They Walked In Line

Burnley v Manchester United - Premier League - Turf Moor

United at Turf Moor and Job Done.

The Manchester United performance against Burnley on Sunday was just what the doctor ordered. In a season with so many soap opera worthy distractions off the pitch the performance was necessary. With the eyes of the anyone but United world glaring from behind their net curtains to watch us fail, crumble and collapse; United came away with chances taken, defence in tact, solid performances all over the pitch and three points. That’s not to say there wasn’t the odd head in hands moment, and yes, it was against Burnley but United can only beat the team in front of them. In a very welcome sense it was job done.


For the most part United looked comfortable throughout the match at Turf Moor, Victor Lindelof was back from the dead after his crucifixion in previous games, Chris Smalling partnered him in defence and at some points in the first half Marouane Fellaini dropped back in what became a back three. Luke Shaw continued his excellent start to the season, he was positive with his forward play once again and Jesse Lingard looked interested too; he could have scored with a cheeky flick of his boot from a Valencia cross but he was denied. The opening goal eventually came from the most gorgeous Alexis Sanchez cross, it hung in the air and was begging to be headed into Joe Hart’s net, Romelu Lukaku duly obliged and turned to salute his team-mate for the assist.

United soon went in search of their second goal, Lukaku could have had it when he benefited from the counter to a Burnley attack. A square pass was cut out by Luke Shaw who found the striker, breaking forward with Sanchez left and Lingard right, Lukaku went left before receiving the ball back and seeing his shot saved by Joe Hart.

Lukaku was not to be denied for long though and he took his second goal of the afternoon just before half time. After a nice give and go involving Luke Shaw and Alexis Sanchez, Shaw made a forward run before Sanchez back heeled the ball back, Shaw found Lukaku who held the ball up and laid it off to Lingard before backing into space, Lingard’s resulting shot was blocked by Ashley Westwood and it came down invitingly for Lukaku, striking the ball home; Joe Hart was helpless and United went into half time two goals up with very little threat from Burnley.

Marcus Rashford had a day to forget. He came off the bench to replace Sanchez and tried to make a positive impact, he and can be happy with the cross to the far post to set up Chris Smalling’s header – the defender couldn’t make it count. He was also at the centre of the penalty decision too; Valencia’s long ball down field was headed on by Lukaku to Lingard before his return pass enabled Lukaku’s cross into the box. The ball evaded Lingard’s bycle kick but found Rashford who was brought down by Lennon. Paul Pogba missed the resulting penalty.

Rashford’s afternoon came to an early end when he was given a red card for headbutting former United player, Phil Bardsley, who had returned to the Burnley starting line up for this game. Marcus Rashford looked to take the ball down the wing with Bardsley for company, the defender did his job and the ball went out of play but once it had Bardsley kicked out at Rashford who then put his head up close and personal with the defender. The referee had no other option once ‘headbutt’ contact was made, and Marcus will learn to count to ten in such circumstances in the future, it was all a bit unnecessary. Rashford apologised to the United fans after the game, United will be without him for three games once the Premier League returns.

Burnley were arguably lucky to finish with eleven men themselves, after Lukaku held off the attentions of Ben Mee, the Burnley defender seemed to fall conveniently with his arm across the ball knocking it out of the striker’s path though no hand ball was given.

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Mourinho’s Red and White army!

Jose Mourinho once again thought United had done “so so well” (he likes so so at the moment, it seems to be his go to phrase). The manager talked about how the match reminded him of the Spurs game, “but today we score!”. “Everybody had the correct approach” he said, before praising once again the United faithful, saying that the “performance and happiness is Old Trafford’s responsibility” – feeling that the positivity and unity given to the team during the Spurs defeat was carried into the Burnley game.
Support for the team and the manager should have never really in doubt amongst the majority of United’s fans but Jose continues to say and do the right things and only looks to strengthen his relationship with the red and white army. Some reading this now will see it as a move of fan manipulation by a man unsecure in the hot seat, but it is continuing and strengthening a United voice at a time one is absolutely needed. The fans are with Jose. The fans will be with with the team, everything else secondary.

On the pitch on Sunday Mourinho’s team were doing the right things, Fellaini (92%), Pogba (89%) and Matic (86%) had excellent pass completion stats according to the official website; 21 shots and 9 on target suggest that whatever plans are made during training might be bearing fruit on match day. The passing looked crisper, the play looked sharper, we had ideas when we had possession. Marouane Fellaini was pivotal to United on Sunday. While we salute players for their new-found attitude, or perhaps beg a certain French midfielder to find a better attitude, the big Belgian in the middle should not go un-noticed, he has done everything asked of him and done it well. We can be glad he has signed a new United contract, he deserves it.

Elswhere, Romelu Lukaku took his chances and should have had a hatrick, Lingard and Sanchez were involved and tricky and the boss was very happy with the defensive display of Smalling and Lindelof at the back. Luke Shaw can be proud of himself for this whole opening month, not just on Sunday where he valiantly copped a yellow card for the cause to break down a counter attack after Lukaku’s shot on goal. Low key it may have been but it is an indicator of a team pulling together. 

It may have been Burnley (they only had 2 shots on target from 9 in total), but the confidence all round, can help us throughout the season and can be crucial when the bigger challenges come. GTS

© 2018 Simon Andrew Moult / Moultymedia.

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Bizarre Love Triangle (Spurs P2)

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We knew the knives would be out following the Tottenham defeat but I felt a very real sense of togetherness and pride. Don’t get me wrong, I would prefer for that sense to swell within me after a 5:0 victory where United have literally played the opposition off the park (Arsenal 8:2, Ipswich 9:0, City 5:0) and it feels bizarre that such a stirring comes after a loss but that’s where we are. We got a performance to be proud of; if any of Lukaku’s chances go in it’s a different game. On a different day at the very least we’re either a goal up thanks to Rose’s back pass or we’re level seconds after Harry Kane’s superb header found the net.

“I wouldn’t be worried if at half time we were winning three nil, at half time the result should be three nil, three one, two nil, we were so so so much the best team in the first half”
“When you play the way you play, when you create what you create, when you miss the chances that we missed… at half time everybody was frustrated but totally convinced that we were going to win the match. Even with the unexpected two nil, the way the team kept playing until the third goal arrived. My message to the players has to be a positive message and I’m really happy, humbled, by the way the supporters reacted to the boys.”

It seems that most of United’s support that night were reading the same script; Jose spending some time applauding the Stretford End was the moment we needed. It felt like a turning point. It felt like a man thanking the core support for staying to support him and the team, despite all the questions they probably had, all the confusion they all felt, and all the anger they wanted to direct somewhere. Remove yourself from the he makes more money, I need more money, I want a centre back he won’t let me have one BS ; take away all the drama and we have a defiant manager and fans willing to stand with him.

There is no brainwashing involved here. We know Jose isn’t perfect, the rational amongst us aren’t saying he’s the messiah but the issues aren’t all down to him so pardon me for thinking that men in ties in the boardroom should shoulder as much if not more blame than a coach who seems to have been crucified for at one point believing there might be a United player in Victor Lindelof. This week I’ve heard from our own fans that the board were correct not to sanction moves for any of the players Jose wanted and Victor is one of the poor sods they always mention. Perhaps in another team in another season he would have been able to acclimatise in the shadows but he’s shown a weakness and it has been exploited. If opposing players are cash strapped students, Victor Lindelof is the broken cash machine that keeps paying out. When they get so much joy from him, our opposition will continue to ask questions of him. He’s been crushed in front of us, and as much as the staff will shield him, he’ll have to improve in front of us too.

Publicly though, Jose is refusing to put that weight onto Victor’s shoulders. When asked about him, Jose built a wall;”My team played so well and strategically we were so so so so good and you want to try and transform this press conference in a situation of lets blame the guy.” before going on to ask the media what they wanted from a Jose Mourinho team;

“I’m sorry, you have to tell me what is the most important thing because I don’t know. When I win matches I come here many times and you are not happy that I won matches and you say that the most important thing is the way of playing. You need to make a decision because I need to know from you… if it is to play well or it is to win matches, play offensively or for a certain result.”

When the press asked him what went wrong on Monday night, he asked them if they had seen the goals. What else can he say. They asked him if he knew what his best back four was at this moment in time, Jose’s answer here too was direct and to the point; “No.” He did then elaborate on the partnerships he’s had to mix and match, Lindelof and Bailly, Jones and Smalling, there is a suggestion that Rojo comes back into the side as soon as he is available but Jose is working with what he has available.

Some would suggest that Jose cannot be trusted with the money, but that idea is alien to me. It suggests that a manager is clearly no longer able to make purchases, try them and move them on if they don’t fit in as expected. Every manager makes what turns into a bad move transfer wise, for every Eric Cantona and Ole Solskjaer there is a Nick Powell, Jordi Cruyff, Adnan Januzaj, Garry Birtles.

SIR ALEX FERGUSON SIGNED BEBE for crying out loud!
The United board have to back him now, they should have backed him in the transfer market. Offering a manager a new contract and telling him they don’t trust his ideas for new signings is bizarre but this circus is what we are all having to deal with now. For his part I think Jose’s reaction has been outstanding. He went over to Luke Shaw and he applauded the fans, Jose knew the cameras were on him and yes it was done partially with that attention in mind because it put him with us. He’s not been shy in laying the blame for the lack of new signings right at Ed Woodward’s door, he spoke the words, we saw the action and now it feels as though he’s standing on our side of the picket line.

“My message was the same as the supporters”, said Jose afterwards, “the message that the supporters gave to the players was my message, was the same.”

Jose told the media he was happy with the attitude of his team and he was (mostly) correct. He was full of praise for the fans and he was correct there too; “Goals are an amazing vitamin, or an overdose of fatigue.”  The players are with him, the majority of fans are with him, the board are backing him (now), in reality this could be an uneasy truce, I’m sure some journalists will continue to right sentences about insiders and use phrases like “it is believed” but I want to believe we are United.

“One thing we know”, says Jose, “the team is United”.

 

The bizarre love triangle continues, the results will come. GTS

(if you want more, try these from the archives)

True Faith

United: Love it or Leave It

© 2018 Simon Andrew Moult / Moultymedia. Many thanks for your support.

Strings of Life

Ferguson, Moyes, Van Gaal, Mourinho, Best, Cantona, Keane, Blind, Mata…. Zlatan

Comings and goings are part of football – rhythm is rhythm

Sunday, May 19th 2013 – the last day of the season and the last match in the managerial career of Sir Alex Ferguson; it was at the Hawthorns against West Brom and it ended five all. FIVE ALL. It was a downright bonkers match and seemingly the result of Sir Alex’s pre-match encouragement to ‘go and express yourselves’, they certainly did that. Maybe, just maybe it was the last time Manchester United showed themselves in a real attacking way.
Saturday, May 21st 2016 – Manchester United win the FA Cup final against Crystal Palace, Louis Van Gaal winning the first trophy since the end of the Ferguson era and losing his job hours later. In the intervening three years United have become a laughing-stock; David Moyes’ management made our world-class players second guess themselves, apparently his coaching methods and dossiers would focus on so many positive aspects of the opposition, the United squad would leave team meetings thinking Crystal Palace had turned into Barcelona.

sharpemcclaircantona_zpseaiktujcLouis Van Gaal came across with more promise and in the end did not deliver us to a position much higher than that of laughing-stock. It’s unfair to call him clueless, it’s perhaps nicer to say that whatever ideas were in his head never quite made it to the match day football pitch. I am glad he is gone, he had to go, it seems ruthless to do so as quickly as we did but such is life; Van Gaal knew the industry he was in.

Jose will do a lot right at Manchester United. His methods have a lot of fans worried and a lot of players are seeking assurances, sorry if this sounds cold, but all of this is good to hear. I like the idea that certain players are looking over their shoulder, I think some of them were never United quality and that some buys were only brought in because they played at a level a previous manager knew and was comfortable with. The wilderness years (they weren’t really, were they, but go with it) need to end and end now but they have changed my views on certain things.

Will he play United’s way, is he a United type? Leave all that at the door please. The men in charge of this decision saw fit to give the keys to Camelot to DAVID MOYES on the say so of Sir Alex Ferguson, the same Ferguson who had doubts about Jose. He chose DAVID MOYES. He told David Moyes that he was the next manager of Manchester United. I thank him for everything he has done in bringing my football team where we are, but he needs to sit down and be quiet. DAVID MOYES. Sir Alex has forfeited his right to express his opinion.

Juan Mata. I love Juan Mata. He comes across like he knows what playing for Manchester United is about. I’m sure he does. He’s a lovely guy by all accounts but that doesn’t change the fact that, like Van Gaal, he knows the business he got into. Jose has a history of getting rid of Juan Mata so our Spanish genius is allowed to wonder if the same will happen now. Probably. And I’ll be sad but I’ve lost Kanchelskis when I didn’t want to, Ince when I didn’t want to, Alan Smith when I didn’t want to, the man in charge decided it was time to go and they went. We will move on from the loss by buying a player of equal or better quallity. They decided to bench Best, he decided he’d move on. We moved on from Eric Cantona in terms of quality, there have been better players at OT since the Frenchman said au reviour, none have meant the same to me personally, he is the King, but we did move on from him.
Daley Blind almost made Mourinho’s mind up for him by speaking out in support of Louis Van Gaal. It’s commendable, on some level but on another more realistic level you cannot have a player appear to call out the upper level management on the way they handle anything. An ex player mouthing off is bad enough, you wish they just leave the memories alone, but a player currently on club books cannot say the things attributed to Blind. Players do grow a set when they are with their international squads, Blind’s pair appear to have gained him a first class ticket out of Manchester.

I want Manchester United to be the best they can be, I’m sorry that certain players had their Old Trafford years while we were shit and won’t taste the glory that might be about to come back – but they have Man United on their CV so I’m sure they will be fine. The same applies to Ryan Giggs, we have to leave at the door his history with us – it’s as a player for one thing, he has yet to achieve anything as a coach and he has been part of the backroom at Old Trafford during not one but two disastrous periods. He may achieve good things as a coach, but he will have to do that away from us for now. The reports that he is “disappointed” not to be considered for the main job can be believed but I have to ask, how big is Ryan Giggs’ ego for him to be thinking he was in with a legitimate shout of the managing at Manchester United. Someday maybe, not now. He may be dissapointed and surprised, I was not.

Thanks for the memories, Ryan, my God they were good. We love you.

At the end of the day, there is one thing to bear in mind; players come and go, they smack you with brilliance and then depart and most of them ride of into the sunset without opening their gobs and ruining their mystique. Managers come and go, this one will go, eventually, hopefully at the end of a haul of silverware and the start of a period of continued dominance; the foundations laid to rule Britannia, once again.

The fans are Manchester United, we will be here for every game next season and beyond – you cannot leave your football team (OK so you can, some United fans have proven that too now I come to think of it, splitters).

Welcome back, Manchester United – let’s go and sign Ibrahimovic – he’s an arrogant SOB and I’m going to love him, WE are going to love him. It’ll be a good ride, hold on tight.

Manchester United Appoint Mourinho

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That sentence felt good to write, it says a lot as it is but it packs an unwritten punch too. If you don’t believe me, just look at the reaction to all the fans of other teams on social media since it became clear that it was happening; rumours had Manchester United causing a stir and rival fans were lining up ready to tell anyone how much of a difference it wouldn’t make. “Big ego, good, c*nt of a club, they both deserve each other”, a managerial appointment can evidently have such an effect on everyone else. I don’t know any Manchester United fan who has even asked anyone’s opinion, but whether sought or unsought, we’ve got it from them. I have one word for this lot; good. Keep it coming.

Hated – that never gets old for fans of Manchester United, it’s an emotion that is followed by the equal and opposite reaction from those who bleed red and white…

Adored – you know you do, that’s why this last three years have been so painful.

The media stir since the FA Cup Final has proved one final thing… Never Ignored.

It was seemingly impossible to ignore us even when we were shit, three years of “wilderness” football that comes nowhere near the actual wilderness years we’ve experienced in our history. Everyone laughed when we appointed David Moyes, we’ve all seen the meme of David in his office, “I have no idea what I’m doing”, oh how they laughed; and they were right to do so. They laughed during the Dutchman’s reign at Old Trafford too. The ‘most memorable moment’ lists that surfaced as Louis Van Gaal was relieved of his job made humorous reading; yes he got the players’ names wrong and he had a few funny phrases which didn’t really translate very well into English, he played wingers in defence, midfielders up front and strikers on the wing, and then there’s the other Wings. Funny stuff.

It seems today that you cannot confirm a story without talking to an ex United player wearing a cap in the middle of a game of golf; Scholes and Schmiechel were amongst those asked today.

But Manchester United appoint Jose Mourinho.

No one’s laughing now are they!

 

Rooney, Songs and Perfect Jogging

The pomp and occasion that would meet the occasion of United’s first home game under a new manager missing a little on Monday night. Maybe it died a death in a shallow grave under the Wayne Rooney issue, because I don’t buy that it was a sleepy affair because it came so soon into the season. You watch United against Liverpool and see whether that’s even remotely half arsed. In fairness it got better in the second half and wasn’t as sleep inducing on the television as I remember it being in person but still.

Wayne Rooney was professional, nothing more. He was cheered though and the Chelsea fans clearly enjoyed adding his name to their repertoire. Whether they actually want him I don’t know but no team in their right mind would turn him down. He makes a squad or a team stronger. The fact he played at all and was subbed, said a lot. I think United have done what they needed to do here. A lot of fans seem to think anyone will stay at their club for reasons mirroring their own dedication to the team. In this day and age that is unlikely. Wayne Rooney will not have found a deep love for Manchester United if he hasn’t already got one. He’s probably not had an epiphany, he’s had a look at his contract and counted the bonus he is on for loyalty and not submitting a formal transfer request. That story is in the Daily Mirror and I have no doubt that it, or something like it has dawned in our number 10’s organically stitched previously marble melon. He thanked us for our response, but we are a smart lot and we realise that unless horrifically injured, Wayne Rooney in your side is better than Wayne Rooney out of it; whoever he was trying to make the point to.

Monday night put that boy Wayne centre stage and yes he ran everywhere and tried, but it shouldn’t mask the real team issues. When will we leave Ryan Giggs on the bench as a coach and give the job of ignighting the team’s spark to someone else? Pip Nev has retired so we won’t see him in there if Anderson ever puffs out his cheeks and needs to depart the action, knackered, by the sixth minute mark. The fact that Ryan hasn’t retired and we can still call on him, doesn’t mean we always should. It’s a double edged sword, like in music where you may agree that no one will ever get close to the impact of the Beatles but that realisation might also make you a little sad. Can no one even get close by now? Not to his record or his legacy maybe but, someone needs to step up and create their own.

‘Tis the season for change, after all. GTS

Faster Sooner Now

YEARS ago I remember thinking that pre season was the time that the squad got back together; the new players came in and you’d end up watching something that resembled the team you followed, in some poorly attended friendly in the rain at Marine FC.

Then it was like pre-season got all polished and United are invited to open Wolves’ new stadium (very impressive it was too) and play a team that included former United player and manager’s son Darren. Former as in, he used to play for United, not that he stopped being Alex’s son, you understand. I’ll move on!

Before you know it pre-season gets positively glossy, and we end up with Manchester United visiting South Africa for games against the Kaiser Chiefs (who later faired much better when they decided to focus on the music). Who remembers the year we went to Ireland for what must have been positive money spinners against teams like Shelbourne? Now the jet set Pre season is almost as hectic as the regular season itself. Commitments to fly here, there and open this stadium, and that car door, can weigh a team down.

Continue reading “Faster Sooner Now”

“Play For The Shirt, Lads”

A season of fantastic highs and occasional lows essentially came to an end on Sunday with Chelsea’s draw at the Arsenal confirming Manchester United as the champions of England for a ninth time in the Premiership. Manchester United fans all around the world deserve to shout it out loud and truly revel in this moment because this has been a well earned success when few outside Man United actually predicted it. The ‘special one’ himself at various times in the season predicted that the table was false and that his Chelsea team would eventually topple United from the top and eventually win the league. They got close on a few occasions especially when our injury list got longer, and I actually believe that if we had been removed from top spot, Chelsea would have gone on to win the league. That they didn’t says an awful lot for our players, the ones that get the headlines and the ones that do not. I’m speaking specifically here of Darren Fletcher, who I have been critical of in the past but who, even I will admit, has risen to the challenge in recent weeks. Such players may not be first team material on a week in week out basis and there were times I wondered why we kept such average players around even for the bench. The fact that we did shows why Alex Ferguson is the manager and I am not. We built a team mentality that was not based on superstars in every role, but was instead based on players playing for the shirt whenever and wherever they were required.  You do not need twenty two headline grabbers!

Continue reading ““Play For The Shirt, Lads””