Monday, October 6, 2014

First of many for Falcao. Manchester United 2 - 1 Everton


On his second ever match for Manchester United, Paddy McNair was given the unenviable task of marking Romelu Lukaku for the entire match. At the end of the match, he had Lukaku well inside his pocket but that was not the only reason that United finished the match with 3 points in their pocket. For that we all have to thank David De Gea who had to make two exceptional saves in the last 5 minutes of the match. In the final minute of the first half, Luke Shaw made a challenge from behind on Tony Hibbert inside the box, and a penalty was given correctly. Until today no goalkeeper in the Premier League has saved a penalty from Leighton Baines, giving him a tally of 14 successful converts from the spot. Today De Gea guessed the direction correctly and promptly palmed away an admittedly weak shot from Baines, which kept the spirits high going into half time.

There is something wrong in Louis Van Gaal’s half time talk, or at least it appears so. United have played poorly in the second half for every match they have played this season. Van Gaal should seriously consider re-modulating whatever he is talking at the break! Everton came back with vigour in the second half and got their reward on 55th minute, when Baines, making up for his earlier penalty miss, delivered a pinpoint cross, after working out a neat one-two from a freekick, to Naismith who headed the ball in. Then there was a 5 minute period when it appeared that United will implode as Everton put the numbers forward and pressed the United players when possession was lost.

There was news that United could move for a permanent deal for Radamel Falcao as early as this January Transfer window for a reported price of 43M. 43 million quid is an awful lot of money, but Falcao showed today why he is worth every penny of that. Though he was yet to score for United coming into this match, his movement off the ball and his overall play have been impressive. When a goal to restore the supremacy was badly needed, Angel Di Maria tried to unleash a left foot shot towards the goal, only to end up scuffing it. But when the ball found its way between the two centre backs, there was Falcao to poke it past Tim Howard for his first Manchester United goal.  At first it looked like he was offside but when continued his celebrations after having a look at the linesman, it was evident that United had got their advantage back. The replays confirmed that the linesman has got this one absolutely right.

The rest of the match, especially towards the end, was a torture to watch for every United fan as Everton came very close twice to leveling for the second time in the match. With 2 minutes and extra time remaining, Leon Osman was played clear at the edge of the box and his shot flying towards the left corner of the goal was palmed away by De Gea. His second save was an even better one. A short free kick from outside the box ensured a melee in the penalty area, and the ball was partially cleared, only to reach Bryan Oviedo, the same man who scored the winner in the same fixture last season. The collective groan heard around Old Trafford when De Gea flew to his left to turn Oviedo’s shot over the bar was a mixture of both surprise and relief. At the end of the match De Gea thanked the crowd which was singing his name around.

Reds go into the international break as a happy bunch, having broken into the top four for the first time for a year. There is some stat which says that United are above Liverpool for the first time in a year too. It is only safe to assume that the person who came up with that had been in a self imposed sleep for the last 24 years when Liverpool fans looked at the table and found United above them always. United’s next fixture is a Monday night match against West Brom 2 weeks away, before they face Chelsea home and City away. The only positive out of this long break is that it allows some of the injured players to recover fully by that time. Going by the current form, United will include De Gea even if he shows up with only one leg on the morning of the match, though.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Spared all of us from the chicken dance. Manchester United 2 - 1 West Ham United

 On the 10th year anniversary of signing for Manchester United, Wayne Rooney chose this match to encapsulate his 10 years at the club. On the 5th minute of the match, Rafael’s overlapping run found himself with time and space on the right wing and he delivered a perfect pass for the oncoming Rooney to sweep the ball to the far corner, a sweet classy finish in itself. Rooney was really fired up for the match, for you could find him behind the strikers and you could find him in central defense as well. Then with half an hour remaining in the match and United leading 2-1, Rooney made a high kicking challenge on Stewart Downing who was on the break. It was a crude and unnecessary challenge as Downing was still in the United half and there were 4 covering defenders. At first my reaction was it was professional challenge which warranted an yellow card, but when I saw it again it appeared that Lee Mason was spot on to send him off. As usual there are over the top reactions around to suggest that Rooney shouldn’t be captaining United again. I don’t think that is going to be case here. First of all, in the current squad, he is only one (probably De Gea too) who is guaranteed a spot in the starting eleven, which makes him the only probable candidate for captaincy. And he is not the only United captain who was sent off. I can immediately remember Cantona, Keane and Vidic. I can’t remember any hue and cry of this magnitude when it happened with those players. Ofcourse he let his team down, ofcourse it was a bad challenge, but he has already said sorry and he will have his punishment over the next 3 weeks.

Between Rooney’s first goal and his red card Robin Van Persie got his customary goal through a neat finish from Falcao’s assist. When the half time dawned De Gea came out for a punch which never happened, for a West Ham corner, which then allowed Sakho to head in to an empty net. After United were reduced to 10 men, the tension was unbearable on the ground. The crowd went quiet, Hammers put numbers forward and United had everyone defending except Van Persie. Considering United’s luck this season, there was inevitability about West Ham finding an equalizer. With 4 minutes remaining Kevin Nolan poked the ball into the United Net but the linesman’s flag spared all of us from the chicken dance. The relief around the ground was there for everyone to see when the flag went up. The moment of the match came when United’s debutant Paddy McNair craned his neck and headed backwards to clear an incoming cross which looked like it will end in the goal. He was solid throughout the match and had the audacity to take the ball forward a couple of times. It was the worst kind of a match any debutant defender would have wanted, to have a man down and had to battle for the dear life for the last half an hour of the match. But the fact that the kid had come through it unscathed will bode him well in future.

The one concern from United’s point of view after the match was Ander Herrera’s back injury which forced him to get substituted on 74th minute. Further reports suggested that he has suffered a broken rib and he would spend some considerable time on the sidelines. Fortunately, the latest news is that the injury is not as bad as it was feared initially. He is definitely out of this weekend’s clash with Everton, and further assessment will be carried out only after the forthcoming international break. Get well soon Ander!