“Woke up this morning feeling fine, got Man United on my mind…” while that chant may be popular, it’s often nonsense, as the chances of United making any of the Old Trafford faithful feel fine are rarer than a Bebe hat-trick.
Last night in Turin though, was different, just as the invading Romans conquered Britain under Claudius in AD 43, the marauding Red hordes invaded the Allianz stadium under Jose Mourinho and put Juventus to the sword. Sort of.
United’s win over Massimiliano Allegri’s side has not just given Reds a bit of confidence going into this weekend’s Manchester derby, it’s also thrown a much needed lifeline into the team’s Champions League chances, which could prove pivotal to the long-term future of the world’s foremost urine boiling manager.
What did we learn from last night’s epic comeback, other than Cristiano Ronaldo has the sort of abs you could grate cheese on?
1. It’s you Juan, Juan. When Mata stepped up to take the free-kick that sent the visiting fans, not to mention those at home into ecstasy there was more than a few of us who believed he would find the back of the net. Mata has an impressive record from free kicks and has now bagged two already this season. If he’s on the pitch and it suits a left footer, even slightly, then he needs to be on dead ball duty.
2. Matic isn’t the issue. Before kick-off news that Nemanja Matic was starting seemed to have translated into ‘United are playing Matic in goal’ from the way many fans reacted to his inclusion in the starting eleven. Matic hasn’t been at his best in recent weeks and there was a valid argument that fatigue was a part in his loss of form and he needed a rest. He didn’t. While the likes of Anthony Martial, Juan Mata and Alexis Sanchez got most of the plaudits, it was the resolute Serbian doing the simple but effective things in midfield who played a vital part in United’s victory.
3. No Lukaku, no drama. The absence of your top scorer/£75 million striker should be a hindrance to any team, but Romelu Lukaku’s exclusion seems to have actually benefitted the Reds. There’s no longer a tendency to hoof the ball forward and the control of the likes of Sanchez, Marcus Rashford or whoever is leading the line is far more reliable. Maybe it’s tiredness, maybe it’s carrying a bit too much timber, perhaps it’s even the weight of expectation being too much after a decent if uninspiring first season, but Lukaku hasn’t been great this campaign. As last night showed, the team function far more cohesively at the business end of the pitch when he’s not there.
4. Get off Young’s back. It’s easy to use Ashley Young as an example of how United still need more investment and why the team aren’t able to match the likes of City, but yet again the former winger produced a performance he should be proud of.
Some United fans may be quick to criticise him but Young was excellent in Turin, sending in a perfect cross that was so good it almost had three goal scorers, all this in the last minute of the game – not bad for a 33 year-old.
5. Fellaini makes a difference. People laughed at Mourinho when he cited Marouane Fellaini’s absence from the bench as one of the reasons the Reds struggled in the first leg, but as per usual the manager had a point. Fellaini is the type of player you simply don’t want to face, especially late in the game when you’re defending a one nil lead. Yet again Fellaini showed that while he may not be the prettiest, he certainly is one of the most effective options the Reds can call upon and playing his part in United’s turnaround helps prove it.
*all odds are subject to change