Could It Be On The Cards?

Mauricio Pochettino

From an article I wrote almost two years ago…

“I must admit to taking a liking for Pochettino while he was at Southampton even though he never speaks a word of English and the football he had his team playing was sometimes as good as anything else in the league and the mind did start to wonder what he could do at a club with the financial clout necessary to enable him to bring in almost any player of his choosing.”

Sir Alex and Pochettino spotted out having lunch the other day.

Just sayin’…

Congratulations Leicester – The Saviours of Football

Birmingham City v Leicester City - Pre-Season Friendly

Birmingham City v Leicester City - Pre-Season FriendlyIt is with enormous delight that I congratulate Leicester for becoming Premier League Champions 2015-16.

Like most people, I have been watching Leicester all season and wondering when the “wheels would fall off” and there have been a few periods of the season which have tested the new Champions with a serious run of fixtures but they came through them all with flying colours.

Even “squeaky bum time” appears to have eluded them as they have racked up 24 points in their last 10 games.

Claudio Ranieri deserves enormous credit for his achievement this season. When he took over from Nigel Pearson (who had just about saved Leicester from relegation last season), there were some murmors of discontent from the Leicester faithful who thought Pearson had been harshly treated: after all… Leicester weren’t exactly ever going to actually WIN the Premier League and so survival was as good as a cup win for the “minnows”.

However, Ranieri seemed to have something Pearson didn’t have when it came to managing a bunch of players whose combined “value” was less than the “Big Teams” usually spend on a single player.

And this is why seeing Leicester winning the title is so satisfying for me.

I have become increasingly disillusioned with football in recent years. The sheer amount of money coming into the game over the last twenty years or so has really torn the heart and soul from the beautiful game.

The corruption at the very top of the game was not very difficult to predict, nor was the concept of “player power” with young men who’d barely started to shave suddenly commanding salaries that made their managers look like paupers. That shady (and, in some cases, canny) businessmen would come along looking to help themselves to a slice of the pie was also not a surprise. Some have done well by the clubs they have bought whilst far too many have driven them into oblivion.

The Financial Fair-Play rules brought out by UEFA, whilst seemingly introduced with good intent, actually seemed to make it almost impossibe for any team outside the established elite to ever break into it again in the way that Blackburn, Chelsea and Manchester City had crashed the Premier League party down the years thanks largely to a Sugar Daddy owner.

But Leicester have just done it.

While the “Big Clubs” in the Premier League have been busting their wallets, waving their financial willies and generally indulging in all kinds of self-destruction, Leicester have quietly gone about the good old-fashioned business of playing great football as a team and winning football matches.

The end result being that the best TEAM won the League title.

I have no affinity with Leicester City whatsoever – it might as well have been Wycombe Wonderers for all I care – but, from the bottom of my heart, THANK YOU LEICESTER CITY.

Thank you for restoring my faith in football, thank you for showing the rest of the footballing world that a bottomless wallet isn’t always necessary to achieve success and thank you for the way you shoved two fingers up at the “Elite” and beat them.

Everyone connected with Leicester City this season has just created history, achieved footballing immortality and has perhaps started a revolution in football for which the rest of us should be eternally grateful.

Man Utd v Wolfsburg (CL Group B 2015-16)

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Well, we announced our return to Champions League football with a bit of a bang away to PSV a couple of weeks ago when Memphis Depay put us 1-0 ahead just before half-time only for PSV to knock in a quick-fire double to add insult to the injury we’d already witnessed against our lad Shaw.

But tonight we get the chance to go again and this time we’re at Old Trafford so hopefully the fans will be bouncing after being starved of these proper Champions League matches at Old Trafford for what now seems like an age.

The problem I’m having with United at the moment is that we’re actually doing quite well!

That, of course, is great but I still can’t quite decide if we’re awesome or everyone else in the Premier League is doing what they did in the 2012/13 Season and shooting themselves in the foot at every opportunity.

I refer, of course, to the fact that we are somehow top of the Premier League – a position I don’t think we’ve even held since we won the title in 2013.

There is, however, an exciting feel to our current line up and the two new youngsters Martial and Memphis (M&M) are doing wonders for my disillusionment at LvG’s seeming betrayal of United’s philosophy of giving exciting young players their chance, preferring instead to buy expensive but ready-made Galacticos last season.

I wish they’d come from somewhere even close to Manchester but hey-ho… you can’t have it all.

What all this means is that making any kind of prediction about tonight is very difficult (I’ve got it wrong pretty much every time I’ve tried this season).

I think two seasons of watching United struggle has really started to affect my judgement to the point where I’m actually pleasantly surprised when we’re not beaten by an underdog these days.

But maybe, just maybe, this isn’t a false dawn and really is the start of LvG finally getting to grips with things at United.

As for Wolfsburg… well, they have a few injury problems at the moment but seem to be doing fairly well in the Bundesliga (they’re currently fourth). They almost gave Bayern Munich a scare a last week when they took a 1-0 lead at the Allianz Arena only for the on-fire Lewandowski to come on for the second half and score five goals in ten ridiculous minutes.

I do feel that we need to win here tonight though as winning the home games has always been key to our success in these Group Stages. Fortunately, we’ve been pretty good at it down the years and have only lost four of our last 65 Champions League matches at Old Trafford with the last being against Real Madrid in Fergie’s final season.

So tonight, I’m looking for a proper Champions League night at Old Trafford. It’s getting nicely dark at around 7:30pm at the moment so the floodlights should be on full beam.

Hopefully they’ll be shining on a Manchester United victory.

Southampton v Man Utd (PL 2015-16)

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After the defeat and the horrific injury to Luke Shaw on our return to Champions League football, this is already a week most of us would rather put behind us but it ends with a trip to Southampton who have always provided us with a stern test – even before they got pretty good and we started to become pretty rubbish.

Indeed, they beat us 1-0 at Old Trafford at the very start of this year.

Overall, though, we do tend to come away from St Mary’s with a point or three (2003 was the last time they beat us here in the League).

LvG has a few decisions to make for this one, though.

Our defence has started to look much improved on recent seasons but Blind remains unconvincing for me in central defence and the loss of Shaw (who started the season brilliantly) is a tough one to take. Rojo came on in midweek to replace Shaw and looks to be the obvious choice to resume this afternoon but he’s another who doesn’t come close to ticking all the boxes.

Midfield is starting to look a bit more like it when we remember that the goal we want to approach is the opponent’s, not our own.

Attack remains a little threadbare although Rooney looks set to return following the minor injury which has kept him sidelined for our last two matches.

One thing that is exciting, however, is the Martial/Memphis duo. They’ve only just started to play alongside each other but I see big things ahead for these two.

Against PSV in midweek there was even a moment of movement an interplay between the two that took me right back to the days of the telepathic duo – Cole and Yorke.

As for today, I expect Southampton to get at us. With our team in some disarray it would appear to be as good a time as any to be playing Manchester United.

What we will be looking for is that habit of bouncing back from disappointments which has served us so well in the past.

PSV v Man Utd (CL 2015-16 Group Stage)

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Well, I have to say that it feels good to be back in this competition. The sideshow against Brugge was good but this is the real thing and it all gets underway tonight with a tricky away tie against last season’s Eredivisie Champions, PSV Eindhoven – the club that has a rich history of bringing through some top quality players (Ruud van Nistelrooy and Jaap Stam anyone? I wouldn’t mind those two at their peak in the side tonight.)

They were, of course, also the team who sold us Memphis Depay who played a major role in their winning the title last season (he was their top goal-scorer) but have kept hold of their other main goal threat, Luuk de Jong who, you might remember, had a disappointing loan spell at Newcastle last year.

Our 3-1 win against Liverpool over the weekend was good for all kinds of reasons but I was particularly pleased to see the new lad Martial coming on towards the end and grabbing a debut goal and he should feature again tonight.

As for a prediction… it’s difficult because this really does feel like a completely new Manchester United side which still doesn’t really know what it’s doing.

The first half against Liverpool was appallingly poor from both sides but as the home side the onus was us to go for the win but our play was slow and negative. Apparently some words were spoken at half-time and the second half saw much more United-like performance.

This being an away game in the Champions League could well see LvG revert to the snoredom although our thrashing of Brugge away from home holds some promise that the shackles might not be used.

If we go for it then there’s no doubt that we can return from Holland with three points on the board. PSV are a good side but they’re not a great side and really don’t have anywhere close to the pedigree in this competition that we have and it’s over ten years since their best showing (a semi-final appearance) in the new format Champions League (although they did win the old European Cup in 1988).

Man Utd v Liverpool (PL 2015-16)

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After Liverpool “did the double” over us during the Moyes season, we got our own back last season and won this fixture 3-0.

Going into this match, there do seem to be quite a few question marks over key players.

At this point it is uncertain whether or not De Gea will make his first appearance of the season, it’s uncertain whether or not the new guy Martial will make his debut and it does appear to be the case that Rooney may well miss out with a hamstring strain.

Liverpool, of course, having already seen Suarez and Sterling go in successive summers now have Sturridge back in training but this match would seem to have arrived too soon for him to put a bit of bite back into what has been a pretty toothless start for Liverpool (just two goals scored in four matches).

Of course, the Champions League matches aside, our own form in front of goal hasn’t been much to write home about and LvG does appear to have left himself with few options.

As always, anything can happen in games against our most bitter rivals and it might go against everything and prove to be a goal-fest but I can’t help but feel that both teams’ lack of firepower will be telling.

Swansea v Man Utd (PL 2015-16)

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Since Swansea’s arrival in the Premier League in 2011 they’ve provided us with 16 points but last season saw everything turn on its head as they beat us 2-1 both home and away so as far as I’m concerned we’re all square now and today we can get back to normal service.

We, of course, enjoyed a confidence-boosting night in Belgium in midweek as we thumped Club Brugge 4-0 thanks largely to a Wayne Rooney hat-trick which is hopefully the start of a proper run of goals for him.

Unfortunately, it’s a bit like one in and one out as Hernandez suffered an absolute mare against Club Brugge and I think the players let him take the penalty in that game in order to give him a confidence-boosting “easy” chance but he made an absolute mess of it.

It’s all a far cry from the player Sir Alex signed five years ago who was scoring without even knowing it at times as goals went in off his face, the back of his head and his backside (probably) and it now looks like the end of the road at United for our Little Pea.

As for this game today, well, Swansea have been in pretty robust form so far this season although the form of their 2-2 draw against Chelsea is a little hard to ascertain now as Chelsea clearly have a few problems in this early part of the season and you’d have to say that we represent their sternest test of the season so far on that basis.

If we get it right today then we should be winning this one but I’d like to see Rooney string a few decent games together against Premier League opposition before getting too carried away with what happened at Brugge the other night.

I suspect today will be a close game but a reversal of last season’s scorelines would be nice.

Club Brugge v Man Utd (CL 2015-16 Qualifier 2nd Leg)

We go into tonight’s match leading 3-1 after the first leg at Old Trafford and I must admit to feeling much more positive after Fellaini’s late goal last week than I would have been going here just 2-1 ahead.

From a purely financial point of view, qualifying for the Champions League proper is worth perhaps at least £40 million to us so Fellaini might just have paid off his transfer fee in full (and more on top) last week.

Club Brugge showed last week that they are approaching this tie with no fear and a “Nothing to lose” type attitude and whilst I thought we’d get straight into them last week, it was the Belgian side who looked like the home side for the first 15-20 minutes and when Carrick put them into a shock lead inside ten minutes, it didn’t exactly go against the run of play.

With practically no strikers (Rooney looks more like a midfielder who doesn’t score many right now) it was hard to see how we would turn the tie around from that point but Memphis Depay stepped up to the plate and showed us all what he’s about with two great goals and a laser-guided cross right onto Fellaini’s head for the third.

A goal for us tonight should be more than enough to put this tie to bed but I suspect the emphasis will be on continuing our very good defensive record that has underpinned our season so far.

Club Brugge need to win 2-0 to go through so I expect them to start much as they did the first leg and try to grab that early goal which will put the whole tie on a knife-edge.

Despite the comings and goings at United over the last couple of seasons, we do retain a core of hugely experienced Champions League campaigners within the ranks though and that vast experience should be enough to get us through tonight and I think we’ll do just enough to secure our place back in the main event.

Man Utd v Newcastle (PL 2015-16)

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Our Premier League displays so far this season have been somewhat underwhelming but something quite amazing happened during our Champions League match against Brugge in midweek when Memphis Depay lit up Old Trafford with the kind of Champions League debut we hadn’t seen since… well… probably Wayne Rooney’s all those years ago and whilst Wayne if now huffing and puffing around the pitch looking a million miles away from that precocious teenage talent, all eyes are surely going to be on the new kid from here on in.

It seems a huge burden to put on a young player who’s only just arrived but, hair and elbows (that’s Fellaini, by the way) aside, it’s hard to see where else our goals are going to come from at the moment.

Fortunately, we play a side this afternoon that have just once at Old Trafford in the last hundred years or something (and that was the season where Moyes was in charge and every record was broken so it doesn’t count… or something).

Newcastle come here today having had a typically indifferent start to the season and have picked up just one point from their opening two matches and our old assistant Steve McClaren looks to have his work cut out there.

Defensively, we’re looking a bit more solid so far and Chris Smalling in particular seems to be growing in stature with every passing game.

I’d expect us to beat Newcastle this afternoon and it wouldn’t surprise me greatly if Rooney finally gets himself on the scoresheet. It’s been ten long matches since he did so so it’s surely only a matter of time.

This fixture has often had plenty of goals in it and you have to go back to 2004 since we last played out a goalless game here but I think today might be a 2-0 win for us.

Man Utd v Club Brugge (CL Qualifier 1st Leg)

UEFA EL :  CLUB BRUGGE - GRASSHOPPER CLUB ZURICH

After an unthinkable season without Champions League football for Manchester United, we now have one foot in the competition “proper” but must first navigate this two-legged tie against Belgian side Club Brugge.

As ties go, this could have been worse and we must go into this with some optimism especially as, whatever problems we might have at the moment, Brugge appear to have the same problems three times over.

Thanks to their participation in last season’s Europa League, they ended last season completely shattered (one reason why I never believed we wanted any part of that thing during Moyes’ reign) and now have a very lengthy injury list.

Like us, they also have a bit of a goalkeeping problem (although, to be fair, Romero has looked half decent for us so far) and quite who will play in net for them for this tie is hard to say at the moment and it could well be their loan signing from Porto, Bolat, who starts tonight.

Our own problems are largely down to LvG once again buying half a team over the summer and is now attempting to get these players fitting into a system which even the existing players never quite got to grips with for the duration of last season.

We’re also looking awfully toothless up-front and whilst 1-0 is a perfectly acceptable scoreline, to have achieved this twice in our opening two games, probably illustrates just how toothless we are right now. Especially when you take into account that the goal against Tottenham was an own-goal and our goal against Villa wasn’t a great shot from Januzaj and it was a cruel deflection that caused it to beat their keeper.

Rooney has looked like a spare part for much of our opening two games and it probably speaks volumes that Hernandez, despite being loaned out to Real Madrid last season, is now our second-choice and looks likely to be the man LvG will have to turn to for goals tonight.

Right now, I’d even take Falcao back purely on the basis that he can’t possibly be any worse than last season.

I never thought I’d be saying this either but having Fellaini available who has so far been unavailable for our domestic games due to suspension is a boon.

For anyone trying to predict what will happen tonight it is near-impossible.

I think I’ll just work on the basis that a goal-fest looks unlikely. A low-scoring home win with a clean sheet might be the best we can hope for.