With the 2017-18 season all wrapped up, the Hard Tackle brings you a throwback to five of the best moments of the campaign for Manchester United.
It was a season of ups and downs for Manchester United. Having done some brilliant business in the transfer window, the way Jose Mourinho’s charges began the 2017-18 season, things looked upwards and onwards for the club.
However, it would all start to unravel soon though and by the time the season finished, there was a bitter taste left behind by the manner of the UEFA Champions League exit against Sevilla, the meek surrender to Chelsea in the finals of the FA Cup, coupled with the fact that neighbours and arch-rivals Manchester City had run away with the Premier League title.
Yet, over the course of the campaign, there were some great moments for Jose’s men, moments that made a lasting impact on the club and the fans. And here we pick out five such top highlights of the season for Manchester United.
Matic and Lukaku’s Immediate Impact
When Manchester United clinched the signing of Romelu Lukaku from Everton, under the noses of Chelsea and then ended up raiding the Blues for the signing of Nemanja Matic, it was considered a huge statement of intent from the club. The Red Devils had gotten their hands on a proven and consistent goalscorer and a midfield enforcer who had already won the Premier League twice with Chelsea.
And the United fans didn’t have to wait for long to see the impact their star signings had made on the team. Lukaku and Matic played integral roles as the Red Devils were off to flying start in the Premier League, beating West Ham United 4-1, before thrashing Swansea City 4-0 a week later with the Belgian scoring thrice in the two games and Matic’s presence in the middle ensuring the side were stable at the back and Paul Pogba was afforded more freedom.
The two continued to enhance their status as the most pivotal players for United, Mourinho’s trusted lieutenants on the field. Lukaku ended the 2017-18 campaign as the club’s top-scorer with 27 goals, while Matic has grown into a key cog in the midfield engine room. Bigger and better things will be expected from the former Chelsea duo in their second season at the Old Trafford.
De Gea’s Heroics against Arsenal
If there were any doubts in anyone’s minds about David De Gea’s status as the best goalkeeper across Europe, the Spaniard abolished them all with his sensational display in the 3-1 win over Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium in December last year.
Having taken a 2-0 goal lead in just eleven minutes, United were riding high, but the Gunners weren’t done by any means as they looked for a way to get back into the game. But De Gea stood tall in goal, denying the likes of Hector Bellerin, Sead Kolasinac, before sensationally diverting a goal-bound deflection from teammate Lukaku.
While he couldn’t do much about Alexandre Lacazette’s goal just after the restart, the former Atletico Madrid stopper then produced a world-class double stop to deny Lacazette and Alexis Sanchez in quick succession. Jesse Lingard went on to kill the game with his second of the game, but if it weren’t for De Gea’s heroices between the sticks, things would have looked very different for Manchester United.
The Spaniard eventually went on to claim his first ever Premier League Golden Glove award and was once again named the Manchester United Player of the Year, highlighting his contributions to the team’s success. And his performance on that day in December, will live long in the memories of the United supporters.
Mourinho’s mind games unnerve Antonio Conte
It is no secret that Mourinho and Chelsea manager Antonio Conte aren’t the best of friends. The two have been taking potshots at each other ever since the Italian took charge of Jose’s former club last season. However, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that the whole rivalry amped-up in a big way this season.
Starting with Jose taking a dig at his counterpart’s touchline antics, things took a turn for the dark when Conte would go on to call the Portuguese as suffering from dementia. Not one take it lying down, Jose brought up the match-fixing allegations that had been leveled against Conte in the past, prompting a response from the Italian where he went on to claim Mourinho was a “little man.”
Amidst all this, Chelsea form in the Premier League took a nosedive. The results were baffling, there was a seeming loss of focus at the club and at the centre of it all was the war of words between Mourinho and Conte. The Portuguese then went on to deliver the killer blow, leading his team to a 2-1 comeback win over his former club at the Old Trafford, putting a big dent in Chelsea’s hopes of qualifying for Champions League.
While the Blues did exact revenge by beating United in the finals of the FA Cup, the way things unfolded, with Conte getting unnerved and flustered to such a large extent, it was quintessential Mourinho at play.
Classic Comeback – I: Crystal Palace 2-3 Manchester United
Both Palace and United came into the game at Selhurst Park under pressure – for the former, it was to emerge out of the relegation threat and for the latter it was to keep up the pressure in the battle for the second spot. However, not many would have imagined what an epic encounter the two teams would go on to dish out.
Roy Hodgson’s Eagles took a shock lead as early as the 11th minute, courtesy of a deflected strike from Andros Townsend and when full-back Patrick van Aanholt capitalized on some sloppiness from the United defence to make it 2-0 just three minutes into the second period, the game looked done and dusted, Palace were set to clinch their first ever Premier League win over their illustrious opponents.
Were they though? Not according to Chris Smalling, who brought Manchester United back with a goal seven minutes later. Not according to Lukaku either, who scored a brilliant goal in the 76th minute to bring his team back on level terms. Disaster averted. But United were not done, Nemanja Matic wasn’t done.
With the game in stoppage time, the Serbian powerhouse unleashed a stunning strike from 25 yards that ended up in the Palace net and the turnaround was complete. United had snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, in Fergie time that too. A thrilling and dramatic encounter that ended in a sweet and memorable triumph for Mourinho’s brigade.
Classic Comeback – II: Manchester City 2-3 Manchester United
Manchester Derby. If City win, they will be crowned the Premier League champions. Against Manchester United. The stakes couldn’t have been any higher going into the blockbuster encounter at the Etihad Stadium in April.
And it was the champions-elect who struck the first blow, through captain Vincent Kompany’s fantastic header. Five minutes later, Ilkay Gundogan would breach United’s goal with another classy strike. It could have been much worse for Mourinho’s men, who looked appalling and disjointed. City had them where they wanted them and if not for some “benevolence” from Raheem Sterling, the scoreline would have made for a terribly lopsided reading.
Only Mourinho and his squad know what went down in the dressing room during the half-time break, but the Manchester United that walked out on the pitch after the break weren’t the same that had been bullied for the first-half.
The chips were down and the odds were stacked against United. They needed their best men to step up and deliver. And deliver they did, as Alexis Sanchez pulled the strings to create two chances for United in the space of two minutes, and both ended up in the back of the net, courtesy of some clinical finishing from the prodigal son Paul Pogba.
With twenty minutes left to be played, the Chilean then played in a delectable cross into the box which Smalling buried into the back of the net to send the travelling United fans into a tizzy. United held on to their lead to script another memorable comeback win, delaying City’s title celebrations. Surely, a Manchester derby to be remembered and cherished for ages!