There is more than just luck or change in managers to the 5-1 win Manchester United notched up against Cardiff during the weekend.
Manchester United is not just a club but an emotion in the footballing world. When you hear someone talk about the club, you either hear pure hatred or love. Even in the hatred though, there are instances of the greatness the club has managed to achieve over the years, especially in the Premier League.
“Oh, I hate them because they knocked Liverpool off the perch.” “I can’t stand them because they are so successful.” “How can they come back time after time and so late into the match?” – These are some of the sentences I have heard my friends say while describing why they choose not to like Manchester United.
While you try to hide your laugh, it is completely understandable. Nobody expected Manchester United to be able to achieve the unprecedented success they have under Sir Alex Ferguson in the Premier League era. And looking at things now, as to how I am starting to feel about Manchester City, I relate even more as to why we have grown up with United as the most hated side in the Premier League, if not the world.
To a fan like me, football is just as important as points. But, I was ready to sacrifice it all just to taste the glory again after what seemed like a decade of failure in the years that have followed Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement. That is why, when Jose Mourinho arrived, I welcomed him with open arms, knowing well enough that there will be a trade-off between success and brand of football.
Jose Mourinho did bring Manchester United success. But, I think it was towards the end of the second season that I started seeing cracks in Mourinho’s armour, signs that told me the United fans were about to witness the classic third season Mourinho meltdown.
But, when Jose Mourinho labelled the 2018-19 campaign ‘a tough task’ before the start of the season, I could see his frustration at the club’s inability to land his desired targets. It could be related with a kid who was denied his toy that he believed would complete his collection and that the kid was now full of rage and contempt. Mourinho seemed intent on proving why the signings were necessary.
So it started, the continuous chopping and changing of central defence. Mourinho continued to highlight defence as a problem area and in fact, chose to bench Fred citing the same thing. It was almost as if he was taking revenge, telling the club that the inability to sign a centre-back renders the other summer signing useless.
In the process, Manchester United’s performances took a nosedive. We were poorer than we were under David Moyes and Louis Van Gaal and trust me, that was a tough thing to achieve. Then, we saw the start of a rift between Jose Mourinho and Paul Pogba, which resulted in the Frenchman being benched for several matches.
Without Pogba though, Manchester United seemed direction-less at times and even in matches they seemed to be playing well, United just could not register wins. The last straw was the 3-1 defeat to Liverpool, where United sacrificed most of the possession and their only goal came courtesy of a mistake from Alisson.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was appointed as the interim manager at Manchester United. The former player immediately reinstated Pogba in the starting lineup, playing a fluid 4-3-3 formation. United won 5-1 against Cardiff and while they looked promising, the pundits and experts were quick to chalk it off as a one-off.
Some chose to highlight Cardiff’s results against other top sides while some made it out to be an effect of Mourinho’s sacking. Little to no credit was given to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, while many were quick to say Manchester United are still poor despite the thumping win.
Well, I beg to disagree. The statistic that this was the first time Manchester United had pumped in 5 goals into the net in the post Sir Alex Ferguson era is an explanation in itself. But, what people failed to notice was the freedom with which the players played on the field.
From Victor Lindelof marauding up the pitch to almost nail an assist for Marcus Rashford, whose shot was saved by Neil Etheridge to the mesmerising third goal that saw United build with some brilliant one-touch football, this was something we had not seen in a while.
The last memory I have of a Manchester United central defender doing something similar to what Lindelof did is when we had Rio Ferdinand in our lineup, that too in the Sir Alex Ferguson era.
Paul Pogba recorded three assists in a single game and you can say it was because his shackles were removed. But, i choose to believe it was because others around him were making the moves for him to pass the ball into, enabling him to be the playmaker Manchester United desires for him to be on the field.
Fred got some game time, so did Andreas Pereira. But, what impressed me more was the work rate. Manchester United outworked Cardiff by a fair mile and perhaps, for the first time this season looked like the hungrier team of the two.
Yes, United scored 5. But, what people miss is that they could have had more. Marcus Rashford’s one-on-one was saved brilliantly by Neil Etheridge, who had the faintest of touch on it. Phil Jones hit it straight towards Etheridge from a corner while there were a couple of other opportunities that could have been goals on another day.
One more thing that had become reminiscent this season was Manchester United becoming anxious when the opponent scored a goal. The reaction against Cardiff after they scored the penalty was perhaps, the best that one could ask for.
Manchester United were not afraid of the ball or the opposition at any point during the game against Cardiff and it is that characteristic that hey must emulate in every game to get the fear factor going once again.
I am optimistic about Huddersfield and we should expect another win on Boxing Day. Permanent or not, I am confident Manchester United will recover their identity under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.