penalty area. Rooney left it for Mata, who curled it over the wall but it struck the post and both van Persie and Falcao failed to net the rebound.

A minute later mayhem in the spurs area as Jones headed towards goal, the keeper flapped at the ball and it crossed the line, only to be ruled that Falcao or Jones were offside. A harsh decision to say the least.

Mata again thread a great ball through to Falcao, but when one on one with the keeper Lloris, he shot weakly and the chance had gone. Then a brilliant ball from Carrick only needed to be converted by van Persie, but unfortunately he couldn't bring the ball under control quickly enough before Lloris collected.

Just before half time Young tried his trademark cut inside and unleashed a shot calling on the keeper to produce a fine save. That was to be the last action of a half in which Mata had produced some lovely touches and was the main outlet for the team's chances.

At the end of the first half it was unbelievable how United had not managed to score after all the chances they had created for themselves. The hope was those missed chances wouldn't came back to haunt them.

The second half saw one change for United. Rafael in a straight swap for Valencia. United continued to attack, and forced a couple of early corners, which had no end result.

Another chance, another miss by van Persie, this time on 55 minutes. Good work from the industrious Mata, but the striker failed to direct his header on target.

Van Persie showed his frustration by pushing Vertonghen off the ball, and was extremely fortunate not to receive a yellow card. Had he done so he would have automatically missed the next match at Stoke City.

After the hour mark the match became rather stale with neither side creating any chance of note until Mata made his first error by blasting over when it seemed easier to score.

It was time for another change by van Gaal when Evans was replaced by Chris Smalling. Evans had a poor match and it's obvious he is not comfortable on the left of the three central defenders. His distribution at times was awful.

Shortly after, Luke Shaw made his comeback by coming on for Paddy McNair, who had picked up a yellow card minutes before.

Spurs had a golden opportunity when Mason got goal side of Carrick, but shot over the bar from close range. At this time the home team were enjoying their best spell of the day which clearly rattled United as Falcao's name was taken for a needless foul. Quickly followed by Rafael.

The match ended in a goalless draw with some tired legs on show at the end. A match that United should and could have won if only the chances had been taken when they presented themselves. The closest being Mata's free kick, which struck the post, and his blast over inside the box.

Now unbeaten in nine matches at least they ended the year more positively than it was started.

There we have it the last game of 2014. Time to look ahead to 2015, and dare I say it, a successful year. To be honest, it won't be too difficult to do better than the last 12 months.

New Year's resolutions time. Mine are for Louis van Gaal to buy a central defender and a midfielder in the January transfer window. Who will come only he knows, but until the Summer I wouldn't say no to Vlaar and Strootman.

Many people are saying Vlaar is not a good fit for United, but I would counter that by saying the defenders we have at the moment aren't exactly setting the world alight with their performances.

Vlaar is experienced in the premier league and being Dutch, communication won't be a problem. He knows van Gaal and the other players from the Holland squad. At his age, he should be available at a good price, and will add strength to a weak back four, or three for that matter.

My second resolution is for the team to embark on an FA Cup run all the way to Wembley. I hope van Gaal takes the competition seriously as it's been too long since we last lifted the old trophy. This could realistically be our only chance of silverware this season.

Lastly, the target should be a top 3 finish, anything above that would be an absolute bonus. Don't get me wrong winning the league in his first season would be amazing for van Gaal, but to keep our feet on the ground is wiser.

I hope you all have a great New Year, and that 2015 will turn out to be better for United than the outgoing 2014.

As always, thanks for taking the time to read.

Miles Dunton.

Friday, 26 December 2014

Rooney pulls the strings for United.

Manchester United 3 Newcastle United 1
Welcome, and I would like to start by wishing all my readers a Merry Christmas.

After being given a day off on Christmas Day by Louis van Gaal to enjoy the festivities with their families, it was back to business at Old Trafford.

United welcomed Newcastle United on a day that has been kind to the Red Devils over the years. In fact the last time United lost a fixture on St.Stephen's Day was against Middlesbrough back in 2002.

United have won a total of 53 points on the 26th December, 15 more than the nearest side.

The team news saw no place for Angel Di Maria, being left out completely, possibly being saved for the Spurs match on Sunday. Once again Fellaini and Herrera were absent. Darren Fletcher was demoted to the bench after his average performance at Villa Park in the last match. This is how United lined up: De Gea, Jones, McNair, Evans, Valencia, Carrick, Rooney, Mata, Young, Van Persie, Falcao. The second start in a row for Falcao to give his partnership with van Persie another try.

The atmosphere inside the stadium was jovial, as it normally is for matches during the festive period, with the home faithful in fine voice.

The first half started rather sluggishly as both teams looked to shake off their Christmas Day celebrations. Falcao seemed to be the liveliest player for United making a few intelligent runs, one in which saw him clatter into the advertising boards, but thankfully he picked himself up unhurt.

The three United defenders McNair, Jones and Evans started nervously at the back yet again, especially Evans. Almost gifting a belated present to Newcastle, which fortunately they didn't accept. There was also a legitimate penalty claim by the Magpies after Yoan Gouffran and Juan Mata clashed in the penalty area, which was waved away by the referee.

Ashley Young was providing the best outlet down the left with some smart crosses, which were close to being converted by the strikers. Yet, as so often this season some of the breaks were halted by continuous back passing, which doesn't do anything for the nerves given the quality of our defence.

De Gea was on hand, not for the first time this season, to pull off a smart save after 19 mins to palm the ball over the crossbar for a corner.

On 22 mins some magic from Rooney, as he collected the ball in his own half, laid a pass to Mata, then continued his run into the penalty area, where Falcao unselfishly hooked the ball from Mata's cross into the captains path, who did the rest. A great move started and finished by an in form Rooney.

Rooney's and United's second came in the 36th minute, when the lively Falcao won the ball which released Mata, he gave a lovely pass inside to an unmarked Rooney, who had the simple task of finishing, which he gleefully did.

Half time and United led 2-0. Mata had been involved in both goals but it was Falcao who impressed with his energy and never give up attitude. He played a huge part in both goals even though he and van Persie were battling against a five man Newcastle defence, who were trying to play the offside trap at every opportunity.

Going forward the Magpies posed a threat with their pace against United's trio of centre halves, especially the talented Perez, who United would have to keep an eye on. Generally, United had been comfortable and deserved their half time lead.

The second half had United attacking the Stretford End of a rain soaked Old Trafford.

The fans didn't have to wait long for a third. Again Rooney was the inspiration on 52 minutes, with a delightfully judged chipped pass into the area, which was met by van Persie who headed across the goal into the net. Great skill and vision from Rooney who made it all look so simple.

With United enjoying a three goal lead and the players facing another match on Sunday, changes were inevitable. On the hour mark Fletcher entered the match in place of Carrick, who once again had a solid performance in the middle. Shortly after that Falcao was replaced by James Wilson. The home faithful showed their appreciation to the Colombian for his 100% effort towards the cause.

This in no way affected the rhythm of the team as United continued to enjoy the majority of possession. The only downside came when van Persie picked up a yellow card for a late and totally needless challenge, which he immediately acknowledged.

Again, Perez continued to be a pain for the United defence, calling on David de Gea to block a shot at his near post after the diminutive striker had confused a couple of defenders. Once he was substituted the main threat of the visitors had vanished with him.

It was great to see the return of full back Rafael, who came on for Valencia for the last quarter of the match to gain some valuable game time after a long time out.

With five minutes left to play Phil Jones gave away a penalty, which Cisse converted past a helpless de Gea. This meant that there would be no clean sheet for de Gea and United today. That was about the last action of the match as both teams didn't create anything of any note in the closing minutes.

This was a game that was controlled and won by man of the match and captain, Wayne Rooney. With his brace and assist he ran the show from his midfield position. Always the playmaker, everything came through him. He is looking more and more at home in the position van Gaal has entrusted to him. He seems to enjoy the responsibility the deeper role involves as it allows him to have more of a say in the tempo of the game.

Something that was good to see was the team play of United today. A good example of this was Van Persie, who was the designated centre-forward, unselfishly peeled off into wide positions at times for Rooney to run into the space from deep. a tactic which paid off especially in the first 45 minutes.

The next match on Sunday is away to Spurs. It brings down the curtain on United's year, a turbulent twelve months to say the least. But a year that is at least ending on a high, and gives us great hope for 2015.

It will be interesting to see who, if anyone, van Gaal buys in the January transfer window. Many names have been bandied around, and it will be fun to see which gossip turns out to be true. My wish list wish would be for a central defender and a midfielder. Vlaar and Strootman would do for a start, at least until the Summer.

Hope you all are having an enjoyable Christmas.

Thanks once again for reading.

Miles Dunton.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Manchester United 2014 Review Part 1.

Manchester United's last twelve months will be remembered as unremarkable for a club that had enjoyed unparalleled success, year after year, under Sir Alex Ferguson.

A turbulent year that saw United have three managers, players coming in and players going out, The 'transition' period of David Moyes, Louis van Gaal's 'revolution', Ryan Giggs's promotion, retirement, and promotion, one manager calling the dreaded enemy Liverpool the favourites, another beating them. Fans who have had to endure the worst year in the club's illustrious recent history, who also had to put up with the ridicule that came with that, but followers who never stopped cheering on the team, home and away, through the good but mostly bad times.

Twelve months in which United were unable to finish the season in the top four of the Premier League, therefore failing to qualify for a place at the top table of the Champions League for the first time in some fan's living memory. A period in which detractors of United enjoyed twisting the knife into a wounded club, and enjoyed all the pain it caused to the real fans.

In part 1 of my review of the year, I will share my thoughts on the period from January up until the end of the 2013-14 season.

The New Year started ominously for Manchester United and the manager David Moyes.

Sitting in a lowly position in the league they lost three matches with the same scoreline 1-2 within the first seven days. Starting with a loss away to Spurs, a home defeat to Swansea, which meant they were out of the FA Cup in the 3rd round, and lastly losing to Sunderland in the 1st leg of the league cup semi-final, eventually exiting the competition in a penalty shoot out.
The mood was lifted by the record signing of Juan Mata from Chelsea. The Spaniard, Chelsea fan's player of the season for the previous two years, arrived at Carrington training ground by helicopter. The fee of £37.1 million, seemed a little excessive for a player that had been left on the bench by Chelsea coach Mourinho for most of the season. Having said that, here was a quality play maker, and a signing that gave under pressure Moyes some respite. The downside of Mata joining was that he was cup tied for the upcoming Champions League knock out stage matches.

Over the course of the next two months United would lose to Chelsea and Stoke City, draw with Fulham and Arsenal, but even worse was that both Liverpool and Man City came to Old Trafford and both won with the same scoreline, 3-0.

In between that terrible run were the matches against Olympiakos in the last 16 of the Champions League. Falling to a 2-0 defeat in the first leg in Greece, United faced an uphill struggle in the return leg at Old Trafford. Needing to overturn the deficit by scoring at least three goals. The team put on a performance reminiscent of the European glory nights of the past under the floodlights of the 'Theatre of Dreams'. Robin van Persie was the hero of the match by completing a brilliant hat-trick as the reds won 3-0 to seal their place in the next round.

However, elation was soon reduced to deflation, as news came of an injury to the team's star striker. Van Persie, who picked up an injury in the match, would be facing a lengthy time on the sidelines. A huge blow to United and especially Moyes, who had the added problem of trying to beat Bayern Munich in the quarter finals of the Champions League.

Something clearly was not right at United. The fans started to voice their feelings, even going as far to hire a plane to fly over Old Trafford during the home match against Aston Villa, which displayed the message "Wrong One - Moyes Out"

But United ran out 4-1 winners that day, and Moyes told the press afterwards that he still had the support of the fans. Which clearly he hadn't.

The team's Champions League journey, where Moyes had enjoyed his best run of results, came to an end with defeat by Bayern Munich over the two legs, 2-4 on aggregate. Pep Guardiola's team had given United a lesson in organisation and teamwork. They had too much quality over the two matches. Without the goal threat of van Persie, United didn't really stand a chance.

The remote possibility of bringing silverware to Old Trafford had gone, which prompted calls by the fans, and the media alike, for Moyes, and more importantly United, to be put out of their misery.
The final straw for Moyes came with a 2-0 defeat at the hands of his former side Everton at Goodison Park, two days later the club announced that the 'Chosen One' had been sacked.

When it was revealed that Moyes had been chosen by Ferguson as his ideal replacement back in 2013, a lot of head scratching followed, but everybody to a man, and woman, stood behind his appointment. I believe that it was a step too far up the management ladder for Moyes, who had been at Everton for 10 years but won nothing. He lacked the experience for such a huge task at arguably the biggest club in the world. I do have a little sympathy for his situation, but not too much, as his pockets bulged with a sizeable £5 million in compensation. Not bad for ten months of suffering, not by him but by the fans.

After the departure of David Moyes, it was left to the popular choice of Ryan Giggs to step up and lead United through the remainder of the season, and to try and end it on a positive note. Once in place Giggs immediately called up the help of his friends from the class of '92, all except David Beckham and Gary Neville. What a sight it must have been at Carrington to see Giggs, Butt, P.Neville and Scholes leading the training sessions.

The boost in the teams morale showed in the first match against Norwich City, in which a rampant United team ran out 4-0 winners. Poor Norwich didn't stand a chance in a pumped up Old Trafford. The atmosphere was electric, as Giggs strolled down the touchline soaking up the rapturous applause from the home fans. He also looked the part in his club suit, and had an air of authority about him. Not only did the suit fit, but also the position of interim manager suited him perfectly.

The team played with a new found confidence that day, as they seemed to be released from the shackles that had held them back under Moyes. They went on the attack with a free flowing style that even Giggs would have been proud to be a part of, had he not dropped himself!

Another away defeat to Sunderland brought everybody back down to earth with a bump as that wasn't in the script. The final home match of the season was against Hull City. A match in which Giggs showed that he wasn't afraid to put faith in the youngsters by giving debuts to James Wilson and Tom Lawrence.

Wilson responded to his inclusion by netting a brace, and proved that United had another future star in the making. United ran out 3-1 winners on a day which would see Ryan Giggs play his final match in the shirt of his beloved Red Devils. His retirement as a player being announced in his after match speech to the Old Trafford faithful.

The last match of the season was a dour 1-1 draw away at Southampton. A match which also saw the end of three stalwarts of United's defence over the previous decade. Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra all ending their playing days with United.

United finished a hugely disappointing season empty handed and an embarrassing seventh in the league. There was a feeling of thank god that was over so the rebuilding could begin. The situation the club found themselves in could only improve.

On the 28th of May it was announced that Malcolm Glazer, the patriarch of the Glazer family that owns the club, had died. His sons would continue to run the club.

After the euphoria of Giggs being appointed interim manager, it was still obvious to all that the squad would need an overhaul in the Summer. The biggest question was whether Giggs would be given the ultimate responsibility, or would the club go for a new team manager with the experience in management needed to take on such a big challenge.

Fans were calling for Giggs to be given a crack of the whip, as he clearly had the players support behind him. Realistically though, they knew if the good times were to return to the club quickly, then the appointment of a manager with the personality and knowledge to turn the club's fortunes around was needed. The hard work had to start again, a new chapter in this great club's history was about to begin.

The speculation of who it would be was ended on the 19th of May with the announcement that the Dutch national manager, Louis van Gaal, had been offered, and had accepted the illustrious position of Manchester United manager.

The revolution had begun.

To be continued...

Thanks for taking the time to read part 1 of my Man Utd year review.

Part 2 will be available from the New Year.

Miles Dunton.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Man United held by ten-man Villa.

Villa Park is a stadium which holds fond memories for the United team and the fans. Throughout football history, it has been a happy hunting ground, as we have enjoyed many glorious matches there.

Who can forget the scenes that followed the 'goal of the century' by Ryan Giggs in the FA Cup semi-final replay against Arsenal in 1999, on the way to the historic 'treble'

You have to go all the back to the opening day of the 1995-96 season, for the last time Villa won against United at home. That day Sir Alex Ferguson's side, featuring youngsters such as Gary Neville, Paul Scholes and David Beckham, went down 3-1 in a result which prompted BBC pundit Alan Hansen to famously utter this classic comment: "You don't win anything with kids." How wrong he was proved to be.

The Manchester United team news, which didn't include any kids, had Louis van Gaal giving a start to Falcao up front, but more surprising was the choice of Darren Fletcher in midfield. This was due to undisclosed illnesses to Fellaini and Herrera.

Michael Carrick started the match in the middle of a back three along with Jonny Evans and Phil Jones in front of recent hero David de Gea.

Then there was Young and Valencia out wide with Fletcher and Rooney in the middle, Mata sat in the hole behind the strikers Falcao and Robin van Persie. On the bench were two players coming back from injury, Angel Di Maria and Da Silva.

United enjoyed the majority of possession in the early exchanges without creating any clear chances, but unfortunately Villa took the lead on 17 minutes, when from a free kick Benteke chested down in the penalty area, then without a serious challenge from the United defence, shimmied and curled a left-footed shot across three United players and past de Gea, who to be fair didn't stand a chance. A goal against the run of play, but a warning that this wasn't going to go all United's way.

Villa showed that they had the pace up front to worry the United defenders and on one such break their forwards were bearing down on goal, but without a brilliant tackle from Jonny Evans it could have been a lot worse for United.

On the half hour, Young nearly shoved the boos back down the Villans throats, when his curling shot come cross almost sneaked in at the far post if it hadn't been for Villa keeper Guzan managing to palm it to safety.

United's attacking play cried out for some invention as it was all so predictable, lots of the ball but no imagination, it was crying out for someone to work some magic. Sadly not many magicians were on show.

Falcao's first chance came on 23 minutes when he was played through by van Persie, in the end he shot tamely under pressure. The best play was coming from United's right flank via Valencia, but the Villa defence dealt with any crosses that came over.

It was a poor first 45 minutes for the Red Devils, and even though they had the ball in danger areas they had nothing to show for it.

At the start of the second half, it was no great surprise to see van Gaal make a change by bringing on Tyler Blackett for Fletcher. This meant that Carrick moved up into his preferred midfield role.
Right from the off the United back three, without Carrick marshaling them were in trouble as the trio of Blackett, Jones and Evans struggled to deal with Benteke, Jones just managing to block his shot. From the resulting corner de Gea made an important tip over from a Benteke header.

In the 50th minute van Persie forced a save from Guzan as United tried to convert their chances. The main objective, apart from equalising, was to keep the ball away from United's defence.

The pressure paid off in the 53rd minute when Young made a surge down the left and delivered a superb pinpoint cross, a cross which Falcao met with his head to give the keeper no chance.

In a rare show of emotion van Gaal punched the air with delight as Falcao raced to share his joy with the away fans.

After the equaliser came a push by United to find a quick goal and van Persie came closest with an overhead attempt.

On the hour mark came United's second substitution with Di Maria, making his return from injury, replacing van Persie. Straight away Di Maria was pressing forward and had three rather tame shots on goal, unfortunately, all were easily dealt with by Guzan in the Villa goal.

Then on 64 minutes the match heated up as Agbonlahor was red-carded for a foul on Young. He had a case for protesting as the replays showed it was a 50/50 challenge, but the referee decided he had gone over the top on Young. This not only left Villa down to ten men, but the boos for Young reached new decibels every time he touched the ball.

The 73rd minute saw another change as James Wilson was brought on for Antonio Valencia. Young was switched to the right and Di Maria patrolled the left wing.

That was a decision I didn't understand as the balance of the team would have been better served with Valencia staying on as he had been performing well down the right flank.

In contrast to Young who was having a torrid time with the Villa fans, and to take him out of that atmosphere would have made sense.

This was proven by the numerous opportunities he had to put in crosses from the right wing, but his deliveries on many attempts were below standard compared to his cross for Falcao's goal.

United had a flurry of corners and saw one cause confusion in the Villa box, but Falcao just couldn't reach the ball in time before it was put out of play by the Villa defence.

Towards the end of the match Villa came the closest to snatching the winner with a strike from Bacuna that just flew over a relieved de Gea's crossbar.

At the other end, Wilson had a lovely effort in the last minute but it lacked any power, how sweet that would have been for the youngster to grab the winner and the headlines.

Once again United toiled in a game that they should have won fairly easily bearing in mind Villa's injury list, and the fact that they were playing against ten men for the last twenty minutes. Only getting into their groove after the half-time change, which saw Fletcher depart and Carrick moved into the middle.

Carrick showing once again how brilliant the new vice-captain has been since returning from injury. He adapted so easily to the change in the system during the match. It's no great surprise that the team has still not lost this season when he has been in the side.

Darren Fletcher looked out of sorts in the middle of the park. and he didn't help himself by giving away the free kick that led to the Villa opener. Having been stripped of the vice-captaincy in favour of Carrick, you have to wonder how he fits into van Gaal's future plans, if at all.

He only started the match as both Fellaini and Herrera were not well enough to play. Fletcher has given the club great service over the last ten or so seasons, and has overcome a serious illness to get back into the team; however, in all fairness to him, if all the midfielders were fit he probably wouldn't get a look in.

This was a case of two points dropped at the end of the day. A few months ago I never thought I would be saying this, but our midfield missed Fellaini's presence, and I thought Mata had his first poor match for a while.

Having said all that, after six straight wins, a draw away from home is not the end of the world, and compared to when things were not going United's way at the beginning of the season this has been a good few weeks for the red devils.

We are now unbeaten in the last seven games. The team, under van Gaal's leadership, is still moving in the right direction and remain in third place.

Next up is the visit to Old Trafford of Newcastle United on Boxing day quickly followed two days later by United's last match of 2014, an away trip to the capital to take on Spurs. I fully expect United to end the year with two more wins that will send us flying into 2015.

I would like to wish all my readers a very Merry Christmas and thanks for all your continued support by reading my blogs.

Miles Dunton.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Players that have been Devils & Villans.

With Manchester United playing Aston Villa at Villa Park this Saturday, I thought I would take a look at some of the players who have turned out for both teams ahead of this weekend's clash.

Jimmy Rimmer.
Manchester United: 1965–1974 App: 45 (1 sub)

A Lancashire lad, Rimmer joined Manchester United as a schoolboy in 1963, turning professional two years later. He spent eleven years at Old Trafford, chiefly as Alex Stepney's understudy. He was a substitute in the 1968 European Cup final and received a winners medal despite not getting on the pitch. 

With Stepney ruling between the sticks. Rimmer only managed to play 46 times for United in total. In 1973 he went to Swansea City on loan and impressed as first-team goalkeeper, enough that Arsenal signed him from United in February 1974, eyeing him as a long-term replacement for Bob Wilson. He stayed until 1977 when he enjoyed a spell of six years at Aston Villa.

In 1982 Villa reached the European Cup final, but Rimmer was injured after only nine minutes and had to be replaced by the young Nigel Spink. However, Villa beat Bayern Munich 1-0, meaning Rimmer became the second player in history to get a European Cup winners' medal at two different clubs, despite the fact that he only played in one match.

Paul McGrath.
Sport, Football, League Division One, 31st August 1987, Manchester United 3 v Chelsea 1, Manchester United's Paul McGrath
Manchester United: 1982–1989 App: 192 (7 sub)

McGrath moved to Manchester United in 1982 when Ron Atkinson was the manager of United. In his formative years he was used in midfield but as time progressed he became a standout center half. He won the FA Cup in 1985 when United defeated Everton at Wembley and was even named man of the match, a match that was remembered for the first red card in an FA Cup final with the sending off of his defensive partner Kevin Moran.

When Alex Ferguson took over from Atkinson in 1986 the drinking culture began to rear it's head, at the center was McGrath, and that's when things began to take a turn for the worse. McGrath, due to chronic knee problems and alcohol addiction, was offered retirement along with a testimonial, and a substantial financial package by a frustrated Ferguson, as the manager believed that McGrath's best days were past. In the end Aston Villa bought him for £400,000 in 1989.

McGrath went on to play for the Villans until 1996, making over 250 appearances, and The Republic of Ireland, in which time he cemented his place as one of the finest center half's in the country.

Dion Dublin.
Manchester United: 1992–1994 App: 6 (11 Sub)

Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson bought Dublin for £1 million on 7 August 1992, fighting off competition from Chelsea and Everton. Dublin was something of a surprise purchase for United, after Ferguson had tried to sign Alan Shearer from Southampton but lost out to Blackburn Rovers.

He must be one of the unluckiest players because after hitting the highs of scoring a last minute winner in United's first Premier league victory against Southampton at The Dell, his world came tumbling back to earth, as he suffered a broken leg against Crystal Palace in a 1–0 win at Old Trafford, which meant he missed the next six months. 

In his injury absence Fergie bought Eric Cantona and the rest as they say is history. And it was history for Dublin as United won the league that season for the first time since 1967. He failed to make the 10 Premier League appearances required to automatically gain a title winner's medal. However, he was given a medal as a result of special dispensation from the Premier League, meaning the late goalkeeper Les Sealey was the only major first team player not to get a medal.

The following season after only making a handful of appearances he was sold to Coventry City for £2 million pounds doubling the amount United had paid for him. He later joined Villa in 1998 and stayed there for six years.

Peter Schmeichel.
Manchester United: 1991–1999 App: 398

Bought by Ferguson for an absolute bargain at only £500,000 the great Dane won everything possible at United including five FA Premier League titles, three FA Cups, one League Cup, and the UEFA Champions League. No wonder Alex Ferguson described his purchase of Schmeichel as the "bargain of the century."

Named the World's Best Goalkeeper in 1992 and 1993. The season United won the first Premier League in 1993, he kept 22 clean sheets. He rapidly built a solid defensive unit with Steve Bruce and Gary Pallister as his two center backs. His huge frame intimidated strikers as they would try and shoot past him only to see the way blocked by him making himself as large as possible, looking like a huge starfish, to block their attempts.

Schmeichel ended his Manchester United career on the highest note possible, when he and United won the Treble, the FA Premier League title, FA Cup and UEFA Champions League, in the same season. He captained the side in the absence of suspended Roy Keane in the Champions League final, which happened to be his last match as a United player. So important was he to United that they struggled to find a worthy successor until the signing of David de Gea more than a decade later. Schmeichel left United to ply his trade in Portugal with Sporting but returned to the Premier League with Aston Villa in 2001 for a season.

Eric Djemba-Djemba.
Manchester United: 2003-2005 App: 27 (sub 12)

The player who was so good they had to name him twice. Djemba-Djemba rose to prominence with Nantes in France. His impressive performances as a feisty and uncompromising tackler for the French club earned him a dream move to Manchester United for £3.5 million in the summer of 2003, signed by Alex Ferguson as a possible eventual successor to the 31-year-old Roy Keane. But in his 18 months at Old Trafford, Djemba-Djemba found it difficult to maintain a period of form, and he was eventually unable to establish himself as a player capable of cleaning, let alone filling, captain Roy Keane's boots.

Out of all Fergie's signings this is one that really fell flat on it's face, and he and the fans were put out of their misery in 2005 when he was sold to Aston Villa for half of what United had paid. He stayed at Villa until 2007.

Dwight Yorke.
Manchester United: 1998-2002 App: 120 (sub 32)

With a smile as wide as the ship canal, and a personality to match, Yorke arrived at Old Trafford in August 1998 from Aston Villa for £12.6 million. At Villa he was a firm fans favourite for his goal exploits. So you can imagine their displeasure when Alex Ferguson came a knocking. The Villa manager at the time was John Gregory, who was famously attributed to saying that he would shoot Yorke if he had had a gun in his office when Yorke asked for the move to go ahead.

He immediately became a huge hit at Old Trafford, and quickly built up a lethal partnership with Andy Cole. A partnership that helped United to the incredible treble in 1999. Altogether he scored 64 goals for Manchester United in 188 appearances. But it will be his telepathy with Cole that put the fear of god into defenders at home and abroad.

Rumoured to have had a fall out with Fergie, about his public private life, he was sold to Blackburn in 2002 after only four seasons. In that time his goals had helped United to win the Premier League title three times, and made sure the team regained the Champions League trophy for the first time since 1968.

Ashley Young.
Manchester United: 2011 - present. App: 95 (to date)

In the Summer of 2011, Manchester United bought Young from Villa for an undisclosed fee, thought to be around £18 million. Young had been at Villa since 2007. Ferguson beat Liverpool to the signing and he agreed a five-year deal with the winger. His first season started brightly with assists and goals, which included a brace in an 8–2 victory against Arsenal at Old Trafford. 

Young made his debut in the UEFA Champions League against Basel, scoring a headed goal in the 90th minute to help Manchester United to a 3–3. Then a long term injury kept Young out and he struggled to find his form upon his return. In the last couple of seasons he has been accused of diving to try and gain an unfair advantage for the team, and was ridiculed on the internet by his critics.

Under the new management and playing system of Louis van Gaal, Young is at present enjoying a mini revival of his fortunes, and is displaying his defensive qualities as well as his ability to create chances, which has helped the team to six successive wins in the league.

Tom Cleverley.
Tom Cleverley Man United Midfielder 2013
Manchester United: 2005- present (on loan at Aston Villa 2014-15) App: 63 (sub 16)

Cleverley rose through Manchester United's youth system to become the Reserves captain, and was nominated for the prestigious Denzil Haroun Reserve Player of the Year award in 2007-08. Following successful loan spells at Leicester, Watford and Wigan Athletic, Cleverley made his United debut in August 2011 and was soon a feature of the Reds' exciting start to the season. But a serious foot injury sustained at Bolton kept him out until October and a further setback sidelined him until February. He was then used only a few times in the at the end of the season and ended the campaign having made 15 first-team appearances.

Paul Scholes' retirement before the 2011–12 season left an opening in Manchester United's central midfield. Cleverley had been identified by manager Sir Alex Ferguson as a potential homegrown replacement for Scholes. However that never quite materialised for the player, even when David Moyes took over from Ferguson.

During the Summer with the signings at United of Ander Herrera, Angel Di María, Daley Blind, Luke Shaw & Radamel Falcao, Cleverley found himself on the outside of the Manchester United squad under Louis van Gaal. He attracted interest from many clubs, but chose Aston Villa. Villa made an initial bid of £8 million for Cleverley, but baulked at his wage demands. Everton then came in with an offer of £5 million but that was rejected. Villa revived their interest with a loan bid on transfer deadline day. Following his loan move with just a year left on his United contract, Cleverley admitted that his career at Old Trafford was over.

Other players not featured but played for both clubs include: John Gidman, Stan Crowther. Willie Anderson, Frank Barson and Les Sealey.

Miles Dunton.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

David De Gea. "Why always me?"

Manchester United 3 Liverpool 0
This is still the biggest match of the season for both teams and especially the fans. Yes, local derbies against City, the matches against Arsenal and more recently Chelsea are big, but there is no doubt about the coming together of United and Liverpool, it is huge.

The atmosphere inside Old Trafford reflected that, as both sets of fans were voicing their allegiances from when the teams entered the arena to well after they had left.

Millions of words have been written about the rivalry between the two clubs, a rivalry that really began in the 60's between the teams of Busby and Shankly, continued during the 70's with Docherty and Paisley, onto the early eighties with Atkinson and Fagan, then through all the Fergie years against a host of Liverpool managers.

Now we have the Louis van Gaal era, pitting his wits against Brendan Rodgers, and it was the home manager that came out on top in his first attempt.

United's starting line up had a few changes including the return of Phil Jones to play alongside Jonny Evans in a defence missing Marcos Rojo, who had picked up a last minute injury during training. Youngster James Wilson was again chosen to partner van Persie up front, which again meant no start for Falcao. The rest of the team was De Gea, Valencia, Young, Carrick, Fellaini, Mata, Rooney, and Van Persie. Interestingly, there was no player starting that has been bought under van Gaal's time as manager.

Liverpool enjoyed the majority of early possession and Sterling kept De Gea on his toes with a couple of efforts. United struggled to gel in the opening minutes with their formation, a formation with Rooney in midfield and Mata sitting behind the two strikers, and once again the defenders looking unsure at times.

The United players took their time getting into the match until they managed to find a way through on 12 minutes. Valencia producing great work down the right by cutting in between two defenders and crossing to the edge of the box, where a very grateful Rooney was waiting to hit a sweet right footer into the corner. That was definitely the Valencia of a few years ago.
Throughout the first half Rooney led by example from his midfield position. Constantly looking for the ball and trying to kick start moves and generally proving his worth as a captain. While at the back the defenders were at times living a little dangerously, a good job Sterling isn't renowned for his role as an out and out striker.

Then on 39 minutes Ashley Young crossed from the left, the ball sailed over everyone in the penalty area, but there was Juan Mata ghosting in at the far post to stoop and head United into a 2-0 nil lead. Mata ghosted in so well that the assistant referee didn't notice he was in a slightly offside position when the ball was delivered.

Not great from United but at half time they led by 2-0. The downside of the half was four yellow cards for Felliani, Jones, Rooney and Evans. So all those players had to tread carefully in the second half as this fixture is strewn with sending's off.

Thankfully no more United players were booked, but huge cheers rang out from the home fans when both Gerrard and Balotelli went into the ref's book.

The uncertainty in United's defence raised its head once more when Jonny Evans, not for the first time this season, played a suicidal back pass calling on De Gea to produce more heroics again. I would have loved to hear exactly what the keeper shouted to Evans. At this point in the match Liverpool were pressing forward but in all honesty never looked like producing a goal.

On the hour mark van Persie came close, but fired just wide, shortly after that De Gea produced the save of the match by turning a fierce shot by Balotelli brilliantly onto the crossbar. Four minutes later van Gaal made a change by taking off Wilson, who had not stopped running all day, and replaced him with Ander Herrera. Straight away the home side were leading 3-0. A slick passing move involving, Fellaini, Rooney, Mata and a Liverpool defensive error, eventually came to in form van Persie who converted a relatively easy chance.

With United in a comfortable lead Rooney was replaced by Falcao on 77 minutes. The Colombian forward still couldn't find his second goal for the club, in fact it was Robin van Persie who came the closet by having a shot well saved by Bradley Jones in the Liverpool goal.

There was time for one more change as Paddy McNair came on for Phil Jones. I thought Fellaini performed well in the second half by sitting in front of the defence, and breaking up the Liverpool attacks time after time.

I have lost count how many times have I sung the praises of David de Gea this season? He really does deserve better defenders in front of him, roll on January. Whatever his pre match meal is the whole team should have the same. He saved three point blank shots from Balotelli alone in the second half, after denying Sterling in the first half. Without his saves United would not have been looking at the same scoreline, and might have even ended up level or worse. Another man of the match performance from a keeper so high in confidence.

On paper a great result against our biggest rival, and a sixth straight win. Even so the performance was at times disjointed from United, especially at the back. But a win is a win, and after losing twice to Liverpool last season this was a much needed boost for the fans as much as the team.

Now United have only three more matches to play in 2014. Starting with Aston Villa away on the 20th, followed by Newcastle United at Old Trafford on Boxing Day, and ending with a trip to Spurs on the 28th, all these games are winnable and hopefully will see United finish 2014 on a high.

Thanks again for taking the time to read.

Miles Dunton.