The Week at United: An opportunity taken, looking after Martial and The Flowers of Manchester

This has been a strange season. Often United have played on a Sunday or late in a mid-week cycle of games. So many times direct rivals who are above us in the table have slipped up, much to our delight. Oh how we’ve laughed and mocked, particularly when the man at the helm of that wayward ship is Klopp, Guardiola or Wenger, each in an ongoing battle with their team’s own gremlins. In the case of the latter there has been the added bonus of taking a trip to ArsenalFanTV to LOL at the meltdowns, as experienced by Gooners of all shapes and species. This weekend a Chelsea fan stole Ty’s hat and we had the pleasures of watching the shortest man at Stamford Bridge trying to single-handedly take on the Stamford Bridge massive. Ty v The Headhunters: There Can Be Only One. So, we’ve had our 24 hours of mirth, before United’s match has arrived. The opportunity to take advantage of the failings of others must surely be a huge incentive, and yet Mourinho’s team have found increasingly trying ways to screw it up. The late concessions at Goodison Park and at home to Arsenal are particularly sore points in this household.

That opportunity has presented itself twice this week. It’s almost as if the Gods are on our side and are getting as frustrated as us when their boys don’t finish the job.

“Oi Zeus.”
“What Thor?”
“United have fucked it up. Can you make Arsenal lose again?”
“Loki won’t like it, but…..ArsenalFanTV!”
“Ziiiinnnggg.”

And so it was last midweek, as The Gunners contrived to lose at home to Watford and four of the five above United dropped points. With Hull at home they couldn’t fail to take advantage. Except that they could, obviously, and at full time Thor will no doubt have ejected his Hammer through the nearest window. Marco Silva is doing a terrific job on Humberside and set his team up to be compact and counter attack, but United had several clear chances and should have won the game without ever playing particularly fluently. The best opportunity was Juan Mata’s from close range, the Spaniard contriving to hit the keeper when it was easier to score. Indeed, The Tigers could have snatched the game had Lazar Markovic’s late shot not hit the inside of the post and bounced across the goal and to safety. At full time there was understandable rage. Some of that was directed at Mourinho for reneging on his promise to play Anthony Martial if he excelled against Wigan (he did) and then declining to introduce him as a substitute when United desperately needed some pace, trickery and goal-threat from out wide. Marcus Rashford had a poor game and Mourinho’s beef with the Frenchman must be significant to keep playing with the ineffective teenager on the left. Bad times.

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Fast forward to this weekend, and I found it hard to take too much pleasure in the failures of Liverpool at Hull and Arsenal, hilariously and completely predictably, at Chelsea. United would surely blow the opportunity at the King Power Stadium anyway. But no, Dear Readers, my negativity was misplaced, although the scrappy opening ten minutes suggested that I might not be. Mourinho set his team up to play 4-4-2, but it was apparent early on that this was not working. The manager has struggled to impact matches from the bench in recent weeks, but on Sunday his early switch to a more familiar 4-2-3-1 was game-changing. With Eric Bailly back in the side and cruising around like the thoroughbred that he is, United immediately grasped control of the game and never gave it back. Henrikh Mkhitaryan was the best player on the pitch and deservedly gave his team the lead by poking the ball past the onrushing Robert Huth, racing clear and drilling the ball past Kasper Schmeichel and into the top corner.

Confidence is obviously low in Ranieri’s team and within two minutes Ibrahimovic had fired home from a low Valencia cross from the right and it was game over. Leicester just gave up. For the second time against United this season. Remarkable stuff, Geoff. Mata added a beautifully constructed third, assisted by Mkhitaryan and Mourinho’s team strolled through the remainder of the game, almost showboating. Remember when Leicester were the best team in the Premier League? Juan Mata never forgets and is such a nice bloke that we just know that he abhors discrimination in any form. Understandable then that he took the opportunity in the first half to send Jamie Vardy into a low Earth orbit. Equally understandable was referee Anthony Taylor’s decision to only punish the retribution with a yellow card. Thor will have approved.

If I had to be critical I would say that United should have tried to drive home their dominance further rather than easing up. Their goal difference remains significantly worse than those above them and an avalanche of goals would have helped in that regard. Nevertheless, any win was welcome, let alone one of such complete dominance and comfort. Mourinho’s team led by two goals at half time for only the third time in the Premier League this season, and this was surely their finest away performance under the Portuguese. Henrikh Mkhitaryan was the standout player, but in truth no-one dipped below average. After his recent poor form Paul Pogba worked diligently in a deeper midfield role and even The Grenade, Chris Smalling, avoided mistakes. He even bagged an assist (sort of). Heady days, Christophe. Leicester were gutless and truly awful, but United and Mourinho out-thought, out-fought and out-played them in a manner about which Pep Guardiola can only dream. If there’s a Premier League manager who wakes up screaming in the middle of the night most nights it’s him.

“Calm down Pep, what’s wrong?”
“I dreamt that I was in a bar and in walked Jamie Vardy and Duncan Castles……..”

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Mourinho used the game to further troll Martial, refusing to bring him on as United closed out the last half an hour against an exhausted and demoralised Leicester. Instead, on came Ashley Young, the ultimate indignity. As the great Chaka Khan once sang, Anthony, “I feeeeelll for you, I think I luuurve you.” Poor Ant. Let’s hope that he rises to the challenge, or something.

So, United find themselves only two points behind Arsenal and a single point behind Liverpool. Still in sixth though, obviously, for that is where we shall be for eternity.

Off the pitch there was more promising news from France, where reports suggested that United have agreement on contract terms with Antoine Griezmann for next summer, precipitating what appears to be the most telegraphed transfer in the history of humanity. I’ve jinxed it now, haven’t I? D’oh. Quite where he might fit into this team is intriguing and his bromance with #pogback may rival the Mata/Herrera/De Gea triumvirate of amor. Speaking of amor, or amour, Patrice Evra last week suggested that he came close to rejoining United, but that an individual at the club opposed the deal. On a playing level seeing Uncle Pat getting torn a new one would have made me sad, but just having his infectious bantzzzzz at the club would surely have warmed all of our cockles. Shame on that individual. I’ll find you……

59 years ago a wonderful team, club officials and journalists boarded a plane in Munich for the second leg of their trip back to Manchester from a European Cup game in Belgrade. 23 of those who took their seats lost their lives as the plane crashed attempting its third take-off, including eight members of the Busby Babes. They will never be forgotten. The Flowers of Manchester.

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