“…I think we’ve played a very good side and it’s the sort of standard and level we need to try and aspire to get ourselves to at this moment…”
That quote was a season ago, another Manchester derby at Old Trafford; yes, it was by David Moyes. To say I was deflated after that match is an understatement. We played without verve, without desire, without passion. Our gameplay in one word? Flat, uninspiring, disappointing, clueless; shambolic.
Fast forward one year though, and it’s a different story altogether. Manchester City were at the end of a defeat by a superior Manchester United. Prior to the game, Manchester United was clearly the team in form, five EPL wins in a row; including wins against then in-form Tottenham and Liverpool. Matches we were written off for. Manchester City had lost against Crystal Palace, Burnley, and Liverpool.
It was a derby though, form goes out the window in such matches as perfectly exemplified by Manchester City early in the game. They began with some fast, relentless attacks, pouring forward in numbers, interchanging passes and switching places with ferocity; Manchester United couldn’t get a foothold. They got rewarded; an Aguero goal, after some nice ball movement.
Their dominance continued and Manchester United was forced into some last ditch blocks and clearances coupled with some saves by De Gea that showed his great awareness and decision making. It was in fact these skills that led to Manchester United’s equaliser. Phil Jones scuffed a terrible back pass to him and chased down by Aguero, he still had the presence of mind to pass the ball towards Fellaini, whose interchange with Herrera led to Ashley Young’s goal. It came out of nowhere, Manchester City was stung.
Whilst Manchester City became a bit careful, we took the game to them. Manchester United won more duels, attempted and completed more tackles, committed less fouls, did not get booked; oh, and scored more goals.
Fellaini, Mata and then Smalling. We cut through Manchester city time and time again, the fluidity of Manchester United wreaking havoc on City. Their second goal only came after Carrick walked off with an injury; another Aguero tap in. it didn’t matter though, this derby was United’s.
After the euphoria of the win ebbed a bit, I reflected on the run of games that was meant to break Manchester United and expose the team as pretenders. Tottenham, Liverpool, Manchester City, Chelsea, and Arsenal. Win, win, and win. That record is not bad is it? We still have Chelsea and Arsenal to face but with the way we’re playing, we go to each of them with the aim to win.
We’ll take it one game at a time, crossing each one off as we march on. Players are confident, the team is in form; we are playing some beautiful football. This team looks so far off from the one that sputtered and staggered along for the past eight months or so. It’s like everything suddenly fell into place, there is this pomp in the step of the players, this belief that anything is possible; this tenacity to never give up.
The spirit is back, which reminds me of a saying: Never write Manchester United off. It’s like they forgot; we needed to remind them.