Ordinarily, such a dark day would be dominated by thoughts of The Other Lot. I vividly remember that late February day in 1976 when City were at Wembley; even as my schoolboy self prowled my Manchester garden, trying to avoid Dad’s radio, I fancied I could hear the Blue cheers wafting over from London, taunting me.
So thank you, Chelsea, for doing your bit to keep us all distracted. Not only was yesterday’s battle a far more intriguing and occasionally enthralling affair than we’ve been used to in recent dull times, but we were witnesses to a proper rarity. Yes, a Mourinho United team actually managed to bounce back to win a game after going behind.
We had all begun to believe this would rarely happen again, so blatantly unequipped have our team set-ups and attitude been for such a task. But with an improved Pogba liberated by the line-up inclusion of two ‘holders’, and Lukaku maintaining his recent Old Trafford form and confidence, most of the stadium grew to believe we were finally going to do it long before Lingard’s clinching header.
We’ll draw a veil over the grim first-half display, much as we closed the curtains on the first leg of our Seville tie the second it finished. Talk about a week of contrasts; the midweek stinker had shown so much of the very worst that Mourinho’s United has to offer.
And in between Seville and Chelsea, just in time to keep our morale depressed, had come the meat of the Pogba Showdown saga, upon which every pundit in the known world has since expressed his opinion.
There will be a couple more dribs and drabs to come on all that in the papers this week, I am told. But Pogba’s knuckling-down on Sunday has drawn some of the overall sting.
Impeccable Lisbon sources tell me that Pogba and Mourinho did indeed have serious words, to put it mildly; the accusation “phoning in performances” was supposedly deployed at one point, with which many Reds would agree.
Moreover, I understand José employed a variant of the old Fergie manager’s office challenge, “it’s my way or the highway,” which sounds better in a Govan than Lisbon accent.
As for the other ‘talking point’ player of the day, Lukaku, how he must have enjoyed the contrast with the unhappy Morata. For months last autumn, many Reds might have been wishing those purchases had ended up at each other’s clubs, as was the original intent of many concerned. It’ll be a while before anyone expresses that sentiment again.
Indeed, José had implied in his pre-match press conference that the mere fact of racking up 20-plus goals by February should be good enough to clinch the case for Lukaku. That’s actually a very debatable argument, especially at a club whose style-obsessed fans see past mere numbers. But at the moment, it’s not an argument anyone particularly wants to have.
Next Monday night United travel to Crystal Palace, about whom I used to be habitually very rude here, much to the epistolary displeasure of Ireland’s single Eagle fan - who annoyingly turned out to be a rather splendid fellow, so my heart’s no longer in it.
Equally annoyingly, I have to admit many Reds have even begun to welcome Palace fixtures, because their fans are one of the few sets left who still come to matches intending to make a noise.
We used to take such things for granted - “why else would you attend a game?” we once thought - but no longer. For once, then, we can expect an atmosphere, and a feisty night. It’ll almost make up for having to trek down to such a grisly hovel. (That one’s for old time’s sake, Eagle ‘Murph’...)