According to Manutd.com, Radamel Falcao captained Colombia to a comprehensive 6-0 away win over Bahrain in an international friendly on Thursday evening, scoring twice.
The Manchester United striker showed his undoubted class as the visitors raced into a three-goal lead in the first half and he proved a handful for the defence throughout his time on the field.
After setting up the opener for Carlos Bacca with an unselfish pass, the Reds star latched onto a through ball on 32 minutes and allowed it to drop onto his left foot, steering an unerring first-time effort into the corner of the net.
Surging clear again a few minutes later, he finished with his right foot this time as the ball deflected off a sliding defender and past Sayed Mohamed Abbas to make it 3-0.
Falcao came close to a hat-trick but found the side-netting when stretching at the far post four minutes before the break and narrowly failed to touch in a free-kick after the break. He then had the ball in the net again on 57 minutes but was denied by the offside flag.
Adrian Ramos added a fourth goal while Falcao was still on the pitch, dancing through to smash the ball home. The United forward was substituted in the 70th minute and the man who replaced him, Andrés Rentería, set up the fifth strike for fellow debutant Johan Mojica before then netting the sixth himself.
Louis van Gaal’s summer wishlist apparently revealed
The Busby Babe reports that Louis van Gaal is set to continue his “‘Galacticos’ transfer policy” this summer, according to a report in the Daily Mail yesterday. The three biggest players apparently on his wishlist areBorussia Dortmund centre-back Mats Hummels, Juventusmidfielder (and ex-United reserve *sob*) Paul Pogba, and Barcelona right-back Dani Alves, though more names are mentioned.
Right-backs Nathaniel Clyne and Danilo of Southampton and Porto respectively are both mentioned (and would probably be more sensible, long-term purchases), as is PSV winger Memphis Depay. However, Kevin Strootman’s knee troubles have thrown his move “into doubt,” and Gareth Bale wants to stay at Real Madrid, despite “major interest” from Old Trafford.
Maybe there is some fuel behind the flames.
Michael Carrick’s return from injury in March perhaps went under the radar, but the 34-year-old’s influence on the team is crucial – and in the two games he has started since, against Tottenham and Liverpool, it’s been clear to see.
Prior to United winning at Anfield, Opta calculated that Louis van Gaal’s men have taken 2.2 points per game when Carrick has played this season (15 league matches), compared to 1.6 points without him in the side. That rose to 2.25 after Sunday’s triumph.
In five games against the other top five clubs, Carrick has started in all three victories (Liverpool twice and Arsenal) and was a 43rd-minute substitute in the defeat to Manchester City and an unused sub in the draw with Chelsea. With eight games to go and matches against City, Chelsea and Arsenal still to come, United’s vice-captain’s presence is integral – a point made by MUTV pundit Danny Higginbotham in the Big Match De-Brief show this week.
“Carrick was so important and it’s a vital job he does,” he told MUTV. “Against Liverpool, Carrick was always there in a triangle with Smalling and Jones. There was no fear of a counter-attack. Coutinho is Liverpool’s most influential player but Carrick was so vital in making sure he didn’t have space between midfield and the forwards.”
Just as importantly is Carrick’s offensive play, as van Gaal said recently: “He is a midfielder who can play the ball forward and that I like. Our aim is always to pass the more forward rather than sideways or backwards. He is a player who can do that. He is my second captain and important for my selection.”
Another World Cup winner on United’s radar?
Sami Khedira is leaving Real Madrid this summer. Might he be heading to Old Trafford?
Here is a thing that we know: Sami Khedira, World Cup winner and Real Madrid midfielder, will be looking for a new club come the summer. In an interview with German magazine Kicker — all thanks, as ever, to Mr G. Translate — Khedira confirmed his intention to leave the Bernabeu, and also that he hasn’t signed for anybody else:
This is not a decision against Real, but I want to put a new charm in my career and develop myself. I had a great time in a great team and I will do everything we can to help her in the next few weeks. … There is no agreement to nobody and no tendency zero point zero.
Sterling work, Mr Translate.
Here is a thing we think we know: Manchester United are in the market for a top-class central midfielder of moderate to strong defensive leanings. Well, Kevin Strootman. But then his knee broke down again, which must surely have nixed any move until at least next January.
So would Khedira be an adequate alternative? As with Strootman, the biggest question mark is one of fitness. His Madrid career stalled after he ruptured his cruciate ligament in November 2013, which kept him out for five months. Since his return his fitness record has been pretty spotty, and he’s been in and out of the Madrid squad.
That aside, however, he’s certainly a classy player, a good passer and dynamic central presence who would be well capable of playing the kind of possession football that Louis van Gaal likes. There’s little doubt that he would definitely improve United’s midfield. And he looks kind of like a sad lion, which is nice.
Kicker reckon Arsenal and Chelsea are both interested, along with Schalke in Germany, and tBB finds it hard to believe that nearly every other decent and half-decent club around Europe aren’t at least considering a move. His desire to leave might well bring the price down as well. As gambles go, we can certainly think of worse.
Assumptions are dangerous things, but here at tBB we like to live on the edge. So let’s begin this piece with one grade-A, 24-carat slice of chicken counting. Let’s assume, for the moment, that Louis van Gaal will stick with this slightly lop-sided 4-3-3 not just for the rest of this season — which he surely must — but on into the next. That he’s finally got a plan to go along with his philosophy.
If so — and it is a big if — then the future of Ángel Di María comes into sharper focus. Stories are circulating that United’s record signing wants out at the end of the season, and while we’ve been hearing similar ever since his form drained away, these latest rumours come with the claim that he and Van Gaal clashed after United’s victory at Anfield. He certainly looks like a man who’s decided his future lies elsewhere, and it didn’t pass unnoticed by some travelling fans that while the rest of the team came over for the post-Liverpool victory salute, the Argentine headed straight down the tunnel.
Why this matters is because Di María, in theory and in decent form, is an exciting fit for not just one, not even two, but three of the positions in United’s current set-up. For all that the current incumbents are doing nicely, it seems likely that United are going to end up playing some level of European football next season, and so squad rotation will once again become a concern. And even without that, the fact remains that Di María — in theory, and in decent form — is arguably an upgrade on any of them.
Out on the left, while Ashley Young has done admirably this season to drag himself out of the United scrapheap, there’s definite space for an upgrade. Quicker, trickier and more imaginative, having (a committed and competent) Di María slicing in from the left amounts to a significantly more threatening prospect than Young, not least as it gives United the capacity to get to the byline, an option United currently lack.
Over on the right, while the cuddly Juan Mata has been winning hearts and games with his soft-shoed interpretations of the “false right-winger”, again Di María provides a tempting alternative. Again he’s quicker, again he’s a more enterprising dribbler, and at the very least, having two outstanding options for one position is rarely a problem. And it’s worth remembering, here, that while Mata’s always been adorable, he hasn’t always looked as assured in a United shirt as this last fortnight. Nor has he always been playing against such generous full backs.
Perhaps the most interesting option, though, would be Di María playing in Fellaini’s spot. The big Belgian’s brand of elbow-powered bustling and chest-like-a-foot control has been entertaining and effective, particularly against the stronger teams, and like Young he’s managed to move himself from the fringes to the centre of the squad. But before the Liverpool game, Van Gaal told manutd.com that “[Fellaini] is a player that gives a solution for beating the pressing of the opponents,” which sounds like a reference to the out-ball that he allows United’s defenders to take, the clip to chest or head.
Against teams that either won’t or can’t press United, however, that attribute becomes less important. United, by virtue of who they are, spend a lot of time playing teams who sit relatively deep and focus on defence; in such circumstances, there is an argument that the most advanced player in that midfield three needs to be a more proactive, attacking, creative option. One who can carry the ball at pace, beat a man, and play a pass. Real Madrid had a player called Ángel Di María who was perfect in that kind of role, though United haven’t seen much of him yet.
Which is, of course, the rub. If United were playing tomorrow then picking Di María above any of those three would be folly (here Van Gaal silently gives thanks for that stupid red card against Arsenal). His form is in a miserable place, and while he keeps trying things with the ball, he’s demonstrating little interest in helping without it. It always seems unfair to take moments of high comedy as symbolic — let he who has never accidentally kneed themselves in the face cast the first stone — but the moment he caught the ball almost a yard inside the touch against Liverpool seemed to sum it all up. Everything’s out of kilter, and it’s a matter of feet, not inches.
Ultimately, it depends what the problem is. If Di María’s just struggling with a particularly potent cocktail of normal footballing misery — poor form; homesickness; an inconvenient burglary; adjustments to a new country, league and language — then the club has no reason not to try to solve that, because when he’s good, he’s brilliant. After he spent some of the season messing around as a striker, he now has the system. A proper winger, a false one, or a dynamic central presence: at his best, at anything approaching his best, he could almost choose his favourite. And you suspect he’ll get chances between now and the end of the season, though maybe from the bench.
If, on the other hand, his heart’s in Madrid, his head’s in Paris, and he’s been calling his manager an arsehole, then he needs to be bounced on as soon as possible. There’s room for a world-class player to slot into United’s attack, and if Di María’s not bothered about becoming that player, then United have no reason to indulge him further than the next transfer window, whatever that might do to Ed Woodward’s delicate sensibilities. This team is primed for somebody to step up and be brilliant, and United are in the odd, privileged position of being a club that can afford to waste money, but can’t afford to waste time.
Phil Jones admits the Manchester United players have enjoyed proving their critics wrong by earning maximum points from consecutive matches against Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool.
Prior to those wins, a handful of pundits described the Reds as outsiders in the race to qualify for next season’s Champions League. But that view is now wide of the mark following the 3-0 home win over Spurs and Sunday’s 2-1 victory at Anfield.
United remain fourth in the Barclays Premier League table but are now five points clear of fifth-placed Liverpool with eight matches left to play. Although there are a lot of points still at stake, Jones is delighted that the Reds have found form at the right time.
“We have proved people wrong up to now,” says Phil. “People can assume and predict, and it is up to us to prove them wrong. That is what the lads enjoy doing. We enjoy proving them wrong. So far we have done that. But we said before the Liverpool game that not everything was riding on this match. We have another eight massive fixtures coming up with some tough ones away and at home. We know we are in for a difficult last eight games.”
Expanding on his point about pundits, Jones continues: “People criticising does spur you on. You are always going to get critics. We are at a massive club here at Manchester United and if things aren’t going as well as they should be then there are always going to be people wanting to have a dig and a pop at you.
“We just take it on the chin. It is water off a duck’s back. We know if we continue to produce performances like this week and last week then we will be fine. We have been well aware of the criticism we have had. We are professionals and we are in a job where people have an opinion about you and they are entitled to it. We just have to get on with it.”
Jones has been impressive when playing alongside Chris Smalling against Tottenham and Liverpool, which suggests manager Louis van Gaal will continue to favour the centre-back partnership for United’s fixtures after the international break.
Their alliance was once earmarked by Sir Alex Ferguson as a natural successor to Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic’s defensive reign. While that hasn’t quite worked out, due to injury and Marcos Rojo’s good form, Jones believes there is still time for both to build a sustained axis.
“It has been difficult for us,” the England international admits. “It had been documented that me and Chris were going to be the next centre backs at United but it has not gone how we would have liked it. Somebody told me the other day that we have actually only played alongside each other about four times in four seasons.
“You cannot build a partnership on four games. Hopefully now we have had back-to-back games together we can keep it going and keep playing well together. We complement each other well. It is not just Chris and I going for the position though. We have some great players in the squad. Marcos Rojo has come in and been terrific. He has been a great addition to this squad. It [the competition for places] is healthy. It is what we expect and what we want.”
MANCHESTER UNITED 2
Mata 14, 59
Juan Mata’s brilliant brace handed Manchester United a key victory over rivals Liverpool and a big boost in the race for the top four after an action-packed encounter at Anfield that also saw Steven Gerrard sent off.
Mata scored in either half – his second a jaw-dropping acrobatic effort – to overshadow Daniel Sturridge’s second-half goal in a typically tense United-Liverpool encounter with Simon Mignolet even saving Wayne Rooney’s stoppage-time penalty.
Louis van Gaal and Brendan Rodgers both kept unchanged teams from their respective wins over Tottenham and Swansea, with Angel Di Maria, returning from suspension, and Gerrard, Liverpool’s outgoing captain, unable to force their way into the starting line-ups.
United arrived at Anfield with an unfavourable record; in 10 visits since 2006, the Reds have won three, drawn one and lost six. Van Gaal, however, arrived with customary confidence: “Anfield is not a very easy ground for United but now I am manager here, maybe I can change that.” Naturally, he took Liverpool’s threat seriously after they had racked up 14 games unbeaten at home and were undefeated in the league since United’s 3-0 win in December.
It was a typically rapid start with Liverpool pressing hard and United seeking to control possession. With Michael Carrick, Ander Herrera and Mata pulling the strings in midfield, that’s exactly what United did, particularly in a dominant first 30 minutes.
And, on 14 minutes, Mata put the visitors deservedly in front. Marouane Fellaini slipped a pass to Herrera, who carved open Liverpool’s defence with a piercing through-ball, and Mata coolly slotted his shot past Mignolet. United continued to dominate through the guile of Mata and Herrera with Fellaini adding requisite bark and bite.
Slender leads in these fixtures offer little by way of comfort, and after 35 minutes with Liverpool upping the tempo, the 2,800 away fans were holding their breath as Henderson’s sweeping cross-field ball behind United’s defence found Sturridge, who teed up Adam Lallana but he fizzed his shot wide when he should have scored.
So, an almost perfect first half for United, while Liverpool started the second in quite the opposite fashion – half-time substitute Gerrard lasted just 42 seconds before being red-carded by referee Martin Atkinson for appearing to tread on Herrera. Keyed up to make an impression in his final Liverpool-United game and stamp his authority on proceedings, he did it a little too literally.
That ignited the match still further as tensions flared in the stands and the game, all cool and calm from United in the first half, lost its shape. That was until the 59th minute when Mata produced a moment of pure magic – latching onto Di Maria’s inviting lofted pass into the box and producing a stunning scissor-kick volley to beat Mignolet with a Goal of the Season contender.
The Reds couldn’t expect an easy ride to the final whistle and that was brought sharply into focus as Sturridge beat De Gea at his near post on 69 minutes to set up an nervous finish. But United held onto the lead, although it could have been more secure had Rooney not had a late penalty saved by Mignolet after Daley Blind was brought down by Emre Can. It’s as you were in the top four, but crucially there is a five-point gap back to Liverpool and after consecutive wins over the Merseysiders and Tottenham, van Gaal’s men have gathering momentum going into the final eight games of the season.
Match details: Sunday 22 March at 13:30 GMT. Follow text commentary in ManUtd.com’s live match blog, while MUTV has live audio between its pre- and post-match programmes. In the UK, the game is live on Sky Sports.
Scene-setter: It’s the big one. With nine games to go and the top-four race hotting up, two points separate fourth-placed United from fifth-placed Liverpool. So while the two sides may not be duking it out for the title, there is still plenty at stake at Anfield this weekend.
Form guide: United bounced back from the FA Cup defeat to Arsenal with one of the team’s best displays of the season to beat Tottenham Hotspur 3-0, a third successive Barclays Premier League win without conceding. Liverpool, meanwhile, haven’t lost in the league since going down 3-0 at Old Trafford in December and claimed a fifth successive top-flight victory by edging past Swansea City 1-0 on Monday.
Team news: Louis van Gaal could provide an update on Marcos Rojo and Luke Shaw, who both missed the Spurs game through injury, at his pre-match press conference on Friday. Angel Di Maria is available again after his red card against Arsenal but Jonny Evans remains suspended. For Liverpool, Mario Balotelli could be involved after recovering from illness but the game may come too soon for Lucas Leiva, who has resumed training after a long-term injury. Jose Enrique, Jon Flanagan and Jordon Ibe are sidelined.
Did you know? Five United players have scored hat-tricks against Liverpool during the teams’ 121-year rivalry: James Peters (1895), Sandy Turnbull (1907), Joe Spence (1928), Stan Pearson (1946) and Dimitar Berbatov (2010).
Opposition boss: Brendan Rodgers was heralded for guiding Liverpool to second place last season, only to find himself under pressure early this term, as a third successive league defeat left his team down in 12th place in the table in November. But since switching to a 3-4-3 system at the turn of the year, the Northern Irishman has transformed his team and although they bowed out of the Europa League, the Merseysiders are mounting a major top-four challenge.
Rivals watch: Second-placed Manchester City host West Brom at 12:45 GMT on Saturday, before third-placed Arsenal face Newcastle United away at 15:00 GMT. League leaders Chelsea head to Hull City for Sunday’s late-afternoon match at 16:00 GMT.
Referee: Martin Atkinson took charge of the reverse fixture in December and has blown the whistle for two other United games this term – August’s 1-1 draw at Sunderland and January’s 3-1 win over Leicester City. Mike Mullarkey and Stephen Child will assist him.
Angel Di Maria is braced for a return to action after serving a one-match suspension, and the Argentinian is determined to help Manchester United through a tough run of fixtures, beginning with Sunday’s Barclays Premier League clash with Liverpool.
Di Maria was sent off for two bookable offences in the Reds’ FA Cup quarter-final defeat to Arsenal and subsequently missed the morale-boosting 3-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur at the weekend. But he is now back in contention for a place in Louis van Gaal’s team at Anfield.
United’s match with Liverpool is swiftly followed by fixtures against rivals Manchester City and Chelsea in April, as well as another encounter with the Gunners in the penultimate game of the season in May. Di Maria insists his team-mates are confident of finishing the campaign on a high.
“We are all aware that a number of big games are just around the corner, and the season will be decided by these fixtures,” Angel explained in a recent interview in United Review, Old Trafford’s matchday programme.
“We know all about these upcoming games and we have been thinking and talking about them for quite some time now. We’ve known that everything would be at stake over this final period of the season.
“Everyone at the club is 100 per cent confident, we know we want to get back into the Champions League and that we want to be fighting it out. We’ll battle hard right to the end of the season. From what I know of the club, United always fight right to the end and that’s what we’re going to do.”
Meanwhile, Ashley Young claims United will travel to Anfield with a single mission. “We are going there to win, you don’t go to a place to try and draw,” he told ManUtd.com. “We will go there looking for the three points!”