Whether you go back to 1989 (demolishing champions Arsenal after some Knighton ball-juggling) or 1992’s first home match (thrashed by a middling Everton), you’ll see an unforgettable reminder about the perils of Augustinian auguries: the former opened a season of crisis, the latter one of historic triumph.
Just 24 months ago, after all, we were all giddy after Moyes’ outfit hammered Swansea in Wales, prompting this column to utter in a state of drunken sunstroke: ‘Sir Alex who?’ (Ouch. Sorry. Again.) So the temptation might be, after Saturday’s 90 minutes of tired boredom, to dismiss the afternoon with that hackneyed line about the players ‘still being at the beach’, and suggest there was nothing useful to be learned.
Well, up to a point, Lord Copper. Surely it is not tempting fate to cautiously advance a couple of propositions: one, that Darmian promises to be the best defensive buy the club has made since Vidic; and two, that Schneiderlin’s ball-winning snappines is just what we’ve missed in midfield.
Everything else, admittedly, clearly remains up for grabs. Producing just one on-target shot in a home match tells you all you need to know about the need for some further fresh thinking up front, a need that conventional crowd wisdom has concluded will shortly be met by the arrival of Pedro.
And debate continues to rage about the ‘magic combination’ we’re still pursuing in the middle. After years of not having sufficient talent in that department, we’ve now surely got more than enough — it’s just that none of us (LVG included) seems sure about how it should be deployed. My vote would be that any solution omitting Herrera should be dismissed, but I fear LVG already reckons he has too many Spaniards knocking about as it is.
We can all agree on one thing, though: Schweinsteiger looks like he’s spent the summer living up to his surname, and then scoffed all the pigs he’s reared in one spectacular porcine gotterdamerung. When he waddled onto the pitch midway through the second half, and then started ‘blowing out of his arse’, as Mancunians say, after just three minutes of snuffling about, we realised LvG hadn’t been exaggerating when he’d declared the player “unfit” in Friday’s press conference.
Ordinarily, you’d shrug and say “meh — it’s August: it’s still the phoney war”. That is to say: the window hasn’t closed, nothing is the finished article, and any ground you lose now can easily be made up. We’ve grown accustomed to treating the whole month as a de facto extension of pre- season, really.
Except that this time, there’s no such luxury, because of the awkwardly early intervention of the Champions League qualifying round. In just eight days’ time, we need to be performing at a level to ensure there is no chance whatsoever of a nasty giantkilling in Bruges a week later. Be under no illusions: a European Cup exit in August would bring instant crisis mode to Old Trafford, behind the scenes of which LvG has already made more enemies than you’d imagine.
Before then, we go to one of our favourite hunting grounds, Villa Park, for what has always been the rarest of experiences for Reds’ fans: Friday night football. Arguably the most joyous non-United match most of us have seen took place on a Friday, when Arsenal’s last minute-clincher at Anfield in 1989 “knocked Liverpool off their fucking perch”. (Lest we allow the Govan propagandists to cloud the issue, it was actually Coatbridge kid George Graham who removed the parrot-cum-liverbird, not Fergie.)
Ordinarily, fans of my ilk oppose all kick-off times that aren’t 3pm on a Saturday but I’m sneakily quite looking forward to this novelty, which ought to give rise to an epidemic of Friday afternoon skiving-off work to get the trains and buses to Brum in time. Let’s hope the Fat Schwein and his cohorts will deign to match our effort levels this time out...