When reflecting on 2017, there have been some great highs for Manchester United, as well as some embarrassing lows. We’ve won trophies, we’ve beaten tough opponents, we’ve seen academy graduates do the business in the first team, yet we’ve also been beaten by our rivals and failed to win games we should have won. Players have become heroes and villains. The tactics in the biggest games have been fairly depressing and questions have been asked by some whether Jose Mourinho is the man to lead us forward.
But on the final day of the year, let’s look at the more positive moments. Let’s talk about the occasions that got our hearts were pumping, or we were laughing, or we were so happy inside we felt like we were going to burst.
Guidetti’s red face and Mourinho’s scarf
The second leg of the Europa League semi-final against Celta Vigo won’t go down in the history books as one of United’s great European outings. In fact, we were dreadful and Zlatan Ibrahimovic picked up an injury that could and maybe has ended his career at the top.
Ahead of kick-off, former Manchester City striker John Guidetti claimed that he would be turning Manchester blue after knocking us out. In the final five seconds of injury time, he missed an open goal that would have put Celta Vigo in to the final.
But all that really mattered is that we we won. Just like we had sung all season, we were going to Stockholm.
At the final whistle, we saw Mourinho show real joy for the first time since being appointed as our manager. In front of the Stretford End he twirled a United scarf, clenched his fists and shouted in celebration with the fans. What a night.
When United beat Benfica 2-0 in the Champions League in October, United’s record of including a youth team graduate in every single match day squad reached 80 years. In other words, for 3,883 consecutive games, through wins, losses and cup finals, United had a player they had developed in the team.
For context, the club with the next longest run is Everton with over 1,000 consecutive games over a period of 21 years.
Will any club ever match this? Let alone any club that wins trophies as regularly as we have? It’s a remarkable achievement and a source of huge pride. Football taught by Matt Busby.
Zlatan stars at Wembley
It looked as though it was going to be plain sailing for Mourinho on his way to winning his first piece of silverware as United manager in the EFL Cup. Ibrahimovic put United 1-0 up before Jesse Lingard scored in his second Wembley final in nine months. United were 2-0 up and comfortable, only for Southampton to score minutes either side of half-time to level the score.
Sitting behind the goal United were attacking in the second half, time seemed to stand still once the ball left Ander Herrera’s foot and floated in the direction of Zlatan in the 87th minute. In that millisecond where the realisation hit that Ibrahimovic was unmarked, that the ball was perfect, that he was going to score and we were going to win the cup, delirium spread throughout our end of Wembley.
Zlatan’s powerful header left the goalkeeper with no chance, United went 3-2 up, and we’d won a trophy. Super.
Beating the champions elect
A victory for Chelsea at Old Trafford would have all but sealed the title for Antonio Conte’s men. A month earlier we played them in the FA Cup and all was going to plan before Ander Herrera, the key man in Mourinho’s tactical plan for the evening, was sent off. It was ludicrous. He had committed two fouls, the first of which was debatable let alone worthy of a booking, yet Michael Oliver decided to ruin to game regardless.
This time, in April, Herrera stayed on the field and Mourinho was able to execute his plan. Eden Hazard didn’t get a sniff of the ball and United won 2-0. Chelsea didn’t have a single shot on target for the first time in a decade. Marcus Rashford opened the scoring before Herrera wrapped up the points.
Mourinho walked off the field pointing to the United badge, a dagger in the hearts of the Chelsea fans who had once believed they meant something to him, having shown what he was capable of. In terms of the best tactical performance of the season, this was it, and gave hope for what could be ahead.
The kids are alright
On the final day of last season, just three days before the Europa League final, United played Crystal Palace at Old Trafford.
With Mourinho wary of playing too many of the key players ahead of the final, he threw a load of academy players in to the starting line-up. Palace were 13th in the table at the start of the day so the kids had a tough task on their hands.
The first XI included: Scott McTominay (joined the club when he was 5), Axel Tuanzebe (8), Demetri Mitchell (10), Joel Pereira (16), Tim Fosu-Mensah (16), Josh Harrop (16), as well as Paul Pogba (16) and Jesse Lingard (7).
Harrop scored a fantastic goal with just 15 minutes on the clock before Pogba doubled the lead a few minutes later. To see them all celebrating together at the final whistle, their dream having come true, was wonderful.
Even if they hadn’t won, it would have been a proud moment for the fans, but the fact they saw off Premier League opposition was a fantastic achievement.
JLingz at the Emirates
United have had mixed fortunes at the Emirates and Mourinho has been given a lot of stick about his performances against teams at the top. So when United beat Arsenal 3-1 in December it was a fairly great day out for United supporters.
Antonio Valencia scored the first goal but the second was one of United’s best of the year. Fantastic counter attacking football finished with a delicate flick from Anthony Martial in to the path of Lingard to double United’s lead. He celebrated with the Milly Rock, much to the annoyance of everyone. The game’s gone, etc. I loved it.
His second goal of the game was less than impressive but was probably celebrated more wildly. By that point, Arsenal had got themselves back in to the game and were dominating the possession and chances. David de Gea had the sort of performance that put to bed any questions about him being the best in the world. Yet when Paul Pogba managed to get behind the Arsenal defence and set up Lingard for the tap in, you knew it was game over.
Lifelong red Lingard hasn’t won over the entire fanbase yet but that was a day where he was universally loved.
And the winner is: Manchester la la la
The terrorist attack in Manchester was the backdrop for the Europa League final in May. Just days before our final game of the season our city had endured tragedy and it felt hugely important that we were on the winning side in Stockholm.
Before the attack, the reason the game mattered so much was because it decided whether Mourinho’s first season in charge was a success or massive failure. Winning two trophies and qualifying for next season’s Champions League would mean we’d had a good campaign. Winning the EFL Cup and finishing sixth meant it had been a disaster. This game was massive.
Had someone told me a few years ago that winning the Europa League would have ever been able to bring me as much joy as it did this year I would never have believed them. But it felt fantastic. After attending the MUST event at the Printworks, before pouring out in to the streets, just a stone’s throw from where the attack happened, and chanting “Manchester la, la, la!” on repeat with our fans, ranks highly among my favourite ever moments as a red.
It was great to see Pogba show up on the big stage and we could be pleased for Henrikh Mkhitaryan putting the game to bed with the second. Both had struggled to meet expectation in their debut campaign so it was a great way for the season to end. Seeing Ander Herrera, our fave from last season, instruct Mkhitaryan where to stand in the lead up to the goal was pretty great too.
At the final whistle, there was a total explosion of emotion. Reds hugging and dancing everywhere. Mourinho rolling around on the pitch hugging his son. The players piggy backing each other and celebrating with the lucky supporters inside the ground. Zlatan, who must have been devastated to miss out on his final, at his stadium, was as happy as any other, holding the trophy aloft with one hand.
No, this wasn’t the Champions League, or the Premier League title, but the feeling of pride in our club and our city was huge. The players chanting “Manchester la, la, la!” in the dressing room afterwards was a sight to behold. They did our club and the city proud.
We’ve had a mixed year but no matter what happens in 2018, nothing beats being one of us. Nothing is better than being a red.