You know you’re entering festive period fantasy-land time when the likes of Jesse Lingard are picking up man of the match nominations.
No-one was expecting even to see him on the pitch this past week and yet, alongside De Gea and Martial, he’s been one of the stars of the week.
Lingard had become one of those players grumbly Reds like to pick on, after two years of rollercoaster progress, to put it politely. Yet there he was, the surprise behind our Red advent calendar window at Watford, grinning like the Cheshire Cat, having just produced the cream of our four goals. And on Saturday, he sometimes seemed to inspire a sense of panic amongst the Gooner defence, a sentence I didn’t think conceivable.
Saturday was a throwback of sorts, a reminder of the great clashes that Fergie and Wenger used to produce in an era we now mourn. In some ways it was a throwback for Mourinho too. This reminded me of the old José of Inter Milan days, when he would often take everyone by surprise in matches where he was the underdog.
Let’s not forget, Arsenal had been in imperial home form, coming off 12 straight wins; they were clearly more startled than anyone by an initially manic United going straight for the jugular from kick-off. Despite their 33 shots and 75% possession subsequent to that opening barrage, Arsenal never succeeded in wresting back control of the match from Mourinho. And control, he will tell you, is what winning’s really all about, not the stuff that produces mere stats.
Sadly for us, the shine came off as the red card came out for Pogba, and we now have to face City without someone who is not only our best player but, more importantly, our linchpin. Doubtless some Bitter Blues will see his suspension as karmic payback for his poorly-expressed TV views about the potential for City players to get injured. Mourinho now has the perfect excuse, if he needs it, to justify a bit of bus-parking and/or generally destructive ‘anti-football’ next Sunday.
Clearly, no-one is thinking about tomorrow night’s exercise in formality against the Russians, given the Leviathan of a match that awaits at the weekend. Thus CSKA may well benefit from the likelihood that United will be treating it as glorified training session; for once, Red punters will probably be understanding.
Any unbiased expert would surely be right to suggest that defeat is the likeliest outcome for a Pogba-free United next weekend and, in this context, I’d snatch your hand off for the offer of a draw. We will have another chance to sort City out in the spring, by which point we’ll have seen whether their supposedly heaven-sent tippy-tappy stylings can survive the rigours of an English winter.
Don’t make me use some sort of ‘wet windy Tuesday at Stoke’ cliché; you know what I mean. I’m fairly confident our lads will be fine, playing hard-nosed ‘Mourinho football’ on tough pitches in biting winds. We may not be as pretty as those City poster boys but I reckon we might yet out-tough them. If this sounds like clutching at straws, so be it.
I watched Fergie’s United twice overcome superior opposition to triumph in league campaigns (2003, 2013) so I know it’s not always the case that the best team wins. Manchester City currently have, by any serious objective measure, a better team and squad than we do. But that doesn’t mean we are beaten. Yet...