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Leicester v United: Van Gaal committed to attack

September 20, 2014 Tags: , Matches 1 comment
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What a difference a week makes. So much of Manchester United’s recent Old Trafford’s experience has been grounded in negativity – the sum of six home defeats in the Premier League last season, adding to Swansea City’s win on the opening day of the new campaign. Yet, United may just have turned a corner after the Reds’ thumping victory over a listless Queens Park Rangers last weekend. This despite so many column inches devoted to the “crisis” at Old Trafford.

QPR might have hoped for better at Old Trafford having lost five in a row against United in Manchester. As it turned out, the west Londoners were little more than patsies for van Gaal’s expensively revamped United side – one that returned to the attacking intent of old in scoring four against the Hoops. New faces and, perhaps, a fresh start for Van Gaal’s side.

United’s once proud adventure had seemingly been forgotten after Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement in May 2013. Indeed, QPR’s cheap dismissal might just mean more than just a sound victory and three points; it was, perhaps, the true dawn of the post-Ferguson era after last season’s failed David Moyes experiment.

The weekend’s fixture with Leicester City will provide a sterner test of course. Yet, victory aside, Van Gaal will also be pleased with the speed of passing, creativity and flexibility his side found against QPR. Not least because his new players have largely settled into the team well.

Angel Di Maria’s man-of-the-match performance against the Londoners was a study in pace and subtly; the Argentinian both the team’s main creative force and the player most likely to inject a change of tempo. Meanwhile, Daley Blind revelled in a defensive midfield role in Van Gaal’s new-look 4-1-2-1-2 diamond formation. Marcos Rojo also enjoyed a productive outing at left-back.

Of United’s summer imports, only Radamel Falcao, who was deployed for little over half an hour as a substitute last weekend, and Luke Shaw, are yet to start a Premier League match.

Little wonder confidence is finally on the up as Van Gaal’s “philosophy” begins to pay dividends after a difficult start to the new campaign.

“QPR was great, it’s always great to play in a game where the team are going forward, playing flowing football and scoring goals,” said captain Wayne Rooney.

“It was an exciting day as there were a lot of new players making their debut for us. The performance did look impressive. We’re working hard in training and putting the hours in to make sure that we are playing well together when we go into games. When you look at the world-class players that we are bringing in it makes for exciting times for us all.”

The influx of new players, together with those returning from injury, leaves the Dutchman with greater resources than at any time in his short tenure. The squad may still be short a winger, world-class central midfielder and an experienced defender, but these gaps are likely to be filled in the coming windows.

In attacking positions Van Gaal now boasts a surfeit of talent, with Rooney, Robin van Persie and Radamel Falcao seemingly competing for two positions. The trio completed United’s game against QPR, with Van Persie left, Falcao right and Rooney through the middle in an attacking 4-3-3 system, although in the short-term Van Gaal may retain the diamond midfield that started against QPR. Indeed, the Dutchman is certain that Van Persie, Falcao and Rooney can all feature in the same team, whatever the formation.

“Falcao is a very good striker, I already said that when he came here in his first press conference,” said Van Gaal.

“I like van Persie as well – he is also a very good striker. Then we have Wayne Rooney and Adnan Januzaj, and we also have James Wilson. We have five players for the two striker positions and I have to choose.”

Still, it is clear that the Dutchman is far from wedded to any one system this season. His side has also been deployed in 3-4-1-2  and 4-4-2 formations at times during the campaign. Whether uncertainty or tactical genius, the Dutchman appears comfortable asking his players to be flexible – a trend that may well continue on Sunday lunchtime.

“I started with another system because of the quality of the players,” explained Van Gaal. “Now we have bought quality players in and so you have to look at these qualities and then want to perform the philosophy that we have. Then you are coming out in this system, but that can change also. It is not a fixed solution.

“I have played that already in my first match at Ajax, where it was a law that we played 4-3-3. But I played 4-4-2 as trainer-coach of the second team because I saw it was more suitable for the quality of my players.”

 

Leicester v Manchester United, King Power Stadium, 21 September 2014

In addition to finding a solution in attack, Van Gaal has decisions to make at the back with Chris Smalling and Shaw available after injury. The Dutch manager could hand a Premier League début to Shaw despite Marco Rojo’s positive performance against QPR, while Tyler Blackett and Johnny Evans are also competing for positions in a back four. Angel Di Maria, Ander Herrera and Blind should continue in midfield.

Meanwhile, Leicester City boss Nigel Pearson could include Kasper Schmeichel and former United player Matty James after the pair recovered from injury. Three additional former Reds – Tom Lawrence, Danny Simpson, Ritchie De Laet – could all be involved, although Nick Powell cannot play against his parent club.

Yet another former United player, Danny Drinkwater, will also feature, while Jack Barmby and Louis Rowley now play at Leicester, bringing to eight the number of ex-Reds at the King Power Stadium.

“Louis van Gaal has changed an awful lot there – and for the better it would seem from last weekend. It’s exciting as a fan,” Drinkwater told MUTV.

“I suppose Sunday’s going to be a bit mad for me being a United fan but I’m looking forward to it. Hopefully, my family will be supporting Leicester because of me but they’re United fans as well. I like the Reds to win wherever they go but not this time.”

“There’s a good balance in our squad and we’re all excited about the challenges this season. We’ve had a few tough games so far but we’ve more than put ourselves about. It’s about keeping that going and staying on track.”

For Van Gaal’s side Sunday’s match offers the chance of consolidation after a first victory of the season. Pearson’s side is unlikely to be as passive as the Hoops, but with United already seven points behind the leaders the Reds can afford little but another victory.

That United has emerged victorious in the past nine Premier League meetings with Leicester bodes well; confidence riding high once again is even better.

Teams
Leicester (4-4-2): Schmeichel; De Laet, Morgan, Moore, Konchesky; Mahrez, Cambiasso, Hammond, Schlupp; Nugent, Ulloa
United (4-1-2-1-2): de Gea; Rafael, Evans, Rojo, Shaw; Blind; Herrera, Di Maria; Rooney; Van Persie, Falcao

Subs from 
Leicester: Hamer, Wasilewski, King, Taylor-Fletcher, Wood, Albrighton,  Knockaert, Vardy, Lawrence, Drinkwater, Simpson
United: Amos, Johnstone, Blackett, Thorpe, Vermiji, Januzaj, James, Anderson, Fletcher, Mata, Wilson

Head-to-head
Leicester 32 – Draw 26 – United 59

Officials
Referee: Mark Clattenburg
Assistants: S Beck, J Collin
Fourth Official: L Mason

Prediction
Leicester 0-2 United

£1 bet club
0-2 @ 15/2

Running total: £(-)5

United v QPR: Van Gaal considers four debuts

September 13, 2014 Tags: , Matches 1 comment
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Louis van Gaal is nothing if not confident. Yet, the Dutchman’s faith in his “philosophy” has been tested during the opening weeks of the 62-year-old’s Old Trafford tenure. Defeat to Swansea City in the Premier League, insipid draws against Sunderland and Burnley, and the embarrassing loss at Milton Keynes Dons, have proffered the impression of seamless transition – from David Moyes. It is not the start the Dutchman wanted.

Yet, for all the crisis copy in recent weeks the United manager is likely to include four new players in his team for the fixture with Queens Park Rangers on Sunday. It is an injection of talent that cannot but provide stimulus for the campaign ahead. With the international break over Daley Blind, Marcos Rojo and Radamel Falcao should play some part in the match at Old Trafford this weekend. Luke Shaw, now fit, is likely to make his competitive début. It is welcome relief for a manager whose side boasts just two points from the opening three fixtures of the new campaign.

United’s extravagant spending this summer stretched to some £150 million in the wake of the club’s failed experiment with Moyes. If the empire is indeed crumbling, as so many observers have noted, then the Glazer family is seemingly, and finally, willing to use United’s commercial power to prop up the foundations of an ailing squad.

Yet, this is also an investment that must reap immediate rewards; a top four finish and Champions League football next season as an absolute minimum. The Dutch manager has little doubt – United’s quartet of debutants, plus Ander Herrera and Angel Di Maria, will offer the quality to take the team back into Europe next season.

“I think a club like United has to have targets,” said Van Gaal on Friday.

“I also have targets so I don’t think it [top three] is an unreasonable target. It shall be difficult but a club such as United has to always have a target. I think within the top three is logical because United want to be in the Champions League.”

Van Gaal’s goal is hampered, in the short-term at least, by an injury list that has eased little over the international break. While Van Gaal is keen to press ahead with a 3-4-1-2 system that has not always seemed comfortable with the players, it is the absentees that concern the Dutchman most. Shaw returns after a hamstring problem, but Ashley Young and Phil Jones have picked up fresh injuries over the break.

“The situation has not improved much because while there are players coming back, there are also players who have got injured in the last week,” said Van Gaal. “It’s more or less the same situation and that’s not a very positive one.”

Still, Old Trafford’s gaze will rest on United’s star-studded acquisitions this weekend. Rojo is likely to make his début in United’s back-three alongside Jonny Evans and Tyler Blackett, with Chris Smalling on injured list.

In midfield Blind could line up with Herrera, while Van Gaal has the job of working out how to cram Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie, Juan Mata and Di Maria into the side. Over the longer piece Van Gaal may opt to deploy Rooney in a role at ‘number 10’, although the Englishman’s dire early season form showed no signs of improving over two matches for the national team last week. Mata is the most likely to give this weekend.

Falcao may not start, although the loan signing Falcao says that he is ready to play.

“I feel well, I started to play two months ago with Monaco and I’ve improved in the last month a lot,” said the former Porto striker.

“I have scored goals and that’s important to a striker. I am confident with my physical form and I am comfortable with my knee. This is a new process, a new team and this year some new players have come in. I think Manchester United will build a big team this season and in future seasons. I feel very good in myself and I can’t wait to get started.”

Manchester United v Queens Park Rangers, Old Trafford, 14 September

Falcao has scored 200 goals across 305 games for River Plate, Porto, Atlético Madrid and Monaco. It is a record that brings expectation along with the huge paycheck.

The temptation, of course, remains for Van Gaal to cram his plethora of stars into an unbalanced side. Falcao is every bit a classic number nine, while this is a role to which Van Persie is increasingly evolved over the past two seasons. The observation leaves Van Gaal likely to deploy Rooney, his seemingly undroppable captain, in a the deeper role that provides a goal threat, but removes Mata’s subtly and surety of first touch from the team.

In deeper areas Blind will play a crucial role in coming weeks, screening the back three and providing a pivotal link between defence and attack – especially in Michael Carrick’s long-term absence. The Dutchman’s lack of pace may have kept the transfer fee to a relatively bargain-basement £14 million, but the player’s defensive nous and range of passing should prove an important asset in the season to come.

“He is a player who can see situations in advance,” said the manager.

“He can always pass to the free player, and when he doesn’t have the ball, he knows when he has to press the opponent. That’s a very good ability to have. I like him as a defensive midfielder. He can run for 90 minutes too and is always fit. That’s another very good quality for a player.”

Meanwhile, Harry Redknapp’s Rangers side arrives having not kept a clean sheet against United since 1992 – losing 10 of the past 12 fixtures with the Reds and each of the last five at Old Trafford.

If history is not on the west Londoners’ side then experience might be, with Rio Ferdinand leading QPR’s defence. Ferdinand made more than 400 appearances for United before leaving on a free transfer in the summer. New signings Sandro and Niko Kranjcar will be handed debuts at Old Trafford, although Joey Barton has a hamstring and may not play.

The focus is on United though. With no European football this season United has just two trophies to play for with the summer barely over. Indeed, it is the first time since 1962 that United will chase so little silverware at this stage of the season. This is not a record to be proud of.

Yet, four debutants do offer a bright new dawn; the darkest point having been reached in Milton Keynes last month. United, surely, cannot fail to win again?

Teams
United (3-4-1-2): de Gea; Evans, Rojo, Blackett; Rafael, Herrera, Blind, Di Maria, Shaw; Van Persie, Rooney
QPR (4-4-2): Green; Isla, Caulker, Ferdinand, Hill; Phillips, Mutch, Sandro, Kranjcar, Hoilett; Austin

Subs from 
United: Amos, Johnstone, Thorpe, Vermiji, Januzaj, James, Anderson, Fletcher, Mata, Falcao, Wilson
QPR: Traore, Onuoha, Henry, Murphy, Dunne, Zamora, Taarabt, Barton, Fer

 

Head-to-head
United 51 – Draw 32 – QPR 13

Officials
Referee: Phil Dowd
Assistants: P Kirkup, S Ledger
Fourth Official: A Marriner

Prediction
United 3-0 QPR

£1 bet club
Falcao & 3-0 @ 15/1

Running total: £(-)4

United’s identity under scrutiny – twas ever thus

September 8, 2014 Tags: , , Opinion 25 comments
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Identity. It is a topic on many lips in the wake of Manchester United’s spending spree this summer. United unloaded around £150 million on six high-class imports during the window, and yet the deal that generated most copy was Danny Welbeck’s departure to Arsenal. The end of more than 130 years of youthful tradition or the reaffirmation that United remains among the world’s élite?

On the face of it the answer is simple. In a global game United simply swapped Welbeck, an inconsistent academy graduate with 29 goals in 142 games, for a proven class in Radamel Falcao. The price differential says as much: Welbeck cost Arsenal £16 million, Falcao north of £45 million when he signs permanently next summer. There is, after all, no room for sentimentality in the hunt for success.

Yet, United’s is a history replete with the fruits of youth development and Welbeck the leading player in a contemporary academy cohort that is symbolic of more than simply ‘who is best on the pitch.’ Youth, some say, is United’s essence, its soul, the raison d’être. This was consistently Sir Alex Ferguson’s line during his 27-year tenure at Old Trafford.

The player’s sale, amidst United’s conversion to the world’s leading sports marketing platform in a globalised brand economy, says much for the club’s priorities – the maintenance of commercial interests remains just as paramount as success on the pitch.  Or in other words, while Falcao represents an upgrade for Louis van Gaal’s team, the Colombian’s profile also serves to feed a commercial entity more voracious for star names than ever.

It is this economic evolution of the club, the game and those that follow it that feels uneasy for many. Perhaps, even, this observation is at the root of criticism from within, even if naked resentment is the fuel from without. Not everybody is comfortable with United’s quickfire conversion for parsimony to plunder.

“Is it better to look at the instant rather than the future?” said former assistant manager Mike Phelan last week. “It is a difficult one because youth is always the future. Maybe this is the start of a new way of doing things at Manchester United and maybe that is the way football is going.”

United reacted strongly to the accusation that youth has taken a back stage, briefing media that 12 academy players are registered in the club’s wider Premier League group. More, indeed, than any other club in England. In James Wilson, Tyler Blackett, Reece James, and Jesse Lingaard, Van Gaal has already demonstrated faith in youngsters this season.

It is a familiar line. The difference between United and the club’s competitors? “Not spending fortunes on proven goods,” said Sir Alex in 2012. “That’s the difference between United and the rest – we can play 18-year-olds because it’s part of our history. It’s like a destiny for us. No other clubs can do that.”

Yet, there are also powerful forces driving the club to a future that is tied not to the academy but global recognition. Indeed, the club’s recent sponsorship deals with Chevrolet and adidas will push United’s annual revenue beyond £500 million in the coming years. Add more than 30 further global and regional sponsors to the roster and the hunger for success may now only be part of United’s culture. Stardom drives United’s commercial needs and, perhaps, future player recruitment too.

It is an observation that has led to the conclusion in some quarters that United will now seek out the most expensive players on the planet. Far cry from the austerity of the first eight years of Glazer ownership when debt bit deep into United’s investment and Ferguson ran his team on a comparative shoestring.

But with commercial revenues on the uptick, and debt interest at circa £20 million per year, executive vice chairman Ed Woodward has many reasons to feel emboldened in the market.

Further cash is seemingly available in January too, with potential recruits said to include Kevin Strootman that will take the club’s annual spend beyond £200 million for the year, including Juan Mata last winter. No longer a burden, so goes the spin, player recruitment is now an investment in United’s brand equity.

In the midst of this discussion it is easy to forget that Welbeck is also a very fine player, not just a local recruit. The Longsight-born striker has never been one to lead the goalscoring charts, perhaps, but those who champion the 23-year-old’s cause point to other qualities beyond goalscoring. Indeed, six goals in as many games last Christmas point to a player capable of scoring more frequent if given the opportunity in a more central role.

“He’s a real threat to defenders and, if Arsenal use him right, he will be very dangerous for them,” said former United defender Rio Ferdinand.

“I cannot believe United let him go, especially to Arsenal. That seems mad to me. Danny has everything to be a top player. English football has yet to see what he can really do because he hasn’t been getting a run of games. At Arsenal, he will be the main man and I have no doubt he will flourish.”

Welbeck’s departure, together with a dozen other players, including Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Ryan Giggs, has come amid the most rapid evolution in United’s playing squad for two decades.

Indeed, Van Gaal’s challenge – to knit together what is effectively a new team – is one that no United manager has faced since Ferguson sold Mark Hughes, Andrei Kanchelskis and Paul Ince in 1995. The following season Ferguson integrated Nicky Butt, David Beckham, Gary Neville and Paul Scholes into the United side to much success.

Yet, in the years before 2005 Ferguson also broke the British transfer record eight times, just has Sir Matt Busby had done for Dennis Law in the wake of the ‘Babes’ destruction at Munich in 1958. Youth and investment – hasn’t the club always played both games? Scrutiny, too, has always followed.

Yet, as the Glazer family’s parsimony cut into the United’s competitiveness from 2005-2013 it was also Ferguson who left a squad in far from “the strongest possible shape.”  The Scot stood back in retirement and watched Rome burn. The club, it seems, is now trying to rebuild in a day.

“It is a change of direction for United letting one of their own go,” adds Ferdinand. “Traditionally, this was not their way, adding so many players in a short period of time and having such a radical overhaul. Normally, as with me when I joined in 2002, it was about adding one piece to the jigsaw.

“Some fans still romanticise about their success and the way they brought through so many home-grown players. Unfortunately, you can’t always have that fairytale. Radamel Falcao and Angel Di Maria are world-class players and they have added quality in Anders Herrera, Luke Shaw and Daley Blind, but I do wonder if they will live to regret not keeping Danny.”

That story will play out in the year to come; Welbeck’s performance at Arsenal and Van Gaal’s ability to get the best out of £150 million worth of new talent.

As ever it will not only be United’s success on the line, but the club’s ‘identity’ too. Twas ever thus.

Poll: where will United finish this season?

September 5, 2014 Tags: Polls 15 comments
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Six players in, 13 out – it has been a summer of significant transition at Manchester United. Out went the experience of Ryan Giggs, Rio Ferdinand, Patrice Evra and Nemanja Vidić. So too the former promise of Nani, Shinji Kagawa, Chicharito, and Danny Welbeck. Not to mention misfits Alexander Büttner, Bebé, Federico Macheda, Wilfried Zaha and Tom Cleverley.

In the dozen’s stead came Ander Herrera and Luke Shaw for around £60 million before the summer’s World Cup and then Marcos Rojo, Angel Di Maria, Daley Blind and striker Falcao in the final week of the window. Upwards of £150 million was spent in total in a splurge not witness by United supporters in the club’s long history.

Indeed, not only has United brought in – for the most part – proven quality but a balanced selection of players too: left-back, centre-back, defensive midfielder, attacking midfielder and forward. Yet, the side is probably an experienced central defender and world-class box-to-box midfielder short of making a title challenge – a year on from finishing seventh in the Premier League.

The rapid evolution renders any prediction of United’s performance this season problematic. Quality was eventually acquired over the summer, but presumably it will take time to bed in. After all, while the club has brought in ‘world-class’ Louis van Gaal as manager, United has just two points from the opening three Premier League games. It begs the question of quite why the club spent so much, so very late in the window.

Where will United finish in the Premier League this season?

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Rant Cast 203 – transfer special

September 4, 2014 Tags: Rant Cast 16 comments
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On this week’s one-off transfer special podcast, regular Rant Cast presenters Ed & Paul look back on Manchester United’s summer window when the club spent around £150 million on six senior players: Ander Herrera, Luke Shaw, Marcos Rojo, Angel Di Maria, Daley Blind and, spectacularly, Radamel Falcao.

In addition to new arrivals there’s a look at United’s outgoings, rivals’ window and what might be to come as United’s management accelerate squad revolution under Louis van Gaal.

Hit us up with any feedback below or follow the pod on Twitter: Paul – @UtdRantCast, Ed – @UnitedRant.

Rant Cast is donationware! If you really love the pod you can always show your appreciation by making a small donation!

Stream this episode using the player below or listen on iTunes and leave us a review! The podcast RSS feed is available here.

Rant Cast is produced by Tom Jenkins at TEEJSOUND

Rant Cast 202 – the window SLAMS shut

September 1, 2014 Tags: Rant Cast 13 comments
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On this week’s pod, regular Rant Cast presenters Ed & Paul look back on Manchester United’s disappointing fixture with Burnley at Turf Moor. The scoreless draw came amid another insipid attacking performance from the Reds, although manager Louis van Gaal will be pleased with a clean sheet. It was also the occasion of Angel Di Maria’s debut – the £60 million Argentinian appearing for 70 minutes in central midfield.

Burnley followed the humiliating defeat at Milton Keynes Dons in the Capital one Club. A cluth of youngsters and fringe players conspired to produce one of the worst United performances in memory.

There’s speculation (inevitably out-of-date) about the final few days of the transfer market – who is set to leave and who might arrive before the window closes on 1 September.

Finally, your questions and a brief look ahead to the international break.

Hit us up with any feedback below or follow the pod on Twitter: Paul – @UtdRantCast, Ed – @UnitedRant.

Rant Cast is donationware! If you really love the pod you can always show your appreciation by making a small donation!

Stream this episode using the player below or listen on iTunes and leave us a review! The podcast RSS feed is available here.

Rant Cast is produced by Tom Jenkins at TEEJSOUND

Reds depart as Van Gaal makes squad his own

August 30, 2014 Tags: Opinion 26 comments
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There is little surprise in supporters’ obsession with the transfer market; new faces, new names and the hope of better results to come. In Manchester United’s recent decline this fixation has become all the stronger – a collective yearning that fresh blood will cure many of Old Trafford’s ills. Certainly, United’s summer spending will revitalise a squad that has been grossly mismanaged by Sir Alex Ferguson, David Gill and the Glazers over the past five years. An imbalance remains that Ed Woodward may fill in the days to come. It is, however, sales that will definitively mark the beginning of the Louis van Gaal era.

David Moyes, it was often said, worked not with his own squad but that of Sir Alex. Little surprise, perhaps, that so many turned on the former Everton manager when training, performances and then results did not go to the collective’s liking. So quick to bite the hand that fed them. One year on Van Gaal should face little of the mutinous atmosphere that engulfed Moyes’ time at Old Trafford. Not least because the Dutchman’s distinct gravitas will simply not allow for it. More importantly, though, for the significant squad evolution now underway.

Indeed, in the 72 hours before the transfer window closes, five United first team players could top up the 10 already granted a transfer, released or retired this summer. Yet more would be dumped but for the logistics, and economics, of eliminating high-paid players from United’s payroll.

In the months since Moyes’ sacking last April Rio Ferdinand, Nemnaja Vidić, Patrice Evra, Alexander Büttner, Nani, Federico Macheda, Ángelo Henríquez, Bebé, Ryan Giggs and Wilfried Zaha have left the club. Giggs retired at the age of 40, Henríquez, Nani and Zaha left on loan – with an assumption the trio will never play for United again – and the remaining six departed permanently.

The Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra axis provided over 1,000 games for United; Giggs another millenary again. The absence of that vast experience will certainly be felt. By contrast United will miss nothing of Büttner, Nani, Macheda, Henríquez, Bebé, or Zaha.

Büttner was never of requisite quality – a knowledge that most observers considered true less than 30 minutes into the Dutchman’s United début. Macheda, Henríquez and Bebé each failed to establish themselves at Old Trafford despite, at times, promising contributions, albeit very different in nature. Meanwhile, Nani, and to a lesser extent Zaha, will remain misfits unable to harness talent to more positive effect.

Add Anderson, Anders Lindegaard, Tom Cleverley – and one of Danny Welbeck or Javier Hernández – to the probable departures by Monday evening and the exodus contributes to a sense of chaotic revolution and not planned change at Old Trafford. That the club’s executive vice chairman is desperately putting together deals for Daley Blind, and perhaps a midfielder and defender, in the coming days says much for the lack of control in the post Gill-Ferguson era. There is something ‘just not United’ in the chaos of frantic negotiation, yet a pattern has clearly been set over the past two summers.

Anderson has spent much of the past seven years resembling a character in Waiting for Godot, with United supporters hanging, absurdly, to the notion that the Brazilian’s talent will flourish. It has always been a tragicomedy of the club’s own making. The final twist is likely to be a year-long loan to the continent, with a free transfer following in summer 2015.

Then there is Cleverley and Welbeck – a pair so often the subject of heated supporter debate. While Cleverley’s United career has been on hold for three seasons, Welbeck’s talent and background ensure local-hero loyalty remains. Neither, in truth, has the capacity to drive United to new heights, although far fewer supporters will miss Cleverley than Welbeck. The Longsight-born forward’s record is patchy, but with neither Wayne Rooney nor Robin van Persie guaranteed fitness, the 23-year-old will enjoy plenty of minutes if he stays.

Hernández is another whose career has stalled. Once the subject of serious transfer interest by Real Madrid, United will probably accept a bid of less than £10 million for the Mexican forward. Old Trafford’s top brass would fall over themselves to include the 26-year-old in any prospective deal for Juventus’ midfielder Arturo Vidal.

Meanwhile, Lindegaard has been offered a free transfer with little prospect that the Dane will usurp David de Gea in United’s goal. Ben Amos is set to occupy United’s bench while Lindegaard seeks pastures new.

Then there is the question of those who have outstayed a generous Old Trafford welcome: Ashley Young, Antonio Valencia and Marouane Fellaini. The former pair were complicit in United’s sub-par performance against Burnley on Saturday; in truth neither has played a positive role for United in some time.

The club would certainly take a fee for Young, although two years on the Englishman’s contract and £115,000-per-week in wages remain genuine barriers to moving on a distinctly limited player. Valencia, so long a duff product at Old Trafford, remains if only to cover for Rafael da Silva’s extended periods on the treatment table.

Fellaini’s fee, wages and injury present a similar roadblock; one that means Van Gaal may well have to integrate the Belgian into his squad this season. In each case a significant upgrade is required.

And in truth few of the potential departed will be seriously missed. Not, at least, in the way of greats from the past. United might even significantly benefit from slimming down and rebalancing a squad that consensus now concludes was not left fit for purpose by a retiring Ferguson. It is a damming indictment of the Scot’s succession planning.

Van Gaal, meanwhile, welcomes five new signings this summer: Ander Herrera, Luke Shaw, Marcos Rojo, Angel Di Maria and Daley Blind. Woodward may yet land the experienced central defender and another midfielder Van Gaal seeks before the 1 September deadline. It would take the club’s spending well beyond £150 million this summer.

In this process of renewal Van Gaal is seeking not only to improve his resources but to make this ‘his team’ at rapid speed. There is little doubt the Dutchman will succeed.

In the meantime, Woodward is busy not only buying, but offloading United’s ample dead-wood. That’s in addition to negotiating new arrivals, driving United’s global marketing strategy, and leading a $2.5 billion organisation. Little wonder, perhaps, that the 42-year-old has found the market more than a little challenging over the past two years. Woodward probably needs some help; a director of football to sit between the boardroom and coach – and, most importantly, to so the heavily lifting in a busy transfer market.

Either way United supporters will be watching with intense interest in the coming days – Jim White, Sky Sports News, and all.

Burnley v United: Ángel debut is heaven sent

August 29, 2014 Tags: , Matches 14 comments
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If Louis van Gaal’s start at Manchester United has been anything but auspicious then few will blame the veteran Dutchman for seeking a little help from above. Requests of the Divine are common in football, of course, although it is to a far more potent force that United turned this week: money. Ángel Di Maria’s calling may not have been Old Trafford until recent days, but the £59.7 million that United paid for the Argentinian proved to be an intervention to break weeks of negotiation deadlock. Signed for a British record fee, it is no exaggeration to assume Di Maria will be pinned as United’s saviour from the off.

The 26-year-old Argentine brushed off suggestions that United’s extravagant outlay places the new acquisition under increased pressure. Yet, the fee eclipses the total Saturday’s opponent Burnley has spent in the 132-year history of the club. One of England’s oldest at that. Such is the polarisation of income in the Premier League.

The Reds’ vast revenue and newly unrestricted wallet should push Van Gaal’s side back towards domestic ascendancy in the years to come. For the time being Van Gaal has just a single draw to show for three dismal performances from his team this season. Defeat to Swansea City on the Premier League’s opening day was concerning and the draw at Sunderland unfortunate, but nothing in recent memory is quite as desperate as United’s 4-0 hammering at Milton Keynes Dons last Tuesday. Fringe players and youth dominated Van Gaal’s selection, but this was a still side containing seven full internationals. Van Gaal expressed no surprise, but it shocked supporters that the Reds embarrassment of riches was so easily humiliated by the decade-old third division side.

Di Maria cannot fix all the ills so vividly demonstrated at stadium:mk but the hugely expensive import will certainly add guile, pace and penetration in the final third. These are three qualities that the Reds have seemingly lacked this season despite the attacking talents available to United’s new coach.

More than £120 million has been spent by United in the transfer window to date, although Van Gaal’s squad remains absent a tough-tackling midfielder and experienced central defender. These are weaknesses that United may fix with yet more spending before the transfer window shuts on Monday night. Then, says the Dutchman, United’s resurrection is a factor of time and his own talents.

“We have to look at the future. We are doing that now with Manchester United by restoring and rebuilding a new team. That takes time,” said Van Gaal on Friday.

“I am sorry to say that for the fans because they are amazing, in my opinion. We were at MK Dons and lost 4-0 and they were singing and supporting the players. I think it is fantastic that we have such fans. I hope we shall fulfil their expectations but it is not done in one month, in spite of our wins against Real Madrid or Liverpool. Of course, we have to win and give results. Hopefully we will start on Saturday at Burnley.”

Di Maria is almost certain to start after the veteran coach declared his new acquisition “ready to play” this weekend. Whether Van Gaal includes the record signing alongside Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie and Juan Mata – or drops one of his star men – will be one of the talking points of the weekend. The pedestrian nature of United’s performances, especially against Swansea and Sunderland, suggests the Dutchman’s team will benefit greatly from the injection of Di Maria’s dynamic talent.

“He has impressed me,” Van Gaal told MUTV on Friday. “The first training session was with all the boys and he was very impressive. The second was a little bit less so but he has to adapt to the culture and the players with whom he shall play. It is the other way around also: the United players have to adapt to his way of playing.

“He has a lot of hunger to play because he wants to support Manchester United. He said it in the press conference. He is a very modest guy. He wants to work for the team. He is ready to play..”

The Argentinian’s countryman Marcos Rojo misses out having failed to secure a work permit in time for the visit to Turf Moor. Shinji Kagawa may have played his last game for United after suffering a concussion at MK Dons, with former club Borussia Dortmund reportedly willing to pay £8 million for the Japanese international. Meanwhile, Chris Smalling, Luke Shaw, Rafael da Silva, Marouane Fellaini, Michael Carrick, Jesse Lingard and Ander Herrera miss the game through injury.

Injury problems in midfield and defence leave Van Gaal with few options in the Dutchman’s preferred 3-4-1-2 system. While Jonny Evans suffered a difficult match at MK Dons, Van Gaal may be loath to once again expose the inexperienced Tyler Blackett and Michael Keane in an unfamiliar back three. Shortages in midfield mean that either Phil Jones or Adnan Januzaj could line up alongside two of Darren Fletcher, Di Maria or Juan Mata in central areas.

Either way United will need to be both more penetrative in attack and secure in defence at Turf Moor. In both Van Gaal demands greater care in possession and more accuracy in front of goal from his new squad.

“I hope we can build up more carefully than the last matches because we created a lot of chances in the last match against MK Dons, but we had problems in building-up situations,” said the Dutchman. “We also lost the ball in the first phase of our building-up and then we gave the ball away. They had six chances and scored four goals. We had 11 chances and zero goals.”

Meanwhile, Burnley manage Sean Dyche boasts a fully fit squad aside from the injured Sam Vokes. The 43-year-old is tasked with keeping Burnley up despite the Lancashire side boasting the smallest budget in the Premier League. Indeed, Burnley’s transfer and wage bill was eclipsed by many in the Championship last season.

Burnley v Manchester United, 30 August 2014

Like United Burnley has suffered a difficult start to the new campaign, losing to Chelsea and Swansea in the Premier League and then being dumped out of the Capital One Cup at home to Sheffield Wednesday on Tuesday night. Still, the most recent fixture at Turf Moor between the sides was decided in Burnley’s favour by a single Robbie Blake goal.

Neither does United’s form present an obvious away victory, although it is hard for Van Gaal’s side to countenance anything else on Saturday lunchtime. Lose or draw and the Dutchman will suffer yet more lurid headlines and further tales of United’s burning empire.

“There’s a bit of ‘hoo-ha’ about Manchester United at the moment,” said Dyche.

“I don’t look at that, I look at the players they’ve got, the manager they’ve got, the club they are. I don’t think you start looking at them for any other reason other than they’re a fantastic club, a very good group of players and a renowned manager. We’re not naive enough to think that there’s any other reason, they’ll come here to play hard and try to get a result, and of course we’ll do that as well.

“Whether they are under pressure or not, it will only be shown when the whistle blows. That’s when two teams come together and ours will be ready, organised and certainly fit enough, we know that. We have to look at ourselves and not get involved in what is going on at Manchester United.”

Van Gaal, by contrast, is consumed by United’s fate, although the Dutchman lacks little in self-confidence.

For United supporters, meanwhile, almost £60 million spent on Di Maria this week is heaven-sent.

Teams
Burnley (4-4-2): Heaton; Trippier, Duff, Shackell, Mee; Arfield, Marney, Jones, Taylor; Jutkiewicz, Ings
United (3-4-1-2): de Gea; Jones, Evans, Blackett; Valencia, Fletcher, Di Maria, Young; Mata; Van Persie, Rooney

Subs from
Burnley: Wallace, Kightly, Sordell, Reid, Gilks, Ward, Barnes, Cisak, Lafferty, O’Neill, Long, Ward, Howieson
United: Amos, Johnstone, Thorpe, Vermiji, Keane, Cleverley, Powell, Januzaj, James, Anderson, Lawrence, Welbeck, Hernández, Wilson

Head-to-head
Burnley 44 – Draw 19 – United 57

Officials
Referee: Chris Foy
Assistants: M Mullarkey, M McDonough
Fourth Official: M Clattenburg

Prediction
Burnley 1 – 2 United

£1 bet club
Di Maria & 1-2 @ 35/1

Running total: £(-)3

MK Dons v United: Reds venture into the unknown

August 26, 2014 Tags: , Matches 35 comments
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Strange times these at Manchester United. Not only is United’s side distinctly average, but the Glazer family has sanctioned more than £120 million in spending during this summer’s window to correct the failure; £200 million over the past 12 months. The world turn on its head. While the Americans’ relatively loose purse-strings has much to do with the family’s under-investment over the past eight years, United’s distinct mediocrity is a sight absent for a quarter-century.

The League Cup’s second round is a case in point: it is almost two decades since United last entered the tournament at a stage reserved for England’s lesser lights and clubs not in European competition. The last time United played at this stage was October 1995 versus York City. The Reds lost.

It is some come down for a manager as decorated as Louis van Gaal. Still, the match at stadium:mk proffers opportunity to a clutch of young players not yet given matches under Van Gaal’s leadership. More important, perhaps, a chance for the Reds to claim a first victory during the Dutchman’s tenure. United’s draw with Sunderland and the loss to Swansea City have come at the expense of intense national debate.

Better results will come of course, not least when a handful of players return from injury. Van Gaal is without Chris Smalling for the trip south after the England international suffered a groin injury against Sunderland at the weekend. Meanwhile Ander Herrera will not be risked despite returning to training this week. Rafael da Silva, Luke Shaw, Michael Carrick, Jesse Lingard and Marouane Fellaini remain on the sidelines.

New signing Marcos Rojo is yet to receive a work permit, although United should push through a £59 million deal for Angel Di Maria before the weekend’s Premier League fixture with Burnley at Turf Moor. The Argentinian holds an Italian passport and will be cleared to play as soon as the international paperwork is filed with FIFA.

Michael Keane, Tyler Blackett and Tom Thorpe could all feature in an inexperienced defence, while dynamic striker James Wilson will find a place on the bench at a minimum. Van Gaal may also include Javier Hernández, Shinji Kagawa and Danny Welbeck in the team to face MK Dons – none of the trio appears to feature in the Dutchman’s preferred XI.

MK Dons v United, 26 August 2014

Meanwhile, Milton Keynes manager Karl Robinson is without first choice goalkeeper David Martin and full-back Lee Hodson, although midfielder Samir Carruthers could play after recovering from a thigh problem. Robinson has built a reputation for playing good football over fours years in charge of Milton Keynes. The Scouser is just 33, but took over at MK Dons in his late 20s twenties after spending time as Paul Ince’s assistant.

The Dons formed when Wimbledon relocated to Milton Keynes in September 2003, more than a year after receiving clearance from the Football Association. It was a decision that many supporters find as disgraceful today as it was more than a decade years ago. Initially called “Wimbledon,” MK Dons renamed in 2004 and eventually relinquished records and trophies to the reformed AFC Wimbledon in 2007.

The convoluted history means that United is yet to face MK Dons in the club’s current guise, although the Glazer family might find some level of simpatico with MK Dons’ predatory chairman Pete Winkelman. The businessman forced through the relocation in 2003 and spent years refusing to ‘hand back Wimbledon’s history’. The debate rages on, with Milton Keynes unwilling to drop the “Dons” moniker despite a long-running supporter-led campaign. The reward: on Tuesday Winkelman’s side will face United in front of a sell-out 29,000 capacity crowd.

“Will I feel vindicated? It’s not about feeling vindicated, I’ll feel pleased,” Winkelman told The Independent.

“I would like to have done something that could be respected rather than upsetting. But it was always about a stadium for Milton Keynes. I knew that and being able to fill the stadium for this match shows other people that the idea of top-flight football in Milton Keynes is still alive.”

“Do I still feel the same way as I did 10 years ago? No. I understand the culture of English football much more, so I have many different feelings about how we got here. But what is clear is that there had to be football here. Tonight is a dream come true.”

For Wimbledon it is anything but a dream – and there is no little irony in Milton Keynes having beaten AFC Wimbledon in round one of this year’s League Cup competition.

United’s challenge is different. The global fanbase and blue chip sponsors are already in place, but it means little without success on the pitch. This is a goal Van Gaal is striving towards, albeit one that has hit two significant roadblocks over the past 10 days.

“It is a process,” claimed the Dutcman last week. One in which victory in Milton Keynes will contribute much – not least to a squad’s confidence, which appears little more than paperthin.

Teams
MK Dons (4-4-1-1): McLoughlin; Baldock, Lewington, Kay, McFadzean; Alli, Potter, Powell, Reeves, Bowditch; Grigg.
United (3-4-1-2): Amos; Thorpe, Keane, Blackett; Valencia, Cleverley, Januzaj, James; Kagawa; Welbeck, Hernández

Subs from
MK Dons: Flanagan, Spence, Randall, Hitchcock, Carruthers, Afobe, Burns
United: Johnstone, de Gea, Smalling, Jones, Zaha, Powell, Blackett, Fletcher, Young, Mata, Rooney, Van Persie, Wilson.

Head-to-head
n/a

Officials
Referee: Stuart Attwell
Assistant referees: Ryan T Atkin and Ian Cooper
Fourth Official: Keith Hill

Prediction
MK Dons 1 – 2 United

£1 bet club
Javier Hernandez & 1-2 @ 22/1

Running total: £(-)2

Rant Cast 201 – Angel delight

August 25, 2014 Tags: Rant Cast 33 comments
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In this week’s Rant Cast regular presenters Ed & Paul look back on Manchester United’s insipid draw with Sunderland at the weekend – a game that leaves the Reds on just one point after two Premier League matches. United laboured to a scoring draw against the Wearsiders, with Juan Mata claiming his seventh goal in nine starts in the ‘number 10’ role at United. Despite the Spaniard’s strike United struggled in both defence and attack as the Reds adjust to a radically different system.

There’s a discussion of the transfer market, with United acquiring Marcos Rojo since the last podcast and set to sign Real Madrid’s dynamic forward Angel Di Maria in the coming week.

Your questions, Bantergate and, finally, previews of United’s fixtures against MK Dons in the Capital One Cup and Burnley in the Premier League follow. Can the Reds secure a first win of the new season?

Hit us up with any feedback below or follow the pod on Twitter: Paul – @UtdRantCast, Ed – @UnitedRant.

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Stream this episode using the player below or listen on iTunes and leave us a review! The podcast RSS feed is available here.

Rant Cast is produced by Tom Jenkins at TEEJSOUND