On countless occasions, United’s title rivals come a cropper offering United a window of opportunity to capitalise the next day, only for United to suffer the same anguish and rue what could have been. So Sunday’s victory over Southampton, no mean feat at any stage of the season, let alone after a chilling defeat in Europe in one than one way, was as refreshing a tonic as they come after City and Arsenal dropping points.
The victory was all the more sweet, not just because it was the perfect dedication to the gut-wrenchingly stricken Luke Shaw, and Stretty News (as I’m sure you do too) wishes him the speediest of recoveries, but also because we were frankly abysmal in that opening 30 minutes no-show. Southampton do deserve credit for their high intensity pressing and bulldozing Daley Blind tactic but before the Martial equaliser, we did not look like creating even a sniff at goal, let alone grab a smash and grab equaliser.
The turnaround after that goal, which certainly gave us a shot in the arm and the impetus to get a foothold on the game, was so marked in comparison to those opening salvos. It actually turned out to be one of the more controlled, decisive and ruthless performances we have witnessed under Louis Van Gaal’s reign. In fact, when Pelle got what turned to be a consolation goal, it was a shock to the system as Southampton were singing to our tune.
Before and after our spell of controlled dominance, we actually have a lot to thank David de Gea for. There’s nothing I could say now to do his save from Fonte in particular, and Wanyama right at the death the justice they deserve: This is by no means a vicious belittlement of Sergio Romero but, like the Liverpool game, it could become a United cliche this season to say ‘would Romero have saved that?’. Gary Neville’s raving of the De Gea miracle work was not quite the Torres ‘goal-gasm’ in the Camp Nou but with Neville’s view that keepers are there to save shots, it takes something to draw praise as a glove-man when Red Nev is taking in a game. You suspect the scoreline would have been different otherwise. It’s not Romero’s fault that he is seemingly singled out in some sort of backhanded criticism to praise the man who has taken his shirt, but De Gea is THAT good.
As one hero continued to do his stuff and draw the adulation of the United faithful, another one is making just the start needed to obtain such heroic status. Anthony Martial is doing his level best to add serious substance to those giddy Thierry Henry rumours banded about by Louis Saha. The way he opened his body up to slot both goals into the net was Henry-esque, not to mention the pace and movement. I know some of you will say it’s vital to stay grounded and look at the likes of Saha himself and Macheda as examples of similarly blistering starts to fall by the way side, but it’s hard to temper expectation and excitement when he delivers like that. He has ingredients that add zest to the overall United recipe, and if you cannot get excited over a striker with pace and finishing looking the part then we may as well pack up our things now.
The crowning glory was the build-up to the clinching goal, finally tucked away by Juan Mata. You could see post-match that Van Gaal was purring: The grin on his face, upon hearing that some forty-odd passes were completed before the net was rippled, was as beaming as the reds politically speaking when the words Cameron and pig-head appeared in unison. Back to more savoury matters, many branded that goal as the ‘rewards of the philosophy’- controlled possession with incisiveness in the final third and an end product. It really was a joy to behold.
People are seeing us just two points off City and are suddenly dreaming of the title. It is good to dream, but how about we try and go under the radar and see where it takes us? There are still glaring pitfalls within our ranks, Shaw’s injury has left us quite limited in terms of defensive options, and Daley Blind came under the pump against Graziano Pelle. Granted players of Pelle’s physique come up every week, but it is slight cause for concern. As cliched and vanilla as it sounds, let’s take it game by game and not get ahead of ourselves!
It would be somewhat remiss of me to not sign off with a little tribute to the luckless Luke Shaw, whose injury was utterly devastating and shook the football world, let alone his current and former employers. He was branded not fit enough to become the player we all hoped by the unrelentingly demanding Louis Van Gaal, which must affect an eighteen year old who was still growing. The remedy was to work his socks off and get super fit and lean, which by all accounts he did.
The popular opinion, in this embryonic season, is that Shaw has not just been the shining light for United, but he has been the best left-back in the country by a distance. Van Gaal even changed his tack and showered the defender with praise, predicting ‘this would be his year’. What a fillip that must have been, music to the young man’s ears. He was developing a burgeoning yet raw understanding with Memphis and Marcos Rojo or Daley Blind will simply not add the zeal and vigour that ultimately turned out to be Shaw’s sickening downfall.
Solace can be taken in the fact that leg breaks are not an obituary for a footballer any more. You just hope that he comes back reinvigorated a la Aaron Ramsey and not be hindered like Antonio Valencia. Time is on his side to make a full recovery and come back an even stronger and better player.
Get well soon, Luke!