Saturday felt like a pivotal day in the pursuit of top 4 places before a ball had even been kicked, with events at the Emirates being a particular eye-catcher as a decisive fixture affecting our fate as well as theirs. The pleasure of a Liverpool defeat has stood the test of time in the Republik of Mancunia, but even more so in the last two rounds of Premier League fixtures, they have both been of telling significance.
There was rife pandemonium within the Stretford End concourse- a recognition that them losing was too good an opportunity to pass up and, even though we have seen Louis Van Gaal’s slow evolution of style bearing very satisfying fruits in recent weeks, the lunchtime kick-off did not alter the overriding feeling that it did not matter how we got the win, just as long as we got the job done and put clear daylight between us and the chasing pack.
To be honest, it was a boring game but at this stage of the season the aesthetics are secondary. It was effective, a throwback to the mid-season endeavours, a cardinal commodity when crunch time approaches. If this run of form continues against the noisy neighbours, I can guarantee you will not give two hoots if substance prevails over style. What Saturday demonstrated was that we are in good nick, players are in form, the confidence is flowing and we are ready to bring on city.
I am writing with a certain degree of smugness on my face, regarding the outstanding contributions of Ander Herrera in recent weeks. I’d have forgiven you if you’d accused me of banging on the Herrera drum too vociferously when Wayne Rooney was erroneously deployed in the engine room, but I knew we had a gem of a player on our hands, someone different in the most critical of areas who was tailor made for our idealized style of play.
Although they appeared to look like massive aberrations at the time, the board and management had their reasons for vetoing moves for the ready-made world-class talents of Toni Kroos and Cesc Fabregas. The potential of Ander Herrera came into their reckoning, notwithstanding the fact the move, better late than never, was nearing completion as moves for the aforementioned duo were mooted.
Well, I have the sticks in hand and foot on the bass drum once again, it’s time to play the Herrera drum. ‘Balance’ is certainly one of Van Gaal’s buzzwords in his increasing English vocabulary, since Herrera has been restored to the side he has given us that much needed balance. You can never have too many players with iced veins in your arsenal- with Michael Carrick playing alongside Herrera, their composure, vision and incisive passing have been paramount contributory factors to our recent surge.
I watched Herrera closely on Saturday like an obsessive fan-girl, one thing that is discernibly evident is his appreciation of spaces and his ‘one step ahead’ cleverness on the field- that unacquired, innate quality that a certain ginger maestro made his signature. Herrera can dictate the pace of the game a la Scholes. Since Scholes, it has been well documented that we have not had a prolific scorer from midfield, well could Herrera be the man? He has notched seven times this season in all competitions and allegedly scored from every shot this year. The composure he showed with either foot for both goals gives us great reason to hope that the long wait for Scholes’ heir apparent will be over.
On Saturday, the much publicised secret to success was in evidence with Herrera at the heart of it. These triangles, namely between the Spanish speaking triumvirate of Mata, Herrera ( a serious bromance developing there) and Antonio Valencia are encouraging more runners off the ball and creating more space for the likes of Ashley Young to continue to wreak havoc down the flanks.
For all of that superb synchronicity, Valencia’s end product was invariably poor. Over-hit crosses are definitely a change of pace from his usual head down hit and hope, but not the desired one. He got down the outside on occasion but not nearly enough for a player who once was a fearsome proposition down the right. The scorching pace, the end product, assists on demand- he has not been the same specimen since that horrendous injury against Rangers. Nathaniel Clyne is the standout candidate to come through the door in that position- desirable not only in contractual terms, but also in age, potential and nationality.
I don’t really know how to shower my own distinctive praise on Wayne Rooney for that goal, other than, in the stadium, I took that first touch for granted. It was great work from di Maria on the wing, ten assists is no mean feat, but for Rooney to kill that cross, which was behind him, swivel and shoot with power within the blink of an eye was world class. Something Rooney IS. His numbers are outstanding and he is the undoubted main man at the minute. It is strange that he has managed sustain the levels he has set for THIRTEEN years straight at the highest level and not necessarily got the credit he deserves. I cannot blame the diehards for their anger and animosity towards him after he threatened to leave, but for some it still resonates, still cuts deep. He is committed now and thriving so any chance of some appreciation?
Our next game needs no introduction, but we go into it arguably as favourites for the first time in a long time. Palace will be a tough proposition for them tonight- we all saw what Selhurst Park under lights can deliver last season (Kleenex for Sewers). We can deliver another blow at the weekend, as per Van Gaal’s parlance. The belief is returning from the stands and on the pitch that we are on the precipice of the good times coming back.
It is up to us to produce a barnstorming atmosphere, to deliver a statement that the balance of power is starting to be restored to its rightful owner. Van Gaal is clearly a big game manager, someone who thrives in the titanic fixtures, a win will be another significant tick in the Van Gaal box.
In this mood, I say BRING IT ON.