Tag Archives: Wembley

It should still be Poch…no, Ole…no, Poch

Prior to the Tottenham game this past weekend, I had decided that, whatever the result, I would upload a post claiming that Mauricio Pochettino should still be the next manager of Manchester United. However, the game, and victory, threw a huge spanner in the works…

I think we can all agree that nobody expected us to walk away from Wembley with three points. It has been widely publicised that Solskjaer’s first five games as caretaker manager of Manchester United were all games that he was expected to win. Hell, even Paul Ince claims he could have equalled Solskjaer’s start. However, delving deeper into the aftermath of Sunday’s 1-0 win has enhanced the United legends stock when it comes to taking over the reigns permanently.

Let’s be honest, the five games prior to the Spurs game didn’t really tell us a lot in regards to what Solskjaer’s style would be for the rest of the season. Sure, the attacking flair was back but we were rarely in a position where a ‘Plan B’ was needed. Tottenham was always going to be the game where we gained a measure on what could be achieved during the remainder of the season.

Billed as an audition between Ole and Poch, it is certainly the former that has edged ahead based on Sunday’s showing. United were ahead just before half time courtesy of a cool Marcus Rashford finish off the back of a sublime Paul Pogba pass and few could argue that we were not good for the lead. In fact, the first half was just like the games prior. The real test would be the second half when the inevitable Tottenham backlash began.

Tactically, Solskjaer got the second half down to a tee. Sure, we were under the cosh for long periods and, yes, De Gea was a brick wall but it is already forgotten that Hugo Lloris himself pulled off three decent saves to prevent United extending their lead. In short, Solskjaer had a Plan B. Pochettino, however, didn’t.

Tottenham switched formation at the beginning of the second half, a move immediately mirrored by Solskjaer to alleviate the threat posed by Ben Davies and Keiran Trippier. The enforced Erik Lamela change just before half time proved to be disastrous as Poch then stuck Christian Eriksen out on the wing to accommodate the more centrally-minded Lamela.

The Tottenham manager refused to make any more changes until the 81st minute, removing Harry Winks for Fernando Llorente, in what looked like a desperate final roll of the dice. Admittedly, at this stage it looked as if Tottenham were good value for a goal. However, with United tiring, the change should have come at least 10 minutes sooner. Solskjaer responded immediately by withdrawing Jesse Lingard for Diego Dalot to reinforce the defence.

Pochettino failed to make a third substitution as he, quite simply, ran out of ideas. Tottenham’s fail safe ‘Plan A’ just wasn’t working and he had no idea how to change it, despite only making two substitutions and leaving Danny Rose on the bench. Introducing Rose and his pace into the game could seriously have hurt a tiring United defence. Poch, simply, got it wrong.

David De Gea has quite rightly earned the plaudits for his Wembley heroics but Solskjaer should take just as much of the glory. He won’t, because he isn’t Jose Mourinho, but he deserves every iota of praise he has received. Not only did he out think Pochettino, he got the better of him tactically and wasn’t afraid to react instantly to what was panning out in front of him.

At this point I would say my preference would still be for Pochettino to be the next permanent manager of the club. However, not for one second would I be disappointed to see Ole be retained beyond this season.

Manchester United reveal Old Trafford expansion plans

Manchester United officials are currently looking at plans for an extension to Old Trafford, which would see an extra tier added to the Sir Bobby Charlton stand, making the Theatre of Dreams’ capacity 88,000, according to a report on the Daily Mail.

The Red Devils currently have a capacity of 75,643, but should the plans go ahead then they will boast the third largest stadium in Europe, behind Barcelona’s Nou Camp and Wembley stadium.

Previously, United have been reluctant to look at plans for expanding the stadium because of concerns regarding the train line, which is directly behind the stand.

Manchester United are considering the expansion of Old Trafford. (image: express.co.uk)
Manchester United are considering the expansion of Old Trafford. (image: express.co.uk)

However, due to advancements in technology, the club can now look at extension plans without fear of causing disruption to houses or the railway line.

Should the plans be given the green light, Old Trafford will surpass the San Siro, Bernabeu, Stade de France and Westfalenstadion in Europe in terms of maximum capacity.

 

Zlatan the Redeemer clips the Saints’ wings

In the end, the clinical powerhouse that is Zlatan Ibrahimovic put to rest a valiant resurgence by Southampton in the 2017 EFL Cup final. Outplayed for vast quantities of the game, we were (once again) grateful to this season’s talisman for what looked at times an undeserved victory.

This is not to say that we didn’t deserve the win – you can only be judged on the final scoreline – but Southampton’s performance merited at least the possibility of extra time. Even the manager, usually so reserved in his praise for opposing teams, was profuse in his admittance of the Saints’ dominance over 90 minutes. According to him, this was a game in which “[Southampton] was better than us for long periods of the game”.  And yet, we leave Wembley the victors: trophy number 65 in hand, and no amount of criticism from rival fans can take that away.

Critics will point to Southampton’s wrongly disallowed opener changing the face of the match. Others, of the United persuasion, may mention Bobby Stokes’ offside goal in the 1976 final…let’s just call it even for now. Officials will always be scrutinised, but we can only play to the whistle and decision.

 

United approached this fixture as game number four in the space of just eleven days. Combined with Mourinho’s apparent unwillingness to rotate the squad accordingly, the recipe was there for an underwhelming, fatigued performance. “The fuel was not in our legs” – the strikingly accurate synopsis offered by the manager. And this was evident throughout. The back four were shaky; this was possibly Eric Bailly’s worst game in a United shirt, and Marcos Rojo had the look of a man coached by Louis Van Gaal. Paul Pogba, despite having been described as “outstanding” by the manager, had in the eyes of most of the United support, one of his most peripheral performances in the shirt. Remarkably, our entire team could have afforded themselves the luxury of an off-day, because of the sheer force of will of the self-proclaimed ‘King’ of Sweden.

 

 

We took the lead courtesy of his nineteenth minute free-kick. A thing of beauty, but one well overdue (I’ve lost count of the amount of wall-struck free kicks offered up ’til now); Jessie Lingard’s Wembley love-affair shows no signs of fizzling out – his stroked finish on 38 minutes saw us cruising, wholly against the run of play. Before this, Southampton had continually threatened, with Oriel Romeu hitting the woodwork and Gabbiadini’s disallowed finish leaving the Saints’ march rather stunted. The ex-Napoli man injected some urgency into the fixture just after the interval, his finish expertly passing through David de Gea’s usually bolted-shut legs, one minute into first-half injury time. Gabbiadini (already far and away Liverpool’s next-best striker at this point) restored parity to the scoreline with another brilliant finish from inside the box.

Fast-forward through 40 minutes of Southampton routinely leaving us second-best, enter Zlatan. Ander Herrera’s (more often praised for his grit and aggressiveness this season) produced a beautifully lofted pass to find the Swede, who – of course – headed the ball over Fraser Forster and ultimately crushed the Saints’ hopes of another 30 minutes at Wembley. The big man’s stats now read as follows: game number 38; goal number 26, trophy number two (so far).

Zlatan Raises the fruit of his labours agains Southampton (picture: Press Association).
Zlatan raises the fruit of his labours against Southampton (picture: Press Association).

Now, I may have sounded entirely effusive in my description of Zlatan’s contribution to the final. It’s impossible not to be when a player has such a singularly dominant performance. And yet there’s some room for me to leave you with a slight concern as well, particularly when it comes to Zlatan’s role and position in the squad.

After arriving from what may be a wrongly or rightly labelled ‘weak’ Ligue 1, the former PSG player has unequivocally proven his capabilities as a top performer, tried and tested in all of Europe’s major leagues. What troubles me is that this year will be 36. Is it wise of Mourinho to depend so heavily on an ageing player who, whilst undoubtedly a positive influence in every imaginable way on our young squad, will surely call time after next season at the latest? Our style of play is so clearly moulded with the focal point of Zlatan in mind. The majority of United fans (I’m sure) called for an exorcism of LVG’s mundane and predictable ‘Philosophy’ after our performances on the pitch took a dour and ineffective shape. Whilst the results and solidity of the team have taken an evident upturn since LVG’s doomed tenure, the style of play in recent fixtures most definitely has not. 

In no way is this concern a call-to-arms on Mourinho’s dependency on Ibrahimovic, but after a season’s worth of seemingly youth-appropriate fixtures has passed us by (i.e. Wigan, St.Etienne, etc.) , there seem to be a fair few talented younger players who aren’t getting their fair share of game time. Was the injury to Henrikh Mkhitaryan really a necessary one? Is the obvious fatigue affecting the squad an avoidable situation? Don’t misinterpret my scepticism for disappointment; Mourinho and United seem a better fit now than at any point – the habit of winning is absolutely invaluable for our squad, and I’m delighted at the way we’re progressing. But the recognition must be there that we are a long way from the finished article.

 

At some point in the future the manager will have to place greater trust on the shoulders of Martial, Rashford and co, because as remarkable a talent as Zlatan is, his star will undoubtedly fade, and we need to have a contingency plan in place for when he does.