It’s a gloriously sunny Saturday morning and I’m fresh off watching the highlights from United’s amazing, clinical, jogo bonito style wins over the mighty Shrewsbury Town and FC Midtjylland. It is fair to say I’m coming out of both of those feeling quite sprightly, especially the second game and how we toyed with Danish league leaders and club-less-than-half-my-age Midtjylland. I was feeling even more sprightly till just about a second ago when Leicester and Chelsea were both on their way to dropping points, only for both of them to end up not doing so. And all these Leicester fans staying on after the game singing how they’re going to win the league… strange times, these.
But let’s get back United, and the 3 ways left for us to accomplish our only realistic target for this season – stay in Europe:
The least likely of the three options, and one that can be definitely laid to rest this weekend when our favorite friends from North London visit. As much as our fellow Arsenal writer Nickspinkboots would continue his policy of ‘pessimism is better than disappointment‘ for this one, I think it’s fair to say that the most likely result looks like an Arsenal win. Mesut Ozil has finally stopped being the invisible man, and is showing his whole range of football-ery that made him the centerpiece during his time at Real and during Germany’s World Cup win. Walcott’s found his pace again without tumbling over the ball as he runs, Sanchez looks like an amazing buy from Wenger who’s finally given in to accepting that it is possible to buy talent and not just necessary to nurture them from when they are on and a half. And finally, what the heck is up with Griourd? No, seriously, Arsenal fans, what’s happening there? He is a near-complete striker who can hold up the ball, find space, run down the channel, plant bullet headers and actually scare the opposition. All while looking like he just stepped off the cover of GQ and is going to go on to Vanity Fair after the game. Sheesh, look at me have Arsenal-envy.
Not eithout reason, because up against that bunch will most likely be Varela, Borthwick-Jackson, Blind and potentially Carrick at the back given that we have (again) lost a person to a training injury. I am not entirely sure what this training routine is which seems to succesfully break people, especially just before games, but I’m sure the Iron Tulip has nothing to do with it (yeah right). Anyway, when this bunch does concede, the task of pulling us back in will be up to Lingard, Depay, Rashford and potentially Pereira – a front 4 with an average of 4 games experience. This was exactly the setting in reverse which led to a slightly one-sided game not so long ago in the past that ended 8-2…
So… yeah, this is not going to happen.
Dream Cup Run
The least palatable of the three options, but one which still tops the ‘No Europe’ outcome would be to go on a dream run in the cup, leaving giant-killings littered in our path like Shrewsbury just found out. Wigan did it, and United have not done it for long enough now that we can start putting it back on the list of ‘respectable trophies to win’ again. The Cup dropped in importance primarily due to Sir Alex and his obsession with Liverpool’s effing perch. But that’s been taken care of now, and neither team is in any state to consider the perch remotely accessible for a while in the future, so maybe United should just become a Cup Team. Certainly suits this United team which switches between blowing hot and cold so frequently that punters will soon start taking bets on not the result, but on which United team will even show up on the day. It gives LvG a trophy, and hence a respectable means to save face when he exits, and at least puts us in the Europa League. Which will be a win right now.
Win Europa Laegue with the kids
We all know the story. Alan Hansen’s infamous remark, the ’99 season and the gazillion trophies that followed. Sure, it was only Midtjylland, but Thursday was the kind of famous comeback win that have been so long gone now that you would have forgiven most United fans for walking away when we went 1-0 down on the night. But we turned it around, and key to the whole thing was the one thing that has been so frequently missing in how we have played this season – freedom. This obsession with shape and keep ball and playing within the ‘filosofeee’ have meant that United have far too often looked like a dog straining at its leash, but simply unable to break out.
Thursday night was different, potentially because half the team on the pitch had not got its full does of filosofee because they just didn’t train much with the first team. Rashford, Varela and Riley showed all the exact kinds of exuberance, unbridled running about and keeping it simple that comes from not overthinking the game! Take the third goal which put us ahead on the tie – Varela sold his man, put in a simple cross, Rashford drifted away from his marker and sidefooted from 6 yards outs. Football IS that simple Louis. “Der Ball ist rund und das Spiel dauert 90 Minuten”
Who are you and what have you done with Memphis?
An inescapable sub-plot from Thursday has to be Memphis, the guy we paid the 25 Million for, rather than whoever was masquerading as Memphis and playing in the opposition for last-minute goals all this time. He is actually two-footed, and has a really good strike on him, and is willing to take on his man. Just ask the unfortunate Romer, who had a game that could definitely go into the list of ‘Most Torrid Time for a Defender’, up there with Vidic-Torres. And the main reason that he could do that, again, came down to freedom. He was not chained to the left touchline, and Martial / Lingard chained to the other. Between Memphis, Rashford, Lingard and Mata, the four ran across the pitch with such a sense of abandon that I think I teared up just a tiny bit. Of course it will be difficult to our people to pur forward with better and more attacking full-backs that our wingers will have to track but it was good to see that this does still work. So, maybe we give this a go against Liverpool as well.
Make no mistake, winning the Europa League will be the best possible way to get us into the Champions League for next season – it would mean we have put Liverpool out of their last chance at a title. It would mean we get one for the season. It would mean Europe, of course. But most of all, it could mean that because of all the coefficient mumbo-jumbo, England might yet have only the top 3 qualify for the Champions League next season. And guess who is fourth right now…
Now wouldn’t that be sweet.