Manchester United 2016-17 Season Preview

By Adam Joseph

Ideal XI: (Flexible 4-3-3 / 4-2-3-1)

David De Gea

Smalling  Bailly   Darmian  Shaw

 Schneiderlin   Herrera   Pogba

 Mkhitaryan  Martial

Zlatan 

De Gea: could it be anyone else? De Gea is perhaps the most crucial part of the team’s spine. He bails out the team time and again, and under a better coach and a far better defensive setup, the Spaniard could be set for his best statistical season yet.

Darmian: Antonio Valencia has impressed in preseason and Fabinho might still arrive, but of the current squad Darmian is the best right back at the club. Mourinho will help him improve as an attacker, and as a parading full back he will have no choice but to do so. Incredible defensively but his attacking output will determine his future.

Smalling: more arrivals are likely with another experienced centre half set to join, but Smalling is likely the best of the current bunch. Staying fit for another full season is an interesting challenge, but if the Englishman can replicate his 2015 calendar year he will be a starting XI player.

Bailly: quite simply if the Ivorian replicates his form from the Community Shield whilst he adapts to English football, he is going to be a hit. There is a long way to go in his career at the club and it is early days, but Bailly has the potential to be a terrific athlete who is not only good with the ball and also great in the tackle.

Shaw: it is so good to see the Englishman back on the pitch. He is so solid defensively whilst excellent at getting forward, it’s easy to forget he was in the Premier League team of the season whilst at Southampton. The 21 year old is set for an excellent campaign, fingers crossed he stays on the pitch.

Schneiderlin: Paul Pogba could be the best thing that has ever happened to his French teammate at Old Trafford. He has had a tough start to his Old Trafford career, but like Darmian and Memphis shouldn’t be judged on his performances under Louis Van Gaal. Schneiderlin has the potential to be one of the club’s best in 2015-16.

Herrera: Daley Blind is also born for this role, but with Schneiderlin in the line up Herrera makes more sense. He can get forward, create and score goals but he also is a willing (albeit not perfect) defender. A Schneiderlin-Herrera-Pogba midfield is tantalising. The Spaniard could be reborn if he can take his chance (if he is given one).

Pogba: this is still incredible to think about. His success at the club is far from certain, but if he is given the free role where he can both roam and dominate midfield he could be at his best. Mourinho will not want to rush his record signing, but the world will be waiting to see what the magical Frenchman can do now that he has come home.

Mkhitaryan: he has had a quiet preseason, but it appears Mourinho is not rushing him into the team as he adapts to his new team and country. It could also be that he knows what he will get from the Armenian and is giving others a chance to prove themselves. Once he is in the XI though, it’s very unlikely he’s coming out unless it’s to rest.

Ibrahimovic: Zlatan has made his mark early, with his first touch a brilliant flick on for Jesse Lingard, whilst his first goal won them the Community Shield with a clever header. The 34 year old will be swapped in and out with Marcus Rashford but with 9 straight seasons of 20 goals or more, a similar season of production can be expected.

Martial: the pressure and spotlight has been taken off the mercurial wide forward with the arrival of his new superstar teammates, and it’ll be fascinating to see how he performs with less defensive and media attention on him. He won’t be relied on so heavily, and there’s a chance for him to thrive as a result.

Three Random Predictions

Memphis will be reborn – Memphis will be lucky to survive Jose Mourinho’s cull, but it appears he will be given another chance. Expect him to thrive in a system that will emphasise his dribbling skills and with a little patience fans could see him replicate the stunning play which made the club sign him from PSV Eindhoven last summer.

Manchester United will have a player in each area in the Team of the Season – with so much quality across the squad, if all goes to plan United could have a player in each area of the team of the season. Hypothetically, De Gea, Shaw, Pogba and Mkhitaryan could all make the team of the season. Others too. How crazy is that?

Jose Mourinho will NOT serve a touchline ban – he’s not that different to old versions of the Portuguese, but Mourinho will be smart this season. He will wear his heart on his sleeve for his players and against his rivals, but he’ll save his emotions for his must see press conferences. War will engage with Arsene Wenger, Pep Guardiola and the rest, but Mourinho is out to win. That is the number one priority.

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

Let The Mourinho Reign Begin

By Adam Joseph

No more talk, no more impatiently waiting, no more predictions or weekends without competitive football. Manchester United’s new era under José Mourinho begins today as the Red Devils head to Wembley to take on the Premier League Champions, Leicester City.

The Portuguese boss has his squad fully fit and available for the season opener (Paul Pogba aside), with a disrupted preseason not providing the ideal platform for his new charges to take into their first big test together under Mourinho’s direction.

There is a buzz returning to the club. A fear of their power, their financial muscle and reach in the market, as well as a squad that has slowly started to shore up the weaknesses that have crippled it through the past three seasons.

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Eric Bailly the first signing of the summer may make his official debut, and has impressed so far. The club are still hunting for an experienced defender (such as Ezequiel Garay or Jose Fonte), so it might be the Ivorian debutant partnering the returning Chris Smalling in the middle of defence.

Antonio Valencia has had a strong start to the campaign (with three assists against Galatasaray in particular) and may gain the berth at right back, though Matteo Darmian remains a possible starter. Luke Shaw is a certainty at left back.

Midfield choices will be interesting, and it is somewhat hard to decipher who will be picked as the club’s starting midfield axis. It’ll be a key focus early in the season, with another “very good” midfielder (who could that be!?) set to join the squad in the coming days.

Morgan Schneiderlin and Ander Herrera in particular have a chance to cement claims as important first team players early in the season when competition for places will be fierce but available.

Wayne Rooney will almost certainly Captain the side and will start the game from the number ten role, with the talismanic presence of Ibrahimović likely to lead the line. Anthony Martial and the brilliant Armenian Henrikh Mkhitaryan are likely to flank the pair of forwards, as Mourinho’s brilliant recruits all look set to get their chance to make their first competitive starts.

The team’s tactical set up is no guarantee, though Mourinho’s pattern tactically hasn’t wavered too much over the years. The versatility given to the new squad with the range of options in the front line can make them unpredictable however, and give them the options to game plan for the Champion Foxes.

Leicester may have lost their most important player in N’Golo Kante to Chelsea, but still possess their most potent attacking weapons in Riyad Mahrez (at least for now) and somewhat controversial hitman Jamie Vardy.

United's previous Charity Shield outing
United’s previous Charity Shield outing

The Foxes needed to add depth to a team that was top heavy, with an impressive range of recruits brought in this summer by the club’s clever and in-depth scouting department. Polish attacking midfielder Bartosz Kapustka joined this week after making a stunning impression at the European Championships, though he likely won’t be ready to start quite yet.

Ron-Robert Zieler (a former United youth player) has signed up as Kasper Schmeichel’s understudy and competition, as Schmeichel also inked a new five year deal with the club this week. Luis Hernandez was signed on a free transfer from Sporting Gijon alongside young Spanish striker Raul Uche Rubio from Rayo Vallecano.

Big money was spent elsewhere though, as Nampalys Mendy was signed from Nice in Ligue 1, and will be an excellent replacement for the departed Kante. Ahmed Musa made an instant impression after joining from CSKA Moscow, netting two high quality goals against European heavyweights Barcelona last week.

It can be argued that despite the loss of one of Europe’s best all-action midfielders in the last year, the Foxes have improved their team overall. Barring the loss of any stars before the end of the transfer window, they should be able to show last season was no fluke.

Champions League football will complicate that challenge, though this is why the club have worked hard to consolidate the squad’s depth in the summer. It makes the Community Shield somewhat of a giant unknown for both teams, and perhaps that will create more excitement around a fixture that has somewhat lost it’s spark in recent times.

Fans of both clubs will be excited though, as mixed preseasons mean no team really knows what to expect come kickoff. Does the Mourinho era start with a victory?

Prediction:

Manchester United 2 – 1 Leicester City

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

The Return of the Prodigal?

By Adam Joseph

“But it was appropriate to celebrate and be glad, for this, your brother, was dead, and is alive again. He was lost, and is found.”

– Luke 15:32, the Bible.

Could this sentence echo the return of Manchester United’s fallen son. Because Paul Pogba might be walking back through that door.

The French starlet departed Old Trafford in acrimonious circumstances following a lack of first team opportunities. Four years later after wowing the football world with Juventus, Pogba appears set to return barring a late Real Madrid raid or Ed Woodward transfer bottling.

Per various outlets, personal terms have long been agreed with the player and the final details of the transfer fee and the agent/player fee received by Pogba and his agent Mino Raiola is still being sorted.

The club had a gentleman’s agreement with player and agent that any future sale would see them receive 30 percent of the fee, but now Juventus would like Manchester United to pay that. It seems more than likely, it will get sorted.

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There are many ways to perceive the situation, but it is playing out very well for both clubs which might be the intended design. United get their man at any cost and flex financial muscle no other club possesses, meanwhile Juventus appear to have done everything in their power to keep their man. It works out well publicly for both sides.

However Manchester United fans have learned over the years that nothing is done until the player is holding that shirt at Old Trafford. Transfer sagas have become something of a tradition at the club, but this summer could somewhat spell the end of that.

Manchester will always be the hub of news, speculation and annoying rumours but that is par the course of one of the world’s biggest football clubs. If they are proving anything in the market this summer though; they might be setting themselves apart as the biggest.

If the Pogba deal holds true and he becomes a Manchester United player, it will become two successive summers that the club has beaten Real Madrid in the transfer market. However the De Gea saga is perceived, he stayed at the club and would have left this summer if he really wanted to go, but he has remained.

The €60m release clause the Spaniard had placed in his four-year renewal signed last year has already expired, and was for this summer if Real Madrid came calling. United’s biggest signing of the summer could actually be keeping their star keeper, who has held together a poor defence in recent years.

For fans of the club, the renewed feelings of good will around the club are refreshing and have been badly needed after three years of incredible mismanagement and ongoing mistakes.

Mistakes have still been made of course; the tour to China has been a disaster, and the ramifications on field could be a slow start to the season as the latest friendly with Manchester City has been cancelled due to the horrendous conditions. The pitch was worse than the ground closest to where most people live.

The signing of Paul Pogba can appease all these concerns though. The Frenchman can transform the club on and off the field. Everyone has seen his talents displayed in brief videos on various social media or Vines, but it’s debatable besides the Champions League how many people tune into Serie A weekly that aren’t hardcore Italian football fans.

He is an incredible long range shooter and dribbler, with his physicality and athleticism a key feature of his free roaming midfield ability. Equally adept as a creator Pogba can play in the wide men and forwards with through balls and clever passing, and is also good in the air. The best part, he isn’t the finished product.

Perhaps this is why there is some concern about the transfer fee. €94 million for Gonzalo Higuain makes the €100m plus fee (to be determined, likely around the €120m range) for Pogba not seem so exorbitant. Like Anthony Martial’s signing, it is an investment in potential though Pogba has far more established quality.

What has made so many opposing fans concerned with the money Manchester United is spending all of a sudden though? Rivals have come out in droves to express their disgust at such sums being spent on a player. The irony is not lost that a player being hailed as the world’s best young player is now overrated in the eyes of those same fans.

It seems life comes at you fast:

Sometimes though it is ok to admit a rival has signed a great player. N’Golo Kante is a sensational signing for Chelsea, particularly at a below market £32 million. Granit Xhaka is an exceptionally clever signing for Arsenal, and was one of the best midfielders in the Bundesliga. Just because they’ve signed for a rival doesn’t change that.

However that is the nature of football, and now with the incredible money being lavished on transfer fees this will only become exacerbated as fans and analysts struggle to adjust to the money pouring into English football.

Regardless, attention returns to Paul Pogba. Is he going to walk through that door at Old Trafford once more?

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

Mourinho’s First Impressions Indicate Exciting New Era

By Adam Joseph

Come mothers and fathers, throughout the land, and don’t criticise, what you can’t understand, your sons and your daughters, are beyond your command, your old road is rapidly aging, please get out of the new one, if you can’t lend your hand, for the times they are a changin’…

The timeless words of Bob Dylan have never been more appropriate than now, as a new era has dawned at Manchester United with the official unveiling of José Mourinho last week.

It was classic Mourinho from the outset, as the Portuguese maestro remained as resolute and unique as ever, charming the English press and setting the tone for his reign at Old Trafford from the outset:

“I am Manchester United manager. The reality is that this is a job that everyone wants and I have it.”

Jose-Mourinho-United-main

In recent times with the appointments of David Moyes and Louis Van Gaal have underestimated the task of managing England’s biggest club, and potentially the world’s most powerful football club (financially). It did them no favour with the fans, and they were behind the eight ball from the outset. Mourinho made it clear he is different.

“I know the responsibility and the expectation. At the same time I know the legacy. I know what’s behind me. I know what the history is and what the fans expect from me. The challenge doesn’t make me nervous because my history was always to live with big clubs’ expectations.

The former Chelsea, Real Madrid and Inter Milan boss certainly does understand the responsibility and expectation, and knows with the backing of the club he has very little excuse not to return them to where they belong in English and European football.

“Manchester United is a Champions League club. We have to make sure that, in July 2017, instead of waiting for the Europa League play-offs and then the group draw, this club is where it has to be; the Champions League.”

There were also patented shots taken at clubs who had not won trophies in 10 years, philosophies and more classic Mourinho jibes. He is ready to re-establish the hatred once felt for the Red Devils that has dissipated, and he expects the very best of himself and the club during what is hopefully a long and successful era.

“I want everything. I want to win matches, play well, play young players, score goals, not concede goals.”

It sets the tone from the very beginning, and fans have reason to be excited for a completely different era from what has been experienced the last three seasons since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement. Mourinho’s already begun moulding his squad, and let slip the third new signing announcement before the club could do it officially.

“I don’t know. (Mourinho then turns to the press officer and asks: ‘The third player is already official or not?’ She replies: ‘No.’ Mourinho asks: ‘So the third player will be official, when?’ Press officer replies: ‘Soon’).”

He also seeked to separate himself from Van Gaal’s multi-functional player approach, explaining his preference for specialists. Mourinho has always preferred two players for everyone position, and that seems to be what he will do. That means a cull is due, with far more than that currently in the first team squad.

According to reports in the Daily Record (Duncan Castles, a man close to the Mourinho camp), Juan Mata, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Daily Blind and Marcos Rojo will all be a part of the clear out, and Ryan Giggs has already left the club after he was denied the job he felt he deserved. But Mourinho again exerted his authority on that issue, being blunt when questioned about it.

“I can say it’s not my responsibility that Ryan Giggs is not in the club. The job that Ryan wanted was the one the club decided to give to me. It’s not my fault. He wanted to be Manchester United manager. The reasons the owners, the board, they can tell you that they decided the job was for me.”

It might not be a big deal to some, but this is the sort of manager Manchester United has needed since the departure of their mainstay Sir Alex. A manager with the brutal confidence to tell it as he sees it without a worry of how it’s portrayed. Moyes and Van Gaal were too quick to defend themselves and their actions.

Van Gaal would back himself in, but was only considerate of himself. Moyes couldn’t even do that. Mourinho understands the task at hand, the decisions he must make to achieve what’s expected of him and the courage to actually make them. The perfect example was his response to the Wayne Rooney conundrum, whose been made a midfielder over the past several months for club and country.

“Maybe he is not a striker anymore. Maybe he is not a No 9 anymore but with me he will never be a No 6. He will never be 50 metres from the goal. You can tell me his pass is amazing, and yes it is, but my pass is also amazing without pressure.

For me, he will be a No 9 or a No 10, or a number nine-and-a-half, but not a No 6, not even a No 8.”

It was surprisingly clear, and many were startled to hear it considering Rooney’s comments in May (that his future was in midfield) and also because he’d spent the entire European Championships spraying passes around the pitch from central midfield.

Mourinho understands however that no matter what Manchester United try, Rooney is a square peg in a round hole in midfield. It’s his natural position at number ten or spearheading the attack, and if he cannot hold his place there he doesn’t belong at the club.

José Mourinho has well and truly arrived, with Eric Bailly, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Henrikh Mkhitaryan joining him already. 3 fundamental signings with another one on the way (dare we say Paul Pogba incoming) with supplementary signings to join them if Mourinho thinks they are required, including an experienced central defender.

It’s a whole era for Ed Woodward, Mourinho and Manchester United. The times, they are a changin’.

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

Goodbye & Good Luck, Giggsy

By Adam Joseph

Twenty nine years. Some people reading this aren’t that old. That is the tenure of Ryan Giggs at Manchester United. Greater even than Sir Alex Ferguson’s twenty six years, the Welshman has played the most games of any Manchester United player with a whopping 963 games. As of this week though, his United career is over.

The former left midfielder announced this week he would seek a new adventure after two failed stints as part of David Moyes and Louis Van Gaal’s disastrous regimes. It tainted his final years at the club, as he suffered from strained relations with the managers he worked under (or in Moyes’ case, played under as well).

There were rumours of sneaky behaviour behind the scenes, with Giggs angling for the manager’s job. This may have contributed to his departure, as the latter days of Van Gaal’s stay at Old Trafford became a wrestle for not only the Dutchman’s sacking, but whether Giggs would be the man to replace him.

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Sections of fans had labelled him a snake, whilst others still saw the flying left winger who had dominated the wide midfield berth for essentially two decades. It was damaging his legacy in some areas and the time had come to find a new challenge.

Many hoped that he could follow the lead of Pep Guardiola and Zinedine Zidane, but after three years of embarrassment the club could not take a risk on an unproven manager with literally no management experience. Guardiola and Zidane had stints with their club’s reserve squads in Liga Segunda, so they are really the exception to the rule not the rule itself.

Now Giggs has to ponder his next move, as the job he wanted was never going to be his. With Jose Mourinho’s arrival, it was continue to bide his time but it seems his pride could stand that no longer. On all levels though and his statement reiterated this, it was time for Giggs to venture out and prove himself elsewhere.

This is also better for the club he has so faithfully served since the age of fourteen. Look at the list of managers who’ve retired after playing under Sir Alex Ferguson: Paul Ince, Steve Bruce, Mark Hughes, Bryan Robson, Gary Neville, Roy Keane and more. Apart from Laurent Blanc (a European, perhaps the exception), none has truly succeeded in management. This is hard to ignore if you are Manchester United.

Playing success is no guarantee of success in management, and this is perhaps a lesson to be learned for those who wanted Giggs to be the next Red Devils manager.

Does an International role interest the Welshman? The England role is probably out of his reach and Chris Coleman’s flying as the Welsh boss so unless he’s branching out to something unexpected that can essentially be ruled out.

So now it is a club role that beckons more than likely. He has been linked in the recent past to roles at Derby County and Nottingham Forest, and perhaps that is the sort of level that will be a good starting point. Part of his statement seemed to indicate that would happen:


“However, the time feels right and, although I have no immediate plans to step into management, it is where I want to be.”

Giggs is a very smart man, and he will wait for the right opportunity. He served the club valiantly as a player, and hopefully the tutelage provided by Ferguson and Van Gaal (both of whom he thanked in his statement) will serve him well in both tactics and experience going forward.

Whether he returns remains to be seen, but it’s a new era for both the former playing legend and the club he represented so valiantly for twenty nine years.

Good luck, Ryan.

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

United need Mikhitaryan’s creativity

By Brayden May

In recent seasons, Manchester United fans have been calling out for a midfielder with creative instinct to be signed, as fans grow continually frustrated with the team moving away from the attacking football played under the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson.

Enter Borussia Dortmund star midfielder, Henrikh Mkhitaryan.

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The Armenian international has been heavily linked with the Red Devils in recent weeks following a break down in contract negotiations and if various sources are to be believed he is well and truly on his way to Old Trafford.

Twenty-seven year-old Mkhitaryan is widely tipped to join Zlatan Ibrahimović as the latest signing to begin Mourinho’s reign at the club.

So what would the midfielder bring to the table?

At a time where United have not been consistently challenging for the Premier League title, United need players with championship and trophy-winning experience.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan brings this to the club, as he has won a wealth of trophies during his time, including being a two-time German Super Cup winner with Dortmund.

The former Shakhtar Donetsk man has impressed during his spell with the German giants, but his performances last season are where he really gathered attention from a number of high-profile European clubs.

In 52 appearances this season, the Armenian international finished with 23 goals and 32 assists across all competitions, which included the Europa League, DFP Pokal and the German Bundesliga.

Having shown the ability to find the back of the net on his own and create goal-scoring opportunities, he is sure to be a hit amongst the United faithful.

Mkhitaryan has predominantly been used as a right winger during his time at Dortmund, forming a front three alongside Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Marco Reus, but has shown the versatility to play on the left or in the number ten role.

His versatility on the pitch makes him that much more of a mouth-watering potential signing, as he is a player who is currently at the peak of his powers at 27 years of age.

On the wings the potential new Red Devil will look to cut inside, looking to tee up a team mate or launch an effort on goal.

His dribbling ability combined with his pace make him a difficult challenge for any opponent once he is in full motion.

One thing is for sure, if United are able to land Mkhitaryan they have a player on their hands and one that will be watched very closely.

 @braydenmay

Manchester United at Copa America

By Brayden May

This year’s tournament saw Manchester United represented by three players who were hoping to become the fourth player from United to have lifted the trophy.

Marcos Rojo and Sergio Romero were part of the Argentina squad which reached the final for the second successive tournament before suffering defeat yet again through a penalty shootout to Chile.

Antonio Valencia was part of the Ecuador squad which suffered a quarter-finals exit t the hands of host the United States.

So how did each of these player’s fare at the tournament?

EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY - JUNE 26: Marcos Rojo of Argentina leaves the field after receiving a red card during the championship match between Argentina and Chile at MetLife Stadium as part of Copa America Centenario US 2016 on June 26, 2016 in East Rutherford, New Jersey, US. (Photo by Omar Vega/LatinContent/Getty Images)
EAST RUTHERFORD, NEW JERSEY – JUNE 26: Marcos Rojo of Argentina leaves the field after receiving a red card during the championship match between Argentina and Chile at MetLife Stadium as part of Copa America Centenario US 2016 on June 26, 2016 in East Rutherford, New Jersey, US. (Photo by Omar Vega/LatinContent/Getty Images)

Marcos Rojo (Argentina)

The United left back featured in all but one of the runner’s up matches as he finished his tournament with two assists, a reflection of the threat he carries going forward in the wide areas.

Once he made an appearance in the starting line-up, Rojo very much made the starting fullback position his own for the rest of the tournament.

The 27-year-old’s tournament ended on very much a low however as he was sent off in the final.

Sergio Romero (Argentina)

He may be United’s number two at club level but he is very much the first choice for Argentina, starting all six of their matches in between the sticks on route to the final.

Romero held a strong defensive record during the tournament as his side conceded only twice throughout their six matches.

The 29-year-old very much had the hopes of the nation on his shoulders as the final went to penalty shootouts and unfortunately the shot stopper was ultimately unable to lead his side to victory.

Antonio Valencia (Ecuador)

The versatile United winger enjoyed a solid tournament for his country finishing with a single goal and assist from their four games.

His tournament ended on a low as he was sent off in their 2-1 loss to the United States at the quarter-final stage.

@braydenmay