Brandon Williams has Luke Shaw looking over his shoulder among Man United v Newcastle talking points

Matt Jones - Editor 21:38 05/10/2019
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They may share the same name, but Manchester and Newcastle are anything but United at the moment.

The men in the red shirts are enduring their worst start to a league season in 30 years, while former Old Trafford icon Steve Bruce has steered the side bedecked famously in black and white stripes to just one win from his opening seven Premier League games in charge.

This fixture used to be one of the standout games of the season. The only thing that will stand out, however, is the smell of desperation in the air as two teams desperate for a win meet at St James’ Park.

CHASING THAT WINNING FEELING

Steve Bruce

A meeting of the league’s two worst form teams?

United’s 11th place position might suggest safety when compared to the hosts who are down in the basement – they’re just two points above rock bottom Watford. But these two are in dire need of both victory and an injection of morale.

The Magpies were flying high after an away win at Tottenham – and thoroughly deserved one – followed narrow defeats to Arsenal and Norwich. But since then they’ve won none in four and come into Sunday’s contest on the back of a humiliating 5-0 thrashing at Leicester that midfielder Sean Longstaff branded “embarrassing” – he had actually prefaced that with a sterner word.

The Magpies will look skyward rather enviously at United, sat four points above them on nine, but there is no-one at Old Trafford feeling sky-high following a wretched start to 2019/20.

Back in the 1989/90 campaign United amassed seven points from their opening seven matches and finished 14th. Sir Alex Ferguson was into his third season as manager and the vultures were circling, but he was given time.

It is a very different time now and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will not be afforded as much rest bite. It is the same old, same old for Red Devils fans, even if Solskjaer has the excuse of this genuinely being a team in transition, and a young one at that.

But he needs to win, and fast.

But so too does opposite number and Red Devils legend Bruce. Neither manager will care how they get them, but both simply have to get the three points.

LUKE’S FUTURE NOT SO SHAW

Brandon Williams

Brandon Williams may not ring a bell with anyone other than regular watchers and enthusiasts of United’s youth team, but his early steps into the senior set-up should be sending alarm bells ringing in Luke Shaw’s ears.

Boxing is in Williams’ blood – his cousin Zelfa Barrett is a Commonwealth champion. And his own combative, aggressive streak is evidenced by the fact that in a pre-season friendly against Accrington Stanley he got sent off for a headbutt on Sean McConville after the Accy captain aimed a punch the 19-year-old’s way.

It displayed a fighting spirit which he again showed on Thursday night when squaring up to Dani de Wit in United’s 0-0 Europa League draw with AZ Alkmaar.

In an otherwise featherweight performance from the Red Devils, Williams paraded around like a heavyweight – charging up and down the left flank with fiendish pace and making two tackles, which was joint highest among team-mates. He also touched the ball more times (89) than any colleague.

In dark times, his performance – on his first start and only second appearance – was nearly as bright as the luminous orange numbering on United’s black strip.

Shaw is recovering from injury, a familiar theme during his United career. But at a time when youngsters are coming to the fore and with his own suspect defensive capabilities and constant fitness issues of increasing concern, how long before Solskjaer – a champion of youth – rings the bell on Shaw’s Old Trafford tenure?

WONDERBOY RASHFORD NEEDS TO FLY

Rashford

Marcus Rashford is not 22 until the end of the month, but fans and critics debate whether he can still be considered a young player.

He’s 21, of course he’s still young. But while he’s youthful in terms of years, he is pretty experienced when it comes to football.

It is now more than three years since the Wythanshawe wonder boy burst onto the scene with two goals against Danish minnows Midtjylland, aged 18, in the Europa League.

He followed that up with another brace days later on his Premier League bow against Arsenal on his way to a sensational introductory season, which included eight goals in 18 appearances, five in the league.

And yet, in three full campaigns since he has not fully kicked on. He barely broke double figures in the Premier League for the first time last term, scoring 10 in 33 appearances.

It is all the more frustrating because he has all the attributes needed to shine as the next great Old Trafford forward – pace, flair, trickery, power and ingenuity.

It’s easy to mitigate for the 34-times capped England international. He has so much promise and, in truth, this is his first full season not living in the considerable shadows of either Zlatan Ibrahimovich or Romelu Lukaku.

But it’s also easy to magnify his shortcomings – especially at a huge club like United who are enduring a miserable start to 2019/20.

Rashford’s 48 United goals before his 22nd birthday put him ahead of superstars like Cristiano Ronaldo and Raheem Sterling – who had 47 and 39 respectively before hitting 22. Harry Kane had 52.

But in darkening times for his club, Rashford is expected – and not unfairly – to be a beacon of light. Patience is a virtue in short commodity these days at Old Trafford and around United strongholds like Wythanshawe.

The wonder boy needs to spread his wings and fly.

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Daniel James eager to be Swiss Army knife for Manchester United

Sport360 staff 14:00 05/10/2019
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Manchester United’s 2018/19 season has been more stop than start so far, but Daniel James has hit the ground running and not looked back.

And the Wales forward is confident enough to put his hand up for the No9 role if required, as United’s other forwards continue to toil through injury and poor form.

Jesse Lingard limped off in the drab 0-0 Europa League draw with AZ Alkmaar on Thursday, adding to an injury list that has seen Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial’s names included at various points this season.

James has managed to avoid the muscular injuries plaguing the club, which has left options short up front – with 18-year-old Mason Greenwood at times the only recognised striker in the squad.

But the former Swansea man, who played up front for a short stint during the 2-0 defeat at West Ham last month, believes he would have no problem slotting in to that forward berth if called upon on a regular basis.

“I played more on the left at Swansea but up front and on the right too,” James, who has scored three goals in nine appearances, told the club’s website. “It’s important to be versatile in all three positions because you never know when you need to be called upon.

“We might have an injured No9 and I might need to go to play up there, so I need to be ready to play in all three roles.

“I do enjoy coming inside from the left. I can go down the line and cross with my left, or go inside but, for now, I think it’s just about sometimes scoring a few by coming inside means people are going to be wary of that. So it’s about mixing my game up.”

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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer anticipates more ups and down at Man United

Sport360 staff 13:55 04/10/2019
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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer accepts Manchester United are not the force they once were, with the manager braced for more ups and downs as he waits for their younger players to “blossom”.

Life since Sir Alex Ferguson ended his medal-laden reign in 2013 has rarely been easy at Old Trafford.

This looks set to be another uncomfortable campaign, with injuries already biting in areas where the squad is weakest and a lack of cutting edge playing a big part in their Premier League problems.

An inability to triumph away is also hampering United, with Thursday’s goalless Europa League draw at AZ Alkmaar taking their winless streak on the road to a 10th successive match in all competitions.

Solskjaer is confident the poor run is not due to any psychological block and that an away win is imminent, but the 1999 treble hero also knows United cannot roll into town with the fear factor they once possessed.

“We’re not in the ’90s now so it’s a different era, a different group that we’re building,” he said after the Europa League draw in The Hague.

“We know there are going to be ups and downs. I’m ready to see these boys blossom.

“There’s not many clubs with our stature that play the young players that we do. They’ll have a chance to come through and we’re sure that some of these will be part of a successful team.”

Put to Solskjaer that opponents do not appear intimidated by United, he said: “I don’t know what the opponents think of us. I just know that sometimes when you walk off games we’re not doing bad here.

“Sometimes there’s a gap. I’ve felt that a couple of times but not very often.

“I can’t think about what anyone else is thinking about us. We’re working to improve and that’s what we have to do.”

United could do with a shot in the arm before the international break, and Sunday’s trip to Newcastle looks as good an opportunity as any to win away.

Thrashed 5-0 at Leicester last weekend, pressure is already building on Steve Bruce and Solskjaer expects a tough challenge against the former United defender’s side.

“As managers, we don’t want to give anyone any favours when we play each other,” the Norwegian said.

“Brucey’s going to set up a team to win, I’m going to set up a team to try to win.

“We’re going there, it’s a great stadium to play at and we’re looking forward to the game. We’ve hopefully got many players fresh for Sunday.”

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