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Dublin: 17 °C Friday 20 April, 2018


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LOUIS VAN GAAL has had eight days to help his team bounce back from that lifeless opening day defeat to Swansea. In his way, Gus Poyet’s Black Cats.

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Good afternoon, football fans.

We’ve got our good eye trained on the Stadium of Light today as Louis Van Gaal takes his new show on the road to the north east.

Can the new Manchester United click into gear, or will the malaise continue to seep through onto the playing field.

The teams are in, and it looks like LVG is persisting with the 3-5-2/3-4-3. But Robin Van Persie comes in for Javier Hernandez and Antonio Valencia should look the part as a wing back.

Sunderland: Mannone, Vergini, van Aanholt, Brown, O’Shea, Cattermole, Larsson, Rodwell, Buckley, Wickham, Fletcher.

Subs: Pantilimon, Jones, Bridcutt, Gomez, Altidore, Mavrias, Roberge.

Manchester United: De Gea; Jones, Smalling, Blackett; Valencia, Cleverley, Fletcher, Mata, Young; Rooney, van Persie

Subs: Amos, M. Keane, James, Kagawa, Hernandez, Welbeck, Januzaj.

Oh, I think my eyes wouldn’t let me believe Tom Cleverley was in that starting XI.

With Ander Herrerra and Big Marouane out injured, that really lets Shinji Kagawa know where he stands.

Right. John O’Shea and Wayne Rooney are waiting for the music to stop so they can lead their teams out.

Prediction time: Despite some midfield issues I reckon United will just about hang on and take a 1 – 0 win.

But don’t take my word for it, stay tuned.

Louis van Gaal Sighting - Manchester Source: Eamonn & James Clarke

KICK OFF: United, all in blue get the party started, but it’s not  long before Ashley Young gives the ball away and Sunderland attempt to steam through the middle.

Young makes up for the error, racing back to slide in front of Larsson and guide the ball back to De Gea.

After that shaky start, United fans may be please to hear that there’s not a great deal to report since. United aiming to just calm the storm a little in the early stage, slowly building their possession after early balls forward simply flew over Van Persie’s head.

Sunderland taking a leaf out of Swansea’s book and asking Fletcher to run the left-side channel in behind United’s defence. Smalling has the pace and awareness to cover.

That youthful back three are still less than convincing under pressure, but after seven minutes they do manage to play clear. The move, though, ends with a curling Cleverley* shot that sails high over the bar from 20 yards.

*I’ll do my best to stop picking on him from now on.

12 mins: There’s nothing major to suggest Manchester United have moved forward from last week’s lacklustre defeat. The passing is loose, the movement uncertain and the front two have yet to make their presence felt.

Sunderland had two bites of the same cherry as Young and then Cleverley conceded free kicks out on the right flank, but at the set-piece defence, at least, is in good working order.

GOAL! Sunderland 0 – 1 Man United (Mata ’17)

it’s a tap-in for the Spaniard after Antonio Valencia did very well to make space for a cross on the right hand side. The cross was deflected, but only away from red and white shirted defenders and into the path of Mata who could not have missed from two yards.

That goal came as Van Gaal was dealing with a reshuffle. Not tactical, despite the the visitors being stretched again with a fine right to left pass cutting out the back three and needing Valencia to hare back and cut out the danger.

Instead, Geoff Shreeves reports from the sideline that Chris Smalling has a hamstring injury and that Michael Keane is ready to come on.

United much more comfortable looking now that they can invite Sunderland onto them a little more and the sun has come out.

But a Connor Wickham shot might just shake them out of their comfort zone, fizzing past the post from 30 yards.

Here’s the opener.

GOAL! Sunderland 1 – 1 Man United (Rodwell ’30)

You know that set-piece solidity I mentioned? Forget it. Jack Rodwell has planted a firm header past De Gea, rising well above Valencia to give Sunderland a richly-deserved goal.

33 mins: United go down the other end and win a free-kick, but the Wayne Rooney reign means he has first dibs on every dead ball despite a pretty poor rate of return over the past decade.

Yes, it went wide from about 25 yards on the angle.

Just as I was about to complain that both sides were looking to half-time, Sunderland pin their guests into the box again and create a chance for Fletcher. The striker attempted the overhead kick from 10 yards, but it flew low and wide.

After 43 minutes Van Gaal is at last ready to haul Chris Smalling ashore. Michael Keane is in the game.

Yes, United fans, that’s a back three of Keane, Jones and Blackett.

How’s the nerves?

HALF-TIME: Sunderland 1 -1 Man United

The second half is under way. Last week Louis Van Gaal rejigged his side back into 4-4-2 after a poor first half, but he just can’t afford to leave the young centre backs isolated as a duo.

Rather than being a weakness thus far, Michael Keane looks to have added a little steel to United’s rear-guard. He rose well to power a header back up field. The little things matter.

Chance! Just as I compliment United’s defence they make a hames of things and present Conor Wickham with a volley chance from all of six yards on an angle.

Fortunately for United, Tyler Blackett was careering back to his own line and managed to clear the scuffed volley to safety.

With talk of a replay seeping through from Croke Park, many around the away dugout here must be wishing they could tear up the season and start again. No dice. The mess is made and now they’ve got to dig themselves out – if that’s not too many mixed metaphors.

57 mins: Much more purpose about United just now. Sunderland penned back into their own area with Van Persie ploughing away up top and Rooney joining Mata in deep areas to try and unlock the defence.

There’s no route to be found through the middle however and Sunderland are able to limit the blue attack to a smattering of Juan Mata crosses from the right and they’re easily cleared.

A brief positive stride from Phil Jones ends with him fizzing a ball lateral 20 metres.

In fairness, the move keeps going and Van Persie attempts to thread a ball through for Mata, but the Spaniard is muscled out of it in the area.


Robin Van Persie dribbles his way to the penalty spot and appears to be hacked down, Nothing given.

The ball rolls left and that man Ashley Young simply nicks the ball gently forward wile simultaneously seeking the turf. Nothing given.

The second decision is right, and Young receives a Yellow Card.

That first incident though…

Here’s Young’s shameful claim.

Sunderland worrying United on the counter now with Larsson on the end of a fine through ball and his shot takes a big deflection to go out for a corner.

After that penalty incident LVG replaced RVP with Danny Welbeck and sent Adnan Januzaj on in place of Darren Fletcher.

71 mins: So that’s is how Van Gaal has set his side up to finish this game. And, to his credit, they are dominating proceedings now (aside from the odd ill-advised Wayne Rooney shot from 40 yards).

Gomez hits the deck in a way that’d make Ashley Young blush and Michael Keane is penalised for the foul. Seb Larsson will fancy the range, from 25 yards…

…. but it curls a good two metres wide of the near post.

Vito Mannone v Ashley Young

The United winger has a chance to race clear as Welbeck threads a brilliant ball out to the left wing where only the on-rushing Italian keeper is minding the house. Credit the ex-Gunner, however, he hit Young with a solid tackle and came out clean in the 50-50 duel.

80 mins: Januzaj, who is playing central midfield, intercepts a John O’Shea pass, but instantly sums up United’s lack of fluency as he pings an aimless pass forward, 20 yards out of Welbeck’s reach.

The perception from Scotland…

United still enjoying the better territory, but continue to play horizontal passes across Sunderland’s two banks of four.

How often will we see a midfield trio of Cleverley, Januzaj and Mata this season?

Four minutes to be added on and the blue shirts are still pressing, but the Black Cats show no sign of yielding.

Sunderland actually looking a little more likely to make a break through on the counter, but Jozy Altidore is dispossessed on the edge of the area. The danger passes and it looks like these two will settle for a point apiece.

Oh, they’re not done yet. Larsson has chance to loft a free-kick into the area, but O’Shea is penalised for a push and United can start one last roll of the dice.

That roll is never convincing. The best snippet coming with Mata’s one-two off Welbeck but Sunderland hold firm and force Januzaj into thrashing in a very optimistic volley from 25 yards.


FULL-TIME: Sunderland 1 – 1 Manchester United

And there you have it. Manchester United get their first point of the season, but ti’s another game where they were unable to show much in the way of purpose or fight.

They were also unable to score the last goal in the game, and on both occasions that has proven decisive.

Van Gaal may well complain of a penalty call that should have been awarded for a foul on Robin Van Persie, but all in all, there were 88 other minutes when his team was a great big disappointment.

There are reports this afternoon that Real Madrid have accepted a £60 million fee for Angel Di Maria.

But that big wedge of cash will only plug the gap filled by Ashley Young, and United look like a side who need a whole new spine.

Thanks for joining in and watching Manchester United’s continued demise (or could you see green shoots for the future in that?) we’ll bring you reaction from the Stadium of Light this evening and tomorrow, we’ll be building up to the big one between Man City and Liverpool.

Until then, safe home.

About the author:

Sean Farrell


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