January, you’d be happy to hear, was a good month for Manchester United. And it is, on the simple premise that January will nearly always be more important than September, their best of the season yet. United were able to preserve their seven point lead at the top, beat Liverpool and ensure there were no defeats, with thanks to Robin van Persie and company (haw haw, outsiders can get their one-man team jokes out of the way now).
This monthly review is very simple: it’s a monthly review. Half-hearted, sometimes irreverent, but a monthly review nevertheless. The sub-headings, below, if you’re wondering, are actual January holidays*, though the exact date in which they fall isn’t really relevant.
International Sceptics Day
According to most places on the internet, this day actually falls in October, but can apparently be celebrated in January. Honestly, you’d have to really underestimate people in attempting to limit scepticism to just a single day — even The Happy Wanderers can’t possibly do that. And David de Gea is proof of that.
Now, some De Gea criticism is justified. Of course it is. There are times when he does struggle to impose himself, like against Tottenham Hotspur in the 1-1 draw, where his weak punch eventually led to Clint Dempsey scoring a late equaliser. What wasn’t said, however, was that United’s defence made a series of other mistakes (a list here) in the lead up to that goal, including just general sluggishness that doesn’t go down too well in the 90th minute. Perceptions were not helped against Southampton in the 2-1 win, either; though how much he was at fault for Southampton’s and Jay Rodriguez’s goal (did anyone else know he was English?) depends on how you think he was supposed to have reacted to Michael Carrick’s dire, and unexpectedly dire, backpass. (Carrick says he takes “the blame for that”, but how boring.)
What the Spaniard needs now is another solid, prolonged period of good form, like he had this time last year, mostly unblemished from February to May. Some forget, but few negative things were said then because he made sure few negative things were said.
Fun at Work Day
Whenever Manchester United win, against whoever, it’s always the man on television with the tragic shirt that appears as if he’s under some sort of obligation to remind the people at home that “this side is beatable.” United have had to deal with that a lot post-Ronaldo, and not for no reason; indeed, they might not be like a lot of Sir Alex Ferguson’s old teams. But not being that side or that one (or that one) doesn’t have to be such a bad thing, not when, right now, they’re better than the current opposition. Were this bunch to take on the double-winning side of 2007/08, which would be awesome, then, yes, feel free to point that out as much as you like.
What this current side can do, just like the others, is win a lot. Oh yes. And as often as they grind out victories, they win convincingly. The very start of the month saw United score four in their annual spanking of Wigan at the DW and, weeks later, they beat Fulham 4-1 in the FA Cup 4th round. Just like the others Fergie sides of past, they win well, too.
Old Rock Day
It must have been a damn shame for Robin van Persie that, having scored such a wonderful goal in the last minute of a cup tie, he would be overshadowed by a geriatric. Ryan Giggs’ lofted ball to set up the goal against West Ham in the 3rd round of the FA Cup was all kinds of stunning; not least because this was yet another invaluable cameo provided by the Welshman who turns 40 next November. In the last few years, Giggs has been good for it, but would typically flounder to get to his moment. This season, he has added a much-needed freshness whenever he has been brought on, or picked to start. That pivotal pass allowed Giggs to continue his good form that he was able to carry from December against the Hammers into the replay; and he stood out in United’s 1-0 win. He starred once again in the same competition against Fulham ten days later.
Coming of Age Day
The Coming of Age day is a Japanese holiday, but that didn’t stop Tom Cleverley from celebrating it.
There’s a rumour going around that claims for every missed Wayne Rooney penalty kick, an angry man gets the most cutest bug-eyed kittens he can find, takes them to the dark basement in his house and places half-and-half scarves around their necks. This most recently happened soon after United’s win over West Ham in the cup replay. The news soon reached Old Trafford, and is apparently the reason why Ryan Giggs was given the responsibility against Fulham in the following round even with Rooney on the pitch.
Rooney’s penalty woes seem much more complicated than the argument that he’s a bad taker. When he scores them, he scores some of the best: those powerful and precise ones that don’t even get a consolation touch from the goalkeeper. But it clearly hasn’t happened enough. Rooney, Opta say, has missed ten out of 29 spot-kicks for Manchester United in his career (35%!), so, yes, maybe he isn’t very good. Oh, and that’s ten kittens.
The game between Manchester United and Liverpool in mid-January was billed as the battle of the league’s best strikers; Robin van Persie and Luis Suarez. The Dutchman would prevail and it seems right in the eyes of those that are partial towards him. He managed five goals in the five that he played across the month, but his ability to do more elsewhere is why he has been endeared to everyone. As he stood over the ball waiting to cross from a free-kick in the game against Southampton, there was a welcoming feel of inevitability about it that’s revolutionised the way United fans also feel about corner-kicks on the right-hand side. Here, Van Persie would swing the ball in and the renascent Evra, leaping like a salmon on a trampoline, was able to nod it across goal for Wayne Rooney to score.
It was Evra and Rooney that would receive the pat on their backsides, as praising Van Persie for anything on a football pitch seems pointless now
The actual game against Liverpool could be filed under fan’s favourite ‘raising their game for the big occasion’. Football is generally unpredictable, and great because of it, but, when you take it broadly, it does tend to follow much of the same patterns. One such pattern is a very familiar one; a team plays well in the first-half, and then the other team plays well in the second. And it can happen in any game, with any team. Some can’t seem to fathom this, and it’s difficult to blame them. United’s near-surrender after half-time against Southampton, as disappointing as it felt, and as cowardly as it seemed, is just the way football works. In the first 45 against Liverpool at Old Trafford, United were dominant and could have had more than their one. They scored another soon after, but it was Liverpool’s half; indeed, Liverpool could have had more than their one. This all made for a great contest; the pattern is important here because it disregards the fact that there is clear gulf between the two clubs (you like your subtle jokes, right?).
We’ve Signed Zaha Day
Yay! A new player!