Man Utd 4-0 Chelsea: The Red Devils kick off the season in winning ways

The main focus of gameweek one in the Premier League was bound to be on Manchester United versus Chelsea, especially when the other top teams in the league had won their respective games. Given that the final positions in the table always come down to the head-to-head between the top-six sides, it was important for Frank Lampard and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to get going on a high note and make a statement.

Overall, the match was completed in a typical fashion that the supporters of Old Trafford have been used to in recent years, where they start off very slow before ending the match with the three important points. Chelsea got off on the right foot and went close with Tammy Abraham hitting the post and Emerson smashing the crossbar, however, it was Marcus Rashford’s penalty in the 18th minute that opened up the game and allowed everyone to witness a more end-to-end match.

Things went from bad to worse for the visitors in the second half, as the individual mistakes and the poor man-marking allowed the hosts to score two quick goals between the 65th and the 67th minute through Anthony Martial and Rashford once again. Not only that, Lampard’s options from the bench were not great to create a comeback, whilst Solskjaer was able to give both Daniel James and Mason Greenwood the game time they were in need of, with the former bagging his first ever goal for the club.

Here are the three factors we learnt from United’s first league game this season…

Clinical showing despite nervy periods

There are no doubts at all, that Chelsea were the better side in the first half, from controlling possession of the ball to creating chances patiently, but only the end product was missing. Had they still had the final third quality of Eden Hazard in the team, they would have put the game to bed by the half-time break and the Red Devils would have found it very difficult to turn it around. However, United were fortunate and took the lead from the penalty spot, and from there, they were constantly aiming to pounce on the counter.

After the break, Solskjaer’s men took things up a notch or two whilst Lampard’s boys were unable to be more productive and effective in United’s penalty box. Once the decisive second goal came through for the side from Anthony Martial, it was more or less over, with Chelsea trying to make the most out of any possession they had, whilst United were happy to sit deep and continue to counter when required. In the end, the hosts showed their patience in both phases and were able to adjust to some tactical tweaks, whilst the visitors were unlucky and fell apart as the goals were conceded.

Exciting debuts for the new summer arrivals

When deciding who would start in the huge fixture against Chelsea, Solskjaer was bound to use the new boys in Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Harry Maguire, two players who instantly made an impact in the backline and were able to ease the pressure off the team on many occasions. If neither of them were on the pitch yesterday, the Blues would have easily scored one or two goals in the first half, or even more.

With how the two defensive additions recently performed, individuals such as Ashley Young, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones aren’t expected to make a return into the starting line-up anytime soon. Maguire’s appearance at the heart of defence was huge for the side, as he was able to guide the team forward on the ball and was regarded as a rising leader when needed. Meanwhile, Wan-Bissaka played a crucial role of his own, stopping Chelsea to break on the counter time and time again, and helping the team to recycle and utilise possession on both sides of the pitch.

Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford are on the rise

At this moment of time, it can easily be stated that both Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford will be played on a regular basis and also along with each other, something that couldn’t be done effectively the last two seasons due to the presence of Romelu Lukaku. Though, with the Belgian forward now at Inter Milan, the duo have a lot of expectations and high standards on them, with both players potentially in need of scoring around 40-45 goals in order for the team to finish within the top four.

With the club failing to bring in a replacement for Lukaku on deadlind day, a lot of the pressure has now been passed onto Martial and Rashford, as well as the other attacking-minded players in the squad. As long as the pair keep up with how they performed yesterday, in terms of the dribbling ability, movement on and off the ball along with an improvement of their work rate, United should be just fine in the long run.

A big season awaits Marcus Rashford at Manchester United

There were mixed reviews when Manchester United announce the extension of Marcus Rashford’s new contract this week, with the reported wage coming to around £250,000 per-week, should the Englishman achieve all bonuses.

While, of course, fans were happy with the club tying down one of England’s brightest talents until 2023, there were some worried about giving the size of that contract to a 21-year-old who has yet shown and fulfilled his true potential.

 

No one can deny that Rashford has talent in abundance, nor that he works hard, but fans of the Red Devils also have not seen a season in which the England international has mustered up more than 10 Premier League goals.

Rashford’s record stands at 27 Premier League goals in 111 appearances throughout his career so far. The caveat to this statistic is the fact that he has played a lot of his football from the wing position, either due to Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Wayne Rooney or Romelu Lukaku standing in his way.

But with two of those already having moved on and Lukaku set to follow, this is the first season in which Rashford could be considered the main man to lead United’s forward line.

Even if Man United can activate the deal to bring Sevilla’s Wissam Ben Yedder to Old Trafford, Rashford will have the majority of playing minutes as the club’s centre forward, which brings its own pressures.

At 21, the academy graduate has achieved a lot: from the World Cup semi-final with England to winning the Europa League with Man United, he has experienced a fair amount to shape him into the player he is today.

But, now, with Manchester United entering a new phase under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, it is time for Rashford to step up to the plate and prove he has what it takes to take his, and United’s, performances to the next level.

Fans understand that he has been a work in progress since breaking through at 18, but after seeing the likes of Luka Jovic, Kylian Mbappe and Joao Felix putting in consistent performances that warrant big money, it is time for Rashford to follow suit and achieve similar feats.

The England centre forward will have the fans’ overall backing through thick and thin, but criticism will appear through the cracks should Rashford not perform this season and provide a constant flood of goals. He was made for United and now it is time to bring them back to the top.

Predicted lineups for this weekend’s EPL games

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After all the midweek Champions League drama, it’s a return to English Premier League action this weekend with all 20 teams involved.

Here are our predicted lineups for those EPL fixtures so have a read in preparation for another EPL fantasy football round.

Manchester City v Spurs

Manchester City XI: Ederson, Walker, Kompany, Laporte, Mendy, De Bruyne, Fernandinho, D. Silva, B. Silva, Aguero, Sterling

Spurs XI: Lloris, Trippier, Alderweireld, Vertonghen, Davies, Winks, Wanyama, Alli, Eriksen, Moura, Son Continue reading

EPL Best XI – Week 32

MilivojevicAt this late-ish stage of the season, Premier League clubs do of course start gaining games in hand over some of their rivals. At the time of writing, for example, league leaders Liverpool have played 32 games, while second-placed Man City have featured in 31 and Arsenal (in fifth) are on 30. Of course, Monday evening games play a part, but so too does the progress of different teams in different competitions. Liverpool now have a two point lead at the top of the table, though City have of course played that one game less. It is now time to look at which players performed the best for their clubs in this past weekend’s round of games, adopting a 4-4-2 formation here. For simplicity, we are calling this week 32 but that may not apply to all teams of course.

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Digging deep into the potential that Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford has

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When you look at Manchester United’s attack, you see two bright and talented gems in Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford, two individuals who have the capability of becoming Premier League beaters within the matter of months. However, the duo’s development has been stagnated and been put on pause, due to the fact that Jose Mourinho has failed to them both to the next level.

The inconsistencies and issues to be clinical in front of goal have been there, but the attackers have been unable to take the game up a notch during the 56-year-old Portuguese international’s three years at Old Trafford. Since the arrival of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Rashford has been able to pick up his fine form once again whilst Martial has had problems with injuries and small struggles off the pitch.

Now, focusing more onto Marcus Rashford, he has huge potential at a young age and the type of player he wants to become is an important choice to make. Having played a large number of games as a winger whilst being utilised in a more central position recently, it is more than crucial for the youngster to recognise which role suits him best, which is starting to become clear as time goes on.

At the age of 21, the Wythenshawe-born star has already achieved crucial goals against the likes of Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur. Not only that, he has impressively scored on his debuts in majority of the competitions, from the Europa League in May 2016 to the Champions League in September 2018, allowing him to become an instant fans favourite.

Looking at the numbers he is producing in the Premier League, he is expected to reach double figures before the season comes to an end, as he is currently on nine goals with eight games remaining. And even when he is not shooting from distance or isn’t ruthless with his finishing, he has put his team-mates into good scoring opportunities, helping him to reach to a number of six assists.

Once the season comes to an end, majority of the Old Trafford faithful as well as the Premier League experts will be expecting the Englishman to consistently hit double figures in terms of goals and assists for the next five to ten years. This will only be possible if the team is built around him, as he has completed fewer shots in the penalty area (37) than the regular forwards in Jamie Vardy (49), Joshua King (44) and Salomon Rondon (50), summing up the side’s lack of attacking identity.

For sure, Rashford’s dribbling ability and burst of pace will give him the advantage over a majority of centre-backs and full-backs, but it’s his decision making and lack of concentration in the final third that prevents him from being compared to the likes of Kylian Mbappe and Ousmane Dembele. If he was to improve on these two areas, he will be seen as the perfect striker for both club and country.

He may want to look at the careers of Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney, two players who were very successful at Manchester United, with the former still being seen as one of the best footballers in the world whilst the other suffered a decline which led him to the Major Soccer League (MLS). The only difference between the pair is that one of them devoted their body and whole life to nothing but football whilst the other enjoyed a number of perfect seasons but failed to look after himself.

Overall, the world is at his feet and he will be going through a lot of good moments and bad moments through his career, where his mindset and reactions will be the major role that plays in the outcome. As long as he is developed and improved by the right manager and coaching team, there should not be a problem at all for Marcus Rashford to go on to become a top forward or winger.

Should Nicolas Pepe be Manchester United’s next big purchase?

There has been talk for many years about updating Manchester United’s right wing, given the lack of out-and-out wide players that occupy their flank. Both Juan Mata and Jesse Lingard, more natural to the number 10 position, have routinely been placed out wide, while centre forwards Romelu Lukaku and Marcus Rashford have also had stints in unfamiliar territory. 

The Red Devils have lost a part of their attacking force due to the predictability of their right wing.Ashley Young, who has been filling in at right back, is usually ever present in offensive positions, but with his teammate ahead of him usually cutting inside, the opposition know that if they can put two players on Young and cover the space effectively, United’s attacks will come to void.

The Englishman has also received stark criticism over his poor execution of crosses, which is prohibiting their chances of putting the ball into the box.

And so it is about time that Manchester United reinforced their ring with some new talent, with Nicolas Pepe of Lille being the name on the tip of many fans’ tongues.

Ligue 1 is consistently slandered by supporters claiming it is a ‘farmer’s league’, suggesting that because of Paris Saint-Germain’s dominance, the whole division is weak in comparison to the almighty Premier League. But there is a clear reason why English and European clubs continually go to the French market, and that is because they produce some of the best players in the world.

From Ousmane Dembélé  to Samuel Umtiti to Bernardo Silva and Kylian Mbappé, Ligue 1 has nurtured some of the finest players this generation has and will see, so it remains bemusing as to see why the mockery continues to grow.

This year, the 23 year old Pepe has become a household name, rising to prominence with a high-flying Lille side. Coming into his prime years, the Ivory Coast international would be a catch to Manchester United given his directness and ability to create something from nothing – he is fantastic at unbalancing his opposite man and creating space for either the key pass or incisive shot.

Remarkably, so far this season, Pepe has 17 goals and 11 assists in 28 games, averaging a goal contribution in every single match in all competitions. While the Ivorian traditionally is not an orthodox winger in the sense that he will take on his defender at every opportunity, he does hold his width far more than the likes of Lingard and Mata, and has speed to burn.

Over the last few years, under Louis van Gaal and José Mourinho, Man United’s players have somewhat lacked the courage to move in a direct manner. There have been a lot of sideways passes and a crowding in the middle of the pitch – a lack of considerable width was missing from their game.

That has somewhat changed under Ole Gunnar Solskjær, but the right wing is still a problem area, with not enough happening down it in comparison to the left. Pepe, on the other hand, is an incredibly direct and forward-thinking player, he has the confidence to beat the player in front of him and the ability to pull it off nine times out of 10.

What has been so impressive about Pepe’s performances this season is the consistency. Some players can start explosively and peter out, but the Ivorian has kept up his goal rate and assist tally throughout the season, which is why some of Europe’s biggest clubs will be eyeing him up for a summer transfer.

Even if Lille are in a spot of financial bother, Pepe is unlikely to be sold for anything less than £50 million this summer. Given his age, ability shown and potential to take his game to the next level, the French club are going to play the long game during the transfer window and make sure that a bidding war arises. Based on what has been shown this season, Pepe looks to be one of the outstanding candidates from Europe’s top five leagues.

For a long time now, United have been longing for a goal-scoring right winger, someone to take the game by the horns and provide a threat every time they get the ball. In Martial, they have that on the left, and with Rashford they have it through the middle, but no one of the same ilk on the right. Pepe stakes a commendable claim to be the missing piece to Solskjær’s puzzle in attack.

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Modern Love and The Manchester United Way

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Manchester United under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer appear more of a revelation as time passes by. Last week there were rumblings of the wheels having come off, the extended honeymoon being over but how premature we all were.

Let’s be fair. On the face of it I’m not sure any credible football person really believed post Moyes, VG and Mourinho that Man United were anywhere near a Champions League credible force.

However, what a way to bounce back. Stamford Bridge hasn’t been the best of hunting grounds for the reds even in the Ferguson era yet on Monday night, United cruised through the tie like a classic car on a demonstration circuit through the streets of Monaco. Continue reading

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 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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Jose Mourinho needs to choose his best attackers and stick with them

Jose Mourinho Romelu Lukaku

Anthony Martial said this week that his recent run of form is down to Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho giving him a prolonged run of games in the starting XI.

The Frenchman has scored six goals in seven league games since establishing himself as a regular starter at the end of September, having previously started just one match out of a possible seven.

“The key to it is playing games,” Martial explained. “For me, when you play in a game, that’s when you get back your enjoyment and you start to pick up your form once again.

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