The Three Pillars: Manchester United

Article 4 | The Three Pillars

I’ve just witnessed three back to back losses, followed by a less than satisfying victory over Northampton in the EFL Cup. Even the most bias of Manchester United fans cannot deny that these results are a cause for concern. You can argue that Mourinho needs some time to settle and identify the correct balance within the line up before we can see a consistency in our results.

This case can then be countered with the knowledge that Guardiola seemingly doesn’t require the same time to adapt judging from his results and style of play. Again, I would challenge this with Pep arguably having inherited a maturer squad than ours. All of this aside, I call for a moment of calm. Manchester United fans are quick to get carried away with a run of good form, and quicker to turn on their players when it isn’t going our way. Thanks Alex Ferguson, because your historical run of glorious consistency has quite possibly brought us to the front of the fickle fan club, if there were one.


If you recall, my first article touched on the truths of our challenges this season. I made it clear that this wouldn’t be plain sailing for Mourinho and this is truer and clearer than ever now. Hindsight is a beautiful thing, but the facts are that the days of absolute dominance are behind us – but do they have to be?

We have a great squad and one I have faith in, but we cannot hide behind the reality that our greatest challenge and failure to win the title could boil down to quite simply a lack of consistency. To feel invincible is not just a state of mind over a couple weeks, but rather months and even years of winning. Leicester went under the radar last season with 1-0 wins, the odd draw here and there, building up a sense of invincibility that seemingly set them up for one of the most unlikely upsets in Premier League history. How to achieve this consistent run of form is a different, much harder question to answer, but I put it down to three main pillars.


I’ve already touched on the importance of having in-form full backs and wider players offering a team width and delivery, but strangely enough my first pillar focuses primarily on the centre spine of a team to be the greatest influence. Look back to any worthy long term dominating team – truthfully, Manchester United, Arsenal, and a short period for Chelsea. These are the only three that come to mind in my day. A goalkeeper that commands his area with an overwhelming presence, a leader in the back four, out jumping everyone and getting his head to every ball, a man to protect the back four, with the engine to drive forward and turn defence into attack, a playmaker in the centre of the park pin pointing his passes to perfection and effortlessly creating chances, and finally a prolific goal scorer to lead the line getting you 25 goals a season.

Chelsea dominated for a while with the likes of Cech, Terry, Mekelele, Lampard and Drogba. Let us not forget the Invincibles that Arsenal dominated with (Gooners certainly haven’t forgotten!) with the likes of Lehmann, Campbell, Silva, Vieira and Henry.
Manchester United have certainly had a few of these solid combinations over the years. Teams such as Liverpool and Tottenham in my time have always lacked an ingredient or two, and have failed to adopt the correct balance to really reach the level of consistency a title winning team would require. So I ask you, are our current crop of players capable of forming this spine?
David De Gea, Smalling, Pogba, Rooney and Ibrahimovic. Doesn’t sound too bad does it – but is it good enough?

My second pillar – the Hero. The memory of being on the edge of my seat as I watched my beloved Cristiano Ronaldo terrorising teams, is still as vivid as ever in my mind and heart. Having the player that can pop up out of the blue with a moment of sheer brilliance and possessing the quality and belief to win a game on his own. A Messi, an Henry, a Cantona – the list goes on. The team must come first, yes, but you cannot deny there isn’t a squad out there that has managed to dominate consistently without a hero stepping up to the plate and getting the job done in style. A player that doesn’t shy away from taking that shot, going on that run, finding that impossible pass – a belief with absolutely no ceiling. With that in mind, we arrive conveniently to my third and final pillar – Confidence.


I remember watching Vidic and Evra’s first few games for United, and if my memory serves me correctly, they were brought into the Manchester United squad at the same time. Between them I cringed at their clumsy play, lacklustre passing and heavy touches. It’s safe to say that their performances raised a few eyebrows and both their places at the club was certainly in question. I needn’t elaborate on how even the smallest dose of confidence can transform a player and these two examples illustrate this point perfectly. They both went on to become the greatest players named on the Manchester United team sheet.
The United manager, of course, has a role to play in the success of our young and talented team reaching their potential. Ultimately Mourinho’s objective is to communicate his (and United’s) philosophy to the players and coaches, and influence their growth in confidence to the best of his ability. With this will come results.

Right now we are screaming out for a Hero to step up and it could be one of a few players in our squad. I believe in the players we have, but I’d say we lack a bit of balance within our spine, which needs addressing. We rely on width and excitement, running at defences and playing through the channels. With the final ingredient of confidence, we could be a force to be reckoned with. There you go, football 101 – the three pillars. If only it was that easy.

Reigning champions Leicester on the weekend – let’s get the win lads!


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Sofa Sports News Podcast – Premier League Round up!

This week Premier League fans were in for a treat, the new ‘Friday Night Football’ featured the weeks stand-out fixture – I think we could get used to this!

Game of the Week: Chelsea (Costa ’61) 12 Liverpool (Lovren ’17, Henderson ’36) 

Liverpool registered their 3rd league win of the season with an impressive victory at Stamford Bridge.  Antonio Conte’s side went into the fixture unbeaten and not many would have backed Jurgen Klopp’s men to take all three points back to Merseyside.  Liverpool have beaten both Arsenal and Chelsea away from home in the early weeks and comprehensively beat last seasons champions Leicester City at Anfield.

Talk of Liverpool for the title has begun surfacing and I for one think its premature.  I can’t help but feel they will fall short defensively and over the years they have been known for pushing the self-destruct button come the business end of the season.  For more on Liverpool click here!  As for Chelsea, Antonio Conte suffered his first defeat of the season and after last weeks draw at Swansea he may have to rethink his approach.  As a talented manager/tactician I’m certain the Italian will scrutinize their recent performances and it won’t be long before they are back to winning ways.


Performance of the Week: Watford F.C.

This was a tough decision to make, I have to say I considered giving the Sofa Sports News Performance of the Week to Tony Pulis’ West Brom.  Based purely on the quality of the opponent I decided to give it to Watford.  Walter Mazzari’s Hornet’s piled more misery onto the ‘Special One’ – Who’s special? Don’t make me laugh!

An organised, physical and hungry Watford side registered their second win of the season after their impressive come back at the Olympic Stadium just a week earlier.  Odion Ighalo missed a sitter early on when the returning Chris Smalling and David De Gea made a meal of an aerial ball.  Thankfully for the Hornets Etienne Capoue continued his impressive goal scoring form and late goals from Zuniga and Deeney completed the victory.

Jose was quick to shift the blame from himself and criticized the officials post-match.  I guess he just does that wherever he goes, if you refer to an old article I submitted you will see what I mean…click here!  If I was a United fan I’d have questioned his team selection once again, but who am I to judge! 🙂

That leads me onto the next section nicely…


Worst Performance of the Week: West Ham Utd

Has Slaven Bilic completely lost it at West Ham?  A discussion I never thought I would have so early on in the season – it’s clear that the fans remain behind their manager but whats gone wrong in the past few weeks?

Having surrendered a two goal lead at home last week I was tempted to label that as a one off.  Saturday’s defeat at WBA  has done nothing to ease the pressure on the Croatian and to concede four goals in two games running vs the kind of opposition they should be turning over has set the alarm bells ringing.

It’s far too early to panic but having moved into the Olympic stadium and having crashed out of the Europa League in the qualifying round the Irons will no doubt be aiming to secure the European football that stadium deserves.

For the rest of this weeks Premier League Results click here!


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Fortune Favours the Bravo as Guardiola gets big wake up call!

Fortune favours the Bravo as Guardiola gets big wake up call

Whilst Manchester City were deserved winners of the much anticipated derby, there were two men very lucky to end on the winning side. Claudio Bravo, and Pep Guardiola.

The Chilean turned in one of the worst debut displays from a goalkeeper I can recall and with it left a black mark on his new manager’s copy book.

Guardiola’s big statement to announce his arrival at the club was to ruthlessly castaway fan favourite, long time number 1 Joe Hart and bring in Claudio Bravo. So keen was he to make clear how much he rated the keeper higher than England’s number 1 that he didn’t even wait for Bravo to sign before making Hart play second fiddle to Willy Caballero.
The message clear, to play the perfect football with which he is associated Bravo is the better fit, Hart nowhere near the grade.


Whilst Hart is by no means the perfect goalkeeper those who felt his treatment by the Spanish manager harsh will feel a lot stronger this evening.

I’d predicted a 3-1 win for City prior to the match and the game played out almost exactly as I’d expected. City have more of their big players already established within the club and got off to a fast start, before United rallied and left themselves exposed on the break countless times having pushed forward once regaining a foothold in the game. It wasn’t only a killer 3rd goal missing from City’s performance though. Although Otamendi put in a good display, defensively at times they looked stretched and their new number 1 threatened on a handful of occasions to ruin the Old Trafford party.

City were so comfortable before the keeper gifted a goal when flapping at a deep cross, and later almost gave away a goal then a penalty and red card in correcting in his error. It was a reckless challenge and a big foot on the ball helped him get away with one. There were more flaps at crosses and even when the balls were gathered it was surely uncomfortable viewing for the travelling fans. He was even caught dithering on the ball when trying to pass it out, unable to execute the very attribute he was signed for.

For Pep, his credentials as a coach are tough to question, and his ability to impose his style on the sides he has managed demonstrate his ability. He will need to install some confidence in his new goalkeeper and fast.

The premier league is regarded by many as the best league in the world but for those who aren’t rose tinted that accolade is granted for excitement levels rather than technical ability. If Pep Guardiola thinks he will be able to turn up here and Tika Taka his way to league titles playing out from his own 6 yard box he is mistaken, and a lot of the sides whom will present him with a tougher more physical away opponent than he faced today will have been very enthused by what they saw, which was an opposing keeper whose weaknesses will play straight into their hands.


Claudio Bravo provided this game with a lot of unnecessary excitement but the lack of technical ability will have a lot of Manchester City’s fans scratching their heads about the events of the transfer window. Pep still has 4 wins from 4 and won’t therefore be concerned but this will need to be a one off. He will not want to suddenly be questioned and have opinions divided due to a goalkeeper who proves to be a backwards step in a risk he just didn’t need to take.

As for tonight though, a puff of the cheeks, a chance to rethink some strategies and two men very lucky to be the toast of Manchester.

Continue reading “Fortune Favours the Bravo as Guardiola gets big wake up call!”

Jose vs Pep – Manchester Derby Preview

Jose vs Pep Manchester Derby Preview 

The Story so far…

United have made a great start so far with three wins out of a possible three, leaving it late against Hull. Mourinho has galvanized the mood around the club. Manchester City haven’t exactly had a bad start either scoring at least 2 goals in 6 of their last 7 matches in the Premier League

Team news…

Mourinho will have most of his first team players fit aside from a couple. Armenian midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan, is a major doubt, as is Luke Shaw. Fellaini picked up a back injury whilst on Belgium international duty, but reports indicate he should make the game. On the plus side, Marcus Rashford has had a great couple of weeks both internationally and netting the match-winner against Hull. I expect the Midfield and front six to be Pogba, Fellaini; Martial, Rooney, Mata; Ibrahimovic

Aguero’s suspension is the obvious blow for the away side. Star midfielder De Bruyne doesn’t look at his best, though Raheem Sterling seems to have rediscovered some magic following the largely unfair blame placed on him at the Euros.  The question is whether Pep plays Nolito in a central role or opt for 19-year-old forward Kelechi Iheanacho. It’s a tough one. I’d personally go for Nolito but Pep is a risk taker and Iheanacho starting wouldn’t surprise me.



Guardiola’s tendency to involve his full backs more during the buildup, his use of a lone pivot and the choice of creative central midfielders is already similar to that of his previous teams. The likes of Clichy and Sagna are much more involved in the buildup rather than being an outlet. Fernandinho is the sole defensive player and has excelled thus far. His job is to help his side build from the back, controlling the tempo and then dropping back to cover when one of the centre backs advance with the ball. David Silva has been used in the Iniesta role so far and the Spaniard has taken to it really well. My favourite Premier league star is proving he is far from finished at the top level just yet. The lone forward has the license to drop deep, with Nolito and Sterling’s roles resembling that of Villa and Pedro at Barca.

Mourinho identified the lack of a physically imposing centre back at Manchester United. In came Bailly as well as a midfielder to help in quick transitions and drive the team forward- Paul Pogba. Mourinho likes his defenders to give the ball as quickly as they can do the more creative players and attack with powerful box to box midfielders. You don’t tend to see the sidewards possession build up that Pepe loves, instead using Ibra to hold up play and act as a target man

This will be a fascinating contest- power vs possession, with one manager believing if you keep the ball the other team can’t do anything, and the other believing you risk conceding if you take too long to create a chance. Mourinho mentioned in his autobiography “Whoever renounces possession reduces the possibility of making a mistake” and “whoever has the ball has fear”..

Marouane Fellaini, if fit, will be instructed to stop David Silva. He has done a very good job so far in breaking up the play, and Silva vs Fellaini (or the replacement holding Midfielder) will inevitably play a key part in determining how the match unfolds.


Pep vs Jose…

Matches played: 16
Guardiola: 7
Mourinho: 3
Drawn: 6

Betting and SSN predictions…

Ibra is 5/4 to score anytime or get a 0-0 at 9/1.

The bookies slightly prefer United, which I presume is based partly on Aguero being suspended. However, the predictions below show what a tight game this is, between most people’s two title contenders and top 2 coaches in world football.

Alavi: 1-1

Deluca: 3-1 City

Harry: 1-0 United

Andy: 2-1 United

Pos: 2-1 United

Image source:


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The Rise of Rashford – Man Utd

Game week 3, a cultured Fergie time winning goal by our homebred star Marcus Rashford against a stubborn Hull City who’s game plan to cement all their men behind the ball remained well executed until the dying seconds. Wave after wave we pushed on for the goal, and I have to say for the first time in a long time I didn’t loose faith. I believed the goal would come I really did. I am a firm believer that to truly contend for title, you need to find a way, and we did exactly that.


We watched our beloved super sub Ole Gunnar Solskjaer secure many last minute winners for us in the past, but here is the important question I have for today’s discussion – Is Rashford more than simply a super sub?

Solskjaer proved invaluable to us, famous for his reputation as one of the most effective impact players in history. He would be used sporadically throughout the season rather than game in game out. This option often providing us with a dynamic plan b, and despite oppositions having knowledge of the eventual use of our prolific substitution, they would rarely be able to stop the goal. Fergie’s awareness of the necessity of having a strong squad rather than just a strong 11 proved our greatest asset. A true Manchester United player would need to respect this philosophy.

What distinguishes a player from being relied upon as a regular starter versus an impact player? Is this a role that you start with – or rather evolve into. In 1999 we had at our fingertips the likes of Yorkie, Cole, Sheringham up top, with Giggsy and Becks providing width – looking back Solskjaer being unable to break into the starting line up isn’t really too surprising. A player gifted with the attributes and mental stability to not require match practice to perform at the highest level. To sustain a lethal first touch and confidence in front of goal without a guaranteed starting place in the team. Are we simply kidding ourselves in thinking that the modern day footballer is capable of keeping his head up with only the responsibility to be brought off the bench.

Is it me, or do players of this generation seem to demand more and more. Could it be that our footballers’ reliance on this constant nurturing is what creates such a dilemma when it is suggested that his role will be that of a ‘super sub’? Once upon a time this would be deemed as a vital contribution to the team and one that a player could consider a privilege and tribute to the collective goal and road to trophies. 16 years on and we find ourselves up against a challenging reality. A transition in the game which sees players now label that very same treatment as a lack of belief in their ability.

Into the present, at our disposal we have Ibra, Rooney, Martial and Mata all starting. Mkhitaryan, Depay, Lingard and Rashford on the bench all waiting for their chance to prove themselves. Martial has proven instrumental in his recent form, and is developing into a fine player. In the background lurks our new £30 million signing from Dortmund, a proven star in the making who has proven he can deliver at the highest level. With Rooney almost guaranteed a starting place, and a well deserved one at that for our captain, it seems that Rashford’s time simply isn’t now. Yes I believe he will come in when needed on a rotational basis, and even feature in front of Ibra who could drop back to a number 10 role on occasion. I’d be happy seeing Rashford come in on either side having seen him perform. This versatility can only benefit his chances of featuring throughout the season. The chances will come, and we are blessed with a strong squad at present. Whether his long term future with us will be to feature as an impact sub or not will only be apparent in the next few years. Let us not forget the boy is only 18 years old. The bigger picture is Manchester United football club and the success of our club will boil down to the facilities we have, the back room staff, the manager, all the registered players and most importantly, me.

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Man Utd: It all starts from the back

Man Utd | It all starts from the back

Cover Image:


Game week 2, we secured a solid 2-0 victory over Southampton, with a noticeably impressive display from our debutant Paul Pogba (for a second time in his career) to go with it. As each game goes by, José Mourinho is undoubtedly succeeding in erasing the painful memories of the past few years. But it’ll take more than back-to-back wins alone to fully suppress my pain, so let’s push on. My analysis of the game last Friday touches on the areas in which I consider most improved, and more importantly, most valuable to our victory.


I wouldn’t go as far to say our display was perfect, but we are certainly flirting with word. I’m pleased to say there were on occasion spells I like to describe as ‘edge of my seat’ moments which I welcome more of. Special periods of dominance that take me back to the Ferguson years. I remember back in the day, we would quite literally overwhelm the opposition with our waves of attacks, which we would sustain at the same high intensity from start to finish until a goal came – to put it bluntly, these are our expectations. Constant pressure, attacks from wide areas, dominance in the middle of the park and clinical in front of goal – yes, we are the most spoilt fans in the world.



May I remind you it is our young man between the sticks that has been awarded our player of the year for the past two years running, and I am chuffed to note that his name was merely whispered by the commentary throughout the contest. Let’s face it, if David De Gea isn’t awarded a single man of the match again this season, then I would be over the moon. I am a strong believer that to win and challenge consistently for titles, it all starts from the back. We have a young man in goal with a growing dominance and stature, and one that it destined to emulate the achievements of Peter Schmeichel and Van de sar. With that in mind, it is the duty of our back line, and the support of our midfielders to ensure that we limit our reliance of his unquestionable talent.


I am a big fan of our new singing Bailly, he reminds me of a young Kolo Toure who quickly found himself the centre of attention in the Highbury stadium all those years ago. He arrived on the scene, gloves off and ready to fight, which is exactly what we’ve missed since the departure of our former captain Nemanja Vidić. It is the grit of players such as these who win you points. I will mention this from now; I am a firm believer that the full backs are one of if not the most valuable positions to a team in the modern game. Teams often set up in a 4-3-3 formation, and I notice on occasion this resulting in the three at the top becoming increasingly isolated.

This heightens the necessity in providing a link between the back and the front – turning defense into attack, and doing it sharply. This isn’t an easy ask, and I believe that the contribution of the full backs prove incredibly vital in achieving this. The position in its most advanced form screams out for a long list of effective attributes. It requires direct and fast movement up the park, a brave and ambitious outlook on the game, the intelligence and stamina to track back, hold the line and deliver with his defensive duties also. Luke Shaw – a young man who not only ticks all the boxes at such a young age, but has also had to overcome his demons and return from a horrific double break to his leg. He has seemingly returned with a vengeance and is learning more each game. One for the present and the future, so I hope he manages to remain fit and healthy. Antonio Valencia – as a full back his willingness to charge forward is a tribute to the modern game, and as an adapted winger, this man is as effective as they come. Fitness, strength, delivery into the box, his tendency to track back, I agree with Herrera’s recent comments that he is one of the best around. In fact I would have overlooked the goals from Ibra, and the fantastic debut from Pogba, and rewarded Antonio Valencia with the man of the match last Friday. 


Okay Man United fans are you ready, because it’s finally time to get excited about something. Paul Pogba – absolutely the real deal. Positioning, Offensively, Give and go, Bravery into a challenge and Awareness of his team mates and opposition. I’ve annoyingly spelt Pogba in my choice of descriptive words there, apologies. But you catch my drift. He delivers on every level a box-to-box midfielder needs to in the modern game, and his youth is one of them. Defence into attack quicker than you could hope for as we looked on whilst his long marathon evolved legs relentlessly driving us forward. A blink of the eye and the boy is tracking back, and if you dare blinked again, he’s having a shot on goal. I do concede the element of bias here having only played one game, but my hopes are high (please don’t turn into a Veron, because he broke my heart). Henrikh Mkhitaryan – yet to have a chance to prove his ability, which is a shame. I feel as though Mata’s experience and eagerness to track back and inside with his defensive duties is what is keeping his name on the team sheet. It’s a long season, with a lot of games to play, and I do believe that once Mkhitaryan has a chance to prove his worth, it’ll be hard not to pick him. For the time being, I ought to confess he’s out of my fantasy football team. But I’ll keep the faith.


In summary the overall performance should be applauded, but I sense we’re yet to show our full potential. Ibra, Rooney, Pogba, Martial – players that are showing glimpses of brilliance as a team going forward, demonstrating fast moving link up play, effective flicks and lay offs, and an overall heightened team spirit. I speak for all fans, that when you witness players in post match interviews flowing in confidence, oozing with personality much like we saw from Ibra and Pogba on Friday after the game, the spirit of the fans intensifies. This is what we want to see, so from where I stand, things can only get better.


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The Red One – Manchester United

The Red One – Manchester United


Finally we’ve kicked off – The wait, albeit softened by the Euros, has been as painful as any other year. The closer we got the louder my cheers around my flat became and the longer my fiance held her head in her hands. As we prepare for another unpredictable season , I can’t help but  wonder whether I am the only one who puts as much effort into discovering new ways for the lady in my life to occupy herself for hours at a time on the weekend as I do positioning myself comfortably in front of the TV enjoying as many chicken wings as possible.

Now I’ve gotten that off my chest, I‘ll introduce  myself. I go by Andy, I’m a passionate Manchester United fan, and yes I live in London. It is true my trips to Old Trafford aren’t anywhere near as frequent as I’d like them to be and I am therefore maybe not the best guy for this job, but I’ll never miss a game, through whatever means possible . Personally I feel as though I approach United in an unbias fashion, however much like any and every footballing fan, I can’t help notice on occasion how I typically ignore the hard truths and run hard and far with glimmers of any hope that one day soon we will return to the force we once were under the guidance of a certain Sir Alex Ferguson. A dream that I still believe will simply remain a dream.

I am certain every Manchester United fan out there believes our new manager Jose Mourinho will be the man to return us to fame – well let me start off with what I feel is the hard truth that some struggle to accept – it simply isn’t going to happen. Have you ever played a game, whether it be fifa, football manager or table tennis, and seemingly appeared invincible? You can’t quite put your finger on why, but of course you embrace the winning streak, puff your chest out and meet every expectation along the way. This is how I see Manchester United for the past 20 years. Of course it is the one and only Sir Alex Ferguson that gave us such belief. Anyone who believes the squad David Moyes took over was good enough to win anything soon found out the hard way as we watched our average at best squad of players struggle and finish outside the top four for the first time in god knows how many years. Sure that belief we had may return for periods, and Mourinho may dominate in his impressive way from time to time, but for how long is the question. This doubt honestly didn’t exist before, and it is for that reason alone I question our future dominance of the league. I hope I’m wrong.

Let us not ponder over our recent failures. If it’s alright with you I would rather leave them in the past and look to the future, which at least for the next season or two does actually appear quite bright. Everyone is surely wondering whether Mourinho will be able to have an instant impact on United, similar to his other pit stops. And I use the word pitstop carefully and worryingly. Only the future will reveal how long term Jose intends to be apart of our illustrious club. One thing I will say for sure is that as a passionate United fan, I am only interested in the long term. Would I have rathered Ryan Giggs in the front seat, knowing that trophys and dominance would likely take a back seat – good question. Yes we would play the ‘United’ way, but in this day and age is that even enough anymore? More to the point in the football world we live in would he even be given the time to achieve this. I actually believe the appointment of Jose Mourinho is the right decision for our club given the circumstances. We all know that the Wengers  and Fergusons  have been well and truely replaced by the Guardiolas and Mourinhos. Like it or not, that is the reality, and with this reality, spending money for the sole purpose of winning trophies is all that matters. If you choose to remain in the past, spend wisley and build a team in a respectable fashion, as admirable as it is, you become an Arsenal.


To set the scene, I’ve just watched United beat  Bournemouth, and I have to admit that despite the mediocre opposition, I’m extremely excited . The likes of Pogba (suspended) Zlatan, Mkhitaryan, Martial and more gives us as big a chance as any, and I do think with the likes of City and Chelsea appointing new managers too, that we are well positioned to bring the Premiership back to Old Trafford. Two final points to be made. One, I believe that Mkhitaryan will prove to be the signing of the season, and two, I want to see Memphis Depay feature this season a lot more.

Comon United!


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New Season, New Manager, New Team. But More Regretfully, New Club. – Manchester United

New Season, New Manager, New Team. But more regretfully, New Club. – MUFC

Manchester United kick off the new campaign today and all eyes will firstly be fixed on Jose Mourinho, followed closely by Zlatan Ibrahimovic. If Paul Pogba was not suspended a large part of the pre-match camera focus will have been on him; he is now after all the most expensive player ever.

What may be forgotten in all of the furore and excitement around a new season, is Manchester United are no more, and the death of the football club my generation knew is complete.

Manchester United have been the unrivalled pinnacle of English football for the last quarter of a century, and their success was built on their own foundations. A commitment to promotion of youth, an unrivalled academy through the 90s and when the time came to invest it was often bringing in the best from Britain rather than bringing in the top players from abroad.

Beckham, Scholes, Neville and of course Giggs. Before that, George Best, Nobby Stiles, Norman Whiteside and Mark Hughes. Over a hundred players have completed the journey from Manchester United’s academy to an international cap. Adnan Januzaj completed the century when capped by Belgium in 2014.

The players bought in to supplement the class of 92 during the early part of the Ferguson reign were often the finest the Premier League had to offer, Berg, May, Keane, Cole, Yorke, Sheringham and Eric Cantona. No need for huge named foreign imports as United conquered England, and later Europe in 99 as part of an unprecedented treble.

Whilst some players from abroad have come and been hits, it’s not often been the ones at the top of European football at the point of signing. The two stand out players arriving at the peak European football in since the 21st century, Veron and Di Maria have been massive disappointments. The successes i.e. Stam, Vidic, Ronaldo, Van Nistelrooy were not the same level of household name, and came to United to part of something special and go from strength to strength.

In order to keep up with United the goalposts moved dramatically, Chelsea and their Russian millions changed English football, Manchester City the next side to be gifted a new stadium and Middle eastern riches followed, only Arsenal were able to challenge the United dominance legitimately and in a way that should satisfy a football purist, albeit relying heavily on foreign imports but at the same time blooding young talent and a manage who was then innovative in training techniques that helped raise the bar. After each challenge United always found a way to respond, winning another title to end the challenges of the pretenders to the crown of English footballs premier  club, dismissing their two London rivals in Champions League ties, albeit riding their luck in 2008 against Chelsea.


Manchester United had achieved that largely maintaining their principles, sure the prices paid for players went up and the quality of players coming through from the academies were struggling to live up to the talent of 92, but this was always going to be the case as football was well on its way to modernization. The majority of successes were still from the influx of the best the Premier League had to offer at the time, the likes of Ferdinand, Carrick, Berbatov, Robin Van Persie, Tevez and Wayne Rooney.

Sure, there were times that United used their power to their advantage. Tapping up, mind games, plastering referees in press conferences, and challenging the league over fixtures. But it was never done in as little class as some of the challengers that followed.

Another part of the United and Ferguson ethos was the fact the no one is bigger than Manchester United. Stam, Van Nistelrooy, Keane, Beckham all left the club when the time was right for the club, but a chink in the armour was the surrender to Wayne Rooney’s transfer request and wage demands a few seasons back. Was this the first sign maybe of United struggling to keep up with the money men in terms of attracting players or a lack of commitment to bring youth players to level they need to be at as the league became more competitive?

What category would Ibrahimovic fit into? A man who clearly has an ego that far outweighs any contribution one player can make to a football club. Huge wages at the age of 34 too. Would he really have been the type of player Ferguson would have signed even 5 years ago?

Or what about Mourinho? A talented manager of course but not a man who employs a style of football that dazzles on the eye, and not someone who’s behaviour and antics really befit this football club. Nor does his short term approach to club management. Moyes may not have been the right appointment for the club, but it was a statement that the club was about more than big big names, Louis Van Gaal was ultimately replaced for a lack of style and his behavior off of the pitch, but has been replaced by a man of similar mould, albeit more current and at the top of his career rather than at the end of it.

It’s ironic to me though that a man was sacked by Manchester United the day after winning the FA Cup, when it was the capture of that very competition that saved Fergusons job and propelled the club into the golden era.

Mourinho’s appointment of course has also spelt the end of Giggs’s uninterrupted time at the club, as a satisfactory position for him amongst the backroom staff could not be found. I wonder how that situation sits with the green and gold scarf bearers.

Two players who were not mentioned earlier when referencing academy players were Paul Pogba, and Marcus Rashford. The thought of a club like Manchester United buying back a youth player they released for almost £90m is just unfathomable. Paying a world record fee for someone who was virtually given away a few short years ago. It feels sadly like a case of not being bothered to develop him properly, and then not being bothered to develop someone else to fill the gap. No regard for the accounts that fans supplement. The signing of Pogba is the first time in history that Manchester United have broken the world transfer record when signing a player. Of measure of their strategy now against where it has been in their history maybe? Noted, the TV money in English football is at its highest ever point, but Manchester United have never been shy of money.


The most promising light of the Van Gaal reign was the entrance of Marcus Rashford, who went from debut to one of the few Englishman to leave the Euros with his head still high, and you can only fear how his game time may suffer under the new regime.

The new season is about to begin, and there is lots of cause for promise amongst the United fanbase, but at the same time the cost is the clubs identity which has been well and truly sold. In just 3 years since Ferguson left, the impossible dream which the club was proudly built upon has been shelved, given up at the first sign of a barren spell.

By the time this has been read Manchester United will have most likely beaten Bournemouth and started their campaign with maximum points, but it is a game historically they would have won anyway.

Whilst it’s not Manchester United’s responsibility to protect footballs values, I can only feel disappointment at the way they have abandoned their own, and in the speed at which they have done so.

Manchester United will rule English football again, but when they do it will never be the way it used to be, and to the truest of their fans it will never feel as good. This is not Manchester United and it never will be again.

Dan De Luca

Sofa Sports News

LVG unfairly treated or was the change needed? – Harry

Speculation over LVG’s future has been floating around for months now and the Man Utd fan’s have made no secret of their discontent.  His brand of football being questioned week in week out, constant run in’s with the media and failure to qualify for the Champions League meant that LVG’s days were always going to be numbered .  It’s been a strange season in many ways with the so called ‘bigger clubs’ failing to turn up, no disrespect but Leicester City are the Champions and Spurs ALMOST finished runners up.  Kind of says it all really if you ask me!

I’m not writing this piece to defend Mr Van Gaal.  After all, I’m a Gooner and couldn’t care less about the goings on at Old Trafford these days.  However, I am writing this piece to condemn the complete lack of respect shown to LVG by his now former employers. broke the news that Jose Mourinho was set to take over this summer back on the 15th February and unless there is a major breakdown in talks the Portuguese will be taking the hot seat at Old Trafford, just like we said he would! 🙂


This was always going to happen, so what am I complaining about?

The timing of the whole thing was nothing short of disastrous.  Man Utd won their first major trophy in three seasons on Saturday, celebrations were in full swing and we even heard the famous chant of ‘glory, glory Man Utd’ – everything back to normal.  Less than an hour after lifting the FA Cup the news broke.  We are used to seeing false stories flying around social media but this was different, this had gathered pace far too quickly to be inaccurate and all the broadcasters were saying it… Jose Mourinho to replace Louis Van Gaal.

Louis Van Gaal’s team this season have been far from brilliant and he has spent an awful lot of money in the past two years.  They failed to get out of their champions league group and missed out on qualification for next seasons competition.  Their style of play has also been heavily criticised but its not all doom and gloom at Old Trafford.

Under LVG we have seen the emergence of some exciting youngsters, the likes of Rashford, Lingard, Martial (despite the big fee) just to name a few.  The way he has stabilised the defence is something that he deserves credit for, they ended the season with the joint best defence in the league and you have to look at the progression of England’s Chris Smalling under the Dutchman.

When any manager takes over a struggling/under-performing team the main priority must be to make them ‘difficult to beat’ – nobody can deny that he’s achieved that.  The problem is there hasn’t been much progression in the other departments and so much money has been spent.  United fans have been spoilt over the years and want more for their club, does that make Jose Mourinho the right man to take the reigns?

The club have acted unprofessionally and disrespectfully.  The press had LVG up against a wall for months and now the directors have stabbed him in the back.

The way it was leaked was a shambles and their delay in making a statement just made matters worse.  Surely they could have allowed him to celebrate the FA Cup victory before sticking the knife in.

There is a lot of work to be done at Old Trafford and last season proved Jose is no longer as special as he once was.  Huge investment will be necessary and Jose’s appointment could stunt the growth of the youngsters currently at the club.

Will the clubs impatience prevent another potential golden generation coming through?  Only time will tell.

We all know Jose is a winner but considering the fans have been up in arms all season about the style of football was he the right choice?



FA Cup Final Preview – Dan De Luca

And then there were two….

Manchester United and Crystal Palace will contest the 2016 FA Cup final in a repeat of the 1990 showpiece.

For Palace, a chance to win the first major trophy in their clubs history, and for Manchester United an opportunity to end a 11 year drought of lifting the famous trophy since their last triumph against Millwall in 2004.
Hard to believe that the likes of Wayne Rooney and Michael Carrick have never lifted the FA Cup. They will be keen to complete their domestic trophy collections.

Crystal Palace’s form in 2016 has been disastrous, but for the distractions of this cup run, and Alan Pardew will be desperate for his side to pick up one more scalp and land him the trophy he has narrowly missed as both player and manger, notably as West Ham boss in 2006.

His counterpart Louis Van Gaal will view this as an opportunity to answer his critics in England and protect his CV with a trophy. Although his staunchest critics will not consider a win here enough to warrant retaining his job, there’s no doubt the Dutchman would love the consolation of capturing United’s first major trophy since Sir Alex Ferguson left Old Trafford.

Although United will be clear favourites for the final, Palace certainly possess the weapons to cause trouble on the break, they’ve failed to score against United in the twice they’ve met this season, but that shouldn’t be a concern. Pardew has made no secret of his intention to play on the break in the Final, and tactically you can understand why. Their biggest threat is on the counter from the pacey trio of Puncheon, Bolasie and United flop Zaha, and dropping deep would seem to be the approach required to nullify the oppositions biggest threat of in form Martial getting in behind.

One thing we’ve seen consistently from LVG this season is that he’s drilled his side not to be in a hurry, I don’t see them falling into the trap too soon of over committing players into the attack, so I’m expecting a slow burner with plenty of United pressure, but I’m not going to brace myself for fireworks

I wouldn’t rule out Wayne Rooney stealing the headlines in a season where so many have been ready to write him off. It would be ironic if the trusty old guard outshines the young rising star Rashford, who will no doubt steal a lot of the pre match airtime. It’s always interesting how a young star copes on the biggest stage, and despite everything that has gone before, this is the first real test of the lads character.
Jack Grealish you may recall struggled massively last year under the spotlight, and whilst this is a slightly easier assignment on paper than playing for a lesser side against Arsenal, there can be no guarantees at all how he will perform against what will be a typically rigid defence.

It’s a strange situation that the key players in a cup final are the full backs but this is where this one maybe decided. How Valencia and Rojo / young Fosu-Mensah cope against the Palace Trio, versus how Joel Ward supports with the shackling of Martial.

On paper and weighing everything up, United should be able get the job done, but there’s something about United this season that just doesn’t feel right. Everytime you think they may have turned a corner there is a setback. When you started to think they were going to steal a top 4 slot it slipped away when even a draw against West Ham would have done two late goals were conceded. I’ve got a feeling for Palace and really think they could upset the odds finally giving Pardew the piece of silver that has cruelly eluded him in the past.

After the season we’ve had in England, anything less that a Leicester-Palace community shield just doesn’t feel like a fitting end.

I’m predicting not a classic game necessarily but there may be a classic result.

Fun Bet: Palace to win in extra time @ 16/1

FA Cup Semi Final Preview 23/4/2016 – Dan De Luca

The FA Cup has reached Semi Final day, and despite being as pissed off as I normally am this time of year that the venue for these games is Wembley, there are two pretty evenly matched ties to sit back and Enjoy.

Palace play Watford tomorrow on the battle of the underdogs and the 1st prize would be a place in the final and a day out at Wembley….except of course they are already playing there.
Alan Pardew’s sides league form has suffered dramatically at the expense of this cup run and he’ll be hoping to get the best out of his side and get another chance to claim the trophy he came seconds away from winning in 2006 with West Ham.
Watford’s form has dipped a little too since they secured premier league safety and this has coincided with Odion Ighalo’s blistering early season goalscoring form slowing down a tad.
Watford will be hoping to make their first FA cup final since 1984 where they lost to Everton, Palace their first since 1990 where they lost to Manchester United, so either way there is a fair chance of history repeating itself in the showcase in May.
I think Palace are going to get the job done today though, their style better suited to the occasion and just a couple more big players who have been here before. Scott Dann part of Birmingham’s league cup win in 2011, Ward Delaney Jedinak & Zaha were all part of Palaces Wembley playoff promotion win in 2013, which ironically came against today’s opponents Watford in a tight 1-0 win.
This Watford side is a host of new faces, and the Pardew factor here could also top the balance.

The obvious tie of the round sees Manchester United play Everton this evening and in a repeat of the 2009 semi final where the toffees triumphed on penalties.
In a twist of events its Roberto Martinez and not Louis Van Gaal who goes into this game under the most pressure, and despite Everton’s dreadful this is still a tough one to call.
Everton were my pre-tournament each way tips and with just win to before I can collect my spoils, I’m not going to back out on them now. I expect them to be quick out of the blocks and attempt to overpower uniteds midfield area which has been their major weakness this year. Whilst defensively there is a lot to fear, United aren’t exactly free scoring and this could be a rare day where 2 goals might be enough for Everton to upset the apple cart again and bang in the final nail in Louis Van Gaals coffin. The biggest threat from United may come from Marcus Rashford again and he’ll no doubt look to use the wide space of the big Wembley pitch to utilise his pace against the inconsistent Everton back line. It’ll be interesting to see how he copes on his first Wembley big game outing.

Expect 2 cagey encounters, and possibly more than 180 minutes.

FA Cup Betting:
Palace in 90 minutes @ 7/5
Everton to win 2-1 @ 13/1

How Louis Van Gaal’s anti-United philosophy is poisoning the club.

If it wasn’t obvious already prior to the game against Chelsea – United’s ninth goalless draw of 2015 and our eighth winless game in a row – something is not quite right at United, and it hasn’t been for a while.


Louis van Gaal has epitomised everything that has gone wrong since Sir Alex left in 2013 – the anti-United, if you will. During his first season in charge we saw glimpses of brilliance while the fans (and board of directors) were content with the fourth-place finish that saw us re-enter the Champions League. We were also fooled into a sense of giddiness as the likes of Angel di Maria, Falcao and a host of World Cup stars were brought into the club, with spending exceeding £250million+ and rivaling the buying patterns that so many United fans have ridiculed Chelsea and Manchester City about. However this approach hasn’t worked at all and in reality, given the sort of manager van Gaal is, it was always destined to fail.

His ultra-defensive style has hindered our progression as a team – sucking the attacking spirit out of the side with his insistence on playing slow, unimaginative football – while the grotesque level of financial backing, something no manager in United’s history has been granted so early into their term, has proved to be a waste given his poor utilisation of certain individuals who appear suffocated in his rigid formations.

In addition to the above we are seeing the emergence of a new van Gaal that is becoming more familiar than the cool, calm manager we thought we were getting in the summer of 2014, as his petulance sees him regularly divert the attention off his sides’ poor results by placing it all on his theatrics in the press-room. In the days of social media dominance he, and to a greater extent the proud club he is representing, has now become the butt of many an embarrassing meme.

Of course it doesn’t really matter if he is pleasant and polite in interviews, or whether his behaviour during press conferences (storming out for no reason and unjustifiably demanding apologies from the media instead of discussing football) is atrocious. All that matters is that he backs up this arrogance with wins. Only the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson were able to get away with such behaviour, yet van Gaal, as much as his sterling reputation would suggest otherwise, cannot.

Even after the spirited performance against Chelsea he was at it again, complaining of media “lies” regarding him leaving United rather than addressing our current form. Given that he is indeed still the manager of this club, the reports of his imminent sacking are perhaps entirely untrue, however maybe he should focus more on the facts that matter, i.e. the ones that are justifying such rumours.

Since United’s last win (away to Watford in November) we have been knocked out of the Champions League and convincingly displaced from the top four, dropping to sixth, behind by Tottenham and Crystal Palace in the league. Another defeat at the hands of Swansea in the first game of 2016, with wins for West Ham, Watford and Stoke City, will see us drop to ninth in the table. Given the lack of imagination in front of goal that has dominated our performances throughout 2015/16, it is exactly what van Gaal’s United deserve.


Judging by some of the videos/images from the terraces after Monday’s game it seems as though the fans are still divided in their feelings towards van Gaal. One video showed the die-hards in the Stretford End chanting “Louis van Gaal’s red army” at the end of the game in support of the manager, while some fans were spotted (bizarrely) holding ‘Jose Mourinho’ scarves during the game (above).

Personally, I’m in disagreement with both sides. Van Gaal has never had an army playing for him at United, merely a collection of players he has tried and failed to forge a unique style from, while Mourinho is a man accused of committing virtually identical crimes to van Gaal in alienating his players and losing the dressing room, while showing zero integrity and responsibility, at Chelsea. Is this really the man we expect to outperform van Gaal, restoring a sense of pride and passion in our performances?

One thing is for certain though: van Gaal has utterly ignored the simple principles laid down by Ferguson and Busby before him; never stop advancing and always fight to the end. Instead he favours his own failing ‘philosophy’, and therefore must leave.

His slow, academic style does not suite the culture of the club, the players he has inherited, nor the expensive stars he has recruited. Therefore his unwillingness to consign to the ‘United way’, while thinking his egotistical approach would turn United into winners, has instead turned us into a laughing stock.

From his unimaginative anti-United style of football played on a weekly basis, the undignified manner he carries himself in the press room, and the hundreds of millions he has spent – Van Gaal has never been, and will never be, a United man. And with every game and every disappointing, unfamiliar performance that goes by he continues to poison the proud, great legacy that has been built buy the proud, great leaders of the past.

This manager has clearly run out of ideas, losing control of his players while rapidly tarnishing his and the club’s reputation by failing to record a win in 27 out of 53 games in 2015. For someone so obsessed with doing things his own way, van Gaal needs to finally show some integrity, admitting that his philosophy does not work when it involves rejecting the United way, and resign before things go from bad to worse.

Apostolos’ preview of Man Utd vs West Brom & Predicted XI

Man Utd vs West Brom

Predicted XI | MUFC vs. West Brom (7/11/2015)

GOAL | David de Gea

DEFENCE | Matteo Darmian, Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Marcos Rojo
After picking up his fifth booking of the season against Crystal Palace Matteo Darmian will sit this one out due to suspension, while Valencia and Phil Jones look to be injured. As per the CSKA game on Tuesday evening I think van Gaal will opt for Young at right-back again with Blind in the centre, partnering “Mike” Smalling. Rojo is doing a fine job replacing the long-term injured Luke Shaw at left back.

MIDFIELD | Jesse Lingard, Morgan Schneiderlin, Ander Herrera, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Memphis Depay
Jesse Lingard’s recent (and surprising) inclusion has been a breath of fresh air during what has been a strangely unadventurous, dull spell for United – with the manager favouring a defensive, pedestrian style over attacking football in recent games. Just look at the below table (via highlighting our low number of shots vs. Premier League opponents, while we average one of the highest possession per game in the league!


Mata, who has been a regular on the right, was subbed off for Memphis during Tuesday’s Champions League win vs. CSKA with the Dutchman playing a central role and Lingard moving out on the wing. 10 minutes later Jesse volleys in a peach of a ball to Wayne Rooney who headed in the only goal of the game. Yes, it was one moment of magic out of 404 minutes of lethargic, negative football, but it certainly lifted the team and atmosphere at Old Trafford – one that has been described as frustrating and surreal. Let’s hope he can continue to spark life into this tedious United side.

In my line-up I have also reinstated the services of Herrera, playing behind the forward, and Depay on the left wing, mainly because Young will be forced to play in defence again.

ATTACK | Anthony Martial
Readers of my blog will now exactly where I stand on this one. As much as van Gaal’s tactics need to change in order to enable us to compete seriously for the title and veer away from the “boring” tag that is currently haunting us, he needs to start by playing the best players at his disposal in their best positions. A simple statement perhaps…so why does he insist on playing the out-of-sorts Wayne Rooney up front every week while the sharper, better option in Martial is being wasted on the wing?

Prediction | 1-0
West Brom are currently 12th in the league however on current form I don’t think anyone expects us to give them a hammering. Tony Pulis usually sets his teams up to be difficult to break down, so given the lack of innovation we’re currently displaying I can’t see us scoring more than one – while for a team who have scored only three goals out of six away games will struggle against Big Mike and co.

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Apostolos’ ‘How to deal with a problem like Wayne Rooney’

How to deal with a problem like Wayne Rooney | A three point plan
1. Drop him from the team. Immediately.

The fact that Wayne Rooney, one of United’s consistently poorest performing players, is still securing a spot in the side – week in, week out – is simply ludicrous. Rooney is a player judged on two very clear metrics – his goal scoring ability (as a striker) and his leadership qualities (as the captain) – and it’s fair to say on current form he is dramatically failing to deliver on both fronts.

If there is one thing Sir Alex was famous for during his successful tenure at the helm of United it was that he was a man who was not afraid to make controversial decisions if he felt it was for the greater good of the team. And that meant dropping big players: players he felt, regardless of reputation, were either a negative influence on the side, ill of discipline or simply in need of some time out of the spotlight due to a loss in form. At the moment, Rooney ticks at least two of these boxes – potentially all three if you attribute his “discipline” not to his temperament but to his inability to stick to his role on the pitch and follow instructions. Just look at this heat-map from last weekend’s 0-0 draw at Selhurst Park…not really the sort of movement you’d expect from a striker!

There is no doubt that Louis van Gaal was brought on as a more natural successor to Sir Alex Ferguson than the apparently weak, timid David Moyes. Here is a man, we thought, that would bring a level of order and discipline to the side, something so dramatically absent since Sir Alex left in 2013. Yet by continuously insisting on keeping faith with Wayne Rooney and mishandling him he is damaging both the player’s reputation and his own, while suffocating the team in the process.

Van Gaal is renowned across the footballing world as a stubborn, no nonsense manager, however in this instance he is going against the same values that have made him a great. He needs to stick to his principles and treat the whole squad in the same way. In the same way Ferguson didn’t overthink or worry about dropping Beckham or Keane, or selling Hughes, Ince and Kanchelskis when all three were key players, van Gaal needs to do the right thing and give Rooney a rest.

2. Restore Martial as no.9 and Herrera to the withdrawn striker role.

Ok, this one is not really a suggestion to directly improve Rooney, but more to help a team that is struggling to create chances.

Prior to Rooney’s goal against CSKA Moscow in the Champions League United had failed to score in 404 minutes. Not entirely the striker’s fault, however if something is not quit working in United’s attack why would the manager not start doing the logical thing and make changes to the system and personnel? Martial is clearly United’s best option in attack, however in order to accommodate (yes, you guessed it) Wayne Rooney, the 19-year old has been forced to play out wide. And where does that leave the ambitious, dynamic Ander Herrera, United’s best attacking midfielder? Out of the side. As for the left wing, I would play Ashley Young as long Memphis continues to underperform, giving Martial improved service.

3. Emulate Paul Scholes.

Back to Rooney, then: following Paul Scholes’ development at United is, for me, an obvious one.

The career trajectory of Paul Scholes, one again determined by Sir Alex and his impeccable man-management skills, is quite fascinating. Starting life at United as a striker, competing for a place in the side with Cantona, Cole and Hughes, Scholes eventually found his home in midfield once Cole and Yorke became United’s regular attacking pair; and after the introduction of van Nistelrooy and Veron in 2001, Scholes found himself in the no.10 role in order to accommodate Veron in CM, where in 2003 he experienced his highest scoring season at United. Fast forward a few years later to 2006/07, van Nistelrooy leaves United, Ronaldo stars in a more attacking role, and Scholes (at the age of 33) plays arguably his best season in a United shirt. Recognising his strengths as an incredible passer and midfield general with outstanding vision, as well as his weaknesses as a player with diminishing pace heading towards the end of his career, Sir Alex began playing Scholes as a holding midfielder. It was during this period – not where he was banging in 20 goals a season – that he was recognised as the greatest midfielder of his generation.

I’m not saying it is something that will instantly work, but given that there are a number of obvious similarities between the two players – from their vision and excellent reading of the game, to their passing range – van Gaal needs to consider repositioning Rooney alongside Schneiderlin/Schweinsteiger/Carrick ASAP in order to help get the best out of the misfiring and once-great striker. This potential genius move will not only help prolong his career it will, more importantly, work to his strengths in order to get the best out of him and resurrect his reputation during the remaining few years he has left in professional football.

Crystal Palace vs Man Utd – Apostolos Preview.

Predicted XI | MUFC vs. Crystal Palace (31/10/2015)

GOAL | David de Gea
Romero did well during the Capital One cup defeat at home to ‘Boro, making a couple of exceptional saves, but there was no doubt it was a one-off selection from van Gaal. A shame really that the cup run ended so unexpectedly as you feel these games will be the only opportunity the Argentinian, who many expected would be United’s no.1 when he was brought in during the “de Gea to Real Madrid” rumours, will get in the first team.

DEFENCE | Matteo Darmian, Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Marcos Rojo
Valencia, who has started United’s last three games at right-back, is injured so Darmian will replace him. Jones and Smalling appear to be an immovable force at the moment, while Rojo has done really well since returning from injury and replacing Blind/Shaw at left back. Our defence has become a nice, simple selection for van Gaal; the man who, this time last season, had already experimented with no less than 14 players at the back (although these were of course the dark days of playing five at the back).

MIDFIELD | Juan Mata, Michael Carrick, Ander Herrera, Morgan Schneiderlin, Anthony Martial
Another fairly straight forward choice for LVG. Mata was an unused sub during the week, so will return on the right for the trip to Palace, while he ensured Schneiderlin was kept fresh for the League game by leaving him out of the squad entirely. Carrick and Schweinsteiger appear to be wrestling for that second central-midfield spot at the minute, with the German holding the position for United’s last three league games, but I feel Carrick’s performance in the League Cup was solid enough to keep him in the starting XI this weekend. As for the left slot, as long as van Gaal insists on starting Rooney up front, while Depay continues to fight his way back in the side, then Martial – the man of the moment – will keep his place on the left.

ATTACK | Wayne Rooney
Another poor display by Rooney during the week has been conveniently overlooked thanks to a stupid Middlesbrough fan and his laser pen. However as I said, this incident during the penalty shootout is purely a distraction from yet another dire performance from United’s captain. “When will the manager be brave enough to drop him?” is the question all United fans are currently asking. For me, it should be ASAP, with Martial playing up front and Ashley Young out on the left. However this is the most stubborn manager in the business we’re talking about. So it doesn’t look like he’ll be doing the smart thing any time soon.

Prediction: Crystal Palace 1-2 Manchester United

Apostolos (Man Utd Fan)