With a charismatic goal, an unexpected twist and ultimate disappointment, United’s return to the Champions League resembled the second season of True Detective, promising much, but leaving fans a little ripped off.
Luke Shaw has been one of the heroes of United’s season so far. Amidst the debris of several lacklustre team performances, the words, “Shaw is looking good though” could also be found. Alas, in Holland, he became the victim as Moreno’s crimewave of a tackle brought his season to an end.
Shaw’s double leg break is perhaps the worst on-field injury a United player has got since Alan Smith’s ankle crush against Liverpool in 2006. United won the League Cup that year and cantered on to further success afterwards.
Alan Smith is still playing incidentally. After finally surviving the trauma of trying to be ‘the next Roy Keane’, he meandered through Newcastle United and is now at Notts County. He is still only 34 and recently confirmed that Liverpool fans did not attack his ambulance that day.
The world has moved on of course. Last night, we could read a tweet from Shaw before the match was even finished. An emotional exchange between him and the official Southampton FC account was replied to in the thousands.
Smith never seemed like a twitter kind of guy. Roy Keane continues to abstain as well I understand.
There were other parts of the match that felt very ‘United’. Depay’s goal was an obvious such moment. Not only does it take skill to take players on like that, but it also takes cojones. More than a hint of cockiness too. It was perhaps in that moment I realised he is a United player.
Alongside him Martial was similarly impressive. It would have been impossible to top his debut goal from the weekend but he did, as they say in football parlance, put himself about a bit. He is strong and direct, but surprisingly skilful too. His link up play with Depay also encourages.
Thinking back to that 2006 team, United were in a similar position. That was the period when they went out of the Champions League in the groups stages after a weak showing against Benfica. It was also the time when Chelsea appeared completely indomitable at home.
The bright spark beneath that gloom was the growth in tandem of Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo. Fergie knew it too, “they are like a double act” he said in an interview from the time, hardly containing his glee.
That United side needed to go through the disappointment of an early Champions League exit and the pain of seeing Chelsea win the league to grow. Fans will say they have seen enough rubbish over the past 20 months and they want to win again now. Fair enough, but last night suggested they are moving in the right direction.
In Bastian Schweinsteiger, United now have a genuine presence in the middle of the park. When he is on the field, none of our players are going to be mucked around. In Depay and Martial, I see creativity and exuberance that will grow into pure class.
Wayne Rooney remains a class apart, despite his relentless unpopularity. When he returns to the side and starts linking up with the above mentioned and Juan Mata, United will complete their progression from this Champions League group with fuss.
Whilst the result and the injury to Shaw must mark down the game in Holland as a disappointment, much like True Detective 2, there was plenty there to give momentum to the side moving forwards.
Two defeats in three matches is a worry though. Louis van Gaal needs a win again on Saturday at all costs.
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