United v West Ham: injuries mount for under-pressure Van Gaal

Ed December 5, 2015 Tags: , Matches 8 comments
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Pressure. If Louis van Gaal hasn’t been feeling the heat of late, Liverpool’s resurgence under new manager Jurgen Klopp has certainly put the Dutchman’s progress in perspective. Just eight weeks into the job and Liverpool is a club transformed under the German’s direction; a team on the up, with legitimate talk of a title challenge now in the air on Merseyside. By contrast Manchester United’s season has been a slow burn. Van Gaal’s team is just one point off Premier League leaders Manchester City, but in deploying a prosaic playing style, the Dutchman’s team has impressed few and frustrated many. Read More

Leicester City v United: Reds seek table-topping victory

Ed November 28, 2015 Tags: , Matches 3 comments
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It says something for Louis van Gaal’s Manchester United evolution that, while the club is one victory away from clear blue water at the summit of the Premier League, murmurs of discontent remain audible on the Stratford End. The Dutchman’s side is indisputably in with a shot at wining the league next May, but has become so soporific that it is, for want of a better description, alien to many supporters. Read More

United v PSV Eindhoven: one win from qualification

Ed November 25, 2015 Tags: , Matches 3 comments
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The campaign’s start could not have been more inauspicious. Defeat at PSV Eindhoven on Champions League matchday one proved painful in more ways than one. It was Louis van Gaal’s first return to his homeland since taking over at Manchester United; and the night on which Luke Shaw’s right leg was snapped crudely in two by Hector Moreno’s reckless challenge. Read More

Watford v United: injuries mount for strikerless Reds

Ed November 21, 2015 Tags: , Matches 1 comment
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The dominant narrative this season is one of conservatism at club whose history is dominated by the romanticism of attacking flair. It is an uncomfortable truth for Manchester United’s manager Louis van Gaal; and a contemporary system that is hard to swallow for the club’s legion supporters. And yet, whatever the Dutchman’s penchant for reigning in the club’s historical bent towards a more bombastic style, Van Gaal is unlikely to be helped by a rash of post-international break injuries – including to strikers Wayne Rooney and Anthony Martial.

If the Dutchman’s side wasn’t limp enough this season the duo’s absence, along with four other first team players, stretches the Reds’ paper-thin squad – and is set to ask serious questions of United’s ability to break down a Watford side that is most effective on the counter-attack. Not least because Van Gaal is unlikely to be able to call on an experienced number nine of any type this weekend, with James Wilson lacking “match rhythm” and Marouane Fellaini also injured.

And yet Saturday lunchtime’s fixture is also one that could play into the Reds’ hands, with Quique Flores’ side most comfortable attacking on the counter and United seemingly reluctant to expand from a deeper position.

Indeed, there is little in the outlook that foretells of an expansive game from either side. It is the kind of fixture in which United will dominate possession and where the result is dependent on the Reds taking whatever chances are created. Therein lies United’s problem, of course.

Still, with injuries also comes opportunities; youngsters Marcus Rashford, Cameron Borthwick-Jackson and Axel Tuanzebe could all be on the bench and Van Gaal maintains that the squad’s spirit is strong whatever the mix of results.

“I have noticed,” said the manager, “that every Manchester United player wants to perform what we have agreed in the training sessions. The spirit of the squad is fantastic.”

Victory will take United top of the Premier League table, if only for a few hours with Manchester City and Arsenal also in action this weekend.

Meanwhile, Flores’ side has conceded just four goals at Vicarage Road this season, with United the only Premier League side to boast a better defensive record at home.

“They play a 4-4-2 system with two strikers and two rows of four players, and that is always difficult to play against,” Van Gaal added.

“Of course, it’s dependable on the organisation of Watford’s defence, but Quique Flores has done it and it shall be very difficult. Every opponent is motivated to beat us, but as a Manchester United player, you have to cope with that pressure and normally we do that.”

The Saturday lunchtime kick-off is the first featuring Morgan Schneiderlin and Bastian Schweinsteiger since a series of attacks in Paris, including one a Stade de France during France’s international friendly against Germany just over a week ago. Van Gaal has spoken to the pair, together with Martial, about the incident. Both Schneiderlin and Schweinsteiger are expected to start.

“What they told me is private but we have communicated, of course,” van Gaal said. “I think, for every human being in this world, it is a big blow. I don’t think I have to mention what our discussions were. Schweinsteiger and Schneiderlin can play if we don’t take into account this event and what has happened.”

Meanwhile, Watford continue to pick enough points to suggest that the Hornets will remain in the Premier League come next May. Four wins from the past 10 games leave Watford in 11th, though it is a run built – much like United – on defensive solidity rather than attacking flair.

“We will approach the game with respect, organisation, tradition and passion,” said Flores. “We have to reference the matches we have played against big teams. Against Manchester City we were really competitive for 45 minutes, against Arsenal we were for one hour, so our target for this match is to be competitive for one-and-a-half hours.”

Watford’s home record and United’s paucity of attacking options suggests a tight game ahead.

Team news and line-ups

Watford v Manchester United, Vicarage Road, Premier League, 21 November 2015

With Rooney and Martial out because of illness and injury Memphis Depay could lead United’s attack, with Wilson lacking match fitness, and Fellaini also injured. Michael Carrick, Antonio Valencia and Luke Shaw are also out, but Matteo Darmian is available after suspension.

“I think that everybody knows Michael Carrick and Anthony Martial are injured, but also injured is Marouane Fellaini. That’s a surprise because I thought he was recovered after the international break, but still he is injured. And that’s a big blow because Rooney is ill, so we have a big problem, I think,” admitted Van Gaal.

“I have always organised a shadow player for every position, but when all the injuries happen in the same position, you have a problem as a trainer-coach and you have to play a little bit differently.

“You can solve that problem because we have multi-functional players and they can play in many positions. I have rotated this season more than ever, because of the amount of matches we have had. Every player is used to playing – even the younger ones have played a lot of minutes.”

Fortunately, although Martial sits out this weekend’s fixture, the Frenchman’s injury sustained against England at Wembley is not as serious as it first appeared.

“It’s not so heavy as everybody has written in the media, but he cannot play against Watford,” van Gaal told MUTV. “Maybe PSV for Martial but it’s not certain, and I think Rooney shall also play then because illness is not something of many days.”

Watford will make a late call on Nigerian striker Odion Ighalo, who retured late from international duty with Nigeria. Sebastian Prodl, Tommie Hoban and Joel Ekstrand are all injured.

Watford subs from: Arlauskis, Holebas, Belkalem, Abdi, Behrami, Berghuis, Paredes, Guedioura, Ibarbo, Diamanti, Dyer, Oularé, Gilmartin
United subs from: Romero, Darmian, Varela, Borthwick-Jackson, Blind, Tuanzebe, Pereira, Wilson, Rashford

Match officials
Referee: Robert Madley
Assistants: M McDonough, M Perry
Fourth Official: A Taylor

Watford 0-1 United

United v West Brom: ‘criticise the manager’ demands Van Gaal

Ed November 6, 2015 Tags: , Matches 3 comments
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Crisis averted. Manchester United’s narrow Champions League victory over CSKA Moscow at Old Trafford on Tuesday brought to an end a series of three goalless draws featuring Louis van Gaal’s team. The win, courtesy of Wayne Rooney’s late header, puts United in prime position to qualify from Group B. Yet, with the Reds having scored just once in the past four games, the wolves remain inches from the Dutchman’s door. It was Little wonder, with Old Trafford’s patience running thin, that cries of “attack, attack, attack,” once again rang out on Tuesday.

Van Gaal’s acknowledgement of the problem is scant, although the 64-year-old does seemingly understand of the frustration supporters feel. Still, with United’s manager having done little to correct the underlying cause, Old Trafford remains on the edge 18 months into the Dutchman’s time at the club. After all, despite this week’s victory over a distinctly average opponent, United boasts one of the meekest attacks in the country and a level of ambition to match. For many it is just not the ‘United way’.

Van Gaal’s team boasts the second lowest total number of chances created in the Premier League – ahead, only, of Saturday’s opponents West Bromwich Albion. United’s solid defence remains the difference between the club challenging Manchester City and Arsenal at the top of the league, and another mediocre season.

With United’s manager unwilling to change his approach, Van Gaal is reliant on positive results to turn the crowd around. Indeed, mid-table West Brom should provide ample fodder on Saturday, although the manager has given supporters free rein to aim criticism at the Dutchman should the Reds’ fail on Saturday.

“Criticism from the fans is never unfair because it is a feeling of the fans and you cannot criticise the feeling of the fans,” said Van Gaal at his weekly Friday press confernce. “I think we have to play for the fans, but I have already said that the fans also have to understand the game and the resistance of our opponent.

“The supporters have to support the players otherwise they make it very difficult for the players to play at Old Trafford. I can only advise the fans to criticise the manager and not the players. It’s very difficult to play for Manchester United with a lot of pressure and you can taste that in Old Trafford. Then it’s better to whistle the manager, I can cope with it because I have had a lot of experience.”

Yet, the veteran coach appears unwilling to change path, with Rooney still the source of significant debate. The Scouser has scored just twice in the Premier League this season, while performances have rarely merited inclusion in the side, save for the captain’s “special privileges.” The former Evertonian’s performance was brighter against CSKA; he scored with an unmarked header, and created two further chances for his team-mates, although the 30-year-old’s passing remained inconsistent.

Rooney is likely to continue in a deeper role at number 10 following Tuesday’s performance, enabling the livewire Anthony Martial to start up-front. The sacrifice: Ander Herrera will drop to the bench, leaving United one-paced through midfield and often far too narrow. It is this kind of compromise – crowbarring Rooney into the team – that increases many supporters’ level of frustration.

Meanwhile, Tony Pulis’ West Brom side arrives in the north east sporting four ex-United players. Jonny Evans and Darren Fletcher will certainly start at Old Trafford, while Anders Lindegaard is likely to find a place on the bench. Another former Red, Ben Foster, is on the road to full fitness after suffering a serious knee injury earlier this year.

Fletcher, in particular, has impressed at the Hawthorns, starting every West Brom game this season – and belying critics who thought the Scot’s time at the top-level of English football had come to an end. Fletcher and Evans retain the United manager’s affection, with each moving on to gain regular minutes that were not forthcoming under Van Gaal. Each is likely to receive a very warm welcome back at Old Trafford.

“I think it’s very good because I always try to be honest for my players,” said the Dutchman. “I had said to them ‘Your playing minutes are not too much and at your age you have to play football.’ The decision to go from United to another club is a big one, but they have made it out of ambition and I like that very much. You can also decide to stay and not play and train, a lot of players are doing that, but I have a great respect for these players.”

The Baggies are mid-table in the Premier League having endured a mixed October. Defeats to Crystal Palace and Leicester City were tempered by narrow victories over Norwich City and Sunderland. Still, it is path that should just about keep West Brom in the division come next May.

“Our away record has been first class, but at home we’ve switched-off and been punished,” said Pulis. “We spend a lot of time analysing what we do as a group and the players have responded well this week.

“It’s going to be difficult. If you consider the money Louis has spent, the players they’ve got and the depth that they’ve got, it shouldn’t really be a contest. But if you get 11 players running around on any given day, who’ll work hard for the team and give it their best, then who knows.”

Pulls’ team conceded three at home to Leicester last weekend, but enjoys a fine defensive record on the road. With just two conceded in five matches, Pulis’ side is unlikely to cave at Old Trafford. It does not bode well for the kind of exciting football that the Old Trafford crowd expects.

Team news and line-ups

Manchester United v West Bromwich Albion, Premier League, Old Trafford, 7 November 2015

Van Gaal has no fresh injury concerns ahead of Saturday’s match, with Antonio Valencia and Luke Shaw the only absentees. Morgan Schneiderlin missed Tuesday’s victory, with what the United manager described as an “illness,” but the Frenchman could make the bench. Right-back Matteo Darmian is suspended after reaching five yellow cards for the season.

There are unlikely to be significant changes from Tuesday’s side, with Ashley Young starting at right-back and Jesse Lingard retaining his place in midfield following a bright performance against CSKA.

“He’s doing well,” said van Gaal of the youngster. “That’s why I want to keep him and why I have said his chances shall come. He has a lot of pace and I like pace on the wings. Now he has first assist also. I think he shall have a boost from this game because he played very well, in my opinion, and I hope he shall continue.”

Meanwhile, Pulis says that his side has “one or two knocks” ahead of the game, although the former Stoke City is reluctant to reveal his hand. James Morrison is available after returning from injury as in defeat to Leicester last weekend.

United subs from: Romero, Blind, Pereira, Tuanzebe, Schneiderlin, Fellaini, Herrera, Depay, Wilson
CSKA subs from: Lindegaard, Rose, Morrison, Olsson, Gnabry, McManaman, Chester, Gardner, Anichebe, Lambert

Match officials
Referee: Mike Dean Assistants: H Lennard, M McDonough Fourth Official: N Swarbrick

United 1-0 West Brom

United v CSKA Moscow: Van Gaal backs Rooney, again

Ed November 2, 2015 Tags: , Matches No comments
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Should Manchester United fail to score against a CSKA Moscow in the Champions League on Tuesday night it will be the first time in 23 years that the club has gone four games without a goal. Louis van Gaal surely has no wish to join David Moyes in securing ‘the wrong kind’ of club record post- Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement.

The Dutchman, who has been the subject of increased scrutiny over his team’s style since United limped to a third goalless draw in succession on Saturday, says that “the players, the manager and the staff” are working hard to install the attacking football demanded by ever more frustrated supporters.

Yet, there are no guarantees against a CSKA side that is now on a 21-game unbeaten streak in domestic competition, albeit a period in which the Russia side lost at VfL Wolfsburg on Champions League match-day one and in the away-leg of the qualifying round at Sporting Lisbon.

Still, Leonid Slutsky’s team remains in good form coming into match-day four. CSKA drew at Terek Grozny and then beat FC Ufa since United’s 1-1 draw in Moscow two weeks ago. In between Van Gaal’s side has, with must consternation, failed to score against Middlesbrough, Manchester City and Crystal Palace.

Indeed, United registered just one shot on target at Palace – Wayne Rooney’s limp free kick – and made just three opportunities from open play. It is a pattern that Van Gaal claims his team is ready to break.

“Until now there is always progress. I can remind you of the fact that you were saying, “Defending, defending, that is the problem,” said Van Gaal on Monday

“Now we are the best defenders of the Premier League, you are saying that we cannot attack. No, it is not true. It is only a moment in the process. We have stood first in the Premier League. Now we have a bad period because it is a bad period when you do not score goals. You have to score goals because that makes the difference.

“I hope that we shall score against CSKA Moscow. But I know that it is very difficult because they are very organised. They shall play more defensively than Crystal Palace for example. So it shall be very difficult but still we try to score goals.”

Despite United’s struggles in front of goal, Van Gaal is not yet ready to drop his captain, with Rooney having scored just six this season – four of Rooney’s goals came against Club Brugge and Ipswich Town. Rooney’s movement, first touch and attacking penetration were once against questionable during United’s draw in South London, although Van Gaal says that the 30-year-old “gives us more than only scoring goals.”

“He is our captain but also an example for the whole team,” said Van Gaal. “He has more credits than any other player. I have explained that to the group already, one and a half years ago. I still have confidence in Wayne Rooney.”

It means that French striker Anthony Martial is once again likely to be deployed from the left, while his manager also talked up the prospect of using the teenager on the right in future games. Martial scored in Moscow – a fine diving header to equalise – but it remains his only goal during a seven-game period in which Van Gaal has shunted the former Monaco player out to the wing.

Meanwhile, Slutsky’s team is looking to pick up its first result on the road in this season’s Champions League in what is proving to be a four-way competition for qualification from Group B. The Russian side has developed an effective counter-attacking game and is likely to sit deep at Old Trafford, using the pace of Ivorian striker Seydou Doumbia, together with Ahmed Musa and former Red Zoran Tosic, on the break.

“Manchester United are Manchester United,” said Slutsky. “They remain a club of top quality. This team is obviously very good with possession so we will play a counter-attacking game. When a team has players like Juan Mata, Anthony Martial, Wayne Rooney and so on, they can score at any time and against any opponent so their recent blanks don’t provide much comfort.”

After the past fortnight’s games United’s supporters may not hold the same level of confidence. Still, it is in fans’ support that Van Gaal believes his side will find the confidence to attack on Tuesday. At the weekend more than 3,000 travelling supporters chanted the name of Van Gaal’s recent critic, Paul Scholes, while urging the team to “attack, attack, attack.”

The Dutchman’s team will need to find the front-foot on Tuesday, lest the mini-rebellion instigated at Selhurst Park, should spread to Old Trafford.

“We have had a dip in our results and we have to come out of that dip,” van Gaal admitted. “That’s why we need the support of the fans. I hope, in spite of a lot of discussions, they shall support my players. The fans have always done that and I hope they will be the 12th player tomorrow again.”

Team news and line-ups

Manchester United v CSKA Moscow, Champions League, 3 November 2015


Van Gaal is unlikely to offer Rooney a rest, despite the forward being one of the few players who has not been rotated this season. Would the Dutchman consider changing this policy to take his captain out of the limelight for a week? Perhaps, although not this week.

“I have done that for all my players,” Van Gaal replied. “For example, Paddy McNair had a week in Ireland last week. When we think it is for the best, I will do that. It is not a big issue for me because even when I was a very young trainer-coach I did it with Jari Litmanen. It is more a big issue for the players; they are not so easy to convince.”

Elsewhere, Ander Herrera, Marouane Fellaini and Ashley Young may be competing for one place in Van Gaal’s side. In defence Phil Jones is available after sitting out games against Middlesbrough and Palace, while Matteo Darmian will start at right-back only if Antonio Valencia remains injured.

Meanwhile, Memphis Depay has not been selected for Tuesday’s squad. The £31 million forward was also dropped by a highly critical Dutch national coach Danny Blind this week, with the 54-year-old questioning Memphis’ value as a ‘team player’.

“Every player needs a boost when he is out of the team and Memphis is not an exception,” added Van Gaal. “The consequence of not being in the national selection is because he is not playing that well. It is always the same – a player always has to perform well, otherwise there will be other players compared and the coach will make a choice.”

CSKA defender Aleksei Berezutski and midfielder Roman Eremenko are both doubtful for the Russian side.

United subs from: Romero, Blind, Pereira, Tuanzebe, Carrick, Fellaini, Herrera, Valencia, Lingard
CSKA subs from: Chepchugov, Nababkin, Chernov, Cauņa, Milanov, Golovin, Makarov

Match officials (POL)
Referee: Szymon Marciniak
Assistant referees: Paweł Sokolnicki, Tomasz Listkiewicz
Additional assistant referees: Paweł Raczkowski, Tomasz Musiał
Fourth official: Radosław Siejka (POL)

United 1-0 CSKA

Crystal Palace v United: Van Gaal on the defensive

Ed October 31, 2015 Tags: , Matches 8 comments
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Is this the most boring Manchester United side in recent memory? Certainly, it is one in which Paul Scholes believes he could not thrive. The former Red kicked off a war-of-words with manager Louis van Gaal this week, saying that he “would not enjoy” playing for the Dutchman. It is a sentiment with which many United supporters agree and frustration with the team’s style is audibly building at Old Trafford.

“There’s a lack of creativity and risk,” added Scholes. “It’s a team now you wouldn’t want to play against because they’re tightly organised, but it seems he doesn’t want players to beat men and it’s probably not a team I’d have enjoyed playing in.”

United, with a strong emphasis on ball retention, ranks first for possession this season, but 18th for total number of shots. Van Gaal’s requirement to retain the ball means that his side has played more backwards passes than any other team in the Premier League, and ranks second in sidewards passing. Indeed, no other team makes more passes per shot or chances created than United.

“The hardest thing to coach is scoring goals and creativity,” adds Scholes. “I played with some brilliant centre forwards and I don’t think they could play in this team – the likes of Ruud van Nistelrooy, Andy Cole, Dwight Yorke, Teddy Sheringham. [United] don’t get crosses into the box or midfielders looking for runs.”

Van Gaal, as has become typical of his increasingly defensive manner, reacted strongly to Scholes’ comments. The former midfielder “doesn’t have the responsibility so he can say everything,” said Van Gaal, with the Dutchman accusing Scholes of speaking out for personal and financial gain.

“Why is he saying something? Because of the benefit of the club or for the benefit for him? I’m not agreeing with his opinion but I don’t want to defend myself. He is a legend and he has a lot of resonance I have heard. When you are a legend, you have to speak with the manager or his friend, Ryan Giggs, or Ed Woodward but not this way, because he will be paid by the BBC or Sky. He is not a responsible man.”

Scholes’ comments came in the wake of United’s Capital One Cup defeat to Middlesbrough at Old Trafford on Wednesday. United’s penalty shoot-out loss means that, realistically, Van Gaal’s side is chasing FA Cup glory this season as the best hope of ending a two-year run without a trophy. The Reds could yet put in a title challenge, although a typical price of 6/1 seems reasonable in a race most pundits expect Manchester City to win. In Europe, United’s limitations have already been exposed.

Striker Wayne Rooney again came under fire for another ineffective performance on Wednesday. The 30-year-old has scored eight goals in 16 games this season, although few against the nation’s top sides. That he missed a spot-kick in the penalty shoot-out this week an all-too-predictable outcome.

Rooney has scored twice in the Premier League, but has come under widespread fire for performances that lack the verve of old. Indeed, in shifting Anthony Martial to the left-wing, Van Gaal’s determination to crowbar his captain into the side is having a detrimental effect on United’s performances – and results. Yet, Van Gaal blames Rooney’s troubles not on poor form, or the rapid physical decline many suspect, but on the player’s determination. Few buy the excuse.

“I was manager of Bayern, and there the striker was Mario Gomez, and he touched the ball nine times as an average in a game,” Van Gaal said.

“The highest was 14 balls but he scored every game and I don’t think that our strikers touch the ball less. It’s how the balls are coming to him, how he decides, how quick he is in dealing with the situation, it’s much more complicated than everyone is thinking. Players are human beings and they want to score goals but they maybe want it too much. You have to cope with that pressure.”

Meanwhile, this weekend’s opponents Crystal Palace, also lost in the Capital One Cup – 5-1 at the Etihad – to complete three defeats in succession. Palace began the season in fine form, pushing for a place in the top four, but Alan Pardew’s side has now lost four of its last six games. And if United has problems in attack, then so does Palace, with none of the Eagles’ strikers scoring in the Premier League this season.

It points to a game where shape and tactics, and not attacking flair, are likely to come to the fore, despite Palace’s attacking quartet of Jason Puncheon, Dwight Gayle, Bakary Sako and Wilfried Zaha possessing plenty of threat on paper.

“United’s long spells of possession could threaten to drive the atmosphere into a lull, but we need to keep the fans singing along,” said Pardew this week. “United aren’t getting as many shots off as they normally do, but defensively they’re always in a good shape. I expect it to be a fairly cagey game.”

Same as it ever was, it seems.

Team news and line-ups

Crystal Palace v Manchester United, Premier League, Selhurst Park, 31 October 2015

Van Gaal is without attacking duo Memphis Depay and James Wilson after both suffered injuries against Boro in the cup. Antonio Valencia and Paddy McNair are also out, with Luke Shaw a long-term absentee. With Depay injured Ashley Young could come back into the side and Van Gaal could yet move Martial to the striking role in which the young Frenchman has excelled this season. Ander Herrera will miss out if Rooney drops into a deeper role.

“Willo was injured but also Memphis Depay was injured,” van Gaal confirmed on Friday. “It was a very bad game afterwards because we lost on penalties and also we lost two players.”

The home side could be without key midfielder Yohan Cabaye. The French international missed the midweek defeat at City because of injury. Pape Souare and Joel Ward also miss out, but Puncheon could play at number 10 after recovering from illness. Marouane Chamakh and Connor Wickham remain injured.

Palace subs from:  Speroni, Mariappa, Delaney, Jedinak, Bamford, Mutch, Lee, Bolasie, Campbell
United subs from: Romero, Blind, Pereira, Carrick, Fellaini, Herrera, Lingard

Match officials
Referee: Mike Jones
Assistants: M Mullarkey, A Nunn
Fourth Official: J Moss

Palace 1-2 United

United v Middlesbrough: Reds in ‘the red zone’

Ed October 27, 2015 Tags: , Matches 1 comment
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Strange competition the Capital One Cup. While leading Premier League sides have, for more than 20 years, used the nation’s second cup tournament as a proving ground for youngsters, and an opportunity for fringe players to gain minutes, the practice has seemingly spread. So much so that Championship high fliers Middlesbrough may well not field a full-strength side when the club takes on United at Old Trafford on Wednesday.

Aitor Karanka’s side is just 13 matches into a brutal 46-game Championship season, with England’s second tier a notoriously competitive arena. Last season’s Championship winners, Bournemouth, lost 13 times on route to claiming the league title by a single point. There were just five points between first and fourth, and 12 between first and sixth-placed Ipswich Town. By contrast there were 17 points between Premier League title winners Chelsea and United in fourth, and 25 points to Liverpool in sixth.

If the competitive nature of the Championship leads Karanka to a policy of rotation on Wednesday, few will be surprised, although the team is also more than a little battle hardened. As it should be under a coach who once served as José Mourinho’s apprentice.

Karanka, the former Real Madrid and Spain defender, was appointed manager at Boro in November 2013, replacing local favourite Tony Mowbray. He previously served as assistant manager to Mourinho at Madrid for three years prior to Carlo Ancelotti’s appointment, while as a player Karanka won three Champions League titles in five seasons from 1998, together with La Liga in 2001.

The lofty pedigree might normally have taken Karanka to a more prestigious appointment. It was, perhaps, a brave move from a storied player – both to take a first managerial job in unfamiliar territory and to drop down a division – but one that is bearing early fruit. His side is just five points off the Championship summit and has won eight of the last 10 games.

That spell under Mourinho has seemingly served Karanka well; his side boasts one of the best defensive records in the division. And while the apple seldom falls far from the tree, the Boro coach also cites United manager Louis van Gaal as a secondary, if indirect, influence.

“I played against Van Gaal’s team when he was in Barcelona and Jose was his assistant but we have never met for a chat and I don’t really know him,” he told the Northern Echo .

“But Jose told me all about his CV, his trophies and his career and he is a top, top manager. He is an interesting coach and he is particularly interesting for me because I have learned with Jose and Jose learned from van Gaal. I took the lessons from Jose so I feel I have learned from van Gaal too. Jose always speaks very well of van Gaal.

“He said he has mixed things like everybody to make himself better. Everybody has to take the good things from relationship and he considers van Gaal really positively. I am my own manager but as I learn I would like to think I have taken positive things from strong relationships I’ve had.”

Van Gaal, meanwhile, may look to some of his younger players in the Capital One Cup, although the United manager fielded a strong side in victory over Ipswich in the third round. Still, James Wilson, Jesse Lindgard, and Andreas Pereira will all hope to play some part on Wednesday.

Pereira scored a superb free-kick against Ipswich in a well-received full début for the club. That said, the Brazilian has made just two appearances this season – the other as a substitute in the Champions League – after a highly positive showing on the summer tour of the USA.

While the 20-year-old might ordinarily have gone out on loan this season, especially with the club well stocked in the attacking midfield roles Pereira enjoys, he believes that there is an opportunity to break into Van Gaal’s side.

“It’s good to work with the manager here,” he told United Review. “He’ll bring you into the team if you do well and train well. I have a trust with him and it’s a nice feeling to work with someone who will give you the opportunity. If you do something wrong, he will tell you and, if you do something right, he will tell you.”

Pereira’s opportunity could come with Van Gaal describing a number of his players as “in the red zone” coming into the game. The Dutchman has used rotation sparsely this season, even with a small squad.

Then again, fielding patchwork sides in this competition is a policy that does not always serve manager’s well. Last season’s chastening defeat at MK Dons remains fresh in the memory, while Arsenal’s 3-0 battering at Championship side Sheffield Wednesday also serves as a stark reminder.

Still, history remains on United’s side – the Reds have won 13 of the last 14 home ties in the League Cup. The sole defeat: to then Championship side Crystal Palace.

Team news and line-ups

Manchester United v Middlesbrough, Capital One Cup, Old Trafford, 28 October 2015

Van Gaal is without injured trio Antonio Valencia, Paddy McNair and Luke Shaw, although all eyes will be on captain Wayne Rooney, whose form this season has been the topic of prolonged conversation. Indeed, questions about Rooney’s form noticeably irritated Van Gaal following United’s bore draw with Manchester City on Sunday. The captain will surely play.

Elsewhere first teamers Marouane Fellaini, Memphis Depay and Daley Blind will hope to earn a recall, while Anthony Martial could be in line for a well-earned rest. Ashley Young is fit again, while one of Marcos Rojo, Chris Smalling or Phil Jones could drop to the bench. With Valencia injured, Matteo Darmian comes back into the side, with Lingard set to be retained on the right-wing.

“Valencia is injured,” van Gaal confirmed on Tuesday. “But I have a lot of players in the ‘red zone’ because we have had a lot of matches and we have a lot of matches to play. I have to see if I can use them or not. We need all the days to recover at this moment, so it is difficult to say.”

Meanwhile, Boro will be without Adam Forshaw, Albert Adomah and Christian Stuani through injury. Karanka could deploy City loanee Bruno Zuculini in midfield, with the Argentine joining on a month’s loan on Monday.

United subs from: Romero, Rojo, Pereira, Schweinsteiger, Schneiderline, Mata, Wilson, Martial
Middlesbrough subs from: Fry, Stephens, Amorebieta, Maloney, Zuculini, Nsue, Adomah, Nugent

Match officials
Referee: Lee Mason
Assistant referees: S Long and M Wilkes
Fourth Official: A Woolmer

United 3-0 Middlesbrough

£1 bet club
Memphis to score twice at 15/2

Match graphic by @cole007

Everton v United: pressure piles on Rooney

Ed October 17, 2015 Tags: , Matches 11 comments
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So poor is Wayne Rooney in matches against former club Everton that is tempting to suggest Manchester United is effectively rendered one man short. The Scouser has scored just four times in 18 games against the Toffees and not at Goodison Park since 2007. Indeed, Rooney has suffered plenty of indignity at his former ground, once being substituted by Sir Alex Ferguson in 2008 for fear of an imminent red card, and left out of the matchday squad altogether on another occasion.

Yet Rooney’s form is also in such poor form this season that some fans have come to view the striker’s demotion to the bench as necessary, if not yet inevitable given the captain’s special privileges under manager Louis van Gaal. Rooney has scored five times since August, although three came against Belgian side Club Brugge and another versus Ipswich Town in the Capital One Cup. Just once has Rooney found the net in the Premier League this season. There have been far more inept displays from the striker, including a fortnight ago at Arsenal.

Rooney missed two England games during the international break, and the player’s lack of “match rhythm” met yet give Van Gaal cause to drop his captain with a political safety net in place. Not that the Dutchman appears to hold any less faith in the 29-year-old despite a series of woeful performances this season. Indeed, Van Gaal gave short shrift to media questions about Rooney’s form during his regular Friday press conference.

“His average is not so good [against Everton] so it’s getting time that he changed that pattern. I’m a manager who analyses opponents and gives him advice as to how we can disorganise Everton’s defence and then maybe he can score,” said Van Gaal on Friday.

“For me it is not so important who is scoring. We have scored a lot of goals. In the beginning your criticism was we don’t score goals but now we’ve scored a lot of goals and you’re picking up an individual player and I don’t like that. He’s our captain so that’s very important because his influence is bigger than every other player in our group.”

United began the season struggling to create and convert chances, although Anthony Martial’s introduction has proven to be a catalyst for more effective attacking performances in recent weeks. The youngster has scored four in seven games for his new club, although his performances have merited greater praise still. United scored twice against Wolfsburg in the Champions League, three at home to Sunderland, another three against Ipswich, three at Southampton and three at home to Liverpool. All since Martial joined in early September.

“Have we created enough chances?” Van Gaal asked. “Yes, I think so. I think we have chances to score in every game. Also against Arsenal, after the first 20 minutes we have created a lot of chances. It’s not a given in every team that you can create a lot of chances at 3-0 down and we did it, so that’s the positive thing. But of course it’s very important that out of your chances you score and against Arsenal we didn’t.”

That defeat at Arsenal has prompted something of an internal debate at the club, with United starting the game slowly and – despite the manager’s claim – rarely threatening to get back into the match, albeit the Reds put in a more positive performance in the second period. United’s midfield axis of Bastian Schweinsteiger and Michael Carrick struggled at the Emirates – though much was down to Van Gaal’s odd tactical demands. The German was pushed high up the pitch, too often leaving Carrick to contend with three mobile Arsenal midfielders.

United suffered a similarly cataclysmic defeat at Everton last April, with Rooney particularly ineffective – an seemingly uninterested – as United slipped to a 3-0 defeat on Merseyside. It is a result Van Gaal will want to avenge, especially in light of United’s performance in North London a fortnight ago.

“We are always evaluating ourselves and we cannot accept that,” van Gaal told reporters of United’s performance at Arsenal. “You have to behave like a champion. You have to improve yourself so that in the future you can be the champion. You have to improve every time, which is what I am saying. I have analysed over the two weeks and that is awful when you have such a result. We have spoken about this and that it can’t happen again. ”

Meanwhile, Everton manager Roberto Martinez described last season’s result at Goodison as “comfortable in everything we wanted to do.” It is a damning assessment of United’s ineptitude that day.

Everton’s results are on the up after a difficult start to the campaign, with the Spaniard’s team now unbeaten in seven games – a sequence that includes victory over Chelsea at Goodison and a draw in the Merseyside derby last time out.

Martinez’ side was probably unfortunate not to secure victory in Brendan Rodgers’ last game as Liverpool manager. Still, the Spaniard is counting on a raucous Goodison crowd to earn the home side victory on Saturday. Recent history is with the Toffees – Everton has beaten United on the last three occasions at Goodison. A fourth is unthinkable for Van Gaal and his captain.

“Goodison probably gets at its very best [against United], and when Goodison pushes you with that energy and that voice, as a player you feel the difference, and as a team you feel you can cope with anything that you get in front of you.”

Team news and line-ups

Everton v Manchester United, Premier League, Goodison Park, 17 October 2015

Van Gaal is likely to select Rooney at number 10, with the striker recovered from a minor injury that kept him out of two international games in the past week. Carrick and Schweinsteiger are also fit, as is Phil Jones, who played for England in midweek. The Dutchman could pair Jones with Chris Smalling in central defence, with Daley Blind moving to left-back and Matteo Darmian starting on the right. Although the combination of that quartet could also see three players start outside their normal roles. Stand-in full-back Ashley Young is unfit with a thigh problem and Marcos Rojo not yet fully fit.

“Wayne Rooney, I think he can play and Michael Carrick can play as well,” said van Gaal. “I was very pleased with Jones. He has played for me two times for 15 or 20 minutes. Then he plays for the England team. When I want to select him I can select him for the line-up.”

Meanwhile, Paddy McNair suffered a ruptured kidney as Northern Ireland qualified for Euro 2016 and will miss United’s trip to Everton. Rojo and Ander Herrera trained in Manchester during the international break and should be part of the match-day squad, although neither is likely to start.

“They were injured and they have a rehabilitation period behind their back and everything went well,” Van aal told MUTV. “They are also fit to play – maybe not 90 minutes but you never know.”

John Stones and Seamus Coleman should return for the home side, while former Red Tom Cleverley is also fit. Steven Pienaar and Kevin Mirallas are available after suspension.

Everton subs from: Joel, Browning, Funes Mori, Holgate, Oviedo, Gibson, Lennon, McGeady, Mirallas, Osman, Kone
United subs from: Romero, Rojo, Pereira, Fellaini, Schweinsteiger, Herrera, Lingard, Valencia, Wilson

Match officials
Referee: Jonathan Moss
Assistants: A Halliday, D Cann
Fourth Official: R Madley

Everton 1-1 United

£1 bet club
Wayne Rooney to be sent off at 25/1

Match graphic by @cole007

United v Wolfsburg: Van Gaal looks to luck for Reds’ success

Ed September 30, 2015 Tags: , Matches 1 comment
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Ambition. Wayne Rooney once accused the club of lacking a certain quantum of it. There’s certainly no lack of appetite to regain credibility in European circles, but the ‘process’ – as Louis van Gaal might put it – is ongoing. The Dutchman was winner of the Champions League with Ajax and a finalist at Bayern Munich; and he has aspirations to regain the trophy with Manchester United before he retires in 2017. Van Gaal has two seasons to achieve that goal.

Talk of victory in Europe’s premier competition is, of course, premature, especially after United’s loss at PSV Eindhoven. The defeat places the club’s status firmly in context, almost five years after the last of three finals in four seasons between 2008 and 2011. Instead, United is now a club now rebuilding its reputation on the continent after missing out on European football altogether last season.

If anything, the loss in Eindhoven served to highlight United’s regression – and talk of the club’s lowly European status will resurface if this campaign proves to be shorter than anticipated. And it may well be should Van Gaal’s men suffer another reverse on Wednesday night against a tough Wolfsburg side. PSV proved there are no guarantees even if United faces none of Europe’s élite clubs in Group B.

Still, Van Gaal’s ambition remains and the Dutchman appears content with the “progression in the maturity and balance of the team” – especially since Antony Martial came into the side to add a genuine high-class number nine where Rooney once roamed. It leaves United’s manager dreaming of success this season, perhaps ahead of the Dutchman’s own schedule.

“Reaching the final is an aim and winning the final is a little bit of luck,” said Van Gaal on Monday.

“I think Manchester United knows and remembers that fantastically, when they won the Champions League, because I saw at that time the people of Bayern Munich already going downstairs and then they scored in the last minute and, in injury time, Manchester United scored. You can say that was quality but when you have seen the match then you know it was not like that. So you need also luck.

“To get in the final, that is already a fantastic result. In the media, it is nothing because second is not the best. That’s the only thing that counts. But, for me, as a manager, I have to say when you reach the final then you have done fantastically. If you win the final then, of course, all the honours go to your team and yourself but I know better.”

For now United seek both quality and luck with Wolfsburg in town on Matchday 2. The German side enjoyed an unbeaten start to the season until faced with Robert Lewendowski’s Bayern Munich last week. The Polish striker scored five and nine minutes as Die Wölfe suffered the wrong end of a 5-1 defeat. It’s a result that might offer a false impression of Wolfsburg’s quality.

One of Van Gaal’s key players at Old Trafford is likely to be Bastian Schweinsteiger, the first German to play for the club. Schweinsteiger has become increasingly dominant in recent weeks as the 31-year-old’s fitness levels have increased, while the player’s natural leadership skills have come to the fore. Rooney may be the club’s official captain, but Schweinsteiger has become it’s leader. Against fellow German internationals Julian Draxler and Max Kruse, Schweinsteiger’s experience may tell.

“He was my former captain with Philipp Lahm at Bayern Munich so I think that he is also very worthwhile off the pitch,” added Van Gaal.

“You can see it already now because he is already accepted as a leading player, and that is why also we have bought him from Bayern Munich. I believe in the mixture between youth and older players. He is an example for the younger players to follow so I am very happy with him.”

Meanwhile, Dieter Hecking’s side enjoyed a 1-0 win over CSKA Moscow on Matchday 1, although the side could only manage a draw with Hannover at the weekend – a hangover, perhaps, from heavy defeat to Munich. Hecking lost Kevin de Bruyne in the summer – a player who had contributed 43 goals and assists combined last season. Yet, the replacements are high quality too: £25 million attacking midfielder Draxler and Germany international Kruse. Both should start against United on Wednesday.

The club has achieved little in European terms, although the side made the Europa League quarter-finals last season. Still, Hecking’s side has an early advantage in four-horse race – with United already playing catch-up.

“I don’t have dreams. I prefer reality and there is a lot of hard work in front of us, but we are in a good position after our home win against Moscow,” said Hecking.

“We are aiming to get a result. If we can get a result it will give us confidence. We are facing a good team and most will expect a home win and before the draw I would have said United would have finished top of the group. Their defeat at PSV makes it more interesting. That creates a bit of pressure for United. It is up to us to increase the pressure on them.”

History is on the Reds’ side at least. United has never lost the first two games of a Champions League campaign, while no German team has kept a clean sheet in the past 16 Champions League games against United.

The test is real though – just the kind of fixture where Schweinsteiger adds most value. The German captain adds experience and high quality in a team that has little in European terms, as a unit, of the former and has inconsistently applied the latter.

“I scored my first goal for Bayern away at Wolfsburg, so I have good memories,” said Schweinsteiger. “But I always remember it wasn’t easy to play against them. They were always tough matches. Wolfsburg have a good team, especially over the last three or four years. They have improved a lot.”

Team news and line-ups

Manchester United v VfL Wolfsburg, Champions League,  30 September 2015

Van Gaal is without midfielders Michael Carrick and Ander Herrera with minor injuries. Antonio Valencia faces a late test, but could start at right-back. Marcos Rojo has missed the past two matches with a hamstring problem picked up at Southampton and did not feature in training on Tuesday. Phil Jones or Paddy McNair could play if Valencia does not make the team, with Daley Blind moving to left-back.

Van Gaal is again likely to deploy Rooney at number 10 behind French teenager Martial, with support from Juan Mata and Memphis Depay from wide areas. Van Gaal may draft one of Donald Love, Guillermo Varel, James Weir and Josh Harrop into the matchday squad.

Wolfsburg midfielder Luiz Gustavo has a knee injury, while defender Robin Knoche, winger Vieirinha and goalkeeper Koen Casteels are also out of the game.

United subs from: Romero, McNair, Varela, Love, Weir, Harrop, Pereira, Fellaini, Valencia, Young, Wilson
Wolfsburg subs from: Grün, Schäfer, Ascues, Felipe, Jung, Arnold, Seguin, F Rodríguez, Bendtner

Match officials (HUN)
Referee: Viktor Kassai
Assistant referees: György Ring, Vencel Tóth
Additional assistant referees: Tamás Bognar, Ádám Farkas
Fourth official: Peter Berettyán

United 2-1 Wolfsburg

£1 bet club
Draxler and Martial to score @ 11/1

Match graphic by @cole007