Time to Stand Up

Time to stand up Manchester UnitedSo it’s a Monday morning after a United defeat. Thinking how poorly we played and how the Everton game panned out very different to how we imagined it? Yep, me too.

However, I’m sure we would all be feeling a hell of a lot worse if our great rivals over in Merseyside had won. If Liverpool had indeed beaten West Brom, as well as their game in hand against Hull, they would have only been two points behind us with four games to play. That would have well and truly been squeaky bum time for all of us! Thankfully they didn’t win and Hull look in better shape after their win over Palace at the weekend.

Having said all that, my thoughts turn once again back to the game. Van Gaal’s comments after the game were very frank and honest: “I had already the feeling and my colleagues Ryan Giggs and Albert Stuivenberg had the feeling because the warm up was not so good as usual.” I don’t know about you, but that’s worrying to me. Sure, Liverpool didn’t win and things are looking positive in terms of us securing that all important top 4 place, but United sides of the past have been ruthless and had the conviction to smell blood and do the job. This side faltered pretty woefully. The complacency was obvious. That cannot happen at this level.

I watched the game back last night and can honestly say that we were well beaten. In every department. Many will argue we had plenty of possession but it goes back to the old saying “It’s not how much of the ball you have, it’s what you do with it that counts”. The game was fairly similar to the Chelsea one but the reality is that Everton were better than Chelsea and we were far, far worse.

Questions will be asked about the current crop. They’ve all been in pretty good form but the last two games felt like they’ve hit a bit of a wall. Perhaps some freshness in the side will do us good, or an injection of pace in Di Maria. He obviously hasn’t been in great form himself, but when he’s hardly playing and lacking confidence, you can’t expect miracles. Carrick’s absence is a huge blow for us. It’s not a coincidence that in the last two games where we’ve been poor and he hasn’t played. However, it’s pretty damning that we have to rely on a 34 year old.

Looking ahead to West Brom, a response is required. It’s time to stand up and be counted. A mentality this club has been superb at and needs to again. We still have that cushion over the chasing pack but we need to do our own job. Let’s hope the lads raise their game and get those all-important 3 points in the next game.

by Ben Smith @bensmith130

Manchester United Transfer News – Pogba Won’t Return

Paul Pogba to Manchester United?Manchester United have the money to compete with PSG, Man City and Real Madrid if they want to. Now repeat that back and let it sink in, because it’s true and it sounds nice doesn’t it? After last August’s transfer escapades we find ourselves in this exciting period where we just don’t know who will come in next – who can forget that last minute Falcao signing, even if it hasn’t worked out liked we’d all hoped. On top of the financial muscle to match anyone we also have a great history and support and a manager who has us playing some of the best football in Europe right now. It’s a fact. No player out there is unobtainable. So who do you want to see come in?

If it was down to me it would be Clyne/Coleman, Varane, Strootman, Pogba, Depay and Lacazette. All are achievable and in their differing ways required but in reality I’d be surprised to see us bring in another six players unless we can offload a similar amount – Evans, Rafael, Cleverley, Nani, Powell, Hernandez maybe?

Another player I think we’d be in for if they’re available is Bale or Ronaldo. It’s a big if but in this new era at United one of those two is exactly the sort of statement I believe United are looking to make this summer. We spent big last summer to get top four. We’ll spend big this summer to win the lot.

So which of the above players are likely to come off? Depay and Clyne are done deals and I’d expect them to be signed early on in the summer. Both will bring much needed youth and talent in their positions and both are from clubs and backgrounds that will fit in with the new possession based way of playing LVG demands at United. Varane is unlikely, he’s playing for Madrid and there’s no indication that they want to sell or he wants to move. I expect Hummels will be the player we end up with, there are a few concerns that Klopp could sign him for his new club and if he ends up at City then I’d expect Hummels to follow him there but if it’s Liverpool Hummels isn’t going to want to miss out on Champions League football at his age.

Strootman is interesting, he’s exactly the sort of box to box midfielder we need but the knee problems are a big red flag. Out with a cruciate injury for nine months Strootman was only back playing seven games when another knee injury finished his season. If there’s a better option out there then we should be going all out for them but Van Gaal has a soft spot for Strootman like Sir Alex had for Van Nistelrooy after his knee injury at PSV. And look how that panned out.

Which leaves us with Pogba, Lacazette and Bale/Ronaldo. Lacazette probably won’t happen, he’s all set to sign a new deal with Lyon and there hasn’t been much interest from United. The reason I’d welcome him to Old Trafford is because he’s two footed, quick and a lethal finisher. If he could transfer those abilities to our league then we’d have a forward on our hands we haven’t seen at United since the days of Andy Cole or Bebe. United with a quick lethal finisher would be unstoppable.

Now for Paul Pogba. Pogba to Manchester United should happen but I fear it won’t. Stick Pogba in the Fellaini position and he would take us from a top four side to champions instantly. He has the physicality and aerial threat United fans adore Fellaini for but more importantly Pogba can pass the ball off both feet, run with the ball at speed and finish from distance. He’s the perfect upgrade on Fellaini’s limitations and exactly what United need in that position but I can’t see it happening for one reason. Manchester United won’t want to embarrass themselves by signing a sixty million player they let go for free a couple of years ago.

And it was embarrassing.  We all worship Sir Alex but the Pogba thing was regrettable. The past is the past though and if it’s pride holding us back we should shove that aside and pay the money because Pogba at United would be sensational and I truly believe he has it in him to be World Class.

As for Bale or Ronaldo. If they were available I firmly believe United would go all out to get them. No question. Whether they are available I doubt. Bale I suspect will want to do at least another year in Madrid before coming back and Ronaldo is the best player in the world living the lifestyle in a sunny climate. Having said that, there’s a big part of me that just can’t see Ronaldo and Bale being in the same Madrid team next year….

Now it’s over to YOU! Comment below and give us your thoughts.

Can Fan Opinion Change?

Manchester United Fans opinionCan fan opinion change, or are we all just waiting for the next media bandwagon to pick us up? By Martin Peart

If the last two seasons have taught us anything it’s that change is difficult to deal with, we have been spoilt with success for over 25 years and have just had to witness things go from good to bad overnight. Manchester United fans have documented this all too well. I’m not about to say that the Moyes era is something as a United fan I enjoyed but it is something that has triggered a large number of bandwagons to come sweeping across social media picking up passengers left right and centre.

As a 28 year old fan of Manchester United I supported the club under one manager, I treat football with an open mind and try to avoid making judgement without considering all of the facts. So when Sir Alex Ferguson called it a day I, like all united fans had to deal with change. We all knew it had to come someday.

David Moyes was appointed and I found myself caught up in the whirlwind of ‘The Chosen One’ and with that one phrase I didn’t want ‘The Special One’ I was on the wagon.  All of my normal rational judgement went out the window and Moyes was the only one to lead us forward, Moyes was going to take us in to the next era….

That era for me ended with back to back home defeats to Everton and Newcastle United. I pulled the emergency brake on the ‘Believe’ bus and jumped off to find my team in 9th place and out of the title race before the Christmas lights were switched on in the city centre by some Z-list celebrity whose X-factor career had come screaming to an end.

The bandwagon went on with fans still backing Moyes before it crashed at the turn off for Europe. Now I don’t blame anyone for changing opinion. My point is that since the Moyes era United fans have become quick to judge and even quicker to forget their judgement, and I was one of them.

There have been a few big talking points this season. One of these being Louis Van Gaal and the others are long and documented debates on specific players.

So let’s start with The Boss. Louis Van Gaal came to United with a history of tactical Philosophy, a tried and tested blueprint and an arrogant appetite for success. He’s known to take no prisoners and get the best out of the players available to him. It’s no secret that Van Gaal is stubborn, we saw this with the continued attempt to shoehorn Rooney in to midfield with Fellaini playing a defensive central role, while Mata and Herrera watched from the bench as Van Persie and Falcao were starved of any service.

As United fans we were all entitled to speak up and raise concerns as Van Gaal continued to tinker with his squad. I didn’t want to see him sacked like a lot of United fans did, but realistically we have to face the fact that if we don’t get that ‘Top Four’ place, blame and action will be taken. In the modern game this is now the norm, just take a look across at City. From Premier League Champions, to fighting with the Scousers for fourth place, and we love it. It’s this very mentality that we want to avoid.

With United now up to third, pushing Arsenal for second and playing mouth-watering football with Champions League football on the horizon, where are all those United fans now who called for Van Gaal to be sacked in February?

Should we call them fickle and plastic? Or are they just being passionate about the Club wanting it to succeed?

On to the players, I spend a lot of time on social media reading about our team and how players are perceived by fans. It’s very apparent that tabloid press coverage can also play its part in provoking our attitude towards individuals.  I believe opinion can change, but not overnight.

Now you might start to think that I’m going to rave about Fellaini and his meteoric rise in stock this season, I’m not. What I will say is that used correctly he can hurt teams and we’ve seen that in recent weeks, his performances have contributed to the team’s resurrection and I’m not afraid to commend his attitude and mental strength, the majority of United fans can admit that 12-18 months ago we were shocked to see 27 million pound spent on the big Belgian after well documented attempts to bring in Gareth Bale and Cesc Fabregas.

The player I am going to focus on is Michael Carrick. At the start of Pre Season United were rocked by the news that Carrick would be out of action for the start of the new season. I tweeted out how costly this would be. Many United fans voiced their opinion expressing ‘United didn’t need Carrick’, that we would sign someone else and that his days as a United player were over. Some even questioned his credentials as a Manchester United player, oh how wrong they were.

Michael Carrick is the fuel that drives our team much like Paul Scholes, he is the ingredient that if missing causes that cake to flop. During this season we’ve seen Carrick come in and out of the squad due to injury. The statistics speak for themselves and I will whole heartedly say that without him playing United would be in 6th or 7th place with that ‘Top Four’ finish a distant fantasy.

I’ve now witnessed those same fans lay claim that Michael Carrick is world class and has been for the past decade.  Again I ask the question, should they be persecuted for their change of heart?

As fans we can all have opinion, we are never going to fully agree and we are never going to be 100% right, But let’s not become mercenaries of our own team. We are not the blue half of the city and we are certainly not Arsenal fans. We’ve all fallen victim to predetermining a judgement of the club and its players.

This season we’ve witnessed improvement on a squad wide scale. Ashley Young is playing out of his skin, Fellaini is bullying opposition defenders and so many other great things are happening before our very eyes, this is credit to the manager and to the players for fulfilling their potential and showing why they play for the shirt.

We have to accept that players won’t always be at their best, Van Persie hasn’t been great and our world record signing Angel Di Maria has been poor. Let’s not forget what they’ve done in the past and what the future has in store.

The next bandwagon is just around the corner, I simply ask you wave as it drives by and stay true to your own opinion and not get drawn in to the tabloid and social media fanfare because United are on the rise and our squad are all hungry to succeed.

By Martin Peart

Is Wayne Rooney World Class?

Wayne Rooney World Class?Wayne Rooney announcing Fellaini as world class is like Robbie Savage being crowned the winner of mastermind. Unbelievable and frankly it’s never going to happen . What Rooney actually said is, Fellaini is performing really well, he offers the team something different, and he’s probably the best in the world right now at bringing the ball down on his chest. All very true. But just because Stevie G is the best in the world at slipping over at crucial moments in a season, that doesn’t make him world class.

So now we know our captain hasn’t lost his marbles and isn’t about to declare Jonny Evans as the next Bobby Moore, we can move on to the more volatile subject of what is World Class? Two words any follower of the beautiful game will know well but can you to define it?

If social media carnage is your thing you could just run a poll entitled “Is Wayne Rooney World Class?” and watch the fireworks go off. United fans will quite rightly back him, rivals fans in the main won’t, and football fans worldwide would probably be split. Proving the point straight away that “World Class” is a personal test and everyone will have differing views on what the term actually means.

To me it means the player has consistently proved themselves on the world stage – World Cup, Champions League, nominated for Ballon d’Or. They also need to be the best in the world in their given position, or at the least in the top three – think Messi and Ronaldo. And finally, they need to be someone that in twenty years we’ll all look back on say, they were World Class.

Anything beyond the above limitations is dangerous and falls in to the sensationalist trap set by the media – which is all about taking money out of your pocket. Money is already polluting our game and hyping it up to ridiculous levels – The Premier League is the number one brand in world football but it’s far from the number one product. And because of this drive to make money the media brainwashes us in to creating any legacy it wants. So instead of a select few being World Class we have twenty or thirty players who are given the tag.

Faced with such a barrage of publicity and advertising fans believe the hype and the true World Class players of the past are diluted as they are compared with the pretenders of today. The true tragedy being that in twenty years time children will be told about World Class talents of today such as Rooney, Aguero, Sanchez, Beckham and Frank Lampard! Talents that will be inaccurately afforded the same status as the likes of Maradonna, Cruyff & Bobby Charlton. It’s appalling.

To hammer this point home, name twenty players from the last fifty years who are world class – most of you should be able to get in to double figures but it’s not easy. Now name twenty players who fans and the media describe as world class today. Easy isn’t it? The reason behind this is money and marketing at its cynical best. The sponsors want your money and they hype the game up to unrealistic levels so that many fans believe they’re witnessing true greats. When the fact is there’s only two in the modern era, Ronaldo and Messi.

Rooney, Suerez, Pogba, Aguero, Benzema, Lahm, Pirlo, Bale, Toure etc are all top class players and some of them are still young enough to maybe, just maybe, move in to that World Class bracket. But World class now? Don’t make me laugh. There’s always been players of that calibre in football.  Take 1990 as an example. Gullit, Van Basten, Voller, Gascoigne, Brehme, Baggio, Rijkaard, Stoichkov, were all top class players who were comparable or better than everyone we have today bar Messi and Ronaldo. But there’s only player I’d class as World Class from that era and that’s Lothar Matthaus.

That’s how it should be. One or two World Class talents who endure through the years from a certain era.

As for fans saying any player in the Premier League is World Class. I’d strongly advise they look at the facts. The Premier League is a phenomenal product, the best in the world. We all love it and look forward to watching United play in it every week. Globally it brings in billions of pounds. But quality wise it’s poor and the last couple of years in Europe have shown that. Spanish, Italian and French teams have dealt with our best teams comfortably and even sides from Turkey and Portugal haven’t had too many problems. Right now being a top player in the Premier League doesn’t mean that much. So to say a player performing well in it is World Class involves way too much guess work in my opinion.

So let’s open the debate! There should be plenty out there and as always we’ll listen and reply.

What does World Class mean to you? Because if it means Wayne Rooney or Marouane Fellaini you really need to ask yourself why.

The Manchester Derby – Nothing to Fear

Manchester Derby
Manchester Derby Preview

The Manchester Derby? I’ve got to be honest, it just doesn’t mean as much to me as Liverpool. Not even close. City can spend the money, buy as many trophies as they like and bring in the best mercenary football talent money can buy. But you can’t buy history. Yes it’s a local Derby and it’s nice to beat them but when the points are ours and the dust settles what does it matter? There’s only so much joy you can take from kicking a soulless empty cardboard box.

And that’s what Man City are to me. You can commission the best artist in the world to paint the box, you can wrap it in the finest gold plated ribbon, but it’s still an empty cardboard box inside. That’s not a cheap dig at the Emptihad being an attractive box with no fans inside either – although it does work quite well. I’m talking about the club in general. Before the money ripped the soul out of the club Manchester City actually had an identity, they had a heartbeat. Now they’re a club who were picked at random by a billionaire owner, with a ground they’ll never fill and a set of players who, whilst very good, have absolutely no affinity or care for the club. They’re mercenaries and when push comes to shove, Manchester City have no soul.

Vincent Kompany can talk the talk, saying the Derby has come at the right time for them to respond. He’s hardly going to sit down and tell the truth is he? “ Yeah Geoff, we’re a total embarrassment at the moment and the thought of going to the best team in the league right now in the most hostile of atmosphere’s doesn’t fill us with confidence. In fact, I’m thinking of feigning a groin strain on Sunday morning to get myself out of it”

City are on the ropes and they’ll continue to be knocked back down every time they think they’re on the road to success because their business plan is based on a too much too soon attitude. Chelsea – another club built on money – addressed the issue from the start by implementing a spine to the side that was willing to put their bodies on the line for the club – Terry, Lampard, Drogba. Arsenal also had it with Adams, Viera, Bergkamp and Henry. And United, well United didn’t have a spine, they had a whole body. City on the other hand have Hart and Kompany at a push. It’s not enough to build an empire. Yes they’ll win the odd title and cup by sacking their manager and spending massive amounts of money each summer but they’ll never build a dynasty until they bring in players who love the club. And to be blunt, what’s to love about an expensive cardboard box?

So with Sunday’s Derby on the horizon I can only see one winner – Manchester United. With the Old Trafford Faithful behind them United will get at City from the first minute. City will wobble because they don’t have the mentality to go toe to toe with a passionate and confident United and if we get an early goal I really do think we can win this game by three or four goals. The key is to not allow City to settle early on, they have good ball players like Toure, Silva and Nasri who given time will happily dictate the play. With the form we’re in though I fully expect a quick pressing game coupled with a noisy confident home crowd to put pay to that and once United slip in to their game City will see what happens when you build a club on youth and passion.

Three points in the Derby and we can leave City and Liverpool playing for scraps and fourth place. Come on United!

Which is the BIGGER game to YOU?

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Van Persie – Should He Stay or Should He Go?

Robin Van Persie
When you make a video at the start of the season backing Robin Van Persie, there’s nowhere to hide when it all comes crashing down – for those of you who take pleasure in my misfortune I’ll save you the time searching for the video – the links here if you want a laugh.

So with that very public record of my Van Persie stance there isn’t much room for me to move in this article, even if I wanted to. We pride ourselves on being consistent on The United Stand – anyone doubting that refer to my thoughts on Fellaini – and as much I accept Robin has been very disappointing again this season, I still believe he has it in him to be a major asset for United.

So what’s the future for RVP? Is his time at United coming to an end or is there one last curtain call in the Theatre of Dreams?

Recent straw polls suggest most Manchester United fans have run out of patience and want Van Persie to move on in the summer, with the likes of Cavani or Benzema preferred options. The polls are far from cut and dry though. There’s still strong support for the man who single handedly won Sir Alex his and United’s last title two years ago – while a certain Mr Rooney underperformed and sulked his way through the campaign. And let’s not forget Van Persie scored the World cup’s best goal only last summer. So why shouldn’t he have the support of the Old Trafford faithful? He’s surely done more than enough in his short tenure at the club to earn at least one more drink in the last chance saloon? If this season’s taught us one thing it’s this, if Fellaini can do it anyone can.

Yes, there’s been an alarming drop off in his United form over the last eighteen months – albeit, last season he had the universally accepted excuse of Moyes. This season he’s been playing under his self-confessed football Dad in LVG though and yet we’ve still seen the worst performances from RVP in a decade. When searching for reasons why the common excuse is age and injury have caught up with him but I’m not entirely convinced. There’s no denying that time catches up with all players but let’s consider the bigger picture for a moment. We’re all currently revelling in the sexy football United have played in the last three games but don’t forget the previous twenty eight. The football was dire, we weren’t creating anything and it’s no surprise that all of our forwards were struggling for form. In come Mata, Herrera and Carrick, the possession and pressing game clicks in to place, and from creating hardly anything we’re dominating sides from start to finish. Give Van Persie a couple of run outs in this side, or Falcao for that matter, and I guarantee you’d see a very different RVP to the one that’s struggled this season. Few forwards perform well without service and Van Persie has always been a striker who relies on quality.

Stick him in the Chelsea side with his old pal Fabregas to pick out his runs and he’d still score twenty goals a season. Give him a run in this United side with Herrera and Mata behind him and I’m convinced he’ll do the same. Yes, he’s had a bad season, there’s no escaping that fact. But he’s played all of that season in a poor side starved of service. Within this new exciting United setup he still has a lot to offer.

Whether he has anything to offer beyond the summer is the big question. Over to you.

Manchester United Player Ratings v Aston Villa

Manchester United Player ratingsManchester United v Aston Villa Match Review & Player Ratings

If the home win against Spurs was steak and chips and the destruction of Liverpool at Anfield was a a fine Sunday roast dinner, yesterday’s win at Old Trafford against Aston Villa was very definitely beans on toast. United lacked the urgency and panache of their fine dining previous wins but ultimately they beat the villa and everyone left feeling satisfied.

It wasn’t uneasy on the eye, there were sprinkles of class within the performance – like some grated cheese and a dash of worcestershire sauce on those beans – but the game had a feel of getting the job done about it and the United boys should be commended for that. This was a game where only a win would do and they won the game. With Man City up next yesterday’s win was the perfect audition. The foot was slightly off the accelerator compared to the Anfield game but we had more than enough power to achieve what we needed to achieve and have plenty in reserve for next week.

So let’s look at the match ratings

David De Gea – Probably his worst game of the season – although he’s deserved at least a couple of these after his heroics so far. Very quiet game with little to do but then made a big mistake on the Villa goal, when he should have saved comfortably – 5

Antonio Valencia – Industrious, hardworking and powerful down that right side but wasteful in the cross and didn’t have his best game. Many felt this was the sort of game to reintroduce Rafael for some quality delivery in to the box but that ship seems to have sailed with Van Gaal – 6

Daley Blind – Like his mentor Carrick, Blind is settling in to the unsung hero role perfectly. Statistically he was immense, with near perfect passing, tackling and involvement in two of the three goals. Luke Shaw would be a worried man – if he wasn’t sat on his backside earning such massive amounts of money – because on this form our first choice left back is Daley Blind – 8

Phil Jones – Didn’t have much to do, other than share the role of keeping Benteke quiet with Marcus Rojo. A steady performance – 6

Marcus Rojo – Great to see him back playing and fit again. Offers so much versatility from the back with that deadly left foot and could have scored from distance in the first half. Clumsy in the tackle on a couple of occasions but Rojo has the potential to be another great United centre back – 7

Michael Carrick – Typically unassuming to the casual observer but to those fans who understand how United tick, Carrick is the man from which the team’s momentum starts. A couple of passes went astray but he dictated the tempo and play for ninety minutes and never gave Villa a chance to compose themselves – 8

Ander Herrera – Man of the Match with two clinical finishes. Goals from midfield have been an issue for United since the days of Scholes. With Mata and Herrera zipping around the box that’s not a problem anymore. A firm fan favorite and at last getting the recognition from Van Gaal he deserves – 9

Juan Mata – Out of the goals today but worked tirelessly in pressing the opposition and retaining possession. Set up the killer third goal and surely a nailed on started going forward from here on in – 7.5

Ashley Young – Head and shoulders the man of the match in the first half. Offers pace and a killer ball in the final third but works tirelessly in his defensive role – Di Maria take note. Unlucky to be withdrawn for Di Maria – 8

Wayne Rooney Goal Aston Villa

Marouane Fellaini – Not his best game. Missed an easy chance to make it two nil in the second half and struggled to get in to the game. Possibly a game too far for him after a busy few weeks. Will be needed back to his best for the Derby – 6

Wayne Rooney – Led by example with determination and tenacity – see the hotley contested dropball that led to the third goal. Struggled a bit to get to grips with the game but the goal was sensational and that’s what Rooney brings to the side. A moment of magic when it’s needed – 7.5

Subs

Angel Di Maria – Came on for Young and like last week against Liverpool, the opposition immediately came more in to the game as United lost their defensive balance down the left. Provided another assist – although it was a poor cross to Rooney – 6

Radamel Falcao – Brought on for Fellaini. Didn’t have the time to make an impact. Should have been brought on ten minutes earlier – 6

Give us YOUR thoughts below and don’t miss our LIVE post match review on our YouTube Channel Manchester United v Aston Villa Video Review

Nothing to Fear in Mark’s Manchester United v Aston Villa Preview

Manchester United v Aston Villa PreviewThere’s no escaping the fact that Manchester United’s last two games have been convincing wins. The anti-United pundits can spout their usual nonsense about Liverpool and Spurs failing to turn up but we know the truth. Neither side was allowed to turn up because Van Gaal implemented a strategy that nullified the opposition from the very first minute. No side goes to Anfield and plays them off the park like we did in that first half – especially not United in what is, let’s be honest, Liverpool’s annual cup final. To do what we did should not be underestimated. It was sensational.

So with Aston Villa visiting Old Trafford this weekend the game has taken on the air of a foregone conclusion. And why shouldn’t it? Sandwiched between games against Spurs, Liverpool, Man City and Chelsea, this home tie against lowly Villa has long been identified as three points we must take. Must being the operative word. Have no illusions, United have to win this game. Ideally we want to see a repeat of the performances in the last two games but if the choice is between a swashbuckling great advert for football five all draw and a last minute winner off the referee’s backside in a game Villa deserved to win. I’ll be celebrating the referee’s rear end. Yes we want good football from United but we need three points.

Have no doubts, like a can of baked beans at a firing range Villa are there to be blown away. United need to go out from minute one like we have in our last two games and dominate them. Press them from the start and Villa will crumble. We’ve already dropped 2 points to them this season – playing the last half an hour at Villa Park against ten men and nearly losing – so it’s payback time. And for all Tim Sherwood’s bravado about coming to Old Trafford and giving us a game, if Villa come to Manchester and try to play they’ll end up getting a slap and a firm warning about their future behaviour at the theatre of dreams.

I’ve seen Aston Villa a few times this season and there really is nothing to fear.  In years gone by Villa could be a threat away from home, building their performances on a strong defence, an industrious and hardworking midfield, and hitting the channels of the opposition with pace on the flanks. Those days are gone. Two years of Paul Lambert’s negativity has stifled Villa’s ability to effectively attack sides and although the appointment of Sherwood will see a more progressive style of play they are in the midst of a relegation battle where points are more important than performance. Destroying a poor Sunderland side away doesn’t make them any more of a threat than a green salad at Christmas.

Man for man Villa just don’t have the players to concern United. It’s not arrogance but not one of the Aston Villa squad would make it anywhere near our subs bench, let alone the first team. Fabian Delph is a hardworking midfielder who, whilst a decent player, will never be top four standard. The same goes for Agbonlahor, a decent player who on his day can cause problems but has never been better than the club he’s spent all his career at. Then there’s Benteke, who looks about as interested in his Villa career as a vegetarian in a butchers. And that’s it. The rest of the Villa squad is made up of mediocrity who to be frank are best suited to sides battling it out in the bottom half of the Premier League.

Sherwood will say they’re coming to win but the facts don’t lie. Aston Villa are three points off the relegation zone with a slightly better goal difference than those below them. A comprehensive beating by United could see them consigned to the bottom three come Easter Sunday. Not many teams come back from that. They also have QPR at home on Tuesday evening. A game they must win. So in many ways the United game is a hindrance. Villa simply can’t afford to use up valuable energy on a game they have a very slim chance of getting anything out of. Their only option is to sit deep, conserve energy for the six pointer against QPR, and look to hit United on the break.

The only thing United have to fear is their own complacency. Villa will park the bus and gift United the possession. We need to show the desire and patience to keep probing away until we get that breakthrough. And with Fellaini in the side we can mix things up a bit and throw the odd high ball in to the box if needs be.

And if it is approaching the ninetieth minute and it’s still nil nil don’t panic. Aston Villa’s last two losses have come from late goals from the opposition. And there’s always the referee’s backside….

Who will win the top 4 race?

Battle for top 4

Four international breaks in a season is four too many for many fans but as we approach the final phase of the season it gives us the opportunity to take a step back and truly assess Manchester United’s top four chances against our closest rivals.

United’s next few fixtures have long been highlighted as the games that will define our season and even the exceptional wins over Spurs and Liverpool shouldn’t cloud the importance of these next four games. Anything less than six points from Aston Villa (h), Man City (h), Chelsea (a) and Everton (a) and the initiative gained from the most perfect of wins at Anfield will be firmly handed back to Liverpool. For Stevie G to mess it up again.

So who are our main rivals for a top four position and what can we expect over the closing weeks of the season?

Chelsea are champions. Give Mourinho a lead and you won’t see him again until he returns from his package holiday to Tenerife for pre season training. Which leaves second, third and fourth spot up grabs. For those three spots I see only four realistic candidates – Manchester United, Man City, Arsenal and Liverpool. People may say it’s arrogant to dismiss Spurs and Southampton but history shows otherwise. And as much as I’d love to see Tottenham or the Saints join United in the top four at the expense of City, Arsenal and the scousers you have to be realistic when looking at their remaining fixtures – one of which involves playing each other – and say they will drop more points than the rest. In fact I don’t believe either side will get within 2 points of the seventy required to have a slim chance of top four.

It’s between United, City, Arsenal and Liverpool for the three remaining Champions league spots and below is a week by week summary of how we see it panning out.

Week 31 – City 61 pts | Arsenal 60pts | United 59pts | Liverpool 54pts

United entertain Aston Villa and three points is a minimum – a sarcastic way of saying we have to win. There’s little point in beating about the bush with this one, if United can’t beat Villa at Old Trafford with the form and players we have then we’re in serious trouble.

Looking at our rivals, City play Crystal Palace away, and whilst I’d like to see them drop points again I can see City winning comfortably. City are bang out of form and playing like a group of millionaire’s who are only interested in the money – odd that for a mercenary club whose entire success is based on throwing vast amounts of money at things – but they have the easier run in and I can’t see where they’re going to drop enough points to ever be in danger of finishing outside the top two.

Then Arsenal entertain Liverpool. United fans have mixed opinions on what result they want from this game but to be honest, as long as United beat Villa it doesn’t really matter. Personally, I always want Liverpool to lose and I think when you look at the remaining fixtures a Liverpool win would be a concern.

Week 32 – City 64 pts | Arsenal 63pts | United 62pts | Liverpool 54pts

The Manchester Derby and another week where two of the four contenders go head to head. Liverpool entertain Newcastle and with the roll over kings already save from relegation it’s guaranteed that the scousers will boost their confidence and goal difference with a comfortable home win. Whereas Arsenal make the trip north to Burnley. Burnley are fighting for their lives and could cause an upset but Arsenal are much improved away – where are Bolton when you need them – and I’d expect them to pick up maximum points.

Which leaves us with the Derby. If it was being played this weekend I’d go for a United a win, City are poor and United are buzzing. But a week’s a long time in football and boosted by a good win over Palace I think City will come to Old Trafford with a point to prove. And funnily enough, come away with a point.

Week 33 – City 65 pts | Arsenal 66pts | United 63pts | Liverpool 57pts

Another difficult game week for United as we visit Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. With City entertaining West Ham at the Emptihad, Arsenal hosting Sunderland and Liverpool away to Hull I predict three wins for our rivals so anything we can come away with against Chelsea will be a bonus.

I expect Van Gaal to have United well drilled and if we go down there and perform like we did at Anfield we can beat anyone. The problem is United have a terrible record against Chelsea and as much as I think we have the players to go toe to toe with what will be the league champions I can see a bad decision or two going against us and Chelsea taking all three points.

Week 34 – City 68 pts | Arsenal 69pts | United 63pts | Liverpool 60pts

If results have gone as I’ve predicted, Arsenal and City will have more or less secured their top four status by now leaving it a straight fight between us and Liverpool. To further evidence why I don’t think City were ever seriously part of the race for top four, they entertain Aston Villa at home this week and will collect another easy three points at home. Arsenal host Chelsea at the Emirates, and whilst it goes against the grain I actually expect Arsenal to win this and all but secure the top four cup for another year – expect lots of excited Arsenal fans taunting Fabregas because they’ve secured Champions League football again. This despite the fact Fabregas will win be lifting the Premier League trophy in a couple of weeks time.

Liverpool travel to West Brom and United face Everton this week and I think this could be THE defining week in our two way battle for fourth place. If either side wins then it could be a crucial advantage with only four games left so from a United point of view the important thing is to at least match the Liverpool score. I’d hope that West Brom will be well drilled by Tony Pulis so I’m going for a draw for Liverpool in their game leaving United more than capable of getting a point at Goodison Park.

Week 34 – City 71 pts | Arsenal 72pts | United 64pts | Liverpool 61pts

Liverpool play QPR at home and whilst it’s guaranteed that QPR will be in desperate need of the points to stay up, if you’re a gambler get your money on a Liverpool home win by at least two clear goals. United host West Brom at Old Trafford and whilst anything is possible in football this is a game we will have to win and I’m confident we will win – again cancelling out the scousers result.

Man City go to Spurs, where I think they’ll win. A lot of United fans think City will get dragged in to the battle for the top four but I think they’ll finish strongly – which is a good thing because it should mean them keeping the inept Pellegrini for another year. Arsenal are away to Hull, who like QPR should be fighting for their lives and willing to lay their bodies on the line for every point they can get. Which is why I think Arsenal will win comfortably…

Week 35 – City 74 pts | Arsenal 75pts | United 67pts | Liverpool 64pts

This is the week where if results go to plan United can secure their top four spot. Much will depend on Chelsea’s predicament so the hope will be that they haven’t secured the title yet as they entertain Liverpool at Stamford Bridge. If they need to win I have no doubt Chelsea will brush Liverpool aside and do us a massive favour. If they’ve already won the title by this point then that’s where it becomes an issue. Anyone who remembers 2010 when Chelsea went to Anfield and Liverpool let them win to stop United winning the league will be aware how this could play out if Chelsea don’t need the points. I’m going to be positive though and predict a Chelsea win.

Arsenal and City have home bankers against Swansea and QPR respectively, leaving United with an away game against Crystal Palace. Palace will be safely on the beach by the time this game comes around, so with nothing more than pride to play for – there shouldn’t be much of that about from Palace players who will be far more focussed on a few weeks in Barbados – United should have the drive and quality to get the win they need.

Week 36 – City 77 pts | Arsenal 78pts | United 70pts | Liverpool 64pts

With two games to go it should all be over barring two miraculous results from Liverpool and two major losses by United swinging goal difference in the scousers favour. Liverpool play Crystal Palace at home so a cricket score is possible, however United entertain Arsenal at Old Trafford and I’d fully expect both teams to do the decent thing and play out an exhibition style draw that suits both sides. If for some reason Arsenal get ahead of themselves and decide to go for it to secure second place they’ll find out what happens when you stick your hand in a bee’s nest. Because United will sting them hard. The only issue we’ll face after this game is that at the end of it we’ll have secured our fourth place spot. With Arsenal in town I really hope there’s no formal handing over of the fourth place cup. Let’s show some class please. Fourth place is what we wanted but it’s a stepping stone to better things. We’re not Arsenal!

City face a trip to Swansea and again I’d expect them to win.

Week 37 – City 80 pts | Arsenal 79pts | United 71pts | Liverpool 67pts

The final game of the season and everything should be done and dusted by this point. Fingers crossed Van Gaal will be able to play some of the kids like McNair, Blackett, Januzaj and Perreira for our trip to Hull and we may even be able to help Brucey out if he needs a point. Liverpool go to Stoke and although I’d expect Stoke to get something out of the game, the fact that it won’t matter if Liverpool win ten nil means I’m going to be generous and let them have the three points.

Arsenal and Man City finish off with games against West Brom and Southampton and with the typical last day of the season, sun shining, party atmosphere both should get all three points.

Week 38 – City 83 pts | Arsenal 82pts | United 72pts | Liverpool 70pts

The final standings then and as predicted it’s as it is now. United fans not happy with that really needs to take a couple of minutes out and think about the amount of bad games we’ve had this season. Fourth place is all that matters and if we get it then we’re back in the Champions League where we belong.

Like I say, I’d take it now. Enjoy the ride!

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