This season will be one which will be remembered for its moments. Unlike the glorious seasons of the recent past, which will be remembered for their triumphs, we are genuinely experiencing a team in transition, and to those paying attention, the green shoots of a wonderful team are showing.
If we accept that the Van Gaal experience isn’t quite ready for the trophies to start rolling in, then we can at least be assured that there will be plenty to be enjoyed on the journey.
If you take away Pat’s goal in Munich, Moyesey getting the heave-ho, and Juan Mata quite literally gliding along the turf whilst bring the ball under his control, we’re pretty much already better off than we were in the whole of last season, and it’s still only October.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the top five moments of the season. There have been some ace moments which haven’t made the grade, so please do share yours in the comments below.
5. Radamel Falcao warms up: QPR, Old Trafford, 14 September 2014
I was discussing this top five with the editor of this esteemed website, and he mentioned a moment which had not made it into my first draft. However, it most certainly belongs in the final tally.
The electricity around Old Trafford had been building throughout the game. United’s performance, of which more later, had served as a spectacular lead-in to El Tigre’s United début.
Falcao ran the wrong way when he started warming up, along the north stand touchline, towards the away fans. As he began his warm up, applause followed him. The eyes of much of the stadium were on him, as those in close proximity began the standing ovation. The singing section and the Stretford End began duelling renditions of the wonderful, exuberant chant of “lo lo lo loooo Radamel Falcao”.
When he arrived at the bench, he was directed the correct way, towards the Stretford End and the excitement built further. Falcao’s distracting presence, caused at least one United fan to miss the fact that Juan Mata was doing his best to distract attention by scoring. Falcao celebrated the goal on the touchline, and then replaced Mata, arriving on the pitch to a rapturous reception. It was a moment which contained unlimited promise for moments to come, and for that, and the sheer excitement in the air as it happened, it belongs on this list.
4. Angel Di Maria does an absolute madness: Leicester, King Power Stadium, 21 September 2014
There is no question that if this moment was taken in pure isolation it would belong higher on this list, such was the outrageous brilliance of Di Maria’s goal against Leicester. However, context is everything, and what followed meant the memory of this goal is not as sweet as it would otherwise have been.
In the moment it was truly incredible. Of course, it was a superb goal, but the wonderment also came from its implications. United came into the Leicester game having destroyed Queens Park Rangers with a display of attacking football that was superior to most of what had been seen at the ground in the previous few seasons, let alone last season.
The Leicester game had just kicked into a new gear, as Robin van Persie opened his account for the season, on the receiving end of a stunning cross from Falcao. The sheer brilliance of Di Maria’s goal, scored apparently at will, made it feel for a split-second like United would walk the league. Of course, Leicester spoiled the party in spectacular fashion, but Di Maria’s goal was a sublime moment and should be remembered as such.
3. Di Maria runs at terrified defenders: QPR, Old Trafford, 14 September 2014
United’s second and third goal against QPR came as an indirect consequence of Di Maria getting the ball and running with it. He had shown glimpses of this against Burnley, but against QPR, there was a moment of dawning realisation. Angel Di Maria was anything but a luxury signing for United.
We have been so desperate for a player who could instil fear into our opponents again. Last season, Old Trafford lost so much of its aura for travelling sides. Sitting six rows back in the Sir Alex stand, at around the 25/30 yard mark, I had an amazing view of what Di Maria did, and the look on the faces of the defenders in front of him, which seemed to say “what am I supposed to do about this?”
To see a United player with the number 7 on his back terrify defenders again was a sight to behold. It is also a sign of things to come.
2. Falcao opens his account: Everton, Old Trafford, 5 October 2014
The best thing about it was the relief. Not amongst fans, really. And where fans were relieved, it was only because of how painfully obvious it was that Falcao was absolutely desperate to score. The relief was mostly his. His incredibly high standards clearly meant that not scoring during his one substitute appearance and two previous starts for United just wasn’t good enough for Falcao. He had started snatching at chances, and blasted one out for a throw in.
The goal, when it did come, was beautiful, in its own way. Not in its pure aesthetics, which were pretty straight forward, but in that it was a striker’s goal in every sense. It takes a special kind of number nine to know that Di Maria’s shot might accidentally become a cross, beat the offside trap, and get on the end of the chance.
His celebration was wild, and the crowd absolutely erupted. The goal brought United the lead back, which was crucial too. But mostly it was crucial because it opened Falcao’s account. An account which will be well filled by the end of the season.
1. Dave Saves: Everton, Old Trafford, 5 October 2014
It’s noticeable that the other four moments on this list belong to shiny new signings, understandable given how much quality they have added to United. However, it is a player of tremendous quality who was already at the club that gets the number one spot.
David De Gea had a rough September. He had five stuck past him against Leicester, and West Ham’s goal in the 2-1 United win was at least partially Dave’s fault.
It is fair to say he more than made up for it. The penalty save started the ball rolling, or, rather, started the stopping of the ball rolling. There was a spectacular save when all looked lost at 2-1, and then…
Then David De Gea did something that didn’t look like it belonged within the laws of physics. Tyler Blackett’s excellent block rebounded to Bryan Oviedo. De Gea was grounded, having dived to his left to stop the shot which Blackett got to. He sprang, and stretched out his “wrong” arm, and batted the ball away from his top corner, as he had done to Juan Mata’s freekick when United drew 3-3 with Chelsea.
I hardly saw any of this in real time. In real time there was just the sense that United’s rearguard effort was about to be for nought, and Everton were going to get a point. And then, suddenly, gloriously, they weren’t. The three points were ours, and who knows just how crucial they could be. In the moment, all was well.
Because Dave saves.