In my previous column a fortnight ago, on the cusp of transfer deadline day, I held up a stressed Irish Examiner sports editor with a last-minute Sunday evening insertion. “I’ve heard on the grapevine that United might be in Monaco, chasing some French player: Throw in this extra line about it, just in case, would you?”
Twelve hours later, the football world was united in hilarity as it was revealed that United were, indeed, swooping for some unknown child from the Parisian suburbs — and agreeing to shell out a ludicrous potential total of €80m to boot.
Twelve days later, no-one’s laughing — at least, not in derision, anyway. For Anthony Martial’s stunning coup de grace on Saturday will go down as one of the unforgettable highlights of 2015, no matter what else may happen this year.
At moments like that, no-one cares what it cost, nor how abject much of the previous 90 minutes might have been. You simply goon like there is no tomorrow, and revel in the ecstasy of a classic Scouse-busting climax.
How different the world had looked at half-time. As one colleague summarised, with only a little hyperbole: “That was the worst first half I’ve seen under Van Gaal, and this is the worst Liverpool team I think I’ve ever seen.”
However, let us give the man we love to call Van Loony some credit: As we have noted here before, if he has one undeniable attribute, it’s his Mourinhesque willingness to change things around at halftime, rather than wait until the 75th minute, as was Fergie’s wont.
Granted, United continued to fail to create very much, as has been the way of 2015/16, but at least we established control of the game, and produced two of the best goals we’ll see this season. After two rocky weeks pockmarked by outbursts of dressing room restlessness and Old Boy critiques, it felt like the relief of Mafeking. Once again, LVG has managed to escape in the nick of time; once again, those of us desperate to see the good in his régime have something to cling to.
Naturally, young Martial grabbed all the headlines, and as someone who is both half-French and also the biggest Cantomaniac you’ll ever come across, I’m swelling with both pride and excitement at the thought that United may have once again stumbled into a tricoloured solution to our striking woes. The élan and sheer balls the boy showed as he danced through to apply the guillotine to the Scousers constituted everything we have been missing for months: That buccaneering, Unitedesque sense of la gloire. How sick we have become of possession for possession’s sake, of percentage play, of The Shirts being cowed by the joyless dictates of the training session martinets. Now, let’s give the kid a start, and give him his head: That’s what Fergie, Big Ron, The Doc and Sir Matt would have done.
One thing all Reds agree on, of course, is that however wretched was much of the match, and however inadequate three shots in a home game may be, the result of beating Liverpool excuses almost all faults. Moreover, watching the travails of LFC and Chelsea does put our own situation into an interesting perspective. An optimist could now argue that this title race might yet shape up as a three-way between us, City and Arsenal.
No Red would dispute that LVG is still getting way less than the sum of its parts out of this team, and that issues remain over Depay and Rooney, but we are better positioned today than we were two weeks ago, and immensely so in comparison to last May. Moreover, Schweinsteiger’s superb display on Saturday, overshadowed by the Martial hype, had the smell of someone who’s now clicking into place, offering us a prospect we’ve not had for years: a properly dominant and fear-inspiring midfield presence. Indeed, most Reds now like most of the players, which hasn’t been the case for years. It’s just the manager who gives us the heebie-jeebies...
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