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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Shell Shock (Spurs p1)

Seconds after kick off against Tottenham last night, it all looked like it was going to be ok. From kick off Tony Valencia had the ball wide, he sent it forward, Lingard jumped to nod the ball onto Fred and Fred’s attempt went wide of the post. It was a signal of intent from a player and team that needed to come out and show something after the disaster at Brighton. Mourinho made six changes, back came Valencia, Smalling, Jones, Herrera and Matic and we were led to believe they would probably line up in a 4-3-3 but Jose kept everyone on their toes; Ander Herrera started more defensively, Pogba alongside Matic in midfield and we’d clearly be demanding a lot of Valencia and Shaw for the width. Jesse Lingard started as part of a front two with Lukaku. It seemed like a positive and confident statement from a manager knowing his team would be under the lens, but then you might well ask yourself, when aren’t Manchester United under the lens.

 

Sixteen minutes into the first half, it all looked like it was going to be ok. With Spurs in possession the ball found Danny Rose who made an instinctive pass back to his keeper, the pass was too short and Lukaku pounced, taking it round Hugo Lloris but with an empty net to aim at the United number nine sent the ball agonisingly wide. It looked odds on a goal but Spurs escaped. There was enough evidence early on to show us that there would be no hangover from last week’s trip to the seaside. The players seemed to believe the breakthrough was coming and because they believed, the crowd believed, and the crowd fed the players and United flowed forward in ways we hadn’t seen too often under Mourinho. Nemanja Matic broke up a Spurs attack on the edge of the United box, Pogba looped the ball into the air towards Luke Shaw and Shaw played a lucky one two off a Spurs man’s leg then found Jesse Lingard and continued his run down the wing for the return pass; Shaw’s cross found Romelu Lukaku but the shot was sent into Hugo Lloris.

Fred seemed to pop up everywhere, Lingard was excited, Shaw had purpose, Matic was sensible; dare I say it even Paul Pogba seemed to be doing his job, there seemed to be only one way this was going to go. United were doing enough surely, it would come, wouldn’t it? The fact United were unable to find the net during a 20-30 minute period in which they were very much on top was a concern. The fact that Lucas Moura had become more present in the game and therefore increasingly annoying, was a concern. Ander Herrera received a yellow for giving the Brazilian his full attention and David De Gea’s kick out only just cleared his head, Matic had the ball mugged off him when he wanted an hour with it, Dele Alli would have got a shot away if it had not been for Chris Smalling denying him the opportunity. Spurs had apparently soaked up all they were willing to and now saw chances to play into the game. Lucas Moura again threatened to put Spurs ahead going like a ferrari with Phil Jones for company. Jones made contact and was lucky the official wanted no part of it, Moura was knocking on the door and would not be denied all night. United continued though, Fred curled an effort wide, he then went on to set up Pogba for a shot which Lloris saved; Matic’s effort from the return cross looked as if it was going to loop into the net but it didn’t. There were signs of this becoming a game for either side to take hold of, but as the clock ticked into the last 15 minutes of the first half there was no sign of the carnage that was to follow.

 

When Tottenham appeared in the second half it was as if they believed they had withstood everything United had, and having gone in level at the break when they could have and should have been behind, they were now going to push on and see what they could get. Harry Kane fizzed a shot or a cross into the danger area, De Gea might have been aware that Lucas Moura was ready to pounce and got a hand to the ball flicking it clear but just over the head (again) of the Brazilian. Lingard looked to attack into the Stretford End as both teams looked for the advantage and thats where this ends as a contest.

 

The visiting side made the breakthrough; Dele Alli was found in space and when the ball hit Chris Smalling and went out for a corner, everything United had built about to be taken apart. Harry Kane’s looping header in the 50th minute looked like the simplest thing in the world. United had kept him largely silent up to this point and I dare say Phil Jones thought he had done his job but the World Cup golden boot winner backed off Jones and sent the ball into the net beautifully. David De Gea and Romelu Lukaku could only watch and United were one down. Within 2 minutes and 12 seconds later Lucas Moira got the goal his quality display deserved but unbelievably and undeservedly, United were two down.
From a United point of view it now became about asking questions of Spurs and seeing if we could get ourselves a goal. Whenever that occurred, if indeed it could, would determine what we could get out of this game. Unlike the Brighton game when United never even looked like recovering from the shell shock, at Old Trafford on Monday night they did keep their heads high. Phil Jones was hauled off injured and was understandably frustrated by it, Lindelof came on as his replacement and we all collectively hoped that other Victor would turn up; the one that looked half decent in his displays for Sweden and not the one that was had on toast in against Brighton. Matic came off and Fellaini came on, perhaps surprising some who might well have wanted Rashford in the hunt for goals. Ander Herrera had already been sacrificed to see what Alexis Sanchez had to offer.

Sanchez was into the action quickly enough, his long ball was nodded down into Lingard’s path, the ball couldn’t settle and the shot went over for a corner but United soon found their way forward again; Fred’s pass across to Pogba sent the Frenchman back a bit to collect and the cross deflected for a corner but the Stretford End still roared. United kept possession, Spurs tried to push out from their area and Luke Shaw kept the ball going in the right direction. Paul Pogba won a free kick which Fred took and sent to the post but Lindelof’s header failed to trouble anyone.

Victor Lindelof was about to answer the question United fans asked when he came on, this was the performance of a man visibly short of confidence, rightfully roasted and shrinking before our very eyes. Jamie Carragher all but wrote his United obituary after the game and when he nearly gifted Spurs a third goal, you can’t really argue with that assesment. Spurs’ Danny Rose had played his own keeper into similar trouble in the first half, Lindelof’s pass back was more central but equally as weak and needed David De Gea to sprint into action. Dele Alli was pushed wide and couldn’t glide round our keeper as he wanted to, De Gea then saved the resulting shot and earned the thanks of a sheepish Swedish defender. If Victor Lindelof is going to make it at Manchester United he is going to have to improve far beyond what we have seen this month. Perhaps in past seasons he would be able to grow into United without the spotlight but this is the way things are currently and he’s getting asked questions in front of a critical audience. It’s perhaps unfair but some will doubt that he can improve. He remains one of our defensive options so he has until January.

It looked unlikely United would be scoring, one move pretty much encapsulated the home team’s evening when Luke Shaw sent ball fizzing goalwards goalwards and Lukaku narrowly avoided making contact with his head. Frequently the ball was in the right areas, Tottenham constantly trying to send it away and United continuing to ask questions. I have the feeling they could have been there on Tuesday morning and still the ball would not have found the net.
On Monday night the final flicker of United hope was extinguished fittingly by Lucas Moura, a thorn in our side all night. Spurs were clearing from a United attack, the ball bounced over Fred and fell for Kane who played in Lucas Moura; Moura accelerated away from Chris Smalling, who did attempt a tackle more in hope than expectation before Moura finished lethally.
A United performance that promised so much and looked for most of the first half like it would deliver, in the end gave us nothing. 3 – 0 is probably unfair, and does not tell the full story of the match but it does tell the story of a football club. There are lots of things to be positive about (Shaw for one) but there are negatives we are all too aware of will not go away and as a football club we will remain under the microscope. GTS

 

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Mourinho headed straight for Shaw at the final whistle. United’s left back can be proud of his performance on Monday night.

 

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

All That They Have

THIS summer, thanks to England and the World Cup we all got taken on a fantastic ride, whether we truly believed ‘it’ was coming home or not, I don’t know, but it is easy to be sceptical and game by game all of that went. I wouldn’t say club colours fully disappeared but I enjoyed the sense I felt as I watched England progress. I thought the season’s positivity might some how bleed into the Premier League season and that it might benefit Manchester United.

How wrong could I have been? Well it turns out some people place huge importance on Pre Season, who knew? We beat Real Madrid, and we lost to Liverpool (I think, I can’t honestly tell you, but I remember the reaction to our pre season was in the main quite negative). It felt like we were being written off before a serious ball had been kicked: written off by fans in the same foxhole as us.
I support Manchester United. Not a group of players, not a specific player, not a specific manager. Jose Mourinho is the manager of my football team, therefore he is my manager. The fact that he seems to boil the piss of our rivals is humorous, the fact that he admits that the match-day battle commences at the pre-match press conference is glorious. He makes mistakes, he has made mistakes and he will no doubt make more in the coming season but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with anything he has said during pre-season.
We have a football manager in charge of a brand, and it feels as though while our manager and our coaches are on the pitch trying to make us successful on the pitch, he and they are coming up against men in suits, their only job is to continue the success of the brand. It seems as though success on that green stuff is a long way down the list. Not so long ago I did wonder how far I would like us to go to get rid of that brand mentality; maybe losing a few games isn’t that bad, would relegation be that bad? It might well lose us a few of the overseas fans and possibly when the men in suits see that we aren’t flogging much merch in Hoboken and LA then we wouldn’t be beholden to the sponsors in that area and we wouldn’t need to go over there and keep them all happy. Brilliant. So let’s get relegated right? That would solve everything wouldn’t it! Yes, wait…what?
I snapped myself out of that staggering frame of mind pretty quickly once I had followed that thinking through to its conclusion; supporting the self harm of your football club is not the answer.
Jose and his ability to work with those above him will determine whether and for how long he stays at Old Trafford. His ability to work with those in his squad is not as fragile as some might have you believe; Luke Shaw delivered a performance to be proud of on friday night, he has admitted himself he feels free to attack more and be the player Manchester United saw when they bought him. Paul Pogba talks about needing to be trusted to be happy, Jose made the man captain on Friday night and Paul responded with an 80 minute performance to impress everyone. He also spoke after the game about moving on from the world cup victory, and working to get better. If the fact he has a world cup medal in his garage at home is “not enough” and he wants to achieve more, then we want him at Old Trafford. We need the confident Pogba who told Sanchez that he wasn’t taking the penalty, even though “I know what I hear after if I miss!”
Bailly did well, Shaw, Darmian, Pogba even Andreas Pereira, I don’t care why they are performing so well only that they are. If they are doing so to shut Jose up then so be it, Manchester United benefits.
Jose has a vision, after the victory on Friday night he spoke of seeing “glimpses of the football we want to try and play” and how they “dealt with problems as a team”. Leave all the I make more money than you do, board room bullshit out of it; we can be happy.
There’s a way about certain United fans these days that seems to think it’s impossible for anyone to complain about how things are because the ‘bad’ they speak of isn’t anywhere near as bad as it has been in the past. When performances have been bad, and Dad and I have driven away from Old Trafford and he looks at me and says “it’s not as bad as when we were relegated”. For the modern generation of United fans this is a slump, even though it’s not a down period with the drama of the past that’s fine, I’m not sure younger fans need to experience United in the conference leagues in order for their opinions to be seen as valid ones. It’s perfectly okay to moan, but moan when the season starts – and moan when they give you reason.

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While there were of course things to work on from Friday night, the team played well, questions were asked of players by the manager and they responded.
“I asked them, give me what you have.”

It’s all any of us ask. GTS

Red and Write – A Case for the Defence

The Pedro and Otamendi deals hit the Manchester United fanbase hard. After months of replying to the every tweet from the club account with desperate pleas for them to announce the signings of these two players, they have ended up at title rivals Chelsea and Manchester City respectively. The Argentine and Spaniard were seen as the answers to the team’s main issues: centre back and attack. In the past two years, Old Trafford has seen an evacuation of experienced defenders with Rio Ferdinand allowed to leave for free and Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra securing moves to Serie A clubs. In attack, this summer has seen the once talismanic figures of Robin van Persie and Radamel Falcao leave with little fuss whilst the club record signing Angel di Maria left for Paris in a less quiet fashion. At first glance it appears that there are gaps at both ends of the pitch that United must patch. However, this may not be the case.

Louis Van Gaal’s first season in charge was punctuated by defensive mishaps. The enduring images of the season will be the misguided attempt to introduce 3-5-2, the MK Dons humiliation in the league cup and that comeback by Leicester City at the King Power Stadium. The last of these seemed to have a huge effect on the Dutch manager’s attitude and from then on there was a new emphasis placed on physicality and defensive solidity. United then failed to keep a clean sheet in their next five games until Michael Carrick’s return to the team in November against Crystal Palace. This is where the case for United’s defence kicks in.

Continue reading “Red and Write – A Case for the Defence”