“I’ve never played for a draw in my life.” – Sir Alex Ferguson
And that’s how Manchester United have been playing in their last three matches. They come to win, and no less. Granted its not a perfectly polished outfit yet, and there are chinks in the armor and there is a lot to prove, to ourselves and to others as well, but its closer to perfect than we’ve ever been in the last couple of years.
If you don’t think that the games against Tottenham and Liverpool were the best games we’ve seen from United in this season (and most of the last season too), then you don’t know much about Manchester United, or football.
If you didn’t see these two matches, then let me sum it up for you.
Think of a sports team. Any team. But it has to be one you care about, one you have a connection with, one that’s close to your heart. It could be any team. It could be your college team, or it could be the current world champions. Got a team? Good. Now imagine they’ve been the best in their particular field for a really, really long time. Imagine they’ve been winning league after league, tournament after tournament, championship after championship, cup after cup, for the last ten, fifteen, twenty years. Imagine them at the top, the world at their feet. Imagine the jubilation, the aura, the halo of ‘invincibility’ about them. But there’s no such thing as invincibility, really. Harsh, but true. Now imagine your team losing. And its not just a loss that is a minor dip in the graph, followed by another one of those all-familiar never-ending spikes. Its a loss followed by a dozen more. And then a few. No more aura, no more halo, no more jubilation. But then change is the only constant in life and then things change at the team. And it takes time but you finally see your team resembling the team you saw during ‘their years’. You finally see the team you’ve missed for too long.
That’s how it felt watching Manchester United maul Tottenham Hotspur on the 15th of March and subdue Liverpool on the 22nd of March.
Below is a little analysis of the current state of affairs at Manchester United, English football and other little things that I may want to say about the same so all those who aren’t into football and ‘Understand Football/Soccer’ isn’t on your ‘Things to do Today’ list, then look away right now.
Tottenham didn’t exactly have a terrifying line – up coming into the match against Man Utd, but then even though United did, they were proclaimed the underdogs. The only way this can be explained is by the golden word, ‘form’. The Spurs were in form and were very much battling gallantly for a spot in the top 4, as were United, only less convincingly. Three matches later, United are now the in – form team in the top 4, along with Wenger’s Arsenal. The battle for 4th place is still open, mathematically, and as much as I would love Manchester City to slip and drop below, I don’t see that happening. As for Manchester United, I very much see them fighting for 2nd place now, and, owing to any errors Chelsea and Arsenal may make (the latter will invariably make one or two), for pole position too.
Speaking of math, here’s the Premier League table, as of the 11th April, 2015:
With about half a dozen (or a little more) games to go for every club, the title looks mathematically available to a lot of clubs, but factor in form, injuries, upcoming fixtures, and a gazillion other psychological, physiological, historical and environmental variables and you’ll realise that it really looks possible for any one out of Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United to take the title, with Chelsea holding almost too many cards for anybody else to do anything, really. However, if United can get through the upcoming fixtures against Manchester City and Chelsea with victories, I can really see them challenging for the title and it could well go down to the final fixture.
United are undoubtedly the better side when put up against Chelsea or Manchester City. City’s form has been very poor lately and Chelsea are not only faced with injuries and potential suspensions (Matic and Fabregas are both one booking away from a match-ban) but have struggled against almost every team in the last few months. Even against an extremely poor United squad back in October last year, Chelsea only managed a 1-1 draw where United were by far the better team in terms of possession, tackles and shots on target.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United were very adept at snatching victories in the dying stages of a match and ‘Fergie time’ was there for just that reason. Sir Alex himself gave it a uniquely cheesy name:
“Its getting tickly now, squeaky – bum time, I call it.”
Its that time of the season again.
All player images above are taken from various fanblogs on Tumblr, and I don’t own them in any way.