United v City: Match Preview

By Brayden May

Manchester United prepare to go head-to-head with arch-rivals Manchester City this weekend as they welcome them to Old Trafford.

Rival managers Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola are set to meet for the first time in England as the pair prepare their sides for the all-important clash.

Both teams enter the match in great form, having won all three of their opening Premier League games this far this season.

City currently sit in first place on the table, with United in third with only goal difference separating the pair heading into the weekend.

United are coming off a 1-0 win against Hull City, prior to the international break, with substitute Marcus Rashford scoring the winner in injury time after a well delivered cross from Wayne Rooney.

pep-guardiola-jose-mourinho.jpgThe visitors meanwhile got a 3-1 win at home last start, with winger Raheem Sterling maintaining his strong early season form with a brace.

Rashford got the winning goal last time out between the pair as he continued his fine start to his young Manchester United career, scoring the only goal of the game back in March, earlier this year.

In team news, summer signing Henrikh Mkhitaryan remains the only major doubt for the Red Devils having picked up an arm injury during the international break, which saw the Armenian international return to Carrington training complex early in order to begin his rehabilitation.

Doubts remain over the availability of Antonio Valencia who along with Marcos Rojo and Sergio Romero arrives back into Manchester just 24 hours before the clash with City.

Luke Shaw will feature despite being sent home from international duty with England after complaining of aches in his leg which he broke in a horrific incident last season.

For the visitors Sergio Aguero is set to serve the first game of his three-match can for elbowing West Ham defender Winston Reid, which saw the Argentinian charged with violent conduct.

Summer signing Ilkay Gundogan and Leroy Sane have resumed full training following injury and are a chance to make their debuts for their new club, with fullback Bacary Sagna also a possibility to return from injury.

City’s new shot stopper in Claudio Bravo may be thrusted into the heat of the derby with it being reported that Guardiola is set to hand the former Barcelona man his debut.

Heading into the 172nd edition of the Manchester Derby, United still have the wood over their neighbours having claimed 71 wins, to City’s 49 and a total of 51 draws coming between the pair.

Jose Mourinho will be hoping to improve his record against Guardiola with the Portuguese currently trailing 7-3 in 16 meetings between the pair.

Captain Wayne Rooney will be looking to continue his strong record in these matches having scored 11 goals in the fixture, the most of any active player.

Fans of both sides will be hoping that the match can live up to the expectations and the hype which has surrounded this fixture since the date was announced.

Old Trafford is sure to be bouncing, and that little bit of extra support should be enough to get United over the line.

Follow Brayden on http://www.twitter.com/braydenmay

Hull City v MUFC Match Preview

By Brayden May

 
Manchester United travel to Hull this weekend to take on a Tigers outfit brimming with confidence following their unbeaten start to the season.

 
United and Hull both currently sit second and third respectively, with only goal difference currently separating the pair.

 
The visitors head into the game at the KCOM stadium having claimed a 2-0 win at home thanks to a brace from summer signing Zlatan Ibrahimović.

Hull meanwhile, will be hoping to continue their strong early season form having claimed a first up win against champions Leicester before defeating Swansea 2-0 last weekend.

 
The match will be the first meeting between the pair since May 2015, when the Red Devils were held to a 0-0 draw away from home.
In his press conference on Friday, Jose Mourinho said “We’re not looking to other teams, we’re looking at how we perform and how much we are improving. That’s the important thing.”

 
There will be a familiar face in the Hull City dugout, with former Reds’ number two Mike Phelan the current caretaker coach of the club.
Mourinho was full of praise for Phelan during his address to the media, pushing for the 53-year-old to be handed the job on a full-time basis.

 
“I hope he gets the job, but loses the match! It is not fair to make a decision on the manager because he loses or wins a match. I think the reality is that he was one of the most successful assistant managers in the country with invaluable experience,” he said.

 
Phelan knows exactly the size of the task come Saturday afternoon (London Time), “It’s another tough Premier League test for us on Saturday. It will be hard, but the players are relishing the challenge,” he told the media during his press conference.

 
In team news the Red Devils will have a full strength squad to select from with Jesse Lingard a chance to make his first Premier League appearance of the season.

 
Meanwhile the home side will still remain understrength although Harry Maguire is once again available for selection after recovering from an ankle injury.

 
The meeting will mark the ninth team that the pair have come together in the Premier League era with United having won seven, with the Tigers having failed to win a game against the Red Devils in the Premier League.

 
If Hull are able to claim their first ever win against United, they will become the first promoted team since Bolton Wanderers in the 2001/02 season to win their first three games of the season.
Captain Wayne Rooney enjoys a good goal scoring record against the Tigers having scored seven goals in five games against this weekend’s opposition.

 
If Zlatan Ibrahimović can get on the score line, he will become the first Red Devils’ player to score in their first four competitive games for the club since 1925.

 
It is sure to be another exciting clash in the Premier League, but United should be quietly confident of taking all three points this weekend.

Follow Brayden on http://www.twitter.com/braydenmay

Southampton Victory Teases What Is To Come

By Adam Joseph

It wasn’t mesmerising, it wasn’t ground breaking and it wasn’t 90 minutes of unplayable football. But the victory over Southampton on Friday night at Old Trafford might have been the first time in three years that Manchester United fans truly enjoyed a game of football.

Sure there were highs among the David Moyes and Louis Van Gaal era. The 5-0 win over Olympiakos, the rival wins against Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool notwithstanding, but it was always part of such a tumultuous period it didn’t feel the way United football should. That darkness still lingered.

The skies around the club are clearing though, and seemingly endless boredom has been replaced by equal amounts of enthusiasm and renewed optimism. Already it is not hard to see an aura returning to the club not seen since Sir Alex Ferguson was in charge.

Shirts formerly won by Jonny Evans and Radamel Falcao are now occupied by Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic (now that Anthony Martial has become the rightful inheritor of Ryan Giggs number 11). It’s a considerable upgrade and a whole new world.

Jose Mourinho has certainly brought the charisma back to the club as many assumed he would when he was appointed. This is only the beginning though and even with good signs early, Mourinho knows that there is still a long way to go.

“At this moment, it’s even more important to show evolution in our game and I think we are showing that. I agree we are not playing superb but I think anyone can see there are differences in relation to the past two or three years.”

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It might have been an abject first half display, but from Ibrahimovic’s superb opening header late in the first half United grew into the game from there. In the second half there was a 15 minute period where they were streaming forward, and Southampton could not get near them defensively.

Pogba’s deep driving runs were combined with Anthony Martial’s inside running from the left side of the attack, Juan Mata’s free roaming from the right and Ibrahimovic spearheading the attack. It was stunning viewing, and a preview of what is to come.

The likes of Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Jesse Lingard, Memphis and others were not involved from the beginning or at all, and those selections dilemmas are something else that are a pleasant surprise and change this season. In years gone by, it was more about putting together a reasonable eleven rather than now when some wonder if they’ll make the squad at all.

Mkhitaryan’s lack of presence in the starting eleven thus far has raised some concern, but barring the Armenian not appearing for the foreseeable future there is no real reason to worry. It is not unusual for new signings to not be thrown in the deep end immediately, and his past history should reveal why his boss has made this choice.

After joining Borussia Dortmund from Shakhtar Donetsk for £21.5 million in 2013, Mkhitaryan struggled in his first campaign as adjusting to his new league proved difficult. It’s not out of the question to consider this is part of Mourinho’s reasoning.

Combined with the fact that Juan Mata, Jesse Lingard and Anthony Martial have places in the team alongside the ever present Wayne Rooney means there is no need to rush the reigning Bundesliga Player of the Year. That being said, it would not surprise to see him more involved against Hull City on Saturday.

The Reds will be looking for more improvement this weekend on their road trip to visit Mike Phelan’s men, who are enjoying an unbeaten start to their season with wins over Champions Leicester City and a win away to Swansea City. Former United man Phelan will be motivated to get the points against his ex-club.

Two incomplete displays have still resulted in two good wins, both by more than one goal. The defence has been fairly solid and Eric Bailly has gone from strength to strength. If this is not a mirage, the team has bagged themselves an incredible player and athlete,perhaps even worthy of inheriting Rio Ferdinand’s position in the team.

Mourinho will also likely be trimming his squad in the lead up to the transfer window shutting until January, with a few outcasts to go. Bastian Schweinsteiger has reportedly said he is not leaving, and his wages in excess of £240,000 per week may be a hint as to why he’s in no hurry to leave.
Marcos Rojo and Phil Jones appear to be the others set to depart, with Mata and Daley Blind no longer on the chopping block thanks to hard work that has shown their boss that they deserve a place in the team. The squad is still sizeable, and Mourinho is looking forward to more games coming after the window closes to rotate his burgeoning squad.

“I have so many good players,” Mourinho said. “I need September because all these guys need to play, they deserve to play. So Darmian, Timothy Fosu-Mensah, Jones, okay Smalling today he was already with us, Marcos Rojo, Romero, then Herrera, Carrick, Schneiderlin, Ashley Young, Memphis Depay, Marcus Rashford. We have a big squad and a top quality squad so I need September urgently.”

For now the focus turns to Saturday, as the team looks to maintain their 100 percent record. The team will look to take it’s next step under their new manager, as fans look forward and relish getting to enjoy their football once again.

Adam Joseph is a freelance writer from Australia. Manchester United fan from back when they were the only team on Australian TV and it was love at first sight. Manchester United, Oklahoma City Thunder, New England Patriots and Carlton Blues fanatic. If it’s sport related, I’ll talk about it.

Follow him on twitter @AdamJosephSport

Why United are fun again

Brayden May

The new season may only be young but one thing is for sure, Manchester United are looking a different prospect to the side that failed to qualify for the Champions League last season.

There is a renewed sense of belief amongst the Old Trafford faithful, with the Red Devils having taken six points from six in their first two games of the season.

United have already scored five goals this season, a reward for their quick and attacking football, attack a phrase fans have been calling out for since the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson.

So what is bringing back fond memories of the days, teams would fear a matchup with the Red Devils?

It has started at the very top, from the boardroom right through to the players.

Executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, a man who faced scathing attacks from fans for not bringing in the biggest names in world football, has had a big role to play in some of the changes made at the club.

This summer Woodward has been a big player in helping to sign the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimović and Paul Pogba despite the lure of Champions League football this season.

New manager Jose Mourinho has made it no secret that his goal is nothing short of winning the league this season, a long way from van Gaal whose primary objective it was to finish in the top four.

In attack United fans are being treated to the type of football that they could have only dreamt of under the leadership of the Dutchman.

One-two touch passing is allowing the Reds to open up the defence, they are not looking to hold onto possession with sideways and backwards movement.

The forwards are looking to run at defenders and beat them in a one-on-one situation, before looking to play the killer pass.

Ibrahimović leading the line is already dazzling the crowd with audacious attempts on goal and brilliant pieces of skill.

In the middle of the park, the midfielders are looking to get the ball moving quickly not allowing the opposition to sit in behind and frustrate.

Quick ball movement has long been the Manchester United way, whether it be hitting the opposition on a swift counter-attack or splitting the defence with a killer pass.

A back four under the reign of Sir Alex meant a strong and physical central partnership with flying fullbacks who could have an impact going forward.

And so far this season United fans are being treated to exactly that.

Eric Bailly already looks at home in the heart of defence for United, providing a strong physical presence which has not been seen since the departure of Nemanja Vidic.

Luke Shaw and Antonio Valencia have both made the starting fullback positions their own, driving forward on every possible occasion putting dangerous crosses into the box.

Valencia in particular has been good going forward already having provided a number of assists during the pre-season as well as the season’s first competitive games.

Not only are the fans excited by what they are seeing, the players themselves look to have rediscovered their passion for the game.

If this level of performance continues we are in for one hell of a ride.

@braydenmay

Redemption for some Dead Reds

By Adam Joseph

When a new manager takes charge of a club, it is natural to start making lists of players that are assumed “won’t fit” into the new boss’s vision.

Fans and analysts imagine a style that the manager has used in previous jobs and try to adapt it to the personnel already present. “Oh he’s a goner” they’ll say, and some expect certain stars to be transfer-listed or told to look elsewhere.

It happens everywhere, but Manchester United has become a circus on almost all levels. Every story is a fiasco. No transfer saga is anything less than that nowadays. The Paul Pogba transfer was the typical United summer story that dominated all headlines. It’s just the size of the club that impacts all of this; it is a natural course.

Manchester United's Spanish midfielder Juan Mata (L) and Manchester United's Dutch midfielder Daley Blind applaud the fans after their 1-0 victory in the English Premier League football match between Aston Villa and Manchester United at Villa Park in Birmingham, central England, on August 14, 2015. AFP PHOTO / BEN STANSALL..RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE. No use with unauthorized audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or 'live' services. Online in-match use limited to 75 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications. (Photo credit should read BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images)
(BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images)

With all expected transfers now completed, the focus shifts to departures. Players were never leaving immediately after Jose Mourinho’s arrival, they would always get their chance. In the case of Bastian Schweinsteiger, his fate was sealed by a poor injury history and cemented when Michael Carrick signed his contract extension.

However, in the case of other potential players for the chop, pre-season training and early games would determine their usefulness. It is also difficult for Manchester United to sell players; there are lots of high wages for squad players that other clubs cannot reach, unless another English club is determined it can be hard to offload sizeable salaries.

This is already becoming an issue. Marcos Rojo did not want to leave European football for the Chinese Super League, and clubs like Villarreal who are interested do not have the financial clout to match his wage demands. United are not looking simply for loan deals with cheap buyouts at the end, they look for return on their investments. Even failed ones.

The Argentinian is sure to go if a buyer can be found. But others are not so certain, thanks to hard work that has made their manager think twice about letting them walk out the door.

Reports via Duncan Castles this week indicated that Juan Mata and Daley Blind had proven themselves with hard work, adaptability and good on field performances. Everything it took to stay, those players did. That is no mean feat under a decisive man like Mourinho.

Blind was superb on Sunday at the Vitality Stadium, tackling strong and displaying his range of good forward passing from defence. He plays balls that not only recycle but bypass basic defence and set up attacks, it is a strength that Mourinho, no doubt, is beginning to appreciate because, at 180cm, he is not the ideal height for a central defender. Particularly one played by the Portuguese.

Mata meanwhile seems to have proven that he’s evolved from the player that the former Chelsea boss  sold to United in the winter of 2014. He has displayed determination, tactical variation and willingness to work hard defensively, all issues he had back at Stamford Bridge. His goal on Sunday, whilst not difficult, took endeavour, and it perhaps sealed his fate to stay at Old Trafford as a key part of the squad.

It is not just those two of potential departures that proved that they were useful squad members. Under Herrera, although not in major danger was superb playing deep out of midfield. His energy and movement was impressive, looking a different player to the one alienated by Louis Van Gaal’s methods.

His passing from the middle of the park was a joy to watch, and set up attacks for his teammates further up the park. It is exciting to think what the player seen on Sunday could do with Paul Pogba and Henrikh Mkhitaryan on the pitch.

Alongside him Marouane Fellaini played one of his best games since joining the club. He was tidy in possession, effective in the tackle and recycled the ball to more technical teammates. He also stayed out of trouble, which has been an issue for the Belgian. Despite concerns about his selection, he silenced the boo boys with an effective display.

Finally, Antonio Valencia was incredibly impressive on the right side of defence. He offered an outlet and in the first half was United’s most effective attacking weapon when they were struggling to create a piercing attack. He helped set up the second goal and seems to be the number one right back at the club.

It remains to be seen if Matteo Darmian will remain, with interest from Napoli and Roma. The Italian is a fine defender, but struggles to cross the ball meaningfully. If he is kept though, with no new right back arrival, the Italian and Ecuadorian’s styles could be useful in contrast.

When needing additional protection defensively, the Italian can be selected, whilst when width is required Valencia would be the chosen player. It may mean the club does not have to delve into the market for another player, which is useful considering reports state United will not buy again until they have sold as no big earners have departed yet.

Southampton on Friday night offers the latest chance for players to prove themselves worthy of staying at Old Trafford, and might be their last chance at redemption before the window closes at the end of the month. But it’s clear some are already starting to change their manager’s mind and keep themselves firmly in his plans.

Adam Joseph is a freelance writer from Australia. Manchester United fan from back when they were the only team on Australian TV and it was love at first sight. Manchester United, Oklahoma City Thunder, New England Patriots and Carlton Blues fanatic. If it’s sport related, I’ll talk about it.

Follow him on twitter @AdamJosephSport

Zlatan and Mourinho bring assurance

In the face of such overwhelming hype, there is a tendency to shrug off the excitement of a new football season and to pretend one has outgrown such things. The reality when the games began this weekend could hardly have been more different. The Premier League, and Manchester United in particular, delivered emphatically. Suddenly football is enjoyable all over again.

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Jose Mourinho was “nervous”, he admitted before kick off, and had taken the unusual step of trying to dampen expectations by saying the side would “not start like a train.” After a few years of hearing managers hedge their bets, United fans allowed a hint of scepticism to enter their thoughts.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s cocky, self-assured strike to make it three nil dispelled all doubt. Despite winning the FA Cup last season, I felt somewhat robbed of the joy of victory by the parade of dullness that had preceded it, not to mention the unsavoury way in which Louis va Gaal was disposed of afterwards.

This is not a pure and innocent Manchester United of course. This is the club who sells itself at every opportunity and is seeing itself become consumed by the model of the investment-banking world. Nonetheless, at least it was fun for a couple of hours.

The two big psychological shifts Mourinho brings with him were evident in this game. Firstly, they seemed to have a steeliness about them. The 4-2-3-1 formation kept the defence protected and Bournemouth had few chances to test David de Gea. Their goal, when it came, was a screamer and there are no arguments.

There was also a general efficiency about United that kept the crowd calm. In the past three years that sense of assurance was missing. Nobody expected a Ferguson team to give up. There were times under David Moyes and Van Gaal when the nervousness of the crowd seemed to infect the team.

Under Jose Mourinho that trepidation has gone. Once more the team is expected to win. A large part of this comes from Ibrahimovic too. This was an away match in a traditional old ground, it will be interesting to see how Old Trafford reacts to the new manager’s presence. One hopes the excitement and confidence will be in abundance there too.

A look around the weekend’s matches provides some interesting viewing. Liverpool, as I suspected, are going to be a handful this year. If they can sort out their goalkeeper situation I expect them to challenge strongly for the title.

The mood in north London, where I find myself this week, was fairly downbeat after the 3-4 loss. Arsenal fans in my circle have largely expressed a ‘Wenger In’ sentiment. That could change this week though and I expect the Gunners to go into the market in the coming days.

This is a season I am looking forward to in general. It feels like it has been a while.

Follow Mark on www.twitter.com/markjpayne

The Hiatus is Over

The feeling around Manchester right now is that the hiatus is over. It has been a rough three years. Whilst the toils of Manchester United fans must be put in perspective, they are not Syrian refugees or detainees in an Australian detention centre, the choppy waters following Sir Alex’s retirement are hoped to be gone now.

Jose Mourinho was hell-bent on becoming United manager and he has got his own way. In general, you want people at the club who want to be there. It does no harm to know that Jose is immensely capable and has a point to prove after his disastrous spell at Chelsea last year.

Whereas David Moyes was a decent man who was crushed by the size of the job, Louis van Gaal at least had the swagger of a top manager, if not the urgency in his football or ambition. United were not good guys in the way Van Gaal was ousted, but it feels as though fate is taking hold of events now.

Jose is the right man at the right time. Gary Neville put it succinctly this week when he said, “United need to win the title before the wait gets too long like it did before, or it has with Liverpool.” Amen.

The Portuguese is determined to win the league and he will benefit a great deal from following on directly from Louis. It almost doesn’t matter what type of football United serve up this season if they are winning. People had become so disillusioned during the Dutchman’s reign that many had stopped tuning in to every match.

The arrivals of Paul Pogba, Mourinho and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, not least Pep Guardiola across town, mean that United, and Manchester in general, are spectacles not to be missed over the next nine months. It is unlikely to be dull.

Manchester United might just be big enough for Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The man has arrived at Old Trafford with the laser-eyed glared of a winner and has actually showed much more humility than might have been expected.

So far, he has scored two rather scruffy goals in two rather half-paced fixtures but, as they say, it doesn’t matter how they go in. As the rhythm of matches picks up, so will his sharpness, presumably. It was interesting to note that he passed the ball to Wayne Rooney on three occasions in the Charity Shield only to see the captain lose it shortly afterwards. One suspects he won’t keep his counsel on this sort of thing for long.

In actual fact, United were not in terrible shape at the end of the Van Gaal era. The defence is superbly well-drilled and had the joint best record in the league last year. In David de Gea, one of the world’s best goalkeepers has come of age.

Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford are both supremely talented and, fingers crossed, have the temperament that men such as Adnan Januzaj have lacked. Many fans hope that Juan Mata stays around, he has been a good player for United, but it would not be a tragedy if Jose moved him on.

Manchester City and Tottenham have visibly improved over the summer and Liverpool, with fewer cup commitments, will all challenge strongly this season. Chelsea fans can only been impressed with what they have seen of Antonio Conte and Arsene Wenger may well have some bullets left in the chamber.

This will be an incredibly competitive league campaign in England, and this is before mention is even made of the champions Leicester, who have the pieces of the puzzle required to make an impact again.

Jose is clear about this though, United want the title. The purchase of Paul Pogba is also a massive statement of intent. It will be interesting to see what role the Europa League plays in all this.

Mauricio Pochettino seemed convinced it was a hindrance to a title challenge last year when he sent out a weakened team against Borussia Dortmund. It is hard to see Jose happily conceding ground to Pep’s Manchester City for Europe’s secondary competition either.

The defining moments of this campaign may come, therefore, on the road and from the second string this term. United are prioritising the league title. And that is music to the ears of most United fans.

Bring it on.

Follow Mark on www.twitter.com/markjpayne