24 February 2016

Let's all laugh at "Vanchester" (just do it sotto voce)!

Let's put the Barcelona fiasco behind us, shall we, and turn to a subject that should offer us a bit of entertainment: Manchester United. Watching them these last few seasons has been like watching a pregnant turtle on its back, legs wiggling ever so slowly in a vain attempt to right itself. Still, the turtle is after all pregnant, so one must watch warily. In the precious few days between now and Sunday's trip to Old Trafford, anything can happen. Despite several summers of astronomical spending, however, our erstwhile rivals are clinging rather desperately to a top-four position. They're six points adrift of their Mancunian counterparts with Southampton, West Ham and even Liverpool nipping at their heels. It's enough to make one laugh. Not one of those deep belly-laughs—not yet.

After all, we squared off against a similarly hobbled Scouser squad and had to settle for a draw. A
draw this time just won't due, not with the infirmary that is Man U these days. Here's a quick rundown of the wounded, in approximate order of significance:
  1. De Gea (28 February)
  2. Rooney (2 April)
  3. Fellaini (NA)
  4. Schweinsteiger (NA)
  5. Young (NA)
  6. Smalling (NA)
  7. Jones (28 February)
  8. Darmian (NA)
  9. Rojo (25 February)
  10. Valencia (2 March)
  11. Januzaj (25 February)
  12. Borthwick-Jackson (NA)
  13. Lingard (NA)
  14. Keane (NA)
  15. Shaw (May)
Wow. They're truly crocked. At least with Liverpool, one can say that Klopp has run his squad into the ground with high-energy pressing and running about. Here, it's strange to see that a squad that has dithered and dilly-dallied all the live-long day has suffered so many injuries. Of course, a few of these may make themselves available for Sunday, and all of those "NA" return-dates are nefariously nebulous, but that's still an impressive list. It's almost enough to inspire a bit of sympathy. Almost. This is after all a squad reinforced by more than £250m in signings in just the last two years. They've burnt through three managers in as many seasons, and Van Gaal's feet are being held very much to that same fire. 

Beware the cornered beast. Man U need positive results in the worst of ways. If they can overcome FC Midtjylland on Thursday, they might keep alive their fading hopes of qualifying for Champions League play for the first time since 2013 (that was a fun sentence to type!). After the first leg 2-1 loss, though, they still have to pin hopes to finishing fourth. Never underestimate Man U at Old Trafford. There's a lot on the line regardless of Van Gaal's status. With this weekend's fixtures, anything short of victory could see Man U slip to as low as eighth.

Regardless of who they have available, we have to know that they'll fight tooth and nail to defend their turf and (what is left of) their pride. Rather than looking at this as a cakewalk because of those injuries, we have to go in with the same determination and passion that we showed for the better part of an hour against Barcelona. We have a tendency to play up or down to the level of our opponent. If we show up on Sunday playing down to the level of Man U's fit XI, woe betide us. If we show up to play up to the level of Man U's fantasy XI, we'll lay waste to them.

Those are our marching-orders, then. We have to show up as if we're facing a fully-fit, first-choice XI. Kick 'em while they're down. Stick a fork in 'em. What could be more satisfying than bouncing back from Tuesday's defeat?