…and the Danes, and the media… at least for a few days…
After having a quite relaxing weekend mainly due to United not playing until Monday evening, our week started off much better than many thought it might, though playing at Shrewsbury in the FA Cup was a bit of a no-win situation for the team and manager.
Many built this FA Cup tie as a potential giant-killing, especially after United had lost at Sunderland and Midtjylland in the previous week. The fans were actually worried about being knocked out by the Shrews especially if United played like they had in the past two games. There was nothing to worry about though as United were on the front foot from the start, and although it took them a while to be dominant against the League One side, Shrewsbury hardly offered anything going forward. Once Captain Smalling scored to put United in the lead after thirty-seven minutes, there was only going to be one winner. When Juan Mata scored a well placed free-kick on the stroke of half-time, the game was over to the disappointment of all who thought this could be another nail in the coffin of Louis van Gaal.
The second half was more of the same, and the United players were showing some deft touches and lovely football. Of course, with such a difference in levels this wasn’t hard to do, but it was still pleasing to see for a change. Mata and Herrera combined after an hour, and the latter found Jesse Lingard with a lovely assist into the box, with Lingard finishing neatly to make it 3-0. When Will Keane replaced Mata with twenty minutes to go, it looked like our evening would get even better. Unfortunately Keane lasted less than five minutes as he seemed to hurt his groin when taking a shot that hit the post. It was sad to see such a prospect given a chance and getting injured again so quickly. Hopefully he won’t be out for long and will get a few more chances to become part of the first team.
As many have said, you cannot make much of this game as it was against a side that plays two divisions lower than United, but when you have a player like Juan Mata pulling the strings so well in midfield, you have to smile and enjoy it. Lingard had a good game too, and it was excellent to see Riley, another academy player making his debut when he replaced Borthwick-Jackson at half-time.
In the other games from the fifth round of the FA Cup, holders Arsenal could only muster a 0-0 draw at home to Steve Bruce’s Hull; Pulis’ West Brom lost 3-1 at Championship club Reading; Watford beat Leeds 1-0; Everton won 2-0 at Bournemouth; Flavour of the month Tottenham got knocked out by Pardew’s Palace; West Ham trashed Blackburn 5-1 at Ewood Park; and Chelsea beat Manchester City Reserves with the same score line.
In the quarter-final draw, United have been drawn at home to West Ham. The game will be played on the weekend when United were hosting Crystal Palace in the Premier League, so that game will now have to be moved.
On Thursday evening, it was the turn of Midtjylland to try and grab more headlines while pushing Louis van Gaal closer to the exit door. When Martial got injured in the warm-up, same as De Gea before the first leg, we were thinking this would be another of those evenings, and when Sisto put Midtjylland ahead with their first attempt on goal after twenty seven minutes, many felt this would be another uphill struggle.
Enter the kids, who made sure this will be an evening to remember as much for them as it would be for the fans. After our long-time striker ‘own goal’ made an appearance to make it 1-1 by half-time, the youngsters took over and Marcus Rashford got a brace on his debut (he only started as Martial’s replacement). Ander Herrera made the tie safe from the penalty spot, and Memphis capped an excellent performance by getting the last goal in a convincing 5-1 win to put United through to the last sixteen of the Europa League. We even ‘forgot’ about Juan Mata missing a penalty in the first half, the performance was that good (for a change).
Of course, this was ‘only a part-time Danish side’, but it was the same side that embarrassed our club just a week earlier, so the players have to be given a lot of credit that for once they were up for a fight, and made sure that Van Gaal being ‘dismissed’ (again) wouldn’t make the headlines. Obvious praise must go to Rashford who seemed nonplussed and calm when taking his chances; also Memphis who had his best game since joining United; but we can’t forget the likes of Riley, who was making his home debut, and Varela, both of whom seemed unruffled by the occasion. Also, apart from going missing for Midtjylland’s goal, Carrick and Blind were a calming influence for all the youngsters out there.
In the last sixteen, United have now been drawn against eternal rivals L’pool, a game which surely many English people will want to watch, even if it’s ‘only the Europa League’. We hope that Luis van Gaal continues his great winning record against the scousers on the way to try and win a trophy.
In the Champions League (yes, that competition is still going), Arsenal lost 2-0 at home to Barcelona and Manchester City won 3-1 at Dinamo Kiev, proving Manuel Pellegrini right in resting his best players against Chelsea in the FA Cup. So much for the TV companies wanting to bring ‘the magic of the cup back’, who in their wisdom to move the tie of the round to Sunday afternoon just to massage their egos turned it into a one-sided affair as City had to prioritise.
United play two more games at Old Trafford in the next week. On Sunday they welcome Arsenal to Old Trafford (2:05pm UK time), and then host Watford on Wednesday evening (8pm UK time). Though both games won’t be easy, especially the first one, let’s hope that the momentum carries the team through and we get more to be cheerful about… COME ON UNITED!!!