Sunday, 28 August 2016

Roaring Rashford Tames The Tigers

Hull City 0 Manchester United 1

Marcus Rashford was the hero for United as he came off the bench to grab a late, late winner to ensure his team continued their one hundred percent start to the season.

Coming into the match both sides had started the season unbeaten which for former United assistant Mike Phelan's team is something of a surprise as he has only been able to call on thirteen available players from his first team squad.

Mourinho spent the week trimming his own squad with more fringe players departing on loan or in the case of Tyler Blackett on permanent deals. He indicated that with only a week to go in the transfer market he wouldn't be bringing in any new players and that he was happy with his current squad who he believed could not only challenge for the Premier League but indeed go on and win it.

The players he chose to start the clash with Hull were: De Gea, Valencia, Blind, Bailly, Shaw, Fellaini, Pogba, Mata, Rooney, Ibrahimovic and Martial.

So Mourinho was able to pick an unchanged side that defeated Southampton at Old Trafford last week, which meant that Mkhitaryan would have to wait a little longer for his first start of the season. Alongside him on the bench were Smalling, Herrera, Schneiderlin, Young and Rashford who was called up to the England U21's for the first time this week.

The Red Devil's kicked off against a Hull side who haven't beaten United for 42 years when both the teams were in the old second division.

It took Ibrahimovic only two minutes to attempt the spectacular as he connected with a superb cross from the impressive Valencia from the right wing.

The Swede then came ever so close with a towering header that only just crept over the crossbar. Martial did well to deliver the ball onto the head of Ibrahimovic.

In the opening fifteen minutes, United looked a tight unit with Fellaini sitting deeper in midfield to allow Pogba to venture forward. The pace was a little leisurely which suited the away side who seemed to be biding their time to strike.

The first booking of the match was awarded to Fellaini for a clumsy challenge from behind in a dangerous area. Having been booked the Belgian continued to protest his innocence and Rooney had to intervene to stop referee Moss from taking any further action under the new discipline guidelines.

Fellaini would have to tread more carefully during the remainder of the match on a ground where he was sent off the last time United played there.

Luke Shaw showed his defensive class as he did enough to put off Snodgrass from connecting with the ball at the far post. Brilliant defending from Shaw who fully deserves a recall to the England squad.

Once again the United away supporters were in great voice as the rain hurtled down.

Pogba came close with a snap shot that keeper Jakupovic did well to collect on the slippery surface.

It was United's turn to try their luck with a free-kick on the edge of Hull's penalty area after Mata had been brought down. It was Mata himself who got to his feet and took the kick which was far too easy for the keeper.

Last season Mata and Rooney were the main culprits in wasting dead ball opportunities and with the quality that Ibrahimovic has in his locker why not let him have a go more often.

The big Swede was causing the home defence all sorts of problems with not only his height but his terrific awareness of where his teammates were at any given time and his first touch was sublime at times.

With all the height United have at their disposal it was a surprise to see Juan Mata leap the highest to flick on a cross by Valencia that almost beat the keeper.

United were awarded a free kick that Ibrahimovic managed to get on the end of and backheeled the ball into the side netting with an audacious piece of skill.

That was the last chance of the first half a half in which United had dominated but failed to capitalise on all the possession they had. Sounds a lot like last season the main difference being with Mourinho's side you feel that a goal is going to come.

Mata seemed to struggle with his game out on the right-hand side and it wouldn't be a big surprise if a change happens and Mkhitaryan is brought into that position to provide more penetration.

Hull were there for the taking if only United could use the width more and get behind the full backs. Their forward play was all too narrow and easy for the home side to defend against.

The second half got underway with Mourinho deciding against making any changes. The injury crises for Phelan and Hull got worse as Snodgrass had to be withdrawn within the first few minutes of the restart.

United captain Rooney had the first opportunity as his head met a smart cross from Shaw but it fell too nicely for the keeper.

Nothing was working for United as they resorted to long balls into the area aimed at the head of Ibrahimovic, who was continually surrounded by two or three defenders. Something clearly had to change if they were to come away with all the points.

Mourinho had seen enough and decided that Martial didn't have his game on and introduced Mkhitaryan on the hour mark.

United won a corner after Ibrahimovic had thrashed a shot goalward from the edge of the box. This was followed by a neat move involving Pogba, Ibrahimovic and Mata which resulted in a trip on Mata in the area and a big shout for a penalty but the flag had gone up for offside.

Frustrations were running high as was shown in the reaction of Ibrahimovic when Mata took the ball from his feet as he pulled back the trigger to shoot. Pogba then blasted an attempt from 30 yards that was well over the bar.

As the rain continued to pour down Mkhitaryan showed his pace as he sped towards goal only to be upended by Huddlestone who was rightly booked.

Before the free-kick could be taken United made another change by bringing on Rashford at the expense of Mata for the remaining twenty minutes. The resulting free kick was blasted into the wall by Ibrahimovic.

The away fans had a break from singing to shout for a penalty after the ball had struck a defender on the upper arm but the referee waved play on. It was a clear penalty, but with the inconsistency the Premier League refs are showing it was no surprise nothing was given. Handball is handball whichever way you look at it.

Hull came alive in a five-minute spell that woke up their own fans when a shot was deflected for a corner with De Gea completely wrong-footed. With their best spell in the match, they didn't even manage to force a save from De Gea.

French star Pogba was the latest to try his luck from a free-kick again awarded to United on the edge of the area but he curled his effort well wide.

As the match entered the last ten minutes it was all United as Rashford showed what he can do with a run followed by a piercing drive that was brilliantly saved by the keeper.

Then Rashford and Ibrahimovic cleverly worked the ball through a group of players to pick out Mkhitaryan whose first-time effort was blocked. The tempo had been raised and the points were there for the taking as United won a string of corners.

An exceptional cross by the lively Rashford right across the six-yard box only had to be tapped in by one of his teammates, but they were slow to react and the chance had gone.

Rashford enjoyed an excellent cameo since his introduction and along with fellow substitute Mkhitaryan changed the style of United's play with such great effect.

A curling chance by Pogba almost found its way into the net but was only a whisker wide. Mourinho shouted his displeasure from the touchline when yet another Pogba effort found the back of the stand and not the back of the net.

Then just when you thought United would have to settle for a point Rashford stepped up and smashed the ball into the net from close range to give his side a valuable win and the precious three points in the 92nd minute.

It all came from great wing play by Rooney, who did extremely well on the left when he cut into the box and delivered a delightful ball on a plate for Rashford who finished with aplomb. It was to be Rooney's last action as he was substituted for Smalling.

The match had changed once the vibrant Rashford was introduced as his all round play had a positive impact on the way United attacked as he was causing damage on the left and the right and the Hull defenders struggled to cope with his constant surges into their area. With Martial slightly of the boil this could be the youngsters chance to grab a starting place.

It will be said that he had a point to prove after not being chosen in the opening games and Allardyce's first England squad, but that is just not true as when you have the talent this lad has there is absolutely nothing to prove.

For the third time in the new season, Eric Bailly picked up the Man of the Match award for another solid display alongside Daley Blind in the centre of defence. However, for the impact he had on the match since his introduction Rashford has also to be considered.

There will be many more tests like this one during the season and it was pleasing that the team never gave up the chase and finally managed to break down a resolute defence. It is still a work in progress, but if they can keep collecting maximum points while ironing out the kinks then we can all live with that.

There were two cup competitions drawn this week. In the first United were picked to play away at Northampton in the Football League Cup 3rd round add to that the draw for the Europa League took place and United were handed a mixed bag of games including a trip to Istanbul to face Fenerbahce, which is never easy, a closer to home trip to Holland against Feyenoord and a long journey to the Ukraine to play the relatively unknown FC Zorya Luhansk.

One interesting aspect of the draw will be the return of former United striker and fans favourite Robin van Persie who has in fact played for both United and Feyenoord and is currently at Fenerbahce.

There will be a break in the league action next weekend so next up for United is the mouth-watering derby and the first meeting of Jose and Pep as Manchester managers.

Until then thanks for reading.

Miles Dunton.

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Zlatan At The Double

Manchester United 2 Southampton 0

Not even the fanfare surrounding the return of the world's most expensive player was going to steal the limelight from a character as big as Zlatan Ibrahimovic as his two goals ensured that Jose Mourinho's Old Trafford reign got off to a flyer.

There was an air of optimism surrounding the Theatre of Dreams as fans flocked to Old Trafford to witness Mourinho's first official match at his new home.

After kicking the Premier League season off with a fine win on the south coast against Bournemouth all eyes were focused on this clash against Southampton and whether United's world record signing Paul Pogba would make his second career debut for the Red Devils.

Here was Mourinho's first starting XI for the opening home game: De Gea, Valencia, Blind, Bailly, Shaw, Pogba, Fellaini, Mata, Rooney, Martial and Ibrahimovic.

Herrera was the player to make way for the return of Pogba in midfield. Home debuts were handed to Ibrahimovic and Bailly but there was still no place for Armenian Mkhitaryan who would have to continue to bide his time as a substitute.

Smalling returned to the squad, but would have to start on the bench after the splendid display of Blind and Bailly at the back last time out.

United got the game underway in front of a vibrant crowd that was determined to make the night one to remember.

It was the visitors who had the audacity to create the first real chance of the half as they were awarded a free-kick on the edge of United's area which the wall dealt with well.

Ibrahimovic started the first United attack of note by winning the ball and cleverly feeding Rooney, who in turn rolled the ball into the path of the advancing Valencia who has been impressive at the start of the season. The Colombian raced to the byline, but his cross was blocked for a corner. This early action got the home faithful worked up as they increased the volume.

In the opening ten minutes after an initial poor first touch Pogba seemed to settle into his position fairly well and linked with his new teammates if not a little nervously as was to be expected with all the hype surrounding him in the build up to the match.

The Saints game plan came unstuck when Romeu had to leave the play early and was replaced by Clasie.

Pogba's first real contribution almost had the fans cheering for a goal as he struck a well-aimed shot from the edge of the area that was saved by opposition keeper Forster. Now that would have been a tremendous start to the French internationals United return. The move was instigated by Ibrahimovic as he did well to bring the ball down well inside the area.

At the other end, Southampton had their own chance to take the lead as a cross by Redmond only failed to be met by the head of Tadic by inches as he ran in unmarked at the far post. A definite let off for the Reds. The Saints were clearly not there to make up the numbers and looked a decent side.

Anthony Martial started the match a shadow of himself from last season as his first touch let him down on a few occasions. Hopefully, whatever is on his mind clears up very soon as the team needs his focus, pace and dribbling skills firing on all cylinders as soon as possible.

As the half hour mark approached the fans saw a delightful passing move from United as the ball found Pogba on the left hand side of the penalty area and his nice chip was met by Mata, who deftly headed the ball towards Ibrahimovic who in turn attempted one of his trademark overhead kicks. However, he was off target on this occasion.

The big Swede was on fire with all the attacking moves stemming from his runs and his link up play with the supporting players.

Captain Rooney, who is only three goals behind Bobby Charlton's record, tried his luck from distance but his effort lacked the power needed.

United's first Premier League home goal of the new season came from who else but the irrepressible Swede Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who powered in a header from a brilliant cross by Rooney in the 36th minute. What a way to score his first Premier League goal at Old Trafford and what an assist from his captain whose determination to reach the ball and deliver the cross was a delight to see.

Half-time and United deserved to be ahead and had just about done enough to go off in the lead. However, they would have to be careful of Southampton in the second half and will be looking to kill the game off quickly.

As the half progressed Pogba became a lot more involved in the majority of the play and almost got his head to the cross that Ibrahimovic headed in to put his side into the lead.

One interesting difference to last season is the height in the team now, whereas it was only Fellaini who offered the aerial threat in the opposition's box now you have both Ibrahimovic and Pogba to aim for and their technique is a lot more pleasing to the eye and at the same time more effective.

At the start of the second half, Mourinho decided against making any changes but it was Southampton who started the most promising of the two sides and even had the ball in the net which was ruled out for offside.

Within minutes of the restart and it must be said slightly against the run of play United were awarded a penalty for a trip in the box on Shaw. Up stepped the man of the moment Ibrahimovic to stroke the ball home and score his and United's second of the night.

Interestingly, it seems that Rooney has been relieved of spot kick and free kick duties, but then again, it's not wise to argue with Ibrahimovic.

Southampton still didn't give up and wasted a number of chances to pull a goal back and did everything apart from test De Gea in the United goal.

United began to move up through the gears and produced more openings which started when Martial sprinted away from his marker and raced into the penalty area only to unleash his shot straight at the keeper. This was followed by a neat cut back from the byline by Shaw that was blocked inside the six-yard area. Good all-round attacking play by the Red Devils and at a pace which had been missing last year.

With twenty minutes left on the clock, United looked comfortable and allowed Southampton to have more of the ball and defended well as a unit to thwart any attempt on goal.

In the 75th minute, Mourinho brought Mata off to a warm reception and gave another new summer signing Mkhitaryan his home debut in the league.

Pogba seemed to be enjoying himself on the pitch and almost netted as he had a run and shot which whistled wide.

De Gea has been voted the player of the year in recent seasons, but if the team continues to play like they are he will have less to do and not get the votes at the end of this campaign. Which is a good thing, right?

The second substitution for United came in the 81st minute when fans' favourite Herrera replaced the largely ineffective Martial to huge cheers as the crowd had been chanting his name and got their wish.

The home side played out the last five minutes of the game by confidently stroking the ball around as the home fans went through their repertoire of chants saluting their heroes and manager.

There was still time for one last change as captain Rooney made way for the returning Smalling with only two minutes left in the game.

Pogba was determined to score on his return and almost succeeded with a smart shot that was only just wide. His focus was on scoring and not on Ibrahimovic lurking inside the area hoping for a pass that would give him the chance of a hat-trick.

Game over and another win which keeps United at the top of the league and proves that Mourinho has given the team the belief in their own ability and more importantly given the fans something to cheer after some difficult times.

The United team as a whole put in another all round display of unity against a Southampton side that enjoyed a lot of possession and but for poor finishing could have and should have given De Gea more to do between the sticks. His back four, although a little shaky at times, performed well enough with both Shaw and Valencia once again providing width in attack.

Pogba and Fellaini put in a sterling job in the middle of the park and the French star looked in fine fettle and didn't seem to be tired at the end of the game which answered any questions about his fitness or lack of.

Mata and Rooney ran their socks off all night and were at the heart of most of the attacking forays. Both players fully deserved the applause they received when substituted. Martial looked to be off his game with some poor touches, but he's a young lad and his form is sure to return.

However, there could only be one candidate for the Man of the Match award and that had to be Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who has now scored three goals in his first two league games and looks like he can score at any given moment. What he brings to the forward line is a quality that will not only guarantee goals, but with it a style that has the fans on their feet every time he has the ball akin to a certain French gentleman some twenty years ago.

The season has started well and Mourinho must be a pleased manager with the way in which his side has kicked started the new campaign. The players are still getting used to each other along with the new tactics employed by the boss. While the learning process continues if they can obtain wins like this then that only bodes well for the rest of the season.

There is one noticeable difference already this season and that is the player's demeanour. It seems as if a huge weight has been lifted from around their necks and they are playing the game in a way in which they can express themselves without fear of repercussions. They are actually enjoying themselves and the fans are too.

Thanks for reading.

Miles Dunton.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Manchester United's Les Bleus.


There has been a strong link between Old Trafford and France over the last quarter of a century and that bond is about to get even stronger with the return of Paul Pogba to the fold.

The midfielder will pull on the famous United shirt and make his second debut for the Red Devils this coming Friday if selected of course. The first time round came back in September 2011 when the highly rated teenager was given his big chance by Sir Alex Ferguson in the League Cup albeit as a substitute.

After being picked a further six more times the problems started and after much deliberation and finger pointing the young prodigy was allowed to depart for pastures new in Italy with Juventus. Quite how United relented and let him leave is a topic for others to debate.

Pogba quickly built up a reputation during his time at Juventus and has been courted by a host of top clubs all wanting his signature. Fast forward to the present and the undoubtedly talented French star has decided to come back home for a world record transfer fee of almost £90m on a five-year contract after cementing his reputation with the Old Lady of Turin and the French national side.

Mourinho has managed to pull off a huge transfer that his two predecessors never looked likely of achieving and has given the fans something to be optimistic about at last.

Pogba will be joining an impressive legion of French players to have graced Old Trafford which all began with 'Le Roi' Eric Cantona, who was a chance purchase by Alex Ferguson in 1992. While overhearing a telephone conversation between then United chairman Martin Edwards and his Leeds United counterpart who was making enquiries about United full-back Denis Irwin, Ferguson declined their advances for the Irish defender but told Edwards to ask about the availability of their troubled French star Cantona.

Within days the deal was done and a beaming Ferguson paraded his new signing to the world media telling them that Old Trafford was the stage on which Cantona was made to play on, and how right he would be proved to be.

The talisman of the team from his debut in 1992 right up until his retirement in 1997. A Premier League champion in all his seasons at United except the one in which he had to serve an eight-month ban and a double winner twice.

Fans to this day still honour his achievements for the club by singing his name at matches both home and away even though it has been almost twenty years since he left. A true testament to a legend and the love goes both ways as Cantona has often said that his heart is still at Manchester United.

'1966 was a great year for English football. Cantona was born'

The next Frenchman to join United was full back Mikaƫl Silvestre who joined the club in September 1999 and immediately gained the respect of the Old Trafford faithful when it was clear that he had rejected an offer from Liverpool for his services. Ironically, he made his debut against Liverpool.

Silvestre was a silky defender who could play at both left-back or in the middle of the defence and would make almost 250 appearances for the Red Devils over nine years. In that time, he won five league titles, an FA Cup, a League Cup and a Champions League winners medal in 2008 although he was an unused substitute.

Never one to give up Silvestre had to battle through long absences due to injuries and along with the challenges for his position from Heinze and fellow countryman Evra but he persevered and that commitment endeared him to the fans.

Following the retirement of the treble winning goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel, the hunt was on to find his replacement a task that would prove extremely difficult to fulfil. One man who tried was Fabien Barthez who joined the team in 2000 and quickly realised that he had a huge task on his hands to literally try and fill the big gloves vacated by Schmeichel.

Barthez had enjoyed success with France at the World Cup and The Euros but was well known as an eccentric keeper which he showed many times between the sticks for United especially when he would let United defender and best friend Laurent Blanc kiss his bald head before the start of matches. Having said that he did end up as a champion in his debut season, pulling off some fabulous saves which ensured United won many matches.

The following season wasn't so good for Barthez as he was blamed for making too many unforced errors in matches. One game, in particular, was against Arsenal when he had a nightmare and allowed his countryman Henry to score two goals that were basically gift-wrapped for him.

At the end of his final season, 2002/03, he and United finished as champions, but Ferguson had had enough of Barthez and the mistakes he was making, this was highlighted in the match against Real Madrid in the Champions League quarter-final second leg when Brazilian Ronaldo scored a hat-trick. This was a match in which the keeper received criticism from all quarters and, in fact, that would be his last game for United.

Barthez was joined at United by his friend Laurent Blanc who joined in 2001 after Jaap Stam had been sold to Lazio by Ferguson after a bust-up over the Dutchman's comments in his autobiography.

A central defender who oozed class and valuable experience but came to the club towards the end of his illustrious career which had the United fans raising their eyebrows, he was 35 when he signed.

After helping United to the title in 2003 his legs finally gave up and he retired from playing to focus on management mainly back in his home country with PSG. Now he is a free agent it will be interesting to see if he fancies a return to the Premier League. Arsenal anybody?

The next Frenchman to come through the Old Trafford doors was a striker. Louis Saha's United career was blighted by injuries, but when he was fit he certainly knew how to score goals. Saha was transferred to United for a fee of £12.4 million in January 2004 having scored 15 goals already that season for Fulham. His United career got off to a similar start by scoring seven goals in just ten matches.

The following season was the start of his injury woes, especially to his knee then his hamstring. When fit he started a partnership with Ruud van Nistelrooy and then the teenage Wayne Rooney.

In 2006, a fully fit Saha was among the goals again and was on a roll. However, the injury jinx returned.

When he returned for the last time Ferguson had a built a forward line around Rooney, Tevez and a certain Ronaldo so Saha played mainly from the bench, but when called upon he did his job. His United career ended when he was sold to Everton in 2008.

A quality striker and his love for United was plain to see, it was only the injuries that held him back. During his time at United, he won two Premier League medals and a League Cup.

Possibly the second most popular French signing behind Monsieur Cantona was Patrice Evra who was brought to Man United from AS Monaco for a fee of £5.5 million in January 2006. Evra took his time to settle at the club making his debut in a 3-1 defeat to Manchester City. So poor was his performance in that match Fergie took him off at half-time.

Fast forward eight years and the Frenchman left United having won almost everything in the game. The only trophy to elude him was the FA Cup. Probably his greatest achievement was winning the double of the Premier League and Champions League in 2008.

At left-back, Evra became an important cog in United's defence, forming an uncanny understanding at the back with Ferdinand and Vidic which was the rock that Fergie built his last great teams on. Evra had the honour of captaining United on many occasions and did so with a great gusto.

It was a sad day when he departed for Juventus as I'm sure he still had plenty of playing time in him and is still greatly missed. It would be nice to think that Evra helped United to bring Pogba back in some way.

Morgan Schneiderlin joined United from Southampton last summer and enjoyed a decent season under van Gaal's reign. His no-nonsense style of play got the job done in the midfield without any fanfares. Often overlooked for plaudits because of others around him Schneiderlin went about his business and in a fairly average season for the club he at least could hold his head up.

Quite how he will fit into the plans of new manager Mourinho only time will tell but he still has a lot to offer in the engine room of the team. Especially when you consider the age of Carrick and the uncertainty over Schweinsteiger's future at the club. This will be an important season for Schneiderlin, but one that he can rise to.

Louis van Gaal may have had his critics during his time at United but there was one bit of business the fans can thank him for and that was the purchase of the most expensive teenager in world football. When Anthony Martial blasted onto the scene with such a bang as a substitute against Liverpool the fans had a new favourite to call their own.

Not only did he open his United account against the arch enemy but he did so at the Stretford End and a new star had arrived.

In his first season, he managed to score a total of 17 goals, not bad considering he was plying his trade wide on the left. Probably the most important goal of his season came in injury time against Everton in the FA Cup semi-final to send the Reds through to the final. He was taken to the Euro's with France but wasn't given a chance to showcase his ability.

With the arrival of Ibrahimovic, he has had to relinquish the No: 9 shirt and accept the iconic 11. The hopes are high of another high goal scoring season by the young forward.

Last but not least the trio of 'Les Miserables' William Prunier, Gabriel Obertan and David Bellion.......only kidding.

There you have it the French stars that have lit up our great club and Paul Pogba has the proud honour of continuing the tradition of his fellow countrymen at Old Trafford.

Thanks for reading and au revoir.

Miles Dunton.

Monday, 15 August 2016

United Off And Running

Bournemouth 1 Manchester United 3

Jose Mourinho's Premier League campaign as Manchester United manager got off to a winning start as his team came away from the Vitality Stadium full of life after collecting all three points against Bournemouth.

New season, new manager, new players, new kit and new hopes at the start of a League season that promises so much for a club that has vastly under performed for the last three years.

The week had started with United's world record signing of Paul Pogba who would have to wait a little longer to make his debut as he sat out the opener due to a ban carried over from last season at Juventus.

Even without their new midfielder, United would prove to be too much for the Cherries with a performance that started slowly but moved up through the gears as the match progressed.

Jose Mourinho picked a slightly tweaked starting XI from the one that began the Community Shield at Wembley last week. De Gea, Valencia, Blind, Bailly, Shaw, Fellaini, Herrera, Mata, Rooney, Martial and Ibrahimovic.

Juan Mata was given a chance to prove that he and Mourinho can work together as the Spaniard was selected due to an injury to Wembley goal hero Lingard. It was the substitution of the substitute at Wembley that sparked a debate all week concerning the future of the player whom Mourinho sold while at Chelsea. Mata's start meant that he would play in his 52nd consecutive league game for United.

United got the match underway at the Vitality Stadium attired in their new white away kit with the fantastic away support in brilliant voice as always.

The opening minutes had more of a getting to know you feel for both sides and some players looked a little rusty in some areas including Shaw, who almost made a complete hash of a clearance and at the other end Rooney should have done better on the byline but conceded a goal kick.

United defender Bailly announced his introduction to the Premier League with a crushing but fair challenge on opponent King, who proceeded to make a meal of it. Thankfully, referee Andre Marriner didn't buy the act.

Fellow Premier League debutant Ibrahimovic rose well for a ball that was hoisted to the far post and fell heavily to the ground after clashing heads with a defender. He got to his feet, had his head checked by the physio and was able to continue.

As the half-hour mark approached the away side started to put together some neat passes and made inroads into the Cherries defence, especially down the right wing where Valencia, making his 250th club appearance, continued his fine form from the pre-season. United only needed to turn that pressure into scoring opportunities. One of those chances culminated into a chance for Rooney. In the end his well struck shot was easily claimed by keeper Boruc.

Fellaini got into his usual spat with the opposition after a scramble in the home side's penalty area as three players surrounded him following another one of his robust challenges elbows and all.

Then United's first league goal of the season came out of nothing but has to be put down to the persistence of a player under huge scrutiny in sections of the media.

It just had to be Juan Mata, who managed to score the first Premier League goal under Mourinho's tenure. With only five minutes left on the clock before half-time the diminutive Spaniard latched onto a short back pass after a through ball from his amigo Herrera.

He quickly nipped onto the ball and tried to slip it under the approaching keeper's body, but that only took the sting out of the shot so he made sure of the goal by continuing his run and tapping the ball into an empty net.

Before half-time is always a great time to score especially in this match as it was a first period that can only be described as a laboured performance from United as they struggled to find the cohesion needed to take the lead until the Bournemouth defence gifted them their goal scoring opportunity.

The second half got underway with Mourinho deciding against making any changes.

It was captain Rooney who had the first opening of the half as Ibrahimovic played a clever ball into the path of his run, but his following shot was well saved by Boruc. This was followed by a big shout for a penalty by both the away players and travelling fans as Rooney seemed to have his ankles clipped by Surman inside the box but the referee waved play on. That was a very close call indeed.

As a spectacle, the match had moved up a pace as both sides quickened the play as the home side searched for an equaliser and the Red Devils went in search of the goal that would put the game to bed.

Right on cue, it was Wayne Rooney, who came up with the goods just before the hour mark as he headed home skillfully after more good work from Valencia down the right wing.

From the Ecuadorian's well-worked cross Martial miscued a volley which he fired into the ground and as the ball rebounded skyward Rooney managed to get his head to it and directed it past the reach of Boruc into the back of the net. Rooney is another goal nearer Sir Bobby Charlton's scoring record and if he nets a hat-trick against Southampton he will draw level.

United seem to have found a new free kick taker as Ibrahimovic took responsibility on the edge of the box, but his goal-bound effort was expertly saved by Boruc.

However, the Swede was not to be outdone as in the 64th minute Ibrahimovic collected the ball some distance from goal and with nothing on ahead of him tried his luck with a right-footed shot along the ground which entered the net in the far corner much to the delight of Mourinho and the watching bench.

The goal is the latest milestone in the great man's career as he has now scored on his debut in all his league starts.

You would have thought that having conceded the third goal Bournemouth would crumble and try to limit the damage, but to their credit they plugged away and did manage to give the home fans some joy five minutes later when Adam Smith embarrassed the United defence and scored a fine goal to pull one back.

The first substitution by Mourinho came when he introduced Mkhitaryan for scorer Mata with fifteen minutes of the match remaining. When Mkhitaryan came on as a substitute he became the first Armenian to play in the Premier League. A distinction he can be very proud of.

The play had become somewhat stale until Ibrahimovic made a surge toward the area, but his pass across the box found none of his teammates.

Herrera celebrated his birthday in a way he won't want to remember by being cautioned for a foul.

There were a couple of late changes by United as the game was all but won when Mourinho decided to give Schneiderlin and Memphis a run out when they replaced Martial and Rooney.

As the game entered the final seconds De Gea came up with a wonderful save diving at full stretch to thwart a certain goal he then stood up to excellently block another effort.

In the end, United finished the game comfortably and gave their manager his first three points as the boss. The team played with more pace in their play during the second period and each player seemed to enjoy themselves without the restraints that Louis van Gaal had imposed on them during his time as manager.

Mourinho has already started to stamp his style on the side and it's a style that is pleasing to the eye and once he can get all the players to the standard he expects then opposing teams will have to beware.

Lots of positives can be taken from the performances, especially the back four, who apart from conceding the goal didn't put a foot wrong. Shaw and Valencia offered great support to the forwards down the flanks and Blind had one if his best games for a long while.

However, it was Blind's defensive partner Bailly, who once again took the man of the match plaudits for his all round solid display that has given the fans a new hero at the back. Not since the likes of Jaap Stam and Nemanja Vidic have we had such a fearless character at the back. There will be a few Bournemouth attackers nursing some bruises after coming into contact with the Ivorian.

Herrera as always covered the pitch well in the middle and provided a good link between defence and attack. After some poor performances Fellaini showed that he can play with what has to be his best display for a very long time. Mata scored and had to be pleased as he has nothing to prove to anybody.

Up front Martial had fleeting moments of inspiration and the signs are there for all to see that he is slowly on his way back to top form. Ibrahimovic scored as he always does and did enough to further cement his future as a cult hero among the faithful.

A special mention has to go to captain Wayne Rooney, who came in for criticism from some quarters last week after his timid display at Wembley. But here against Bournemouth he played further up the field, therefore, confirming the manager's opinion that he is not to be wasted in the midfield where he can do no damage. He needs to be playing up front a point which was proven today.


So, in a week that started and ended so positively all eyes will be focused on Old Trafford on Friday in a match that should see the second Manchester United debut for a certain Paul Pogba against Southampton. The question will be which player will make way for him?

Until then thanks for reading.

Miles Dunton.

Monday, 8 August 2016

Wembley Cheer For Mourinho.

Leicester City 1 Manchester United 2.

A brilliant individual solo goal by Lingard and a towering header by Ibrahimovic lit up Wembley and presented Mourinho with his first trophy as Manchester United manager.

The traditional season curtain raiser saw the English champions Leicester City take on FA Cup winners Manchester United at Wembley Stadium in a match that if a team loses it is only a friendly but if they win it turns into a major piece of silverware.

Jose Mourinho led out his United side for the first time at Wembley against Premier League champions Leicester, now there's a sentence I never thought I would write.

So much has changed at Old Trafford since Jesse Lingard scored the dramatic winner against Crystal Palace back in May that allowed Louis van Gaal to end a poor season on a high. It was to be van Gaal's final act as United manager as he was immediately replaced by the fans' choice the 'special one' Jose Mourinho.

In a short space of time, he has rejuvenated the club and given fresh hope to the faithful with a string of shrewd signings. None more so than the capture of world superstar Zlatan Ibrahimovic along with solid central defender Eric Bailly and the exciting Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Add to that the confirmation that the world record re-signing of Paul Pogba has been given the green light by Juventus then all seems well at the Theatre of Dreams.

The pre-season has had its ups and downs, including a long trip to China to play only one match as the other against Man City was cancelled. Then a well planned return to Sweden for Ibrahimovic to not only make his debut as a Red Devil, but also score his first goal for the club within four minutes against Galatasaray.

However, the feeling has to be that United have not had enough game time with so many players only returning in the last two weeks after their Euro 2016 exploits and subsequent holidays.

With each team allowed to use six substitutes, it gave Mourinho a chance to utilise his squad to the full enabling him to give as many players as possible valuable time on the pitch. Some players would be left disappointed and the most noticeable absentees from the 18-man squad were Young, Darmian and Memphis whose woes continued as he failed to win a place even on the bench. Mourinho's starting XI was: De Gea, Valencia, Blind, Bailly, Shaw, Carrick, Fellaini, Rooney, Martial, Lingard and Ibrahimovic.

Rashford, Herrera and Mata along with Schneiderlin were named on the bench, but there was one surprise as Fellaini was given the nod ahead of new signing Mkhitaryan.

There was a great atmosphere inside the famous stadium as Leicester got the match underway, a match that if level after 90 minutes would have gone straight to penalties.

United in their new red strip had the majority of the play in the opening minutes, but it was a rush of speed into the box by Vardy after he had nutmegged Bailly that needed a heavy block by Blind to prevent an early chance for the champions.

At the other end Ibrahimovic's first touch was a typical back-heeled volley which was confidently executed by the Swede. His comparisons to Cantona in both stature and skill cannot be ignored. His forward partner Martial entered the fray with a run and shot from the left hand side that he fired into the side-netting.

Overall, it was a lively start from both sides in the opening ten minutes without troubling either keeper.

It was captain Rooney, who provided the first chance on goal when he headed the ball into the arms of Schmeichel after a cross from the left by Shaw. It really is a great sight to see Luke Shaw return to competitive football after his horrific injury. Let's hope that he can have a long injury free run in the side.

The next chance fell to Fellaini inside the Leicester penalty area when he neatly flicked the ball up and shot on the turn, but former United defender Simpson did enough to get his body in the way of the effort and took the sting out of the shot.

It was the turn of the Foxes to try their luck when Okazaki curled a deflected effort just wide of De Gea's post, then the same player clipped a header onto the bar following the resulting corner.

Bailly began to show his quality as a defender as the match progressed and at one point he tracked Vardy all the way to the byline and made a superb tackle to prevent the striker getting a shot in on goal. Brilliant defending from a player who looks to have settled into life fairly well at United bearing in mind his difficulty with the language.

Twice in the opening thirty minutes, Rooney was guilty of losing possession in dangerous areas to give the opposition the advantage. Something that was a familiar theme last season and something he needs to address.

Then in the 32nd minute the breakthrough came and what a moment it was. FA Cup final hero Jesse Lingard did it again as he scored an individual goal of immense quality. After he had collected the ball in a tight spot in the centre of the pitch he only had one thought on his mind and weaved his way past four challenges and once inside the area calmly placed the ball past Schmeichel.

A truly world class goal from a player who has always had that type of skill in his locker and continued his love affair with Wembley which must have impressed new England manager Sam Allardyce as he watched from the stands.

Half-time and United led 1-0 thanks to Lingard's wonderful effort. The half was an even but fairly scruffy forty-five minutes and one that didn't really give us any clearer idea of Mourinho's tactics. Rooney and Martial had a half that they would rather forget and Ibrahimovic had to backtrack too many times either to look for the ball or help out with defensive duties.

On a positive note, both full backs Valencia and Shaw, along with Bailly and Blind looked impressive at the back.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic got the second half underway as United looked to put in a more confident display as Mourinho decided against making any changes at the beginning of the half.

Bailly continued to be the rock at the heart of United's defence by making two strong tackles in quick succession to clear his lines. Up at the other end a lethargic looking Rooney wasted a chance to provide the ammunition for an attack on goal when he was far too easily dispossessed on the edge of Leicester's penalty area.

Then in the 52nd minute, Vardy equalised for Leicester when he jumped on a poor back pass by Fellaini and neatly passed the ball into the net. An opportunist goal, but the mistake by Fellaini provided the striker with the chance after the Belgian had done well to intercept a through ball by the pacey Musa.

All square and all to play for as the game became a little feisty with some hefty challenges flying in especially by King on scorer Lingard. The first change made by Mourinho came on the hour mark as Herrera replaced Carrick in midfield.

Following the equaliser, Leicester looked the more dangerous of the two sides and United needed to get hold of the ball and work more openings up front. Substitute Musa was a handful and he almost directed a header past De Gea as he fell backwards unmarked in the area.

The second change for United was one that was forced on the manager as Lingard had taken one too many sly kicks from the opposition and had to be taken off to be replaced by Mata.

There was a warm round of applause in the 66th minute in tribute to the England World Cup winning team to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their one and only triumph.

Shortly after Fellaini smartly teed up Rooney on the edge of the box only for the captain to shoot weakly at the keeper.

More changes followed as Rashford and Rojo came on for Martial and Shaw with twenty minutes left on the clock.

Bailly received an unfair caution for a shoulder-barge on Vardy then Vardy himself picked up his own booking with a reckless challenge on Mata which probably deserved a red and could have caused serious damage to the Spaniard.

Since his introduction, Rashford brought his usual spark to the proceedings winning a succession of corners and free kicks that were all taken by Rooney and all wasted. It looked as though Ibrahimovic would put the ball in from close range after he had been set up inadvertently by Rooney but his underhit shot was cleared off the line by Drinkwater.

Not to worry as two minutes later the new Red Devil hero made amends by scoring with a well-directed header in the 83rd minute. Valencia did all the work as he sent in a delightful cross from the right side of the penalty area which Ibrahimovic rose majestically for and placed the ball expertly into the net. Valencia has impressed in the pre-season with his forays forward and assists from his right-back position.

Schneiderlin eventually came on for the ineffective Rooney to tighten the midfield for the final few minutes as Leicester hunted for another equaliser.

With the clock showing four minutes of added time new signing Mkhitaryan made his first Wembley appearance for United by coming on for fellow substitute Mata who looked far from happy about the change as he had only been involved for a short time.

Leicester spent the last couple of minutes of the match throwing everything and everyone, including Schmeichel, forward into United's penalty area only to be thwarted by De Gea and Bailly.

At the end of the game, United survived the onslaught of Leicester to see the match out with a hard fought victory and presented Jose Mourinho with his first silverware thanks mainly to the man of the match Eric Bailly who put in a solid performance at the heart of the defence. Chris Smalling must be looking forward to building a partnership with the Ivorian.

The two goals United scored were both top draw and will undoubtedly grab the headlines over the coming days, but they shouldn't take the attention away from the fact that this wasn't a fluid performance by United who are clearly still coming to terms with the new manager's ideas and certain players performed below par most notably Rooney.

There is still a concern about the value to the side of Fellaini who continues to make mistakes like the one he made to present the chance for Vardy to score. If the rumours are true about Moyes wanting to sign him for a third time he wouldn't be that great a loss to United.

Of course, this match will pale into insignificance come the start of the Premier League campaign. However, it does show that the team is at least headed on the right track and to lift a trophy at the start of a new season does wonders for confidence, especially when you add to that the imminent arrival of Pogba to inject much needed flair and creativeness into the midfield.

The real hard work starts next week with a long away trip to Bournemouth to kick-start the new season. By that time we can expect some slight changes to the squad and it will be interesting to see the team that Mourinho decides to put out against the Cherries.

Until then thanks for reading.

Miles Dunton.