Will Power

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Neville: Shaw situation a distraction from Man Utd's disappointments

Gary Neville discusses the futures of Luke Shaw and Paul Pogba.

To be honest with you, I can't help feeling the whole Luke Shaw issue is a distraction from the critical aspect of the season.

United spent a lot of money and the aspiration was to win the Premier League and go as far as they could in the Champions League and obviously neither have happened.

The issue for me isn't the individuals - whether Shaw, Paul Pogba or Alexis Sanchez are underperforming - but that the team aren't very consistent, which over the course of Mourinho's career his teams have always been.

If you look at the performances against Liverpool and then Sevilla, they were night and day, and this looks like a group of individuals rather than a group functioning as a team.

What I would say about Shaw is that the talent and ability are there, but his job as a footballer is to be prepared to perform every day and do every single thing in his life well to be a United player.

At the moment, his potential is not being recognised. I've got a great belief in Luke Shaw and the reality is it would be a great shame if he leaves United without fulfilling his potential.

There's a lot of players out there with less ability but maximising their potential and I just hope he can get there.

Concentration key for Pogba

Paul Pogba has got the character and personality to play for United, there's no doubt about that. He's played in the biggest matches in Europe at a huge club in Juventus.

What he has got to do is perform consistently. Some will say it is down to the position he plays, while some will say it is his lack of concentration and focus.

It is never a matter of a black and white in the sense that there's always a player's reason and always a manager's reason, but as I look at it he needs to play with higher levels of concentration.

Everything about Manchester United is a crisis. Every time they lose a game - like against Sevilla - everything is a crisis and there is no reasoned level being applied.

Results the only response

The reality of it is the only thing that will shut people up when you're at Manchester United is winning matches and trophies - everything else is irrelevant.

It is okay pointing towards pundits, fans or referees, but the only people who can make that pressure go away are those at the club getting results.

The FA Cup will really help the club this season. If you'd have asked me at the start of the season whether second place and the FA Cup would be a successful season I would have said no, because the league had to be the priority.

However, now looking at where they are at, it would absolutely be a progression from previous seasons, but ultimately be below where it needs to be.

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No United Song Sheets

Manchester United will not hand out song sheets to supporters to improve the atmosphere at Old Trafford, Sky Sports News understands.

Reports have suggested that the club were considering handing out the song sheets to supporters at home games after the issue was raised at a regular fan's forum last month. The minutes from the meeting are on the club's website.

Manchester United's head of venue operations responded to one question over whether song sheets can be distributed to supporters and said it would be "looked into for future games".

However, Sky Sports News understands that song sheets will not be handed out at Old Trafford.

During the same forum, United were asked if there was any update on the foundation of a women's football team, with the club's corporate media relations manager saying it "remained under review at a high level at the club and isn't something that can happen overnight".

The club also said a number of factors needed to be considered such as staffing and facilities.

United said they would update fans on this matter at the next meeting, which is due to take place on Friday, May 11.

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Lawyers for Marouane Fellaini battle to continue legal action against New Balance

Lawyers for Manchester United midfielder Marouane Fellaini have urged a judge to let them continue with legal action against shoe manufacturer New Balance.

Rosalina, an investment company representing Fellaini, claim bosses at the sportswear firm breached an agreement to make payments if the Belgium international wore New Balance boots.

However, lawyers representing New Balance have told the court Rosalina's claim had no "reasonable grounds" for asserting a contract had been concluded for Fellaini to be an ambassador for their brand and asked for the case to be struck out.

Rosalina's lawyer, Andrew Onslow QC, told the High Court judge in London they believed a contract had been made with New Balance and Fellaini, despite the fact that New Balance had not signed.

They highlighted the fact New Balance had launched their Spring Fall 2017 catalogue including Fellaini.

"Why would New Balance launch a catalogue if they did not believe they had some long-term commitment to Fellaini and him to them," Onslow QC said.

They also claim WhatsApp messages with a New Balance employee discussing the delivery of new boots suggest an implied contract.

"There is no suggestion a deal was not done," Onslow QC added.

"At that point on September 16 they believed they had a deal, a final binding deal and signatures were to follow as a matter of course.

"Why did they continue to exploit his rights, if there was no contract."

They submitted the case should continue to trial where a decision could be made on whether a contract existed or not between the two parties.

Ian Mill QC for New Balance told the court at an earlier hearing that, "there were no reasonable grounds" for asserting that a contract had been concluded.

The judge Mrs Justice May reserved judgement and will rule at a later date whether legal action should be halted.

Fellaini has not been at the hearing at the High Court in London.

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Sanchez expected better of himself since joining Manchester United

Alexis Sanchez says he expected better of himself following his move to Manchester United.

Sanchez joined United from Arsenal in January but has managed just one goal in 10 appearances since arriving at Old Trafford.

The 29-year-old admits he has struggled to adapt to his new life in Manchester after four seasons with the Gunners.

"As I am self-demanding, I expected something better," Sanchez told the Chilean media while on national team duty in Sweden.

"After my arrival at United, it was hard to change everything very quickly. I even hesitated to come here (to Sweden)."

He added: "The change of club was something that was very abrupt - it was the first time I've changed clubs in January - but many things have happened in my life that are difficult."

Chile missed out on qualification for the World Cup in Russia and Sanchez revealed he wanted to miss Saturday's friendly against Sweden in Stockholm before changing his mind after consulting Chile captain Claudio Bravo.

"I had asked permission to miss these games, but then I thought better and spoke with Claudio and told him that we should all be united," he said.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Wilkins: Mourinho looking for reaction from Luke Shaw by criticising him

Jose Mourinho has been publicly criticising Luke Shaw in an attempt to get a reaction from the left-back, says Ray Wilkins.

The Manchester United manager has been outspoken in his criticism of Shaw this season, with the most recent comments coming after their 2-0 FA Cup win over Brighton on Saturday.

Mourinho substituted Shaw at half-time and later suggested his performance was so bad he was asking to be removed.

Wilkins believes the manager's comments are designed to improve Shaw's performances, saying: "He is looking for a reaction from Luke.

"I feel for Luke a little bit because when he was at Southampton he looked an outstanding prospect at left back and it was a good move for him to move to Old Trafford.

"But I've said on numerous occasions - when you go to Old Trafford, it's not only what you can do with the ball, you've got to have the mentality of a winner as well and perhaps Jose is not quite seeing that in Luke at this moment in time."

Shaw was not named in Gareth Southgate's England squad for this month's friendlies against the Netherlands and Italy after only making only 15 appearances for United this season.

He has only played for his country four times since the 2014 World Cup, but Wilkins believes Shaw could have been in line for a recall had he played more for his club.

He said: "This was a massive year for him as well because he could have been the one to be going to World Cup at left back. This fella is a powerhouse of a left back down that left side.

"Unfortunately he's picked up a few knocks which hasn't helped his development but he's just not played enough."

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Pogba: it would be a 'pleasure' to play with Neymar

Paul Pogba says it would be a "pleasure" to play in the same team as Neymar, describing the Paris Saint-Germain star as having the "definition of happiness".

Manchester United midfielder Pogba also said he looks at players such as Manchester City rival Kevin De Bruyne in a bid to improve his game.

Pogba has struggled for form at Old Trafford in recent times, and on Friday France head coach Didier Deschamps said: "It's a situation he won't be enjoying."

Speaking to Argentinian television channel TyC Sports, Pogba said: "Yes, Neymar. I like him. He has the definition of happiness on the pitch.

"In Brazil, football is everything, it's life in Brazil. Everyone plays football. I love to see him on the pitch playing, with his technique and his ability. It's a different style.

"When you say the word 'Neymar' around the world, everyone knows who he is and what he does. Therefore if I could play with him one day, it would be a pleasure."

Pogba also revealed the players he looks up to, both when he was a youngster and now as one of the world's most recognisable footballers.

"When I was smaller I always looked up to Zinedine Zidane, Lionel Messi, Ronaldinho and Ronaldo. I had videos of Maradona, Pele, Chris Waddle, Kaka - many players. I wanted to have all the virtues of those players.

"Now I look more at players like Andres Iniesta, Yaya Toure, Kevin De Bruyne and Luke Modric - who is a very strong midfielder player. I look at them to try to be better."

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Rojo: How the boy with no kit became a star

On the occasion of his 28th birthday, we examine the determination and endeavour that have carried Manchester United defender Marcos Rojo throughout his life to date…

“Where there is suffering, there is the chance for growth,” says Argentinian football journalist Gabriel Lopez. “I think Marcos Rojo was born in the perfect conditions to be successful. When you are born into a house where a football is more important than any toy, in a neighbourhood which is all fields, where there is no chance of having a computer… that is where this footballer is made.”

United’s no.5 has come a long way, both figuratively and geographically, from the modest La Plata home where his infant years were invariably spent on the adjoining playing field. A defender in keeping with the established Argentinian prototype – tough, canny, bullish – he has made his mark with no-nonsense defending, forceful tackling and unwavering commitment: attributes which had been evident very early on in his career.

The son of an outstanding semi-pro player – Marcos Snr – a young Rojo would spend his days immersed in football. Aged just four, he entered into his first involvement in organised sport, signing up for Las Malvinas, and he swiftly made an impression. “He was different from the others,” says coach Mario Barbarino.

“At the age of four or five he understood what I was saying to him, he understood what it meant to get up and play on the pitch at the age of five. Training with the older kids, and the older kids hit you or play hard, and you pick that up and you never forget it. Running into kids who are two or three years older. At that age, that makes a difference.”

Suitably toughened by his experiences, Marcos rose to the rank of captain and, playing in midfield, scored twice in a junior league match against Estudiantes. At the age of 10, he was invited for a trial with the Primera Division club, a watershed moment in his development.

“Malvinas is a club, but more a neighbourhood club,” admits Rojo. “It is poorer, it is more about being with friends, but at Estudiantes everything was more professional, more like real football. I learned a lot there. Estudiantes was a great school.”

During his time in the club’s youth setup, Marcos also became an educational tool for his coaches. “He is an example to me as a coach,” says Alejandro Russo. “I work with young players and I can say that a boy who used to come to training on his bike when he was 12 - he used to travel 10km here and 10km back - he trained and he made his dream come true. He was a boy who came to training very happy, perhaps lacking some of the right gear, clothing, football boots, but he was always smiling and because of that his team-mates loved him.”

That was, perhaps at times, in spite of Rojo’s wholehearted commitment to training. “When he was going to challenge a forward, he would win,” says Claudio Vivas, another of his coaches. “He won because of his frame of mind; that was very important. Temperament was very important for him. As a very young boy, a winner, he wanted to win. When he went on the field he wanted to win.”

Over time, that mentality carried him to the attention of first team manager, Roberto Nestor Sensini. The 60-cap Argentina international, who spent 17 years thriving in Serie A, was impressed by an 18-year-old Rojo’s display in a training match between Estudiantes’ first team and youth team, and duly promoted him to the senior squad.

Marcos’ assimilation was made easier by immediate acceptance from his new colleagues. Aware of his background, his team-mates presented him with new boots so that he could train properly. “Straightaway, because of his charisma, he was adopted by the professional players,” recounts coach Alejandro Russo.

It just so happened that Rojo had worked his way into Estudiantes’ finest squad for almost 40 years. Since winning three successive Copa Libertadores in 1968, 1969 and 1970 – the first prompting the infamously fierce Intercontinental Cup victory over United - Los Pincharratas had won only three major honours. Managed by Alejandro Sabella and inspired by enduring midfield genius Juan Sebastian Veron, Estudiantes won the Primera Division and the Copa in Marcos’s first senior season.

“I was 19. That was incredible, indescribable,” beams Rojo. “They are memories I will have for my whole life. The day I made my debut was a very happy one because I had worked a lot, it was hard work. It is difficult in Argentina to get out of my neighbourhood. It is a poor neighbourhood.

“It is hard to get ahead. Jobs are often not very good and you have to work hard. I always liked football and I gave up everything for my dream and to see it become a reality on the day I first went onto the pitch was unique, and seeing my family there, sharing it with me, my mother and father so happy, they always used to come with me. Those are things that stay with you forever.”

More fleeting was his stay in Argentina. Within two years of ruling the continent, Rojo moved to Europe. A patchy season with Spartak Moscow preceded two years at Sporting Lisbon, but while his domestic form steadily improved, it was his dramatic rise to international prominence which precipitated a move to Old Trafford. Selected for Argentina’s 2014 World Cup squad by Sabela – now national team manager – Marcos was one of the outstanding defenders at the tournament.

“We knew him. We knew he wouldn’t let us down,” says Julian Camino, Argentina’s assistant coach. ”If Sabela handed him the shirt, he would do well. We didn’t debate it at any point. Whether he is going to play in a World Cup final or he is going to play the last-place team, he is going to play the same way: with that desire, that fortitude that he has, that always pushes him forward. With his teeth gritted, he will work until his last drop of sweat.”

United’s attention had been pricked. It was during the Reds’ pre-season tour of America that Rojo became aware of a potential move to Old Trafford. “I couldn’t believe it,” smiles the defender. “I was celebrating, jumping around the house with my girlfriend. It was incredible, for Manchester United to be interested in me, for it to be so real, it was so exciting.”

Though he was 24 when he arrived at Old Trafford, Marcos was already familiar with United, due to the influence of two of the Reds’ previous South American imports. “When I was a boy all I did was watch football and I would watch the Premier League,” he says. “I would watch Manchester United because Veron played for them and because of Diego Forlan. I always paid attention to Manchester United. They are one of the greatest teams there has ever been, so I watched every game.”

Now in his fourth season in Manchester and having made a substantial impact on proceedings, winning four trophies and registering over 100 appearances, the ceaseless grit and moxie engrained in Marcos Rojo has ensured that he has made his mark as a Red.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Deschamps to discuss form with Paul Pogba

France coach Didier Deschamps says Paul Pogba "won't be enjoying" his current situation at Manchester United.

The 25-year-old, who returned to Old Trafford from Juventus for £89m in August 2016, has struggled to impress under Jose Mourinho this season and has been left out of the starting XI for United's last three games.

The midfielder is among those featured in the 25-man France squad for this month's friendlies against Colombia and Russia, but with the World Cup looming, Deschamps is concerned about the player.

"I don't know what it is. I'm sure I'll hear about it. Of course, it's a situation he won't be enjoying," he said.

"As to why or how things came to this, there may be many reasons. I have a great deal of talks with players at our training camps, to gauge their feelings. It's not just Paul."

He added: "Obviously, this is a situation he won't appreciate in relation to everything he's done. There can be many, varied reasons. He can't be happy with what he's going through with his club."

Pogba was an unused substitute during United's 2-0 FA Cup win over Brighton on Saturday as goals from Romelu Lukaku and Nemanja Matic secured their place in the semi-final.

Mourinho's side were drawn against Tottenham in Sunday's draw, with Chelsea taking on Southampton in the other tie as United bid to win the trophy for the second time in three seasons.

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Young contract extended by Manchester United

Manchester United have triggered a clause in Ashley Young's contract to extend his deal for a further year.

Young, who has made 30 appearances this season, has seen good performances at full-back rewarded by manager Jose Mourinho, keeping natural left-back Luke Shaw on the bench.

The former Aston Villa midfielder's exploits have not gone unnoticed by England boss Gareth Southgate, who has selected Young in his last two squads.

He will be available for selection for England's forthcoming friendlies against the Netherlands and Italy.

Young was left out of United's starting line-up for Saturday's 2-0 win over Brighton in the FA Cup, but was introduced at half-time by Mourinho after the United boss was left angered by Shaw's performance.

After a four-year spell at Villa Park, Young was brought to Old Trafford by Sir Alex Ferguson in 2011 for a fee in the region of £16m.

The 32-year-old began his career at Watford and he scored a sensational double on his return to his boyhood club in November as United earned a 4-2 win at Vicarage Road - he had not scored since May 2016.

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Mourinho is 'destroying' Shaw with public criticism

Matt Le Tissier believes Jose Mourinho is "destroying" Luke Shaw and a summer exit from Manchester United looks inevitable for the left-back.

Mourinho hauled the 22-year-old off at half-time in Saturday's FA Cup win over Brighton and, not for the first time this season, publicly criticised some of his players' personality after the 2-0 victory.

Le Tissier suggests Mourinho might be bitter because Shaw chose to join United rather than his Chelsea side back in 2014, when he departed Southampton for a then world-record fee, in excess of £30m, for a teenager.

Le Tissier told Sky Sports: "I think if Mourinho is still there then it is inevitable Shaw will leave this summer. I have no idea what he is trying to achieve.

"There is just a really strange relationship going on there and I don't understand what he's doing because he's just destroying the player at the moment.

"I'm not sure if it was anything to do with him choosing Manchester United over Chelsea despite being a Chelsea fan when Mourinho was manager at the time.

"You also don't know what happens at training or how he lives his life to give an accurate assessment but, while there are players that this sort of approach can work with, I just don't think Shaw is one of them."

The Soccer Saturday pundit does, however, acknowledge questions over Shaw's character stem back to his time at Southampton, while suggesting his form has not reached the same level since suffering a broken leg in 2015.

"I remember him getting subbed quite a bit at Southampton and there was a perception that he didn't take a knock very well and was a little bit on the soft side," he added.

"The injury is a big thing and he does seem a bit mentally fragile but, be it due to the injury or not, as a manager you've got to find a way to get the best out of him and I don't think Mourinho has done that.

Mourinho has done that."

"It is such a shame because he was such a talent at such a young age and the injury has set him back. As an attacking full-back, the boy had so much going for him.

"He's shown enough potential to be England's first choice left-back but it has been a long time since he's reached those heights, so he's got a lot of work to do in terms of getting games and being talked about at international level again.

"He's not going to do that at United so the only way is finding a new club. I'd be very surprised to see him getting in the England World Cup squad and it says it all that Mourinho sees a right-winger turned left-back in Ashley Young as more valuable."

The Southampton legend suggests linking up with his former manager Mauricio Pochettino at Tottenham is the most likely next step, but does not see him returning to St Mary's.

He said: "Having worked with Pochettino before and spoken highly of him, it would seem obvious for him to go to Tottenham with Danny Rose potentially going the opposite way as he is obviously desperate to get back up north.

"I don't think Southampton could compete in the wages department and the player would probably look at it as a backward move, so he would probably think he is worthy of playing for a club competing for the Premier League title."

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United A Hard Sell For Flair Players

Jamie Redknapp says Manchester United will struggle to convince creative talent to join them if Jose Mourinho remains in charge.

Mourinho has faced criticism this season for United's negative style of play with creative attacking players struggling to make an impact in the final third.

Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford, Juan Mata, Paul Pogba and more recently Alexis Sanchez all have failed to showcase their best talents this season while Mourinho also shipped out Henrik Mkhitaryan to Arsenal after he failed to fire in a United shirt.

Redknapp thinks the defensive approach to United's way of play may cause problems for Mourinho in the summer transfer window in terms of securing top attacking talent.

He told Sky Bet: "Some might say it's the biggest club in the world, but if you're looking at going to play for Manchester United and you're a flair player - do you really want to go there at the moment with the way that they play?

"You won't be looking at it saying 'that's a team I want to play for'- there's just no enjoyment in their play. It doesn't sit well with the fans and that's why I think they'll miss out on some good players."

Pogba, especially, has struggled to find consistency this season and the France international cut a dejected figure on the bench before coming on as United were knocked out of the Champions League to Sevilla.

Redknapp thinks Pogba's agent, Mino Raiola, will be keen to move him on in the summer.

"I don't see how the issue with Paul Pogba can be resolved," he said.

"Pogba and Jose Mourinho have 100 per cent lost trust in each other. Pogba will never forgive Mourinho for what he's done because he's publicly humiliated him by putting players like Marouane Fellaini ahead of him. There's no trust there from Mourinho either.

"I think in my era you could've swallowed it and gone 'that's fine - we'll move on' but I don't think that happens with players anymore. I think his agent will already be talking about what happens with Pogba going forward - he could move somewhere else if Mourinho stays.

"I think we're at a critical stage in the relationship between the player and the manager - it's a shame."

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Shaw to consider Manchester United future in the summer

Luke Shaw will consider his future at Manchester United in the summer after Jose Mourinho's latest public criticism of the England full-back.

Mourinho substituted the 22-year-old at half-time during their 2-0 FA Cup quarter-final win over Brighton on Saturday, and once again singled him out for criticism, saying he failed to follow his tactical instructions.

Shaw, who joined United from Southampton for £27m in 2014 under the management of Louis van Gaal, has just over a year left on his contract at Old Trafford.

A source close to Shaw told Sky Sports News: "Mourinho's treatment of Luke is an absolute disgrace. If he has a problem with him, the decent thing to do would be to keep it in-house.

"If this kind of abuse happened in any other workplace, there would be a case for constructive dismissal. It's disgusting.

"A few weeks ago, Mourinho was praising him, now he can't do anything right.

"Luke's a strong lad and he won't let Mourinho ruin his life. He'll consider his future in the summer and is still determined to be part of the England squad heading for Russia."

Shaw has featured only 15 times for United this season, just seven of them coming in the Premier League with Ashley Young preferred at left-back.

United confirmed on Monday that they had triggered a clause in Young's contract to extend his deal at the club for a further year.

Shaw has endured a difficult time at United having been put on a personal fitness program while under Van Gaal and then suffering a double leg break in the Champions League that ruled him out for the whole of the 2015-16 campaign.

He has featured 62 times in all competitions for the club without scoring.

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Mata heads into the break with a half-smile

Each and every Monday during the season, Manchester United star Juan Mata pens a personal blog. This week, he reflects on the disappointment of being eliminated from the Champions League and the morale-boosting achievement of reaching the Emirates FA Cup semi-finals...

Hi everyone,

The win against Brighton in the FA Cup quarter finals allows us to take the last international break of the season with good feelings and a half-smile. Being in the semi-finals at Wembley, a place that I’ve been very lucky to visit many times, is always special and something to be proud of, because it gives you a real chance to win a very nice title with huge prestige. The oldest one in football. Our rival will be Tottenham, a great team that is used to playing at that stadium… We will give everything to be in another final.

I’m trying to be optimistic, yet I can’t hide the disappointment that we feel after being eliminated of the Champions League. First of all I’d like to congratulate Sevilla for achieving a historic qualification for the last eight after many years where they have showed great competitiveness in Europe. But it doesn’t mitigate the feeling, shared with all of you, that we had the chance to be in the quarter finals and we didn’t have a good game last Tuesday.

We are frustrated, same as you are. In the complicated moments like this one is when a team has to be more united. Together we win and together we lose. We aim to play the Champions League next season and hopefully make you happier than this year in the top European competition.



Lukaku joins an elite club

Romelu Lukaku’s opening goal in Manchester United’s 2-0 Emirates FA Cup win over Brighton & Hove Albion on Saturday was the striker’s 25th across all competitions, in what is becoming an increasingly impressive debut season at Old Trafford.

It means the Belgium international has become just the eighth United player to reach that milestone in their first campaign at the club, which hoists him alongside notable alumni like Denis Law, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Dwight Yorke.

Following his switch from Everton last summer, the 24-year-old has wasted little time in endearing himself to the Old Trafford faithful, converting on his club debut in the UEFA Super Cup, Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup. And with a potential 10 games still remaining during 2017/18, there’s plenty of time for our no.9 to improve on what has already been an outstanding season.

But how many more strikes does Lukaku require to post the most prolific debut season in United history? To find out, we took a look at the seven other players to reach the hallowed 25-goal mark during their very first term in red…

RUUD VAN NISTELROOY (36 goals, 2001/02)
No striker in the club’s history has made an impact as explosive as Ruud van Nistelrooy and, incredibly, his 36-goal debut season came after a year spent on the sidelines, following a cruciate knee-ligament injury. Such a setback has proven terminal to the fledgling careers of plenty of footballers, but not Ruud. United had attempted to sign him in the summer of 2000, but the move fell through due to a failed medical and that traumatic injury, but Sir Alex Ferguson would not be deterred. He kept in touch with the PSV Eindhoven forward and, a year later, van Nistelrooy arrived – and what havoc he would wreak upon the defences of England and Europe. His best season in M16 was his second, where he smuggled, blasted and poached 44 goals – propelling the Reds to the 2002/03 title – and he would reach 100 United strikes in just 131 games, but who can forget that first rampaging campaign? Those 36 goals represent the best achieved by a United player in their first season at the club.

BRIAN MCCLAIR (31 goals, 1987/88)
As sensational as the first sightings of Ruud in a red shirt were, he joined a team that had just won the title for a third consecutive season. A cursory glance at the midfield behind him on any given Saturday would have revealed one, if not all, of Ryan Giggs, David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Roy Keane and Juan Sebastian Veron. Ammunition was not in short supply. By contrast, when Brian McClair rocked up in the summer of 1987, United had just finished 11th in Division One. No player had reached 25 goals in a season for the club since George Best in 1971/72. But the man soon to be affectionately known as ‘Choccy’ claimed 31 goals after transferring from Celtic, helping United reach second spot in the league. He would go on to play a key role in the trophy-laden seasons that followed during the 1990s, but his first months at the club were vital in helping then-new manager Ferguson demonstrate some early signs of progress.

ROBIN VAN PERSIE (30 goals, 2012/13)
If Choccy was Sir Alex’s first striking superstar, Robin van Persie was his last. Few players in football history are so influential that an entire championship is associated with their name, but the former Arsenal man’s impact on United’s 20th league title was extraordinary. After losing the 2011/12 title to Manchester City on goal difference, Ferguson knew the Reds needed a spark to reignite the team’s confidence and van Persie’s goals instantaneously lit a fire that burned throughout the entire season. The title was clinched by 11 points and, in league terms, the Netherlands striker's 26 goals is the best supplied by a player in their first season at the club. Sadly, the Dutchman was unable to replicate his blistering first 12 months in Manchester, but he left for Fenerbahce in 2015 having scored a very healthy 58 times in 105 appearances.

DWIGHT YORKE (29 goals, 1998/99)
The greatest season in the club’s history is now largely remembered through the prism of a manic 11-day period in which United sealed an unprecedented Treble, with wins over Tottenham Hotspur, Newcastle United and Bayern Munich. Dwight Yorke failed to score in each of those three critical matches but, put simply, United would have been nowhere near a clean sweep of the three greatest trophies available to them if not for the Tobagonian’s contribution. His gleeful rapport with striking partner Andy Cole fuelled the Treble tilt throughout the less glamorous autumn and winter months, laying the platform for the unforgettable climax in Barcelona provided by Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Yorke’s goals were varied in style – encompassing impudent chips, diving headers and tap-ins – but his intelligence and enthusiasm were a nightmare for defences and a delight for team-mates. His first year at United would remain his best, but he won the title in each of his three full seasons at the club, finishing with 66 goals in 152 games.

DENIS LAW (29 goals, 1962/63)
You don’t earn a moniker like ‘The King’ for trundling around the pitch making up the numbers and, of all the players in this elite club, Denis Law’s appearance is perhaps the least surprising. Matt Busby parted with a world-record fee to snare Law from Torino, and the man from Aberdeen was the first of United’s ‘Holy Trinity’ to win the Ballon d’Or. His unsurprisingly excellent first term culminated in the 1963 FA Cup final against Leicester City. Law opened the scoring with his 29th and final goal of the season, paving the way to the club’s first post-Munich trophy. The following campaign, he blitzed 46 goals, which is still the most prolific season by an individual in United history. He would fail to reach 25 in just one of his first five seasons (falling one short in 1965/66) and his 237 career goals for United place him third in the club’s all-time goalscorers list. Of the top 10, only Dennis Viollet boasts a better scoring ratio than ‘The Lawman’.

ZLATAN IBRAHIMOVIC (28 goals, 2016/17)
Frustratingly, we’ll never know just how many goals the iconic Zlatan Ibrahimovic might have mustered in his first season at Old Trafford. The Swede was felled by a traumatic knee injury with 10 games of United’s successful 2016/17 campaign still remaining, after bagging 28 goals in 46 matches. Zlatan has been restricted to just seven appearances thus far this campaign – adding one further goal to his United tally – but his input during a season in which United claimed the League Cup and the Europa League ensures his career at Old Trafford will always be remembered fondly as he proved, as predicted, that he would continue to show his class in England.

JACK PICKEN (25 goals, 1905/06)
The least known member of the first-season 25 club that Lukaku joined with his goal against Brighton was also its first member. Scotsman Jack Picken was signed from Plymouth Argyle in the summer of 1905, and notched 20 league goals and five FA Cup strikes during his maiden season at United. He would eventually lose his place in the first team due to the emergence of Sandy Turnbull, who would trump Picken’s 25 goals with a then-club record 27 in 1907/08. Incidentally, Turnbull joined midway through the preceding campaign, which means, like Eric Cantona after him (25 goals in 1993/94), he earns honorary membership for reaching our milestone during the first full season he spent at the club.

Can Lukaku overhaul van Nistelrooy, McClair, Van Persie and the rest? With 10 goals since the turn of the year, we’re not willing to bet against United’s in-form no.9…

Monday, March 19, 2018

Matic: FA Cup Win Can't Save Season

Nemanja Matic has admitted Manchester United's season cannot be considered a success, regardless of whether they win the FA Cup.

With United out of the Champions League and unlikely to catch Manchester City in the Premier League, the FA Cup is their only realistic opportunity for silverware this campaign.

United were drawn to play Tottenham in the FA Cup semi-finals, but Matic says even lifting the trophy would not be enough for him to view his first season at Old Trafford as a successful one.

Asked if the FA Cup could save United's season, Matic replied: "I think no. If we win the FA Cup it is good, but not perfect.

"You have four competitions in the season - if you win one for me it is not enough, but you always have to do your best.

"In the Premier League, when you are in the first four this is not perfect but is good to play for the Champions League next season.

"If you win the FA Cup I cannot say it is a successful season, but it's a good season."

Following United's 2-0 win over Brighton in the FA Cup quarter-finals, Mourinho criticised some of his players for being "scared to play" and questioned their "personality, trust and class".

However, Mourinho singled out Matic as being "an island of personality, desire and control" - and Matic was equally complimentary about his manager.

He said: "He is special because he wants to win always. You can see when we lose a game he cannot accept that. Probably that's why he won more than 20 trophies in his life.

"It is very difficult to work with him because he always wants more and more. Even if you win the league he wants to win again next season. He is like this and the players need to be ready for that.

"At this high level, the players need to be ready for that because the pressure is big. Everyone expects you to win every game. Obviously, it is not possible, but supporters always expect.

"It doesn't matter if you are tired or not, supporters want high-quality football. It is normal."

Credit: Skysports.com

LVG Slams 'Unprofessional" United Players

Louis Van Gaal has criticised his former Manchester United players, describing them as "unprofessional" for refusing to read his emails.

The former Netherlands manager spent two seasons in charge at Old Trafford, but was sacked and replaced by Jose Mourinho in May 2016, just two days after leading the club to their first FA Cup trophy in 12 years.

Van Gaal revealed he used to have individual meetings with players to track their progress, but admits they would often ignore his messages preparing them for the session - forcing him to track when they had been read.

"I developed the digital tracker with my IT man. Each player was able to log in," Van Gaal told German publication Bild.

"So I gave everyone the opportunity to prepare for the conversation with me at home and to meet me in dialogue at eye level."

When asked about players not responding to emails, he said: "That's true, too. But this testifies to their lack of professionalism and I have then addressed them.

"But I already did that with the emails at Bayern. My conviction is that a full professional also wants to live professionally. Like Arjen Robben. He read the emails."

Van Gaal also heaped huge praise on Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski, claiming he tried to bring the Poland international to United.

"He is currently the best striker in the world. I also wanted to train Lewandowski and wanted to bring him to Manchester United," Van Gaal added.

"The price was not a problem for Manchester United, but Bayern did not want to let him go."

Credit: Skysports.com

Reds to face Tottenham in FA Cup semi-finals

Manchester United will face Tottenham Hotspur in the Emirates FA Cup semi-finals at Wembley, with the tie to be played over the weekend of 21-22 April.

It's United’s reward for a hard-earned 2-0 home win over Brighton & Hove Albion on Saturday, secured by headers in either half from Romelu Lukaku and Nemanja Matic. Spurs, meanwhile, reached the last four with a comfortable 3-0 victory at Swansea City.

Wembley is, of course, Spurs’ 'home' ground this season and United lost the league encounter there 2-0 in January. However, Jose Mourinho’s men won the reverse fixture 1-0 earlier in the season with a late goal from Anthony Martial.

The Premier League rivals have met 15 times in the FA Cup previously, with the Reds winning five, drawing five and losing five. Our last meeting in the competition came in the fourth round in January 2009, when quickfire goals from Paul Scholes and Dimitar Berbatov gave United a come-from-behind 2-1 home win.

The other semi-final pits Chelsea, who beat Leicester City 2-1 after extra-time on Sunday, against Southampton, who overcame Wigan Athletic 2-0.

Emirates FA Cup semi-final draw
Manchester United v Tottenham Hotspur
Chelsea v Southampton

Your Monday Briefing: Nine United headlines

Your Monday Briefing is here to collate nine Manchester United headlines from the weekend…

That was the score in Saturday night’s Emirates FA Cup quarter-final at Old Trafford, when the Reds booked a trip to Wembley Stadium thanks to headed goals from summer signings Romelu Lukaku and Nemanja Matic. The match was played in blizzard conditions that had engulfed Manchester and much of the North West, rendering it a testing evening for everyone at the Theatre of Dreams.

The Serbian was crowned our star man by followers of @ManUtd on Twitter, after crossing for Lukaku’s opener and tucking away the clincher in front of the Stretford End. He received a massive 80 per cent of the final vote and later spoke to MUTV about the result. “It’s been difficult for us after the defeat against Sevilla, of course,” Nemanja told us. “We always said after the Sevilla game that it was very important to see a reaction and I am happy that we went through.”

Romelu has scored 12 goals in his last 11 FA Cup appearances and, coincidentally, the only match he failed to score in of those 11 was against United with Everton in April 2016, when he had a penalty saved by David De Gea. Furthermore, the Belgian has been directly involved in 14 goals in his 14 appearances in 2018 (10 goals, four assists). Well played, big man!

“I am happy that we go to Wembley again,” said a straight-talking Jose Mourinho after the final whistle at Old Trafford. “I am happy with the qualification to the semi-final, but I am not happy with the performance. I expected more. We need more personality. Personality has a big influence in the quality that you show. I think Matic was, by far, the best player in the team. Clearly, the personality, the desire, no fear to play, no fear to make mistakes. The team didn’t play as well as we prepared.”

United will face Tottenham Hotspur in the last four over the weekend of 21-22 April. Wembley is Spurs’ 'home' ground this season and the Reds lost the league encounter there in January, but won the reverse fixture earlier in the season with a goal from Anthony Martial. The other semi-final pits Chelsea, who beat Leicester City 2-1 after extra-time on Sunday, against Southampton, who overcame Wigan Athletic 2-0.

Due to Brighton’s fans being housed in the East Stand, up to 1,400 like-minded Reds sat in the L Stand (the usual away end) in a bid to improve the Old Trafford atmosphere. The trial was proposed by season-ticket holders from the J Stand and early feedback suggests it was a great success.

United’s Under-18s stormed to another convincing victory in snowy conditions at the Aon Training Complex on Saturday morning, to keep well on track in the title race. Nishan Burkart, James Garner, Mason Greenwood, Dylan Levitt and D'Mani Mellor all scored for Kieran McKenna’s leaders.

Unfortunately, United Reserves’ fight to stay in Premier League 2 Division 1 received a setback with a 2-0 defeat at Swansea City on Sunday. Two first-half goals from Botti Biabi and Adnan Maric were sufficient to give the hosts the victory, leaving Ricky Sbragia’s side with much work to do in the quest for survival.

Dean Henderson made his 37th appearance for Shrewsbury Town as they won 2-1 at Scunthorpe in League One. Elsewhere, Sam Johnstone's Aston Villa suffered a shock 1-0 defeat at Bolton Wanderers, where Axel Tuanzebe was not involved. Tim Fosu-Mensah, Andreas Pereira, James Wilson, Matty Willock and Charlie Scott did not feature for Crystal Palace, Valencia, Sheffield United, St. Johnstone or Hamilton respectively.

A large part of our squad has departed Manchester to represent their individual countries over the next fortnight, with friendlies due to run from Friday until Tuesday, ahead of this summer’s World Cup finals. MUTV subscribers can watch France versus Russia on 27 March, with kick-off set for 16:50 BST.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Mourinho: Manchester United Players Must Grow Up

Jose Mourinho has admitted his players must "learn to survive" with the expectation that comes with playing for Manchester United.

The United manager shocked the media with a 12-minute monologue at his Friday news conference - asking supporters for patience as he attempts to rebuild the club's "football heritage", following Tuesday's Champions League exit.

Mourinho continued to stress that the club is in a restructuring process, explaining defeats such as that to Sevilla will teach the squad how to deal with the burden of being a United player.

"They have to learn how to cope with that level of expectation and that level of pressure and they have to survive and when they survive they become stronger," Mourinho said.

"You know, easy life, and the fans not upset and no critics, that's not good.That's not good, because if you want to make a real top team with top mentality they need to grow up.

"They need to grow up and the best way to grow up is to have this kind of feeling. So, I don't want the fans to have lower expectations, I want the fans to have high expectations because I want the players to have high expectations too."

Mourinho was full of praise for the long-term planning of Manchester City, and suggested United would struggle to challenge the runaway league leaders next season if they continue to develop and invest in their squad.

"If the clubs that are in a better situation than us, if they stop to invest, in everything and we do invest, I would say, we are side to side," Mourinho said, ahead of United's FA Cup quarter-final tie against Brighton.

"But if they are in a better situation than us, and they keep investing the same or more than us, it's difficult. It's difficult. It's as simple as that. It's difficult."

When asked if they will challenge for the Premier League next season, he said: "We try, but the reality is that some clubs, they were ready to win [this season]. They were ready to win and other clubs are not ready to win.

"To develop a process is one thing, to go for the jugular is another thing."

Credit: Skysports.com

Manchester United 2-0 Brighton: Talking Points

From Jose Mourinho's main men scoring the goals to Luke Shaw's future, we pick out the talking points from Manchester United's 2-0 FA Cup win over Brighton.

Romelu Lukaku and Nemanja Matic scored in each half to see off Brighton and send United into the semi-finals at Wembley.

Here are the key issues from the contest...

United fail to thrill - but get the job done

This was not a performance to silence the critics of Manchester United's style under Jose Mourinho. It was not exciting, with just two shots on target - but it was effective. And with a 2-0 victory over Brighton, Mourinho has steered his side into the final four of the FA Cup - and a step closer to silverware.

Those in attendance at a freezing Old Trafford watched on as Brighton were allowed plenty of possession as United sat back on their one-goal advantage for much of the second period. After the game, Mourinho called it control but made it clear he was frustrated with his team's speed of attack. Indeed, the home side did not attempt a shot in the second half until Matic nodded in the tie-ending second on 83 minutes.

There were few real scares along the way - aside from a couple of blocks from Matic and Chris Smalling, and a smart parry from Sergio Romero - and ultimately, in cup competition, it is only the result that really matters.

United go into the hat along with Tottenham, who had comprehensively dispatched Swansea earlier in the day, while Leicester v Chelsea and Wigan v Southampton on Sunday will determine who else makes it to Wembley.

Lukaku and Matic deliver for Mourinho

After Mourinho's stunning pre-match press conference had made headlines, it was perhaps fitting the two United players he picked out for praise scored the decisive goals.

Mourinho described Lukaku and Matic - two of his summer signings - as "players with a different mentality, different quality, different background, with a different status, know-how," and they got United over the line with a goal apiece in each half.

Matic was provider for the first, producing a fine cross for Lukaku to head in. The Belgian - who now has 10 goals in last 14 appearances - had described himself as Mourinho's "sergeant" when he spoke to Sky Sports' Thierry Henry earlier this month, and the striker and his manager exchanged fist pumps in celebration at the opener.

Matic made it 2-0 and effectively game over seven minutes from time, heading home a simple header after Lewis Dunk's slip afforded him plenty of time and space to convert Ashley Young's free-kick. After the match Mourinho again praised the "personality" of his key duo.

Shaw hooked at half-time

If Lukaku and Matic are in the good books, it is safe to assume Luke Shaw most certainly is not. Hooked here at half-time, it is difficult to imagine the left-back still being at United at the start of next season, given Mourinho's clear mistrust for him.

Despite the snow and cold conditions, Mourinho was unusually animated on the touchline in the first half - and much of his shouts and gestures appeared to be directed at Shaw, as he battled with Brighton winger Solly March.

It was far from a dire performance from Shaw, who created space and laid the ball back for Matic to set up Lukaku, but his manager was clearly unimpressed with the intensity of the defender's play.

Shaw has made just 15 appearances for United this season and featured for just 556 minutes in the Premier League. His lack of game time has cost him a place in the England squad in a World Cup year and, after four difficult years at the club, this felt like a step closer to the end.

Sanchez and Pogba sit it out

Hidden away beneath hats, snoods and thermal jackets, Alexis Sanchez and Paul Pogba shivered the night away on the United bench. Unused subs, watching on from the sidelines.

Despite United's clear lack of attacking thrust and creativity on the field, Mourinho declined to unleash his two under-performing superstars. For Sanchez, it was his first time out of the team since arriving from Arsenal in January. Pogba is getting used to being among the substitutes, sat on the bench at kick-off for the third time in five games.

Was this a message for United's big-name players? With one goal and no assists from 10 appearances, there had been calls from some United supporters for Sanchez to be withdrawn, while the search for Pogba's top form has proved elusive for much of this season.

Mourinho will hope the pair will be spurred on by the frustrations of missing out and return from the international break reinvigorated for the run-in.

Romero impresses

David de Gea has rightly been praised this season for his excellent levels in the Premier League and Champions League, but Romero delivered a reminder on Saturday that United also have a first-class back-up option.

There was a stunning save to parry Jurgen Locadia's long-range dig, and in the first half he reacted well to push away Lewis Dunk's header.

Romero has not conceded a goal in four FA Cup ties this season and Argentina's number one - who was trusted in goal for the successful Europa League run last year - gives Mourinho a great alternative for these ties.

Credit: Skysports.com

Sunday Supplement: Mourinho's Luke Shaw Treatment 'Brutal'

Jose Mourinho's decision to substitute Luke Shaw at half-time of their win over Brighton was 'brutal' and his post-match comments were aimed towards the left-back, Mirror chief sports writer Andy Dunn told the Sunday Supplement.

Shaw has had a number of dressing downs from Mourinho in the past, but had received praise from his boss in recent weeks prior to Saturday's win over Brighton, where he was hauled off at the break despite United leading by a goal.

Dunn told the Sunday Supplement in addition to the 'brutal' substitution, it was clear post-match comments from the manager accusing his players of a lack of class and personality were aimed largely at Shaw.

"When he took Luke Shaw off at half-time, that's when the alarm bells started to ring," he said. "He'd had a half-decent first half, had a small part to play in the goal, and generally you could see Jose urging him to get forward, he did that and was doing OK.

"Then Jose took him off at half-time, and you thought that's quite a brutal substitution. Clearly that was on his mind when he came into the press conference.

"United had put the game to bed but you can tell when something's on his mind, and in an innocent question about the performance he went into this one about no personality, no desire, no class and how Nemanja Matic was an island.

"If he genuinely believes Matic was the only player who showed the necessary desire, class and quality to wear the shirt, that's a damning indictment on the rest of those players.

"It's just as though there was some sort of underlying agenda, one a general thing to remind his players he'd protected them after the Sevilla game, but this wasn't good enough.

"And two an individual sense that he was particularly picking on Luke Shaw, and that's what came across to me.

"He was specifically asked about that, and he said it was a tactical decision and implied those things he'd generalised about I think he was more individualising it to Luke Shaw, and I think that's what he tried to get across."

Guardian football writer Stuart James added he felt Shaw had become a scapegoat for Mourinho, but that the fallout of the manager's comments would have a greater effect than solely on the defender.

"He's obviously done this before with Luke Shaw," he said. "A few weeks ago he moved towards suggesting Shaw had come out of the other side and there was a big future for him, he seems like an easy scapegoat and I don't know how that's perceived by Shaw, but also the other players.

"The attack yesterday was on the bulk of the squad. They have to be strong enough to deal with that, but I find it difficult to believe how that can have a positive impact on those players."

Credit: Skysports.com

Lukaku Will Be On A Wembley Mission

Romelu Lukaku has got a taste for the Emirates FA Cup but there will be one memory the Manchester United hitman will be desperate to wash from his palate.

The Belgian seems to savour the tournament. It is the one competition in his career where his starting appearances are outweighed by the goals he scores: in 11 career starts (plus three sub appearances) in the cup he has scored 12 goals.

His breakthrough header against Brighton & Hove Albion in the quarter-final at Old Trafford meant he has kept up an impressive run for United in the cup with a goal in every round so far.

The 24-year-old opened his cup account for the Reds back in January in the third round at home to Derby County, sealing the 2-0 victory in the final minute after coming on as a sub. The Belgian did the same at Yeovil Town, bagging his customary goal in added time in the 4-0 fourth-round win.

Huddersfield in the fifth round last month was Lukaku's day. He scored twice at the John Smith’s Stadium in United’s 2-0 win, to line Jose Mourinho’s side up for Saturday’s Old Trafford evening clash with Brighton.

The United manager had singled out Lukaku and Nemanja Matic during his impassioned Friday press conference speech for the media. He highlighted the fact that the two summer 2017 buys had been a consistent thread throughout United’s campaign from day one.

Lukaku paid the boss back when he opened the scoring against the Seagulls and there was a discreet fist pump celebration in Mourinho’s direction after his 37th-minute header had broken Brighton’s well organised resistance.

It took his tally to five for United in the FA Cup and helped steer the Reds to Wembley and a semi-final spot. And that’s where Lukaku will be looking for retribution.

Under the arch on 23 April two years ago was the isolated moment when the striker’s red-hot love affair with the trophy had a disagreement.

Ironically United fans will remember the occasion fondly - but not Romelu. Lukaku had virtually singled-handedly got his former club Everton to the last four shoot-out in London after demolishing his ex-Chelsea colleagues with two goals in a 2-0 Goodison Park win in the quarter-final.

Lukaku was on fire and had deliciously overturned his old club. But he ran into Louis van Gaal’s United at Wembley and one David De Gea. It was not a day to remember on the big stage as chances came and went and Romelu failed to breach United.

He saw Wayne Rooney clear one off the line from him but his worst memento came in the 57th minute when Tim Fosu-Mensah gave away a penalty on Ross Barkley and Lukaku stepped up.

The 12-yard contest with De Gea was won by the Spaniard as United’s goalkeeper saved brilliantly. It set up United for a memorable injury time when Anthony Martial struck the winner in a 2-1 triumph.

It left Lukaku pounding the Wembley turf in bitter frustration. But, despite that setback, he clearly still relishes the cup and his five-goal personal mission to guide United back to the semi final gives the Belgian an opportunity next month to banish that one haunting memory.

Romelu Lukaku looks like a man on a mission and United need him to rid himself of that personal Wembley demon. In the goal form he is in, it is doubtful lightning will strike twice.

The opinions expressed in this article are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Manchester United.

Credit: Manutd.com

Lingard: United Showed Character In Cup Win

Jesse Lingard felt Manchester United showed strength of character to progress to the Emirates FA Cup semi-finals with a 2-0 win over Brighton & Hove Albion at Old Trafford on Saturday.

The Reds knew victory over the Seagulls was vital to keep alive the prospect of some end-of-season silverware after the disappointing Champions League defeat to Sevilla in midweek.

Man of the Match Nemanja Matic delivered the cross for Romelu Lukaku to open the scoring with his 25th goal of the season, before the Serbian himself headed home late in the second half to secure the Reds' passage to the last-four tie at Wembley.

And Lingard, who, like Matic, enjoys scoring in the FA Cup after bagging two in the cup journey so far this season, admitted the win was all that mattered after the midweek loss.

"They [Brighton] sat back and hit us on the counter-attack a few times, which we were obviously aware of before the match, but we knew we needed to win tonight and we got the win, which was the most important thing," he said.

"Of course [confidence took a knock after Tuesday night]. It's always difficult for a team to be knocked out of a competition, but we showed the character tonight to bounce back and not let anything faze us."

Lukaku opened the scoring shortly before half-time and Lingard was full of praise for his top-scoring team-mate and close friend.

"We know what he possesses and he has that presence up front for us," Jesse said. "He's that lone man who holds the ball up well for us. For him to score that many goals at this time of the season is great."

United's semi-final opponents will be revealed in Sunday evening's draw and Lingard feels the fact the last-four ties are played at the home of football makes them even more special.

"Yes, of course [it's always good to go back to Wembley]," he added. "Semi-finals are always big and it's like the final, you could say, at a neutral ground, so we're excited and we'll see who we get in the draw,"he continued.

"Any opportunity to win a trophy is always good for the team and the fans, so if we can get a trophy out of the season, it'll be good.

"The semi-final keeps everyone motivated and we have something to look forward to, but saying that, in the Premier League, we need to maintain that second spot and keep the pressure on at the top."

Matic Is Man Of The Match

Nemanja Matic claimed Manchester United's Man of the Match award after helping the Reds progress to the Emirates FA Cup semi-finals at Wembley.

The Serbian supplied a delightful cross for Romelu Lukaku to power home a header in the first half before heading in a second himself seven minutes from time from Ashley Young’s free-kick to seal a 2-0 victory over Brighton in Saturday’s quarter-final.

The combative midfielder was subsequently crowned the star man by fans on Twitter for the fifth time this season, after receiving a massive 80 per cent of the final vote. Fellow goalscorer Lukaku (10 per cent) and goalkeeper Sergio Romero (10 per cent) were the other players nominated.

Reflecting on the victory over the Seagulls, Matic told BT Sport: "It’s been a difficult for us after the defeat [against Sevilla] of course,” he said. “We always said after the Sevilla game that it was very important to see a reaction and I am happy that we went through and we go to the semi-final.

“I'm happy for the team. Of course, at 1-0, the result is always dangerous because they [Brighton] are a good team and they could always punish us for any mistakes, so it was important to kill the game by scoring a second and that's exactly what we did.”

He went on: “I am sure after national team break we will come back stronger as there is still lots to achieve. In the Premier League, it’s always difficult to be in the top four because every team is strong, every team hopes to be in the first four to play Champions League so we have to fight until the end to be in the top four positions.

“We are second and I hope we will stay there and in the FA Cup we are in the semi-finals so anything is possible.

"When you play for Manchester United, supporters always expect you to win the trophies and I hope that we are ready to win the FA Cup, which is very important in England, so we will fight until the end of course.”

Mourinho Reacts To FA Cup Progress

Jose Mourinho was pleased with the result but wanted more from the performance of his team as Manchester United reached the Emirates FA Cup semi-finals for the second time in three seasons.

The Reds beat Brighton 2-0 courtesy of goals from Romelu Lukaku and Nemanja Matic in Saturday evening’s quarter-final at Old Trafford to advance to the last four of a competition that United won for a 12th time in 2016.

Mourinho’s men will discover their opponents at Wembley next month once the semi-final draw has been conducted on Sunday evening at around 18:30 GMT, immediately after Chelsea’s tie against Leicester City.

Speaking to MUTV, the boss was satisfied with the outcome and felt Matic, who was voted Man of the Match by fans on Twitter after providing a goal and an assist, was the Reds' best player on the night.

"I am happy that we go to Wembley again," he said. "I am happy with the qualification to the semi-final, but I am not happy with the performance. I expected more, we worked for more. We need more personality. Personality has a big influence in the quality that you show.

"I think [Nemanja] Matic was by far the best player in the team. Clearly, the personality, the desire, no fear to play, no fear to make mistakes. The team didn’t play as well as we prepared. These players, they need to play with pressure and feel the pressure."

Mourinho went on: "I don’t expect the players to relax after a defeat. We play four important matches at home in the past couple of weeks, we beat Chelsea and Liverpool, we reach the semi-final, we lost against Sevilla which is a match that looks like it deletes everything good we did until now, but today was very important to win the match. Two knockouts at home would have been really negative for us so I am happy that we won."

United earned a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Brighton in the league back in November at Old Trafford and the boss felt the Seagulls played without freedom, with Premier League survival their main aim, but the Reds had a measure of command throughout.

"I'm really happy with the result and I'm really happy with the control we had," he said. "Of course, they had a reaction in the second half between minute 15 and 30, no more than that. Of course they had that result and they can play football.

"It's a match without any kind of pressure for them and their big target in the end is to stay in the Premier League, which they are going to do for sure. But today, nothing to lose for them and they had a reaction but, apart from that, we kept control of the game and the result which is good."

Mourinho also had words of encouragement for young midfielder Scott McTominay, despite being a little disappointed by the overall display from the Reds.

“I have to say, for example, that Scott McTominay lost more passes today than in all of the [other] matches he played together but he was a Manchester United player and, for me, a Manchester United player is a player that when he plays bad, he gives to the team," the boss explained.

"That's a question of personality, that's a Manchester United player for me. The perfect Manchester United player for me is a player that has personality and quality and is consistent on that. But when you play bad, and as a football player you can play bad, you must have that personality that the kid of 20 years old had."

FA Cup Quarter-finals: Man. United 2 Brighton 0

Manchester United are back at Wembley as goals from Romelu Lukaku and Nemanja Matic steered the Reds to an Emirates FA Cup semi-final spot next month.

Jose Mourinho had highlighted the star contribution of Lukaku and Matic in his memorable Friday press conference and the pair paid back there compliments with the goals that see United in London on the weekend of 21/22 April.

Old Trafford fans were looking for a quick response from the team following the huge disappointment of the Champions League exit to Sevilla last Tuesday. Mourinho had produced his own riposte as a result of the Euro KO with his impassioned speech to the media. Now it was the time for the team to give their answer.

There was a mini blizzard at the start of the game that left the surface with a light dusting of snow but it took the Reds a little bit of time to warm up in the Arctic conditions. But for there most part it was a case of United camping out in the Brighton half.

Early shots from top scorer Lukaku and Jesse Lingard failed to trouble Brighton goalkeeper Tim Krul. Anthony Martial was always threatening danger and a tight link up with Juan Mata after 29 minutes saw a series of one-twos force United through the Brighton defence but Mata’s shot was deflected wide. Chris Smalling almost had the breakthrough from the resulting corner as he stabbed a shot against the woodwork in a near-post scramble.

There wasn’t a lot of danger coming from Chris Hughton’s side but there was a warning after 32 minutes when captain Lewis Dunk powered a header that needed a pair of strong gloves from Sergio Romero to keep the effort out.

United’s build-up remained patient and measured and they got the reward after 37 minutes. Matic serviced Lukaku with a swinging long cross to the far post which the Belgian met with a header to beat Krul for his 25th goal in all competitions in his Reds debut campaign.

There was a quiet, discreet fist pump towards Mourinho from the striker and the manager responded in kind. It was Lukaku’s 10th goal in 14 matches in 2018 and just what United needed.

Brighton had been neat and tidy and looked like the plan was to contain the Reds and strike on the break. Lukaku left that blueprint in tatters and the Seagulls second-half tactics showed a bit more threat with Pascal Gross and Jergen Locadia threatening Romero’s goal early in the second 45.

Locadia’s second attempt after 57 minutes was the most dangerous of Brighton’s response as the Dutchman turned and fired a left foot shot that Romero sprang spectacularly to keep out.

United were finding it a struggle to add to Lukaku’s first-half goal and were unable to test Krul as Brighton continued to add to their goal attempts stats. Locadia was adding the most to that and hearts were in mouths when he was free at the far post but directed his header over the bar.

The Reds continued to find chances hard to come by to alleviate the growing anxiety of a potential equaliser and extra time, but finally as the temperatures dipped Matic relieved the stress with the second goal seven minutes from time.

Half-time substitute Ashley Young, who had replaced Luke Shaw, floated in a free-kick to the far post and Matic did what Lukaku had done earlier and met the delivery with a headed finish in front of the Stretford End. Wembley here we come!


United: Romero; Valencia (c), Bailly, Smalling, Shaw (Young 45); Matic, McTominay; Mata (Rashford 73), Lingard (Fellaini 88), Martial; Lukaku.

Subs not used: De Gea, Lindelof, Young, Pogba, Alexis.

Brighton: Krul; Schelotto, Dunk (c), Duffy, Suttner; Beram Kayal, Propper, Gross; Locadia, Ulloa (Murray 76), March (Izquierdo 69).

Subs not used: Maenpaa, Bruno, Goldson, Sanders, Baldock.



United have a lot to thank Romelu Lukaku for this season, particularly as the Reds chase the one piece of silverware left on offer. The Belgian has scored five of United’s 10 goals in the FA Cup having struck against Derby, Yeovil, twice at Huddersfield and now Brighton. Let's hope he can keep it going under the Wembley arch.


United will discover our Wembley opponents in the last four on Sunday afternoon following the last quarter-final of the weekend when Leicester City play Chelsea at the King Power Stadium. The draw will be live on BBC One and United will be ball no.2.


It’s an international break for the squad following the cup tie but United will be back in action at Old Trafford against Swansea City in the Premier League on Saturday 31 March (KO 15:00 BST).

Mourinho Doesn't Need To Justify Himself

Jose Mourinho doesn't need to justify himself as his managerial track record speaks for itself, according to Danny Murphy.

Mourinho was criticised for his tactics and game plan in the aftermath of Manchester United's Champions League elimination at the hands of Sevilla on Tuesday night and he responded with a passionate 12-minute defence of his record at the club on Friday.

However, while Murphy felt that Mourinho made some good points during his pre-match press conference ahead of the FA Cup game against Brighton on Saturday, he felt it wasn't needed given the success he has already achieved at the club and elsewhere.

Speaking on The Debate, Murphy said: "My initial reaction, having not seeing it in its entirety, was here we go again, he is making more excuses and whinging and moaning, but actually he makes some great points.

"He is obviously irritable because of the defeat, he is feeling cornered and he has come out with a well-prepared speech with lots of stats.

"But my opinion is that he doesn't need to justify himself because of his success at Porto, Madrid, Inter and Chelsea. The teams he built there and the things he won are evidence of his brilliance.

"Should Manchester United be beating Sevilla at home with the players they've got and the money they've spent? Yes. Tactically maybe he got that game wrong but overall he won two trophies in his first season - no other Manchester United manager has done that. They are at the moment the top of the rest after Manchester City, who have blown everyone away. They could still win the FA Cup.

"Going out of the Champions League for Manchester United is a big deal and you can see that he is hurting and the players will be hurting but I'm just not sure why he feels the need to justify himself when he has done so much good in his managerial career. Anyone who questions [Mourinho] hasn't done their research on every club he has been at."

During an 18-year managerial career, Mourinho has won 26 major trophies including three - Europa League, EFL Cup and Community Shield - during his spell at Manchester United and he could add another FA Cup medal to his collection this season.

Matthew Upson agreed with Murphy and said that Mourinho's defiant response to recent criticism over United's style of play highlighted his emotional personality.

"He is an emotional character which has a huge positive and a negative side. The positives are the links and relationships he develops with his players but the flipside to that is he is reactive and justifies himself when he doesn't need to."

Credit: Skysports.com

McTominay Has Found His Voice

Scott McTominay has explained why is it is important for any young player to come out of his shell and find his voice when entering a dressing room full of seasoned internationals.

The midfielder has made the breakthrough at Manchester United and been trusted in some high-profile games of late, earning plenty of plaudits from manager Jose Mourinho. Having been with the club since the age of nine, he feels his education at the Academy helped prepare him to make the huge step into the first team.

Having the backing of the boss has been vital for the 21-year-old, who has been called into the Scotland squad for the first time this week.

"Obviously, there are numerous different factors that have contributed in terms of my development but the main one is Jose Mourinho," he said.

"He's had the faith to put me in for important matches and trusted me in really big games. So all credit goes to him. If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't have had chances to play and show people I'm hopefully capable of being a Manchester United player in the future.

"There's nothing better for me than being selected in the big games. The Champions League game at Sevilla, the Champions League game before that, Liverpool, Chelsea and even the other cup games as well. It's really good for me to be trusted by the manager. I hope to repay him as he's done really well to push me forward."

While it cannot be easy as a youngster attempting to make his mark in the group, the 21-year-old outlined in an exclusive in-depth interview with the latest edition of Inside United, the official club magazine, just why he has been able to bed in so effectively.

Luke Shaw recently revealed McTominay has becoming more talkative in the changing rooms and Scott said: "Yes, I think that’s the prime thing when you’re settling in. You just have to weigh it all up and be careful what you say, and you have to see who’s saying what. But, eventually, the lads just take you in anyway and you’re part of a big family and banter’s flying. So it’s a good environment to be in."

Shaw also said his colleague was showing leadership qualities, even at his young age, and this is clearly an important attribute in any player operating in the middle of the park.

"Well that’s what you want to be as a midfield player, in the heart of the pitch," added McTominay. "You want to be the guy who’s helping every other player in the team out, and hopefully pushing the team forwards and winning as many games as possible. You’ve seen Axel Tuanzebe as captain of the Reserves and I feel like Axel has those traits as well.

"That’s a big thing as a youth-team player who goes into the first team, you shouldn’t be shy about telling a more senior player what to do. If you think that’s what he should be doing then tell him. And, if he doesn’t, then you speak about it afterwards and you have a mutual respect for each other that stays off the pitch; when you’re on the pitch you do the best for the team.

"All the young players, they’re not shy and they’re not worried about saying what they think. It’s a benefit for the team. If you’re a shy player in your shell then the team’s probably not going to progress with you in it. So you have to be like that and it’s a big asset to the team leadership."

Mourinho: We Will Fight Again

A determined Jose Mourinho insists that Manchester United can compete for UEFA Champions League glory next season, after missing out on a place in Friday’s quarter-final draw.

Shortly after the draw was made, the boss spoke to the media ahead of the Reds’ Emirates FA Cup quarter-final against Brighton & Hove Albion at Old Trafford on Saturday evening.

After the disappointment of going out to Sevilla in midweek, Mourinho was asked by reporters in his press conference at the Aon Training Complex whether United can seriously challenge for major trophies with further investment.

He admitted it would be tough to achieve if rivals continue to invest at a significant rate but he spoke passionately about his burning desire to secure a third Champions League triumph of his career at United in the near future, after previous success in Europe’s elite competition with FC Porto in 2004 and Inter Milan in 2010.

“If the clubs that are in a better situation than us, if they stop investing in everything and we invest, I would say we are side to side,” the boss said. “But if they are in a better situation than us, and they keep investing the same or more than us, it’s difficult. It's as simple as that – it’s difficult.

“I’m not saying [we will never catch up]. You have the best proof of it. I won the Champions League with Inter. I didn't win the Champions League with Real Madrid, or with Barcelona, or with [Cristiano] Ronaldo, or with [Lionel] Messi. When I was Ronaldo’s manager, we didn’t manage to win the Champions League.

“But we can [win it] and we are going to fight for it again, no doubt.”

The boss was also keen to point out that the Reds were beaten by a good team in Sevilla, who won the Europa League in three successive seasons prior to United winning the competition in Mourinho’s first season in charge last term, and are a better side than many pundits have suggested.

“We went out to a side that has been more successful than Manchester United in the last seven years in Europe,” Mourinho said. “We played a side that has a huge tradition in knockout competitions. We are going to a side that is in the Spanish Cup final and knocked out Atletico Madrid in two legs.

“They invest wisely and have a team with a great deal of experience at the highest level playing every week against Real Madrid, against Valencia, against Atletico Madrid, against Barcelona – against the players.”

Although fans will naturally be disappointed to miss out on a place in the last eight of the Champions League, the boss insisted that supporters should always be ambitious and have high expectations of their team.

“The fans will be sad at being out, with the players,” Mourinho added. “The players have to learn how to cope with that level of expectation and that level of pressure and they have to survive and when they survive they become stronger.

“[It is an] Easy life if the fans not upset and no critics, but that’s not good because if you want to make a real top team with a top mentality, the team needs to grow up. The best way to grow up is to have this kind of feeling.

“I don’t want the fans to have lower expectations. I want the fans to have high expectations because I want the players to have high expectations too.”

Bailly: The Fans Are Very Important To Me

Eric Bailly has praised Manchester United supporters ahead of the Emirates FA Cup clash with Brighton & Hove Albion and says he knows what the team needs to do to get past the Seagulls.

Speaking to MUTV, the Ivorian has said that he values the fans after becoming a firm favourite with them since he arrived at the club 18 months ago.

"It makes me really happy when I see the fans speaking highly of me," said the defender. "It's quite key at a football club when you have the fans behind you, it means that you are making a positive contribution.

"What I need to do is to roll my sleeves up and keep working really hard so I can try and perform even better. It's very important to me and I want to try to continue in the same vein."

After a difficult few days due to the Champions League defeat by Sevilla, the Reds' next assignment is to beat Brighton at Old Trafford and Bailly is under no illusion that a place in next month's FA Cup semi-finals is a given.

"They are a team in form at the moment and they've got players to cause us problems," said the centre-back, assessing Saturday's visitors. "The very fact they've reached the quarter-finals shows the quality they have. We'll have to be on our guard and really switched on.

"We have to be careful and keep a close eye on this team, and as we know that, they won't be giving anything away for free."

A keen observer of the competition before his move to United, Bailly is aware of what the FA Cup means and is keen to help his team get closer to winning it for a second time in three years.

"I did used to follow the FA Cup really closely," he said. "It's also even more important for us right now as we try and lift our morale as a team.

"We know what we have to do to achieve our objective, which is to win the game on Saturday, so we can get to the semi-finals. If we play the way we know we can play and perform to our strengths and give it our all, I think we can get the win."

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Why Is Alexis Sanchez Struggling At Manchester United?

Alexis Sanchez has made a sluggish start to life at Manchester United, scoring just one goal in all competitions and receiving criticism for losing possession.

Sevilla dumped United out of the Champions League at Old Trafford on Tuesday, and Sky Sports pundit Charlie Nicholas suggested Sanchez had disrupted the formation on the night.

He said: "Marcus Rashford started on the right when his success at the weekend [against Liverpool] was on the left - and that was to accommodate Sanchez. I just don't think this works.

"It just doesn't seem that it's functional. There's no fluency and there's no rhythm to the team."

So why has Sanchez struggled at United? We check the stats…


Arsene Wenger finished outside the top four for the first time in his 22 years as Arsenal boss last season - but Sanchez shone in a season that was salvaged with an FA Cup triumph.

Sanchez scored 24 goals for the Gunners last term, behind only Harry Kane and Romelu Lukaku in the Premier League goalscoring chart - a considerable feat for a player frequently deployed out wide.

But the Chile international has failed to hit such stellar heights since United gazumped rivals City with a bumper salary offer and traded Henrikh Mkhitaryan in exchange to sign him on a free transfer in January.

The graphic below reveals how Sanchez excelled for United against Huddersfield last month - but he has under-performed in his five other league outings.


The stats back-up the general consensus that Sanchez's attacking output has declined since his winter switch - having only scored one goal - from a missed penalty - and failed to claim one assist in his 530 league minutes.

Those statistical dips are largely down to attempting half the number of shots per game at United (from 4.1 at Arsenal to 2.2) and creating half as many chances (from 3.0 to 1.5).

But while his attacking stats have plummeted, his defensive numbers have improved.

The 29-year-old has made considerably more interceptions and won almost twice as many duels under Jose Mourinho, while he has also almost doubled the number of passes in his own half.

At Arsenal, Sanchez would often be seen waving his arms at team-mates in frustration when moves broke down or key passes were missed.

At United, Charlie Nicholas suggested "he looks like he is trying too hard", playing more passes from deep, chasing the ball and embarking on mazy dribbles without end product.

One of his most drastic statistical shifts has been for dribbles completed, rising from 2.4 to 4.4 per game - but, despite this rise, the frequency with which Sanchez has lost possession has been criticised.


Last month, Sanchez lost possession 36 times against Huddersfield, and again against Newcastle, before losing the ball 33 times against Crystal Palace earlier this month.

For context, Leicester midfielders Riyad Mahrez and Marc Albrighton both lost the ball on 39 occasions against Stoke in February - a season league-high.

But Sanchez consistently ranks among the most culpable players for losing possession. At Arsenal, Sanchez lost it 34 times against United in December and 32 times against Palace in the same month.

However, Sanchez takes more touches that any other Premier League forward - averaging at 74 per game for Arsenal and United this season. Therefore, he is far more likely to lose the ball.

The graphic below shows that, of outfield Premier League players to have played 180 minutes or more in the league this season, Sanchez ranks a modest 55th worst for losing possession - losing 34 per cent of his overall touches.

That's a lower proportion than Jamie Vardy (41 per cent), Romelu Lukaku (37 per cent), Alvaro Morata (36 per cent) and equal with Rashford.

In fact, per game, he is averaging slightly more touches at United as he did at Arsenal (81 from 76), and is being dispossessed in almost equal measure, too (27 from 25).


Sanchez covered 10.5km against Liverpool, which was his greatest distance in the Premier League since the start of 2015/16 - but is he 'trying too hard'?

His average distance covered during a full 90 minutes is 9.5km, and he completed above-average distances against Tottenham (10.1km) and Crystal Palace (9.9km), but slightly below-average levels against Huddersfield (9.2km), Newcastle (9.4km) and Chelsea (9.4km from 81 minutes).

His 68 sprints against Liverpool were also well above his average of 56 during a full game, which suggests he is trying harder to make an impact and hunting for the ball more - a tendency that could be affected by his position.


Under Wenger, the Chilean's average activity remained consistent across seasons - moving slightly more central last season due to being frequently used as the central striker.

The graphic below shows a hot-spot of activity on the left corner of the opposition's box in 2015/16 and 2016/17 - an area he hasn't typically occupied during his six league games at United.

Under Mourinho, Sanchez has a stronger concentration of activity half-way inside the opposition's half, along a left-of-centre band. He also has slightly higher levels of activity on the half-way line.

The graphic below reveals his activity against Huddersfield and Crystal Palace was similar to his typical activity at Arsenal - they were also two of his best performances in a United shirt, according to the Sky Sports Power Rankings.

During those two games, he was rarely involved in his own half and worked within his favoured, left-of-centre area - just outside the opposition's box.

There is a clear correlation between his poor performances and uncharacteristic activity - with the exception of an effective, deeper role against Liverpool.

Other big-name stars have struggled at United this term, most notably Paul Pogba - who has also hit a dip in form and failed to settle comfortably in Mourinho's favoured 4-2-3-1 formation.

However, despite a disappointing Champions League exit, United have the opportunity to progress to the FA Cup semi-finals with a victory over Brighton on Saturday - while Sanchez and co will undoubtedly be looking to silence the critics.

Credit: Skysports.com

Are United Progressing Under Mourinho?

As Manchester United turn their attention from a disappointing Champions League exit towards the FA Cup, we asked the Soccer Saturday pundits whether the club are progressing under manager Jose Mourinho.

United failed to convert their stalemate in Seville into qualification as they suffered a shock 2-1 loss in the second leg, meaning a top-four finish and the FA Cup are now their only remaining targets this season.

Mourinho brought the club back into Europe's top-tier tournament by winning the Europa League last season, while also capturing the EFL Cup in his first campaign in charge.

However, with the club breaking the then world-record fee to recruit Paul Pogba for £90m, as well as spending another £75m on Romelu Lukaku, before making Alexis Sanchez the Premier League's best-paid player, questions remain over whether United's success and style of play are sufficient.

Here's what the Soccer Saturday pundits had to say...

Charlie Nicholas: Absolutely not

The answer this season is a big no. How they sit in the Premier League is much improved, but they've spent an absolute fortune to do that. They won two trophies last season and they'll be lucky to get one this year.

Have any players improved under Mourinho? Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof haven't, Pogba has gone backwards, Lukaku has been okay, not breathtakingly good, but his return has been what you expect.

Watching them midweek, if you asked the fans, 90 per cent would say they haven't. There's no fluency and I'm not talking about a style, because what they had under Sir Alex Ferguson was a winning mindset and the pace players like Ryan Giggs, but even the players they do have aren't fitting together.

It said everything that the fans booed Marcus Rashford coming off against Liverpool. A lot of the blame goes to Mourinho, but to the players as well. Pogba has switched off, Anthony Martial has let his level drop after being moved to the right and the defence has been all over the place because they're not following orders.

Phil Thompson: Not enough for the money spent

I would say yes they are making progress, but not greatly, especially for the money spent to assemble it. I can't say Mourinho has really turned this around and they should be doing better all considered.

We can't forget he won two trophies last season and has a chance at winning the FA Cup this campaign, while the style of football has changed since Louis van Gaal and is a bit better watch. But I don't think it is the Manchester United way still.

If you get results, everyone is happy. But if they don't get those results, the questions will come, although he is the best in the world at deflecting the tension.

Paul Merson: Not on a consistent basis

In terms of points they have, but in terms of football they haven't. Bringing Alexis hasn't worked - I didn't think it would work if I'm honest. In their defence, people will point out that they could finish second in the league. But is finishing second progress?

They are 16 points behind Manchester City, that will be more when City beat them at the Etihad. I haven't seen enough improvement on a consistent basis. I know they beat Liverpool, but they were well beaten by Sevilla over two legs.

I watched them fall over the line against Huddersfield a few weeks back and since the opening nine games, I can't remember many times they've been breathtaking. Although it must be said they have had injuries, meaning Mourinho hasn't had his best team out all of the time.

Matt Le Tissier: League position yes, style no

Well, they are progressing in terms of their league position, but in terms of how much better they are to watch as an attractive proposition, not really.

So I guess that is progress, yes, with a caveat of how long United fans will want to watch this style of play for.

Credit: Skysports.com