By Richard Kurt
Now that’s what you call a 10 out of 10 performance. Ten years since United last did the double over City; 10 games unbeaten now since our midwinter nadir.
Remember those dark days? I looked back at this column then and found reference to fan polls about Ole running 50/50. I was pleading here that he at least be given until the end of the season before judgement was rushed.
At least we can now safely say he’s got that one in the bag. Yesterday’s superb and brilliantly organised derby triumph will live long in the memory, and gives him credit to spend for months. The Stretford End’s jubilation at the whistle was a sight to behold — extended celebratory scenes of the like we have all so rarely had cause to witness in the post-Fergie era.
It’s perhaps invidious to pick out individuals in what was such a good example of a disciplined team display. But De Gea, AWB, and — wow, really?! — Matic all deserve special nods. Not least as two of those have been so shaky so often in the recent past.
Had Dan James matched his outstanding work with vision, and provided crosses at the right moment, United could easily have scored three or four, which would have been a quite extraordinary return for a team who didn’t even manage 30% possession.
As we’ve mentioned here before, none of us wants to see United become a team that habitually plays without the ball. But for certain days, against certain opponents, we’re happy to allow the exception.
The sight of Pep’s crestfallen face at the final whistle as his team of ball-hogging, fading fancydans succumbed to the Red wall for the third time this season was a lovely sight to behold.
Eight clean sheets in 10 games speaks volumes about the increasing strength of that defensive wall. Again, no-one wants to pay to watch United defend, but the lack of solidity at the back had been undermining United’s attacking intentions ever since Mourinho left.
Admittedly, the majority remain to be convinced by Lindelof, but the others have stepped up since New Year, with even Shaw managing to string nearly a dozen half-decent games together without breaking some joint or other.
So what may we dare hope for now? Next week-end brings another key match that will also mean a lot to everyone involved, emotionally — Mourinho’s Spurs. The phrase ‘point to prove’ will be mercilessly abused by the media, and the league table situation means that it could be seen as an eliminator of sorts; any winner might see themselves as the ones best-placed to go forth and take on Chelsea for that clinching fourth spot.
Mourinho knows most of United’s squad inside out, which some might argue gives him a theoretical edge in the planning stage this week. Even his detractors would probably admit that his tactical nous and game management remain at a higher level than beginner Ole’s.
But do Spurs look like a happy ship to you? Already you hear the first grumbles of discontent emerging from the Lane, with the tell-tale sign of Jose starting to criticise players in public, and those around Harry Kane are making noises about him leaving his summer.
A little well-connected bird inside Old Trafford tells me that he knows “Harry Kane would walk here” and that there’s some surprise amongst his people that United haven’t yet signalled any intent. But maybe those days are gone.
For according to one veteran inside observer, the Ole Plan doesn’t involve going after such established superstars in the market anymore — he’s more interested in those starting to approach their climb to the peak, rather than those already at the summit. But would a starstruck Ed Woodward ever truly sign up to ‘no more marquee signings’?
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. These would be lovely dilemmas to have the opportunity to face one day, because until very recently the issue was moot — almost no-one wanted to join United anyway.
Back to today, then. And a final sobering thought after a night’s celebration. Because if coronavirus ends up forcibly emptying stadiums for the rest of the season, as many in government now think very possible, yesterday may well go down as the season’s last great collective Old Trafford moment.
It’ll be a fine note to end on; and in any event, we’ll all have rather more to worry about than Premier League points.