Category Archives: Reviews

Man Utd’s Overall Progression Under Mourinho

There have been many articles showing how much Man Utd has progressed under Jose Mourinho since the dark days of Moyes and LvG. However, just how much have Man Utd progressed and where has the progression been made? Is the improvement mainly in attack, or is it the defence?The answer may shock a few people.

Man Utd have scored a significant amount of goals so far this season, and kept the most clean sheets in the league. Does that mean we’re more clinical in front of goal compared to previous seasons? Are the strikers more accurate? How about the defence; are the defenders pulling their weight or are we relying too much on the best goalkeeper in the world?

Let’s start with the overall performance: Focusing on win percentage, chances per game and goals per game compared to the previous five seasons.
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Starting with the win percentage, Man Utd have been on a steady decline since LvG’s first season up to and including Mourinho’s first season. This season has seen the win percentage rocket from 47% last season (lowest ever) to 72% which is the best since Ferguson was in charge.

Chances and goals per game have both also shot up to the highest numbers we’ve seen since we last won the league. In most other season’s, Man Utd would be top of the league with the points we have, goals we’ve scored and win rate. It’s just unfortunate that our arch rivals are having a freakish season, but fans need to look past it and trust that we’re on the right path.

Next are stats specifically on the strikers: Comparing how many shots per game they’re getting off, how accurate they are with those shots and what percentage they’re converting to goals.
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To save any confusion, the axis on the left hand side of the graph is purely for the shot accuracy (the red line). The shots per game and shot conversion % are both using the right hand axis for the numbers.

Man Utd had a hat full of shots last season, but they also had the worst shot conversion rate (9.1%) of any Premier League season. Fortunately this season it has shot up to one of the best conversion rate of 16.5% of all shots at goal finding the back of the net. Shot accuracy (% shots on target) has steadily improved over Jose Mourinho’s watch. Our attackers have really improved under this management.

Onto the defenders: Mourinho is renowned for his defensive discipline and improving defenders to provide a solid base to play from. Knowing that if you score a goal the chances of you winning dramatically improve knowing the opposition will unlikely score. So how have they progressed?
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Let’s start with the goals conceded per game. This figure has steadily come down over the last six years and continues to do so this season. The defence isn’t leaking many goals at all, and with the strikers performing better this can only be a good thing.

However, let’s look at how clinical our defenders have been under Jose. The percentage of successful tackles has taken a drastic nose-dive. We’ve gone from averaging 75% successful tackles under Moyes and LvG to 67% over the last two seasons under Jose.

The result of poor tackling is more players getting through to shooting opportunities against our goal. So for our defence to continue to concede so few goals it’ll mean that David De Gea is being worked harder and saving more shots per game. Which is accurately reflected in the stats; he’s gone from saving 2.24 shots per game last season (a career low) to saving 3.83 shots per game this season (a career high).

The questions are: why is that? What’s happened to our defence this season to be so unsuccessful in tackling? It’s a problem that needs sorting out soon. Fans are calling for Man Utd to spend all the January budget on offensively minded players, which I agree we do need a better number 10: But perhaps we shouldn’t overlook the fact that the defenders are struggling this season and we may need an increase in defensive quality during the January market.

Progress is massive under Mourinho in such a short space of time. More wins, more goals, more chances, fewer goals conceded. Just need to improve tackling to save De Gea needing to make too many last ditch saves and risk conceding a greater number of goals in the future.

If this rate of progression continues, success is sure to follow!

Top Six Seasonal Form – When Does Form Peak and Plummet?

As we have seen so far this season, Man City’s form is relentless regarding winning a record run of games. This article will focus on the characteristics of the top six in terms of when they usually hit peak form, and when they go through bad patches.

How true are the rumours that Arsenal Bottle it after Xmas, and that Man Utd hit peak towards the end of the season? Let’s find out! All the stats here are based on fixtures over the last 10 years.

Manchester United
Let’s start with Man Utd’s average form over a season during the last 10 years. This is based on the points tally over a five game rolling period.
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Without teaching you to suck eggs, as you can read the graph yourself: Man Utd start slowly and grow into the league and have a mini peak going into the Christmas Period. Form generally drops in the New Year but still better than the start of the season; which is where Man Utd really find their form and peak during the crunch phase of the season. We then drop off significantly at the end of April which could be explained by either winning or losing the league with nothing left to play for.

Man Utd vs Man City
Man City have won the last 16 league matches in a row which in terms of any of their previous seasons is a freak run. Do Man Utd have any hope that this form will drop off in terms of usual form character over the last 10 years?
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There couldn’t be much more contrast between the two teams. Almost like a Yin and Yang…

Man City start the season well, but then drop off gradually up to and including the Christmas Period, they peak just after the New Year, then drastically drop off in Feb to the end of April. Then they have a sprint finish to the end of the season (last 5-7 games). Literally the opposite to Man Utd.

City’s bad form period is yet to come, they are currently entering peak form as a club and they usually drop off. Let’s hope that is the same this season. With Man Utd about to enter their form period there’s a hope we could still catch the current League leaders.

For interest, I’ll show how Man Utd’s form characteristics compare to the rest of the top six rivals and see if we’re likely to pull further away or get caught.

Let’s start with Arsenal to see if there’s any truth to the ‘Bottlers’ Banter.

Man Utd vs Arsenal
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Arsenal seem to have a triple peak, in both form and ‘bottling it’. The first plummet in form happened around this time of year then again at the crunch phase (Usually when they’re running away with it); and finally at the closing stages. Arsenal have been a team in the last 10 years that simply do not like being in front.

Man Utd vs Chelsea
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Chelsea’s form has a general gradual decline from the start of the season all the way to the New Year. It’s then when they start to pick up form and don’t drop off again until the end of the season, which seems to be a general trend for the top six (apart from Man City).

Man Utd vs Liverpool
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Liverpool’s form during the first half of the season is generally poor. The second half of the season is significantly better, so if Liverpool have a good start to a season they’ll be there or there abouts. Fortunately for Man Utd, that is not this season.

Man Utd vs Spurs
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Spurs peak in over Christmas but their form is poor both at the start and a gradual decline towards the end. If we don’t see Spurs react to the Man City loss and have a strong run during Christmas then they might not be in the running for top four.

To conclude, the Manchester Clubs are both performing above expected in terms of their run of form this season. However, with Man City’s form usually dropping off after Christmas, hopefully we can hang in there and start cutting the gap down.

As for Chelsea, the graph suggests they’ll be on Man Utd’s coat tails for the remainder of the season. If Man Utd don’t drop points in January, we could pull away. As for Spurs, Liverpool and Arsenal at this stage of the season and based on points difference and trends for the last 10 years I’d be very surprised if any of those teams passed us for the rest of the season.

Man City are obviously hot favourites being 11 points clear. However, based on past seasons that gap will certainly decrease by the end of the season. Second place will be between Chelsea and Man Utd, but based on stats, City will not drop to third from their current lead.

Bottom line, delusion or not, City’s form drops and Man Utd’s increases from January to the end of the season. Therefore City could be catchable. Man Utd need to keep chipping away and wait for the inevitable drop in Man City’s form to apply a bit of pressure.

Michael Oliver – Derby Ref (Advantage to Manchester….?)

Michael Oliver is once again the allocated referee during a season defining match for Man Utd. He’s had some big calls before that have affected games: Herrera’s bizarre red card against Chelsea, Everton’s last minute penalty and a red card for Chris Smalling, against (you guessed it) Man City!

Man Utd seem to have dropped a lot of points whilst Mr Oliver has been officiating, but then so have City; remember the famous 4-2 loss away to Leicester? Having said all that, who actually has the ‘advantage’ with Oliver in charge? I’ll be looking at overall results, goals for and against, penalties and cards.

Let’s start with the overall results with total goals for and against both teams in the last 10 matches when Oliver has taken charge (in all competitions):
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Man Utd and Man City have both lost three games and conceded 11 goals each from the last 10 matches Oliver was the referee. The matches lost for Man Utd were against Chelsea in the FA cup, Watford and Norwich in the league. For Man City, they recorded losses against Leicester, Crystal Palace and Manchester United.

Man City have won more matches and scored significantly more. However, there’s not a huge amount of difference between the two. Based solely on results you’d have to edge advantage towards Man City; but Man Utd have beaten fierce rivals Man City in the same period.

Next we’ll look at penalties for and against and disciplinary points for and against the two teams:
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Before we start, the disciplinary points are calculated from:
4pts for a yellow card.
10pts for a red card (two yellows).
12pts for a straight red.

From the same period of matches, Man Utd have suffered more disciplinary action and had less disciplinary action given against their opponents. Man City have benefited more from Michael Oliver’s card distribution; receiving less and their opponents being punished more than those against Man Utd.

In terms of penalties, Man Utd have been awarded half the number of penalties and conceded three times as many. Therefore, you’d have to say Man City are more likely to have decisions in their favour in terms of the big decisions like penalties and red cards, based on recent history.

Lastly the Manchester Derby results that Michael Oliver has officiated:
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Michael Oliver has refereed three Manchester Derbies during his career, and at the moment it’s 2-1 to Man City in terms of results. Man Utd also received a red card in the 2014/15 season in the derby but no penalties given to either team in any of the matches.

All things considered; results, head to heads, goals, penalties and bookings, you’d have to say that Man City has had more rub of the green with Michael Oliver in charge and should be the happier of the two teams with this appointment. However, with Man City having so much luck already this season, surely their luck is to run out soon. Could it be during this weekend’s match of the Goliath’s?

One thing’s for sure. Whenever Man Utd fan’s see Oliver’s name as the official in charge they shiver inside, especially a match as important as this weekend.

Is there an advantage/ disadvantage to having certain referee’s? Have your say below!

Fifteen Match Review – Man Utd Make More Ground

We’re approaching the half way point of the season; and from our position last season we had a lot of ground to make up on our top six rivals. We made great ground in the first five matches, then ended up 1 point worse off from the same fixtures last season during period; match week 6-10. So how did we get on during the last five matches in comparison to last season?

Result Comparison 2016/17 – 2017/18
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As you can see Man Utd have done exceptionally well in comparison to the same fixtures last season. Eight points better off and 14 goals better off in goal difference. Unfortunately we didn’t make it a perfect five games with the loss to Chelsea, but we still ended up 3 goals better off. Eight possible ‘bonus points’ from a potential 11 is a very good return.

From the first 15 matches, how many points and goal difference are teams better or worse off from the same fixtures they played last season. For ease relegated teams Hull City, Middlesbrough and Sunderland have been replaced by Newcastle, Brighton and Huddersfield respectively.

Here’s how clubs have compared:
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Despite Man City being the top and totalling an increase of 14 points compared to fixtures last season; during the last five matches, Man Utd have actually closed the gap on City by three points and 10 goals. We’ve increased the gap on Spurs, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool by; 16 pts, 8pts, 8pts and 6pts respectively. Which means, if all remaining fixtures were to be exactly the same as last season, the top of the table would look pretty tight.

This is how the table will look from the changes in the first 15 games if the remaining results remained the same as 16/17:
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As we can see, Man Utd have jumped from a theoretical sixth place after game week 10 to third place after game week 15. We’re heading in the right direction, just need to keep this positive momentum going!

What points can Man Utd make up in the next five fixtures from last season?
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Some tricky fixtures, but there’s only one that really stands out: Man Utd vs Man City. If we beat them on the weekend, it’ll cut the gap at the top of the theoretical table from 12 points to 6 points. This is quite literally a six pointer for the top of the table. Fingers crossed we come out on the right side.

From the next five matches we could gain an extra seven points on last season! How many do you think we are likely to achieve?

Have your say below!

Progression Under Mourinho is Clear – Stats Don’t Lie

As the start of the season has developed and Man Utd having one of their best ever starts to a Premier League season; fans appear to be falling foul of the media’s spin and misleading headlines. However, the stats don’t lie and I’m here to shed some light on the progression made so far this season.

This time last season, Mourinho had the fan’s full support. We understood the situation and the gravitas of the task that Jose had to undertake to turn our team around. Three years of backwards pedalling, poor transfers and negative tactics ingrained in the players DNA, of course it was going to take time. As Jose said at the time, ‘It would be easier to have 22 new players and start from zero.’

He had to delete LvG’s ‘philosophy’ and then start putting his own tactical awareness into the players, and not default to the negative tactics we saw under Van Gaal. Fans completely understood and appreciated it, and supported the manager fully both on and off the pitch regardless. It resulted in Man Utd’s worse ever start in the Premier League Era, but it was about longevity and long term progression; we knew progress was being made and results would turn around in the next few seasons.

How does this season’s start compare to seasons since we last won the title?
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This season we have won double the matches compared to the same point last season. 11 more points on the table, higher position, better form, less loses and a lot less draws. We’ve gone from being fully behind the manager during the worst ever start, to (some fans) slating him during our best start to a season since we won the title; and we’re not even far off that!

Is it the ‘negative tactics’?

Let’s compare goals for and against over the same period:
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Our goal difference is eight times better than this time last season and one of the best we’ve ever had at this stage of the season during the Premier League Era. The last time this was surpassed was during the 2000/01 season when the GD after 14 matches was 26; 17 years ago!

We have conceded half the goals compared to last season, scoring 13 more goals. What more do fans expect? You only have to look at last season to see how far we’ve come. Quite literally the worst start to the season last year in terms of points, goals scored and goal difference, to the best we’ve seen since Ferguson.

Just to drive home the point, let’s look at the team’s discipline in recent years:
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Not only are Man Utd winning more, scoring more and conceding less this season; our disciplinary record has also drastically improved. The disciplinary points over the first 14 games has almost halved in the space of one season: Once again, going from the worst start to the best over the last 6 seasons. This proves our defence is not only conceding less, but they’re more clinical in their tackling and positioning.

I hope that the Man Utd fans out there who have been crying for Mourinho’s departure, start to realise that despite what the press are saying, Jose is doing a fantastic job. The title will be back at Old Trafford soon with him at the helm. For those looking over the road, remember; it’s a marathon not a sprint. Their momentum is unsustainable and it’ll catch up with them; if not this season, then next.

Jose has delivered better attack, better defence and better discipline. Start fully supporting your team, start backing our world class manager!

The Great Dane

Having a superb goalkeeper is integral if a team wishes to be successful and compete for all the major trophies. In particular, if said team plays with the attacking potency and abandon which United did over the 1990s, where he will often be left isolated as the entire team swarmed forward in a marauding and cavalier fashion in search of goals, points and ultimately, trophies he has to be of the greatest quality.  Peter Schmeichel is considered by many as the greatest Premier League goalkeeper of all time because of his match winning contributions through saves and also the peerless way in which he distributed the ball with feet or with one of his infamous, pinpoint, accurate long throws.  A save from an Ian Wright header which would have beaten lesser mortals was quite simply supreme, the striker going so far as to acknowledge it by clapping his own hands together in appreciation for the athleticism and ability showcased. The goalkeepers whom we had subsequently to Schmeichel which included the likes of Mark Bosnich, Massimo Taibi and Roy Carroll before Edwin Van Der Sar arrived showed, in particular, the irreplaceable quality and assurance which Schmeichel offered United.

For most people, the crowning moment in Schmeichel‘s United career was the penalty save against Dennis Bergkamp in the FA Cup Semi Final in 1999. Although Giggs’ incredible wonder strike stole the headlines and remains the enduring moment of the match, had Schmeichel not kept out the Dutchman’s penalty in injury time the unprecedented Treble would have never been.  I have watched the save multiple times and still get the goose bumps at such a poignant moment, where a historic achievement could have been thwarted. However, the Great Dane clawed us back from the precipice of defeat and also ensured that the widely regarded best strike in FA Cup History took place.  Schmeichel has since revealed that he was unaware that it was the final minute of the match and of the immense import of the save. United down to ten men at that juncture, famously rallied driven on from the precipice of defeat, former national team mate Brian Laudrup explains his influence and personality on those he played with:

“The best ever. Peter’s charisma and character could change the game. His spirit spread to the rest of the team. Strong in the air, great reflexes and brilliant in one-on-ones. A true winner.”

Schmeichel was a colossus; a leader of men who would bark instructions at his defenders to ensure they remained vigilant and reinforce he was the unquestioned commander of his own penalty area. Schmeichel had a combative personality which intimidated strikers he faced and bred the respect that his immense talent deserved.  Opponents often recount how Schmeichel’s presence gave United an aura of invincibility and impregnability, he was a giant of a man physically who knew how to fully impose himself upon those around him. As Roy Keane recounts, Schmeichel was one of the rare few who stood up to him which flared up into the infamous scrap between the pair. Simply put, Schmeichel possessed an innate bravery and drive that earned him the immense respect and esteem which his team mates held him in. His defenders allowed him to vent so vehemently when they made mistakes because of his prodigious talent which so often saved their skins and atoned for their errors.

When Schmeichel was bought, it was for £505,000 which Sir Alex Ferguson was to describe later as “the bargain of the century”. Although his first season with United was tinged with disappointment given that we finished runners up, this was mitigated by League Cup glory and that summer Schmeichel was to play an integral part in Denmark’s greatest international football achievement, winning Euro 92. This cemented Schmeichel’s reputation and standing as the world’s premier goalkeeper, as he made his usual string of important saves. Furthermore, in the following season, 92-93, United were to break their title hoodoo, finally vanquishing demons and ghosts with their guardian between the posts contributing significantly, accruing a total of 22 clean sheets.  Schmeichel was a keeper who was worth his weight in gold and indeed in points as Ryan Giggs attests:

“Goalkeepers win you games sometimes, and Peter Schmeichel won more games than any other goalkeeper I’ve ever seen.”

In the following season, Schmeichel again showed his fiery temperament and tenacity when he argued strongly with Sir Alex Ferguson. The words exchanged were so terrible indeed that Sir Alex fired the Dane but subsequently reinstated him when he eavesdropped on Schmeichel’s apology to his colleagues.  In training, these colleagues had all experienced Schmeichel’s wrath, of course, in particular over any aberrations which might cause him to face a shot, never mind having to pick the ball up out of the back of the net. Absolutely inexcusable in his book were players who attempted to chip him, he would retaliate to such affronts venomously and with interest, hurling the ball straight at the offending miscreant who dared to commit such a cardinal sin.

Schmeichel was an unorthodox keeper in many regards, part of his speciality was in making the ridiculous look stupendous, for instance the classic star jump save which he counted amongst his goalkeeping repertoire which although looked decidedly ungainly came to the rescue on more than one occasion, most notably for the incredible save to deny Inter Milan striker Zamorano in the Champions League Quarter Final in 99.  Schmeichel’s clean sheet was of paramount importance and other concerns were of secondary relevance in the serious business of winning matches and trophies for the Great Dane. For someone who was so tall, Schmeichel could also be devastatingly quick and agile which really helped in those one on one situations, a striker looking to set himself would already find Schmeichel upon him before he had time to blink many times. This asset was very beneficial for United, as was an unparalleled shot stopping ability where he saved shots which he had no right to, tearing up and rewriting goalkeeping manuals on theories of the possible and impossible. Schmeichel’s method of communication with his colleagues whilst on the pitch is infamous, straining his vocal cords, every sinew in his neck showing as he marshaled his troops from the back. As he recounts himself in a game situation usual social niceties and graces had to take a back seat, with the fast paced nature of the beautiful game necessitating urgent actions at critical times. Some players who played with Schmeichel recount that he seemed almost managerial in his shouting, especially sometimes when the volume on the pitch was so loud the manager could scarcely be heard. Schmeichel explains that he felt it helped to reassure his team mates that he was there and fully engaged and ready to be called upon at a moment’s notice.

In 1996, Schmeichel became involved in a controversial incident where he was accused of making racist remarks towards Ian Wright during a typically heated game between Arsenal and United. However, eventually after much speculation and consideration no evidence was found and the case was dropped.  Schmeichel was someone who was outspoken and wore his heart on his sleeve. There would be no shirking his duty or hiding from situations. In training, he would play with the outfield players in control and dribbling drills, it was very important not only to foster greater camaraderie with his fellow United players but also so that they could appreciate and rely upon his ball skills. Schmeichel himself has often said that intelligence, knowledge and understanding as a keeper is the greatest skill which one can have in that position, knowing what your role is and appreciating the role of the team and their objectives. As the seasons of Schmeichel’s United career wore on he inevitably gained greater experience of what his job entailed and knew what permutations or eventualities he would encounter.  As former team mate Teddy Sheringham describes, even in training Schmeichel’s ability seemed absolutely supernatural:

“Awesome. He’s one of those players you didn’t like facing, but loved having in your team. Peter just fills the goal. Thinking back to my first year at Man United, when I struggled, maybe I should have trained against the reserve keepers instead. It’s so hard to score against him, psychologically it might have boosted my confidence to get away from him for a while!”

Schmeichel’s focus was legendary, he had a singular frame of mind during a game, he likens this to a kind of arrogance where you tell yourself you have never made a mistake, this mindset means you have a subliminal expectation or anticipation that your game will be flawless, lending itself in turn to a supreme confidence in your own abilities. However for opponents this mentality bred a respect and appreciation of Schmeichel, as John Barnes, who whilst playing for Newcastle had had a superb header somehow clawed out by Schmeichel miraculously, effuses:

“Simply one of the greatest goalkeepers of all time. [ . . . ] There are goalkeepers with presence who aren’t much good, but Schmeichel had both presence and raw ability. He was a great shot-stopper and a fine taker of crosses, he read the game superbly, he commanded his box. There hasn’t been a better player in the Premiership.”

In Schmeichel’s final season for United, he achieved ultimate glory as the club won the unprecedented Treble, securing him the greatest send off he could have hoped for. During key matches as ever, Schmeichel was omnipresent, making save after save and showing immaculate distribution as the United team cut down all foes that stood in their way. In particular his long throw was absolutely sublime, almost like a regular keeper’s kick such was its power and panache in launching some of the devastating counter attacks of that season. In the Champions League Final Schmeichel was to make save after save, including one where he had to use every inch of his towering frame to tip a Effenberg lob over his goal, keeping the score to within a goal, before the most amazing injury time the European Cup has ever seen. For the Sheringham equaliser, Schmeichel finally caused a chink in the legendary German organisation of Bayern Munich, when he raced up to join in with the corner. As the ball came across, he leapt for it but the ball evaded him and was half cleared to Giggs’ whose right footed shot was turned in by Sheringham grabbing the equaliser from the jaws of defeat. Of course moments later United won another corner and Schmeichel this time stayed in his own box. As Solskjaer gleefully prodded the ball into the roof of the net, the Great Dane, captain for the night, allowed himself a momentary exhilarating celebratory indulgence with joyous acrobatics which make up another piece of the glorious tapestry of that season and the night no United fan will ever forget.

It must be said that Peter Schmeichel is a United legend, he was simply an absolutely outstanding goalkeeper who provided the resolute foundation for the unparalleled success which the club enjoyed during the Nineties with so many Premier League and FA Cup glories, as well as the jewel in the crown of the Champions League in his final game for the club. He provided an inspiration to all young goalkeepers amateur and professional, including Oliver Kahn, for example and was someone who had a plethora of talents that beggared belief but which United fans and his colleagues adored and revered.  He was someone who had exceptional standards and who achieved those every day with a drive, desire and commitment which puts him in the ultimate bracket of goalkeepers who played the game, it is so singularly rare to find a keeper who has so many extraordinary talents and who showed a calmness and composure at the highest level reaching the pinnacle in his final outing for Manchester United. United were to struggle for many years to find a goalkeeper once the Great Dane had left, before Van Der Sar came along but in truth they would always find it hard to replace the greatest goalkeeper the Premier League has ever seen and arguably as Sir Alex Ferguson extols here the greatest there has ever been:

“I don’t believe a better goalkeeper played the game. He is a giant figure in the history of Manchester United.”

Ruthless Ruud

During my time watching Manchester United, there has been one goal machine that stands above all others, a man who had a finishing style unmatched by others who have worn a Red Devils’ shirt. When he first arrived in a United shirt, he wondered why fans were booing him whenever he scored before he was informed that there were merely acclaiming him through his first name. This was to be a sound that would punctuate United matches with an alarming regularity and alacrity. The man, of whom I speak, is indubitably, Ruud Van Nistelrooy. The Dutch striker was simply a phenomenal finisher, a man who was born to score goals, who knew how to garner an extra yard of space at the key time to arrive precisely when he needed to, in order to supply a deft finishing touch to a move.  When you listen to him talk you are aware that he is a clever man and that it is perhaps this quality married with his astonishing finishing ability which led rise to his iconic and legendary status at Manchester United. Van Nistelrooy scored 150 goals in only 219 games for United, which is quite simply extraordinary, demonstrating how easily and repeatedly he found the net and how difficult it was for opponents to prevent him scoring. This goals per game ratio of 0.68 is superior to any of the top ten all time United scorers currently, showing his efficiency and effectiveness as a goal scorer.  As Louis Saha articulates Van Nistelrooy was an unbelievable striker with a wide arsenal of skills:

 “He has the ultimate mentality of a striker. He’s always concentrating so he can be in the right position to anticipate a pass or be in the right place to receive it. That’s what makes him so effective. There is nobody in the world like him. David Trezeguet is a similar player but he doesn’t have the same quality, control and technique. Ruud keeps control of the ball with three players trying to get it off him. He is the complete forward.”


Van Nistelrooy was first rumoured to come to United in 2000 however injury difficulties made the move impossible at that juncture and he made the transfer a year later, for a then hefty sum of 19 million pounds. His scoring form at PSV Eindhoven, albeit in the Dutch league, had already gained him a fearsome reputation, having bagged 62 goals in 67 appearances for the side.  In his first season for United in 2001-2 he enjoyed incredible success, scoring in his debuts in the Charity Shield and the League and scoring 23 goals in 32 league games, form of such a high calibre which earned him the PFA Players’ Player of the Year accolade on the back of his sterling efforts in his maiden season. He was always looking to improve, as Van Nistelrooy admits it was important for him to visualize where he wanted to go and what he wanted to achieve and this would have helped to spur him onto greater heights in the following seasons. Often, he would look at his abilities and achievements in a self critical way as only the top players will do and he particularly admires those players who had this kind of authentic, down to earth mentality. Players who did not get too hung up on the materialistic riches which football had to offer but instead conducted themselves in a professional and considered manner, with the game their primary focus. To this end, the player Van Nistelrooy mentions to exemplify these traits is Paul Scholes, someone who didn’t conduct interviews and whose stylistic approach was a simple hoodie and jeans for training, yet a player whom Ruud describes as one of the best the world has ever seen.

The following season, he won the Golden Boot, one strike ahead of his erstwhile rival for the award Thierry Henry and won the Player of the Season, as he appeared to be going from strength to strength. In particular it was his passion, desire, drive and determination to score as many as possible which further outlined his appetite for goals, scoring three hat tricks in the League that year. When we contemplate our current predicament, that it is now four and a half years since someone in a United shirt scored a league hat trick, you truly begin to appreciate what a remarkable and skilled striker Van Nistelrooy truly was. His goal against Fulham where he ran from the halfway line from this season is a moment Van Nistelrooy himself admits was the most exceptional point of his career, as a footballer he says you had to know what you were good at and what your limitations are and focus on those strengths, that was why he concentrated on scoring inside the box, where he was at his most dangerous and ruthless. Van Nistelrooy opines that the best player he played with was Brazilian Ronaldo at Real Madrid, as those types of goals were more of his standard and that Ronaldo had a far more natural ability in those types of situations that he did. Another noteworthy aspect of Van Nistelrooy’s scoring efforts was his Continental strike rate, in other words how predatory he was in Europe. He had further improved upon his ten Champions league goals the season prior with another twelve which earned him UEFA’s seal of approval with the epithet of the best striker in Europe.

By scoring in the first couple of matches of the 2003-04 season Van Nistelrooy had scored in ten consecutive league matches, a record which was to stand for over a decade before Vardy overtook it. At the time, Van Nistelrooy couldn’t have been more gracious in ceding the record to the Leicester front man publicly saying that records were there to be broken. This shows what a classy, considerate and thoughtful gentleman Van Nistelrooy truly is, in how he portrays himself through his intelligent words and actions.  Of course, Van Nistelrooy was also at the centre of the Battle of Old Trafford, missing a last minute penalty which would have won United the game; he was then attacked by Martin Keown as tempers bubbled up and players were caught up in the cavalcade of emotions of the fierce rivalry between Red Devils and Gunners. Vieira, who had been sent off earlier for a second bookable offence on Van Nistelrooy accused him of cheating and many players received censure for their part in the proceedings. Van Nistelrooy recounted later that he was scarcely aware of what was happening around him so devastated and surprised at missing the penalty.  Roy Keane sums up the respect and standards to which Van Nistelrooy held himself to and the esteem in which he held him:

“I would never have expected Ruud Van Nistelrooy to miss a penalty. Because Ruud Van Nistelrooy was brilliant. Ruud was the best finisher, ever, but especially in one on one situations, just the keeper to beat. When Ruud was going through one on one, I never doubted him. Some players would be going, “******* hell – hard and low? Or dink it over?”, but when Ruud was through there might as well have been no goalkeeper.

The season ended in FA Cup glory with Van Nistelrooy bagging a brace, once more showcasing further proof of his big game mentality and temperament.

Although the 2004-5 was one hampered by injury problems for Van Nistelrooy which were to dog him through the remainder of his career, he still continued scoring regularly and there can have been fewer goals sweeter than the penalty he scored against Arsenal at Old Trafford which ended the Invincibles’ unbeaten run.  Redemption of the highest quality had been rendered and the misery of the previous year had been replaced with the sweet joy of victory over the bitterest of rivals. As he recounts later when he reviewed his celebration it was slightly embarrassingly vociferous but in taking the penalty Van Nistelrooy provided further firm substantiation that he had a superb mentality, resilience and fortitude in the most important moments. Van Nistelrooy was retrospectively suspended for three games due to a foul on Ashley Cole which the officials had missed but the feeling of accomplishment could not have been dampened by such trivialities. The season was a disappointing one in terms of trophies accumulated, with a rare year where none were gained due to United somehow contriving to lose an FA Cup Final against Arsenal which we absolutely dominated in every aspect until the penalty shootout.

In the final season, 2005-06, of Van Nistelrooy’s time at United despite considerable time on the bench, he finished second highest scorer in the league to Henry. He was being punished for a falling out with Cristiano Ronaldo where had told the Portuguese to “Go crying to your daddy”. This had been a thinly veiled jibe at the closeness of Ronaldo’s bond with assistant coach Carlos Queiroz, but Ronaldo having lost his father a mere 8 months earlier mistakenly assumed it was in reference to his and, understandably, burst into floods of tears.  That summer, Van Nistelrooy made the move to Real Madrid to the despair and disappointment of his team mates, notably Rio Ferdinand who had this to say regarding the Dutchman when picking his all time United eleven:

“[Van Nistelrooy] was the most devastating finisher I have ever played with. We could win a game by three or four goals but, if he hadn’t scored, he would sulk. But in order to become a world-beating striker like Ruud, you need to have that attitude. He lived and breathed goals. I tried to make him stay through speaking to his agent but it was too late. One of the big disappointments in my time at Manchester United was seeing the club let him go.

When asked directly about whether he regrets moving to Real Madrid at the time he did, given the incredible success United were to enjoy in the years directly following this, Van Nistelrooy is quite honest in saying that he wouldn’t have missed out on the opportunity that Real Madrid presented him with. This he says was a new, fresh challenge, an opportunity to test himself once again, since he had fallen into a comfort zone at United. His levels he believes were 1 or 2% lower than they had been, particularly in his final season and for a footballer even such small increments are vital at the highest level of the professional game. What is obvious when he talks of United is his understanding of how we are meant to play, with an attacking adventure and verve that was characteristic of time at United, when players were allowed to express themselves and there is a clear understanding of the United way of playing and how much he reveled in how this particular style allowed him so much service to supplement his incredible goal tally for the Red Devils.

Ruud Van Nistelrooy was a hero for many fans during his time at the club, not least my brother who purchased his shirt. He was so intelligent, so reliable, composed and unique, a special talent whom United were incredibly lucky to have.  He epitomized everything that you could want in a striker, someone who’s myriad of abilities and attributes were coupled with an understanding of a forward’s role in terms of runs and spaces which was simply outstanding. Not just that but Van Nistelrooy helped fire United to success during a relatively lean period, between Champions League successes, with Premier League, League Cup and FA Cups won, whilst Sir Alex was in the middle of a rebuilding process centred around the two prodigious young talents of Rooney and Ronaldo.  Sir Alex Ferguson himself thought Van Nistelrooy was in a class of his own and it seems fitting to allow our legendary manager the final words on the greatest goal machine United have ever had:

“Ruud van Nistelrooy has been the best – without doubt the best finisher we have ever had at this club. We have had some brilliant centre forwards at United…….But van Nistelrooy has been the best, absolutely the best finisher. If I had played alongside Ruud the problem would have been getting a chance ahead of him.”


Ten Match Review – Have We Made Any Ground on Last Season?

We’ve hit the 10 match milestone in the season, and as Rio says this is where you can start getting your baring on how the season is starting to unfold.

As we saw from the five match review earlier this season, United made some great progress against the rest of the top six (with the exception of Manchester City): Gaining nine points on Spurs and six points on Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool from the same set of fixtures last season.

How did match week 6-10 go compared to the same fixtures last season? (As in the 5 match review, the teams relegated have been replaced by the teams promoted in the order of league finishes).
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Man Utd dropped one point and one goal worse off from last season over the results of the last 5 matches in comparison with the same fixture last season. There was only a maximum of four points we could have gained by beating Southampton and Liverpool, which were both draws last season. However, the big setback was the shock defeat away against Huddersfield.

This is how all the teams in the Premiership have compared since last season. Who has improved over the first 10 matches, and who is really struggling?
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Watford are the only team that is better off by over 10 points in comparison to last season. West Brom, West Ham and Everton are all really struggling so far this season. Regarding the top six only one team is worse off in comparison and that’s Chelsea, being 8 points worse off and 9 goals worse off in terms of goal difference and that’s a result of a drop of goals scored.

Man Utd are still doing well and are still on course to at least challenge for the title. We’ve gained three points from a possible eight since the start of the season; therefore on the same ratio we would gain 17 points giving us 86 points in total by the end of the season – enough to win the league? It’ll certainly be enough to challenge.

Updated Top Six Table (If the rest of the results remain the same as 16/17)
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Man Utd have already cut the 24 point deficit to last season’s champions Chelsea to 13 points (Almost half in only 10 games!). We’re gaining on most of the teams above and we will continue to improve on last season’s ‘drosses’ against teams we should have been beating last season.

What points could be gained in the next five games?
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Four of the next five fixtures Man Utd dropped points last season which means if we do well we could gain a maximum of 11 points which is a significant amount in terms of the season. Big five games coming up and it won’t be easy; but looking at the fixtures, they’re all very winnable games (especially with Mourinho’s tactical ability to get one over on any manager in the league.)

Onwards an upwards. Let’s keep the wins coming, ticking off the points, improving on last season’s results and start to build the pressure on our title rivals! Can’t wait for the weekend!

Which Club is Suffering the Most with Injuries?

With Marcus Rashford joining the long list of injuries Man Utd currently have; it got me thinking about how we compare to the rest of the league, and which manager has the most right to ‘cry’ over injuries

Manchester United currently have Rashford, Fellaini, Bailly, Carrick, Pogba, Zlatan and Rojo on the injury table. All of these players are big misses and could all find themselves in the match day squad on a regular bases.

Let’s take a look at how the other Premier League teams are currently affected by injuries and how Man Utd is suffering in comparison. ‘Top Six’ teams are highlighted:

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Injury Table as of 18 Oct 17

Man Utd is currently the worst off in terms of injuries; so if anyone has the right to ‘cry’ over injuries, it’s Mourinho. The only silver lining is that we play Huddersfield on the weekend who are also going through a tough injury spell with 6 players on the side-lines.

According to multiple sources we should have Pogba back by the time we play Spurs in just over a week, with a chance of Fellaini and Bailly being back in contention too. Fingers crossed!

Hopefully we get players back soon as we are starting to look very thin on the bench with very few players that could make the difference. On to Huddersfield next, let’s go for another win and keep this great start going to the Season.

Bizarre goalkeeping mistake gifts United win over Benfica

An inexplicable error from Benfica goalkeeper Mile Svilar handed Jose Mourinho’s side victory in a game of few chances in Lisbon.

Jose Mourinho made his return to the Estadio de Luz, his first game at the stadium since he was in charge of Porto in 2004, with Manchester United looking to maintain their lead at the top of Group A. It turned out to be a comfortable night for United who dominated possession, however lacked creativity in an unconvincing display against an opposition who were without a win in 5 games in all competitions.

The United manager made 4 changes to his side who held Liverpool to Anfield on Saturday. Ex Benfica man Victor Lindelof and Marcus Rashford returned to the starting 11 as Mourinho matched Benfica coach Rui Vitória’s 4 3 3 formation, with another former Benfica player Nemanja Matic in the defensive midfield role.

United struggled in the opening exchanges, with Benfica pressing in numbers in a compact setup. Possession was given up countless times in the first thalf from United who lacked composure on the ball. The first real chance of the game went to the home side who created an opening on the left-hand side through impressive fullback Alex Grimaldo, who has previously been heavily linked to the Mourinho’s side. His cross was blazed over on the run by Argentine winger Eduardo Salvio, who looked the most potent attacking threat in the first half an hour.

It took United 36 minutes to muster their first shot on target, a Nemanja Matic shot that was routinely saved by Benfica’s goalkeeper after a powerful run from the Serbian midfielder. The biggest chance of the first half fell to Henrikh Mkhitayran shortly after, however his wasteful attempt with options either side of him epitomised a poor first half from United. Mkhitayran and Juan Mata were uncharachterisically careless in possession which meant striker Romelu Lukaku was starved of any meaningful service.

United came out in the second half with more attacking impetus, pushing Benfica’s resolute defence towards their own goal. However, a cutting edge was still lacking. Passes in the final third provided no penetration and a clear-cut chance was yet to be made. Benfica, on the other hand were very poor in possession as Nemanja Matic and Ander Herrera quickly broke up the play in the midfield as the Portuguese side attempted to break.

Early in the second half, Mourinho’s men perhaps looked most promising when they had a corner. Belgium under 19 goalkeeper Svilar looked highly unconvincing on more than one occasion, flapping at the ball with no real assurance or confidence. United’s best chance to win the match looked to be by targeting the goalkeeper who was making history by becoming the youngest ever goalkeeper to play in the Champions League at 18 years old, breaking Real Madrid legend Iker Casillas’ record.

Svilar’s huge error came in the 65th minute of the match as United were starting to look more promising. A hopeful free kick sent in by Marcus Rashford was judged horrendously by the goalkeeper who’s suspect positioning meant he caught the ball before crossing his own line.

The game was a procession ever since the first goal went in with a United victory looking the only outcome. Mourinho’s defence was rarely troubled despite Benfica moving to two strikers with Brazilian striker Jonas coming on for the Portuguese side. The striker didn’t threaten David De Gea’s goal; the Spaniard had a quiet night in Lisbon. United’s win takes them to 9 points in Group A in what is turning out to be a comfortable group for Jose Mourinho’s men. Next, they play the return leg against Benfica at Old Trafford in a fortnight in what is likely to be another straight forward victory. However, they could be without teenager Marcus Rashford who limped off injured, a big concern to Mourinho who is already without the likes of Paul Pogba, Eric Bailly and Marouane Fellaini.