Major progress alert! Such was the level of despondency that surrounded United last season, international breaks began to feel like some respite from the gloom rather than a major inconvenience. So following a cracking start to the season that’s seen us quickly gain in confidence and momentum, along came the World Cup qualifiers to place things on hold for a fortnight.
Another measure of the Ready Brek glow being radiated right now is the fact that transfer deadline day passed without incident. We’re not in desperate need of anyone as things stand – for the first time in 5-6 years, it feels like we’re in good shape with no glaring holes in the squad. Okay, a new right winger would be nice, but until such a target exposes himself we’ll persevere with Timid Tony and his signature smashed cross. At least we’re no longer starved of creative options in other areas of the pitch.
It was the Hull game that set my already twitching giddyometer to near delusional levels. I was already basking in the glow of watching us actually try and win a game in the last 15 minutes, even before the injury time winner prompted scenes of wild abandon that saw me to leap off the couch like a startled gazelle and start doing laps of the living room in the manner of David Pleat at Maine Road. Cushions everywhere, absolute scenes. It’s good to be back.
I wouldn’t normally pay attention to Paul Merson’s thoughts on anything whatsoever but he looks to be spot on with his assessment of other new signing, Henrik Mkhitaryan. “He is different gravy”, opined Merse in a recent Sky Sports piece. Now I’m not really sure what he’s on about there but I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt, because based on his 30 minute sub appearance at early pace setters/relegation threatened Hull, we look to have an absolute star on our hands.
In truth, before we signed the guy I’d never even heard of him due to a long-standing aversion to all things Bundesliga and an almost criminal lack of knowledge of the Armenian international football scene. That will change now, clearly. The way he picked the ball up in centre midfield and just… just ran straight at them… well it was almost shades of Cantona. Seriously, if this carries on it could be love. Get him in the team. Oh Micki you’re so fine, you’re so fine you blow my mind etc, etc.
Each of the summer signings has impressed thus far. Zlatan has been Zlatan: hungry for goals, an eye for the audacious, full of menace and withering looks when passes go astray. Pogba was immense against Southampton and is primed to be the midfield powerhouse we’ve been lacking for almost a decade. Eric Bailly looks fast and strong, despite being raw and still getting acquainted with the pace of the game in England. Taking Vidic as an example, even the best take a few months to settle – and if Bailly ultimately proves half the player that Vidic was, then we’ll be laughing of course.
The biggest buzz, however – combined with a still palpable sense of relief – remains the fact that we’ve now got Mourinho overseeing matters. Can you imagine the last 15 minutes of that Hull game if we’d had Van Gaal in charge? He’d have been sat bolt upright in the dugout studiously taking notes whilst Giggs peered out through the torrential rain, imploring the team to speed up the sideways passing. Meanwhile, rather than bringing on another striker in search of a winner, we’d have had Phil Jones warming up as a replacement full-back.
Instead, rather than settling for what would have been an acceptable draw in the circumstances, we witnessed a vastly different United approach to what’s been the norm for the last 3 seasons. There was tactical variation throughout the 2nd half and we continued to press until Hull finally cracked. Rather than passively accepting their dogged resistance, the team sensed that 3 points were there for the taking and continued to probe until they got their deserved reward. The ecstatic celebrations witnessed in the stands weren’t just for the goal, they were heralding the return of the do-or-die mentality that’s been the hallmark of all great United sides down the years.
There were no knee-slides from Mourinho, however. Whilst everyone else was ballooning around on the side of the pitch, he immediately signalled another substitution to the 4th official and ran straight to Chris Smalling to begin issuing instructions. This was only a minor detail but was demonstrative of his always tuned-in, almost maniacal desire to win. I’m aware that too big a deal was probably made of Van Gaal’s reluctance to raise himself off the bench, but having a manager prowling the touchline again just suits us better.
One of the main criticisms of Van Gaal’s tenure was that he assembled a team that lacked character and personality. With Mourinho in place, and the additions of Pogba and Ibrahimović, this now appears much less of a concern. It’s too early to predict great things and they’ll be numerous setbacks ahead as there always are in football, but we’re now playing with more of a swagger than a lurch. The team looks more imposing and has some presence about it, it just feels more like United again.
If there’s one result that could completely obliterate the sun-drenched, feelgood vibes of present, it would be a reverse in today’s Manchester derby. The Mourinho v Guardiola narrative has dominated the build up to this one, masking the fact that both managers would probably have preferred this fixture in a few weeks’ time. Still, not to worry, eh? Let’s go out and smash ’em, reds.
Copyright Red News – September 2016