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October Review: Cristiano Ronaldo, Bruno Fernandes, David De Gea and Marcus Rashford for POTM?

Manchester United played five matches in October and it was not a great month for the club or Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. United started the month with a 1-1 draw with Everton at Old Trafford, which then made way for an international break. After that, United lost 4-2 to Leicester City at the King Power Stadium, ending their unbeaten away run in the Premier League. Solskjaer’s side returned to winning ways beating Atalanta 3-2 at Old Trafford in the UEFA Champions League, coming from 2-0 down. A 5-0 defeat to Liverpool at Old Trafford in the Premier League followed, adding pressure to Solskjaer before his side beat Tottenham Hotspur 3-0.

October Statistics: A month of pressure for Solskjaer which ended more positively than it begun.

Five matches played; two wins one draw and two defeats. Four Premier League points won out of 12, and three points won in the UEFA Champions League, which put United at the summit of the group table and in with a good chance of getting out of the group. A total of nine goals were scored for United in October; Marcus Rashford scored three goals, Cristiano Ronaldo scored two and Edinson Cavani, Mason Greenwood, Harry Maguire and Anthony Martial scored one each. Bruno Fernandes got five assists whilst Victor Lindelof, Nemanja Matic, Ronaldo and Luke Shaw all got one assist each.

2 October – Manchester United 1-1 Everton – Premier League

Goals: Anthony Martial 43′; Andros Townsend 65′

Assists: Bruno Fernandes 43′; Abdoulaye Doucoure 65′

Manchester United drew 1-1 with Everton in the Premier League at Old Trafford. Anthony Martial opened the scoring in the 43rd minute of the match, scoring his first goal for the club this season, assisted by Bruno Fernandes. United should have perhaps scored more than one goal in the first half, seeking more in the second half. Andros Townsend equalised for the Toffees, after Fred lost the ball with Abdoulaye Doucoure equalising before Yerry Mina scored again five minutes from time, which was ruled offside. United needed to win this match and will go into the international break frustrated.

16 October – Leicester City 4-2 Manchester United – Premier League

Goals: Youri Tielemans 31′, Çaglar Söyüncü 78′, Jamie Vardy 83′, Patson Daka 90+1′; Mason Greenwood 19′, Marcus Rashford 82′

Assists: Kelechi Iheanacho 31′, Ayoze Pérez 78′, 83′, You Tielemans 90+1′; Bruno Fernandes 19′, Victor Lindelof 82′

Manchester United were beaten 4-2 by Leicester City at the King Power Stadium. It was another big defeat for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side at the stadium, losing last season in the FA Cup. United unbeaten away run was now over. Mason Greenwood opened the scoring in the 19th minute of the match but Youri Tielemans equalised in the 31st minute. Leicester then found a second goal, scored by Çaglar Söyüncü in the 78th minute before Marcus Rashford levelled in the 82nd minute for United. Jamie Vardy put Leicester ahead again a minute later before Patson Daka completed the rout in the first minute of added time.

20 October – Manchester United 3-2 Atalanta – UEFA Champions League

Goals: Marcus Rashford 53′, Harry Maguire 75′, Cristiano Ronaldo 81′; Mario Pašalić 15′, Merit Demiral 29′

Assists: Bruno Fernandes 53′, 75′, Luke Shaw 81′; Davide Zappacosta 15′, Teun Koopmeiners 29′

Manchester United beat Atalanta 3-2 in the UEFA Champions League. At half time, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side were 2-0 down after Mario Pašalić and Merih Demiral scored in the first half. United seemed dejected, devoid of confidence, inspiration and motivation. Something must have been said during the break as eight minutes in, Marcus Rashford got a goal back with Harry Maguire equalising in the 75th minute and none other than Cristiano Ronaldo scoring the winner in the 81st minute of the match. It was a poor first half, the second half was better but winning this match from a losing position means the world.

24 October – Manchester United 0-5 Liverpool – Premier League

Goals: Naby Keita 5′, Diogo Jota 13′, Mohamed Salah 38′, 45+5′, 50′

Assists: Mohamed Salah 5′, Trent Alexander-Arnold 13′, Naby Keita 38′, Diogo Jota 45+5′, Jordan Henderson 50′

Manchester United were beaten 5-0 by Liverpool at Old Trafford in the Premier League. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side were toothless, lacked any kind of ability to play this game and will be under so much pressure, which will either make or break them. Mohamed Salah scored a hat-trick in the game, scoring in the 38th minute, five minutes into added time and one against five minutes into the second half. Naby Keita opened the scoring and was stretched off after Paul Pogba was sent off the the foul. Diogo Jota scored the other goal in the game that saw Liverpool run riot at the Theatre of Dreams.

30 October – Tottenham Hotspur 0-3 Manchester United – Premier League

Goals: Cristiano Ronaldo 39′, Edinson Cavani 64′, Marcus Rashford 86′

Assists: Bruno Fernandes 39′, Cristiano Ronaldo 64′, Nemanja Matic 86’

Manchester United beat Tottenham Hotspur 3-0 in the Premier League. It was a good comeback for United after their humiliation against Liverpool last week. Cristiano Ronaldo opened the scoring in the 39th minute of the match, assisted by Bruno Fernandes. United doubled their lead through Edinson Cavani in the 64th minute of the match, assisted by Ronaldo and Marcus Rashford scored the third goal of the match in the 86th minute, assisted by Nemanja Matic. United face Atalanta on Tuesday evening, then Manchester City in the first Manchester derby of the season next weekend.

Cristiano Ronaldo – five appearances, 374 minutes played, two goals, one assist and two MOTM awards.

Cristiano Ronaldo won the Manchester United Player of the Month for September and should probably win this one, considering his goal against Atalanta won the game and he scored and assisted against Spurs. He was awarded two Man of the Match awards by the club for his performances against Atalanta and Spurs and his goal against Spurs will be a Goal of the Month contender, for the angle which he found the back of the net. Ronaldo has been a breath of fresh air since returning to the club, despite the poor team performances that followed the last international break. United with Ronaldo is a much better team but needs to be unbeatable.

Bruno Fernandes – five appearances, 408 minutes played, five assists and one MOTM award.

Bruno Fernandes has performed this month, despite United’s poor results. The Portuguese magnifico got himself five assists in the month, matching the seven assists held by Paul Pogba this season. Fernandes has four goals too, but non of those were scored in October. The midfielder was awarded the Man of the Match in the 1-1 draw with Everton, which was a poor result for United and one which continued throughout October, ending with a win. He assisted against Everton, Leicester, twice against Atalanta and once against Spurs. There are times when his form has tailed off but he always strives for high level performances at the club.

David De Gea – five appearances, 450 minutes played, one clean sheet – a goalkeeper in form.

The Spanish goalkeeper has performed exceptionally well during October, raising his game and showing many glimpses of the player he was before last season, when his form was questionable. He ended the month with his second clean sheet this season, which is no really achievement, but will be a starting point from a period where United were conceding goals at the fault of the defence rather than the goalkeeper. De Gea made any saves, helping to keep United in matches, especially the 3-2 victory over Atalanta in the Champions League. The past month will have made him more determined to succeed at United.

Marcus Rashford: four appearances, two from the bench, 172 minutes played, three goals.

Marcus Rashford only made he return from shoulder surgery against Leicester City, making four appearances in October, two of those from the bench. The three goals that he scored were needed for United, even the one against Leicester which levelled the score to 2-2 but United capitulated a minute later, then again in added time. Rashford also scored against Atalanta and Spurs – two matches which were wins and much needed at that. Having Rashford fit this season will be great for United and it’s clear he wants to achieve things at the club and will do all that he can to get United heading into the right direction.

Who is your Player of the Month for October 2021?

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Who is your Manchester United Player of the Month for October 2021?

A look at what lies ahead in November…

United will play five matches in November. It will be another busy month for United with two matches to be played before the final international break of 2021; Atalanta in the Champions League and Manchester City in the Premier League. Two weeks later, United will face Watford away in the league before the penultimate Champions League match away to Villarreal. The final match of the month will be away at Chelsea. United were supposed to face Arsenal at the end of November, but that match was rescheduled because it will be shown on television. United will have a busy December with eight matches being played. Here are November’s matches;

2 November – Atalanta, Stadio di Bergamo – UEFA Champions League

6 November – Manchester City, Old Trafford – Premier League

20 November – Watford, Vicarage Road – Premier League

23 November – Villarreal, Estadio de la Cerámica – UEFA Champions League

28 November – Chelsea, Stamford Bridge – Premier League

Written by John Walker

Solskjaer’s Tactical Tweak: A New System For Manchester United?

After a week of intensive pressure, Manchester United managed to respond to the shocking 5-0 defeat against Liverpool with an impressive, albeit, comfortable 3-0 victory against Tottenham Hotspur. Many had suspected United would have had a different manager in charge this past weekend, however Ole Gunnar Solskjaer retained confidence from the club despite a large outcry from certain fans against him. 

Solskjaer made a good decision to adjust United’s formation into a 3-5-2, making the team look far more comfortable defensively. With the impressive display against Tottenham, it seems this setup could be the way forward for United.

It’s not the first time United have effectively deployed the 3-5-2, Solskjaer’s side recorded a very impressive 2-1 victory against Paris Saint-Germain last season using the same system. Aside from this game there have been victories against both Manchester City and Chelsea in the past using the 3-5-2, which cements it as a formation that can be used to thwart the higher quality teams. 

Across his tenure at United Solskjaer has largely played more of a counter attacking game, although this season it looked as if Solskjaer had shifted away from that slightly. Games against Leicester and Liverpool recently highlighted Solskjaer’s desire to use a 4-2-4, a formation that saw United played off the park in both games, conceding nine in total across the two games. 

It may be that the addition of high-quality players such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Raphael Varane has fooled Solskjaer into thinking he can get away with playing a more offensive game with less focus on defensive structure, however, it just doesn’t work like that. 

The issue with the United team is a large contingent of attacking minded players who when deployed in more offensive formations leave the defence totally exposed. United have looked like trying to deploy more of a press in recent weeks, however, it’s not the same as the likes of Liverpool and Manchester City, who have perfected their systems over the last few years to work flawlessly

Additionally, Solskjaer doesn’t possess the right set of players to deploy aggressive presses like some teams, Ronaldo and Mason Greenwood may be exceptional finishers, however they aren’t players who will press effectively.

In the game against Tottenham, the inclusion of three centre-backs with two wing-backs meant United had a much more secure shape and were less susceptible to being played through in the middle. Ronaldo also had a strike partner in the form of veteran striker Edinson Cavani, who scored a wonderful goal in the second half set up by partner Ronaldo. 

In recent weeks Ronaldo has had the tendency to look a little isolated at times, so the change of formation could be hugely beneficial for the Portuguese forward, allowing more direct link up play to occur. Another facet of the change meant United looked like they were a lot more compact and closer together, Bruno Fernandes occupying a slightly deeper role than he usually does. 

There were no more gaping holes in midfield and both Scott McTominay and Fred looked far more comfortable marauding the midfield with three defenders securely behind them.

One of the issues that arises from switching to a formation with three at the back is in regard to the reduced roles it affords to United’s more offensive players. The club secured Jadon Sancho in the summer for a hefty fee of £73 million, but unfortunately the young winger has had limited opportunities to impress thus far. 

Sancho is still finding his feet and worryingly a formation change could mean he has even less of a chance of breaking into the team this season. The drawback of 3-5-2 is the lack of out and out attacking wingers, which for United is problematic considering the depth and quality available in that position. Marcus Rashford, Greenwood and Sancho are just three of the several wingers who possess top level quality at the club, meaning there’s no chance all of them get into the team at the same time. 

While both Rashford and Greenwood could occupy the striker role next to Ronaldo, it’s unlikely Sancho would play in such a role considering his ability as a natural winger; giving Solskjaer something to think about in regard to accommodating all of his players.

United face two difficult upcoming games in the next week, one against Atalanta in the Champions League and a derby against city rivals Manchester City. It’s very likely that Solskjaer will stick with the 3-5-2, or some variation of it, and the Norwegian will hope United can pick up further clean sheets against two difficult sides. 

Despite the comfortable win against Tottenham, United will have to work to perfect a new system if Solskjaer chooses to stick with it, but further wins in the next week could gift Solskjaer a new lease of life on his team and more importantly, offer a new way to play going forward.

Written by Sam Wilson

Cristiano Ronaldo: “I’ll Close Mouths And Win Things”

Manchester United fought back from two goals down against Atalanta last week to go top of Champions League Group F, the winning goal courtesy of a brilliant Cristiano Ronaldo header. While tensions are currently high surrounding the club after a damning league defeat against Liverpool, the Champions League has offered solace in the last two matchdays. 

In the wake of the crucial victory, Ronaldo sat down with Geoff Shreeves of Sky Sports for an interview where he boldly stated he would ‘close mouths and win things’ for United. Ronaldo was speaking in reference to a question put forward regarding some of the recent criticism the Portuguese has received, mostly regarding his work rate and pressing. 

However, any doubts surrounding whether Ronaldo still has the same motivation or desire to win as he did earlier in his career were swiftly put to bed in a very direct conversation with Shreeves. Ronaldo said of his motivation; ‘it doesn’t matter how many things I won in my career. I win everything but I’m still motivated.’

Supporters of United will be pleased to hear that despite his unrivalled success, Ronaldo is still desperate to win again and more importantly- win with United. This burning desire has been showcased through Ronaldo’s actions a few times since his return to United. One such example was Ronaldo’s passionate celebration after scoring a last-minute winner against Villarreal in the Champions League

United were in desperate need for the three points and right on cue the ball dropped to Ronaldo who smashed it home in the 94th minute. Naturally Old Trafford erupted, and a jubilant Ronaldo ripped off his shirt and wheeled away towards the United supporters.

It’s easy to forget that this is a 36-year-old, the Champions Leagues greatest ever player, Ronaldo has won the competition four times and is the top goal scorer in it. He could have easily called it a day at his age and lost his passion for game, yet the five-time Ballon d’Or winner just seems to want more. Ronaldo claimed he is ‘not here for a holiday, he is here to work’, and will know full well one more Champions League title will put him level with Paco Gento, a Real Madrid legend with a record six Champions League titles.

With all of this being said, it would be forgivable to expect United to miraculously cruise back to glory, after all, Ronaldo does make miracles happen on the pitch. However, the reality is a lot more grounded, something Ronaldo recognised in the interview noting; ‘United are in a period of transition, buying me, Varane and Sancho’

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s new signings will need time to adapt to the club, Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane not yet fully acclimatised just yet it would seem. Ronaldo is a breed of his own though, having scored a brace on his debut and racking up six goals already at the time of writing. 

When pressed about why he hasn’t retired from the national team yet, Ronaldo simply met the question with a puzzled; ‘why?’. The Portuguese cited his ability to still dribble and shoot, still affect games on a consistent basis at all levels, even suggesting he can reach an even higher level still. Whether this was just the talk of an extremely confident winner or genuine desire, it’s at least obvious that Ronaldo maintains his status as a gamechanger. 

While Ronaldo’s role has evolved since his dazzling feet first lit up the Old Trafford turf 18 years ago, his ability to score goals is the same if not better. Playing as a striker, Ronaldo is probably the deadliest player on the planet in the box, with both his feet and his head. The headed winner against Atalanta is perhaps indicative of one of the reasons why Ronaldo may be considered the greatest ever ahead of Messi, that being Ronaldo seems to always pull-out big goals when needed most. 

Despite all of the positives Ronaldo has brought with him, there is still a side to the Portuguese that can sometimes come across as abrasive and immature. Shreeves brought up Ronaldo’s furious march to the tunnel after drawing against Everton at home, to which Ronaldo reiterated his desire to win, which sometimes causes him to react angrily when the team doesn’t do this.

At the weekend we saw an example of this again, a furious Ronaldo kicked out just before half time, somehow avoiding a red card. While this side of Ronaldo is intrinsically linked to the nature of being a winner, Ronaldo will have to tread the line between frustration and disrespect carefully. 

It’s clear the club is in a turbulent place after the 5-0 loss against Liverpool at Old Trafford, Ronaldo was even picked up mocking Solskjaer’s hand gestures, but the harmony between players and staff has to remain if United are to succeed. There is no doubt Ronaldo still maintains faith and immense confidence in his own ability, his influence bigger than ever before, however, this confidence and influence could ultimately have more power than it should, and Ronaldo needs to use it in the right way if United are to win again.

Written by Sam Wilson

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer should have aggressive mentality to help Cristiano Ronaldo, says Paul Scholes

Former Manchester United midfielder Paul Scholes has urged current manager and former teammate Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to adopt a more aggressive mentality to help Cristiano Ronaldo in attack. Scholes has stated that an overdue change to the midfield will help United unleash their more exciting attacking players to make up for lost time in the Premier League title race this season.

United started the season in fine fettle with a 5-1 victory over Leeds United, then drawing 1-1 to Southampton before beating Wolverhampton Wanderers 1-0, all before the first International break of the season. After that, they beat Newcastle United 4-1 and beat West Ham United 2-1 before falling foul to a 1-0 defeat to Aston Villa and a 1-1 draw with Everton, all in the Premier League.

Solskjaer has continued, at least when possible, to play Scott McTominay and Fred as the defensive-minded pairing in the centre of the midfield, which leads many to frustration, primarily because of Fred. Scholes has stated that he has no doubts over McTominay’s quality but was concerned to the lack of balance in the midfield. This is something that we have all been thinking over the past few months.

Scholes feels that Solskjaer should look at what Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola would do, installing McTominay as the sole holding midfielder in the starting XI, who could obviously rotate with Nemanja Matic, and playing a more attacking lineup in matches. Scholes spoke about McTominay and his ideas for United on the Webby and O’Neill YouTube channel, saying:

“I think he’s got everything, he’s athletic, he can get around the pitch, he’s got great ability as well. He’s capable of sitting in that position.”

Scholes believes that this change wold benefit the attacking players, such as Ronaldo, who will be leading United’s attack, Bruno Fernandes, who largely plays in the central attacking midfield role, Jadon Sancho, who should be playing on the right-wing and Marcus Rashford, who will be back on the left-wing when he returns from injury. The likes of Mason Greenwood, Edinson Cavani and Anthony Martial will benefit also. Scholes continued by saying:

“That’s the difference between United and I think Liverpool and City – they are much more aggressive, more attack-minded,” added the 46-year-old.

“You think of City going away to Chelsea, they play one holding midfield player and almost play six or seven forward players – that’s the difference in mentality.

“I think if Ole can get that right with that balance in the team… going forward I don’t think is a problem. Going forward we’ve got so many exciting players with Cristiano coming.”

It would see that Scholes has thought about this and has been suitably convinced that the team could work well with just one holding midfielder, based on their defensive performances so far this season. United have conceded six goals in seven matches which has mostly been strengthened by Raphael Varane’s arrival at the club this summer, strengthening the defence, which was much needed. Scholes concluded by saying:

“Defensively we look great, everything’s there. It just seems to be getting that one person in the middle of the pitch right, that balance of the team. But once he (Solskjaer) gets that, I think we’ll be alright.”

United will face Leicester City at the King Power Stadium on Saturday afternoon in the Premier League, which could see Solskjaer’s team strengthened with the return of Harry Maguire, who received a calf injury in the defeat to Aston Villa. That said, Varane came off in the Nations League final against Spain on Sunday, which France won 2-1, which could see him as a doubt for the clash with the team that bottled the Champions League in two consecutive seasons. Victor Lindelof, Eric Bailly or even Phil Jones could step in if either were not fit enough to play this weekend.

Written by John Walker

September Review: David De Gea, Cristiano Ronaldo and Jesse Lingard lead the plaudits

Manchester United played six matches in September which saw the return of the Carabao Cup and the UEFA Champions League along with the Premier League. It was the first of a busy few months for United. The month started well with Cristiano Ronaldo returning to the club with a bang, scoring five goals in his first five matches for the club but United did not start well in either the Champions League, losing to Young Boys or the Carabao Cup, exiting following a defeat to West Ham United. Despite the defeats, which also includes the one to Aston Villa, United won two Premier League matches, earning six points and sit fourth in the league. They ended the month with a victory over Villarreal in the Champions League.

September Statistics: United started and ended the month on a high but saw problems in the middle.

Six matches played; three wins and three defeats. Six Premier League points won out of nine, knocked out of the Carabao Cup, which is more of a bonus rather than a negative and got their first points in the Champions League with a late victory over Villarreal. United scored nine goals in September, conceding seven. Cristiano Ronaldo scored five goals, Jesse Lingard scored two and both Alex Telles and Bruno Fernandes scored one each. Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes got two assists with Jesse Lingard, Nemanja Matic and Luke Shaw getting one each. Not the best month in the history of the club but it ended a positive one.

11 September – Manchester United 4-1 Newcastle United – Premier League

Goals: Cristiano Ronaldo 45+2′, 62′, Bruno Fernandes 80′, Jesse Lingard 90+2′; Javier Manquillo 56′

Assists: Luke Shaw 62′, Paul Pogba 80′, 90+2′; Allan Saint-Maximin 56′

Manchester United beat Newcastle United 4-1 at Old Trafford in the Premier League. Cristiano Ronaldo opened the scoring in added time at the end of the first half, scoring his 119th goal for United. The Magpies equalised through Javier Manquillo in the 56th minute of the match before Ronaldo sealed his brace six minutes later. Bruno Fernandes scored a stunner in the 80th minute with Jesse Lingard getting on the scoresheet in added time at the end of the match. Paul Pogba got two assist with Luke Shaw getting the other. United will face Young Boys in the UEFA Champions League on Tuesday. Top of the league.

14 September – Young Boys 2-1 Manchester United – UEFA Champions League

Goals: Nicolas Moumi Ngamalo 66′, Jordan Siebatcheu 90+5′; Cristiano Ronaldo 13′

Assists: Silvan Hefti 66′; Bruno Fernandes 13′

Manchester United were beaten 2-1 by Young Boys in the opening UEFA Champions League group stage match of the season. Cristiano Ronaldo opened the scoring, assisted by Bruno Fernandes in the 13th minute of the match. Aaron Wan-Bissaka was sent off for a bad foul in the 35th minute of the match, leaving United with ten men. Nicolas Moumi Ngamalo found the equaliser in the 66th minute of the match with United doing so well at that stage. United tried to hold out but Jordan Siebatcheu found the winner in the fifth minute of add time with the Swiss side getting all three points from the match.

19 September – West Ham United 1-2 Manchester United – Premier League

Goals: Said Benrahma 30′; Cristiano Ronaldo 35′, Jesse Lingard 89′

Assists: Jarrod Bowen 30′; Nemanja Matic 89′

Manchester United beat West Ham United 2-1 in the Premier League at the London Stadium. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side once again came from behind to set their unbeaten away run to 29 matches now, two more than Arsenal’s record from 2004. Said Benrahma opened the scoring in the 30th minute for the Hammers but five minutes later, Cristiano Ronaldo levelled the match. It looked like a 1-1 draw before Jesse Lingard won the match for United. There was late drama with a penalty awarded for the Hammers but David De Gea made the save from Mark Noble’s effort. What a match, what a moment, what a result!

22 September – Manchester United 0-1 West Ham United – Carabao Cup

Goals: Manuel Lanzini 9′

Assists: Ryan Fredericks 9′

Manchester United were beaten 1-0 by West Ham United in the third round of the Carabao Cup at Old Trafford. Ryan Fredericks assisted Manual Lanzini for the only goal of the game in the ninth minute of the match. The Hammers fans will suggest they played well against United, but they were pretty lucky. David Moyes had his team sat back for the entire match, which is why he did not succeed at United as he does not have an adventurous style of play for his teams. Anthony Martial was terrible, which is something that has been obvious for some time – perhaps Anthony Elanga should replace him in this team?

25 September – Manchester United 0-1 Aston Villa – Premier League

Goals: Kortney Hause 88′

Assists: Douglas Luiz 88′

Manchester United fell to a 1-0 defeat to Aston Villa in the Premier League. It was the first league defeat of the season; the third in all competitions with two of those coming at Old Trafford. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side lost both Luke Shaw and Harry Maguire to injury before seeing Kortney Hause head home in the 88th minute to put Villa ahead in the match. Edinson Cavani called for a penalty as Hause handled the ball in the box in added time and the penalty was given both by the referee and VAR. Bruno Fernandes took the penalty, sending it over the crossbar. United 18-match undefeated run against Villa is over.

29 September – Manchester United 2-1 Villarreal – UEFA Champions League

Goals: Alex Telles 60′, Cristiano Ronaldo 90+5′; Paco Alcácer 53′

Assists: Bruno Fernandes 60′, Jesse Lingard 90+5′; Arnaut Danjuma 53′

Manchester United beat Villarreal 2-1 in the Champions League at Old Trafford. It was a cagey first half with chances galore for the away side, however in-between David De Gea saving United’s blushed and poor finishing for Villarreal, United were able to avoid conceding a goal. Eight minutes into the second half, Paco Alcácer opened the scoring, assisted by Arnaut Danjuma. It took United just seven minutes to equalise with Alex Telles getting his first goal for United, assisted by Bruno Fernandes. United needed a win and that is what they got with Cristiano Ronaldo scoring in added time, assisted by Jesse Lingard.

Cristiano Ronaldo – five appearances, 432 minutes played, five goals and one MOTM award.

What a return to the Theatre of Dreams for Cristiano Ronaldo. At 36, the United haters, which included some of the cos own fans this season (the ones on Twitter, not at Old Trafford) said all they could to write him off. He’s had a better impact at the club than Alexis Sanchez, despite not matching his nine assists – but has done his five goals. A brace against Newcastle United, then single goals against Young Boys, which was a defeat, West Ham United, which was an equaliser, and now the winner against Villarreal in the Champions League, the Portuguese forward has much more to give in his career and long may that continue.

Jesse Lingard – five appearances, 174 minutes played, two goals and one assist.

A resurgent display whilst on loan for the second half of last season at West Ham may have saved his career. Seemingly on the cards for an exit in the summer but he decided to stay and fight for a place. He’s not got all that many minutes but goals against Newcastle, West Ham and an assist for Ronaldo’s winner against Villarreal shows that he might just be reborn at United, although he needs to be offering a lot more across the remainder of the season. A good player to bring off the bench at this moment in time and long may that continue too. There has been far worse players to have played for this club in the not too distant past.

David De Gea – five appearances, 450 minutes played, one penalty save and two MOTM awards.

It has been a resurgent display for David De Gea this season. He has started to rediscover his form and prove himself at the club, which is a good sign as it looked like the end of the road for him last season with Dean Henderson seeking to derail him. His positioning has become much better, he has the confidence to make saves again and saved that late penalty against West Ham, which kept United ahead and grabbing all three points from that cagey match. De Gea has been the saviour for the club in a few matches this month, and this season for that matter. He won the Man of the Match awards for the wins over West Ham and Villarreal.

Notable Mentions: Raphael Varane, Alex Telles, Luke Shaw, Nemanja Matic and Jadon Sancho

There have been few players to rise to the challenge at the club this month and a few more could do a lot more for the club. Raphael Varane has strengthened the United defence to the point where there is some sort of confidence, although more could be done to stop goals being leaked. Luke Shaw has continued his form from last season, despite picking up and injury against Aston Villa that ended his month. Alex Telles has played some vital minutes after his return from injury, scoring his first goal for the club against Villarreal in a much needed win in the Champions League, coming after three defeats in four matches.

Nemanja Matic has shown his worth for United but also underlined the importance of solving the problems with the midfield, which would complete this squad for United moving forward. Matic is the only experienced defensive midfielder at the club and his performances of late have helped United, but it is well known that he cannot continue to be relied on as his performances slip the more he plays. Jadon Sancho has started to settle at the club and has shown glimpses of his worth to the club – despite the media and the CEO of Borussia Dortmund criticising his playing time at United, which so far has involved him playing 402 minutes of a possible 810 so far.

Who is your Player of the Month for September 2021?

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Who is your Manchester United Player of the Month for September 2021?

A look at what lies ahead in October…

United will play five matches in October, which could have been six if they had made it to the fourth round of the Carabao Cup, which now gives them a rest between the matches against Liverpool (Home) and Tottenham Hotspur (Away). United will play four Premier League matches in October with the first against Everton (Home) which will then signed the second international break of the season with two weeks of no club football. United will then face Leicester City (Away), Atalanta (Home), Liverpool (Home) and Spurs (Away) – hopefully ending the month in style, rather than more discontent. It will be a big month for United.

2 October – Everton, Old Trafford – Premier League

16 October – Leicester City, King Power Stadium – Premier League

20 October – Atalanta, Old Trafford – UEFA Champions League

24 October – Liverpool, Old Trafford – Premier League

30 October – Tottenham Hotspur, Tottenham Hotspur Stadium – Premier League

Written by John Walker

Cristiano Ronaldo will be ‘make or break’ for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, says Gary Neville

Manchester United re-signed Cristiano Ronaldo from Juventus at the end of the summer transfer window, which is a reunion that has been suggested since the summer of 2013 – but never happened, until now. It is something that would have been great for United post-Sir Alex Ferguson too.

However, now that it has been done, a United legend and former teammate of Ronaldo has heaped pressure on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer suggesting that the re-signing of the 36-year-old will either be make or break for him. It is not something that was said maliciously – but because people will turn on the manager even more if it fails.

The 46-year-old, who now works as a pundit and commentator for Sky Sports, amongst other things, recently spoke to BBC 5 Live about Solskjaer re-signing Ronaldo and he said:

“There is no doubt Ronaldo is a make or break signing for Ole.”

Of course, with that being said, without more context, there is going to be a massive number of criticism articles based on so few words. I think Solskjaer knows that Ronaldo returning to the club, even at 36 is a big deal and he knows that if everything starts to go down the pan, he will be responsible.

Ronaldo has made a fine start to live back in Manchester, scoring a brace on his second debut at the club against Newcastle United in the Premier League, in which United won the match 4-1. He also scored in the opening UEFA Champions League group stage match against Young Boys, despite United falling to a 2-1 defeat. On Sunday, he scored his fourth goal since he return to United, helping the club beat West Ham United 2-1 in the Premier League.

Ronaldo looks set to miss the Carabao Cup third round match with the Hammers on Wednesday evening, but will be fresh for the visit of Aston Villa to the Theatre of Dreams on Saturday afternoon, in which the match has been brought forward from the original 3pm BST kick off, now being played at 12:30 BST – the same time as Chelsea host Manchester City at Stamford Bridge.

There is much for United to achieve under Solskjaer and despite the moaning about defeats or draws, the people doing the moaning do not seem t be saying much when United win, which has happened in five of the six matches played this season. It gives the suggestion that some of these critics on social media are hell bent on watching Solskjaer fail at United – just so they can say they were right – strange, right?

Solskjaer has done well at United thus far – aiming to clear the dead wood at the club, which is a work in progress but something the manager has started to achieve in doing. He also has brought in many of his own players, who have largely done well – despite criticisms on some of their performances, because some people seem to forget that footballers are no robots or the pixels they compare on the FIFA video games.

Neville has a point in what he has said and there is no way that he would set out to negatively affect United but only say what he has been feeling. So far, Ronaldo’s return to the Theatre of Dreams has been largely positive and when he failed to score or assist, of even show promise in a match, the critics will be out in force to earn some money from criticism, never mind how reactionary it might be.

United are on the right path to success. Solskjaer needs to win a trophy to kickstart his time at the helm of the Old Trafford club. He has been backed this summer in the signing of Jadon Sancho, Raphael Varane and Ronaldo, although the club could have done more to help him get rid of some of the players he wanted rid of.

This could have allowed him to strengthen in a few more key areas, especially the defensive midfield position. If United had gone into this season with this area of the squad covered, they could have gone full speed into challenging for the Premier League title.

Rotation will become key this season and Solskjaer will need to keep the lies of Nemanja Matic and Scott McTominay fresh, as they are the main players who will excel in the defensive midfield area. Fred has little worth to United and does not seem to fit into United plans moving forward, which is a shame as they will not recoup anything near the money paid for him in the summer of 2018.

Written by John Walker

Cristiano Ronaldo ‘broke transfer pact’ by leaving Juventus – reports

Manchester United forward Cristiano Ronaldo reportedly broke a transfer pact with Juventus by leaving the club at the end of the summer transfer window, according to reports.

It was expected that the 36-year-old would see out the final year of his contract at the Italian club, leaving in the summer of 2022. However, the player returned to United with the deal being agreed on the 27 August, which was completed on deadline day.

It has bene suggested by Spanish radio station Cadena Ser that Ronaldo’s agent, Jorge Mendes had agreed with Juventus that the player would not leave the club after the 15 August 2021, giving the club a fortnight to sign a replacement.

It seems rather strange that this rumour would materialise at this time, which funnily enough sees United challenging the likes of Chelsea and Liverpool at the top of the Premier League table and Juventus sitting in 18th place in the Serie A table.

At the time the deal with United was struck, Ronaldo was linked to Manchester City with the City fans laughing at United supporters and copying Ronaldo’s goal celebration, which was funny to see at the time – even funnier on the Friday evening after his return to United was announced.

It was also revealed that Mendes offered Ronaldo to Atletico Madrid but the club turned the chance to sign Ronaldo down because of a prospective backlash from supporters of the club.

Juventus ended up signing Moise Kean on a two-year loan from Everton, which included an obligation to buy the player. Kean came through the youth ranks at Juventus, playing for the first team from 2016 to 2019 before signing for Everton, a move which did now work and the player being loaned to Paris Saint-Germain last season.

So it just goes to show that the club did not need a fortnight to replace Ronaldo and the club seemed happy to offload the player, which makes these reports even more strange. It was rumoured that the club did want to offload the player anyway during the summer.

Getting his ‘eye-watering’ wages off the books was one of the reasons Juventus wanted to get rid of the player, so these reports just seem to be bitter and an attempt at bad mouthing the player, which seems so pathetic. Ronaldo’s return to United has become big news in the Premier League.

Since making his debut against Newcastle United in the Premier League, Ronaldo has scored four goals in three matches, scoring three in the Premier League and one in the UEFA Champions League. He how has 122 goals for the Old Trafford club in 295 appearances and is four goals away from matching the goal tally of manager, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

Ronaldo’s return to United might have been six to eight years too late but despite his age, he still seems to be able to offer something, which has been seen by his four goal and his determination to score goal and win matches for United – despite only paying three times so far.

United will face West Ham United for the second time this week, this time in the Carabao Cup in a match which will be played at Old Trafford. Ronaldo scored in the Premier League fixture at the London Stadium on Sunday afternoon, which was a 2-1 victory for United with Jesse Lingard scoring the winner.

It is expected that Ronaldo might be rested for this match but on the bench in case he is needed, which shows the clout he still has, even at his age. Zlatan Ibrahimovic proved that age is just a number with his form at United, at least before injury, scoring 29 goals and 10 assists in 53 appearances for the club.

Another player to show this, again for United is Edinson Cavani, who signed for the club as a free agent in the summer of 2020, and so far has scored 17 goals and six assists in 40 appearances for the club so far and despite the fact he has few minutes for the club this season, he could be leading the line against the Hammers.

A player with the record like Ronaldo will always garner attention in the media, both positive and negative. The player has scored 678 goals and 229 assists in 898 competitive appearances at club level, also scoring 111 goals, a record, for Portugal, including nine hat-tricks. The five-time Ballon d’Or winner could even extend that tally in his time at United.

Written by John Walker

Veteran Players at Manchester United: Risk vs Reward?

The signing of Cristiano Ronaldo by Manchester United this summer has been the main story in football for several weeks, with everyone having an opinion on the signing, weighing up the pros and cons of signing the striker, regarded by many as one of the best players of all time. 

One of the key talking points of the transfer has been the age of Ronaldo, at 36, the €13.5 million United paid for him is the most expensive fee ever paid for a footballer over the age of 35. For some, even for Ronaldo, this was as risk due to many players retiring around 35 in football, however at United, there is a history of players achieving great things while in the perceived twilight of their careers. 

The most obvious example of this would be Ryan Giggs, a player who was an Academy graduate at the club, Giggs won all there was to win at United before retiring at the age of 40 and becoming Louis van Gaal’s assistant coach, as reported by ESPN. If we perceive over 35 as the benchmark for players in the twilight of their careers, Giggs achieved a tremendous amount during that period. 

Most notably, at the age of 35, Ryan Giggs was awarded with the PFA player of the year award, a particularly prestigious award that is voted for by fellow players in the league, with the Guardian reporting it as the ‘highest honour possible’.

 During this season Giggs made 47 appearances for the club, scoring four goals and getting 17 assists across all competitions. During this season he played a crucial role in getting Manchester United into another Champions league final as well as winning the Premier League, League Cup, and the FIFA Club World Cup. 

The fact that Giggs won this accolade in a season where United achieved so much, indicates how crucial he was to the success of the team, and shows that even in the perceived twilight of his career, Giggs was more than a valuable player for United. Many fans will be hoping that Ronaldo can replicate the longevity of the Welsh winger. 

Teddy Sheringham is another footballer who had the best season of his United career, in terms of goals and assists, when he was 35. In the 2000/01 season Sheringham scored 21 goals across all competitions, significantly helping United win the Premier League that season. On top of this, Sheringham was awarded the PFA player of the year award, becoming the oldest player to do so at the time, as was reported by Sky Sports

Once again this shows how valuable veteran players can be at a club like United with both Giggs and Sheringham winning one of the most prestigious personal accolades in football at an age many pundits and fans deem a player ‘finished’ at the highest level. 

More recently United have been criticised for signing players for cheap prices who are in their 30’s, most notably Zlatan Ibrahimovic in 2016, and Edinson Cavani in 2020. Both players were signed on high wages and were in their mid 30’s at the time of signing, leading to criticism on both. 

However, both strikers have played vital parts during their time at the club, with Ibrahimovic leaving the club having scored 29 goals in 53 appearances and helping the club towards the EFL Cup and UEFA Europa League trophies, as reported by Manchester Evening News.

Similarly, Cavani’s signing was met with suspicion from fans and pundits alike, with Gary Neville labelling the transfer of the Uruguayan ‘very last minute’ as reported by Sky Sports. However, Cavani soon changed opinions, scoring crucial goals all through the 2020/21 campaign, ending with 17 goals and 6 assists in 39 appearances. Cavani once again proved that signing an experienced player can be hugely beneficial to a club like United.  

These examples are of course highlighting the instances when players towards the end of their career have been a success for United, and there is no doubt that at other times this strategy has not paid off for the club, in recent memory players like Bastian Schweinsteiger and Alexis Sanchez both arrived at the club in their twilight, with big expectations, and did not live up to them. 

 Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has proven during his time at manager that his main focus is developing a young team that can go on to great success, shown through the integration of Mason Greenwood and the more recent signing of youngster Jadon Sancho

However, he has also highlighted how key experience is for a team like United with the signings of Harry Maguire, Cavani and now Ronaldo. Solskjaer commented on the suspicions of Ronaldo’s age stating ‘I am sure he likes all the talk about being old. Make it personal and he will show what he can do.’, as reported by The Guardian

There is no doubt that Ronaldo can go on to replicate the likes of Teddy Sheringham and Ryan Giggs during his second spell at United and bring much success to the club. The striker has already gotten off to the perfect start, scoring two in his second debut against Newcastle United at Old Trafford. 

With no sign of the Portuguese star slowing up any time soon, United fans will be hopeful that once again one of their veteran players can prove the doubters wrong. 

Written by Jennifer McCord

Paul Pogba’s future at Manchester United likely to continue after summer transfers – reports

Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba was expected to run down his contract at the Old Trafford club this season, leaving as a free agent next summer for the second time in his career. However, the transfer business conducted by the club this summer, in which Jadon Sancho, Raphael Varane and Cristiano Ronaldo all signed for the club could see the player make a U-turn on his future, as reported by The Mirror.

If these rumours of the player changing his min are true, United could be set for success in the not too distant future.

Pogba first left United in the summer of 2012, rejecting a new contract to remain at the club, which was then managed by Sir Alex Ferguson. Pogba signed as a free agent for Juventus, in which compensation was paid as the player had come through United’s academy. Four years later, United signed Pogba for £89 million with the player looking to finish what was started at the club.

In his first season back at United, then managed by Jose Mourinho, Pogba helped the Old Trafford club lift the EFL Cup, now the Carabao Cup and the UEFA Europa League, which meant that United had now won every trophy they had ever played for in the history of the club.

Since winning their last trophy, United have faltered in rediscovering that trophy-winning form, overcoming their semi-final hoodoo last season by earning a UEFA Europa League final against Villarreal, which was lost on 11-10 on penalties. It was a shame that United could not win the Europa League last season but the trials and tribulations of the coronavirus pandemic were just one of the reasons the club failed.

Many may see that blaming the inability to win on the pandemic might be childish, but you have to look at the three months delay to the 2019/20 season, which saw the season finish during June and July 2020 with the UEFA competitions being played out through August 2020. That with the 2020/21 season starting in September, it saw United with around three weeks break with no pre-season and effectively continuing one season straight after the other which resulted in continued fatigue.

It is being suggested that the 28-year-old French midfielder has had a change of heart over his future at United, which if true is a good thing as United could achieve so much more with the player in the squad this season.

Pogba has started the season in fine form with United’s start to the season, getting four assists in the 5-1 demolition of Leeds United in the clubs opening match of the season, getting another assist in the 1-1 draw with Southampton, then getting two more in the 4-1 victory over Newcastle United at the weekend.

United have scored 11 goals in their opening four Premier League matches this season, conceding just three, which is a much better start to the season compared to last season, where they fell to a home defeat on the opening day of the season to Crystal Palace, losing five more matches, all at Old Trafford during the course of the season in the league.

Pogba did not have the greatest 2020/21 season but his start to the current season shows that he wants to make amends for that.

The reports in The Mirror on Monday seem to come from a report by The Athletic, which seems to suggest the return to Old Trafford of a certain Ronaldo is the major boost in Pogba’s mind seemingly changing, which shows that United are seeking to create something for the future and the now in their bid to challenge for silverware both this season and in the future.

Ronaldo’s second debut at the club saw him score a brace against Newcastle, which turned back the years at the Theatre of Dreams.

Over the years, Pogba’s agent, Mino Raiola has been vocal about United’s demise, which you can see from the point of view of the player, in that he wants to achieve success with the club, especially during the peak of his career.

But the words from Raiola were agitating and seemed to suggest that he wanted to move his client on to pastures new once again, if only to earn some money for himself, which he seems to be obsessed by as an agent. Another client of his, Erling Haaland seems to be wanted by many clubs, which will earn Raiola a tidy sum, which is something he seems to care about more than anything else.

If Pogba ends up committing his foreseeable future to United, and it is a good deal for the club – not something that will see the player earn £400,000 per week, as has been talked about in the media recently, it could be a good deal, especially if the French FIFA World Cup winner wants to achieve things for this club once again.

United winning the Premier League title for the first time since the 2012/13 season would be considered a great success for the club, based on the fact Manchester City seem to have dominated – winning the title four times, with Chelsea winning twice and both Leicester City and Liverpool winning one each.

United will obviously be seeking to signing more players next summer with the likes of Edinson Cavani, Jesse Lingard and Juan Mata all entering their last year of their contracts, plus Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will need to finally sort out the midfield, with Nemanja Matic the only experienced defensive midfielder at the club.

Whatever United manage to achieve this season will only be the beginning as the club looks like they mean business in getting back to winning ways and challenging for silverware for the foreseeable future.

Written by John Walker

Ranking Manchester United’s best front three

With the homecoming of Cristiano Ronaldo and Edinson Cavani opting to stay another year at the club, Manchester United have a plethora of options offensively. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has a crucial job in identifying what his best front three will be to go into the rest of this season and how to keep the squad well rotated as well as maintaining the high quality throughout the team.

In previous seasons, Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood/Daniel James has been the main attacking trio. But with the departure of James, the injury to Rashford and the loss of form of Martial, United’s current attack could look far different. Solskjaer has many options to choose from as especially last season with Martial’s inconsistency and Cavani’s superb form, Solskjaer looked to play Paul Pogba off the left wing so he could have more effect offensively. 

Thus, Solskjaer has even more versatility upfront especially with the signing of Jadon Sancho to add to the mix. The key thing for Solskjaer and his coaches is finding the right balance. On paper an attack can look strong but without balance and chemistry it won’t work. Since Bruno Fernandes’ signing, United have heavily relied on individual brilliance to get over the line, and in some games that is important but the constant need for the result to be secured as a result of a moment of magic is unsustainable. 

Therefore, Solskjaer must make sure the front three he opts with will have the right blend to create the right rhythm and impetus in their attacking play. With all the options Solskjaer has and the varying attributes each player has, it’s likely he will look to use different front threes in different games suited to the opposition. 

Against the big teams, Solskjaer has opted to use a pacey front three that could expose the oppositions defence on the counter-attack. The best front three fitted to that would be Rashford, Ronaldo and either Sancho or Greenwood. With Rashford’s successful surgery, he’ll be looking to get back into the first team by October and with his blistering speed he can humiliate defences especially if he has space to run into. 

Despite Ronaldo’s age, he still has some good speed in him and with Martial losing a couple yards of pace recently, and Cavani not being renowned for his pace, Ronaldo would provide the best balance to sustain this counter-attack. Off the right wing it’s a trickier decision as both Sancho and Greenwood are fast. Greenwood brings lethal finishing as he cuts in off the right whereas Sancho provides a more creative option with his silky dribbling and precise vision. 

As Ronaldo is a pure finisher and Rashford is more of a shooter rather than a creator, Sancho may fit this front three better as he provides the balance of finishing with that creative aspect, whereas Greenwood would make that front three quite predictable as they all would look to shoot and thus Rashford, Ronaldo and Sancho would be the best front three for a counter attacking game.

In games when the opposition sit back, it will need a mix of creativity but also the right finishers to take the few chances they get. With Fernandes’ unique ability to score lots of goals from midfield, Solskjaer could look to give him license to shoot with Ronaldo in-front of him creating the Portuguese linkup and then have Pogba off the left and Sancho off the right. 

Often when playing against the defensive teams, United struggle to create many chances but with Sancho, Pogba and Fernandes’ creativity it would be more effective at breaking down the ‘low block’ and with a lethal goalscorer in Ronaldo he will take the chances that are provided.

In some games its neither pure counter-attack or pure offense against low block, it has elements of both. Often, we’ve seen this against teams like Southampton, Wolves, Aston Villa and Brighton. These teams won’t go fully at you but will press high and won’t sit back. To combat this, Solskjaer should implement that pace on the counter-attack but also that high technical ability and thus should use Rashford off the left, Ronaldo through the middle and Sancho off the right. 

In all these teams, form is important and currently Greenwood is un-droppable, but due to his unbelievable finishing, this can be exploited late in a game off the bench when the opposition is more penned in.  The balance between Rashford’s direct running and speed with Sancho’s quality weight of pass and dribbling should provide a solid counter-attack but also enough if the game adapts to a low block and United will be able to break it down.

Ultimately, I think the front three is very dependent on the opposition as each forward has different qualities. Although Cavani doesn’t start in any of these, he like Greenwood could be very impactful off the bench and provide those trademark runs to find space and take a game and win it individually. 

Ronaldo’s signing provides proven quality in the box which will be influential throughout and then the alternation between Pogba, Rashford, Greenwood and Sancho on the wings will create pivotal squad depth and tactical flexibility for Solskjaer to ensure he has the right options to win the game to take United back to winning silverware.

Written by Ethan Bents

copyright: JW