The breaking news yesterday afternoon, complete with photographic evidence, that the Manchester United bus had been clamped outside the team’s Dublin hotel, briefly gave rise to a social media storm of the ‘only in Ireland’ kind.
Then it emerged that the clamp had, in fact, been a prank, which rather took the good as well as the bad out of the whole thing, while leaving many of us natives to wrestle with the profound shock of discovering that clampers actually have a sense of humour.
Once the ‘parking the bus’ gags had been dispensed with, attention turned to the Aviva Stadium to see if Jose Mourinho’s latest signing would have the effect of unclamping Paul Pogba.
The Green Devils who flocked to Lansdowne Road on a lovely summer’s evening reserved their biggest cheer for the announcement of Nemanja Matic at the heart of what was, at least on paper, a formidable United starting XI, with the Irish audience also getting to avail of its first ringside seat opportunity to see Romelu Lukaku in the famous red shirt.
On the pitch, after a tepid enough start, in keeping with the balmy conditions, the game exploded into life in the seventh minute after a terrible Danny Blind back pass required the illegal use of David De Gea’s hand to spare the Dutchman’s blushes.
But when Sampdoria’s resulting free-kick, on the very edge of the six-yard box, was blocked down by the red shirts which had massed on the goal line, the Serie A side suddenly found themselves at an unlikely disadvantage as United broke on a length-of-the-field counter-attack, skipper Antonio Valencia leading the charge.
Against a rapidly retreating and outnumbered rearguard, it ended with the impressive Matteo Darmian firing in a cross from the left which, having barely eluded the head of Lukaka, was turned in at the far post by Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
United’s three at the back, with new boy Victor Lindelof on the right and Blind on the left flanking Chris Smalling, might have continued to look like a somewhat uncertain work in progress on the rare occasions that the Italian side asked any questions of them but, at the other end of the pitch, the Sampdoria defence was having no end of problems countering United’s pace out wide and willingness to pump crosses into the box.
And it stayed mainly one-way traffic for the rest of the first 45, before the usual rash of substitutions in friendlies such as this — beginning with four at the start of the second half for United and mounting exponentially for both sides from there — served to disrupt the red tide. Things were evened up in the 63rd minute, when Belgian international Dennis Praet was able to drill home an equaliser as Sampdoria did unto United what United had done unto them, by scoring on the break.
But in the 80th minute, it was all happy ‘redlam’ again at the Aviva as two substitutes combined to put United back in front, Anthony Martial, who’d been a constant menace on the left since coming in for Blind, setting up Juan Mata to sweep home what proved to be the match winner.
As for Nemanja Matic, his might have been an efficient rather than a headline-grabbing debut but, before he was replaced for the second half by Michael Carrick, he did briefly get to hog the big screen as he graciously apologised to a woman in the crowd for an interception which had knocked her glasses off. But, no doubt to Mourinho’s satisfaction, a crunching challenge on Lucas Torreira just a moment later showed that there were strict limits to the Serb’s compassion.
One thing’s for sure: He can’t expect anything like the warmth of last night’s reception when he returns to this venue in September.
De Gea (Periera 76), Lindelof (jones 76), Smalling (Bailly 76), Blind (Martial 59), Valencia, Matic (Carrick 45), A. Pereira (Herrera 45), Pogba (Fellaini 45), Darmian (Tuanzebe), Mkhitaryan (Mata 45) Lukaku (Rashford 59).
Puggioni (Tozzo 84), Sala (Bereszynski 74), Barreto (Djuricic 74), Linetty (Alavarez 65), Regini, Pavlovic (Murru 65), Silvestre, Torriera (Capezzi 84), Praet (Verre 74), Caprari (Bonazzoli 74), Quagliarella (Kownacki 84).
Neil Doyle (Ireland).