Hi everyone! Christmas is here. Since I was a kid, I’ve always loved this time of the year… And I still do, even if the way I spend Christmas since I came to England is different.
As you know, there is no break in the Premier League – this is the busiest month of the season, actually – so it’s a very important period of the year when you can win or lose a lot of points in just a few days. In fact, this week we play on Friday and Sunday.
Our goal is to finish the year in the best possible way: with two more victories. Against Aston Villa, we couldn’t get our seventh win in a row. It was a complicated game. They scored first, a great goal from Christian Benteke and didn’t leave much space for us to come back. We were able to tie the game thanks to Radamel Falcao’s header – I’m very happy for him, I think he deserved it because he works hard every day and, at the end of the game, despite Aston Villa playing with 10 men, we couldn’t score the second goal. Villa Park is a tough stadium for every team, although United must try to win always, in every place. We should have taken more advantage of those minutes after the red card, but they defended well and even tried the counter-attack.
Also in Christmas, I like to play and see the special atmosphere in the stadiums, particularly on Boxing Day when I’m sure Old Trafford will be full of kids. This is one of the most special games of the season and, no doubt, one of the symbols of the Premier League. We will try to have a great day by winning against Newcastle.
Hugs and thank you for always being there! Have a great festive season with the ones you love and Merry Christmas to all!
Radamel Falcao rescued a point for Manchester United at Villa Park on Saturday with a brilliant second-half header as the Reds were held 1-1 by ten-man Aston Villa.
The Barclays Premier League’s lowest scorers took the lead against the run of play on 18 minutes through Christian Benteke’s fine finish, before Falcao struck early in the second period to earn a draw for United, who remain third in the table.
Louis van Gaal stuck with the same system which helped United overcome Liverpool last Sunday but he made two changes to the first XI, with Darren Fletcher coming in for the ill Marouane Fellaini and Falcao starting his first match, in place of James Wilson, since Everton at home at the start of October.
It was Falcao’s strike partner, the in-form Robin van Persie, who had United’s first sightings of goal during a rather cagey opening quarter to the game. The first came on three minutes when the Dutchman was well found after a good surge down the left by former Villa winger Ashley Young, but van Persie scuffed his effort across the box rather than towards goal. He did manage to connect brilliantly with a superb cross-field pass from Wayne Rooney on 17 minutes however, but his right-foot volley was well gathered by Brad Guzan.
Despite not creating a whole host of openings, it had been all United up to that point so it came as something as a shock to everyone inside Villa Park when Paul Lambert’s side made the breakthrough a minute later.
Fabian Delph hoisted a free-kick into the box which was brought down by Benteke at the back post. The striker twisted and turned his way past Jonny
Evans before curling an unstoppable shot past the helpless David De Gea.
The earlier pattern in the match continued thereafter with United dominating possession once more but clear-cut chances remained hard to come by. Valencia headed well wide soon after the goal, before van Persie slipped Falcao through but the Colombian was unable to get enough power on his shot to trouble Guzan. The Villa keeper had to be alert on 33 minutes though when Young’s hopeful cross went all the way through towards the stopper who dived to his left to palm it away.
Van Gaal had said before the match that while results had been pleasing of late, the performances could still improve. With that in mind he shuffled things around at the break as Tyler Blackett replaced Fletcher, and took up a spot in defence, allowing Michael Carrick, who had again started in a three-man central backline, to shift forward into midfield.
After De Gea had made a typically brilliant, point-blank save from a Benteke header just after the restart, van Gaal’s change seemed to have the desired effect as the Reds sparked into life as an attacking force.
Van Persie and Mata both forced Guzan into solid stops before the Reds drew level in superb fashion on 53 minutes. Young made another menacing run down the left before standing a cross up for Falcao who planted a header past Guzan before sprinting towards the deliriously happy United fans in the far corner to celebrate.
Angel Di Maria made his long-awaited return to action just after the hour-mark, in place of van Persie, as the Reds went in search of all three points.
United’s cause was given a boost on 65 minutes when the hosts went down to ten men as Gabby Agbonlahor was given his marching orders for a late tackle on Young.
The Reds reverted to a 4-4-2 formation for the final 16 minutes of the game as James Wilson came on for Valencia, but clear-cut chances began to dry up despite plenty of possession.
Villa substitute Leandro Bacuna fired a stunning effort just over in the dying stages, but a seventh straight win was not to be for the Reds who were forced to settle for a point.
Scene-setter: Manchester United’s sixth consecutive victory – 3-0 at home to arch-rivals Liverpool – provides the ideal springboard for this weekend’s trip to Villa Park. Louis van Gaal’s men are in third position in the Barclays Premier League, causing Chelsea and Manchester City to at least glance over their shoulders as the campaign enters its busy Christmas period.
Form guide: The thoroughly pleasing victory over Brendan Rodgers’ Merseysiders confirms United as having the best form in the league at present, with the six successive wins unrivalled. While the Reds are considered to have not reached maximum performance levels in such a run, van Gaal’s side have demonstrated a ruthless streak when securing the recent victories. Villa’s winless period in the league had stretched for over two months until 2 December when they won away at Crystal Palace but although they followed that success by defeating Leicester City at home, they lost again last weekend, 1-0 away to West Brom in the West Midlands derby.
Team news: Villa skipper Ron Vlaar returned to the squad for the West Brom game, but had to watch from the bench until the 78th minute due to Ciaran Clark and Jores Okore forging a partnership in the Dutchman’s absence. Kieran Richardson and Alan Hutton are serving suspensions, while United loanee Tom Cleverley is ineligible. United’s team news will be delivered by manager Louis van Gaal in his lunch-time press conference on Friday – last time around, he identified just four players as being injured and unavailable to face Liverpool, namely Daley Blind, Angel Di Maria, Luke Shaw and Chris
Betting: Official betting partners bwin price the Reds as favourites at odds of 1.60, with Aston Villa at 5.50 and a draw 3.80. You can back United to come away with a 2-0 win at 7.25. (Odds subject to change).
Last league meeting: Despite falling behind at Old Trafford in March, the Reds fought back valiantly as Wayne Rooney’s double, Juan Mata’s first United goal and a late Javier Hernandez strike sealed a 4-1 win for the hosts.
Did you know? United have won the last seven home and away games against Aston Villa – the three most recent victories were by all achieved with a three-goal margin.
Rivals watch: The Reds will discover by kick-off if the five-point gap to second-placed Manchester City can be closed, with the Blues commencing their home clash with Crystal Palace at 12:45 GMT. A victory for van Gaal’s side against Villa could give table-topping Chelsea something to think about – Jose Mourinho’s men must wait until Monday to travel to combative Stoke City.
Match officials: Lee Mason will referee the match, with Stuart Burt and Andy Halliday serving as his assistants. Kevin Friend will be the fourth official.
Angel Di Maria could be named on the Manchester United bench for Saturday’s trip to Aston Villa after a solid week of training.
The Reds winger has been missing since limping off at the end of last month in the win over Hull, but Louis van Gaal told reporters on Friday that the Argentinian has made positive steps this week.
“Angel has trained this week with us,” the boss said. “It’s always dependable on how I have to compare with other players because he’s not match fit after one week. What I’ve said about [Robin] van Persie and Falcao, I say also for Di Maria – it is no different.
“It is a procedure and he has to follow the procedure. Maybe I shall select him for the bench, or maybe not. I have to make my decision because we have one session to go.”
In his weekly interview with MUTV, van Gaal also confirmed Marouane Fellaini will miss Saturday’s trip to Villa Park due to illness. However, the manager was pleased to report he has “28 players in the squad and 22 to put in the line-up, and that is big news.”
The Reds go into the match at Villa on the back of six straight wins and while van Gaal has been delighted with collecting maximum points, he is urging his players to continue to up their performance level.
“Okay, the results are very good, but we can improve the performances of the team,” he added. “I don’t think it was a great surprise that we won against Liverpool, neither for the players. The game against Hull City was a good game.
We dominated 90 minutes and I want to see more games like that. Now, there are too few games that we are dominating for 90 minutes. We have to wait and see.
“When you win six times in a row the confidence is rising, but I’m still looking for a game that is more close to the perfect game than we have given until now.
“Of course, that [the results] are the main, important thing. I speak with Sir Alex Ferguson and he says, ‘No problem, you have won!” but, for me, the performance is also very important. When you perform well, you win more and that’s what I want to show to the fans,” continued van Gaal. “The players want to show that. The guarantee of wins is much bigger when we perform better.”
Wayne Rooney insists his Manchester United team-mates can upset the odds this season by winning the Barclays Premier League title, having taken note of the resilient team spirit that is continuing to deliver results under the management of Louis van Gaal.
Following an inconsistent start to the campaign, the Reds have flourished since early November and are now up to third in the table after recording six consecutive victories in the top flight. Although it would require a huge effort to overtake leaders Chelsea, who are eight points clear at the top, club captain Rooney is bullish about United’s chances and remains optimistic.
“I think we have to believe that we can win the title,” Wayne told reporters after Sunday’s 3-0 win over Liverpool. “We are eight points behind and coming into a busy period. If we can win our games and the others have one bad result then there’s nothing in it. We have a lot of new players but we have been here before and this is where the experience of myself, Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher can rub off on the other players.
“We have to keep winning our games, hopefully get back to the top and then you never know. We have shown a great resilience. Some of the games haven’t gone the way we would have liked but we are winning them and that is a great quality to have.
“We won the league two years ago and we weren’t great in a lot of those games but we got the results. Sometimes you have to do that. I have seen Chelsea a couple of times this season when they have not played great but have nicked a win as well. We need to try to get the performances right and, if we do that, then we are confident we will win the games.”
Rooney was among the goals in United’s 3-0 win over Liverpool on Sunday but accepts goalkeeper David De Gea deserved a lot of credit for his performance, having made a number of top saves to deny Raheem Sterling and Mario Balotelli at Old Trafford. The Spaniard’s performance highlighted his quality once again and Wayne believes he has a massive future at United.
“In my eyes he is the best keeper in the world,” said Wayne. “The performances he has shown for us have been fantastic. He is not as tall as some other keepers but his reach is really long.
“Sometimes in training you hit a shot and then turn away thinking it has gone in, but he just manages to get there and save it. I am delighted for him. He came through a tough patch early on in his career here and he is starting to prove what a top keeper he is now.”
As Rooney alludes to, De Gea endured a difficult first season with United in which he seemingly struggled to adjust to the rigours of the Premier League. But those days are long gone and the 24-year-old Spaniard is now being tipped to replicate the success of his illustrious predecessor at Old Trafford.
“To play in goal at Manchester United at 20 years old is difficult and especially when trying to replace Edwin van der Sar, who was a fantastic keeper,” Rooney explains. “We knew it might take time with David and it did. For the first six months to a year, it was hard but he worked hard on his game and it shows.
“What he has gained is that he is more vocal now. When he came his English wasn’t great and it was difficult for him to pass messages on. Now he shouts more. Edwin van der Sar had the best years of his career when he was with us in his late 30s so David has got a great future ahead of him. If he keeps working hard the way he is then he will have many years at the top.”
Michael Carrick wants Manchester United to give David De Gea less work to do following the goalkeeper’s superb display against Liverpool.
The Spaniard, the club’s player of the month for October and November, was voted Man of the Match after Sunday’s 3-0 win thanks to a string of superb saves at vital points throughout the game.
Carrick told MUTV: “We’d take that result every day of the week against Liverpool. But the scoreline probably didn’t tell the whole story. David had to make some good saves and I think that was down to us giving the ball away at times.
“We were in control but if Liverpool had scored from one of those chances it could have changed the game. David’s been sensational, he’s stepped up again. Hopefully we can make it a bit easier for him next time.”
Carrick played as part of a back three and afterwards praised his colleagues in the defensive unit, Jonny Evans and Phil Jones, who made their first starts since September 21 and October 20 respectively.
“I thought that Phil and Jonny both stepped in and did really well,” said Carrick. “It’s not so easy after being out through injury. They showed what good players they are, and made it easier for me because they’re top defenders. It’s obviously a good day when you come out on top against Liverpool.”
The win over Liverpool gave the Reds a sixth consecutive victory and maintained the grip on third place in the Barclays Premier League. Carrick is not getting carried away by the run of results, but feels it has established a platform for the team to build upon.
“We’re always looking up, we always want to get better and reach the top. We’re in a decent position but we need to stay in touch. If we’re up there later in the season we’ll have given ourselves a great chance. We want to keep this run going and see where it takes us.”
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MANCHESTER UNITED 3
Rooney (12), Mata (40), van Persie (71)
Manchester United swept historic arch-rivals Liverpool aside with a fine 3-0 win to record the Reds’ sixth consecutive victory.
Goals from Wayne Rooney and Juan Mata gave Louis van Gaal’s side the comfort of a two-goal lead before half-time, with Robin van Persie clinching all three points after the break.
But United were once again indebted to goalkeeper David De Gea, who made the first of several crucial saves seconds before Rooney’s opener. A magnificent effort to touch a Mario Balotelli shot onto his bar at 2-0 kept the frustrated visitors at bay, and even after van Persie had sealed the game, De Gea was using his body and feet to prevent any kind of consolation goal for the Merseysiders.
Injuries to Chris Smalling and Marcos Rojo forced Louis van Gaal to again make changes in the United backline and he opted for the experience of Michael Carrick, Phil Jones and Jonny Evans. They faced a Liverpool side playing without a recognised striker – Raheem Sterling operated as a “false nine” – and with understudy goalkeeper Brad Jones selected ahead of Simon Mignolet. For United, James Wilson was handed a start for the biggest game of his fledgling career so far.
Driven on by a predictably raucous crowd, the opening stages had United on the back foot, with Wayne Rooney clearing Martin Skrtel’s header away from just in front of the goalline two minutes into the match. Marouane Fellaini was booked shortly afterwards as the game showed all the intensity that this fixture is rightly famous for.
Sterling wasted an opportunity when, one on one with De Gea, he shot straight at the keeper, but within seconds United made the visitors pay. Antonio
Valencia nutmegged Joe Allen on the right flank before pulling the ball back for the Reds skipper to curl the ball in from just inside the box with keeper Jones completely wrong-footed.
The goal, Rooney’s sixth of the season so far, had come with United’s first attack of note but for a short time Liverpool carried on as before, with De Gea again thwarting Sterling with a block at his near post. Jones, Evans, Rooney and Allen entered referee Martin Atkinson’s book for niggly challenges as the game looked to be evolving into a tense cat-and-mouse affair in midfield.
But United doubled the lead five minutes before the break, with a move starting on the opposite flank to the opener. Ashley Young, enjoying himself in the left wing-back role, whipped in a cross that was met by the stooping Mata’s head at the far post. The ball looked to have scraped the top of Robin van Persie’s head on the way over and there were some claims for offside, but the goal stood and was celebrated wildly by the Old Trafford faithful.
The visitors brought on Mario Balotelli after the break, but within a few minutes De Gea was once again the hero for denying Sterling. A misplaced back-pass allowed the England international to go one on one with the Reds keeper, but the Spaniard forced his opponent wide before making another crucial block.
The let-off roused United, with Rooney forcing Jones to make a save and Wilson flashing a shot just wide of the net. Van Persie stabbed a snap-shot just inches off target, and then De Gea stepped in again to keep Liverpool out, brilliantly touching a Balotelli shot onto his crossbar.
The keeper’s heroics proved vital when United put the result beyond doubt with just under 20 minutes to go. A rapid counter-attack resulted in Lovren scuffing a clearance to Mata who rolled the ball into the path of van Persie, who had the simplest of tasks to score with Jones hopelessly out of position.
De Gea’s excellent afternoon’s work continued when he made two further saves from Balotelli, while at the other end Jones tipped a van Persie volley over his bar. The scoreline remained 3-0 for full-time, therefore, as United’s march continues apace.