Progress, Process, Rebuild: What do they really mean?

“You need to knock the house down, you don’t just start with the roof. We’ve had some rainy days and wish that roof was on, but we can’t hide.”

These were the words of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the Manchester United manager in the aftermath of a 0-2 home reverse against Burnley in the 2019/20 season, arguably the club’s worst performance of that season up to that point.

It was a night where United simply looked incapable of scoring, with a severe lack of not just application, but also cutting edge quality. It was a night where the team looked soul crushingly average. They looked a million miles away from where they aspired to be.

While the above may seem to be a match plucked out of thin air, it was really a wider symptom of where the club had been heading post the retirement of their greatest manager, Sir Alex Ferguson and the gradual disintegration of his last great team. In other words, the club was heading nowhere. It would take a step forward, only to stumble and take two steps back.

Three different managers were appointed between July 2013 and December 2018, all with widely differing philosophies and notions of how the game should be played.

The first of these was David Moyes, who was prior to his appointment, the manager of Everton. He came with the approval of Ferguson himself, but there was very little else to suggest he had the credentials to succeed at a club the size of United.

And unfortunately, it did not turn out well. Moyes was often caught out like a deer in the headlights, a sort of permanently haunted look on his face as the scale of the task he had agreed to oversee threatened to swallow him up.

In that 2013/14 season, United ended up finishing seventh, the first time they had finished lower than third in the table since the 1991/92 season. Moyes did not last the entire season, and was sacked after 34 games of the league season when it became mathematically impossible for the club to qualify for the 2014/15 Champions League.

After the 2014 World Cup, Louis van Gaal was bought in for the first cycle of the club rebuild. Without any European football for the first time in two and a half decades, the club spent quite heavily, and rather haphazardly in the transfer market, leading to a rather unbalanced playing XI.

Van Gaal tried to implement a very rigid, tactically inflexible system which led to very high rates of possession but very little actual, incisive play. Despite some inconsistent results throughout the season, the club did achieve their objectives of securing Champions League football, ending fourth in the league table.

The following season was broadly similar, with the club largely struggling to score too many goals in spite of dominating possession in the majority of matches. They ended up finishing fifth in the league, though there was a somewhat bright end to the season in the form of an FA Cup trophy, the club’s first in the post Ferguson era, a memorable match where United won at Wembley with an extra time winner scored by academy graduate Jesse Lingard. Despite this, Van Gaal was sacked on account of being unable to secure Champions League football for the following season.

In came Jose Mourinho, as United hedged their bets on a proven Premier League winning manager in their quest to go back to the top. While the 2016/17 was the club’s most successful season in terms of trophies, the silverware claimed was the Europa League and the Carabao Cup, the two lowest priority trophies for a club of their standing.

As in every season post 2013, the club was nowhere near challenging for the league title. While there were brief glimmers of hope at the start of the 2017/18 season, a derby defeat against City in December left the club trailing by 11 points, and while they did end up finishing second, the gap to City was 19 points by the end of the season. 

At the start of the 2018/19 season, the wheels truly fell off Mourinho’s tenure as his relationship with some senior squad members became noticeably strained, most notably Luke Shaw and Paul Pogba. The league form suffered quite badly and after two heavy defeats against their two most bitter rivals Liverpool and Manchester City in consecutive weeks, which left them seventh in the league, the club finally pulled the plug on Mourinho in mid-December and in came Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

At first, Solskjaer’s tenure seemed to thrive on the simple fact that he was everything Mourinho wasn’t. Players played with greater freedom and United went on an impressive unbeaten run till mid-March rekindling hopes of a late charge for fourth place. However, form tailed off, the generally poor standards of fitness eventually left the players crashing and burning by the end as the club ended the season in sixth place.

It was around that time that Solskjaer talked about rebuilding the club from the bottom. He recognized that there was no quick fix, not after six years of incompetence off the pitch and inconsistency on it. He put increased focus on academy players, integrating Mason Greenwood into a first team player while providing a clear pathway from the academy to the senior squad, which has led to around 15 debuts given to academy graduates under his management.

The second thing he focused upon was a clear strategy in transfers, with the majority of his signings from Daniel James, Aaron Wan-Bissaka in his first window to Donny van de Beek and Jadon Sancho being under 23 years of age. These have been supplemented with proven players in Alex Telles and Edinson Cavani to maintain a balance between youth and experience.

Solskjaer’s recruitment process clearly aims to build a team that can challenge for the biggest trophies not just got the next one to two years, but for the next decade. The last two seasons have been the first time post Ferguson that the club has secured top three finishes in back to back seasons. And while a club of their stature should never be content with anything less than titles, there needs to be a recognition that reaching the heights they had scaled under Ferguson required time and patience too, from the backroom staff to the players. 

The third, and arguably the most important, change under Solskjaer has been the appointment of a director of football and a technical director in John Murtough and Darren Fletcher respectively. For years, United not only overpaid for players but also took inordinate amounts of time to negotiate deals often leaving things as late as deadline day to get things over the line. While it is too early to declare that Murtough and Fletcher as a success, the early signs are promising.

When Solskjaer talks about progress in interviews, what he really refers to is the gradual changes at the club from the ground up, the process which is not always apparent from the outside to the fans and pundits, but which will eventually lead to United dominating the footballing landscape of England once again.

The 2020/21 season was also notable for one other thing that the club had been missing post 2013, namely making comebacks. As Clive Tyldsley once said; “Can Manchester United score? They always score”. Even in matches where the team wasn’t playing to its potential, there was always a feeling that they would turn it around eventually. And more often than not, they did, 31 points gained from losing positions a testament of their ability and mentality to fight till the end. And even though the team fell short of winning a trophy, including a title challenge that eventually faltered, the season felt like the beginning of an era, not the end of one.

At what point however does this process need to translate to tangible, measurable results? Which are the trophies that United should be aspiring to? Can the disappointment endured by the fans be wiped away by any trophy in the upcoming season or will only a league title suffice?

With the addition of Sancho, and a couple of other players in the pipeline, the upcoming season appears to be a crossroads for Solskjaer where he needs to take the final step in his rebuilding process and lead the club to silverware.

Written by Avitaj Mitra

Idols: Wayne Rooney Captain, Leader, Legend

On the 31 August 2004, Manchester United signed 18-year-old Wayne Rooney from Everton in a deal worth £27 million. Throughout the month, Everton received an offer of £20 million from Newcastle United after Rooney rejected a new contract worth £50,000 per week. He also handed in a transfer request two leave Goodison Park. United had paid the highest transfer fee at the time for a player under the age of 20. United manager Sir Alex Ferguson knew the type of player Rooney could become after his exploits with Everton. Since emerging as a 16-year-old, scoring 17 goals in 77 appearances before leaving for United.

Rooney had become now of the most sought-after players in Europe following his two seasons at Everton. Also having a starring role for England at Euro 2004, in which he scored four goals, matching new United teammate Ruud van Nistelrooy’s efforts for the Netherlands. Perhaps Ferguson knew what Rooney could achieve at United? If he continued to work hard and develop. The legend would spend 13 seasons at United and win all the major honours at the club, helping United to reach the pinnacle of European football once again under the reign of Ferguson, who did so for the second time in his career.

Rooney made a total of 559 appearances for United, scoring 253 goals and 146 assists. This meant that he offered a goal every 2.21 matches and a goal contribution every 1.40 matches. Rooney had a hand in 399 goals for United, which is a great figure for a player that really played in quite a few roles at the club. He played the main striking position. Also as a second striker, attacking midfielder, a winger. He even played as a defensive midfield at the end of his career. Rooney offered everything he has for much of his United career, keeping United ticking and earning the plaudits. Rooney also played 12 matches for England, scoring 53 goals.

Coming to United as a player with lots of talent.

In his first season at United, Rooney showed what he could become. On his debut for the club, against Fenerbahce in the UEFA Champions League, Rooney scored his first hat-trick for the club as United beat the Turkish club 6-2, scoring 17 goals and six assists in 43 appearances. Rooney averaged 19.46 goals for the club each season and regularly hit around the 20 goal mark each season. During two seasons (2009/10 and 2011/12) he scored 34 goals for the club. In his final season at the club (2016/17) he scored just eight goals for the club. In total, he scored eight hat-tricks for United, scoring four goals in one match, which showed his ability.

His hat-trick against Fenerbahce will be special as it was his first at United, on his debut and playing in the Champions League. He also scored hat-tricks against Bolton Wanderers (twice), and Portsmouth in the Premier League. Two other special ones will be prevalent though; the one against West Ham United on the 2 April 2011 and the one against Arsenal on the 28 August 2011 as United beat the North London club 8-2. Rooney was known for driving the mentality of the club forward, always wanting to win and win trophies. In the summer of 2010, a certain transfer request from Rooney could have chanced everything.

Rooney was being linked to Real Madrid, Barcelona, Chelsea and Manchester City. He said it was never an option to sign for City and he would have chose Barcelona over Real Madrid. But the Madrid club were the likely destination. Of course, he never left United, signed a new number contract at the club and continued his career. As Sir Alex Ferguson retired at the end of the 2012/13 season, he confirmed that Rooney had handed in a transfer request once again. David Moyes, Rooney’s former manager at Everton would need to solve that problem. Rooney was sold to Everton in the summer of 2017 just after Jose Mourinho’s first season at the club.

Chasing the clubs goalscoring record and moving on.

At United, Rooney was chasing the goalscoring record set by the legendary Sir Bobby Charlton. He scored 249 goals for United in 758 appearances. Rooney broke that record by scoring his 250th goal in January 2017, scoring three more goals for the club before leaving United. Rooney also broke Charlton’s record for England too, having scored 49 goals in 106 appearances with Rooney scored 53 goals in 120 appearances. He broke the record in 2015. Rooney was a player that craved success and guided United to many trophies with his teammates. His goals were something that helped United massively along the way plus his desire to win.

Rooney won five Premier League titles at United. He also won one FA Cup, three League Cups, and four FA Community Shields. The UEFA Champions League (playing in three finals), one UEFA Europa League and one FIFA Club World Cup were the cream of the crop. Rooney captained United taking over from Nemanja Vidic in 2014, handing the captaincy over to Michael Carrick in 2017. Since his departure, Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young (who have both left) and Harry Maguire have captained the club. Rooney may be a distant memory for United now, a player that has played a part in the clubs history but he will always be remembered.

After United, Rooney went back to boyhood club Everton, staying at the club for one season before heading to the MLS in the United States of America. He played for DC United and scored 25 goals and 14 assists in 52 appearances. Rooney then returned to England signing for Championship club Derby County in 2019. He was eligible to play for the club from the 2019/20 season. He is currently the manager of the club. In the future the name Rooney might be heard against at United again as the club signed 11-year-old Kai Rooney last month, for the clubs academy. He will be sure to keep the family name alive at the club, providing he makes it there.

Written by John Walker

Tactical Analysis: A Game of Two Halves – Tottenham Hotspur 1-3 Manchester United

Manchester United gained an important three points against Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday, in a game which typified both teams’ campaigns this season. United prior to the game had amassed an impressive 28 points from losing positions and extended their impressive unbeaten away run, whereas Spurs failed to win after leading at the interval for the seventh time. What seems to have gone under the radar, is the tactical switch Ole Gunnar Solskjaer made at half time which changed his sides’ fortunes.

In what was a fairly uneventful first half an hour, Jose Mourinho will feel he had a slight tactical advantage as the game began to unfold. Marcus Rashford started on the right with Paul Pogba occupying the left, an immediate small win for Mourinho as his Spurs side no longer had to worry about Rashford’s dangerous “out to in” run in behind. Without Rashford to properly threaten the space in behind, Spurs managed to nullify United’s build up by adopting the setup below.

There are several keys here. Firstly, Spurs are marking the United midfielders’ man for man. Scott McTominay and Fred are both susceptible to poor touches under pressure and Mourinho wanted his two central midfielders tight to them, to either capitalise on any mistakes or eliminate them as an option. Pierre Hojbjerg would then man mark Bruno Fernandes. In addition, note Harry Kane’s position as he splits the two central defenders. Spurs are happy for Lindelof to have to ball here, as they are effectively limiting his options to just Aaron Wan-Bissaka. Again, Mourinho knows Wan-Bissaka is arguably United’s weakest player in possession and Son continuously applied intense pressure as soon as Wan-Bissaka received the ball, as illustrated below.

For the first half an hour, this pattern of play happened regularly when United had possession in their own half. The game plan in possession seemed to centre around avoiding giving Spurs any turnovers in possession in dangerous areas and looking for long balls into Pogba, who had a significant height advantage over Serge Aurier. 

The United game plan out of possession, was to get tight to the Spurs front three to either win possession or keep them with their backs to goal. Solskjaer understood the importance of minimising the link up between Son and Kane specifically and the example below was another common theme throughout the first half. 

However, Spurs whole game plan in possession was understandably to find ways to get the ball into Harry Kane and ultimately led to the first goal. 

At half time, Solskjaer made a crucial tactical tweak by changing to a diamond set up, which allowed United to completely control the second half and ultimately win the game. Firstly, Pogba came central which nullified Spurs’ man to man stronghold in midfield as they were now overloaded. There are several examples below where Lo Celso did not know whether to press or whether to sit next to Hojbjerg in a 4-2-3-1.

Secondly, McTominay began to drop into defence to allow Wan-Bissaka to get further forward as highlighted here. 

With McTominay dropping between Lindelof and Wan-Bissaka, it either allowed him to either get time in possession or draw a Spurs midfielder out with him, leaving more space in the centre for United to exploit. This also solved United’s first half issue of Wan-Bissaka being trapped on the touchline by Son, as he began to position himself further up the field towards Reguilon. Luke Shaw also became more involved in the game, as Spurs were unable to restrict United to the right-hand side of the pitch like they did in the first half. 

As a result of the tactical tweaks, United began to play with more intensity. The passing became quicker, the rotations in midfield became more frequent and they started to apply a full press on Spurs, cementing themselves in the opposition half. Subsequently, United were able to create frequent goalscoring opportunities which led to three very well worked goals. The goals themselves all included individual class, but they were also a perfect example of how the right set up allows players to flourish. The first half setup was all about containing the opposition and United suffered in possession. Once Solskjaer adapted his tactics, United took control of the game and Spurs never really recovered.

Written by Chris Greening

Ratings: Henderson, Fred, Pogba, Cavani and Greenwood perform well in Spurs win but the MOTM will be between Pogba and Greenwood

Manchester United beat Tottenham Hotspur 3-1 at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on the Premier League. Edinson Cavani opened the scoring in the 33rd minute of the match but it was ruled out after Scott McTominay was adjudged to have fouled Son Heung-Min in the build up. Son then put Spurs ahead before the end of the first half. United attempted to get back into the game, that coming in the 57th minute when Fred found the back of the net after Cavani’s effort was parried out. Cavani then put United ahead in the 79th minute of the match, getting his eighth goal of the season. Mason Greenwood finished the victory with a late goal.

It was a fairly fair start to the clash with both teams seeking to get something early on but you could see which team had a week’s rest and which team was playing three days ago. Both United and Spurs were working hard to get a good start to the match, which should bring out the determination of United to get revenge over the club that beat them 6-1 at Old Trafford earlier in the season. Scott McTominay was the first player to be booked, getting a yellow card in the 18th minute of the match. United needed to work a lot harder and Fred needed to find some form, as he was well out of canter in the early stages of the half.

United took the lead in the 33rd minute of the match after Paul Pogba played a great pass into the box with Edinson Cavani breaking through and beating Hugo Lloris at close-range. However, there was appeals for the referee to look into the goal as McTominay had supposedly fouled Son Heung-Min in the build up to the goal. VAR was brought in with the referee watching on the screen and he ruled the goal out for a foul. It seems that Son was touched on the chin and went down holding the upper part of his face, seconds after trying to grab McTominay’s shirt to impede him. There was a cloud over the first match with Erik Lamela and a cloud today.

Spurs took the lead in the 40th minute of the match, breaking forward at pace with Lucas Moura on the ball and seemingly likely to try his shot on goal, however, he crossed the ball into Son, who beat Dean Henderson to put his side 1-0 up with five minutes and added time to play before the half time break. Cavani was clearly not happy that his goal had been ruled out and he was aiming to get in the box again, but got booked himself in the 42nd minute of the match after an argument with Joe Rodon, who went down easily. You can see the Jose Mourinho in this team which is not really a compliment. United needed to try harder in the second half.

There were no changes for either team during the half time break. The game continued how it ended with United aiming to get level but not able to penetrate Spurs early doors. Fred was booked within three minutes of the restart, which just shows how little impact he has been having recently. His work rate is what gets him picked but he needs to be doing a lot more. As that was being written, Fred equalised for United after Cavani’s effort on goal was parried by Lloris and Fred was there to bang the rebound into the back of the net and give United a lot more to play for. It just shows that if you have to cheat to get ahead, it’s not going to last.

United had some good opportunities after Fred’s equaliser with Bruno Fernandes forcing a save from Lloris and United having a second go minute later. Luke Shaw became the fourth United player to be booked in the match for a foul, of which he has no complaint. Minutes later, Harry Maguire became the fifth player to be booked in this match which puts him closer to a two-match suspension. Solskjaer made his first substitution in the 72nd minute of the match with Mason Greenwood replacing Marcus Rashford. United should be doing a lot more than they have been doing to get ahead, which is the position they should rightfully be in anyway.

United took the lead in the 79th minute of the match and Cavani got his eighth goal of the season, assisted by Greenwood, who had been on the pitch for seven minutes or so. It was a great goal which garnered a loud celebration from the United players, who will feel robbed from the first goal of the game being disallowed. Spurs won’t feel to happy though, but it was their fault they were in this position. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. In the final minutes of the match, the referee continued to side with Spurs when they were fouling United players, which is how the match started anyway.

At the turn of the 90th minute, Solskjaer made his second substitution with Nemanja Matic replacing Bruno Fernandes, who did not have a bad game, despite not assisting or scoring any goals. Six minutes of added time were to be played to end the match, which seems a lot of time as there has not been many breaks in play during the second half. Still, that is what United will need to get through in order to end the game, keeping their lead and taking three points back to Manchester with them. I am sure Mourinho will be unhappy about something, but that is only natural, right?

Mason Greenwood scored a third goal for United in added time to win the game comfortably with a 3-1 scoreline. Spurs just did not have enough cheating in their locker to get the better over United, even if the referee did happily book United players throughout the match. United have earned 28 points in the Premier League this season, which shows that corner they have turned and the improvement they have made during Solskjaer’s reign at the club. On to Granada at Old Trafford on Thursday evening now whilst Spurs get used to resting in midweek like all the rest of the small clubs.

Manchester United

26 Dean Henderson

Could not have stopped Son from scoring in the 40th minute of the match. Made some good saves at 1-1. Good to see him play in a big game and help United get the win.


29 Aaron Wan-Bissaka

Was tasked with pressing high to limit Son, which worked some of the time. United need to be able to switch attacks from the left to the right.


2 Victor Lindelof

Did not have the best of matches after his great assist on Thursday evening. His positioning for Son's goal was just another reason why United need a new centre-back this summer.


5 Harry Maguire

Off the space at times but he has not missed a minute of Premier League football since signing for United. Schooled Reguilon verbally at times too, which was good to see. Vocal in the team, especially when Cavani got his goal.


23 Luke Shaw

Had a bad opening 45 minutes with a slow display. Played a more intense game in the second half. Booked though, which was a shame.


39 Scott McTominay

Booked in the 18th minute of the match. Adjudged to have fouled Son in the build up to United's disallowed goal. Son tried to grab his shirt, and he swiped back to protect himself. Son went down clutching his face like a cheat.


17 Fred

Started terribly and seemed more of a void in the first half. When in form he offers something. Got United level, tapping in Cavani's effort with was parried by Lloris. He excitedly celebrated that equaliser. He improved when United were on top.


10 Marcus Rashford

Still did not look 100%, which some will moan about but if the player, the coaches, the physio and the manager feel he's able to play - he will. Had an impact but got nothing from the game. Replaced by Greenwood in the 72nd minute of the match.


18 Bruno Fernandes

Played a good game for United and was unlucky in the second half as his shot on goal had power and accuracy and resulted in Lloris not being able to hang onto the ball. His passion came out as United got ahead, which should have put them 3-1 up if the first goal was not disallowed. He was replaced by Matic in the 90th minute.


6 Paul Pogba

Played a brilliant pass into Cavani for the Uruguayan to open the scoring in the 33rd minute of the match, which was disallowed due to McTominay's foul - which was harsh and out of context. Got an assist for Greenwood's late strike.


7 Edinson Cavani

Scored a great goal in the 33rd minute of the match after being played in by Pogba. It was disallowed though. Got his eighth goal of the season in the 79th minute of the match, putting United 2-1 up and ended that with a loud celebration.



11 Mason Greenwood

Replaced Rashford 72'. Made an impact as soon as he came on. Got a great assist for Cavani's goal which put United ahead. Got a late goal himself, which was great to see. He's going places is this lad.


31 Nemanja Matic

Replaced Fernandes 90'. Came on late in the game to both run down the clock and add more defensive ability to secure the win. United scored again in added time to cement their lead.


Goals: Son Hueng-Min 40′; Fred 57′, Edinson Cavani 79′, Mason Greenwood 90+6′

Assists: Lucas Moura 40′; Mason Greenwood 79′, Paul Pogba 90+6′

Manchester United: Henderson; Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Shaw; McTominay, Fred; Rashford (Greenwood 72′), Fernandes (Matic 90′), Pogba; Cavani

Substitutes Not Used: De Gea; Telles, Williams, Tuanzebe; Mata, Diallo, Van de Beek

Bookings: Moussa Sissoko 90+2′; Scott McTominay 18′, Edinson Cavani 42′, Fred 48′, Luke Shaw 67′, Harry Maguire 70′

Written by John Walker

Confirmed XI: McTominay, Fred and Pogba in midfield; Cavani and Rashford up top as United look to get revenge over Spurs

Manchester United return to Premier League action the afternoon when they face Tottenham Hotspur at their new stadium three days after beating Granada 2-0 in the UEFA Europa League quarter-final first leg in Spain. Spurs exited the competition in the last round, so will have had the best part of a week’s rest ahead of this match meaning that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side could be at a disadvantage with Jose Mourinho’s squad having extra resting time following United’s return to Manchester in the early hours of Friday morning. United beat Brighton and Hove Albion last week, giving them a four-point cushion over third-placed Leicester City.

Spurs sit in sixth place in the Premier League, 11 points adrift of United, which is some distance considering the Spurs supporters still talk about them beating United 6-1 at Old Trafford earlier in the season – it did not get them far, did it? If Chelsea do not get the upper hand over Crystal Palace, Spurs could be looking to break into the top five and with West Ham United facing Leicester City, a win could give United more breathing space with the Hammers seeking to remain in the top four, which they achieved because of Chelsea losing to West Bromwich Albion last week and them beating Wolverhampton Wanderers on Monday evening.

Manchester United:


Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Shaw;

McTominay, Fred;

Rashford, Fernandes, Pogba;



De Gea; Telles, Williams, Tuanzebe; Mata, Diallo, Matic, Van de Beek; Greenwood

Tottenham Hotspur:


Aurier, Dier, Rodon, Reguilon;

Ndombele, Højbjerg;

Moura, Lo Celso, Son;



Hart; Alderweireld, Tanganga; Winks, Lamela, Sissoko, Alli; Bale, Vinicius

United and Spurs have met 57 times in the history of the Premier League, this weekend being the 58th time the two club have met in the English top flight. United have won 35 of the encounters with the two teams drawing 12 times and Spurs beating United just ten times. United have scored 95 times with Spurs scoring 56. United have been awarded eight penalties, scoring all of them with Spurs winning one and scoring it. United have kept 27 clean sheets against Spurs with the North London club keeping eight. United players have been booked 98 times with four red cards. Spurs players have been booked 92 times with one red card.

Earlier in the season, United and Spurs met at Old Trafford in the Premier League which resulted in a 6-1 victory for the North London club. Bruno Fernandes scored a penalty in the second minute but Tanguy Ndombele equalised two minutes later, there was a brace for both Son Heung-Min and Harry Kane with Serge Aurier scoring the other. In this fixture last season, at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, it was a 1-1 draw which was also the first fixture played during the first coronavirus lockdown. Steven Bergwijn opened the scoring in the 27th minute with Paul Pogba winning an 81st minute penalty, scored by Bruno Fernandes.

Written by John Walker

Predicted XI: [4-2-3-1] De Gea to keep his place, Pogba, Fernandes and Rashford to inspire victory over Spurs?

Manchester United return to Premier League action on Sunday when they face Tottenham Hotspur at their new stadium three days after beating Granada 2-0 in the UEFA Europa League quarter-final first leg in Spain. Spurs exited the competition in the last round, so will have had the best part of a week’s rest ahead of this match meaning that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side could be at a disadvantage with Jose Mourinho’s squad having extra resting time following United’s return to Manchester in the early hours of Friday morning. United beat Brighton and Hove Albion in the league last week, giving them a four-point cushion over third-placed Leicester City.

Spurs sit in sixth place in the Premier League, 11 points adrift of United, which is some distance considering the Spurs supporters still talk about them beating United 6-1 at Old Trafford earlier in the season – it did not get them far, did it? If Chelsea do not get the upper hand over Crystal Palace, Spurs could be looking to break into the top five and with West Ham United facing Leicester City, a win could give United more breathing space with the Hammers seeking to remain in the top four, which they achieved because of Chelsea losing to West Bromwich Albion last week and them beating Wolverhampton Wanderers on Monday evening.

How United have faired against Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League.

United and Spurs have met 57 times in the history of the Premier League, this weekend being the 58th time the two club have met in the English top flight. United have won 35 of the encounters with the two teams drawing 12 times and Spurs beating United just ten times. United have scored 95 times with Spurs scoring 56. United have been awarded eight penalties, scoring all of them with Spurs winning one and scoring it. United have kept 27 clean sheets against Spurs with the North London club keeping eight. United players have been booked 98 times with four red cards. Spurs players have been booked 92 times with one red card.

Earlier in the season, United and Spurs met at Old Trafford in the Premier League which resulted in a 6-1 victory for the North London club. Bruno Fernandes scored a penalty in the second minute but Tanguy Ndombele equalised two minutes later, there was a brace for both Son Heung-Min and Harry Kane with Serge Aurier scoring the other. In this fixture last season, at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, it was a 1-1 draw which was also the first fixture played during the first coronavirus lockdown. Steven Bergwijn opened the scoring in the 27th minute with Paul Pogba winning an 81st minute penalty, scored by Bruno Fernandes.

Here is my predicted starting XI to face Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Sunday afternoon…

Goalkeeper: David De Gea

The Spanish goalkeeper returned against Granada in the UEFA Europa League quarter-final first leg on Thursday but was not really challenged by the team from his home nation. It was good to see him back after Dean Henderson started the last seven matches, which has given David De Gea something to achieve to get back into the number one spot with the rumours suggesting that Henderson is the clubs number one goalkeeper now. By as Solskjaer says, the media reports and what goes on at the club tend to be two different things, which is probably the case for more things, not just football.

This match against Spurs, with Manchester City losing to Leeds United, is another important match for United and they must win, not just to overcome the demons of the 6-1 defeat at Old Trafford earlier in the season, but to gain some ground in the league this season. Some will say that United are only second because some teams have fallen behind as they don’t want to praise Solskjaer as agendas are better than admitting that they were wrong. United have turned a corner and have been getting better, despite some results this season and a period where United seemed to be stagnant and complacent. De Gea’s return could be good for United.

Defenders: Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Victor Lindelof, Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw

United’s defence has done well this season in the Premier League and have conceded 33 goals so far this season, having conceded 36 last season, which was an improvement on the 54 conceded in the 2018/19 season. Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Luke Shaw should both keep their places in the fullback positions against Spurs, although I would like to see Wan-Bissaka play a more attacking game, improving on his defensive abilities, which have been rather basic at stages this season. Shaw is continuing to build on good spells this season, which have shown that United were right to stick with him during the tough times.

Victor Lindelof played a brilliant long-ball over the top to Marcus Rashford against Granada to open the scoring for the club in a game that was a bit slow to start. It shows that United have creative players all over the pitch and despite Lindelof being criticised at times for poor decisions, he also has some good ones. Perhaps he is not bad at all? Harry Maguire will be a big player in this match – he will want to undo the damage caused by Spurs at the start of the season, which does not seem to have done much good for the North London club after 30 matches have been played, especially with Jose Mourinho reportedly on the brink, which is media hype.

Midfield: Fred, Paul Pogba

The midfield is an area that needs to be right in order to get United playing well. In the 4-2-3-1 formation, there is usually a pivot in midfield which needs both players at the top of their game, both defensive and offensive. Paul Pogba is a player that will probably keep his place in the team but his partner will need to be the right fit for him. Since he returned from injury, Pogba has scored some important goals but needs to do more on the pitch to get the respect that he is worthy of as a player, but getting rid of his agent will probably get him more respect as a man, as it is clear his agent wants to move him on and Pogba must want the same too.

Fred could be recalled into the team for this match. He has the ability to man-mark and puts a lot of work rate into his game, despite not being an outlet of much creativity or goal threat, his performances are usually something that he is praised for by those who have seen what he can do. However, most recently, his performances have been poor and he will need to stand up in order to be counted against a team like Spurs, who have many good players to devastate United, especially if they to not step up to the place in the midfield. I wonder if a midfield three would be better against Spurs.

Attacking Midfield: Mason Greenwood, Bruno Fernandes, Marcus Rashford

The three players that usually play in this area are responsible for 50 goals and 31 assists so far this season with Bruno Fernandes on 24 goals and 14 assists, Marcus Rashford on 20 goals and 12 assists and Mason Greenwood on six goals and five assists, which is a great return of goals from three players this season. Of course, it will need to get better before the end of the season as United still have a lot of work to do to keep their second-placed position in the Premier League and go all the way in the UEFA Europa League, which is what Solskjaer and his team will want to achieve.

Fernandes is a player that has been overused this season, but he needed to be as there is no other player in the team that offers the same impact. Rashford is in a position whereby his injury has not fully recovered, but if the player said that he was alright to play on and the coaches and the physios at the club said the same, then clearly it is not a problem. Perhaps Rashford will recover at some stage, although with the Euro’s this summer, it does not give him much rest. Greenwood is a player that can give more and perhaps leading the line is not in his bag yet, but it soon will be as he gains more confidence moving forward.

Forwards: Edinson Cavani

Edinson Cavani has been a let down since he returned Fromm injury and his availability this season has been questionable. It is expected that it will return to South American this summer with nothing yet confirmed about the possibility of him remaining at United for another season. United will need to find a new striker sooner rather than later, so this summer will be a big one for the club, if the ambition above the manager is there, which is something that can be argued at times. Cavani has scored just seven goals this season, adding a further two assists. Not great but at least he has offered something.

Cavani is probably the best striker at the club at this time and he has something for the likes of Rashford and Greenwood to learn from. Anthony Martial too but his poor form this season seems to have ended with a knee injury sustained whilst playing for France, which could have seen him play his last club game for United this season. United need to be more prolific up front as goal win matches. There are many players on the pitch that score goals but Cavani should be a player that gets into double figures, needing three more goals between now and the end of the season for that to be the case. He has the time and determination to do just that.

Substitutes: Dean Henderson; Alex Telles, Brandon Williams, Axel Tuanzebe; Juan Mata, Amad Diallo, Daniel James, Scott McTominay, Donny van de Beek

Solskjaer can name nine substitutes on the bench in the Premier League, using three of those. Granted, he does not make changes all of the time and when he does, it is usually late in the game, unless there is a problem. He might need to start making them tactically to get the best out of his team. There are players that need more minutes on the pitch in order to develop, which will be good for them. I expect Dean Henderson to be back on the bench with De Gea regaining his place in goal on Thursday evening. It could be a good time for De Gea to show United the player he is, which could get United what they want to achieve this season.

In defence, Alex Telles, Brandon Williams and Axel Tuanzebe could all be available should the club need to change things up at the back. It seems unlikely that Eric Bailly will be back in action any time soon, which is just another problem for him during his career at United. In midfield, Juan Mata, Amad Diallo, Daniel James, Scott McTominay and Donny van de Beek all have something in their respective lockers to add something, if United need to make a change. There will be a lack of attacking players so Mata, Diallo and James could all operate in this areas with Diallo needing more game time this season after that goal he scored against AC Milan.

Written by John Walker

Preview: Victory over Spurs is a must with players using the 6-1 defeat as the ammunition to get the win

Tottenham Hotspur -v- Manchester United

Premier League

Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, London

Sunday 11 April 2021, KO 16:30 BST

Referee: Chris Kavanagh Assistants: Adam Nunn, Sian Massey-Ellis

Fourth Official: Andre Marriner

VAR: Craig Pawson Assistant VAR: Harry Lennard

Manchester United return to Premier League action on Sunday when they face Tottenham Hotspur at their new stadium three days after beating Granada 2-0 in the UEFA Europa League quarter-final first leg in Spain. Spurs exited the competition in the last round, so will have had the best part of a week’s rest ahead of this match meaning that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side could be at a disadvantage with Jose Mourinho’s squad having extra resting time following United’s return to Manchester in the early hours of Friday morning. United beat Brighton and Hove Albion in the league last week, giving them a four-point cushion over third-placed Leicester City.

Spurs sit in sixth place in the Premier League, 11 points adrift of United, which is some distance considering the Spurs supporters still talk about them beating United 6-1 at Old Trafford earlier in the season – it did not get them far, did it? If Chelsea do not get the upper hand over Crystal Palace, Spurs could be looking to break into the top five and with West Ham United facing Leicester City, a win could give United more breathing space with the Hammers seeking to remain in the top four, which they achieved because of Chelsea losing to West Bromwich Albion last week and them beating Wolverhampton Wanderers on Monday evening.

Manchester United: WWLWWD

Granada CF 2-0 W, Brighton and Hove Albion 2-1 W, Leicester City 3-1 L, AC Milan 1-0 W, West Ham United 1-0 W, AC Milan 1-1 D

Tottenham Hotspur: DWLLWW

Newcastle United 2-2 D, Aston Villa 2-0 W, Dinamo Zagreb 3-0 L, Arsenal 2-1 L, Dinamo Zagreb 2-0 W, Crystal Palace 4-1 W

Top Scorers: Bruno Fernandes and Harry Kane have both scored 24 goals in all competitions this season with Kane scoring three more goals in the Premier League than Fernandes.

Manchester United Goals: 24 – Bruno Fernandes, 20 – Marcus Rashford, 7 – Edinson Cavani, Anthony Martial, Scott McTominay, 5 – Mason Greenwood, Daniel James, Paul Pogba, 3 – Own Goal, 2 – Harry Maguire, Juan Mata, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, 1 – Amad Diallo, Victor Lindelof, Luke Shaw, Donny van de Beek

In the past six matches, United have won four, drawn once and lost once – scoring eight goals, conceding five and keeping three clean sheets. In their last Premier League match, United moved four points away from Leicester City, who were in third place, opening up a nine-point lead between them in second place and the fifth-placed team, which gives United some security, as long as they keep winning league matches. Beating Spurs this weekend should give United some thunder in the top four and they should be in the mind to beat them, after the 6-1 defeat at the start of the season.

Tottenham Hotspur Goals: 24 – Harry Kane, 17 – Son Heung-Min, 10 – Gareth Bale, Carlos Vinícius, 8 – Lucas Moura, 5 – Tanguy Ndombele, 3 – Erik Lamela, Giovani Lo Celso, 2 – Dele Alli, Serge Aurier, Davinson Sánchez, Harry Winks, 1 – Toby Alderweireld, Ben Davies, Alfie Devine, Pierre-Emile Højbjerg, Moussa Sissoko

In their last six matches, Spurs have won three, drawn once and lost twice – scoring 11 goals, conceding eight and keeping two clean sheets. It is not the best form for a team looking to reach European football of some substance next season, which is going to be tough if they expect to make the UEFA Champions League places. Spurs supporters will mock United for the 6-1 defeat at Old Trafford at the start of the season but though three points they earned do not seem to have done much for them. They will probably crow about their Carabao Cup final place at the end of the month too, pretending that they have a chance of winning it.

Team News: Three players ruled out for United with two players ruled out for Spurs. United could be sweating on two players with two more welcomed back for Spurs.

Phil Jones (knee), Anthony Martial (knee) and Eric Bailly (coronavirus) have all been ruled out for the visit to Spurs on Sunday. Paul Pogba is a slight doubt after suffering a niggle against Granada on Thursday evening and has a 75% chance of facing Spurs with Luke Shaw also having a slight problem during the match inn Spain which saw him replaced by Alex Telles at half time, but he also has a 75% change of featuring against Spurs. Both players will be subject to a late fitness test. United did not suffer any other problems on Thursday so should have a relatively big squad to choose from ahead of the match.

Matt Doherty (muscular) and Ben Davies (calf/shin) have both been ruled out of the visit of United in the Premier League on Sunday afternoon. Toby Alderweireld and Serge Aurier had problems returning to the club after the international break which meant they did not feature for the club last weekend due to not getting their COVID-19 tests in time to return to training last Thursday and Friday. They are both fully fit and should be included in the squad this weekend with Spurs seeking to do the double over United and the Old Trafford club seeking revenge for the defeat earlier in the season which was based on fitness, not the greatness of Spurs.

Predicted Starting XI: David De Gea to keep his place with Edinson Cavani, Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood leading the line for United?

Solskjaer probably won’t make any changes against Spurs and will be seeking to get a good result on the road after losing their away run against Leicester City in the Emirates FA Cup before the international break. Edinson Cavani, Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood could lead the line, supported by Bruno Fernandes, Paul Pogba and Fred in midfield. Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Luke Shaw (providing he comes through a late fitness test) could start in the fullback positions with Victor Lindelof and Harry Maguire partnering in the centre of defence. David De Gea could keep his place for this match after missing the past seven matches, so he will be eager.

Match Prediction: 57 matches played in the Premier League but United have won 35 of the matches, drawing 12, meaning Spurs have won ten times in the history of the Premier League which is poor form.

United and Spurs have met 57 times in the history of the Premier League, this weekend being the 58th time the two club have met in the English top flight. United have won 35 of the encounters with the two teams drawing 12 times and Spurs beating United just ten times. United have scored 95 times with Spurs scoring 56. United have been awarded eight penalties, scoring all of them with Spurs winning one and scoring it. United have kept 27 clean sheets against Spurs with the North London club keeping eight. United players have been booked 98 times with four red cards. Spurs players have been booked 92 times with one red card.

Earlier in the season, United and Spurs met at Old Trafford in the Premier League which resulted in a 6-1 victory for the North London club. Bruno Fernandes scored a penalty in the second minute but Tanguy Ndombele equalised two minutes later, there was a brace for both Son Heung-Min and Harry Kane with Serge Aurier scoring the other. In this fixture last season, at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, it was a 1-1 draw which was also the first fixture played during the first coronavirus lockdown. Steven Bergwijn opened the scoring in the 27th minute with Paul Pogba winning an 81st minute penalty, scored by Bruno Fernandes.

Tottenham Hotspur 1-2 Manchester United

Written by John Walker

Ranked: Every post-Sir Alex Ferguson season ranked from worst to best

On the 8 May 2013, the world of football was sent into a state of shock. Journalist rooms were sent into a state of frenzy and Manchester United fans sent into a saddened mood. Sir Alex Ferguson had announced his retirement. 

Fresh on the back of winning United’s twentieth English league title, his thirteenth, Sir Alex Ferguson would leave United needing a new manager for the first time in 27 years. After keeping his promise of knocking Liverpool off their perch, it would now fall to other managers to lead United into a new period of glory. 

Nearly eight years down the line and Old Trafford has seen four different managers (not including Ryan Giggs as interim manager) and success has been hard to find. Not many of the seasons that have followed that final Sir Alex Ferguson league title can truly be called successful. 

For the first time in the post Sir Alex Ferguson era, United can currently consider themselves in the title race. If they can keep at that current form, then it might go down as the best season since. Let me review each season since David Moyes became the first new United manager since 1986.

7. 2013/14 Season

Ah, poor David Moyes. It just wasn’t meant to be. Much has been made of whether United should have gone in for Pep Guardiola or Jose Mourinho, in order to continue the success that Sir Alex Ferguson brought to the club. In the end the honour fell to fellow Scot, Moyes. Moyes had served a long apprenticeship at Preston and then Everton, the latter leading to many plaudits coming his way. He would leave Everton on the back of finishing in the top eight, eight seasons in a row. In the 2004/05 season, they would finish fourth in the league, however, Liverpool’s win in the Champions League, prevented a well-deserved European campaign. However, failure to win a trophy in that time, runner-up in the FA Cup would be as close as he got, was a slight worry as he made the short journey from Merseyside to Manchester. 

His United tenure started well. A win in the Community Shield and an opening day 4-1 win over Swansea gave United fans optimism that it would be business as usual despite the change. You could argue, however, that would be as good as it got. A home draw against Chelsea followed and then his first Liverpool game would end in defeat. A crushing defeat to City (4-1), would leave him 0-2 in Derby games. A home defeat against West Brom, a West Brom who hadn’t won against United since 1984, left United with their worst start after six games in 24 years. 

Many more of those records would be broken as the season went on and despite a seven-game unbeaten run after that West Brom defeat, inconsistency would plague the rest of the season. Four wins in a row just before the turn of year led to hopes they had turned the corner, but the rest of the season would be a tough watch. A penalty shootout defeat to Sunderland denied United a League Cup final and 3-0 home defeats to both Liverpool and Manchester City left Moyes on the brink. Hope of a shock win over Bayern Munich in the Champions League was quickly extinguished and despite back to back wins scoring four goals in both games, defeat away, cruelly ironically, to his former club Everton meant David Moyes would fail to see at his first season at the club. Ryan Giggs took the final four games and would blood in a few youngsters, a bright spark being James Wilson scoring twice on his debut. 

Moyes ripped up the backroom staff that had sent many years under Sir Alex Ferguson and knew the ins and outs of the club. In hindsight, it was a bad move, but you can’t blame him too much to want to stamp his on authority at a club where one manager had led for so long. Many would point to the squad not being the best it could have been when Sir Alex Ferguson left and that United failed to get in the player’s he wanted to boost the squad. Of course, it was also a first season for new executive vice-chairman, Ed Woodward. Criticism over transfer dealings continue to this day but bringing in only Marouane Fellaini did not help the cause. Juan Mata signed in the new year, but it wasn’t enough to save Moyes from the chop and give United their worst season since Sir Alex Ferguson left the club. The emergence of Adnan Januzaj could not even paper over this shocking season. 

6. 2018/19 Season

What an odd season. Finishing second the season before, hopes of Jose Mourinho being able to bridge the 19-point gap between United and winners City, were high. That would be the only thing that would be high. Performance levels were low. League positions were low. Confidence was extremely low. A 3-1 defeat to Liverpool left United sixth with just seven wins in 17 games. Dressing room discontent, a toxic environment and a manager who felt he wasn’t backed was not tenable and Mourinho would leave before Christmas. 

Enter Ole Gunner Solskjaer. United legend. Scorer of the 1999 European Cup winner in THAT game against Bayern Munich. Everything he touched turned to gold. 10 wins in 12 games league games (the other two draws) including FA Cup wins over Arsenal and Chelsea, moved United into fourth place as they travelled to Paris for the second leg of the last 16 Champions League tie against Paris Saint-Germain. United had lost the first leg 2-0, the only defeat in the interim period. Incredibly a last-minute Marcus Rashford penalty sent United into the quarter-final despite being injury ravaged, missing 10 first team players, with Tahith Chong and Mason Greenwood finishing the game on the pitch as United chased a winner. 

The clamour for Solskjaer to be handed the job permanently became too much for the United top brass to ignore and the confirmation was announced soon after. In almost a complete reverse of his first 17 games, the next 12 games would yield just two wins. Numerous opportunities to secure fourth place came and went, and even victories over already relegated Huddersfield and Cardiff in the final two games of the season, would have led to Champions League football again. As we all know, two shocking performances would follow. United would finish sixth, incidentally the same position United were in when Mourinho was sacked. Worries were starting to circulate that Solskjaer was the wrong man for the job and the club were too hasty in his appointment. Solskjaer believed that the tough training that he had to put his players through, due to the low level of fitness that he found when he joined, meant the players ran out of the steam at the end of the season. Whatever the reasons, the season was plain bad. 

5. 2014/15 Season

As a sign of how quickly expectations had fallen since the horror show of David Moyes’ failed season at the club, United were keen to bring in an experienced winner who could get them back into the top four. Many fans wanted to see Giggs get his chance after his interim period but just before the 2014 World Cup, Louis van Gaal, then manager of the Netherlands, was announced as manager. United fans sat back to watch how the Netherlands would play in Brazil. To everyone’s delight, it was very good. In fact, it was better then very good. They made it to the semi-finals, playing some excellent football and Van Gaal seemed to know exactly how to get the best out of Robin van Persie, who wasn’t at his very best during the season before. One of the highlights that lived long in the memory of Van Persie’s diving header and his run to celebrate with his manager. The dream team that United hoped would fire them back to glory was on. 

Then Van Gaal would oversee six wins from six in pre-season, including wins over Inter, Real Madrid and Liverpool. Instead of praying for the top four, United fans were dreaming a lot bigger. The signings needed to bolster a weak looking squad came thick and fast. Luke Shaw, Ander Herrera, Angel Di Maria, Marcus Rojo and Daley Blind all came in and yet the bubble quickly burst. Swansea would again be the opening day fixture, however, this time it was at home and it ended in defeat. United fans were understandably aghast. ‘Even Moyes beat Swansea’ was probably heard in every home of every United fan. Drab draws against Sunderland and then Burnley didn’t do much to allay early fears and when they lost to Leicester City, they had one win in five and were sitting twelfth. Throw in the League Cup humiliation, losing 4-0 to League One MK Dons, and United fans were wondering what had happened to their side in such a short period of time. 

There were bright moments in the season. A league double over Liverpool is always celebrated as is putting four goals past Manchester City. They would only lose two league games between the 8 November and the 18 April. By then they were comfortably in the Champions League spots, but one win in the last six left a sour taste in the mouths and dampened spirits a little going into the summer break. However, being back in the Champions League will have been the minimum target when appointing the Dutchmen and it couldn’t be any worse than the debacle the season before. 

4. 2015/16 Season

It is interesting to hear what is considered a successful season. Fans will likely deliberate this for the rest of time. It could probably be called the Arsenal conundrum. Arsene Wenger’s last few seasons at Arsenal would see them quality for the Champions League and that would be a success. If they could win a cup, then that would be the added bonus. However, many fans believe that the league is more important than the cup. That aiming for fourth place is not good enough. Your write has always tended to agree with that; however, I will probably contradict myself in this remaining article and that starts here. This season would see United lift their first piece of silverware in the post Sir Alex Ferguson era. (sorry Mourinho, the Community Shield doesn’t count). If there was ever a season that constituted as ‘one step forward, two steps back’ it was this one. More signings were made. Memphis Depay was exciting. Matteo Darmian, Morgan Schneiderlin and serial winner Bastian Schweinsteiger bolstered the squad and the arrival of unheralded 18-year old Anthony Martial caught everyone off guard. 

In the league United would not win more than three games in a row but would complete another league double over Liverpool. The home win would see the arrival Martial, with that stunning solo goal and his form would continue to be the brightest of sparks throughout the season, finishing United’s top goal scorer. However, Liverpool would knock them out of the Europa League as United exited their return to the Champions League at the Group Stage. A group stage that should have been easy to advance from. 

Whilst the signing of Martial paid off, the Depay arrival hadn’t gone as well, and Van Gaal remained under pressure throughout the season. Losing to West Ham in their final game at Upton Park, handed the initiative to rivals City in the race for fourth place and with the goal difference being so far in City’s advantage, there win on the final game of the season consigned United to another spell in the Europa League. Heading into the FA Cup final, the impression was that if United won, Van Gaal would get another year. They did win. An extra-time win over Crystal Palace, however, Van Gaal didn’t get another year. Even worse, he was sacked immediately after the cup win. It is something that Van Gaal hasn’t let go to this day, however the football that season was poor. At points the fans were booing when United passed back to David De Gea in goal. Just 49 goals were scorer in the league, and it was clear that Van Gaal was no longer the right fit. The FA Cup though did make it a slightly better season then his first, by virtue of it being United’s first silverware for three years. 

3. 2019/20 Season

The last three seasons is where my contradiction kicks in. Last season was another strange season for United. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was entering the season on the back of those shocking performances against Cardiff and Huddersfield. The defence that had been so poor the season before, was bolstered by the signings of Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka. The season started so well. A 4-0 win over Chelsea with Maguire winning Man of the Match signalling hope that United were finally on the right track. As has been so often, it was a false dawn. United would only win one of their next eight games leaving them down in 14th place. After draws to newly promoted sides, Sheffield United and Aston Villa, Solskjaer was seemingly on the brink. Back to back wins over Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City gave eased the pressure once more, pressure that would be back just a month after. Four defeats in the next eight games, culminating in defeat to Burnley at Old Trafford, looked the end for Solskjaer. Enter Bruno Fernandes. 

One signing transformed the side. Despite drawing with Wolves in his first game, a result that left them in seventh place, United would go undefeated for the rest of the season, either side of the break for the pandemic. They would end up finishing third, hugely important after failing the season in their quest for Champions League football. The 14 games unbeaten should have given reason for optimism heading into the new season, but failings in the semi-finals of all cups they were involved in left a sour taste in some fan’s mouths. The last being the Europa League, played over one leg because of the aforementioned pandemic, that they were expected to win. However, they looked tired as the season ended and the defeat to Sevilla meant the wait for Solskjaer first trophy would head into the next season. 

Some will argue that this season isn’t much different to this season and Van Gaal’s fourth place season. Both secured Champions League football, but when you factor in the three semi-finals and second half of season form, then it warrants it’s place high on the list. 

2. 2016/17 Season

The final two seasons are where the contradictions can get tricky. Jose Mourinho was a problem that the United board didn’t know how to solve. The born winner in Mourinho came out this season. In his first season he was backed. Paul Pogba returned to the club. A centre back, Eric Bailly, was signed. He was needed. Henrikh Mkhitaryan signed from Dortmund and of course Zlatan Ibrahimovic joined on a free transfer. Big statement signings. Big statement signings that saw three wins in a row to start the season. Excitement started building. Whilst Mourinho had been sacked from Chelsea, he was still seen a winner who would bring success to any club he took over. As seems to be the trend when the excitement levels build, United would win just one of their next six games, losing three. United wouldn’t lose again in the league until May. So United were surely in the title hunt? No defeat in six months? They must have been. Unfortunately, not. United could not win games. They would draw 15 times. Many against teams they should have beaten, including Stoke (twice), Burnley, Hull, West Brom and Swansea. United would finish sixth. Worse than both seasons under Van Gaal. They were in the hunt for the Champions League, but just one win in their final six games laid rest to that. 

Mourinho didn’t care though. He had the back up of the Europa League. United had already won the League Cup, three wins in a row now at Wembley, including the Community Shield (sorry Mourinho, still not a trophy). However, the Europa League was a big trophy now that it was his only route into the Champions League. Of course, his United side would win. Mourinho would run onto the pitch waving three fingers, in reference to his three trophies (yes, he included the Community Shield). 

This season, in league terms, wasn’t great. However, it was a return to the Champions League and a return to multiple trophy wins, and many believed that with this success, United could go on to bigger and better things, after all, Mourinho always wins the league after two seasons in charge.

1. 2017/18 Season

Alas, he wouldn’t win the title. He wouldn’t even win a trophy. So how does this rank as the best season you may ask? 

Well Mourinho himself called finishing second, with the squad he had, his best achievement. Things started to sour a little. Ibrahimovic was still out injured with the serious knee injury he had sustained in the season prior, so Romelu Lukaku was brought in for £74 million. Lindelof was also brought in, in hope that he would form a title winning partnership with Eric Bailly, who had been so impressive in his debut season. Many saw Nemanja Matic as the final piece of Mourinho’s puzzle, when Chelsea let him go. In reality, despite finishing second, United never really got close to Manchester City. The signing of Alexis Sanchez at Christmas, designed to put United in position to challenge the season after, will live long in the memory of all United fans. And not for positive reasons. He was a disaster for the rest of the season and for the rest of his United career. Losing in the final of the FA Cup, led some to think that Mourinho should go the same way as Van Gaal. The football wasn’t much better, and Van Gaal only had one trophy less than Mourinho when you match up their seasons. Of course, you’re not going to sack a manager after a second-place finish.  

The league should always be a priority. This is the season that United finished closest to top spot. For United fans it is a sad reality, however, it is the best season that United have had. The current United side have a chance to leapfrog all of these seasons and for United fans, the thought of title number 21 lingers on their mind almost every day. 

Written by Huw Rawlings

Player Profile: Diogo Dalot – the future right-back at Manchester United, rivalling with Aaron Wan-Bissaka?

Manchester United signed then 19-year-old Diogo Dalot from FC Porto in a reported £19 million fee in the summer of 2018 and from the time the interest in the young Portuguese defender was first made known to the eventual signing of the player was around a week with negotiations coming to a conclusion just over a week before he signed for the club. Dalot was a relatively inexperienced player at the time he signed for United, playing only a handful of matches at first team level, also playing out of position in the left-back role, covering for a player on the sidelines. This did not stop United’s interest in a player that could grow massively.

The fact that then United manager Jose Mourinho spoke so highly of the player suggests to me that United and Mourinho will have seen the player extensively, which is why he came to the club as highly rated as he was. It is suggested that he could make his debut for the club that season, which he did, where he will be expected to take over from Antonio Valencia, who was the main right-back at the club at the time. Dalot seems to be a very level-headed player, thankful for the chance he has been given but also confident of what he could achieve. On signing for United, Dalot, speaking to the official Manchester United website, said:

“Joining Manchester United is an unbelievable opportunity for me. I have grown up in Porto’s Academy and I am so thankful for everything they have done for me. But the chance of coming to the biggest club in the world is something I just couldn’t turn down. I’m excited about working with Jose Mourinho and learning everything I can from such a successful coach. I am looking forward to playing alongside the fantastic players in the squad.”

Mourinho also commented about his first summer signing of 2018, speaking to the official Manchester United website, saying:

“Diogo [Dalot] is an extremely talented young defender with all the qualities to quickly become a great player for this club. He has all the attributes that a full-back needs: physicality, tactical intelligence and technical quality, combined with a Porto Academy mentality which prepares players for the maturity they need at the professional level. In his age group, he is the best full-back in Europe and we all believe he has a bright future ahead of him at Manchester United.”

It shows that Mourinho and United had been tracking Dalot for some time, especially in the fact that Mourinho had branded the player as the best full-back from his age group in Europe. The player obviously has a good head on his shoulders, not only to be able to move to one of the biggest clubs in the world at his age but to be confident of his abilities, which at his age is not something every player has in their remit. Dalot started his footballing career at the age of nine in the Fintas Academy in his hometown, Braga and left the Academy in 2008 when he joined FC Porto.

He was also wanted by Benfica at that time. Dalot is a player with natural pace, a modern full-back, one that can cross the ball, which will be great to see in the years to come, one who can play on the right or the left, which shows just how good he can be in the years to come. During the 2014/15 season, Dalot was loaned out to Padroense in the Portuguese Second Division and his experience in the Porto reserve team helped him on the way to where he is today, also giving him youth international experience, of which he has played alongside United third choice goalkeeper Joel Pereira.

Dalot has been capped for Portugal from U15 to U21 level, leaving just the senior team for him to be called up to, which after a year or two at United, could be something he achieves. The 19-year-old made his debut for Porto’s first team in October 2017, playing his first Primeira Liga in February 2018. Despite lacking experience at first team level, what Dalot has shown was encouraging, also suggesting that his future is bright. Mourinho will probably have been scouting the player for some time, or United were. Perhaps Javier Ribalta, United’s new scout, who came to the club last summer, was the lynchpin in bringing Dalot to the Premier League.

During the 2018/19 season, Dalot made his debut for the club against Young Boys in the UEFA Champions League group stage, a 3-0 victory for United. He then played in the EFL Cup against Derby County, a 2-2 draw with ended up with Derby winning 10-9 on penalties, knocking United out of the competition. He made a total of 25 appearances that season, not scoring any goals but assisting three times. Mourinho was sacked in December 2018 paving the way for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to manage the club with Dalot featuring more times under Solskjaer than for Mourinho, but he was injured from 17 October to 30 November.

Dalot featured in fewer matches for United during the 2019/20 season because of injury. He started the season with a hip injury, keeping him out from 4 August until 17 September, then suffered a groin injury from the 18 October until the 2 January 2020. This meant he only played a total of 11 times for United, scoring one goal, in the Emirates FA Cup in the 6-0 victory over Tranmere Rovers. The arrival of Aaron Wan-Bissaka may well have cost him a place at United, at least for the current season and maybe beyond. I feel that Dalot would benefit more on loan, which seemed to be in the plans of Solskjaer too.

The Portuguese full back played once for United in the Carabao Cup during the 2020/21 season and was named on the bench for another. From there, he was loaned to AC Milan for the remainder of the season, which should benefit him as a player, getting him more first team experience, which was not likely at United. So far he has made 10 appearances for Milan, more often than not in the UEFA Europa League where he has played six times, scoring one goal and two assists. He has played both at right-back and left-back for the Italian club. He has started in all six Europa League matches, starting only once in the Serie A.

Dalot will no doubt benefit from his loan spell in Italy, which may also pave the way for an exit of the Theatre of Dreams, although it is suggested that Solskjaer rates him and has no desire to sell him, according to reports in The Mirror. It is possible that Solskjaer has earmarked Dalot to rival Wan-Bissaka at right-back for United given that Tim Fosu-Mensah is out of contract in the summer and Brandon Williams, who can play in both fullback positions but has played more times in the left-back role. Solskjaer seems to be assembling a young squad, so perhaps the Portuguese defender will prevail at the club in the future.

It could well be an exciting future for United under Solskjaer with a young squad developing each and every match plus with the newly signed 19-year-old Facundo Pellistri chomping at the bit and the incoming 18-year-old Amad Diallo, who will arrive at the club next month after confirmation on deadline day back in October. United are also linked to Ecuadorian midfielder Moises Caicedo, who is also on the radar of Chelsea, according to the Daily Mail. Solskjaer is building something and if he is reluctant to sell Dalot, it would suggest that his plan for the player is in the future with United looking to succeed.

Written by John Walker

Where Are They Now? Adnan Januzaj – Cristiano Ronaldo comparisons suggested he was the boy that could do anything

Nine years ago, Manchester United signed 16-year-old Adnan Januzaj from Anderlecht after impressing in a skills session in Brussels, Belgium. After a seemingly glittering career in the academy at United, Januzaj was promoted to the first team during the 2012/13 season, which was also Sir Alex Ferguson’s final season at the club before retirement. Januzaj never featured inn the first team for Ferguson but was an unused substitute in his final game as United manager, a 5-5 draw with West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns.

For his performances for the then U21s, now the U23s, Januzaj was awarded the Denzil Haroun Reserve Player of the Year award for the 2012/13 season. Under the management of David Moyes, despite this being his ill-fated season at the Old Trafford club, Januzaj kept his place in the first team squad, playing in the pre-season tour of Asia, scoring in the final tour match against Kitchee. In Rio Ferdinand’s testimonial at Old Trafford, Januzaj started, assisting United’s only goal in the 3-1 defeat to Sevilla.

In his debut season at the club, which was also his best in terms of bringing something to the team, Januzaj played 35 times in all competitions, scoring four goals and six assists – United only won the FA Community Shield that season, seeing Moyes sacked at Easter time and finishing seventh in the Premier League – the worst season to date. Ryan Giggs was the caretaker manager for the final four matches of the season with Louis van Gaal installed as the permanent manager during the summer, prior to the 2014/15 season, which needed to be a good one for United.

Januzaj only played 21 times that season, failing to score a single goal or assist, at least in the first team. Januzaj was loaned to Borussia Dortmund for the 2015/16 season, but after 12 appearances for the club, with no goals and three assists to his name, his loan spell was ended on the 6 January 2016 and he returned to United. He played seven times for United, scoring one goal and it was starting to look like the end of the road for the player at United.

During the 2016/17 season, Januzaj was loaned to Sunderland for the entire season, linking up with Moyes. Despite playing 28 times for the first team, the Belgian scored just one goal, assisting three times for the club. It was clear that Moyes rated the player but his lack of performances on loan would not keep him at United. In the summer of 2017, Januzaj signed a five-year contract with La Liga side Real Sociedad. It was a shame to see another bright youngster leave United, especially after periods of promise.

With United still reeling from the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo at the time he broke through into the first team, with some comparisons at the time, many were let down. In his debut season (2017/18) in Spain, Januzaj made a total of 35 appearances for the Basque club, scoring four goals and a further six assists, playing in La Liga, the Copa del Rey and the UEFA Europa League. During the 2018/19 season, Januzaj played just 24 times, scoring twice and assisting four more goals for his club.

In the 2019/20 season, which was suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic, Januzaj seems to be finding his feet and showing some promise. In 29 appearances throughout the season, before and after the coronavirus pandemic, the now 25-year-old has scored eight goals, assisting a further four, playing in La Liga and the Copa del Rey. So far, it was the best season of the Belgian’s career and it could be the start of something for the winger. It was a shame he never really made it at United but that does not mean he did not have ability – he had plenty of it. He has two goals in six appearances this season.

Different things happen at different times and people react differently. I am glad his career is seemingly picking up. As yet, it is not yet know whether La Liga will continue this season, if it does, Januzaj will be seeking to pick up where he left off. Real Sociedad were fourth in the league at the time the league was suspended, which could bring riches to the club in the form of European football. Seeing Januzaj shine will make me smile. The boy could do anything, except make it work at United.

Written by John Walker

copyright: JW