2024-25 FIRST HALF : KEEP THE DRAGON BANNER UP
Once again Mauricio Pochettino has managed to continue the momentum from the previous season, a task made much easier by the talent collected at United. Early concerns about the semi-rebuilt second squad would go away after they managed to keep adding United’s name to some silverware right out of the gate. A 4-0 win in the Community Shield over Manchester City would give United their 5th straight, and more bad news for Max Allegri as City would fall 1-0 in the UEFA Super Cup to give United their 3rd in a row and 4th in (5) years. An English team has now taken that game (6) straight years, every one of United’s coming via the second squad.
The Dragon Banner would fly high over Old Trafford, or really anywhere United set foot on a field, as Pochettino’s side would hand out beatings week after week in an effort to top last season. Every year that seems impossible, but United seem to have an unlimited ceiling.
CHAMPIONS LEAGUE DRAW
Manchester United (England)
RB Salzburg (Austria)
Dinamo Zagreb (Croatia)
No offense to Lyon and RB Salzburg, but United landed one of the easiest groups in the tournament. Lyon is the biggest danger if the team loses focus or Pochettino is forced into playing the second squad, but most media outlets have United sleepwalking through this group. The other English sides don’t have it quite as easy with Liverpool (Juventus, Club Brugge, Porto), Arsenal (Napoli, Benfica, Real Sociedad) and Manchester City (Borussia Dortmund, AZ Alkmaar, Galatasaray) getting groups with at least one tough opponent. For the most part most of the draws were fair without a real group of death.
MATCH(ES) OF THE FIRST HALF
Premier League (H) : Manchester United 11 - Southampton 0
Gao Jisheng and everyone at Southampton have to be wondering what they did to piss off Pochettino, since taking over United the Saints have been on the wrong end of results in a very bad way. This would be the second 11-0 beating Southampton would suffer at the hands of United in just a few seasons. Since the 2021-22 season Manchester United has outscored Southampton 33-0, after today it’s obvious why.
Manager Javi López had to watch his side get demolished by a near perfect United performance. Everyone aside from David De Gea rated at 9.0 or higher with Jadon Sancho barely snagging the PoM award with a double and a 9.5 rating. (7) United players scored in this one with (4) scoring twice, this was a perfect storm with United playing to their potential and Southampton having a terrible game. In their first season back up from the Championship Javi López’s side was so bad that De Gea rated 8.1 without facing a single shot. The Saints have a long way to go, but they will likely try to forget this one as quickly as possible.
Premier League (A) : Tottenham 1 - United 2
Believe it or not the media has swung hard to cover a rejuvenated rivalry. A 3-1 win of Manchester City and a 0-0 stinker at Anfield didn’t feel half as important as the return of Jürgen Klopp to the Premier League. Marcelo Bielsa is definitely feeling hurt by the attention Klopp is getting, he’s right there with Ole GUnnar Solskjaer as a manager that helped elevate a club only to see another manager get most of the credit. Klopp’s Spurs entered this game 2nd in the league with a solid 9-2-0 record and all the momentum Tottenham could hope for. Despite the hype United came into this game as firm favorites, Spurs are ascending but Pochettino just has too much firepower on hand.
Klopp would use his favored 4-1-2-3 formation to try and clog up Pochettino’s game and anchor man Declan Rice would have his hands full on the way to a PoM award. For the most part Klopp’s approach worked as United dominated possession but failed to develop their usual avalanche of shots in the first half. Things would get heated in the technical area at 18’ after an incredible goal by Sancho looked to break the game open for the visitors. Sancho would receive a throw in and pass it off to Danny Ginger in the middle of the field, lurking wide just above the box he would make an incredible run to find himself unmarked near the outside of the box about level with the penalty spot. Ginger would thread a pass through (4) Spurs defenders to hit Sancho in stride for a 1-0 lead, but the celebration was cut short by a raised flag. Pochettino was quite upset as Sancho appeared to be onside for the goal, well onsides in fact, but it turned out the problem was Mason Greenwood failing to react to Spurs’ pulling up their back line and finding himself well beyond them. The call would give Spurs new life and they would head into the half level 0-0 with a frustrated United side still looking to break the game open.
Things tipped in Klopp’s favor in the second half when Ousmane Dembélé would twist his ankle and limp off at 50’, but the relief would be momentary as Andrès Landman would come on and score just a few minutes later at 54’. Spurs continued to play well and forced United to work from the back, the entire back line rated highest for United as King Holland did his best to generate an attack that fell flat at times. The game dragged on into 89’ when Spurs’ hero suddenly became the villain, Rice would put a stop to a Bruno Fernandes run into the box but he caught Fernandes’ ankle before the ball and put him on the penalty spot. With the game rolling into stoppage time Fernandes would make it 2-0 and basically lock the game up. Some lazy defending would allow an easy goal for some late game drama but United would stiffen up and close this one out. This game was as close as the scoreline would indicate, Spurs weren’t that far off and Klopp looks to be building on what Bielsa started.
A RIVALRY IS REBORN
The media would spend an enormous amount of time covering the return of Klopp, but the real story was United’s run of invincibility. United would finish the first half on a mind-blowing (150) game unbeaten run across all competitions, at this point a draw against them feels like a huge win for anyone. Most coverage revolved around the Premier League, thanks to a weak Champions League group, so Klopp managing to keep Spurs just (10) points back of United seemed like a bigger story than it really was. It didn’t help that the rest of the league was falling away already with Manchester City (9) back of Spurs and big clubs like Liverpool and Arsenal falling down the table into Europa League qualification. Chelsea have really fallen on hard times, finishing the half in 11th, so most of the media had pivoted to United as the only team looking like a true world power.
Once again Pochettino seems to be finding new heights for this team. United would finish the first half with (87) league goals while allowing just (3), easily on pace to completely destroy any and all league scoring records. It would be easy to point to Bruno Fernandes, his (20) goals and (10) assists make him stand out as the center of United’s brilliance, but in reality the entire team has been firing on all cylinders. Mason Greenwood would have (17) goals to stay close to Fernandes, making him worth the risk of selling Marcus Rashford. (10) players scoring (5) or more goals and (8) players providing (5) or more assists pain the picture of a team scoring from all over the place, Fernandes and Greenwood aren’t carrying this squad despite leading the team and the league in scoring. It does help to have Fernandes continuing his Ballon d’Or winning form by leading the Premier League in goals (15), average rating (8.69), and assists (8) with a supporting cast he wouldn’t trade for anyone.
Once again it’s difficult to find points of interest beyond the utter dominance on display. Pochettino’s side is prepared, healthy, and never really has a dip in form. The only bump in the road for the first half came in the 0-0 draw at Anfield in August, after that is was smooth sailing even when they weren’t winning 6-0. The 2-1 win over Spurs on November 10th was the last time anyone scored on United through the end of the year across all competitions, the month of December was particularly bad for the opposition with a string of games where they never won by less than 3-0 that included Arsenal (5-0) and Liverpool (3-0) in the Carabao Cup Quarter Final.
FIRST HALF AWARDS & PLAUDITS
Move over Bruno Fernandes, a new United Legend has been born. Not since Cristiano Ronaldo has a United player risen so quickly on the world stage, fueled by an incredible season in the second squad and a great half season this year Danny Ginger would run roughshod over the awards season. Fernandes would end up finishing second in the Ballon d’Or to Ginger with Mason Greenwood a close third to keep the award in Manchester. Even Ginger seemed shocked, he was an outside contender to finish in the Top 3 so seeing him win it was certainly a shock for someone so young. How he didn’t finish in the Top 3 for FIFA Best Player, which Fernandes would win, makes the Ballon d’Or voting even more confusing.
FIFA Ballon d’Or : Danny Ginger - (20) goals, (22) assists, 8.51rating
FIFA Best Player : Bruno Fernandes - (31) goals, (18) assists, 8.38 rating
FIFPro Player Of The Year : Danny Ginger
FIFA U21 Player Of The Year : Luís Nazário - (26) goals, 8.22 rating
FIFA GK Of The Year : David De Gea
European Golden Boy : Danny Ginger
Another sign of how well Pochettino has this squad playing is the number of important players that were injured and the team just kept on winning. The most concerning injury happened in United’s opening league game against Stoke when Fernandes broke a rib and ended up being ruled out for (3) weeks after seeing a specialist. King Holland would follow him with a right knee ligament injury against Liverpool, costing him (2) weeks of August.
The most emotional injury happened in September when Pedro Durán broke his ankle and had to sit out for (3) months. Durán has been tabbed for greatness but he’s struggled to recreate his loan spell and the injury dealt a serious psychological blow, the time out is going to create an opening for Landman that the Bolivian won’t be happy about. Things got harder for Durán when Fernandes twisted his ankle a few days before the Manchester Derby and missed (3) weeks. Down to a single CAM Pochettino called up Kasim Pasha from the U-23 and Durán had to sit and watch him win back-to-back PoM while filling in. Jean-Clair Todibo would cut his leg in October, losing (12) days, and then Dembélé would make his regular trip back to the physio table against Spurs in November. The twisted ankle would cost him (4) weeks, yet another injury giving Landman more playing time, but Dembélé has been so good for Pochettino that he’s become immune to United’s previous intolerance for often injured players. Luís Nazário would hit the physio’s table in December with a left ankle ligament injury, but the timing was perfect and his (2) weeks out overlapped with an international break and he would be ready for January.