Juan Mata scored his first goal for United yesterday. If you didn’t celebrate that, you have no soul.
Mata celebrates: “Wayne’s shaved and I haven’t, so you can’t notice we resemble each other a bit!”
Also: Fellaini kinda looks like he’s doing a “Blue Steel” pose, but for a different camera.
Manchester United scored a slightly-flattering 4-1 home win over Aston Villa on Saturday. Villa opened the scoring through a decent Ashley Westwood free kick. “That’ll teach ya to stop confusing me with the golfer Lee Westwood!” he’s reported to have thought to himself while celebrating. United equalised through a Rooney header while Villa were exhibiting their patented “FIFA ’99 Amateur mode” defensive tactics, and United eased on to victory from there, showing a bit of the bounce-back-ability for which the club
was is famous. I wanted to make an Alan Partridge reference here, as it’s quite appropriate – think “give me a second season!” – but sadly I’ve given up Alan Partridge references for Lent.*
As they did against West Ham, United started with a front four of Young, Mata, Kagawa and Rooney, with the former three providing the ammunition for the £300k (Pre-Tax Emolument Income per Week) Kid.
For most of the first half, United were turgid. Or flaccid. Y’all, help me settle this debate: when discussing a football team’s performance, which adjective is more damning – turgid or flaccid? Answers in the comments please. Anyway, for most of the first half, United were really, really bad. Passes went badly astray, Rooney’s first touch was off, Rafael was fouling people, Ashley Young was our best player for the first 35 minutes, and my dad and I struggled to stay awake.
You know that thing where you’re on a website – say, ESPNFC.com – and you’re scrolling through the Premier League table looking for United so you can click through to their team page? I still instinctively look near the top of the page for United, before remembering and having to scroll all the way down to the middle of the page to get to the desired spot. Surely there’s a support group – or better yet, an app – to help beleaguered souls such as myself.
Thank goodness Cristian Benteke was in dreadful form yesterday. He was the latest in a long line of forward players this season – namely “everyone except those guys who played for Swansea that time” – to give Vidic defensive horrors. Luckily, Benteke’s touch was reminiscent of a mechanic who’s just completed an oil change and has unexpectedly been thrown a wet bar of soap while trying really hard to recite pi to more than ten digits.
Shinji Kagawa and Juan Mata play really well together! Who would’ve thunk it?
Honestly, though. United don’t have too many games left against the division’s top teams – you know, the ones where we look clueless and gutless no matter what XI is selected. Given that fact, Kagawa and Mata should start together in as many of the club’s remaining games as possible. They clearly have an understanding together, they clearly read each other’s runs, and Rooney clearly benefits from having both of them a) directly create chances for him, b) make runs that take defensive attention away from Rooney, therefore opening up space for him, and c) being able to retain the ball such that Rooney doesn’t have to go faffing about near the centre circle to get involved in the game. Come on Mr. Moyes, make the obvious choice.
Some enterprising United fans decided that the best way to
get lots and lots of attention and feel all smug about themselves burnish their #MoyesOut credentials was to charter a plane carrying a banner through the air. In the process, they managed to make this person look like the calm, reasonable one. Ridiculous, whichever side of the #MoyesIn/#MoyesOut fence you happen to sit on.**
Bring on Bayern?
The Villa game didn’t tell us much that we didn’t know about United. Even under Moyes, they’re perfectly capable of beating the sides below them, and quite handily provided their best players are in their best positions (Rooney up top, Mata in behind, for example). But now we turn our attention to the Champions League, which – as everyone is aware – is the only avenue by which United can qualify for the Champions League next season. Here we look ahead to Tuesday’s battle against the German and European champions.
Um, how do I put this lightly? We’re going to get smashed over two legs against Bayern. I would love to tell you that this is one of those Chelsea-Barça 2012-type scenarios where the underdog story just reverses all logic and compels a victory for the clearly inferior side. Unfortunately:
1. Bayern are a ruthless winning machine. Like, they’ve already won their league in March. Their post-title “hangover game” was this weekend, and they drew 3-3 at home to Hoffenheim, which was the third time they’ve dropped league points all season. They have dropped a total of six points. All season. For comparison, United dropped more points than that in the space of eleven days in February, from the 1st to the 12th.
2. Bayern are a ruthless winning machine in the Champions League. They beat Barcelona last year in the Champions League semifinals. They won the first leg 4-0 at home. In the second leg at the Nou Camp, they could’ve… y’know… eased off a bit. Maybe played some of the reserves – many of whom would still easily get into United’s first XI – and rested their first-teamers?. Maybe done one of those things where you aimlessly pass the ball around and play time out so everyone gets a rest and remains fresh for upcoming games? Maybe, y’know just not tried as hard or something? Nope! They went and smashed Barcelona (Barcelona!) 3-0 at the Nou Camp (the Camp Nou!), with goals from Robben, Pique OG (ie. Shakira-harharhar-ohwait-thatsabitsexist), and Müller. There’s no sense that they’re going to ease off in the way that, say, City did after the second goal last week. Especially not after they nearly got knocked out doing just that against Arsenal in the quarters last year.
3. Injuries and cup-tiednesses. Bayern have an injury – Thiago Alcantara (remember him?) is out for the next six to eight weeks. Oh well, ho hum – just Schweinsteiger, Kroos, Javi Martinez, Götze, Müller and Shaqiri to choose from, then. United have a defensive injury crisis – oh, y’know, the usual thing, except it’s happening a bit later in the season, just a few days before the only remaining match that actually matters to the club for the next four months. So, conceivably our back four – going into a game against the best team in world football*** – could very well line up like this: Büttner, Carrick, Jones and Valencia. Oh, and Juan Mata is ineligible to play in Europe for United this season. See where I’m going here?
4. Managers: Two points here.
4a. This is the image that appears on the Wikipedia page of FC Bayern’s manager. This is the image that appears on the Wikipedia page of Manchester United FC’s manager. In one corner, a guy who looks impossibly cool even when clad in a suit – pronounced “syoot” – paired with a ludicrous lilac sweater. In another corner, a soggy Hugh Laurie impersonator. The defence rests.
4b. Not even Fergie ever managed to beat Guardiola in a competitive game. And in the non-competitive friendly that Fergie did win, Tom Cleverley was the man of the match, so clearly we were operating in the Bizarro world…
HANG ON, I’VE GOT IT! United can win if we somehow manage to summon Bizarro principles to apply at just the right time, just around Old Trafford. For more information on the Bizarro world and how to summon it, please watch Jerry Seinfeld’s explanation in this short clip.
[Just rehash what was said in the intro, with different words]… solidifying their position as the seventh best team in the Premier League.
Depending on results elsewhere on Sunday, United may end the weekend only two points behind Spurs in sixth place.
In other news, United have a clear strategy for winning on Tuesday night against Bayern. What must be done is this: every United fan who’s reading this piece or attending the game, must do the opposite of everything they normally do between now and Tuesday night. Say goodbye when you arrive somewhere and hello when you leave. Go to sleep at work, and start work when you’re supposed to go to sleep.**** Do like this man. Tell David Moyes to do like this man (not literally though, that would be hideous). Fellaini finally has a purpose – he’s clearly Kramer in this scenario.
* I’m not really a Christian anymore, but I do admire the
** Sitting on either side of the fence is, of course, entirely reasonable. Just don’t sit on the fence. That would surely be painful for your bum. Fences should come with “safe/not safe for sitting” certification stickers, in case the people purchasing them don’t really understand how language works. Though I guess if they really don’t understand how language works, a sticker might not help.
***And arguably the most ruthless winners since a Sir Alex Ferguson-coached team of Michael Jordan clones, the original concept for Space Jam that Warner Brothers rejected – though I’m convinced it was someone at NASA who put them off it. I could’ve been a millionaire, dammit!
**** “Hang on, I already do that!” I hear you reply. Me too. Don’t let anybody know.