Red on the Horizon

“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.

Cap'n Rooney's knock-out goal celebration against Tottenham Hotspur.
Cap’n Rooney’s knock-out goal celebration against Tottenham Hotspur.
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The little Spanish maestro, Juan Mata, scores a breathtaking scissor kick goal against Liverpool at Anfield.

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:

BPL Standings 11 Apr 15

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.

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If the ‘Angel’ raises his game just a little, finds his confidence, then United will be a wrecking ball coming for everyone else.

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.

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All player images above are taken from various fanblogs on Tumblr, and I don’t own them in any way.

On Bad Decisions, Tailspins and Oxygen

Honest Disclaimer is Honest: This post does not contain deep philosophy that miraculously uplifts those who heed it, although it may contain some philosophy that is sometimes evident to everybody, apart from the people who really need it.

There are times when you’re happy. Or not, but you’re getting by. And you’re confident, even if in the slightest degree, that you’ll be out of the woods in a short while. Maybe you see the light at the end of the tunnel, maybe you’re visualising it, or you see lots of lights ’cause you’re high but you see light, in one way or another. And then you go on to switch on the telly to watch the match of your team 4 lyf and then it all goes to shit. Not because you lost a puny bet but because you actually have a heart and you can’t watch your team lose. If you’re one of those followers that really follows the team and somehow has an emotional connect to them (it could be because of their tradition, history, style of play, aura, anything), then you just cannot watch them lose. It ruins your day. Probably the rest of your week. Or the next as well, if its a Saturday or a Sunday.

Today, I want to create a bridge between two of my favourite sports and two teams that I feel need some oxygen. A few hours where you chuck everything aside, sit down together, ram into your brains what you’re doing wrong and how you’re going to lift your ass off the ground and launch yourselves onwards and more importantly, upwards.

The society of the country I come from is deeply religious. You probably won’t find as much religious diversity anywhere. If a child wasn’t told what community he was born in, maths would no longer be the most confusing thing for him. But here in India, there’s religions, and then there’s cricket, on a whole different level. Its almost like an addiction. It gives a different level of euphoria. A unique high. Don’t believe me? Watch this video tribute to a certain Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar (aka Bhagwan, Hindi for God), created after India won the 2011 Cricket World Cup, full of perfectly synced dramatic music, et al.

I’m not going to burden you with details, especially since not many really get cricket.

The Indian cricket, about a year back, many thought that the bunch of 11 guys they saw playing on the field could actually push to retain the World Cup. They spoke too early. What ensued was a horrible tailspin by the Indian cricket team, and I can’t remember a single win abroad for India, apart from that great great one at Lords in July last year. Make no mistake, I believe they were right. I always did. Because people, as individuals, are incapable of nothing. Cliche, overly optimistic, you call it what you want, but I believe. Its time others did too. Because nobody wants to hear the reasons why we can’t do something. Because nobody wants to be searching in the crowd for somebody wearing their jersey. Because a big part of doing something daunting is believing. And though the first opposition this surprisingly out of depth Indian team faces tomorrow morning is bitter rivals Pakistan, I believe. Its time the team does too. Sports aren’t just games. We say that very few things truly unite the warring races that make up the human species, and sports is one of those. Yes, that statement was probably said from a negative point of view, but why can’t it be something more?

Ah, good times.
Ah, good times.

Much north of London lies a theatre. The theatre. The theatre where dreams come to fruition. A theatre that has seen some of football’s greatest sporting spirits battle together and against one another. It goes by the name Old Trafford. It wasn’t called a fortress for nothing. Noticed how I said ‘wasn’t’? Well, I meant it. And this coming from a diehard Man Utd fan is saying something.

A few months back I wrote this post about how the draw with Chelsea could be a turning point, not just of the current season, but of the club’s fortune. That could mean pinning a lot on a single fixture. But it wasn’t without a reason. If you saw that match, you’d know what I’m talking about. It was a great match to watch. And though the equaliser was in the dying stages and it wasn’t perfect, it meant more than the world to the fans not just for the one point, but for the way the team played, it looked inspired. It meant more to the players. What followed a while after that that was what I feel, a series of bad decisions essentially and resulted in a tailspin that, gratefully enough, isn’t conveyed by the healthy position of the team in the table.

My rants don't mean I've given up on United. Never.
My rants don’t mean I’ve given up on United. Never.

Both these band of men are capable of much, much, much more than what they have been achieving lately. They need to be given the right kind of push to play the way they’re most natural at. They need to shed the baggage and although each day is a new day, they really need to make tomorrow the freshest day they’ve known in a while. And more than anything, its the support staff, the guys behind the scenes, that also need to get their heads out of a knot. Stick your head out above the thick, dense growth take in some of that fresh air and thank whoever you believe in for that dash of oxygen.

Resurgence

The Red Devils.

Yes. Now the title makes sense, doesn’t it?

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I haven’t always been a big football follower. I was always more into cricket because that’s a big thing here in India. But I’ve always been a Manchester United follower.

I guess it all began with my friends who had begun watching football in early grades. But I wasn’t allowed to watch the telly at erratic times at which matches were usually played. So I just read about it in the papers.

But since the past couple of years I’ve really been following football avidly and I’ve learnt its an amazing game. Of course, you usually don’t switch sides when you were inducted into Manchester United and I didn’t.

Last season was a debacle. I don’t want to say any more about that.

Though this season United have had the worst start in club history, I feel really positive about the games ahead. I didn’t give the team a chance against City before the Chelsea fixture and now I actually think they could just clinch a victory.

I feel positive because United resembled the old United against Chelsea. They looked like the United we all love and miss.

I had that terrible sinking feeling when Drogba scored and though it was a great goal from a great player (and my inner rational self applauds that), I really didn’t want to see that. I always thought United would draw with Chelsea. (I even hit ‘Draw’ in the ‘What Do You Think is Going to Happen’ section in OneFootball.)

And then when this happened, I literally jumped out of my seat and cheered for a full minute after that.

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Manchester United is undoubtedly not merely a club. Its got a rich history which speaks volumes about what it stands for. It tells you that Manchester United is never down and out, just down temporarily. It bounces back, with time.

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