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RVP: TItle Still Within Reach

Manchester United ChampionsRobin van Persie believes Manchester United can still win the title even though they are 13 points behind leaders Chelsea, but suggested they stand a greater chance of becoming champions for a 21st time next season.

United moved into the top four with Saturday’s 2-1 victory at Van Persie’s former club Arsenal and Van Persie thinks that, with 26 games of the season remaining, they have time to catch Jose Mourinho’s team.

He told BT Sport: “This year it’s still possible as we’ve only played [a third] of our games. We’re aiming for this year, but it will be very hard. If not this year then hopefully next year.”

United had made their worst start to a Premier League season and have already dropped 17 points this season, while they only dropped 25 in the whole of the 2012-13 season when they were last champions.


rooney-youngLouis van Gaal believes there is plenty of room for improvement from his Manchester United side despite leading them to their first away win of the season at Arsenal.

A Kieran Gibbs own goal and a late effort from skipper Wayne Rooney handed United their first victory on the road in over seven months, with Arsenal only able to manage a consolation through substitute Olivier Giroud.

United enter the top four of the Barclays Premier League after van Gaal’s maiden three-point haul away from Old Trafford but only after they rode their luck following a slow start.

Former Red Devil Danny Welbeck missed a couple of decent chances to make van Gaal eat his words after the Dutchman sold the Manchester-born forward to the Gunners over the summer.

Jack Wilshere should have scored before he was lucky to not see a red card having shoved his head into Marouane Fellaini’s chest – but United held on until Gibbs turned Antonio Valencia’s low cross past his own goalkeeper.

Rooney doubled United’s lead as he and Angel Di Maria hit Arsenal on the counter-attack and, although Di Maria was guilty of missing a great chance to add a third, the returning Giroud’s well-taken strike could not spark a late revival for the hosts.

“I was not pleased with the way we have played in the first half,” van Gaal said when asked if this was his best win as United boss to date.

“I don’t think so. But it was an away game against a top team and we have won. Okay, then I can say yes. It’s also the right moment to win this game.

“I have to say the first 35 minutes we gave the ball away so easily that it’s not possible for a top team. Because of that, Arsenal created a lot of chances.

“Fortunately we have a very good goalkeeper and after the first 35 minutes you saw that we are coming back in the game and created a few possibilities.”

“I told them at half-time that when we keep the ball, when we show confidence, then we shall create many chances.

“We created at least three big chances. Di Maria could finish the game also.

“But also two times the pass was easy to give to Di Maria and Wayne Rooney and the pass was not right.

“That was not a difficult pass in my opinion so we have to improve that. I am very happy, of course.”

Luke Shaw was forced off after just 15 minutes as van Gaal saw yet another player added to his ever-lengthening injury list but the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss was pleased with the efforts of his inexperienced defence as Chris Smalling, Tyler Blackett and Paddy McNair grew stronger as the game progressed.

“First I hope the players are coming back from injuries because it’s unbelievably difficult to create the consistency in the team – because I have to change my line-up every week,” he added.

“Maybe you don’t know but I am a coach who always has the same line-up, maybe I change one or two. But not constantly so many players.

“I have also changed the formation. It is not always good to create optimism in the team.

“Shaw has to play. Then he is coming back from the international break with the English national team and he is not fit enough. We make him fit.

“Then he is injured with another injury. Ankle. You have seen that. Then I have to give Young (a game) but Young is not fit enough to play 90 minutes.

“I think the players have done fantastic. Blackett, McNair and Luke Shaw – how old are they? You play against a top team like Arsenal and they are always changing position, so you need a lot of communication. I think that is pretty good. But I was not pleased.”

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Moyes questions decision to sell Danny Welbeck

DannyWelbeckFormer Manchester United manager David Moyes has told talkSPORT he would not have sanctioned the deal to allow Danny Welbeck to join Arsenal if he was still in charge at Old Trafford.

Welbeck, 23, could play against United for the first time on Saturday since his 16 million-pound move to north London on transfer deadline day, although Arsene Wenger has revealed the striker is an injury doubt after hurting his hamstring on England duty.

Moyes — now coaching Real Sociedad — said he was surprised by Louis van Gaal’s decision to sell the Three Lions international to a direct Premier League rival, with United loanee Radamel Falcao now struggling for fitness.

When asked whether he would have given the green light to the deal for Welbeck to sign for Arsenal, Moyes said:

“You make your own decisions. Every manager is entitled to their own opinion, but it wouldn’t necessarily be mine.”

Even though Welbeck started just 15 Premier League games for United under Moyes last season, the Scot was full of praise for the 23-year-old forward.

“He was an excellent player for me last year. If you look, we played him in nearly all the big games and I thought an awful lot of him,” he said.

“The hardest thing Danny had to deal with is he had Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney in front of him. So, from that point of view, he had to dislodge those players to get into the side and it was always going to be hard for him to do that.

“It’s been a really good move for Danny [to Arsenal]. He’s a really good lad and player, maybe it will help him. He’s gone away, he’s scoring for England as well and I think he’s getting more respect for what he’s doing.”

United captain Rooney believes Welbeck was right to leave Old Trafford for Arsenal, saying:

“I think, for Danny, and for his own personal career, it was probably the best move for him. He’s done great and scored a few goals and is playing well. Danny gives you what he always gives you — a good shift. He works hard for the team.”


No quick return for Blind while Falcao is hurt again

Falcao-scoresManchester United manager Louis van Gaal expects to be without midfielder Daley Blind for some time. The midfielder was taken off in the 20th minute of the Netherlands’ 6-0 win over Latvia last Sunday with a knee injury. Van Gaal said initial tests on the player’s knee proved inconclusive and he will undergo another scan the week after next to determine how long he would be out for.

The United boss said:

“He is not ready to play. He has a brace on his knee and ten days’ rest and then we have to make another scan and then we can say more about his injury. It is not so bad as the doctor thought after the match but it shall be a long story, I believe – but not six months or something like that.”

Blind was one of five United players injured on international duty. Luke Shaw felt a tight hamstring and groin while away with England and could miss Saturday’s game at Arsenal.

“Shaw is a question mark,” Van Gaal said.

Michael Carrick also suffered a groin problem on international duty, and he will be assessed before Van Gaal decides whether to include the player in the squad for the game at the Emirates.

“I have to wait for how he reacts (on Friday) and training sessions tomorrow but I expect that he is also ready to play,” Van Gaal said.

There was better news about Angel di Maria and David de Gea, who suffered foot and finger injuries while away with Argentina and Spain respectively.

“Di Maria has trained today normally so I don’t think that is a question mark (whether he is fit for Arsenal),” Van Gaal said. “David De Gea is good, no problem.”

The fact that Di Maria and De Gea look set to play against the Gunners is a big boost to Van Gaal. Phil Jones, Marcos Rojo, Jonny Evans, Rafael and Radamel Falcao all missed the 1-0 win over Crystal Palace two weeks ago, and it looks like they will miss Saturday’s game against the Gunners too. When asked whether any player who missed the Palace match was available for this weekend, Van Gaal seemed to suggest it would be highly unlikely.

“It’s difficult to say if anyone is back because we have to wait for tomorrow’s training session to decide if players are coming back,” he said.

“But the players are not coming back in the squad – that’s a different thing. My philosophy is that you have to train at least one week with the squad, but better two.”

Later on Thursday it emerged striker Radamel Falcao will be out for at least a fortnight because of a new injury. Falcao has had a difficult start to life at the club since his dramatic deadline-day loan move from Monaco. The 28-year-old, who is among the top earners at Old Trafford, has scored only one goal so far and he is yet to play 90 minutes for the Red Devils.

Falcao has not played for United for a month because of a calf problem and he has now suffered another setback, the club confirmed on Thursday afternoon.

“Van Gaal tells #MUTV that @Falcao “has a new injury” and is at least two weeks away from a first-team return. #mufc,” a post from the United’s official Twitter account read.


Victor Valdes Not Expected To Play Against Arsenal

Victor-Valdes-BarcelonaFormer Barcelona goalkeeper Victor Valdes is not expected to make United’s squad to face Arsenal on Saturday despite David de Gea dislocating a finger.

Valdes has been training with United as he continues his rehabilitation from the posterior cruciate knee injury he suffered in March while at Barcelona, and Louis van Gaal could sign the goalkeeper if he proves his fitness after eight months on the sidelines.

However, despite being satisfied with his progress so far, Valdes is still considered short of the fitness level required to be tested in a Premier League game.

De Gea, who is United’s only ever-present this season, suffered a dislocated finger when training with Spain last week and is a doubt for the Premier League clash at the Emirates which means Anders Lindegaard, who has not played for United since April, is expected to step up and deputise.

It was originally suggested that United’s No 1 De Gea was going to be out for four weeks, however more recent reports suggest he could be back before then.

Valdes is a free agent so can sign any time although they would have to apply for permission to include the player in their Premier League squad should they want to play him before January. United only named 24 senior players in their squad so have room to bring in Valdes.

There is a sub-plot to this story in that David De Gea has only 18 months left on his current contract, and there are several reports that Real Madrid want De Gea to take over for Iker Casilas in the Madrid goal. Having Valdes gives Van Gaal an insurance policy in case De Gea leaves as he is not a big fan of Anders Lindegaard.


United To Tour USA and The Far East Next Summer

Old-Trafford-NewRemember last summer when new United boss Louis van Gaal complained about United’s USA preseason tour and how they were traveling too much? Well wait until LVG sees the plan for next summer as it looks United are heading back to Asia for an even longer, lucrative post-season tour.

Not being in the Champions League cost United around £50 million and the Glazers and Ed Woodward are determined to make back that revenue however they can.

With that in mind, United are currently discussing a ground-breaking tour of the Far East, in addition to an expected visit to the Middle East in January to play AC Milan, AND, a week long post-season tour of the USA in May.

In terms of a January game, the Middle East remains the most likely venue for a fixture, possibly against AC Milan, in a game that could be worth as much as £3m to the club.

The US micro tour would take place between the end of the Premier League season on May 24 and the beginning of Euro 2016 qualifying on June 7th. In theory, all of United’s stars like Angel Di Maria, Radamel Falcao, Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie should make the trip to the US, where the opposition has not been named yet.


United Actually Improving Under Van Gaal

Team Focus: Problems Less Widespread For Van Gaal's Underperforming United

It’s just as well that Louis van Gaal has near total tunnel vision about his management because, depending on which of the many perspectives you look at Manchester United’s season from so far, it would be difficult not to greatly doubt any one opinion.

Take the aftermath of the 1-0 defeat to the Manchester City game, and the confusion over where exactly United are at – beyond 10th in the table. One view stood out: that was from the basic stats that said David Moyes was doing a better job after 10 games than Van Gaal.

The Scot had 17 points, the Dutchman just 13, while also scoring fewer and conceding more. Even the supposed simplicity of that, however, actually just begins to illustrate how complicated any concrete conclusions are right now. For a start, there’s the fact that Van Gaal’s stats are still affected by that uncertain early start, when a United still yet to make big signings took just two points from their first three games. So, it’s not quite like they’ve persisted so poorly.

From that, there are also the performances in front of our eyes, given that United just look to have more thrust and purpose than at any point under Moyes. They might also have claimed a 1-1 draw at City, in stark contrast to last season’s dismal 4-1, had Wayne Rooney been a little more alert for his late chance.

Team Focus: Problems Less Widespread For Van Gaal's Underperforming United

At the same time, there was also the importance of Michael Oliver’s view, given that the referee might well have awarded City two penalty decisions. That could have seen a repeat of last year’s result, and things would look even worse. Instead, it can just be seen how circular the debates are.

That perhaps sums up the most pertinent point: given the money he has spent, it would have been reasonable to expect Van Gaal to perform a little better; to show a greater departure from last season. At the same time, it’s only 10 games, which allows an awful lot of chance and fluke. So, what do the actual stats from the performances say?

The first and most surprising element is that the basic stats aren’t all that different. In fact, they’re strikingly similar. Van Gaal’s side have an identical number of shots (138), and try almost the same number of dribbles per game (10 against 10.2). Even the great cross against Moyes’ name – the actual number of crosses – remains so close, with Van Gaal’s outfit only producing 1.1 fewer per game.

Team Focus: Problems Less Widespread For Van Gaal's Underperforming United

If Van Gaal does have a distinctively defined plan of his own, it isn’t all that evident yet. The basic stats look very similar to Moyes. Of course, those stats are described as “basic” for a reason. Van Gaal has himself admitted – through the very evocative metaphor of going to the airport for the first time – that it’s about gradually changing things, and building blocks, to the point that growth in play feels organic. In that regard, there have been some nuanced changes.

For one thing, United are less predictable in terms of approach. Last season, as much as 41.9% of their attacks went down the right, with just 32.9 down the left. Teams learned to block United out. This season, it’s more balanced, with 36% down the left and 38% down the right. That has been reflected with more interchanges in the centre of the pitch. As well as playing a touch more through the centre (27% compared to 25.2%), they try marginally more through balls.

Van Gaal’s side also play more passes per game – 573 compared to 552 – but that has still led to greater pass success, at 85.5% against 84.4%. That has resulted in perhaps the most conspicuous difference between the Moyes and Van Gaal teams, other than the actual points on the table.

United now allow the opposition fewer shots, at 10 compared to 12.8 last season. That may seem like little now, but it generally leads to big changes over time, and points to the one big issue with Van Gaal’s side so far.

Individual errors are letting them down at the back, and leading to the concession of goals that the general performance might not otherwise allow. Of course, we know this. United should have signed more defensive players. Van Gaal is known to have wanted a commanding centre-back and a defensive midfielder. From there, things can better.

In other words, he has one clear problem to solve; one area that needs to be finished. With Moyes, it was hard to know where to begin. He had so many problems, which is why things just got worse.

There might not be significant evidence of Van Gaal’s grand plan yet, but there is only one grand problem. That marks the starkest difference. There is at least clarity about what’s wrong. Under Moyes, there was doubt about virtually everything.

source: whoscored.com


Fellaini Living Up To Lowered Expectations?

Player Focus: Fellaini 'Rebirth' a Consequence of Lowered Expectations

Football has an in-built tendency to self-fulfilling prophecies, particularly when it’s selecting scapegoats. We’re seeing it now with Mario Balotelli. It would be absurd, of course, to suggest that the Italian is playing well, but neither is he the toblerone-footed lummox some would make out: it’s just that Balotelli has become the easy target, so every mistake he makes, everything that doesn’t quite go right, is added to the pile. The feeling is out there that he’s been a disappointment and so there is a confirmation bias: we are preconditioned to see the evidence that strengthens that case.

It is possible to come back from having been written off in that way – Jordan Henderson is a fine example – and, in fact, having been written off once means that once a tipping point is reached, the desire to hail a player as having turned the corner rapidly installs the confirmation bias on the other side of the equation: where once every missed chance or heavy touch was totted up, suddenly everybody starts remembering the completed passes or the interceptions.

It may be that Marouane Fellaini is going through that process now at Manchester United. Last season he was a joke figure, somebody who became emblematic of David Moyes’s small thinking. Within a month or so of his arrival on deadline day, there were those who were pronouncing him blatantly not good enough for a team of United’s level. And there was, in truth, something a little strange about his signing: just why did Moyes wait so long to sign him, bumping the price up, unless he wasn’t convinced he was right for United and so was waiting to see if he could find a better alternative?


Player Focus: Fellaini 'Rebirth' a Consequence of Lowered Expectations


The assumption was that Fellaini would be sold this summer, but he hung around and, after getting the equaliser against West Brom, he was arguably United’s best player against Chelsea, negating Cesc Fabregas, and adding a physicality that Van Gaal admitted his side had been lacking. So far has the rehabilitation of Fellaini progressed that on Sunday, there were Vines going around showing him pirouetting in his own half before laying the ball off.  That he traced an absurdly slow circle didn’t seem to matter: the desire now, it seems, is to paint Fellaini as a player reborn.

The truth is, he was never as bad as all that last season: his WhoScored.com rating in the league, in fact, was a relatively healthy 7.21, higher than the 7.12 he’s managed so far this (although the fact that three of his five appearances this season have been from the bench takes his average down a little), and higher too than two of his four seasons with Everton.


Player Focus: Fellaini 'Rebirth' a Consequence of Lowered Expectations


In some respects, in fact, his play improved last season to his time at Everton – in part because his role changed. While at Everton, Fellaini often played behind a front man, at United he was asked to play deeper. As a result, he managed fewer goals and assists – none and one, respectively last season, as opposed to eleven and five in his final full season at Everton, while key passes dropped from 1.3 per game to 0.3. On the other hand, his pass success rate went up from 79.2% to 88.5% as, playing deeper, he attempted fewer risky passes.

Position on the pitch also meant he won fewer balls in the air – down from 4.9 per game to 3.1 – and was more involved in regaining possession. In that final full season at Everton, he made 2.6 tackles and 1.2 interceptions per game; last season at United it was 2.8 tackles and 1.9 interceptions.

None of that is to try to claim Fellaini was a great success last season, but, as a player who only arrived on the final day of August, who had no pre-season to get to know his new team-mates, he wasn’t that bad. Similarly, this season’s seeming revival may simply be a case of people regarding similar form to last season but with less expectation, accepting Fellaini for what he is, which is a big, hard-working player, not the most technically gifted, but capable of diligently performing a specific role, and doing so with muscular rigour.




rojo2-mufcManchester United are back in the midst of another defensive injury crisis amid fears that Marcos Rojo could be out for six weeks with a dislocated shoulder.

Rojo was carried off on a stretcher during United’s Manchester derby defeat to Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday and needed oxygen at one point.

Further rests have confirmed the defender’s injury is a full dislocation and the recovery time could be six weeks or even longer. The exact timescale will depend on whether Rojo has torn or merely stretched the ligaments that usually hold the shoulder in place.

Rojo’s father appeared to confuse matters last night when he told a TV station in Argentina:

‘The injury is not too severe. He will miss two or three games.’

However, senior sources at Old Trafford confirmed yesterday that the injury was a dislocation and it seems improbable the £16million signing could recover that quickly.

This means United manager Louis van Gaal will have to plan for the coming weeks of the campaign without the man he bought from Sporting Lisbon in the summer.

With fellow central defenders Phil Jones and Jonny Evans struggling with injuries ahead of Saturday’s Barclays Premier League match with Crystal Palace, and right back Rafael da Silva also on the sidelines, Van Gaal is expected to ask midfielder Michael Carrick to fill in.


LVG sees red with Smalling

lvg-mufcLouis van Gaal angrily branded Chris Smalling “stupid” after his dismissal helped City beat United in the Manchester derby.

United were holding their own against their local rivals, but they eventually went down 1-0 thanks to a second-half strike from Sergio Aguero.

City’s task was made much easier by Smalling, who received two yellow cards in eight minutes just before half-time.

Referee Michael Oliver showed Smalling a yellow card for a cynical block on Joe Hart as he attempted to kick the ball down field from his hands.

The England defender slid in on James Milner soon after, leaving Oliver with no option but to issue him with a second yellow.

Last week Van Gaal called Robin van Persie “stupid” for his goal celebration against Chelsea and this week it was Smalling’s turn to feel the wrath of his manager.

The United manager, who had warned his players pre-match they must not get sent off, told BBC Sport:

“In a derby you have to be careful – the second yellow card is a stupid yellow card.

“As a player you have to control your aggression.

“I didn’t see the first yellow but with the second, you know you already have a yellow, so have to handle it differently. I said that to the players.

“You have to deal with that. You cannot do what he has done with the second yellow card. That is not very smart.”

When asked whether Smalling had apologised to his team-mates, Van Gaal said:

“He said it very humbly. You can only accept it. But nevertheless it was in my opinion not so smart.”

Smalling impressed against on his return from injury against Chelsea last week and he was playing relatively well before his two moments of madness at the Etihad Stadium.

Van Gaal’s anger towards him is likely to have been heightened due to the fact that United are already severely depleted in defence.

Marcos Rojo will join Phil Jones and Jonny Evans in the treatment room this week after he hurt his shoulder sliding in for a tackle in the second half.

“He has dislocated his shoulder,” said Van Gaal, who ended the match with Michael Carrick and Paddy McNair at centre-back.

“He won’t be available next week. We have lot of injuries in defence.”

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