Talking Points: Fulham 0-3 Manchester United

Manchester United made the best possible preparation for Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League knockout rounds with a comfortable win against Fulham.

Ole Gunnar Solskjær has now, remarkably, won more games in the Premier League than his predecessor José Mourinho had. The Norwegian is making all the right impressions at the club and has once again delighted the fans with his brand of football.

Fulham have been a major disappointment after an immense £100 million investment last summer, preparing them for life in the Premier League. Instead of competing for a mid-table position, they are languishing down in 19th place.

The Red Devils will be inspired for their next match, which takes place at Old Trafford on Tuesday against PSG.

Paul Pogba masterclass

Paul Pogba’s resurgence under Solskjær has been well documented and his performance at Craven Cottage was indicative of the newfound form he has been in.

Two goals this time out, the France international has been a pioneering figure in United’s turnaround and will be tasked with doing similar against PSG in the midweek Champions League fixture.

Pogba has a total effortlessness attributed to his game whereby he makes everything he does look so simple. The way he dribbles past players with his impressive strides, bustling defenders off his shoulders, and picks the right pass at the right time shows what a world-class player he can be.

His consistency over the past 10 games has been sensational – which includes two performances against Arsenal and Tottenham from the top six – and fans will hope that this continues heading into a period of important matches for Manchester United. 

Anthony Martial’s dizzying footwork 

After just penning a new contract until 2024, it didn’t take long for Anthony Martial to see his name on the scoresheet. Just after the 20th minute mark, the Frenchman had recorded an assist as well as his dizzying goal.

Martial picked the ball up inside his own half and channelled his inner Cristiano Ronaldo. Dribbling past Fulham’s defenders with absolute ease, the left winger turned them inside and out and found himself one-on-one with goalkeeper Sergio Rico in no time. Keeping his composure and cool in front of goal, Martial tucked it away in the far right-hand corner, leaving Rico with absolutely no chance of saving it.

The Frenchman now has nine Premier League goals in 20 appearances this season and will hope that he can add to his singular European goal on Tuesday night.

Ander Herrera controlled as ever 

Solskjær has lifted every player’s performance since taking over in late December, but perhaps none more so than Ander Herrera. The Spain international used to be one of Mourinho’s trusted lieutenants on the pitch, but for one reason or another, the manager begun to ostracise him from the first-team.

Herrera, having now rekindled his magic, has been one of the Red Devils’ most important players. Winning virtually all his battles in midfield, he is not only giving Pogba the freedom to move up the pitch, he is also contributing himself to United’s attacks. Whether that is lurking around the edge of the box or quickly releasing the forward players, Herrera has been a pivotal cog in United’s wheel.

PSG will come to Old Trafford with a game plan that is based around Marco Verratti’s time on the ball to dictate proceedings. Herrera’s job, as it usually is, will be to disrupt the Parisian’s distribution and stop it at source. The Spaniard will follow the Italian around the pitch, practically man-marking him and making sure he is not awarded the time nor space to play his game.

It is paramount for Manchester United to tie Herrera down to a new contract given his heart, desire and quality he has shown for the club over the years.

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Nemanja Matić is back to his defensive best under Ole Gunnar Solskjær

There was a time not too long ago when Manchester United fans were increasingly agitated by Nemanja Matić’s poor performances under José Mourinho. In the Portuguese manager’s third and final season in charge, the Serbia international was struggling emphatically to keep up with the standard that was expected of him.

Matić was signed by Mourinho for the Red Devils in the summer of 2017, promised to be their midfield enforcer that would take over from Michael Carrick. In truth, Man Utd always needed a player to do the screening job in front of the defence for a number of years with the Englishman’s legs tiring, and this was a clever and astute purchase that came to a level of surprise to some given Chelsea’s willingness to sell.

The Serbian has never been the loudest player on the pitch in terms of his standout performances, but he has seldom let his standard drop a noticeable level – especially under Mourinho at Chelsea. He was a pivotal figure in the Blues’ title win in the 2016-17 season and received stark plaudits from around the game for his immeasurable reliability.

With the involvement of the World Cup for his country in Russia last summer, Matić returned to the fold for his club in a battered state. The 30 year old was injured and carrying niggles, which prevented him from getting up to match speed before the start of the season and having missed out on the opening two matches.

But with Mourinho’s quick and painful downfall, Matić’s performances on the pitch quickly deteriorated. He was no longer seen as an essential cog in Man United’s midfield, but instead a gangly, clumsy player that was making all the wrong decisions at crucial times. He was beginning to become a hinderance.

After the sacking of the Portuguese boss, former centre forward Ole Gunnar Solskjær took over and the spirit in the camp was immediately lifted. As if a large weight had been taken off of their shoulders and the players could breathe once again. Matić, too, started to see an increase in the standard of his performances and was beginning to become an integral part of the team once more.

The Serbian, just sitting in front of the defence and acting as their protector, also gave true freedom to Paul Pogba alongside Ander Herrera. Their three-man midfield combination has worked effortlessly so far and has seen their club win nine times from 10 matches in all competitions.

Matić and Pogba have started every single Premier League match since Solskjær took up the reins, which has helped them both improve on their consistency and get the best out of one another.

The Serbian might not be as prolific as some moving forward, but then again, it’s not his job to be. Matić has accepted his defensive-minded role and is excelling in cutting out danger, intercepting play and launching quick counter-attacks by passing the ball swiftly to one of the offensive players ahead of him.

Some players, at 30-years-old, might well have given up in trying to claw their way back into a team as competitive as Manchester United’s, but to Matić’s credit, he has done exceedingly well to hang on to his place. There were many times this season when fans would have wanted someone else in front of the defence, but with the improvement in his game, Matić is leading the player for the job.

At times, the best way to understand if a defensive midfielder is having a good game is if you rarely notice him. They are not ones to stand out from the crowd or get bums off seats; instead, they are players who go about doing the dirty work in a discreet manner and put up a defensive wall in front of his defenders. Matić has done just that.

It was difficult to justify Matić’s starting berth a few months back, but he has risen to the appointment of Solskjær and is now, once again, one of the first names on the team sheet.

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Marcus Rashford is beginning to take centre stage for himself

It wasn’t long ago that Manchester United fans were growing impatient with the missed chances that Marcus Rashford was squandering. Under José Mourinho this season, the England international had struggled in front of goal, having only scored four goals in 13 Premier League appearances. 

In came Ole Gunnar Solskjær and as well as the sun appearing from behind the clouds, Rashford’s one-on-one ability and overall composure improved immeasurably. From the four goals he previously scored to six goals in eight starts that followed, the local academy hero had silenced his doubters over the Christmas period and into the New Year.

With how quickly Rashford not only burst onto the scene but also remained in the line-up, it’s easy to forget that he is still only 21 years old. The forward has shown his maturity and respect for others while rotating in-and-out of the squad under Louis van Gaal and Mourinho.

Mostly operating from the wide left, Rashford wasn’t scoring as many goals as he would have liked, however. A combined 21 goal contributions in all competitions is the Englishman’s highest tally so far, which came last season, but he is only four away from already equalling that – something that should be achieved by the end of February.

What has been remarkable is how quickly Rashford has adapted to his new manager in Solskjær. Although it’s clear how the Norwegian had lifted the heavy and solemn mood around the training pitches at Carrington, the boy from Wythenshawe has come on leaps and bounds in front of goal when beforehand his finishing was erratic and unreliable.

Anthony Martial might be a touch older than his English teammate, but it has been clear for fans to see how much further along in his development when given the chance in a one-on-one situation he was.

The France international – whether playing left wing or through the middle – would have ice running through his veins as he approach the goalkeeper, waiting for them to make their move. Either by giving them the eyes or giving himself up until the very last millisecond, Martial’s choice is made for him by the goalkeeper. He keeps his composure and, nine times out of 10, slots the ball home.

With Solskjær, a former gunman for Manchester United that was ever so reliable, tutoring him and teaching him the tricks of the trade, Rashford’s output and goals have gone through the roof. When beforehand he might have snatched at the shot or panicked with the opportunity, the England international takes his time, picks his spot and beats the goalkeeper on a regular occurrence.

Rashford’s versatility across the front three is what will also make him a world-class forward that will be unplayable on his day. Being only 21, there is still a few years before he reaches his prime with further development in the works. But, even in present day with Jesse Lingard and Martial, the fluidity and adaptability between the three is what has made the Red Devils so difficult to deal with in recent weeks.

Whether he is starting from the left, the right or through the middle, Rashford is a player that doesn’t stick to convention. When he scored the winning goal at Wembley against Tottenham in January, he occupied the right-hand side, waiting for Paul Pogba’s curvaceous ball over the top to lack onto.

With the onrushing defender close him down and Hugo Lloris standing tall, Rashford could quite easily have wasted the opportunity and panicked in the moment. Instead, he got the ball out of his feet, knew where the goal was, and placed it out of reach for Lloris into the bottom left-hand corner. It all happened in a matter of seconds and highlighted the immense progress made under Solskjær.

Manchester United have now opened talks with Rashford regarding a new, long-term deal that will see his best years played at Old Trafford. It’s clear, being a Manchester-born boy, that he will want to stay, but it’s important from the club to reflect his importance in the team and have a manger – whether that’s Solskjær or potentially Mauricio Pochettino – who can get the very best out of him.

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Talking Points: Leicester City 0-1 Manchester United

It wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t the best performance yet, but Ole Gunnar Solskjær extended his unbeaten run to 10 games in charge of Manchester United with the team’s latest win over Leicester City. 

Marucs Rashford’s well-taken, solitary goal was enough to come away with the all-important three points at the end of the 90 minutes, which was under threat for the best part of 60 minutes as the Foxes were pouring men forward, looking for a way past David de Gea.

The Red Devils moved up into fifth – which is where they will stay after Arsenal’s loss to Manchester City – only two points off Chelsea in fourth. Given where the club were when the Norwegian took over, it is hugely impressive what he has done in a short period of time.

Man Utd are on the rise 

While they had a temporary setback in their 2-2 draw against Burnley last week, the Red Devils emphatically grafted their way back into the match and prevented their first loss, which looked inevitable with how the team were finding it frustrating to put the ball into the back of the net.

With another win, this time away at Leicester, Solskjær’s record now reads nine wins and one draw. Given he has equalled the amount of wins in 10 games as he did from when he was manager of Cardiff City, it’s clear as day to see how well he has gelled with the first-team players.

A lot of the good work also goes to Mike Phelan, Michael Carrick and Kieran McKenna, who have gone back to basics with the emphasis on what it means to play for a team like Manchester United. The players have adapted to the Norwegian’s man-management and appear happier in both training and on the pitch.

Man United are still an outside bet to finish in the top four given Chelsea and Arsenal are still in the running, but fans can only be enthused by what they are now seeing on a weekly basis.

There is clear optimism from everyone around the club, which stands them in good stead to tackle the second half of the season.

Paul Pogba is a dream player

It became obvious in José Mourinho’s third and final year in charge that he had endured a falling out with Paul Pogba. It became siege mentality where the Portuguese coach tried to isolate the France international, while telling the club he was more than happy to sell him if the right offer came to the fore.

Thankfully for Manchester United fans, that never arrived and Pogba is now excelling just as the fans knew he would be under a different coach. Playing in a more attacking role for the Red Devils, Pogba can influence the game in the final third and has done just that since the end of December.

Scoring six goals and recording five assists in eight Premier League matches since the arrival of Solskjær is telling. Pogba has been at the heart of everything positive around the club, and his performances on the pitch speak volumes about how he was misunderstood by Mourinho.

As long as the match-winning shows of quality keep coming from the World Cup winner, Manchester United fans will be more than delighted to keep him throughout the prime years of his career.

Anthony Martial pens a new deal

With the good news that Anthony Martial has signed a contract extension until 2024, Manchester United fans will be desperate to see the Frenchman starting once more.

After an injury niggle that prevented him from making a starting berth against Leicester, as well as not being in the squad against Burnley, it’s only a matter of time before Martial returns to goal-scoring fashion.

The Red Devils have some incredibly important fixtures coming up in February – such as the two Paris Saint-Germain Champions League ties and Liverpool at Old Trafford – and so will be hoping that the left winger will be back to match fitness to lead the charge.

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Talking points from Manchester United 2-2 Burnley

Manchester United left it late in order to salvage a point against a battled-hardened Burnley side which left them frustrated for the majority of the game.

The Red Devils struggled to take their chances on the night, with Marcus Rashford wasting a numerous amount of opportunities which would have sealed the three points for his side.The Englishman did well to be in the right position at the right time, but his lack of a clinical edge on the night left him, and his team, rueing his missed chances.

Sean Dyche’s team are a typically difficult nut to crack and this game proved it. After going 2-0 up and defending for their lives, the Clarets will be disappointed with not having come away with all the points. Costly errors in clearing their lines with the ball in the box allowed Man United to sneak back into the match.

In essence, it was a poor result for Manchester United but bettered only slightly by the fact that they came from two goals behind to record a point. The Red Devils know they have to be near perfect to finish inside the top four, and this will have been a learning curve on taking their chances.

Manchester United are two points from fourth place Chelsea, with the Blues having a game-in-hand to play.

Ander Herrera was missed

It wasn’t difficult to see that Manchester United missed Ander Herrera’s poise and passing lines against Burnley, as well as his dark arts that go a long way in disrupting the opposition’s attacks.

The Spaniard has been a key cog under Solskjær so far and was sorely missed in midfield. With Andreas Pereira taking his place, there was a sense of a missing piece to the puzzle for United, as well as the Brazilian losing possession on a regular occurrence, which allowed Burnley to open the scoring.

Herrera is a great motivator on the pitch and usually finds a way to unlock defences and thwart the counter-attack from the opposition. Man United sorely missed him on a night where they should have taken all three points.

Marcus Rashford wasteful

The England international had plenty of chances to find the back of the net on Tuesday evening but ended up wasting all of them. Either down to fatigue or a lack of concentration, Rashford was not like his usual self in front of goal that he has shown since Solskjær took over from José Mourinho.

One difference as to why that might be might well be down to the Norwegian manager opting for Romelu Lukaku through the middle as the team’s centre forward, with Rashford operating from the left.

In recent weeks, the Englishman has played where Lukaku was tonight and had excelled throughout, scoring a handful of goals and combining well with his wide forwards, creating a fluid system that has caught out many defences.

While his chances in front of goal cannot be excused, perhaps Solskjær should revert back to playing Rashford as the centre forward, and allowing him to lead the line for the Red Devils. He looks far more comfortable through the middle and interchanges brilliantly with Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard.

Anthony Martial’s exuberance needed

Anthony Martial was ruled out of the match-day squad due to a slight injury suffered on the training pitch, Solskjær confirmed before the match.

Without the France international, United were lacking a sense of panache and directness in going forward. As well as taking players on and getting the better of them, Martial is fantastic at dropping off from the front line and helping his midfielders out in between the lines.

By doing so, he has the space and time to move on the half turn and facing towards the goal. When defenders see Martial with the ball at his feet head on, it rarely ends well for them against the dazzling dribbling skills of the Frenchman.

There appeared to be a disconnect between the midfielders and forwards against Burnley, with Dyche’s men deploying a low block to stop players from trying to play in between the lines of the midfield and defence.

Martial would have been a player to have disrupted their defensive-minded system and caused problems for his opposite man, drawings other defenders into the game.

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Manchester United rekindle their counter attacking style

Eight wins from eight under Ole Gunnar Solskjær and Manchester United are purring. After their latest away victory at the Emirates in the FA Cup fourth round, the Red Devils have overcome every test that has stood in their way since the Norwegian took over from José Mourinho.

Man United have always prided itself on its ability to transition from rigid defending to counter-attacking excellence. The most famous of goals coming in 2008/09 when the Red Devils surged forward from their own box and within 10 seconds the ball was in the back of the Arsenal net thanks to Cristiano Ronaldo’s finish. It was the pinnacle of United’s counter-attacking era.

Against Arsenal, United had discovered their old style. Through Paul Pogba, Romelu Lukaku, Jesse Lingard and Alexis Sánchez, as well as when Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford entered the fray, the team had an out-ball like no other. While these players all played under the Portuguese manager, they did not express themselves in such a manner that caused destruction to opposition defences.

This calendar year is going to be important for the reinvigoration of the Chile international Sánchez and so far, he has showed his intent. Two assists in two cameo performances in the Premier League, as well as a hugely important first goal against the Gunners in the FA Cup, shows what Sánchez is all about. He has the imagination and innate feeling of where he needs to be and is among the chances.

The Chilean has already shown mass improvement since Mourinho was relieved of his duties – a manager he struggled to warm to and adapt to his philosophy of playing the game. Sánchez is the type of player to stick to one system and become rooted to a specific area of the pitch; instead, he is a free-flowing, fluid attacker that constantly interchanges with the players around him and causes immense disturbance to his opposite man.

In Solskjær’s formation so far, the front three of United have all interchanged and become a lot more fluid in how they go forward. They are thriving under the Norwegian and have brought a renewed sense of freedom to the team. As they punished Arsenal on the counter-attack even when the Gunners were pouring numbers forward, Mourinho might have opted for a different strategy that kept United in their own half for the remaining part of the game. That last and crucial goal might never have come.

Ander Herrera had another terrific game that highlights his credentials to become Manchester United’s next captain. The Spaniard is a fantastic commander of the team and impresses with his consistent performances. Even under Mourinho, Herrera’s level never dropped as low as his team-mates’ did, with the Spain international being one of the Portuguese boss’ lieutenants in his first year in charge.

While Herrera is not a goal-scoring midfielder nor provide tens of assists, he provides an immensely useful job in midfield in breaking up player and giving it to players around him that can create chances. The Spaniard does have a knack of scoring long range goals that are impressive, Herrera’s job has been to allow Pogba to perform at the best of his ability – which is what fans are now seeing.

The Red Devils have some important fixtures coming up in the Premier League that will test them at times. Burnley and Leicester City are two teams they should beat, it is important for Solskjær not to allow his players to become complacent after winning all eight of their previous matches. Other teams around them competing for a top four finish will drop points, and so it is crucial for United not to give them the upper hand by wasting chances to keep the pressure firmly on.

Solskjær has done a mightily impressive job in clawing back the 11 point difference to Arsenal and are now level with them in fifth. He has done it by deploying an attacking swagger that the Manchester United fans are grateful to see once more. If he can keep up what he has started, there will be few obstacles in his way in landing the permanent job come the end of the season.

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Sergio Romero is one of the best reserve goalkeepers in the world

Reserve goalkeepers rarely get the credit they deserve. Unlike outfield players, the battle to be a team’s number one in between the posts is utterly cutthroat. There are no minutes available at the end of the game to stretch the legs or try to influence for the better, which can often mean the life of a reserve goalkeeper is lonely and unrewarding.

Luckily for Manchester United, however, they have, in essence, to number one goalkeepers that are both patient and excellent. Ever since arriving under Louis van Gaal in 2015, Sergio Romero has been phenomenal when asked upon to be United’s goalkeeper. There have never been any complaints with a lack of game time and the performances he has shown over the last three-and-a-half years have been exemplary.

The Argentina international has still made 47 appearances in the three-and-a-half seasons that he has been with the club, which shows that his three managers have trusted him so far to take responsibility when asked to. David de Gea is arguably the world’s best goalkeeper, but even the Spaniard needs a rest from time to time and there is nothing more assuring than having a reliable number two ready to take his place.

Signed on a free transfer, Romero has been a consistent performer since arriving to Old Trafford and quickly became a fan’s favourite. Guiding the Red Devils to the Europa League final, Romero led the club to its first ever success in the European competition.

The Argentinean made a number of world-class saves throughout the knockout rounds that kept Manchester United in the tournament and if it wasn’t for him, history might well have told a completely different story.

A typical South American goalkeeper, Romero is, more or less, comfortable with the ball at his feet as well as in his hands. While he is not as adept to shot stopping as De Gea is, he has pulled out countless world-class, diving saves that saved Man United’s bacon on a number of occasions.

What is arguably most impressive about Romero is the fact that is always ready to step in and perform at a top level no matter the circumstances. Most players – both outfield and goalkeepers – need time to adjust to the rhythm of playing football, but Romero has shown throughout his time at United that he can slot straight into the side and do what is needed from him. It is a testament to his character as well as his ability on the pitch.

Luckily for the Red Devils, Romero has not asked for a move away or decided to join another club. There have been a number of offers passed his way, especially from Italy in which he came from when joining United, to be their number one choice in goal, but the Argentinean declined the approaches to remain at the club. It is no wonder why the fans have taken to him so lovingly.

Manchester United should be incredibly appreciative of Romero’s services over the past few years and will lead them out against Arsenal in the FA Cup Fourth Round. The Argentinean has been a safe pair of hands, which is exactly what is asked of for a second in command.

If the Red Devils can hold on to him over the course of the next few seasons, they will be blessed with a player that can not only provide invaluable guidance to the younger generation in the academy and first-team squad, but also the assuredness of the Argentinean’s performances when he is needed. Romero was a superb signing for Manchester United.

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Talking points from Manchester United 2-1 Brighton

Ole Gunnar Solskjær became the first manager in Manchester United’s long history to win his first six league games after his side overcame a resilient Brighton & Hove Albion.

Goals from Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford sealed the game in the first half, but Brighton gave their travelling supports a glimmer of hope after finding the back of the net with just under 20 minutes to play.

However, the Red Devils’ defence stood strong and came away with their seventh consecutive win under the caretaker manager, suggesting they are listening intently to the Norwegian’s methods and relaying his messages onto the pitch.

Here are four talking points from Manchester United’s latest win:

Marcus Rashford in fine form 

The transition in Rashford’s game since Solskjær took over has been nothing short of mesmerising. The England international had struggled initially this season, looking fatigued come the end of games and failing to score on a regular and consistent basis.

Rashford was squandering good opportunities in front of goal and looked depleted in confidence under José Mourinho. But since the Norwegian has come in – who, of course, played in the same position as the Englishman – Rashford’s form has exponentially increased, scoring five goals in his last six Premier League appearances.

His latest, an absolute peach into the top right-hand corner of Brighton’s goal, demonstrated how quickly he has mastered the art of finishing under Solskjær. The Norwegian has been working closely with improving that aspect to Rashford’s game and it is evident to see the England centre forward’s newfound confidence when given the responsibility of being the main goalscorer of the team.

Solskjær mentioned in his post-match press conference that Rashford can become the best striker in the Premier League with the injury to Harry Kane. The on-loan manager from Molde FK has given nothing but praise to Rashford, which has clearly been received well.

Paul Pogba is unplayable at times

Rashford is not the only player to have improved drastically since the arrival of Solskjær

Pogba has been given a new lease of life with his attacking-minded coach at the helm, allowing the France international to bombard forward and cause havoc in the opposition box.

The World Cup-winning midfielder’s latest moment of magic was controlling a cross-field ball with one touch to get around Brighton’s left back, Gaetan Bong, and cause the defender to commit a foul inside the penalty area. Although his slow, stuttering penalty routine breeds doubt among the supporters, Pogba tucked it away to score his 10th goal of the season.

Pogba has shown his prowess under Solskjær with his combined nine goals and assists in just six appearances – all coming in the Premier League. With his new position and two midfielders in Nemanja Matić and Ander Herrera that cover his back, Pogba is given the licence to roam forward and provide his tools in attack

There is still much more to come from Pogba which can only excite the Old Trafford faithful.

Victor Lindelöf is turning into a reliable centre back

It is fair to say that Victor Lindelöf has had a slow burn of a career at Manchester United, initially struggling to get into the team under Mourinho – the very manager that initially bought him – but he has done magnificently well in the last few months and has become a mainstay in their defence.

Gifted on the ball, Lindelöf was rarely seen marauding forward and trying to fasten up the transition from defence into attack. The Sweden international has expert vision which he showed with a delicious over-the-top ball into the path of Anthony Martial, leaving the Frenchman one-on-one with the goalkeeper. Unfortunately for Lindelöf it did not go down as an assist, but the execution of the pass was first class.

While Manchester United still need a central defender in their team – perhaps a more experienced one to partner Lindelöf – the 24-year-old has been the Red Devils’ best defender this season and is only likely to improve as he enters his prime years.

Diogo Dalot shows his promise 

With Luke Shaw being ruled out in the warm-up, Diogo Dalot took to the field in his secondary position at left back. Not uncommon to the young Portuguese player, Dalot showed his promise with his willingness to take on his man and fire crosses into the box.

The 19-year-old has been hailed as one of the brightest youth players in the game and it is clear to see why: Dalot remains unfazed by anything put in front of him. The Portugal youth international looked assured of his ability on the left, often intercepting play and quickly looking in front of him to get Manchester United pouring forward.

Dalot will, of course, make mistakes, as he did when letting Pascal Gross manoeuvre in front of him to score Brighton’s goal, but there is more than enough shown by him to suggest that he has the makings of a top full back for years to come.

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Marouane Fellaini deserves an appreciative send off by Manchester United fans

Marouane Fellaini, for one reason or another, is not universally popular among Manchester United. It’s fair to say that he conquers opinion. Some can see his quality and what he brings to the club, but others can only see a player that personifies the darker periods since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson.

Unfortunately, life at Manchester United didn’t get off on the right step for Fellaini. Totally out of his control, but how his whole transfer was dealt with by Ed Woodward, the executive vice-chairman, was a shambles from start to finish.

David Moyes, the newly appointed successor of Ferguson, searched long and hard for his midfield man, going through the possibilities of Toni Kroos, Arturo Vidal and many more, before deciding that Fellaini was the only realistic option.

After enquiring about his price, they knew, that within a certain time window, Fellaini had an active buyout clause £22 million before it expired on 31 July. Because the club stuttered and dithered all summer, they had to return right at the end of the transfer window with an improved offer of £27.5 million. The deal was done, but the farce summed up the next few years and, unluckily for Fellaini, he was at the heart of it.

There is no doubt that Fellaini has his qualities and he was an excellent servant to Everton when under the management of Moyes. Often played just behind the striker, Fellaini would create a nuisance in the box and disrupt the opposition’s defence, often scoring crucial goals at pivotal moments.

However, for some reason unknown to all, Moyes, and his replacement Louis van Gaal, decided to use him further back in midfield. The Belgium international simply couldn’t have the same effect as he had shown in the Premier League beforehand, and was also not technically good enough to play in a two-man pivot, constructing attacks and driving the team forward. It wasn’t his game.

For the following few years, Fellaini was seen as an outcast. He didn’t necessarily fit into the football that LvG was looking for: a possession-dominated philosophy with players that have expert technicalities to them. Fellaini certainly wasn’t one of those.

The situation reached its all-time lowest point under José Mourinho, when the Belgian was brought on as a substitute in December 2016 and was booed by the Old Trafford crowd. Seldom do the home fans whistle and boo their own players – unless you are Real Madrid – but such was the breakdown in the relationship that it had just become normal.

One thing remained, however. How was it that for a player who had been subjected to boos and whistles survived under three managers in his four-and-a-half stint at Manchester United? Perhaps there was not a bad player there after all.

At his lowest point as a Red Devil, Fellaini actually begun to turn his career around and lay the foundation blocks to recovering his reputation among was should have already been his supporters. The Belgian’s performances started to pick up towards the back end of the 2016/17 season, but his major breakthrough came in the following campaign.

It was clear from the beginning of his reign that Mourinho preferred a midfielder of Fellaini’s stature to that of Juan Mata. The Portuguese values loyalty and a robustness that not all players have, but Fellaini was certainly one to move into the inner circle under Mourinho.

With the same late and crucial goals, Fellaini found his role within the team: the super sub. While Mourinho arguably played him from the beginning of matches too often, the Belgian had a wonderful knack of appearing at the right time at the end of matches, slotting it home to the eruption of the Manchester United fans.

Not many were kidding themselves thinking Fellaini could turn into a player that had a long-term future at the club, but he was one to applaud in the moment when he took his chances. The Belgian is, quite clearly, a limited player in some aspects, but in others, he is one of the world’s best.

With Ole Gunnar Solskjær taking the immediate reigns, it is unlikely that Fellaini is going to feature handsomely between now and the end of the season. The Norwegian prefers a pressing style of play, with technically gifted players on the ball, making things happen. Fellaini, for all that he is good for, just doesn’t fit into that brand of football.

At the end of the season, Man United are most likely going to try and move Fellaini on, after five years at the club. He’s had his ups and he’s certainly had his downs, but fans should look back on his time at the club and remember that he was a player who gave his all when asked upon. After all, he did survive under three Manchester United managers.

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Manchester United have the chance to reach the top four

Ole Gunnar Solskjær became the first manager in Manchester United’s long history to win their first six league matches. With the win against Tottenham, away at Wembley, the Norwegian has made a huge step in winning over the hearts of the fans to stake his place as the long-term manager of the club. 

While there is very little room for sentiment in the modern game, Manchester United fans are coming around to the idea that Solskjær could really have what it takes in order to lift the Red Devils back up to challenging for titles. While it is still early to say whether he should be given the job, no one can fault the strides he has made so far – especially with the six wins to his name.

The Norwegian’s first real test came against Spurs and it is fair to say that he passed it with flying colours. Man United passed the ball round well in the opening half, often outplaying Tottenham and continually finding routes in behind their defence. With the effervescent front three of Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard, Solskjær instructed his forward players to interchange and become as fluid as possible.

The goal, born from Paul Pogba’s magisterial right foot, was clearly something they had practiced while out in Dubai the week before. Pogba looked up and within a flash executed an immaculate parabola of a pass into the path of Rashford. Within seconds, the ball was past Hugo Lloris and Manchester United were in front.

Although the Red Devils had to defend with their backs firmly up against the wall for the last 20 minutes, they came through that, largely due to the world-class efforts of David de Gea. The Spaniard has taken some stick from the wider media this season, as well as throughout last summer’s World Cup, but responded brilliantly with 11 saves that kept Tottenham at bay.

What was perhaps most pleasing to fans was the fact that United actually went to Wembley and pressed from the front – something that would not have happened under José Mourinho. They made mistakes at times, as all players do, but they did not give up in achieving their game plan and came away with the crucial three points.

Brighton & Hove Albion, Burnley, Leicester City and Fulham read Manchester United’s next four Premier League games before they take on Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League. They have already made up the gap to Arsenal, now level on points in fifth place, with six more separating themselves and Chelsea in fourth.

For Solskjær, he could not have asked for a better run of fixtures over the Christmas break and into the new year. While some games are going to throw challenges and obstacles in his way, the Norwegian manager, currently on-loan from Molde, should be able to pick up maximum points over the next four Premier League matches.

Injuries might take their toll and United’s wider squad is not littered with quality, but if Solskjær keeps the players hungry and can continue taking to the field in the manner they are at the moment, they will be too much to handle for most teams – just as they were for Mauricio Pochettino’s Spurs.

There is still a long and winding road until the end of season in May, with plenty of mistakes to happen along the way for teams above Man United. If the club keeps its cool in the pressured moments and pick up maximum points from the ‘lesser’ opponents, they should find themselves in with a chance to strike for Champions League qualification for the following season.

Football is not always as what is before you on paper, which is why there can be no shortcuts or complacency coming from Solskjær. With Sir Alex Ferguson in-and-around Carrington, looking over training, as well as Mike Phelan as his assistant manager, that is unlikely to happen. After all, the ‘baby-faced assassin’ will do everything within his power to make the job his own.

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