When you step back from the week-to-week maelstrom and examine it, we fans do spend a tremendous amount of time either seeking to inflict pain on others, or revelling in our own suffering, don’t we? And marvellously, United fans got a bit of both in the Red Room of Anfield yesterday.
We can certainly admit, now that it’s safely over, that many of us were waiting for kick-off weighed down by apocalyptic thoughts. The morning press had done its bit too, piling in with heaps of Van Gaal execution speculation, with The Times, The Sun and Sunday People especially prominent in promoting Mourinho and Giggs. Seeing Fellaini on the team sheet removed many remaining traces of optimism. It really did feel like High Noon, albeit with Louis cutting a rather less simpatico figure than Gary Cooper.
As for the Scousers, anyone perusing their fan websites on the eve of the game would have been struck by their eagerness to get stuck in, showing a zeal bordering on fate-tempting overconfidence. (Once you had waded through the pages of bad poetry, that is.) I convinced myself that the match was starting to feel like a potential Anfield ‘93 in reverse, that being the game in which we beat them en route to the historic title, and which symbolised the liverbird being knocked off its perch. Needless self-torture, then, but not without its perverse pleasure: after all, whipping oneself into this kind of state is what makes these days truly matter. Otherwise, well, it’s just a silly ball game, isn’t it?
Pre-match masochism is also, of course, what helps make the kind of post-match jubilation Reds were enjoying two hours later so memorable. Is there any greater pleasure than sadistically taunting distraught home fans from the bouncing enclosure of a full away end? Especially when you know that, frankly, you have just robbed them blind, courtesy of De Gea’s repeated heroics.
Yes, it was an awful game. Yes, it was almost comically provocative to score the winner with our sole on-target effort. Yes, these are two chaotic sides, neither of which currently deserves to be in next season’s European Cup. And yes, I suppose that in the cold light of day, it will be argued that all we have done is given LVG a free pass for another few weeks, without settling any of the bigger questions.
Questions such as: why are United so grotesquely dismal, even in victory?
None of those things matter when Reds are zooming back down the East Lancs Road, giggling with the glee of kids who’ve done the sweetshop over and got away with it.
What did we learn? Nothing, really. We already knew De Gea is great, And that Fellaini’s an absurd lump.
One might like to think that LVG learned he could still do with getting a bit of shopping done during these January sales, but that’s admittedly not wholly down to him.
So the whip goes back into the cupboard until next time, and on we trudge with ‘LVG’s Red and White Army’ — the only army in history designed to take possession of territory and then do almost nothing with it. Or rather, to be fair, we trudge with the occasional Judy Garland skip, when we smile at the flashbacks to the beaten Scousers’ faces last night.
A fan army marches on its memories and hopes, rather than its stomach. That tasty treat should keep us going for a good couple of weeks.