Manchester United came to Stamford Bridge Sunday with a very defensive, counter-attacking starting 11, hoping to get all three points via a smash and grab. Interim to the interim coach, Michael Carrick, picked a strong, defensive minded side minus top goal scorer this season, Cristiano Ronaldo.
The first half was a very cagey affair. Both teams pressed the other, with both teams choosing to play the ball out from the back. No one wanted to make a mistake and be responsible for giving a goal away. Chelsea dominated the first half but didn’t make much out of all the possession that they enjoyed. United’s defense held despite giving up 10 shots on goal. The best them fell to Callum Hudson-Odoi in just the 4th minute.
After a flicked header from Marcus Alonso, Hudson-Odoi nutmegs Lindleof to get through on goal. David De Gea makes a lovely save low to his left. Having only one shot on goal in the first half, United didn’t offer much offense in the first half.
Sancho Gets His First League Goal for United
United offered more an attacking threat in the second half resulting in Jadon Sancho getting his first Premier League goal for United in the 50th minute. Jorginho misjudges a clearance from Fernandes in his own half and sees the ball fall to a sprinting Sancho who is in on goal with Rashford along for the ride. The American winger gives Edouard Mendy a little shimmy of his hips and fakes a pass to Rashford and smoothly slots home the opening goal of the match.
Jorginho Gets His Redemption
After going up a goal United attacking play was full confidence. They were able to keep hold of possession and looked capable of getting another goal despite Chelsea’s pressure. In the 68th minute Chelsea are taking one of their 15 corners of the match. The ball falls between Wan-Bissaka and Thiago Silva.
The United right back was unlucky because as he went to clear the ball his kick ended up hitting the back of Silva’s leg and the Chelsea defender fell down like a ton of bricks. The ref, Anthony Taylor, had a good look at it and awarded Chelsea the pen.
Wan-Bissaka was extremely unfortunate, with replays showing he had his eyes on the ball the whole time and Silva should have won an Academy Award. Jorginho steps up to take the penalty kick and despite De Gea’s impressive form, the Spanish keeper was sent the wrong way making it 1-1.
Ends With a Point a Piece
Both teams would end up getting one more shot to get all three points. In the 88th minute Mendy gives the ball away to Fred near the top of his box. The Brazilian tried to chip the ball over the keeper but misjudges it horribly and the ball ends up back in Medy’s hands.
In the 98th minute of the match Christian Pulisic crosses the ball to a wide open Antonio Rudiger. The German International hits the ball first time but blasts the shot high over De Gea’s net and that was that. United’s defense looked much, much better today. Lindleof and Bailly both made strong cases for themselves at the center of defense. Carrick showed he can employ some decent pressing with Fred and McTominay in the midfield at the base of it
With it looking like Ralf Rangnick will be our new interim coach and then stay on as some kind of director of football, the future looks very bright for United.
Manchester United face Chelsea on Sunday in the Premier League.
New challenge, new United, new manager but could it be the same old problems? After the humiliating 4-1 loss to Watford last Saturday, the Manchester United board relieved Ole Gunnar Solskjaer of his job and placed Michael Carrick in temporary charge for the game against Villarreal. Carrick will remain in charge this weekend against Chelsea but it is expected that Ralph Rangnick will be named the interim manager incredibly soon.
So with Carrick still in charge will we see a similar approach to what we did on Wednesday? Carrick set up more defensively and decided to start with Anthony Martial and Donny Van De Beek rather than Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford. It was around the 60th minute mark that he made his move and used the fresh legs of his subs to win 2-0.
However, Chelsea will be a completely different entity. The London side have been transformed by Thomas Tuchel and currently sit top of the table three points clear of 2nd place Manchester City. Chelsea are the team to beat having only lost once this year to City. They are clear title favourites alongside United’s city rivals and Liverpool.
Will United be able to beat them? Recently in this fixture, United have been the stronger of the sides but the past two league games have drawn a blank. This is unusual for this fixture with goals usually coming in it, the previous seven fixtures (before the two 0-0s) the game ended with a minimum of two goals in it.
Imperious is the word that comes to mind. Tuchel has found the balance of his team and is able to rely on the back up brigade when needed as well. Chelsea top the group in the league, top the group in the Champions League and are through to the quarter final of the League Cup; it really is quite rosy by the Thames.
However, in their second to last league game they came unstuck against a stubborn Sean Dyche who refused to give up and his Burnley side managed a surprising 1-1 draw. This was just a minor blip on a superb start to the season and Tuchel’s men backed it up with a 4-0 thumping of Leicester City to restore themselves to winning ways.
Chelsea Team News
Chelsea will certainly be without left back Ben Chilwell who has suffered an ACL injury. Tuchel confirmed today that the injury will see him out for six weeks minimum and then he will be assessed for surgery.
Alongside Chilwell, N’Golo Kante has been side-lined. The French world cup winner has been an ever present player for Chelsea since he arrived and usually puts in an 8/10 performance against United so they will be happy to see the back of him.
It looks likely that Kai Havertz and former Manchester United striker Romelu Lukaku will return to action this weekend as they shake off previous injuries.
Christian Pulisic has also returned in a recent weeks for Chelsea. The American has scored a couple of goals for club and country recently and could make an impact from the starting XI or the bench.
Tuchel will certainly play three at the back but it will be interesting to see the variant up top. With Harry Maguire struggling for form, it is quite possible that he will go with two strikers rather than just one. With the return of the bullish Lukaku it would make sense for Tuchel to play someone up with him to really put pressure on the United backline.
Chelsea are an expansive side with the ability to hurt you in all different ways, however, their strength is out wide and the loss of Chilwell is a big one. If you look at the heatmap from the Leicester game a lot of their attacks focus down the right and that is through the ever impressive Reece James who has become one of the best full backs in the country.
It could be another grim day at the office for Manchester United if they are not going to be solid.
Manchester United had a very stormy fall. Prior to the victory over Villarreal, the Red Devils have lost 5 of their last 7 matches in the Premier League, are hesitant to pass the Champions League group and have been eliminated from the League Cup.
Watford defeated Manchester United with a negative difference between goals scored and conceded in the Premier League. Manchester United scored 20 goals in 12 rounds of the Premier League, conceding 21 times. It’s impossible to close our eyes to such results, because they stem from the terrible quality of the game. Let’s take a look at the main reasons for this situation. What is happening with Manchester United and what factors influenced it?
With the arrival of Cristiano Ronaldo, there has been a noticeable change in the way Manchester United operates without the ball. The team became passive and less cohesive. Manchester United gives opponents time to prepare for offensives and allows them to move into more dangerous zones. Simply put, Manchester defends worse and does not control the course of matches.
The Red Devils conceded first in nine of their last 12 games. This negates the progress of the past seasons, when we have deservedly praised United. Previously, it was possible to effectively hold the defense by switching between high pressure and positioning mode. No one fell out of the pressure, everyone acted intensively and harmoniously. It was a strong argument in big matches, where it gave efficiency along with fine tuning of the formation to match the opponents’ play.
This season there were difficulties with pressing, and further along the chain, the entire defensive play of the team worsened. The contrast can be seen both visually and statistically. In the 20-21 season, United on average allowed only 1 expected goal per match, and now allows one and a half.
The intensity of pressure on the opponents has decreased, and attempts to prevent the start of an attack on another third of the field have become less frequent. The average number of such pressing actions decreased by 18% – a fall from fifth place in the league by 16. Overall pressing success across the field sank. This is how the numbers express the influence of Ronaldo on the team’s game, or more precisely, on its actions to contain opponents and return the ball:
Pressing actions on another third in the season 20-21: 35.3.
Pressure actions on another third in the season 21-22: 29.
PPDA for the season 20-21: 10.95.
PPDA 21-22: 12.7
Manchester United rivals XG 90 minutes in 20-21 season: 1.03 (4th).
Manchester United Rivals XG 90 mins 21-22: 1.52 (15th)
Cristiano himself performs less than 6 pressing actions and occupies low places in this component both in the team and in relation to all the forwards of the top leagues. Very few people allow themselves to be so off without the ball. When Ronaldo is focused on tackling and pushing with all his might, there is a transformation of the team in defensive action.
You can remember the first matches of Ronaldo after his return, as well as the game with Atalanta. But even there, attempts by Krishtin were not enough. Why Solskjaer was never able to agree with Ronaldo on this matter is an unanswered question. Cristiano’s offensive benefits often outweigh the defensive difficulties. The task of the Portuguese coaches and partners is to adapt to all mechanisms, which few people succeed in. Ronaldo’s passivity can be compensated by his fellow attackers.
But so far only Cavani and Fernandes are plowing for two from the front line of Manchester United. With both of these players on the pitch, United is good at pinching opponents in his side, despite Ronaldo being cut off from defense. His work is shared by Edinson and Bruno, covering the center and semi-flanks. A striking example is the confrontation with Tottenham.
Bruno and Cavani chose the most optimal moments for pressing, directed it, blocked the pass lines to the defenders and entered the selection if the passes passed. The pressure of the Red Devils was aimed at pinning the opponents on the flank, where fullbacks rose high and helped to take away. Tottenham was not ready for the game under pressure, Atalanta also had difficulties. United’s problem is that Cavani is often injured, and without him the passivity and imbalance of the team return.
The quality of United’s game is also affected by injuries and the suboptimal shape of all defenders. Rafael Varane spent a little more than half of the maximum possible time on the field by mid-November. Harry Maguire was also injured, and his return to the match with Leicester was hasty.
For an important game against Man City, Victor Lindelof was not ready. Everything is aggravated by the fact that none of the defenders in the fall has gained optimal shape for themselves. This manifests itself in a large number of individual mistakes and shortcomings – the terrible imports of Maguiar with Leicester, the weak opposition of Bayi Zapata in the return game with Atalanta, the helplessness of One-Bissaki against Foden, the turbidity with Shaw against Liverpool.
The enumerations can be continued, but the output will not change. Individually, each United defender makes an already dire situation worse. Problems of a different nature are observed: both a lack of understanding of how to act, and psychology. For the sake of fairness, we note that the poor play of the defenders is also associated with the looseness of the top lines. So everyone needs to add.
United’s conspicuous shortage of quality defensive defensive midfielder-destroyer. When Ronaldo plays the lone striker, he needs a defensive plowman behind him to bring the balance back. This should be not only a hardy, but also a tactically trained defensive midfielder, who would cover more space, be successful in martial arts and not make mistakes in decisions – when to advance himself, and when, on the contrary, to go down and secure the advanced center def.
In these components, problems are observed for everyone with whom Solskjaer covered the support zone. It is unclear what the sporting director and head coach were counting on when this position was left unchanged in the summer. The team has a shortage of defensive players and an overload of wingers, and the career of the promising Donny van de Beek is also crumbling.
Continuing the restrained criticism of Solskjaer, we note the following: one gets the impression that Ole and his staff have begun to prepare the team for matches in less detail and react less well along the way. In a number of matches, the players did not understand how to react in a situation, whom to advance to, whom to transfer to partners. A relatively recent example is the City derby.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka concentrated on playing according to Foden, while Cancelo received huge spaces and either no one moved to it at all, or Fernandes belatedly. The tactical decision of Solskjaer framed the team and during the disastrous first half, the coach did not react in any way. There are at least 2 analysts in his headquarters who simply could not help but pay attention to this. Wan-Bissaka suffered in meetings with Liverpool and Atalanta, when they also lacked clarity of instructions and mutual safety net.
With summer transfers, Manchester United greatly raised the expectations of fans and the media. Many in all seriousness recorded the Red Devils as the main contenders for the Premier League championship, despite strong competitors.
All these expectations gradually put pressure on the team, and after a series of unsuccessful matches, they were replaced by a powerful stream of mud. Few people did not smash Solskjaer and his team. All this affected the team and destroyed the atmosphere inside.
The Norwegian coach could not save Manchester United. After losing to Watford, the club decided to fire him. All that remains is to say a big thank you to Solskjaer. He has done a great job here. He brought Manchester United to the Europa League final, won a derby against Guardiola, and rid the team of Marcos Rojo… But Ole is not yet ready to fight Guardiola, Klopp and Tuchel.
Man Utd defeated Villarreal in the Champions League Tuesday night 2-0, courtesy of Cristiano Ronaldo and Jadon Sancho. The win will guarantee Man Utd’s involvement in the knockout rounds of the Champions League.
Carrick managed the game well enough. It was a classic smash and grab, not an easy place to win. Carrick used his subs well. You can not complain that much with a win at this point. Sancho’s goal made the win a little sweeter, but Chelsea looms on the weekend.
On paper, Ronaldo was central, but when the match started he took up space on the left and at times the formation shifted to a 4-4-2. Ronaldo would join Martial in attack, eventually Ronaldo would shift back to the center.
David de Gea was forced into work early. A shot from outside the box was well saved. Scott McTominay turned the ball over when his pass was intercepted creating a chance early for Villarreal.
Villarreal were patient in attack and Man Utd sat back and let them have the ball. An awkward deflection fell nicely to Yermi Pino, he let the ball roll across his body to create space, but his shot was bad and even missed the side netting.
Alex Telles got caught sleeping on a long ball. Pino cut it back to Manu Trigueros, his cross/shot to the back-post was pushed aside by de Gea, Arnaut Danjuma was lurking at the back-post.
United looked dangerous when they got balls in the box. A Jadon Sancho cross in the 29th minute had to be dealt with well. Villarreal defended the corner well but the ball recycled back to Telles. His cross found Ronaldo, but it was straight at the keeper.
In the first half Villarreal had good spells of possession, but could not create many chances from their possession. Their best chances came from Man Utd mistakes or in transition. When they had the ball they were stagnant, not much running off the ball. They had a couple of nice passing sequences.
Martial took on his defender on the left. Telles made his run from the inside and was fouled on the edge of the box. The location was perfect for Ronaldo, but he could only hit the wall.
A couple of minor injuries slowed the game back down after a couple of flurries.
As the first half wore down, United looked like they were growing into the game. They got caught a bit when Villarreal broke their press. They caught United off balance on the counter and DVB was booked when he fouled an attacker outside the box.
Villarreal finished off the first half pressing really well. They ripped the ball off of a United player on multiple occasions. United continued to try and pass out of the back despite giving up the ball.
Man Utd were bailed out by the half time whistle, 0-0.
More possession for Villarreal to begin the second half, and a couple of tense moments in defense for Man Utd, but they did well to not giving anything up quick.
Man Utd got things cooking a bit with some good passes. Sancho beat a man and the ball fell to Fred with a lot to do, his shot was straight at the keeper.
Villarreal got in between the lines on their next attack. Another deflected shot fell kindly to a Villarreal player. Trigueros’ shot was struck well and forced a brilliant save from David de Gea. De Gea bails out Man Utd again, but 30 minutes still remained in the match.
With all the possession that United gave up, eventually they would get tired from moving side to side and Villarreal almost caught them on a short passing switch. The final quick pass came to Danjuma, but he fired over.
Bruno and Rashford would replace the two that the replaced them in the starting lineup in the 65th minute.
Sancho almost got his first goal for United after he combined well with Bruno. They cut up the Villarreal defense, but Sancho could not finish on his left foot, it was a good save from the keeper.
The substitutes really gave Man Utd something different and they came in at the right time. Villarreal looked like they might steal the three points, but United grabbed a foothold in the game because of the fresh legs.
Villarreal began walking at times with the ball and got sloppy with some passes. United could smell blood and they pressed.
Ronaldo, again. The Villarreal keeper put Etienne Capoue in trouble with a bad pass. Capoue got his pocket picked and the ball fell perfectly in the air for Ronaldo who cooly finished.
Villarreal never looked like they could get back into the game and were eventually caught on the corner. Sancho got his first goal when he smashed it near post to sink the yellow submarine.
Man Utd Key Performers
Ronaldo and Sancho deserved their goals and Ronaldo won the game. Sancho had his best performance of his young United career, not just because of the goal, he looked good on the ball.
But, the man of the match had to David de Gea, the second save on Trigueros was massive.
A shout to the defense, they all looked solid especially when Villarreal got between the lines, they took care of business in the box.
Manchester United take on Villarreal tomorrow in a pivotal Champions League matchup in Spain.
Both teams are tied atop of the group with seven points. Only two games remain in the group stage. Even a point could be useful for Manchester United on the road. United host Young Boys to finish the group, even they lost in Switzerland, they should look at that game with three points in mind.
Manchester United Squad
If United come out and take the game at Villarreal and win well they could flip momentum in their season. At this point getting to the knockout round of the Champions League is a success. A smash and grab could be another route, and even inspire the same.
Bruno Fernandes has been impacting the game in other ways for Manchester United his deep passing has been superb, but if he only gets one or two chances in a match, he should finish, he has the quality.
The calls for Donny van de Beek to play from the fans has been loud and frequent for some time. It is a common talking point and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer would say something like, “Donny works really hard, he is a great player and if he continues to work hard, he can be a great player,”
If you do not like him, just say it. It was rough to watch the treatment of a player who has a lot of passion, he obviously wants to play. Not just play, but the passion to work hard. His tackle on Sarr this weekend was a little dirty, but at least he went in and put a tackle on someone. At least he showed some physicality.
That has not been the theme this season at United. There are a lot of physical players on United, Harry Maguire, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, and Luke Shaw are all physical players. Even Bruno likes to get dirty every now and then, but it has not been enough. The best tackle this season came from a box-to-box midfielder who has played a handful of minutes.
DVB needs to play against Villarreal, they need a midfielder who can play a pass between the lines, a player that can help break down the Villarreal low block. If they lose the ball high up the pitch, you need a guy who is going to sell out in the middle to help break up the transition, Villarreal like to defend and counter.
This could be a game for Alex Telles and his ability to put in a cross. Ronaldo has become one of the most dangerous target men in the world, his ability to leap is astounding. United need to utilize that ability more with crosses in the box.
It will be interesting what Carrick does in other defensive positions. Ole favored Victor Lindelof a bit more than Eric Bailly lately. Bailly’s athletic abilities could be a boost, but he has made some mistakes in the past. Diogo Dalot could also feature for AWB he had one of his worst games in a United shirt against Watford.
The defense has grown a little comfortable when Ole was in charge, they need to be pushed more and changing it up could lead to more competition in the side, thus creating better players overall.
If you are not going to use the players that cost millions on the bench, might as well sell them when they have value instead of letting them leave on a free. Some of these players were bought with the intention to switch it up. Telles and Dalot are good players and every now and then they should get a game.
You need squad rotation because you need your top players to be fresh. A game like Watford is the opportunity to play a rotated squad, so they could be fresh for an important Champions League game. Ole was forced to pick his best side against Watford because of the pressure on him.
Carrick has to keep Chelsea in mind at the weekend. I do not think United are going to win the league, I think most would agree, but if they want to qualify for Champions League next season, which are the minimum of standards at United, this Chelsea game is important to keep pace, every league game is really, but Chelsea a are a top club at the moment.
United should relish in those opportunities to play other big teams, not be worried.
For the Villarreal match I would go with de Gea, AWB, Maguire, Bailly, Telles, Matic, DVB, Bruno, Rashford, Ronaldo, Sancho.
That is what I would do, I think defensively these guys can handle the Villarreal attack. They need to take the game to Villarreal and get a good result. A win would almost guarantee the knockout rounds, it would bust the ghosts of the Europa League Final and boost spirits for the match against Chelsea.
Maguire will miss Chelsea because of a ban, so he is likely to play. I would give him some time off, but can see why Carrick will pick him. Lindelof is good at times and could start over Bailly. I like Bailly because of the counter, someone athletic to break stuff up, he played well in their last encounter.
Carrick has not had much time and could keep it Ole with only a day really to prep. The players that are likely missing were out this weekend.
The yellow submarine are not doing so hot in La Liga this season. In Champions League they should have beat United at Old Trafford, but Ronaldo. A draw against Atalanta in their first game and two wins against Young Boys give them seven in the group and tied with United.
Villarreal are like a Leicester, tactically not so much, but where they are in their league because of their involvement in Europe. Villarreal currently sit in the 12th spot in the league, just like Leicester. They both have good players and are capable of more in their leagues.
Villarreal lack wins, only three in their first 13 games. They have seven draws this season. Villarreal have a tough time seeing out games this season and give up late goals often. Another one this weekend against Celta Vigo.
Dalot got torched the last game by Arnaut Danjuma, but luckily he is hurt at the moment and is in doubt for the match. Star striker Gerard Moreno has been out for awhile and is out for the match. Etienne Capoue and Paco Alcacer join Danjuma as doubtful for the match.
Dalot could see minutes if Danjuma is out, but it might be too risky to start him tomorrow.
Villarreal have some injury problems to key players in their attack. Defensively they have been consistent and injury free. Juan Foyth, Raul Albiol, Pau Torres and Alfonso Pedraza cover Geronimo Rulli. Villarreal are tied for third best in goals allowed in La Liga this season.
Unai Emery knows this game is important, especially with their final game being against Atalanta, a draw could see the top three teams with 8 points. Atalanta will probably beat Young Boys. Villarreal has a good goal differential and could draw out the next two matches and qualify for the knockout round.
A win for either United or Villarreal would put either in the driver seat to qualify for the knockout rounds. The yellow submarine do not really have the firepower right now to go for it.
It is hard to expect much from a team with a caretaker manager. The quality is there and sometimes you cannot put your guard down against a wounded animal. I think Emery will leave his guard up, but United still have the quality to win even if Villarreal plays tight.
Manchester United are in action against Watford on Saturday. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer spoke with the press ahead of the game on Saturday.
It was the same press conference that has been had. No hard questions, nothing about tactics, same questions about him almost losing his job and Jesse Lingard.
The Lingard situation is understandable, it is being reported that Lingard is going to leave on a free after contract talks have stalled. Lingard wants to play to make the England World Cup squad. United should have sold him in the summer.
“Jesse is training really hard, really well and he’s ready and available for me, definitely. He’s disappointed he’s not played more, of course. In regard to the contract situation and talks, I’ve not been in them very, very closely. For me, Jesse is still a big part of this club, an important part. He gives energy to the group every day,” said Solskjaer.
Solskjaer and Pogba
Paul Pogba was injured on the first day of training for France and could be out for awhile. Is it a bad thing?
“Of course, there’s a couple of doubts with illnesses and small niggles. Paul is out still for a while, Rapha is out for a while still. Apart from that, players will be coming back in, [let’s] call it, the near future. Some this weekend and some during the week. But that’s the same for every team that misses players,” said Solskjaer.
Maybe not. Solskjaer has deployed Pogba on the left at times and Pogba disappears, Solskjaer plays Pogba in the double pivot and sometimes he disappears.
Most people would say Pogba’s best position is the number 8 role, the box to box midfielder who can sit back deep and pick a pass, but have someone next to him to provide cover. The problem with United is no one is capable of playing that defensive midfield role week after week.
It is not likely that Solskjaer changes his tactics to a 4-3-3 instead of a 4-2-3-1 or a 3-back system that he has used as back up.
We could see Nemanja Matic and Donny van de Beek paired together in Pogba’s absence. DVB is a classical Dutch number 8 and was phenomenal in that role with Ajax.
The Pogba injury allows Solskjaer not to pick him without scrutiny. Pogba is one of the best midfielders in the world, but could be gone after this summer with his contract coming to an end. Watford could be a glimpse of United without Pogba.
Ole Still Positive
If Ole is negative in these press conferences, he will take a beating in the media. Ole plays it tight, keeps his cards to his chest and always says the right thing. The politically correct thing.
“We’ve been through periods like this before. Our away form should give us confidence, what we’ve done. We’ve just gone 30 games away and lost one or whatever we have. Last season, we turned it around as well on a run with 20 games and one defeat. That’s the kind of run we have to get back to. As I said, this week we’ve worked on a few things, we’ve prioritized a few things that we have to improve on.”
“We know the run of form hasn’t been good and that performances haven’t been good enough. We know we can do better, we know we should do better and we think we will do better. It’s down to performances on the day. [Players are] human beings, sometimes you hit the post and it goes out and sometimes it goes in. That can change the mood, the atmosphere. We just got to focus on getting a good start tomorrow and build on a good start.”
The rollercoaster of Manchester United continues. It has not been an impressive and dominating start that many people predicted for the Red Devils. Currently they are in free fall and are still a million miles away from Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea in terms of challenging for the title. Can anything be done to stop the rot?
Pre-season started with a lot of promise with more signings brought in to bolster the first team squad quality. Signings of Jadon Sancho, Raphael Varane and Cristiano Ronaldo really showed intent to the other teams in the league. However, all how come with a lot negativity.
Firstly looking at Varane he has excelled and looked to be settling at the heart of defence but has really struggle with injury. The French world cup winner has only featured nine times (one appearance from the bench) in all competitions which is not good enough for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to be able to solidify the defence.
Secondly, Jadon Sancho simply has not played enough. Solskjaer has not given the opportunity for Sancho to prove what he can do. Each time the England winger has been used it has either been from the bench, played for around an hour and more disappointingly it has been from the left hand side. Sancho was signed as a right winger and that needs to be where he plays.
Then there is Cristiano Ronaldo, the man who has dragged United out the mud on what seems like a thousand times in the space of three months. He has helped with the goal scoring but has he helped with the style of play? What is the style of play this season? Questions are lingering over Solskjaer and he needs to know what is best with a 36 year old Ronaldo. He will score but will he press if you want him to?
It has been such an inconsistent start to the season and there are clearly glimpses of magic from this United team. Thrashings of Leeds United and Newcastle United showed that they can do it but backs against the wall performances against Southampton and Wolverhampton Wanderers will not cut it. To win a league title you do not always have to beat the best sides, it is about picking up the wins against the lower league teams.
One thing that has changed under Solskjaer’s United is that when they do concede a goal there is not panic and there is the faith they can restore it quickly. However, it is now becoming where they look like they could concede five goals and look nowhere near scoring one.
United can be are one of the best on the counter and they can string some fantastic balls around the edge of the box. Solskjaer has made United more entertaining especially after the previous three stewardships. However, the start this season has not felt flowing it has felt very haphazard with players leaving their positions wide open. Against Liverpool and Manchester City it was embarrassingly easy for them to dominate the game and the lack of belief was evident from the players.
The question remains over the manager and will continue to do so for as long as he is in charge. Many believe he does not have the credentials to take United to the next level and it could be the case that he has reached the ceiling of his capabilities. However, he has proven that he can get United challenging in his previous two full seasons in charge by reaching semifinals and the final of the Europa League. But it is hard to see that being enough when things are this low.
Reverting back to the point about the style of play, Solskjaer needs to know what he is playing and how he is going to play it and be firm in that decision. Changing a style of play each week against the top teams to match their style rather than one you are comfortable is always going to end up disastrous, just as it did against Liverpool with United pressing high up and trying to play out from the back against the best pressing side in the country.
Solskjear clearly needs some help and looking to improve his coaching staff would not be the worst thing in the world. Coaches like Carlos Queiroz and René Meulensteen know the club well and could be a great signing to help build on the restructure of the club behind the scenes.
Are The Players Up For It?
The chips are down, once again, so Solskjaer needs players to fight for the shirt and get it right. It is looking far too easy for some to give away the ball and not be bothered about winning it back. Approaching the winter period, it is vital to pick up some wins and some good wins at that to build confidence but Solskjaer needs to get his system right and the players need to fit around that.
The inconsistent performances of Captain Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw, Paul Pogba and Aaron Wan Bissaka is killing the team. The same can be said about the limited midfield pairing of Scott McTominay and Fred, both capable of doing one thing a defensive midfielder is required to do but not both things.
If Solskjaer is being let down by his side he is reluctant to look to his quad and he needs to change that. Keeping it fresh is important and with results coinciding with poor performances he needs to be more ruthless and give squad players a chance to prove themselves.
Man Utd just got done with their toughest run of games so far in this early season. A run of games that people looked at nervously when Man Utd went into the last international break.
Two wins, three losses and a draw, including two dismal performances against rivals is how United did and it has taken the air out of a room that was full of optimism after the good start of the season and the transfers that Man Utd brought in.
Man Utd return from the international break with a game against relegation threatened Watford. United will be traveling to Watford. The 17th place side has one good win this season against Everton away, they put five goals past the Toffees.
Man Utd should win, but Watford have nine players out on international duty, so they might not get that much of an advantage of being able to have that time to train with most of the first team.
Watford has good fans and could create a decent atmosphere. When they got relegated a couple of seasons ago they beat a Liverpool team at home, that Liverpool team won the league and were undefeated in 44 games in the league.
The next match is against a recent European foe in the Champions League. Villarreal, the team that beat Man Utd in the Europa League Final. Man Utd will continue their travels and head to Spain, both sides are top of their group in the Champions League.
A draw would not be a bad result for Man Utd, they finish the group stage with a home game against Young Boys.
United will have their toughest game after the international break against Chelsea. United will be away again when they face the European Champions and the current top team in the Premier League.
A really tough game for United, a slightly different opponent than the high flying extremely offensive minded sides like Manchester City and Liverpool. Chelsea are a bit more defensive minded under Thomas Tuchel, but have great attacking players.
United will then host two in-form London clubs, Arsenal and Crystal Palace. Arsenal have now jumped United in the standings and are now fifth.
Arsenal have not lost since August, they got smashed by City. They had a tough start, but they brought in some players at the window and they are looking like they are gelling.
Another team who brought in some players at the window is Palace. Patrick Viera, had some doubts and pundits thought he could be the first manager sacked, but they have been playing some really good football and are gelling too.
Palace beat City a couple of weeks ago, drew with Arsenal, but had them on the ropes most of the game. They beat Tottenham, but everyone is beating Spurs.
Man Utd’s next five are not easy, some really good teams, it will be interesting to see what happens if United do not get the results, especially with the current questions circling the coaching staff.
Atalanta got the scoring underway quick like the last game. Manchester United were fine with allowing the Italians possession. Josip Ilicic made them pay, his left-footed shot should have probably been saved the reliable David de Gea. De Gea’s parry was bad and Gewiss Stadium celebrated.
United looked like they were going to go 2-0 down when a Paul Pogba mistake played in Duvan Zapata, but Eric Bailly heroically blocked the Colombians shot, bailing out Pogba and keeping the score at 1-0.
Ilicic and Zapata combined well much of the first half and looked a threat. Raphael Varane had some problems with Zapata and pulled up a little bit earlier in the first half when chasing a ball down the channel. Varane sat down in the 37th minute and had to be subbed.
The sub forced Ole to go back to the 4-2-3-1 by bringing on Mason Greenwood.
Manchester United would tie the match at the beginning of stoppage time, Bruno Fernandes was played in by Mason Greenwood, Bruno then splendidly back-heeled a pass to Ronaldo, who easily slotted it by Juan Musso.
Probably lucky to be level, but Atalanta should have been more clinical.
A frantic beginning of the second half yielded shots for both sides. Tackles, half chances, good passing between teammates and some close offsides from both teams made it interesting early.
Zapata finally got his goal. Zapata was played in behind with a long ball, Maguire tried to play him offside and could not get over fast enough to cover and Zapata easily beat de Gea.
Zapata was called offside but VAR overturned it to give Atalanta a 2-1 lead with more than a half of a hour to hold onto the lead.
The game looked destined for the three points, but of course, Ronaldo. United could not getting anything going after the Zapata goal as Atalanta looked to close out the game.
Out of nothing Ronaldo struck a shot from outside the box that nestled in the corner beating Musso to steal a point for United.
Manchester United Standout Performers
Not many good performances all around from United players. A good moment here and there for some players, some bad moments for others.
One player who I thought performed well was Bailly. You could make an argument that Bailly and Maguire were culprits of the second goal. Where was Bailly on the long ball over the top? Maguire has a huge share of the blame too.
Without some great challenges by Bailly it could have been 3-1 or 4-1.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka had some good moments. Luke Shaw on the other flank too. Nothing good enough to stand out.
Ronaldo, of course. The man of the match again.
Manchester United and Villarreal are top of the group with seven points, Villarreal leads on goal differential. Atalanta stay at third with four points.
United and Villarreal will square off in Old Trafford later in the month.
Martin McLean Buchan was born on 6 March 1949 in Aberdeen, Scotland. The young Buchan always dreamt of becoming a professional footballer and his dream came true when his home town club signed him as a 15-year old trainee (on a provisional form) on 30 July 1964. Aberdeen’s scout had been watching Buchan for a while when he was playing for Banks O’ Dee Football Club in the Granite city, and he recommended him to the Aberdeen manager, Eddie Turnbull. Aberdeen are nicknamed “The Dons” and Turnbull was one of the club’s historic and legendary “Famous Five.” However, the famous five club he was a member of had nothing whatsoever to do with the novel series of the same name written by the English author, Enid Blyton. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Turnbull was one of Hibernian Football Club’s famous forward line of five which also included Bobby Johnstone, Willie Ormond, Lawrence Reilly and Gordon Smith.
In 1952, Blyton’s eleventh novel in her series was published and it was entitled “Five Have A Wonderful Time.” During his career with Hibernian, Turnbull won the Scottish League title in seasons 1947-48, 1950-51 and 1951-52. He was also the first British player to score a goal in the European Cup. At the end of the 1954-55 season, L’Équipe, the French sports magazine and their editor, Gabriel Hanot, devised the inaugural European Cup competition. The competition was open to the domestic Champions of a number of countries plus a few selected prestige European sides. Chelsea were First Division Champions for the first time in their history in season 1954-55, but were barred by the Football League from participating in the European Cup which the hierarchy of the English game regarded as a distraction to their clubs’ League commitments.
The participating clubs in the first four seasons of the European Cup were selected by L’Équipe. Hanot had initially invited the 1954-55 Scottish League Champions, Aberdeen, to participate but, when they were informed that the ties would be played on Tuesday and Wednesday nights, the club’s Board of Directors turned the offer down as they believed playing under floodlights (which weren’t installed at Pittodrie until 1959) would give rival sides a clear advantage. It was also suggested that revenue from home games in the competition would not generate sufficient funds to offset the expense of air travel to away fixtures. Glasgow Celtic, Glasgow Rangers and Heart of Midlothian had finished second, third and fourth in the Scottish First Division in season 1954-55, but Hanot decided that a club’s past achievements and their appeal to fans were key to entry, rather than simply winning domestic titles. And so, Hibernian, who finished fifth in the table, were invited by Hanot to be Scotland’s representatives in the inaugural season of the European Cup, 1955-56, which the Edinburgh club accepted.
On 14 September 1955, Turnbull scored the club’s first ever goal in the European Cup in the 35th minute of their 4-0 away win over Rot Weiss-Essen in a First Round, first leg tie. Hibs made it all the way to the semi-finals where they lost 3-0 over two legs to Stade Reims, the reigning Ligue 1 holders (Champions of France).
Martin made his senior debut for Aberdeen on 5 October 1966, aged 17, in a 9-2 victory against Deveronvale in a friendly at Pittodrie. Three days later, Turnbull handed him his League debut, a 1-1 draw with Dunfermline Athletic at East End Park. He played at left-half and slotted well into the team with a faultless display exuding poise and style for someone so young and so inexperienced.
“Form is temporary, classis permanent.”
The young Buchan was eager to learn the game and in his mind, there was no one better suited to teach him than his mentor, Turnbull. When his manager spoke, Buchan was like a sponge, soaking up every piece of information Turnbull uttered whether it was about an opposing player or team tactics to combat the threats of a particular opponent. Turnbull knew that in Buchan, he not only had an attentive player but a future star. After his retirement, Martin said that he would never have reached the heights he did had it not been for the knowledge of the game which Turnbull bestowed upon him.
At the start of the 1969-70 season he was appointed the captain of the club. Buchan was just 21 years old when he captained Aberdeen to a 3-1 win over Jock Stein’s legendary Glasgow Celtic team, European Cup winners in 1967, in the 1970 Scottish FA Cup final. He was the youngest ever Scottish FA Cup winning captain. After making 134 Scottish First Division (later renamed the Scottish Premier League before the start of the 1998-99 season) appearances and scoring 9 timesfor The Dons, he moved to Manchester United in a £120,000 transfer. Frank O’Farrell, the manager of Manchester United, broke the club’s record transfer fee to sign the silky Buchan on 29 February 1972. O’Farrell had to act swiftly to capture the young Scot, who was named Scottish Footballer of the Year in 1971, as Leeds United and Liverpool were also very interested in acquiring him.
“Annoyingly precise, like he’d just walked out of a tailor’s window.”
Davie Robb, Aberdeen 1966-77, speaking about his former teammate, Martin Buchan
On Christmas Day 1971, United were top of the First Division, and the fans dreamt of winning the title back for the first time since season 1966-67. The famous Triumvirate of Denis Law, Bobby Charlton and George Best were still at Old Trafford but their halcyon days were behind them, a long and distant, but wonderful memory for all United fans. Suddenly and inexplicably, United’s League form (they had only lost twice in their opening 23 games of the season) imploded. On New Year’s Day 1972, West Ham United beat United 3-0 in London and a week later Wolverhampton Wanderers ravaged United 3-1 at Old Trafford. United drew 1-1 away to Southampton in the FA Cup Round 3 on 15 January 1972 and beat The Saints 4-1 at Old Trafford four days later in a replay. Chelsea then won 1-0 at Old Trafford on 22 January 1972 which was followed with three more losses: 2-1 away to West Bromwich Albion on 29 January 1972, a 2-0 loss at home versus Newcastle United on 12 February 1972 (on 5 February 1972, United beat Preston North End 2-0 on the road in the Fourth Round of the FA Cup). On 19 February 1972, Leeds United humiliated O’Farrell’s side, winning 5-1 at Elland Road.
The cracks in O’Farrell’s team had risen to the surface and he knew he had to do something to shore up his leaky defence and try and save United’s season which was crumbling under his tenure. The first ever Irish manager in the history of Manchester United knew his job was on the line. He was standing on a cliff edge and he was acutely aware that the ground beneath his feet was very unstable. Enter Martin Buchan as O’Farrell took a leaf out of a popular TV show at the time called “It’s A Knockout.” The series was shown on BBC1 from 7 August 1966 to 30 July 1982 and the participating Teams could double their points in one round by choosing to play their “Joker.” In signing Buchan, O’Farrell played his Joker and United ended the campaign 8th in the League, a far cry in playing cards’ terms from achieving a “Royal Flush” and being crowned Champions of England.
And so, a new Don had arrived at Old Trafford. But more importantly, a new dawn was beginning.
Over the following decade Buchan proved to be the club’s most influential player, an outstanding captain and leader, and he was unquestionably Docherty’s linchpin in his young Manchester United team. Martin made his Manchester United debut just four days after he put pen to paper to sign for the club, a 2-0 loss away to Tottenham Hotspur in the First Division.
Martin Buchan was a centre half of exquisite class who oozed class, emanated calmness and who, even at a young age with Aberdeen Football Club, possessed a natural leadership ability. When he was made captain of Manchester United after Bobby Charlton left Old Trafford in the summer of 1972-73, he was already a consummate professional, a player whose career was marked by constant improvement and which was en-route to entering the stratosphere of the game, both at club and international level.
In his first full season at Old Trafford his dream move became a nightmare when United were relegated to the Second Division at the end of the 1973-74 season. Buchan had the chance to leave Old Trafford but decided to see out his contract. “I wasn’t happy about relegation, but I decided to stay and help the club back into the First Division,” he later explained.
The following season, 1974-75, he captained the club to the Division Two title, playing in 41 of their 42 League games, and promotion back to the top flight. Buchan played with style, he was super confident in the tackle, read the game as well as any player did, he had a swagger about him. He had beautiful balance and a touch of panache. United’s first season back among the big boys saw them finish in a highly respectable third place in the League but they suffered a shock 1-0 loss to Second Division Southampton in the 1976 FA Cup final. Remarkably Buchan played in every single game for the club during the 1975-76 season, 42 League games, 7 FA Cup games and 3 League Cup games, 52 games in total without scoring.
“’Too many of our players thought all they had to do was turn up to collect their medals. And they did. Losers’ medals.’’
Martin Buchan speaking about how he felt that some of his teammates were complacent in underestimating Southampton in the 1976 FA Cup final
On 21 May 1977, Buchan became the only player to captain a Scottish FA Cup winning team and an English FA cup winning team when Manchester United beat Liverpool 2-1 at Wembley Stadium in the 1977 Silver Jubilee FA Cup final. He almost missed the final after picking up a bad knock against West Ham United just five days before the showpiece event. Martin received an injury in United’s final League game of the season, a 4-2 loss away to West Ham United. The medical team at Old Trafford did not think he would be fit in time to face Liverpool but Buchan was not going to miss the opportunity of leading his team out beneath the famous Twin Towers for the second year in a row and especially after having to accept a runners’-up medal the year before. Buchan received a couple of injections during the week and played in the final with a strapped left knee.
How fitting it was for a man called Buchan to climb the famous 39 steps up to the Royal Box to receive the world’s most iconic and famous domestic football Cup. The Scottish author, John Buchan, wrote The Thirty-Nine Steps in 1915 while he was ill in bed with a duodenal ulcer, an illness which remained with him all his life. Scotland’s international defender, Martin Buchan, had an outstanding game in the heart of the United defence and kept Kevin Keegan, who was playing his last ever match for Liverpool before moving to Hamburger SV in West Germany, quiet throughout the game. And, he did so with a dodgy knee. Rod Stewart, a big Manchester United fan, and a fervent Scotland supporter, gave Manchester United’s travelling Red Army plenty to talk about on the journey back up North even though the title of his song that went to No.1 in the UK Singles Charts earlier that afternoon was: “I Don’t Want To Talk About It.’’
Tommy Docherty’s side deprived Liverpool of becoming the first English team to win The Treble as they were crowned English League Champions in season 1976-77 and defeated Borussia Monchengladbach in the 1977 European Cup final four days after they lost to United. The 1977 FA Cup final was televised live by the BBC on 21 May 1977, and it was one of the Top 10 most watched television programmes of the year. However, across the Big Pond that same year, an American sitcom transfixed the American and British television viewers, and that show was called ‘Happy Days.’’ It was the No.1 Top Rated show for viewing figures from 1976-77 mainly thanks to its’ lead character. Henry Winkler played the role of Fonzie, better known as The Fonz (Arthur Fonzarelli), a cool biker and High School dropout that the girls simply swooned over, fainting and falling at his feet whenever he snapped his fingers. He was cast as an exciting rebel in the idyllic world of 1950’s suburbia America. The Fonz was surrounded by wannabees, Richie Cunningham (the main protagonist in the show played by Ron Howard), Ralph Malph (played by Danny Most) and Potsie Weber (played by Anson Williams). In 1977, Martin Buchan was coolness personified, he was the real thing, not a sitcom character. Buchan also had his protagonists which included his fellow Scots, Lou Macari and Arthur Albiston (the 1977 FA Cup final was Albiston’s first ever FA Cup game for the club). Northern Ireland internationals Jimmy Nicholl and Sammy McIlroy, England wingers Steve Coppell and Gordon Hill, the Greenhoff brothers – Brian and Jimmy, Stuart “Pancho” Pearson and goalkeeper, Alex Stepney.
The Fonz was the epitome of cool, mainly thanks to his roguish good looks and his ability to make a jukebox play a song by simply hitting it. And, The Fonz although unreal, actually was able to go one better than Buchan. In Happy Days, The Fonz rode a 1949 Triumph TR5 Trophy motorbike. A classic machine for motorbike enthusiasts and historians. In contrast, Martin Buchan drove a Triumph Dolomite car. Winkler’s costume for every show was a black leather jacket, white T-shirt and blue jeans but Martin Buchan won the fashion contest between the two when he took to the pitch wearing a Manchester United kit. During his Manchester United career, Martin Buchan was unquestionably The Fonz of Old Trafford. The Manchester United No.6 may have driven a Triumph Dolomite, but he purred like a Rolls Royce on the pitch.
“Martin Buchan plays with that much class, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra should be playing in the stands at Old Trafford accompanying him.”
A number of Scottish players have been responsible for some of the greatest football quotes. Kenny Dalglish had a tongue as quick as his turn inside the box and Gordon Strachan always had a few crackers up his sleeve. On one occasion a reporter approached Strachan after a game and asked the canny Scot for a quick word. Strachan looked him straight in the face and said “Velocity” and then walked off leaving the reporter as bemused as those who first heard Eric Cantona utter: “When the seagulls follow the trawler, it is because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea.” But Strachan, a former Aberdeen and Manchester United player just like Buchan, was not the first to use this pearl of wisdom.
On 25 March 2017, Martin gave an interview to The Scotsman: “It was the start of season 1976-77 and Manchester United had just played Coventry City at the old Highfield Road. I was last out of the bath because I always liked a good soak and by the time I got to the players’ lounge – right at the top of the stadium – I was in need of a refreshment. This journalist who I didn’t know put his hand on my chest to stop me. A quick word, Martin? ‘Velocity,’ I said, and because he’d been so rude I added ‘f**k off’.” Manchester United defeated Coventry City 2-0 on 24 August 1976, with Lou Macari and Gordon Hill scoring for the club.
“He was the sensible one.”
Arthur Graham, Aberdeen 1970-77, speaking about his former teammate, Martin Buchan
In 1979, Martin Buchan captained Manchester United for the third time in an FA Cup final, this time losing 3-2 to Arsenal. Four years later he left Old Trafford and signed on a free transfer for Oldham Athletic in July 1983, aged 34. He played a total of 456 times for Manchester United, scoring four goals. Martin also found the back of the net for United’s opponents on three occasions. During his illustrious playing career, he was only booked five times and was never sent off. And, if he ever got too big for his boots his Mum would telephone him from Aberdeen and give off to her son.
“Even when I went to Manchester, if I was booked my mum was on the phone asking what I’d been up to as if I’d brought shame on the family!”
Martin won 34 caps for Scotland (no goals) and represented his country at the 1974 and 1978 Fifa World Cup finals. After a brief sojourn as a manager, he spent four months in charge of Burnley from July to August 1985, he took up a job with the sports manufacturer, Puma, and joined the Professional Footballers’ Association in 2000 before leaving his advisory role in 2017.
Tommy Docherty may well have been Martin’s manager at Old Trafford from 1972-77, but Buchan pulled the strings on the pitch. He was the conductor in The Doc’s orchestra as he marshalled his brass section (his fellow defenders), backed-up his wind section (the midfield) when they were in trouble, urged on his percussion section, notably Steve Coppell and Gordon Hill out on the wings, and provided the ammunition on many occasions with a sublime pass up-field to his bowed string section, his forwards, to pluck the chord and score.
Mind you, if Martin thought any of his teammates were slacking off in a game he had no hesitation, a bit like a certain Roy Keane would do so many years later, in letting his teammate know it. On one occasion Hill received a clip around the ear from his captain for failing to adhere to Martin’s instructions and marking his designated man when United conceded a free kick.
Did You Know That?
In May 1973, Tommy Docherty signed martin’s younger brother, George who was born on 2 May 1950, from Aberdeen. However, unlike his older brother, George’s stay at Old Trafford was a short one as he only managed four appearances in season 1973-74, before being transferred to Bury at the end of the season. His father, Martin senior, played for Aberdeen during the Second World War in unofficial tournaments whilst his son, Jamie, played for The Dons from 1995 to 2000.