After the defeat at home to Southampton, the FA Cup game against Derby County couldn’t come quick enough, knowing that this could be a game where United get back on track, result wise if not performance wise.
Thankfully, a different United from the one that ‘played’ against Southampton turned up, and played the kind of football we’ve been craving for months. After having to deny that he had offered to resign, Van Gaal picked a strong enough side to make sure they don’t slip up against a Championship side, and the difference in class told from the off.
After just sixteen minutes, Captain Wayne Rooney curled a lovely ball around two Derby defenders and past Scott Carson from the edge of the area to put United ahead. Though Derby equalised out of the blue before half-time, United didn’t seem in trouble. If anything, they came out even better in the second half, and went ahead again after sixty-five minutes when Daley Blind turned in a very good pass by Jesse Lingard. When Juan Mata made it 3-1 with less than ten minutes to play after some nifty work by Martial on the wing, it was game, set and match, to the joy of the five thousand United fans who had made the trip to Pride Park. This proved to be United’s first win by more than a one-goal margin in eleven games.
It might only have been against Derby, but it was a welcome win and performance after the ‘no show’ a week earlier. It’s also worth mentioning that three of United’s best players on the evening were youngsters Borthwick-Jackson, Varela and Martial. Things got even better when United welcomed Stoke to Old Trafford on Tuesday evening…
Though many were up in arms when the starting line-up was announced with Fellaini and Carrick both in it, the worrying was unfounded as United went ahead through local youngster Jesse Lingard, who headed in a perfect cross from Borthwick-Jackson after just fourteen minutes. This goal put an end to the ‘statisticians’ reeling out how many games and minutes United had gone without scoring in the first-half at Old Trafford. Less than ten minutes later, Anthony Martial curled a fine effort into the top corner to double United’s lead and give the side a welcome cushion at half-time.
United continued playing the same way in the second half, and after Captain Rooney had a goal disallowed for seemingly pushing Glen Johnson, he duly got on the score sheet to make it 3-0 and get closer to Sir Bobby Charlton’s record. United could have scored more, but we were all happy as the final whistle went and another three important points were in the bag, this time coupled with a performance worthy of the Manchester United we know and love. Many players seemed like they were enjoying it too, and they all did an excellent job in United’s biggest win of the season (same score line as against Everton and Sunderland). Martial once again had a man of the match performance, but we can’t forget Borthwick-Jackson who had another assured outing, while Carrick, Fellaini and Mata all did very well in midfield. Even Darmian seemed to find his early season form. Long may it continue.
Looking quickly at the FA Cup, there were hardly any surprises apart from Peterborough getting a 2-2 draw at West Brom, and League One Shrewsbury beating Sheffield Wednesday 3-2 to set up a ‘magic of the FA Cup’ tie at home to our own United. So many people bemoan the fact that the big sides don’t care about the Cup these days, but ten (possibly eleven) teams from the remaining sixteen are from the Premier League, so imagine if they did take it seriously and not ‘rested’ players in the earlier rounds (looking at you, Swansea).
In the Premier League, leaders Leicester beat Klopp’s L’pool 2-0 with a Vardy double to stay at the top while making this L’pool’s eight defeat in the league (sixth since the German took over at Anfield); Manchester City stayed behind them with a 1-0 win at Sunderland; ‘How may we assist you Arsenal’ could only muster a 0-0 draw at home to Southampton, failing to score for a third league game in a row and dropping down to the league position they know best – fourth; Tottenham had a convincing 3-0 win at Norwich to climb over Arsenal into third; West Ham stayed in sixth with a decent 2-0 win at home to bottom club Villa; Pardew’s Palace lost their fifth league game in a row, this time 2-1 at home to Bournemouth; Everton got their first league win at home in ten weeks when they beat Newcastle 3-0; West Brom and Swansea played out a 1-1 draw; and Champions Chelsea could only muster a 0-0 draw at Watford.
In other news, Jackson Martinez grabbed the headlines as he moved to the Chinese Super League for £31m. Very surprising, until you realise that just a few months ago Jorge Mendes was in China setting a link-up between his agency and one of China’s largest business corporations. What odds players will start moving back to European football after a year or two, while Mendes pockets more money (similar to what he did when Di Maria moved to United for just one season). Viva modern football.
Meanwhile, a Serie A game between Lazio and Napoli was stopped for a few minutes by the referee after constant racist chanting from the fans. Hopefully this will make enough headlines for the Lega to do something serious, though those involved will probably just get a slap on the wrist and another one on the back.
In United related news, former United player and legend Nemanja Vidic has announced his retirement from playing, something we mentioned he might do on this page a couple of weeks ago. It would be nice to see him eventually becoming an ambassador for United, maybe for Eastern Europe; Gary Neville’s Valencia were trashed 7-0 at Barcelona in the Copa del Rey. The surprise was not the score line as they played against the best team in the world at present, but that some thought that Neville would do well managing a top Spanish side. It’s like making someone who’s never cooked a Chef. They’ll know what the ingredients are, but it would be very hard for them to cook something of the required standard. Pity Neville bowed to his friend’s and business partner’s ‘demands’ as this could push him back a few years in his management career.
Remember that this Saturday (the 6th of February) marks the 58th anniversary of the Munich tragedy. Hope all of us find a little time to pay our respects to the 23 who perished on that sad day back in 1958, including eight Manchester United footballers.
United play just one game in the next week, and that’s away at Chelsea on Sunday (4pm UK time). Though Chelsea have been struggling all season, they have showed some kind of good form lately, and they’re never easy to beat at Stamford Bridge. Here’s hoping John Terry’s last encounter against United will be similar to Steven Gerrard’s… COME ON UNITED!!!