Last week, we presciently noted here that “post-cup final matches are notorious for slumbering drop-offs in performance”, although one might at least argue that Saturday’s overall entertainment value was almost up to Wembley’s standards.
Of course, that depends on whether you include strictly ‘non-footballing excitement’ as part of the equation. Call me a hacky sensationalist if you like, but I certainly would: Zlatan’s off-ball duel with Mings was alternately hilarious and disgraceful, and fully justified its acres of Sunday press coverage.
It seems inevitable that the man who comically opined, in naughty police officer style, that his opponent had “jumped into his elbow’ will now get a three-match ban. This will cause some weeping and wailing but should perhaps be used as the chance to test an experiment.
Many Reds believe that, despite his goals and leadership qualities, Zlatan’s overall effect on United is slightly detrimental, in that it causes the team to be set up in a way that does not do the squad’s value full justice.
Your correspondent is agnostic on the issue, although it’s worth recalling that Zlatan himself was reported to me before Christmas to have been harbouring doubts about his ability to contribute effectively beyond this season.
We shall soon find out who’s right when his ban kicks in; in the meantime, we can at least agree that we have missed The Armenian, just about the only player to have been universally hailed this winter. Spare a word too, perhaps, for Luke Shaw, who did offer isolated flurries of evidence that he is not quite ready to be written off just yet.
Jose had already conceded before kick-off that the title is Chelsea’s. Afterwards, he bemoaned the points lost at Old Trafford this season, and wondered where we might have been today had we collected our alleged dues. I did see a postmatch stat, which I can’t be bothered to verify, suggesting that United have had over 130 shots during seven home draws, producing a grand total of five goals. If true, that would at least tell you where the main problem lies.
We now look forward, and the looming trip to a land that time forgot… but enough of the trip to Middlesbrough on the 19th; first up is Rostov this Thursday.
Remarkably few Reds of my acquaintance seem very confident about the outcome of this one; it’s certainly the kind of trip into the unknown that has caused arrogant United to come a cropper in the past.
Taken in conjunction with the mountain faced at Chelsea next Monday, the tie has the more pessimistic of Reds realising that all United’s hopes of further trophies this season may have been extinguished by the time you and I meet again on this page on the 20th.
Hard-headedly, one might be tempted to respond that this is probably how it should be. United have undeniably offered us more entertainment this season than we have enjoyed since the turn of the decade. But the team’s myriad weaknesses remain quite manifest, and it is only Jose’s first season.
In other words: Would we really deserve much more than a League Cup from this season’s endeavours?
As Roy Keane brusquely but fairly opined after Wembley, we may be on a 17-game unbeaten league run but we “haven’t beaten anybody” really, have we? Of course, should we cause an upset and knock out Chelsea next Monday, all the talk will then be of rebirths and turning points. Heck, even Roy might be persuaded to offer a kind word — miracles do occasionally happen, after all...
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