You hear a lot of sentences around Old Trafford starting “it’s only....” these days. “It’s only Sociedad/Sunderland/Norwich,” comes the grumble, after Moyes’ team has disposed of someone its critics don’t rate as “meaningful” opposition.
You heard it again after Saturday — “it’s only Fulham” — and, to be fair, the Cottagers were clearly never going to be the hardest match we have this week.
Tomorrow we’re in Spain for a game that, although no longer looking as intimidating as it did back when the draw was made, is still going to test our resurgent lads to a greater extent than the often wretched Fulham managed. And next weekend comes a confrontation that is probably going to attract portentous comment of every stripe, setting up a game of cliché-klaxon bingo: beating Arsenal would be some sort of ‘coming of age, turning point’, while losing will see chickens roosting upon a deepening crisis as we teeter on the edge of an abyss. (Or something equally physically unlikely.)
Seven goals in two games against Premiership opposition must still count for something, though, and the penny finally seems to be dropping amongst some sceptical sections of the press that Rooney and RVP are not at daggers drawn, as I explained last week.
Some of the link-up play for the goals was as good as anything seen last season, and the intensity of the battering was vintage old school United. Carp all you like about the second-half — and many duly did as it unfolded — but there were some sheepish faces afterwards when trigger-happy fans realised the half-time substitutions had all been forced upon Moyes, rather than being the result of some sort of brain episode.
Besides, there was still plenty to moan about it, if you like that sort of thing. Anyone who bought shares in Kagawa and Cleverley during the summer must feel like ancient Dutchmen holding tulip bonds; Cleverley may yet be resuscitated but Kagawa is worryingly short of defenders now. When a Sunday tabloid linked him with a move back to Germany yesterday, Red complaints were sparse. Everyone understands he’s been unlucky, and also mucked about positionally, but sharp minds pointed out at the weekend Adnan has also been asked to do all sorts in his short time here, and has adapted supremely to every demand. The Kosovar kid’s impact is still the talk of the post-match bars, and his brilliance means we are becoming less tolerant of others’ shortcomings; any midfielder or winger not pulling his weight nowadays is going to get even shorter shrift from the stands. Such is the effect of proper competition for places — and it just goes to show how much we’ve been lacking it for the past couple of years.
Something that was not, let us remind ourselves, Moyes’ fault.
His contribution to rectifying that has, so far, been necessarily limited to importing Fellaini, described by a colleague as “officially the world’s most expensive minder” after Afroman’s entertainingly full-blooded contribution on Saturday when things started getting lairy. (Incidentally, it was an encouraging sign that United’s lads were so happy to get stuck in once they had all realised that the ref was having a “let everything go” day; team spirit is built upon a willingness to literally fight for each other, after all.) Moyes’ future contributions may include signing Gundogan, whom spies tell me Moyes is keen on adding to his January shopping list; an all-out assault on Goodison to revive the aborted Baines bid is almost a given too.
On the exit visa list, we believe Young and Anderson may be joined by Zaha or Nani — more alarmingly, there is also a suggestion Rafael is not doing enough defensively to please his new masters. If Fergie is indeed “ready to help with advice“, as he puts it, let us trust Item One will be “sell Rafa? Don’t be so daft, laddie.” Expressed more diplomatically, perhaps. Though given Fergie’s verbal displays this past fortnight, perhaps not...
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