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Weekly Roundup: Solskjaer under pressure? Bad week for Manchester United with two high scoring defeats; U18’s and U19’s both win

The past week has been very mixed for Manchester United. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s first team were beaten 5-0 by Liverpool at Old Trafford, which is a sickening defeat, especially in the way that the ‘team’ played. It may not look good for Solskjaer at this time with speculation linking him to being sacked and talk of Zinedine Zidane and Antonio Conte being linked to the job in the media, not to mention the so-called fans who have dreamed about United losing like this for weeks, still claiming that they care about the club, which is not going to be the case. They care about their agenda and want to be right – nothing more.

During the past week, United have been in action in the U18 Premier League Cup, a match that was cancelled from last week and played over the weekend. United were also in action in the UEFA Youth League, fielding an U19 side, which like the U18’s, won the game by the same 4-2 scoreline. It was the U23’s and the first team that let United down though as they both suffered devastating defeats with the U23’s losing 6-0 away to West Ham United and the first team losing to their bitter rivals, Liverpool. United did beat Atalanta 3-2 in the Champions League days before they faced Liverpool.

The women’s team were not in action this week because of the international break – they will be back in action in just under a fortnight.

Manchester United 4-2 Wolverhampton Wanderers

U18 Premier League Cup

Carrington, Manchester

This was a match that should have been played last week, but traffic saw it postponed and moved to Saturday, when United were scheduled to face Wolverhampton Wanderers in the U18 Premier League. Travis Binnion picked a strong side which included a young bench with two 15-year-olds and two 14-year-olds, one of the former being none other than Zack Giggs, the son of United legend Ryan Giggs, making his debut at U18 level in added time. Rhys Bennett assisted by Daniel Gore opened the scoring in the 21st minute of the match with Isak Hansen-Aaroen, assisted by Alejandro Garnacho doubling the lead in the 33rd minute of the match.

In the second half, Wolves scored a penalty in the 54th minute, equalising in the 86th minute, which gave United more to do to win the match in the cup competition. Charlie McNeill, assisted by Bennett put United 3-2 in the lead in the 89th minute, seemingly certain of winning the match, but then came Maxi Oyedele, who put United two goals clear in the fifth minute of added time. United are scheduled to face West Bromwich Albion in the cup on the 27 November. United have never won this cup, Chelsea won it in the inaugural season with Manchester City winning it the next two seasons – it was not contested last season due to Covid.

Manchester United 4-2 Atalanta

UEFA Youth League

Leigh Sports Village, Manchester

United’s U19’s were back in action following their 4-1 defeat to Villarreal in the last match, seeking to change their form in the competition this season. As United’s first team were set to face Atalanta at Old Trafford in the evening, the U19’s faced the Italian club at Leigh Sports Village in the afternoon. United started in great stead but Simeone Panada opened the scoring two minutes before Zidane Iqbal equalised, assisted by Isak Hansen-Aaroen in the 22nd minute of the match. Just two minutes later,  Joe Hugill, assisted by Alejandro Garnacho doubled United’s lead. In the 30th minute of the match, Garnacho got himself on the scoresheet.

In the second half, United continued their good performance and scored their fourth and final goal in the 63rd minute, scored by Omari Forson and assisted by Alvaro Fernandez. Atalanta got a late consolation in added time, scored by Tommaso De Nipoti. United sit second in the group after three matches and will face Atalanta in the competition next week as they look to continue their good form and have a chance of getting out of the group this season. Neil Wood’s side may be affected by injury but they have some quality players at this level and they will keep performing for United.

West Ham United 6-0 Manchester United

Premier League 2

Rush Green, London

United have not had a good season at this level. It has been a mixed start with just four wins, two draws and two defeat in the eight matches played before this one and this United side were missing many players with injuries at U23 and U18 level which needed to be managed, meaning eligible players moving down a level. This was a devastating defeat for United – and not the first big defeat this season. United had already lost 4-2 to Manchester City and 3-1 to Arsenal – but this one would hurt, especially added to the 5-0 defeat to Liverpool the first team suffered. United were 3-0 down at the end of the first half with Teden Mengi scoring an own goal.

In the second half, United conceded three more goals, also seeing Alvaro Fernandez sent off, meaning he will be missing for the clash with Spurs on Saturday, which will be a big blow for Neil Wood’s side. United sit in sixth place in the Premier League 2 Division One at this stage of the season, earning 14 points in nine matches, similar to the first team in the Premier League. The U23’s have scored just 15 goals, conceding 17 so far, having a goal difference of -2 at this stage, needing a lot of improvement ahead of the remainder of the season. United are just six points off the summit though, so there is still a lot to play for this season.

Manchester United 3-2 Atalanta

UEFA Champions League

Old Trafford, Manchester

After beating Villarreal in the second group stage match of the Champions League this season, losing to Young Boys in the first, United were back in the hunt to get out of the group stages this season, having failed last season – falling into the Europa League, only to fail to beat Villarreal in the final. United needed all three points against this Atalanta side, who had injury problems and would suffer more during the match. That did not help Solskjaer’s side who found themselves 2-0 down at half time following a poor first half performance. This looked like a disaster for United and Solskjaer did not look too happy heading to the dressing room.

A different United side came out in the second half, with Marcus Rashford (53′) and Harry Maguire (75′) getting United level in a sublime second half performance, only for Cristiano Ronaldo to win the game for United in the 81st minute of the match. It had been a turbulent time for United over the past month with defeats to West Ham United (Carabao Cup), Aston Villa, a 1-1 draw with Everton and a 4-2 defeat to Leicester City (all in the Premier League). This saw United rise again but it would be a turbulent time as the upcoming matches were going to be tough for United with Liverpool, Spurs, Atalanta and Manchester City all on the horizon.

Manchester United 0-5 Liverpool

Premier League

Old Trafford, Manchester

This was the match that everyone was waiting for. The North West derby against United’s bitter rivals – Liverpool. United failed to beat Jurgen Klopp’s side in the Premier League last season and this season was going to be tough based on the form of the visiting side and the lack of confidence in this United side. Solskjaer was determined to prove his doubters wrong but that did not happen. United were 3-0 down at the end of the first half after Naby Keita, Diogo Jota and Mohamed Salah all scored. Solskjaer brought Paul Pogba on as the only change during the half time break but that was nothing but a hinderance for United.

Salah completed a hat-trick, scoring twice in the second half and 11 minutes after completing their 5-0 rout, Pogba was sent off for a bad foul on Keita, who was stretchered off the pitch. United were dire. A combination of defensive errors, a lack of commitment, determination, ability and more importantly, respect for this great club was the cause of this defeat. United had chances in the match, scoring in the second half through Ronaldo, but he was ruled offside. United were not good enough and with no match this week until Spurs on Saturday, the external pressure would be intense for Solskjaer, his coaches and the players.

What lies ahead for Manchester United this week?

England’s Lionesses face Latvia in a World Cup qualifier at 18:30 BST on Tuesday evening and the likes of Ella Toone, Mary Earps, Katie Zelem, Alessia Russo and Lucy Staniforth will be hoping to have some involvement in the match. Norway face Belgium at 18:30 BST and Vilde Boe Risa and Maria Thorisdottir will be hoping to be involved. Jackie Groenen’s Netherlands face Belarus at 17:30 BST, Ona Batlle’s Spain take on Ukraine at 15:00 BST with Hayley Ladd’s Wales facing Estonia at 19:15 BST. United’s Women’s players will all be seeking to help earn places in the World Cup in 2023.

Facundo Pellistri’s Deportivo Alaves will take on Elche at 18:00 BST on Tuesday and he will be hoping to have some involvement in that match, having played 56 minutes in the 2-0 victory over Cadiz on Saturday – but he has only played a total of 328 minutes of first team football for the club so far this season, not scoring or assisting any goals thus far.

Wednesday will mark the 89th birthday of the late Harry Gregg – the hero of the Munich air disaster and supporters old and young will be remembering the former goalkeeper who gave a lot more to this club than anyone could possible imagine.

On Thursday, United will be stepping up their preparations for their Premier League encounter with Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday evening – which could add more gloom and doom to the club, or see this United side hold their heads high and fight for their futures, as this poor run of domestic matches has not just been caused by the manager and the coaches – the players have their part to play in this also. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, if he survives the week, will face the media on Friday for a pre-match press conference.

Also on Friday, former United goalkeeper Edwin van de Sar will celebrate his 51st birthday. The Premier League and UEFA Champions League double winner in the 2007/08 season is currently the chief executive for Ajax, who seem to be continuing the clubs good history in the Netherlands, handing out big defeats to Borussia Dortmund (4-0) in the Champions League and PSV Eindhoven (5-0) in the Eredivisie in the past week.

On Saturday, the U18’s will face Derby County away in the U18 Premier League, kicking off at 12:00 BST. The U23’s will also be in action, seeking to make a come back from their 6-0 defeat to the Hammers, this time facing Spurs at 12:00 BST – the U18’s will be broadcast live on MUTV with U23 highlights at some point over the weekend. Solskjaer’s first team will also face Spurs, kicking off at 17:30 BST with United expected to kick back from their 5-0 defeat to Liverpool.

Saturday will also make a year since World Cup (1966) and European Cup winner (1968) Nobby Stiles died with many paying their respects to the legendary Manchester United midfielder. He was one of the clubs greats who helped United to achieve the massive feat of winning the European Cup in 1968, a decade after Munich, which was, at the time, seen as the end for United. The phoenix will always rise from the flames.

On Sunday, United legend Denis Irwin celebrates his 56th birthday. The treble winner is a highly respected former player and ambassador for the club. I am sure many supporters of the club will wish him well. Marcus Rashford will also celebrate his 24th birthday on Sunday, and hopefully United will get a good result against Spurs to help him celebrate on style.

The past week may have been a bad one for Manchester United, but it will get better, but it may get worse before that happens. If the club stick by the manager, as they have done in the not too distant past, the manager and the player’s will need to stick together. Granted, changes are needed but under Solskjaer, United have a good plan and the Norwegian has bettered United since Jose Mourinho was sacked. That cannot be disagreed, no matter who you are talking too. Even the fans with an agenda will realise that soon.

Written by John Walker

Hannibal Mejbri ‘has a long way to go’ but his talent and quality is there for all to see

Hannibal Mejbri had a great match against Salford City in the first group stage match of the EFL Trophy which saw Manchester United U21s beat the club owned by Class of 1992 graduates Gary Neville, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt, David Beckham and Phil Neville – who between them own 60% of the club with Peter Lim owning the other 40%. It was a great start for United who scored six goals against the League Two side. United and Salford share the group with Rochdale and Morecambe.

Mejbri opened the scoring in the eighth minute of the match, assisted by James Garner. United’s lead was doubled in the 29th minute of the game through Arnau Puigmal, assisted by Anthony Elanga. In the 46th minute, Mark Helm scored the third goal, assisted by Mejbri. Then came three goals in four minutes from the 70th minute with Charlie McCann, assisted by Helm, then in the 73rd minute Helm was assisted by Garner followed by the sixth and final goal in the 74th minute scored by Elanga, assisted by Mejbri.

Mejbri, who joined United’s academy last summer (2019) in a transfer from principality club AS Monaco with United spending £9.3 million on the player, who came highly regarded. The French midfielder is considered as one of the top talents in United’s academy and his performance against Salford, along with what he achieved at United in his debut season, will leave supporters thirsty for more. It is suggested that the player wants to make the first team in a few years time.

United’s U23 coach, Neil Wood who saw fellow coach Quinton Fortune leave the club this week to take up a coaching role at Reading within their first team, joining former United defender John O’Shea who retired from the game at the Berkshire club and started coaching within the Reading first team last season. Many have speculated that Mejbri could find himself in the first team if he keeps developing in the way he has but Wood has poured cold water on that with The Mirror reporting him as saying:

“As much as he is a good player there’s still a long way to go with Hannibal, he’s still got a lot of learning to do, a lot of improving.

“You can see the good bits of his play, he’s got great feet, he’s got great vision, he’s tenacious, but there’s still work to be done with him.

“I wouldn’t get carried away and say he’s going to be in the first team, but he’s willing to work, he’s willing to improve.

“He’s got a very good understanding of the game and a very good understanding of what he needs to get better at as well.

“We’re going to keep working with him this season, he’s had a very good pre-season, we’re very pleased with his pre-season, and we’re hoping he can take that into the season ahead.”

Mejbri has a great future ahead of him and will continue to get chances to play at a higher level this season with Wood likely to select him in the upcoming EFL Trophy matches against Rochdale (6 October 2020) and Morecambe (10 November). That said, the player is likely to be considered at U18 level with United opening their season against Liverpool on Saturday but also at U23 level, when the season starts. United will be back in the top flight of the Premier League 2 this season after winning promotion last season, despite the coronavirus pandemic cancelling the season.

Written by John Walker

Manchester United U23 to play seven behind closed doors pre-season friendlies

Manchester United have announced that Neil Wood’s U23 side will play seven behind closed door pre-season friendlies ahead of the new Premier League 2 season which will see United promoted to Division 1 of the league – spending the last two seasons in Division 2 and find out that on a points per game ratio, promotion happened despite the 2019/20 being suspended then cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic. United will be looking to get back into full fitness ahead of the new season.

The club has announced that because of the recent lockdown measures in Greater Manchester, no spectators will be allowed into the training ground, presumable where all the matches will be played. It was also stated that the clubs television channel, MUTV will broadcast highlights of some of the matches at a later date. The U23s will be tested in their pre-season matches, playing a mixture of senior teams and U23 teams, which will be good for their fitness and progress at this level.

United will start on Wednesday against Salford City then face Swindon Town on the 18 August, followed by Morecambe on the 22 August. Neil Wood’s side then face Stoke City U23s on the 25 August, followed by Macclesfield Town on the 28 August. On the 1 September, Doncaster Rovers will be the opposition finishing up with Everton U23s on the 5 September. It is set to be a good pre-season runs of matches for the players, who will be seeking to start the 2020/21 season brightly.

It will be good to see this group of young and talented players get stuck into the game again. Whilst it is expected that some of Wood’s players will head out on loan this summer, there will be many players stepping up from the U18 squad from last season, continuing that conveyor belt of talent at the club, testing them each and every season. Hannibal Mejbri, Charlie Wellens, and Mark Helm are likely to be tested this season. Speaking to the official Manchester United website, Wood said:

“It’s going to be a hard pre-season. Last year, we had the experience of the EFL Trophy and it looks likely that we could be part of that again.

“I wanted the lads to experience some first-team friendlies this year before we even made that tournament because they are challenging in themselves. We’ve got games lined up against the likes of Salford, Doncaster, Macclesfield and Swindon.

“So there are going to be some tough games, considering we’re of such a young age. It’s going to be hard for them but there is some talent there and that can really start to shine through.

“We played Swindon last year and we know how they want to play football. We know they’re not going to turn up and try to boot us off the pitch and injure some of the younger lads, especially as we have a very young squad.

“We want to have that first-team opposition but also would like to have opposition who try to play football and not try to outpower us or be a battle because we’re not going to win them at this stage.”

It would seem that the academy levels of the club are in good hands, giving players the development they need before sorting out their future, whether they are good enough to go straight into the first team, like Marcus Rashford, Scott McTominay, Mason Greenwood and Brandon Williams, or whether they need a loan spell away from the club so they can find their feet in a first team environment. Nicky Butt, the head of first team development understands what is needed and will be keeping’s eye out for players who are ready for the next level.

Written by John Walker

U23s unbeaten so far this season, many players showing Ole Gunnar Solskjaer that they are getting ready for the rebuild

Manchester United’s U23s started the season after a number of new changes to the age group. Many players, including Callum Gribbin, had been released and the coach, Ricky Sbragia had been sacked. Neil Wood and Quinton Fortune were tasked with managing this level with Nicky Butt also involved after changing his role at the club this summer.

The season actually started on Tuesday 6 August 2019 with a trip to Rotherham United in the EFL Trophy, the first time United have participated in the competition. United won the match 2-0 with goals from Ethan Laird and Largie Ramazani, assisted by Brandon Williams and James Garner respectively.

In their first Premier League 2, Division 2 fixture, United travelled to face West Bromwich Albion, seeking to get out of the tier and return to the top level of this age division, winning 5-0. Garner scored a brace with Ramazani, D’Mani Bughail-Mellor and Dylan Levitt also on the scoresheet. Williams assisted twice with Bughail-Mellor assisting another.

In their first home match at Leigh Sports Village, United welcomed Reading to Manchester. United, on a two match winning run, won 2-0 with Bughail-Mellor opening the scoring with Garner scoring the other goal, which Bughail-Mellor assisted. It was three wins in a row for United in two competitions, super a great start to the season.

Then came an away match against Newcastle United, another high-scoring victory for United with four goals scored without reply. Tahith Chong scored twice, also getting an assist with Ramazani and Garner scoring the other two. Bughail-Mellor, Levitt and Williams assisted the other goals in the game.

At the end of August, United travelled to West Ham United, which was the first match they had dropped points in this season, drawing 2-2. Angel Gomes, assisted by Ramazani opened the scoring in the 19th minute with Ramazani, assisted by Lee O’Connor, playing his last match, levelled the score in the last minute of the match to take a point back to Manchester.

United ended up undefeated in August, which was a good start to the season, and proudly sit at the top of the Premier League 2, Division 2 table, albeit on goal difference with West Ham in the second spot in the league. United play three times this month, at home against Fulham (13/9) and Norwich City (27/9) and away against Aston Villa (23/9).

In August, there were many players in the U23s who have shown their ability. For them now, they will need to show consistency with the team looking to overcome disappointment after that draw away to West Ham at the end of the month. Ramazani and Garner ended the month with four goals each with Bughail-Mellor and Chong on two goals each.

Gomes, Laird, and Levitt had all scored one goal each. In terms of assists, Williams was leading the table with four, Bughail-Mellor with three and Chong, Garner, Levitt, O’Connor and Ramazani with one assist each. United scored a total of 15 goals, conceding two, keeping four clean sheets in the five matches played. If this continues, United will win promotion.

However, it is a long season, which will contain more disappointment, an indicator that will show this team growing in ability and mentality on their way to fighting for a place in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s first team. In terms of players showing their abilities for the first team, Gomes, Garner, Ramazani and Williams will be leading the line.

It was a shame that O’Connor left the club with a permanent move to Scottish Premier League champions Celtic and he will be wished all the best of luck in his pursuit of firstteam football at the club. It was going to be tough for him to break into United’s first team based on the players in the squad. His first-team chances were slim based on this.

Only three players played in each of the five matches last month, two of those played in every minute; O’Connor and Williams. Levitt played in all matches, however only played 66 minutes in the second match of the season. With O’Connor leaving the club, it may give 17-year-old Teden Mengi a route to U23 football, having played the last two matches.

If the likes of Chong, Garner, Gomes are given first team opportunities in the coming months, Wood and Fortune will have players at their disposal with Anthony Elanga doing well at U18 level, playing 105 minutes at U23 level this season already. Ethan Galbraith could also fill in, replacing Garner. Williams should be considered with Luke Shaw injured.

Solskjaer has suggested that when September comes, with United fighting in the Premier League, Carabao Cup and the UEFA Europa League, the need for rotation will be high to keep players fresh. He’s also suggested that Chong will get a first team chance this season after rejecting a loan spell away from the club. Gomes should be in the first team anyway.

copyright: JW