Chris Smalling feels six points against the Barclays Premier League’s two north-east clubs could fill Manchester United with confidence heading into a vital stage of the season.
Having swept aside Sunderland with a 2-0 victory at Old Trafford on Saturday, the Reds travel to face Newcastle United on Wednesday. And with only ten league games remaining after the midweek clash with the Magpies, Smalling stressed the importance of heading into a potentially season-defining period on the back of successive triumphs.
The defender told MUTV: “We need to make sure on Wednesday we get that win because six points is crucial in these three or four days. We need some real confidence to go into what is going to be a crucial next couple of months.”
As was the case against Sunderland at the weekend, certain sides in the league this season have focused on defending and attempting to hit United with counter-attacks. Smalling maintains that the Reds always remain patient when attacking, and that he and his fellow defenders always remain alert to the dangers of pouring forward.
The 25-year-old added: “We have to just keep moving the ball and, at times, you are keeping it and going side to side. Then you’re waiting for that moment to draw one of your opponents out of position and then you take your chance. But it’s crucial for the two centre-backs that we’re not switching off. We have to be on our toes and the manager stresses that before the games.”
Ashley Young targets winning run with United
Ashley Young hopes Manchester United’s 2-0 triumph over Sunderland can kickstart a winning run in the relentless style the Reds have been renowned for at this stage of the season.
Saturday’s victory at Old Trafford provided the ideal response to last week’s defeat to Swansea and, with United’s next match coming as early as Wednesday at Newcastle, Young feels it represents a fine opportunity to build on this weekend’s performance and begin a string of successes.
When quizzed by MUTV on the importance of securing wins towards the tail-end of the campaign, the wide-man replied: “I think it’s vitally important. I think it’s the United way – picking up [lots of] points after the turn of the year.
“We know it’s going to be a tough game on Wednesday away to Newcastle – we’ve always found it tough up there – but as long as we can play in the way we did [against Sunderland] and add to that, then I’m sure we can go on and get three points.”
United’s no.18 was unfortunate not to cap his first start since New Year’s Day with a goal when John O’Shea diverted one of his shots onto the crossbar. Despite this lack of luck, Young was pleased with his inclusion in Louis van Gaal’s line-up and his performance.
The 29-year-old continued: “It would have been nice to get on the score sheet but he [O’Shea] made a clearance. I don’t know how he managed to hit the bar. I had a few chances and it wasn’t meant to be today but it was a great team performance and we got the three points, which was vitally important.
“As a player, you always want to start games. I’m no different to that, I want to play in every game. Fingers crossed I can stay in the starting line-up and keep putting in performances like I showed today.”
Young was also delighted for double-goalscorer Wayne Rooney, saying the composure shown before he converted the opener typified the skipper’s nature.
“There’d just been a man sent off and he was waiting around for the referee to blow his whistle – that’s when you’ve got to keep your focus,” Young explained. “He kept his cool, kept his focus and slotted it away – that’s Wayne all over. It was a great performance from him today.
“We came out in the second half fully composed; everyone wanted to get on the ball. We got our chance, Wazza scored the penalty and we didn’t look back.”
MANCHESTER UNITED 2
Rooney (66, 84)
Wayne Rooney’s second-half double was enough to give Manchester United victory over a stubborn Sunderland side, who had ex-Red Wes Brown sent off in a case of mistaken identity.
The Reds captain fired home a penalty in the 66th minute at Old Trafford after Radamel Falcao had been brought down in the box by John O’Shea when poised to pull the trigger. Referee Roger East showed a red card to Brown, despite the protests of his fellow former Reds stalwart O’Shea.
United, playing in a traditional 4-4-2 formation, saw out the game comfortably from there, having been frustrated by Gus Poyet’s well-organised side up that point, and Rooney headed a second from close range with six minutes to go.
Louis van Gaal made five changes to the side that lost at Swansea City last weekend. Falcao partnered Rooney up front, with Jonny Evans and Chris Smalling at the heart of the defence. Robin van Persie, Phil Jones and Luke Shaw were all ruled out. And it was captain Rooney who had the first chance of the game in the fourth minute, directing his header wide from a corner when well placed inside the box.
Sunderland quickly demonstrated they would not be content to sit back all afternoon. Connor Wickham was allowed to carry the ball to the edge of United’s box and get away a low shot, which David De Gea palmed round his post, and Jermain Defoe curled just over from 20 yards soon after.
But the home side gradually established control of the first half and Marcos Rojo almost got on the end of a devilish cross by Angel Di Maria on the right wing. The ball was cleared as far as Ashley Young, whose wicked shot grazed the roof of Costel Pantilimon’s net.
Urged on by cries of ‘Attack! Attack! Attack!’, Di Maria fed Antonio Valencia down the right and the full-back’s cross found Young, who controlled with his chest and fired a shot that looked destined for the corner of the net, only for O’Shea to stick out a boot and deflect the ball onto the crossbar and away.
United continued to press, with left-winger Young particularly lively on his first start since New Year’s Day, and Sebastian Larsson, whose goal gave the Black Cats a shock 1-0 win on their last visit to Old Trafford in May, was called upon to clear Ander Herrera’s poked effort off the line as the first half ended goalless.
Adnan Januzaj replaced Di Maria at the start of a second half that was a cagier affair than the first until it exploded into life on the hour mark. Herrera’s cross from the right was superbly controlled by Falcao, who turned O’Shea and was about to shoot when he was grappled to the ground, with Brown in close attendance.
Referee East pointed to the spot, dismissed Brown and, after a lengthy delay for O’Shea’s protests, Rooney placed his penalty low into the right-hand corner. There was a palpable sense of relief around Old Trafford and it seemed the Black Cats’ resistance was broken. Substitute Marouane Fellaini, on for Falcao, then Januzaj and Rojo all went close before Rooney grabbed his second, heading home after Pantilimon had parried Januzaj’s shot.
Herrera thought he’d tapped home a third in stoppage time but it was ruled out for offside. No matter: this was the Reds’ ninth win in the last 10 home games and, with Arsenal not in action until Sunday, it lifted van Gaal’s men back into third in the Barclays Premier League table.
Robin van Persie will miss the visit of Sunderland on Saturday with the ankle injury he sustained during the 2-1 loss to Swansea City last weekend.
Manchester United’s top scorer left the Liberty Stadium on crutches after appearing to sustain the problem when attempting to cross the ball in the closing stages of the luckless defeat.
In an interview with MUTV, manager Louis van Gaal confirmed: “He [Robin] is the only injured player. He has an ankle injury. We have to wait and see how long that shall take.”
Van Gaal offered no exact timeframe regarding his fellow Dutchman’s length of absence, with the FA Cup tie against the striker’s former club Arsenal looming large on the horizon on 9 March, but did later add at his press conference: “It’s not heavy but it’s not one or two weeks.”
There is better news on James Wilson and Michael Carrick, with the young striker available at the weekend despite suffering a dead leg in the Under-21s’ draw at Sunderland on Monday. Carrick, meanwhile, is edging closer to a return after returning to training on Thursday.
“He [Michael] is very experienced and he can play in a very important position,” added the boss on MUTV. “But he also needs match rhythm. He trained only one time with us, with the group, so he needs to also play in the second team.”
De Gea enjoying his best ever form
David De Gea is delighted with what he describes as “the best football I have ever played” in reference to his displays this season, but insists he is working hard to become an even better goalkeeper for Manchester United.
The Spanish stopper has been one of the Barclays Premier League’s star performers this term and he is enjoying his football more than ever at Old Trafford.
De Gea has also addressed reports in the Spanish press that questioned the goalkeeper’s future at United and implied his relationship with Louis van Gaal was fractured, even claiming “the coach hasn’t talked to the player in months.”
During an exclusive interview with MUTV, which will be shown in The Manager’s Press Conference show at 22:30 GMT on Friday, De Gea poured scorn on the speculation and relayed the truth on the matter.
“Everything that has been written in the press about us not getting on is a lie,” said David. “We both want the best for the club and the team, and the stories are complete lies.
“I think this is the best period of my career,” he added when asked about his form. “I am playing the best football that I’ve ever played.
“I’m really enjoying it at the moment and I’m just trying to improve with every training session and every game that goes by, giving 100 per cent and concentrating to the maximum. That’s the way I want to continue.”
De Gea is likely to extend his impressive record of starting every match this season when United welcome Sunderland to Old Trafford on Saturday.
It is a game the Reds are determined to win, having lost to Swansea City in last weekend’s Barclays Premier League encounter at the Liberty Stadium.
“Yes, we were on a good run of results and winning some important games but, the other day at Swansea, we lost the game,” said De Gea. “I don’t think we deserved to lose, but football can be like that.
“You go to tough away grounds and you lose points sometimes. We have to move on from that as now we face Sunderland and we need to concern ourselves with that test.”
Reece James has extended his contract with Manchester United.
The versatile left-back, who can also perform in midfield, scored twice against LA Galaxy on last summer’s first-team tour and made his competitive debut in the Capital One Cup against Milton Keynes Dons.
After being on the bench for the opening three Barclays Premier League games of the season, he joined Rotherham United on loan in November to obtain more experience. Following his return to Old Trafford, he has been a mainstay in Warren Joyce’s Under-21 side and helped the team earn a 1-1 draw with 10 men at Sunderland on Monday.
James has been rewarded for his progress with fresh terms, on the same day that colleague Tyler Blackett’s new contract has also been confirmed.
Blackett signs new contract
Tyler Blackett has signed a new contract at Manchester United which keeps him at the club until at least June 2017, with an option to extend for a further year.
The young English defender, 20, came through the ranks of the Academy system. He has made 10 appearances since his debut against Swansea City on the opening day of this season.
Louis van Gaal said: “I am delighted that Tyler has signed a new contract. He is another young player that has risen through the Academy system to break into the first-team squad this season. Tyler has great potential and I believe he is at the right club to continue his development and progression to become a great defender.”
Blackett added: “I’m thrilled to have signed my new contract. I have supported United all my life and have been here since I was eight years old. To come through the Academy and make my debut this season was a dream come true. I want to keep improving within the first-team squad with the help of the manager, coaches and the players around me.”
Manchester United midfielder Ander Herrera says he is determined to continue his fine goalscoring form for the club, after finding the net against Swansea last weekend.
The Spaniard’s strike at the Liberty Stadium was his fifth of the season – meaning he has already equalled his career-best total from last season at Athletic Bilbao – and previous tallies suggest Herrera’s record is improving.
The midfielder scored once during his debut campaign in La Liga, a consolation in Real Zaragoza’s 4-1 defeat to Real Mallorca in December 2009. Herrera doubled his figures in 2010/11, netting at the beginning of the season against Malaga, before helping the club to a comprehensive 4-0 win over Valencia.
Upon joining home-town side Bilbao in February 2011, Herrera had to wait until November for his first goal for the club against Salzburg and got on the scoresheet against Barcelona in the league three days later. The midfielder again scored twice in 2012/13, including another vital effort against the Catalan giants.
Last season was Herrera’s most prolific in front of goal, an achievement he is keen to better for United following important strikes against Yeovil and Preston in the FA Cup earlier this campaign.
“I haven’t really got a target for goals, I think we’re a very attacking side and I just want to help,” he told ManUtd.com. “I knew that scoring goals was one of the things I could improve on, but I don’t want to stop now, I want to keep working and helping the team. The most important thing is that we win, but of course, when I score I’m happy.”
Herrera was speaking at a special event at Old Trafford organised by the Manchester United Foundation, aimed at getting more girls aged 14 and over involved in regular football activities. The Premier League Girls programme is delivered by the Foundation through 13 partner schools throughout Greater Manchester and Herrera was delighted to lend his support.
“The event was great,” he added. “I’m very pleased to help the club because I think this kind of thing is very good for society. I’m really pleased to be involved; when the club wants me to I’m always going to be ready to do these activities.
“Not many girls played football when I was growing up. Now, it’s getting better and there are more and more all the time. It’s important because football can help to educate people and teach them values too.”
Attentions now turn to Saturday’s Barclays Premier League meeting at home to Sunderland, one which Herrera says will be very important in the battle for a Champions League place.
“I think it’s the biggest of the season, the next game is always the biggest,” he added. “We can regain third position because Southampton had a tough game [against Liverpool]. Our goal is to be in the top four, to get Champions League football and win the FA Cup – we don’t want to drop out of the top four.
“We didn’t beat Sunderland at the start of the season, and now we have a good chance to beat them at home. We respect all our our rivals, but we must start the game on top.”
Van Gaal: We can handle top-four pressure
Manchester United will be able to deal with the pressure as the race for Champions League qualification tightens up, says manager Louis van Gaal.
Defeat by Swansea on Saturday saw the Reds slip into fourth place, with Southampton one point and one place behind ahead of their clash with Liverpool 24 hours later.
The Merseysiders and Tottenham also harbour hopes of finishing in the top four, and both play United in the closing stretch of the season.
Sunderland and Newcastle are United’s next opponents in the league, before a break in the programme for the FA Cup quarter-final at home to Arsenal, followed by the visit of Spurs to Old Trafford.
When asked whether United could handle the pressure over the next few weeks, van Gaal responded positively.
“I think every game that Manchester United plays, you have to manage that, because this is a top club,” he said. “The players and the manager have to manage that. It’s normal.”
Ki 30, Gomis 73
Manchester United slipped to a 2-1 defeat at Swansea City after briefly going ahead at the Liberty Stadium.
Ander Herrera finished off a fine move to give the Reds the lead in the first half, but they were in front for less than two minutes when Ki Sung-yueng slipped through the defence to level the scores. Bafetimbi Gomis then diverted a rasping Jonjo Shelvey shot with his head for a goal that ultimately condemned United to a first defeat on the road since November’s Manchester derby.
That United dominated for a long spell after half-time without converting pressure into chances will make the defeat, that sees the Reds slip into fourth place ahead of Southampton taking on Liverpool on Sunday, even more galling.
Louis van Gaal opted to make three changes from the side that started against Preston, with Robin van Persie, Phil Jones – on his 23rd birthday – and Paddy McNair replacing Radamel Falcao, Chris Smalling and Antonio Valencia.
Herrera was making his first start in the Barclays Premier League since 2 December, and the Spanish midfielder made a vital intervention in defence early on. Gomis arrowed a header goalwards from a corner, but Herrera made a crucial block on the line with replays showing that only part of the ball had crossed the line.
Swansea’s French forward Gomis was soon allowed another free header, and Wayne Routledge had the space to fire a shot at David De Gea as the hosts failed to take advantage of the chances presented to them in the opening stages. United looked to be finding their feet when van Persie skimmed the face of the crossbar from a tight angle, but then De Gea had to react smartly to thwart Gomis with a dive at the striker’s feet.
The Reds went ahead, if only for two minutes, when a move across the pitch involving Luke Shaw, Wayne Rooney and Angel Di Maria was smartly finished off by Herrera with a low shot in off the post. But the Spaniard’s second goal in as many games was quickly equalised when Ki ghosted in front of Shaw to deftly clip a Shelvey cross past De Gea.
Chances were at a premium for the remainder of the first half, but De Gea was called on early in the second half, blocking a flick from Ki at close range with his chest after the Korean had breached the Reds defence. The chance seemed to stir United, who then camped out in the Swansea half for long spells but, crucially, without causing many problems for goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski.
United stepped up the pressure but were stopped short at the crucial moment several times, with the ball not quite dropping for van Persie after a one-two with Rooney, who also could not react quickly enough when the ball came off Daley Blind in the penalty area.
And United paid the price for not converting pressure into goals when Swansea went ahead. Shelvey’s long-range shot was on target, but a deflection off the head of Gomis deceived De Gea to give the Welsh side a textbook against-the-run-of-play goal.
Juan Mata was introduced as United sought a leveller, but a forward line with Marouane Fellaini in support continued to find it hard to forge a chance of note. The match became heated with a spate of bookings for both sides in the closing stages, and a number of stoppages failed to aid the visitors’ cause as there were no real frights at the back for the Swans.
Marcos Rojo came closest to an equaliser when pressurising Fabianski but, ultimately, the Reds could not prevent Swansea from claiming a league double over United for the first time in their history. With Sunderland up next for the Reds, the pressure is starting to mount in the battle to clinch a top-four place.
Match info: Saturday 21 February, 15:00 GMT. Follow live text in our live blog while MUTV has live audio between its pre-match and post-match programmes.
Scene-setter: United head to south Wales with the aims of preserving third place in the table and settling a score with Swansea. Garry Monk’s men spoiled Louis van Gaal’s first competitive match in charge, by beating the Reds 2-1 at Old Trafford in August.
Form guide: United have lost only once in 19 games, the 1-0 home reverse to Southampton, and are unbeaten outside Manchester since September’s 5-3 defeat to Leicester City. Swansea, who sold top scorer Wilfried Bony to Manchester City in the transfer window, have been beaten in three of their last five games. Yet to record a home victory in 2015, they pulled off a surprise away win over Southampton on 1 February.
Team news: Robin van Persie missed Monday’s FA Cup win at Preston but he’s been passed fit, as has Phil Jones. Michael Carrick is again the only confirmed absentee, although he will return to training next week. For Swansea, creative midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson returns from a three-match ban with manager Monk admitting, “We have missed him. He’s been a real success story for us this season.” Young defender Kyle Bartley is still out with a knee problem.
Betting: United’s official betting partner bwin recognises the Liberty Stadium has been one of the Reds’ favourite venues of recent seasons, with seven away points yielded from a possible nine. Van Gaal’s men are an attractive bet at 1.95 with bwin to make that record 10 points from 12. Monday’s 3-1 victory at Preston in the FA Cup stretched the
Reds’ unbeaten run on the road to 10 games; United have also won four of the last five home or away matches, scoring 13 times in the process. Swansea have trailed at half-time in four of their last five home fixtures – hence Louis van Gaal’s men are 2.45 with bwin to lead at the interval and 3.00 to be ahead on both 45 and 90 minutes.
We meet again: The clubs’ last clash was the afore-mentioned August upset. Rooney’s acrobatic effort cancelled out Ki Sung-yueng’s opener but key man Sigurdsson struck a 72nd-minute winner to ensure United got off to the worst possible start.
Opposition boss: Former Swansea centre-back Garry Monk was handed the reins in February last year, after Michael Laudrup left the Liberty Stadium, and steered the Welsh club to mid-table safety in May.
Rivals watch: Liverpool’s trip to Southampton on Sunday means at least one of United’s competitors for a top-four spot will drop points. Chelsea and Manchester City both have home fixtures on Saturday, against Burnley and Newcastle United respectively, while Arsenal (away to Crystal Palace, Saturday) and Tottenham (home to West Ham, Sunday) are competing in London derbies.
Referee: Neil Swarbrick is the man in the middle – he took charge of United’s 2-0 victory at QPR in January.