The Reds entered the month of March on the back of three wins in all competitions and fifth place in the Premier League table, one point ahead of West Ham United in sixth and three points adrift of fourth placed rivals Manchester City who had a game in hand over Louis van Gaal’s side. United battled on three fronts in the calendar month, the Premier League, the Europa League and the FA Cup, lets take a look at how they fared.
Barclays Premier League
All three of United’s Premier League games in March finished 1-0. First up was Watford at Old Trafford following three successive victories in all competitions in which Louis van Gaal’s men scored 11 goals. The Reds looked a shadow of the team that beat Arsenal just days previous. Juan Mata’s superb free-kick won it late on however Watford missed plenty of chances, much to the brilliance of David De Gea as well as the inability to finish from Hornets striker Odion Ighalo. The Reds then traveled to The Hawthorns to face West Bromwich Albion. Midweek hero Juan Mata soon turned villain as the Spaniard picked up his first professional red card in his career for two needless bookings in the first half. United had to play over an hour with ten men and were beaten by Salomon Rondon’s second half strike.
Following a trio of domestic and European cup games, the Reds returned to league action to face neighbours and rivals Manchester City at the Etihad. City sat fourth, two places and four points ahead of United. A defeat for Louis van Gaal’s side would’ve ended any lingering hopes of finishing in that all important fourth spot. Marcus Rashford’s first half goal was enough to ensure United left the Etihad with all three points. United attacked with raw pace and defended resolutely when called upon meaning the Reds enter April just one point adrift of Manuel Pellegrini’s side in the quest for Champions League football next season.
UEFA Europa League
Speaking of European football, United’s Europa League campaign got a whole lot juicier when they were paired up against Premier League rivals Liverpool in the round of 16 tie. United traveled to Anfield for the first leg following a 1-0 defeat to West Brom just four days previous. Louis van Gaal’s side were toothless in defeat as they lost the first leg 2-0. David De Gea produced some great saves to ensure the score stayed at 2-0 however the damage was already done. United needed to win 2-0 at Old Trafford to take it to extra time or win 3-0 on the night to go through. The home side looked bright in the first half and took the lead on the half hour mark through Anthony Martial who won the spot kick. Liverpool leveled on the stroke of half time meaning United would need three goals without reply in the second half. It remained 1-1 which meant Louis van Gaal’s side went out 3-1 on aggregate, a disappointing end to a disappointing European campaign.
Emirates FA Cup
The Reds were matched up against a Premier League side for the first time in this seasons FA Cup when they were given a home tie against West Ham United in the quarter-finals. United had previously faced lower league opposition in Sheffield United, Derby County and Shrewsbury Town to get to this stage. Louis van Gaal’s side went behind midway into the second half following a delightful long-range free-kick from West Ham’s Dimitri Payet. The Reds were looking bereft of ideas, until the introduction of Bastian Schweinsteiger changed the tempo of the game. Anthony Martial leveled the scores at 1-1 with a well worked goal seven minutes from time, setting up a replay at the Boleyn Ground on April 13th where the winners will face Everton in the semi-finals at Wembley.
Off the Field
The Mourinho to United merry-go-round shows no signs of coming to a halt. Reports surfaced last week that Mourinho had signed a pre-contract agreement with the Old Trafford club, claiming that the former Chelsea manager will be due up to £15 million in compensation if he is not appointed by June 1st. Mourinho has been out of work since December and rumours have been circulating ever since, especially with Louis van Gaal coming in for severe criticism on more than one occasion this season. It seems only a matter of time before Mourinho takes the Old Trafford hot seat although I see van Gaal being given to the end of the current campaign.
Consistently inconsistent. Two wins, two draws and two defeats. Four goals scored, five goals conceded. It’s a weird feeling as a Manchester United fan going into the final couple of months of the season with not a lot to fight for although has become all too familiar since the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson. The former United boss never finished lower than third during his time at Old Trafford, almost three years on and finishing third seems like a distance memory. A defeat at City last weekend could have been the end of any lingering hopes of finishing in the top four, however the win puts us firmly back in the picture. United’s FA Cup replay against West Ham has finally been given a date, 13th April. The winner of that tie will face Everton at Wembley with Crystal Palace and Watford playing out the other semi-final. Would a fourth place finish and an FA Cup triumph be a successful season?
Player of the Month: March 2016
Each month, MUFCLatest.com will select three players for you to vote for the Player of the Month. The three players will be chosen by our writing team based on their merit over the month. The trio of players nominated are as follows:
David De Gea
United’s Spanish keeper has been a mainstay between the sticks throughout March and it’s a good job he has too! Had it not been for De Gea, United could have been numerous goals behind in the first game on the month against Watford. He came out on top in what seemed to be a personal battle against Watford striker Idion Ighalo, he kept a clean sheet behind an inexperienced back four as United won 1-0. His best performance on the month came in the 2-0 defeat to Liverpool in the first leg of United’s round of 16 however the Spaniard could do nothing to prevent either goal. He made six saves against Jurgen Klopp’s side, some of them crucial too. He then kept his second clean sheet of the month against rivals Manchester City last weekend in a hard-fought but deserved 1-0 win.
The England defender has been one of Louis van Gaal’s most trusted players this term. He missed the first game of the month through injury and it showed as an inexperience back line made a few errors leading to chances. Despite losing to West Bromwich Albion earlier this month, Smalling played well for the large part against the Baggies big Venezuelan striker Salomon Rondon. He kept Andy Carrol quiet in the 1-1 draw against West Ham in the FA Cup and was named Man of the Match in the Manchester derby last weekend. The 26-year-old – who was sent off by the same referee in the corresponding fixture last season – picked up an early booking for a foul on Sergio Aguero. Smalling rode his luck late on as he felled Aguero again but escaped caution and put in a dominating display to come away from the Etihad with all three points.
The Frenchman scored half of United’s goals in the month of March with two strikes against West Ham United and Liverpool at Old Trafford. Although Martial’s entrée into the Player of the Month voting is more to do with his general play as opposed to his goals. He has been one-third of a young attacking trio along with Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard. The three players caused Manchester City great problems on Sunday with their raw pace and direct style of play. Martial started and finished a good team goal against West Ham in the FA Cup to take it to a replay at the Boleyn Ground as well as winning and scoring the penalty in the 2nd leg of the round of 16 tie against Liverpool in the Europa League. The 20-year-old runs at defences which is a breath of fresh air for many United fans. Martial has found the net 12 times so far in his debut season in England, only skipper Wayne Rooney (14) has more than the youngster.
Who is your Player of the Month for March 2016?
Goal of the Month: March 2016
This might be quite tricky, given United have only scored four goals across six games this calendar month and one of those was a penalty. The three nominees for goal of the month are as follows:
Juan Mata v Watford, 2nd March 2016
United went into the game against Watford having just beaten Arsenal 3-2 at Old Trafford three days previous. The Reds looked sloppy in possession and had David De Gea to thank on a number of occasions for keeping them in the game at 0-0. It was going to take something special to break the deadlock on a frustrating night for Louis van Gaal’s side and Juan Mata delivered just that. United won a free kick just outside the area with eight minutes remaining. Mata found the top corner with a delightful curling effort at the Stretford End to ensure United made it four wins in as many games.
Anthony Martial v West Ham United, 13th March 2016
The Reds headed into the final ten minutes of their quarter-final tie against West Ham United 1-0 down, following a brilliant long-range free-kick from Frenchman Dimitri Payet. It was United’s French star who leveled proceedings at Old Trafford. Anthony Martial started and finished the move that meant the teams must do battle again at the Boleyn Ground next month. The 20-year-old picked the ball up just outside the West Ham area, he picked out Lingard who found Ander Herrera making a run to the byline. Martial had continued his run to the back post where Herrera found the youngster with a lovely lobbed cross for him to prod home at the back-post.
Marcus Rashford v Manchester City, 20th March 2016
The 18-year-old rose to fame after making his debut only last month, scoring a brace in his first two matches, against FC Midtjylland and Arsenal in the Europa League and the Premier League respectively. Rashford lead the line against rivals Manchester City last weekend, starting his eighth match in a row. Mata picked the ball up in the middle of the pitch before playing the ball into the youngster just outside the area. The Manchester-born lad took one touch before skipping past Martin Demichelis like he wasn’t there. He found himself one on one with Joe Hart in the City area but showed great composure by slotting the ball under the England international to score the only goal of the game in his first Manchester derby.
Which strike do you think deserves Goal of the Month for March 2016?