Terrace Talk: Zlatan absence might prove blessing in disguise

Greetings from a sunny Paris — and thus not Turf Moor — where your correspondent is covering the French presidential election.

Terrace Talk: Zlatan absence might prove blessing in disguise

So in the manner of a pre-prepared Bank Holiday special, let us look ahead, and officially declare that we are now about to plunge headlong into The Run-In. What lies in wait, and where do we really stand?

Eight, and possibly nine, games now loom, and only one of them could in any way be deemed relatively ‘easy’: Southampton. The rest threaten to test United’s supposed post-Chelsea resurrection to the limit.

Two opponents will be fighting for their lives to stay in the division; two or three games will be against European sophisticates; three matches will see us face our immediate peers, all scrapping, like us, to make the top four.

Moreover, all those tests must be undertaken without the supposed star of the campaign, namely Zlatan, whose crippling injury last week seemingly threatens both our season and his career.

But as I have suggested before in this column, could the silver lining actually be bigger than the cloud?

JP O’Neill, who has been running the Red Issue empire since the pre-Glazer era, neatly sums up for us the views of what one might call the Zlatosceptic School.

“In this era of woeful defending, even a carthorse like Lukaku can stand well clear in the scoring stakes. That’s without factoring in all the costly misses Zlatan’s made against the league’s lesser lights, as United have constantly laboured at Old Trafford; and he’s only got two goals in six games against other members of the top six.”

Quite. Thus for many Reds, the opportunity that Rashford now has to cement his place in United’s future is something to be wholly welcomed.

Pace, movement and speed of thought up front are the very qualities we have often felt have been lacking; Rashford has them all.

And what of the ultimate string-puller, Mourinho? Whilst few would argue he’s not put the Moyes and Van Gaal regimes to shame this season, have we been in danger of getting carried away?

As O’Neill reminds us: “He’s the master of making a virtue out of a necessity and hence victory in the Europa League would be much heralded — but it wasn’t supposed to be like this, was it?

“Back in August United and City were the favourites for the title. Now here we are, looking for the back door entrance to the Champions League. The Chelsea win apart, it’s been pretty much sub-standard since the turn of the year. This is a very tough ending to call.”

Indeed; and I’m not confident enough in our abilities just yet to call it either. As I write, during an alcoholic Montparnasse lunch, United’s ultimate fate seems to me to be about as clear as the ultimate outcome of today’s election.

Before we close, allow me the indulgence of addressing a matter very specific to Irish Examiner readers.

O’Neill has just completed work on a book for Penguin, Red Rebels, which expertly examines the past quarter-century of Manchester United fan activism.

I asked him about last Monday’s paper’s Secret Footballer column, which made allegations about United fans’ behaviour at the infamous Roma match in April 2007, a match covered in the book:

“Perhaps he could do so armed with all the facts next time. First: The four United fans’ arrests he referred to happened in December 2007 —and thus NOT after the April game he was discussing.

"Second: In the wake of LFC and Boro fans previously being set upon in Rome, United fans walking peacefully to the ground across a bridge were met with a knife- and bat-wielding mob of Italians.

This was reported by eye-witness journalists in The Sun and Sunday Times — the latter of which specified the premeditated and organised nature of the attack.

Quite why The Secret Footballer thinks this incident justifies the police attacks hours later upon innocent fans inside the stadium, only he can explain.”

Mmm. Good luck with that, Mr ******.

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