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

Alvaro Fernandez: A Future Star for Manchester United?

It’s been a busy few months at Manchester United with a fresh set of arrivals in the summer transfer window and a new season kicking off. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer finds himself with the most competitive squad since the start of his reign, strengthened by world class arrivals such as Jadon Sancho and Cristiano Ronaldo. 

However, it’s not just the first team that has looked stronger as of late, with 18-year-old Alvaro Fernandez impressing in United’s U23 squad. The young Spanish defender has arguably been the standout player in the youth setup in the last few months.

Fernandez who was signed from Real Madrid in 2020, has already scored two goals this season and has caught the eye of Solskjaer. Fernandez was recently seen training with the First Team in one of Cristiano Ronaldo’s first training sessions with United since returning. The youngster took to social media to express his excitement to be learning off the best, the pair sharing a connection in the sense they both spent time at Madrid.

However, it was Fernandez’s lack of assurance over opportunities and a desire to prove himself in the Premier League that led him to Manchester, and it seems the gamble is paying off for him. 

The Spaniard spent a small portion of time in the U18s before graduating to the U23s, and the recent callup to First Team training is indicative of the club’s appreciation of the player. It’s another testament to the club’s ability to guide and integrate youth players with potential, with Fernandez being able to adapt to the English game relatively quickly.

The progress of the left-back has been described as dizzying, and this is in spite of a coronavirus setback over Christmas. The full-back is a very technical player with a massive attacking threat, which is partly why he can secure several goals and assists from left-back.

Fernandez is the kind of player that would get the Old Trafford faithful off their seats with bombing runs forwards, not too dissimilar to Luke Shaw. 

Now it looks like Fernandez is back up to full fitness and progressing even further, although it’s unlikely that the promotion to First Team training is on a permanent basis for the time being. Fernandez will likely have ambitions to feature for the First Team within the next few seasons though, his ambition justified by his performances.

While it would be very difficult to break in and feature as a starter consistently, it’s not beyond possibility that there could be an opportunity as a backup left-back.

Obviously, Luke Shaw is the established starter at left-back, after an incredible last 18 months that was capped by a goal in the Euro 2020 final. On the contrast, the backup slot for this position isn’t as nailed on, as Alex Telles has failed to properly establish himself as a United player for a myriad of reasons. 

The Brazilian is currently out injured, and with Brandon Williams now on loan to Norwich for the season, United could end up being short in the fullback position if Telles can’t stay fit consistently. This could then open a pathway for a senior callup for young Fernandez, an opportunity to impress Solskjaer even further on a bigger stage. 

Even if Fernandez is not required for the First Team this season, there could be a better opportunity next year with some more experience under his belt. Additionally, it is unclear whether Telles will stay at the club beyond this season as the Brazilian may seek to find a move that offers more regular game time.

This could then lead to a battle between Williams and Fernandez to take up the vacant slot, although there is also the chance of United going into the transfer market for a more experienced option.

Whatever happens over the next year or so it’s clear that Fernandez has a bright future in the world of football. A callup to the U19s Spanish national team is on the cards, and recognition at United means that the future is looking brighter and brighter for the 18-year-old.

It’s only fitting that if the youngster continues to impress with his performances that he is afforded more opportunities to train with the First Team, learning from the likes of Shaw and Ronaldo, and at the end of the day, there isn’t many better to learn from.

Written by Sam Wilson

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

Teden Mengi will be the next youth player to make the first team, says Neil Wood

Manchester United’s teenage defender, Teden Mengi could be the next academy start to find himself in the first team, according to U23 coach Neil Wood. It has been said that Mengi could replicate the same rise to the first team ad Brandon Williams did earlier this season, taking the chance he was given, earning the plaudits.

Williams, 19, enjoyed a breakthrough season in the first team, making 26 appearances so far this season, scoring one goal and assisting two. The fullback rivalled Luke Shaw for the left-back position at the club, which brought out the best of both players, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer happily looking on at the level of competition for that position.

Mengi celebrated his 18th birthday at the end of last month and signed his first professional contract of his career back in September 2019. The player has had a great 2019/20 season before the coronavirus pandemic suspended all football, which cancelled youth football. He has captained the U18s to the FA Youth Cup semi-finals, also played for the U23s.

Mengi made his debut for the U18s during the 2017/18 season making three appearances. The following season (2018/19) saw him make 21 appearances, assisting four goals that season. During the current season, at U18 level, he’s made eight starts, assisting two goals. At U23 level, made 18 appearances, assisting one goal.

Mengi even travelled with United’s first team for the UEFA Europa League clash with Astana in Kazakhstan back in November, not actually getting off the bench though. Wood feels that Mengi’s first team debut is not that far away. Speaking to the Manchester Evening News, the U23 coach talked about the player, saying:

“Teden [Mengi] has been fantastic. He came up to us quite early on in the season and, a bit like Brandon [Williams] in a sense, he came from the U18s and took his chance.

“He played really well and he kept his place in the team. And when he dropped back down at the end of the season to lead the Youth Cup team, he put in some excellent performances there.

“We’ll be looking to work with him next season and he’s one [player] we want to ‘do a Brandon’ with, push him on and the goal is to try and get him pushed up into that first team if we can.”

During the current season, Williams, Mason Greenwood and Tahith Chong have all made an impact at first team level with the latter needing to do a bit more to make himself a regular in the team. A loan spell out of the club this season could be good for Chong, especially if Solskjaer brings in a player like Jadon Sancho, who will play most matches.

Solskjaer seems to be keen to give homegrown prospects a chance at first team level, doing this with Williams, and Greenwood, plus Chong, who would not be considered as a homegrown player. Mengi though, is homegrown, born in Manchester and United through and through. Solskjaer, if Mengi gets his attention, would give him a chance.

It would be good to see a player like Mengi make it into the first team, especially at his age. There is a chance that he could be given a chance during the remainder of the season, especially if the FA Youth Cup is still going to be played this season as he will need to be match fit. I will look forward to the day we see Mengi reach the first team and beyond.

Manchester United midfielder to spend season on loan to help break into the first team – reports

Manchester United will reportedly allow James Garner to leave the Old Trafford club for the 2020/21 season on loan which could give him the experience to break into the first team the season after. The Birkenhead-born midfielder has been part of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s first team this season, making six appearances for the club.

The 19-year-old will have seen the likes of Brandon Williams and Mason Greenwood break into the first team this season, so will be seeking a way to do this himself. He plays in either a central midfield or defensive midfield position, the latter being a position that United will need to think about improving with Nemanja Matic not getting any younger.

Garner could follow in the footsteps of many a player at United who had a period away from the club on loan, such as David Beckham who was loaned to Preston North End before making his debut at United, and look how well that went for the lad. He is not the only player, but a good example and Garner could do a lot, learning a lot at the same time.

United first team coach, Michael Carrick is a big fan of Garner and he will be hoping to see the player succeed his rise from academy level football into the first team but with the likes of Paul Pogba, Bruno Fernandes, Scott McTominay, Fred and Matic ahead of him, it could take time for him to achieve his dream.

The loan spell would no doubt add some quality to the player, allowing him to find his feet in a first team environment and show the world what he can do on the football pitch. During his time in the academy, making his debut at U18 level during the 2016/17 season until the current season he has made 73 appearances, scoring 14 goals and nine assists.

Garner has played seven times for the first team, making his first team debut during the 2018/19 season from the bench. He has started three times this season, coming off the bench three times too. He is a talented footballer but at this moment in time, he’s not going to get much first team football, which is something he needs in order to develop fully.

Garner captained the England U17 side which reached the semi-finals of the 2018 UEFA European Under-17 Championship. He has leadership qualities, as can be seen when he played at U23 level. He has scored nine goals for the U23s this season, which has now been cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic, some of them bangers.

The 19-year-old is a player that I rate and one I hope makes it through the academy into first team football. He has something to give United, having been at the club for over a decade. If Carrick sees good things from the player, a player who has been compared to him at times, then there must be something good about him.

If he is loaned from the club, it could be great for him. Look at Dean Henderson. He has spent every season away from the club on loan, rising from the National League with Stockport County to League Two with Grimsby Town, to League One with Shrewsbury Town then onto the Championship and the Premier League with Sheffield United.

Manchester United midfielder Charlie Wellens signs first professional contract – reports

Manchester United midfielder Charlie Wellens has signed his first professional contract at the club. The player turned 17 back in December and was eligible to sign a professional contract at the club, which did not happen right away and was presumably held up by the coronavirus pandemic which suspended world football mid-March.

The teenager has signed the two-year contract after a season in the U18s not even a year after signing a scholarship contract last summer. Wellens has done well in the U18s this season, playing 21 times, scoring five goals and a further three assists helping the club achieve a sixth-placed finish in the U18 Premier League after the season was cancelled last month.

Wellens is the son of Swindon Town manager, Ritche Wellens who also came through United’s academy, making his debut in 1999. The player’s father announced the news on his Twitter account, stating that his son ‘had signed for the biggest club in the world’, seemingly feeling pretty proud of his son. His tweet said:

“Twenty-three years ago I signed my first professional contract at the biggest club in the world.

“To say I’m proud to see Charlie sign his is an understatement. Well done mate it’s only the start but you deserve it.”

Wellens was training with United’s first team ahead of the trip to Kazakhstan to face Astana back in September 2019 and made his U23 debut this season, coming off the bench one, which would have been an eye opener for him, giving him a taste of the level he will need to be at to play more often. First team manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has his eye on the youth.

At the time the player was training with the first team, Nick Cox who is the head of the academy, taking over from Nicky Butt last summer after he changes roles at the club, stated that young players being involved with the first team was a regular every day occurrence at the club, which will show the players how they need to develop, learning off the first team players at the same time. He said:

“I think sometimes we get carried away, by the way. Kids training with our first-team is a day-to-day occurrence, it’s just part of the process here, it’s just what happens. At other clubs it might be the exception to the rule. Here it’s the norm.

“It’s easy to get carried away, it doesn’t mean anything. It means that a kid’s got a different learning opportunity, a different environment to train in and an experience that will hopefully help them in their journey, but we don’t get carried away.

“It’s just a thing that happens. I quite often see it pop up all over social media and it shouldn’t be something that people get too carried away with.”

Solskjaer will be keeping tabs on Wellens during the 2020/21 season, although it is not yet known when it will take place and if there will be a delay considering the your players had their seasons cancelled last month with safety the main concern. Wellens is a talented midfielder with an eye for both scoring and creating a goal.

This is the type of player that Solskjaer will be hoping makes it to the first team regularly in the future, although the player should enjoy playing U18 football whilst he can, having a taste of U23 football from time to time, which may earn him a chance in the first team in a domestic cup competition, if United are drawn against lower league opposition.

I am sure that Wellens will have seen the likes of Brandon Williams and Mason Greenwood earn their stripes in the first team and force themselves into Solskjaer’s plans during the past season based on their performances, attitude and desire to achieve things in this game. If Wellens has that same mindset, he could achieve a lot at this club.

copyright: JW