Manchester United frustrate during March; Valencia and Lingard excite!

Manchester United got through the busy month of March by playing five matches in 16 days with the international break cutting the month into just over a fortnight to play matches. The Premier League only saw two matches being played for most teams, with the Emirates FA Cup and the UEFA Europa League making it a busier month for United, among others who were playing in the Champions League. April would become a tougher month for United with nine matches being played in 30 days, which should see many problems arise, especially with injuries to Wayne Rooney, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling, which will be tougher for the squad to get through a period littered with matches. What did United learn from March?

Manchester United 1-1 Bournemouth – Premier League

The month started with the visit of Bournemouth to Old Trafford, a match which was postponed last season due to a security alert. It was an encounter which United should have won, dominated and shamed their opposition, especially after the 3-1 victory at the Vitality Stadium back in August. It did not happen the way many expected to. United took the lead in the 23rd minute of the match through Marcos Rojo with United struggling to break down their opposition. There was some bad blood between Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Tyrone Mings with a tussle on the Bournemouth defender earlier in the first have, which resulted with Mings stamping on the Swede and Zlatan then elbowing Mings during a challenge. Andrew Surman was sent off for a second booking in a bid to have Zlatan sent off for the elbow, which went unpunished, as did the stamp on him. Former United Academy star Josh King equalised for Bournemouth five minutes before the break. Both Ibrahimovic and Mings faced retrospective action with a three and five match domestic ban issued. The draw could have seen United better their league position if it was a better result with United having to wait until closer to the end of the month to do that.

Rostov 1-1 Manchester United – UEFA Europa League

Zlatan Ibrahimovic was eligible to face the Russian side in the Europa League, meaning he would play a maximum of three times throughout the month of March. United travelled to Russia only to find the state of the pitch, which could be problematic for players on both teams. UEFA allowed the match to be played, though, which was a tough match, as are many in Russia. United took the lead through Henrikh Mkhitaryan in the 35th minute of the match, which was what United needed – an away goal. More was needed, though, especially after Rostov equalised eight minutes into the second half of the match through Alexandr Bukharov. Rostov gained some ground and pressured United for much of the half, with Sergio Romero having to pull off a few saves. United got a decent result in Russia, not a win, but one which would see them needing to push for something at Old Trafford, one which could also see the Russian side prevail and head into the quarter-finals of the Europa League – something United needed to earn themselves.

Chelsea 1-0 Manchester United – Emirates FA Cup

The biggest match of March and one United manager Jose Mourinho wanted to win, especially after the 4-0 thrashing his side faced back in October, incidentally their last defeat in the Premier League this season. United started the match in good stead, playing five at the back, at least when Chelsea were on the attack, three with United going forward. United looked as if they were going to give the runaway Premier League leaders a game but in the 35th minute of the match, Ander Herrera was sent off, which was a pivotal moment in the game. Henrikh Mkhitaryan was forced off the pitch with Marouane Fellaini replacing him with United needing that extra man in midfield. N’Golo Kante scored for the home side six minutes into the second half, the only goal of the game. United tried to get something out of the game, one chance from Marcus Rashford could have changed everything, but it was not meant to be. United were knocked out of the Emirates FA Cup, which was probably for the best as April could have been a much tougher month if they would have progressed.

Manchester United 1-0 Rostov – UEFA Europa League

The Russia side came to Old Trafford to try and orchestrate something magnificent. One goal was all they needed, with a shut-out also part of the parcel. Both sides were trying to get something early on from the game with the Russian’s luring United into their own half, giving them a game and hoping for the best on the counter, which was rare with 10-men in their own half for much of the match. It was the 70th minute when Juan Mata scored a decent goal, putting United in the driving seat, as long as they could keep a clean sheet. Goalkeeper Sergio Romero will hold fond memories of this match and the world-class saves he made, especially in the last minutes of the match, which stopped it going into extra time. United earned a 2-1 victory on aggregate moving on into the quarter-final stages of the UEFA Europa League for the first time, facing Belgian side Anderlecht during April. which gives United two chances to earn a UEFA Champions League place, which is the minimum requirement for next season.

Middlesbrough 1-3 Manchester United – Premier League

The end of the month, albeit for club football came around with United travelling to the Riverside to face Middlesbrough. Arsenal were beaten 3-1 by West Bromwich Albion the previous day, with Everton pushing United into seventh place in the league, ending more than 100 days in sixth. The weekend would either end with United still in seventh, or rising to fifth – something United needed to make sure was the case as chances had not been taken in the past, which would have left United in a better league position already, considering their unbeaten run stemming back to the end of October. It took 30 minutes for Marouane Fellaini to score his header, which was a decent strike coming from some good play by United. In the early stages of the match, Boro has 70% possession but did nothing memorable with the ball. United’s lead was doubled in the 62nd minute of the match, a thunderous strike from Jesse Lingard, who scored the Goal of the Month. Boro got a goal back from some good play 15 minutes later through Rudy Gestede, which saw United supporters panic with the home side’s resurgence. United dealt with what was thrown at them, though. Antonio Valencia went on a run in injury time, beating Victor Valdes, who slipped and scoring a goal of his own to end United 3-1 to the good. United moved up to fifth in the league, meaning April will be a big month for them in order to make a top four challenge, as well as earning a semi-final place in the Europa League.

Player of the Month – March 2017: Antonio Valencia

Antonio Valencia played a part in all five matches during March, starting four and being a last-minute substitute in Russia. The Ecuadorian has become one of the best, if not the best right-back in the Premier League this season, most of the time being the first name on the team sheet by Jose Mourinho. There have been moments where Valencia had looked stale, but he ensured he overcame that. Playing 90 minutes in the four matches against Bournemouth, Chelsea, Rostov, and Middlesbrough, scoring one goal (against Boro), Valencia earned the Player of the Month award for the month. United played five at the back for much of March, something they may not be able to do throughout April due to injuries, but Valencia, either playing as a right-back or a wing-back, did very well. The fact he’s managed to solidify his place in the team more often than not, Mourinho will have to find big feet to fill his boots when his days at the club are numbered. His work rate is something spectacular, as was taking on his man and even the goalkeeper deep in injury time against Boro, getting his reward with a decent goal, forcing a mistake out of Valdes, or a Steven Gerrard impression – it was one of the two.

Goal of the Month – March 2017: Jesse Lingard

Jesse Lingard is a player who has come through the Manchester United Academy, playing alongside the likes of Sam Johnstone, Ravel Morrison, Michael Keane, Larnell Cole and Paul Pogba, a current teammate at the club right now, just under five years after the Frenchman left the club. Lingard earned his debut in Louis van Gaal’s first season, getting injured in that match and finishing the season on loan. The following season, Van Gaal’s last, Lingard rose to the occasion and scored the winning goal at Wembley which saw United lift the Emirates FA Cup for the twelfth time in the club’s history. At the start of the current season, Lingard scored at Wembley again, this time the opening goal in the FA Community Shield victory over Premier League champions Leicester City. Lingard’s season reached a higher peak with a goal, again at Wembley in the EFL Cup final victory over Southampton which saw Jose Mourinho win his first major trophy in his debut season, a record for a United manager. Lingard, despite the abuse he gets from some of the United faithful, is a talented player. Maybe not a starter, but a decent squad player. The goal he scored against Middlesbrough was a stunning strike, one which will be remembered as it helped his side jump up to fifth place in the league, which could help to define their season through a busy April.

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