Winning the League Cup last month felt great. Not because this competition ever has been, or ever will be, a priority, but because going to Wembley and lifting a trophy always feels mint. There are some United supporters who would rather United finish in the top four this season to qualify for the Champions League, instead of winning the Europa League and finishing outside of the top four. This sort of mentality baffles me. Other than winning the league, the reward for a season long slog, a cup final is what it’s all about.
The fact that we won the League Cup with three minutes left to play, having not performed particularly well, only added to the occasion.
When reflecting on this season, it’s hard to think of many high points like this though. After bringing Paul Pogba, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Henrikh Mkhitaryan in the summer, as well as appointing Jose Mourinho as manager, we may have imagined a season full of the moments that etch themselves in to your memory.
But we lost three games on the trot earlier in the season, we got battered 4-0 by Chelsea, we got knocked out of the FA Cup and we’ve blown chance after chance to climb up the table, meaning the campaign hasn’t gone the way we envisaged.
When looking at highlights, it’s really hard to think of many. The result against Middlesbrough on New Year’s Eve, a side that will be playing in the Championship next season, is probably up there. Having gone a goal down with 20 minutes left to play, goals in the 85th and 86th minute won us the three points. We beat Spurs at Old Trafford which was good. We scored a late equaliser against Liverpool. We knocked City’s weakened team out of the League Cup. It’s been fine, but it hasn’t been great.
However, to be disappointed in a season where we’ve won a trophy and may well still finish in the top four, and lift another cup, shows that at least our standards are rising again.
Three years ago today we lost 3-0 against Manchester City at home and the overwhelming feeling for me, as I walked away from the ground, was relief. Imagine that. Getting played off the park by your hated rivals and your manager claiming we aspired to be like them, yet feeling relieved we didn’t lose by an embarrassing scoreline, as we deserved to.
City took the lead after 40 seconds through Edin Dzeko and that was their third shot of the game! It was just woeful.
This game came nine days after we’d been let off the hook by Liverpool, again losing 3-0. At least the result against City meant we had given six points to both of our hated rivals that season, meaning we hadn’t aided one over the other in their quest for the title.
With just three games left to play at the end of that season, Liverpool found themselves five points clear of Chelsea on the same games, and nine points clear of City, who had two games in hand. The title was their’s. It was excruciating. Sir Alex Ferguson knocked them off their perch and then within a year of his retirement they were clawing their way back on to it.
Match of the Day was off the cards for the following season, not that I really watched it anymore anyway, knowing that I wouldn’t be able to stomach seeing footage of Steven Gerrard lifting the Premier League trophy every Saturday night.
The press claimed that neutrals wanted Liverpool to win the league, meaning the outpouring of celebration was set to be unbearable.
We had dominated football in this country for close to three decades, so Liverpool winning one title wasn’t an unreasonable occurrence, but the prospect of it happening was sickening. Our fall from grace had been so massive, so overwhelming, that it seemed fitting our misery would be compounded by our hated rivals getting their hands on our trophy. Thankfully, Gerrard offered us some pity, and saved us from our worst nightmare when he slipped at against Chelsea. Thankfully, Liverpool blew a 3-0 lead at Crystal Palace and conceded three goals in the final 10 minutes to hand the title to City.
You’d never imagine it would be possible to be pleased that the blues had won the league but it happened. And I hated Moyes for putting us in that position.
Three years on from that 3-0 defeat against City, we’re not where we imagined we could be. Although as the current holders of both domestic trophies, we’re a lot closer than we were with Louis van Gaal or David Moyes. It was depressing being a United fan then. Going to Old Trafford was a chore.
I remember Wayne Rooney scoring a 93rd minute winning penalty against Sheffield United in the third round of the FA Cup and not even celebrating. We were playing League One opposition at Old Trafford, we’d had 71% possession and just one shot on target, other than the penalty. It was as appalling as it was predictable. Worse than that, it felt like it would never end.
We don’t know what the future holds. We don’t know if we will win the Europa League or finish in the top four. We don’t know whether we will return to the Champions League. We don’t know whether Mourinho will nail it in the summer transfer window and bring in players who can win us the title next season. We don’t know whether it’ll all end in tears and Mourinho will be the third manager in a row to be shown the door before the end of his contract.
But what we do know is that this is all so much better than it was three years ago. At least now we have hope. And we’ll have to hope that playing good teams away from home brings more out of us than playing rubbish teams at Old Trafford does. The fixtures are tough, there are so many of them, but at least we can hope to win them again, just as we used to, instead of being resigned to defeat.
The next two months could be brilliant. Let’s hope that they are.