With no Champions League football and domestic cup action not until the new year, a lack of games has culminated into a rather interesting thirst for football in this post-Ferguson era. It must be the one upside of Manchester United either not being that good any more, or us just not knowing whether they are good any more. If it’s the latter, the next game is what you desperately need to make your mind up. Three points can calm you for a week, but one point or none at all has you counting down to an ordinary league game — of which they are 38! — as if it’s a much-needed holiday.
September has been good for that. The 4-0 win over Queens Park Rangers was your typical “so what were you saying?” game, but the implosion at Leicester, from 3-1 to 3-5, confirmed all of our worst fears (for six days). It’s fickle, yes. Oddly enough, though, the excruciating wait was a nice reminder of why we dedicate an unhealthy portion of our lives to this. So edging past West Ham to win 2-1 was pretty satisfying — and a good note to end the month on.
There’s always been a ‘must win’ feeling around any game, but, apparently, now more than ever. Along with little to cling onto in midweek, there are the harsh lessons taught by David Moyes. It probably explains the overreaction that followed the drubbing of QPR, but who wasn’t caught up in it all? It’s not as if an easy fixture has guaranteed maximum points for United in the last 14 months. And, more importantly, it marked a new era — one that, from afar, looks in better shape than the last. Angel di Maria carried on from where he left off at Real Madrid, Daley Blind was a reassuring presence in this ‘defensive midfield’ position, and Ander Herrera looked like he’d been at the club five years. With Louis van Gaal looking on, and with the power to summon Radamel Falcao from the bench, again: who wasn’t caught up in it all?
Leicester City weren’t. All that good work, so similar to what we saw against QPR, was undone after an hour. The defence imploded, Leicester rallied (with some help from the officials, but no excuse) and it appeared that the previous week was a false dawn. Remember, there were a lot of false dawns last season. West Ham might be the second of this campaign, a game seemingly demonstrating that United can indeed defend as well as attack. Thus Paddy McNair’s late, match-saving headed clearance was the highlight, the Northern Irishman drafted in for his debut because his side were without four players. Looking at the names of those crocked, maybe we could have all been a little less surprised. Elsewhere, Herrera delivered again, along with players like Rafael and Robin van Persie showing their worth in style.
Not much needs to be said about Wayne Rooney’s red card, though, except that this ‘new’ United seem intent on making football as agonising as possible. Depending on the result, that’s not always a bad thing.
Player of the month: Ander Herrera should have awards given to him for being an influential midfielder and Rafael for simply being Rafael. But September belongs to Angel di Maria, who deserved to be on the winning side after his goal at Leicester.
Elsewhere: Written in this part of last month’s column: “Meanwhile, Chelsea are going to win the league.” They really are.
Ten years ago: September 2004 (’04/05): This was a memorable month for United and, especially, new signing Wayne Rooney. Three debut goals at home to Fenerbahce was quite a way to announce himself. How bad must the Turkish side have been, though, considering that a midfield of David Bellion, Eric Djemba-Djemba, Kleberson and Ryan Giggs (well …) were far too strong for them. In the league, a Mikael Silvestre double was enough to see off Liverpool and United ended September in 5th place.
Reasons to be cheerful: If United do struggle in October, remember that they can only struggle a maximum three times.