Back in August when all pre-season optimism was obliterated at Brentford, I doubt even the most optimistic United fan would have predicted one trophy already in the bag and another up for grabs as the season draws to a close. Whatever happens from now until the start of June, what we’ve witnessed has exceeded pretty much all expectations. Regardless of horror shows served up at the Etihad, Anfield and most recently in Seville, we’ve comfortably avoided the never-ending shitshow of the last few campaigns. The players at least look bothered again and honestly, that will do for me given the state we were in 12 months ago.
Setbacks remain fairly commonplace but what’s different now is the response to these. This time last year the team looked to be actively seeking reasons to down tools, and that’s if they even bothered to turn up in the first place. You can’t fault the effort being put in and certain players have helped re-establish a bond between players and supporters. Personally speaking, rather than wishing death on them as a group, it turns out that some of them are actually quite likeable. This feels like a major turning point, and I suppose indicative of how low the bar had fallen at the end of last season.
As far as setbacks go, one I didn’t foresee was that last 10 minutes at home to Sevilla. 2-0 up and cruising then all of a sudden we’d managed to concede 2 and both starting centre backs were lost to injury. What looked like a relatively simple task in the away leg became a huge test, plus we’re now reliant on Lindelof and Maguire for the remainder of the season. The absence of Martinez is arguably a bigger blow than losing Casemiro or Fernandes for any length of time given how he’s come to influence how United function in both defence and attack. It’s a huge miss and the only positive is that the diagnosis wasn’t more severe than what was originally feared.
The spotlight now is fixed squarely on Maguire again. I’ve been a staunch defender of him over the last few months amidst the utterly moronic pile-on that occurs every time he’s mentioned on social-media. That said, moments like that first goal in Seville make me realise I’ve attempted to defend the indefensible in his case. Some players have big enough shoulders to move on from career slumps whereas others simply crumble. I’m not going to add to the chorus of ridicule but Maguire looks completely shot now. It’s the same thing that happened to Phil Jones, it doesn’t matter what he does at this stage because he’s basically become a living, breathing meme.
De Gea is another one who needs shipping out sooner rather than later. If he does stay, it’ll be only be indicative of the club’s perilous financial footing and our unwillingness to spend on a replacement. Any other rival club wouldn’t think twice in our situation. If a new keeper isn’t currently high up the list of priorities this summer, then I’d argue it should be. He was equally culpable for that first goal in Spain and just like in his early days at the club, opponents now routinely target him given his reluctance to leave his line and inability to command the penalty area.
Ten Hag needs to shoulder some of the blame regarding the Europa exit as it was spectacularly naive persisting with playing out from the back given the personnel at his disposal. We all know that De Gea is limited with the ball at his feet but this is mitigated when he’s got Martinez and Varane in front of him. Maguire and Lindelof just aren’t able to offer the same level of composure so we were always going to struggle against a backdrop of 40,000 hyperactive Spaniards. He must have clocked this since De Gea was back in “if in doubt, launch it” mode for the Brighton semi-final a few days later.
Looking towards the summer, I expect much depends on whether or not the takeover occurs in the coming weeks. There’s been a lot said about the process dragging on to a 3rd round of bids but is anyone really surprised? Any sale was always going to take months and I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re still in this situation going into next season. It’s not like signing a player where everything can be boxed off within a few hours. The Glazers have been in this for the money since 2005 so it was only to be expected they’d attempt to rinse as high an offer as possible out of any prospective bidder. It’ll take as long as it takes and I doubt I’ll be happy with the outcome in any case.
I suppose we should address the likelihood of the unthinkable happening in just a few weeks. There’ve been a couple of close shaves in recent years but the manner in which City have moved insidiously closer to the treble this season is starting to cause major heartburn. I’ve tried to block it out for the most part feeling confident that Arsenal were looking comfortable at the top of the table, optimistic that their widely predicted capitulation might not happen. Except then it did. Unfortunately the wheels look have well and truly fallen off that particular bandwagon now.
Unbelievably, it seems a large number of United’s online following are quite comfortable with the prospect of Armageddon fast approaching. Apparently Arsenal imploding would be a far more desirable outcome given the comedy potential in witnessing the meltdown of their fancam lot. Yeah, let’s forget the decades-long local rivalry, 100+ charges of financial irregularities, the sportswashing, the fact that CITY MIGHT WIN THE TREBLE when you can have a good old LOL at half a dozen helmets famous for screeching performative nonsense into a video camera.
Given that Arsenal appear hellbent on bottling it, realistically it’s only us or Real Madrid who can stop them at this point. Given what’s at stake, the forthcoming FA Cup final promises to be some day. I’m not going to stoop so low as to name and shame the member of our WhatsApp group who claimed pre-match “it would be a relief to get beat by Brighton” to avoid the prospect of facing City at Wembley. This is no time for negativity despite the potential doomsday situation ahead of us. It’s a full-on death or glory scenario now, it will either be one of the greatest days ever or one of the worst. Que sera, sera.
Copyright Red News – May 2023