As a young man in my late teens and early twenties I think it’s safe to say that I took to drinking alcohol in the same way that I do almost everything. With gusto. And why the hell not? There’s little better than consuming half of your body weight in poison, eh? But the booze wasn’t just about the craic with mates. I, and probably every other young man of that age, drank not just to get drunk, but also to pull girls. The Holy Grail. Now I wouldn’t say I was shy at that age, but I was no Jim Carey either. And so the booze, I thought, was my lady lubricant. It would make me bold enough to approach and woo my prey. Except it rarely worked out like that. Drunkenness is difficult to judge, particularly when you’re already drunk and playing drinking games designed exclusively to make sure that no one leaves the building with the contents of their stomach still inside them. In clubs, there were rare occasions when we hit the dance-floor and I was simply not inebriated enough and thus lacked the cojones to approach and talk to a member of the opposite sex. Mostly, though, I just got very drunk, very quickly, and was unable to speak at all, at least coherently. Sometimes I got a snog anyway, because girls get very drunk too. But every once in a while, about as regularly as a lunar eclipse, I’d achieve the drunkenness sweet-spot, a perfect level of intoxication where inhibitions were gone, bravery levels were through the roof and, most importantly, I could speak. On those rare nights, I was The Fonz (Google it kids). Success was guaranteed.
You may wonder why I’m recounting my formative alcohol-based pulling experiences. Well, for much of this season Louis Van Gaal’s United have done a passable impression of me drinking. They’ve either been cautious, nervous and tentative, unwilling to make a positive move and get the girl or so drunk they’ve stumbled around being propped up by the bar, a post, or a mate, usually David De Gea. Watching it, with the exception of a few promising interludes, has been transcendental Ebola. It has liquified the soul. And it hasn’t seemed to matter how the team set up, the Dutchman’s ‘philosophy’ appearing more baffling by the week. 3-5-2? Ebola. 4-4-2 diamond, save for just over a game and half against QPR and Leicester? Ebola. Flat 4-4-2? Ebola. Whatever the Dutchman tried, the end result was the team’s organs evacuating themselves through the most convenient orifice. But Van Gaal the coach seems to have made a career of being astute and lucky, which is fortunate, because United really couldn’t have imagined that they could play so poorly and be fourth in the league in mid-March. But they are.
However, that spawniness looked to be under threat as we approached a run of games in the Premier League that would make The Angels weep. Playing as they have been, which we not unreasonably assumed they would, things could well have got very messy indeed on Sunday. This looked set to continue, against a Spurs side looking for their third consecutive win at Old Trafford, when Phil Jones again lost full control of his limbs and over-hit a back-pass which Dave Who Saves had to hack behind for a corner. ‘Kin lightweights. But then something odd happened. Like a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis, or something, United hit that pulling sweet-spot. They became The Fonz. And the Angels cried again, this time with joy, and there were rainbows and unicorns, bunny rabbits and sea horses and snogging and an invitation back to her house for ‘coffee’. This was the lunar eclipse. Men and women and children across the land, in living rooms covered in towels to catch the expected organ evacuation, began to float in mid-air. What sorcery was this?
This was indeed a sight that was truly rare. For a man who had had so much past success playing a 4-3-3 system Van Gaal seems to have tried very hard not to play a 4-3-3 system, particularly when so many of his players would appear to be made for such an approach. But the past is gone and what is important is that Louis has now seen the light. We can only hope that he measured his food intake in the build up to the ‘session’ and kept notes as to his alcohol consumption and rate. He can surely find that sweet-spot again. Perhaps it was found by mistake. Sunday’s was a team shorn of the perpetually static Robin Van Persie and the inconsistent Angel Di Maria.
At last the Dutchman seems to have accepted that Radamel Falcao, formerly one of the world’s deadliest strikers, has been cruelly robbed of his pace and talents by the injury which ruled him out of the World Cup. The legs have gone. It’s a sad sight to see a once truly great player so riddled with Ebola, so immobile and hopelessly inept, no matter how hard he tries. And he tries very hard. Even for the under-21s he tried, but ultimately he was rubbish. Falcao is no longer the Fonz. He’s just a drunk like the rest of us. With Wayne Rooney now excelling and, most importantly, scoring in a striking role it has to put to bed the hipster claim that Van Gaal and United are somehow failing the Colombian by not creating enough chances or giving him instructions which don’t suit him. The Falcao of old was perpetual motion, scoring all manner of goals, often created by his own brilliance. The player he was would have powered his way to twenty, maybe twenty-five goals this season. Instead he has less than Marouane Fellaini, Ander Herrera and Juan Mata in all competitions and one more than Chris Smalling. Wayne Rooney meanwhile, who gave as complete a centre-forward’s performance as we’ve seen all season on Sunday, has thirteen, despite playing most of the campaign in midfield. He now has six goals in six games. The chances were there, or there to be created, for a striker who moved, found space, stretched defences and bullied them. Falcao has been unable to do any of those things, playing as part of a pair of forwards or as a lone striker. He’s a busted flush. It’s sad to see but it is what it is. Hipsters of the world, take it on the chin like you had to with Shinji Kagawa, now drunk on the bench at a struggling Dortmund.
The balance of the team behind Rooney was just perfect. Finally Juan Mata and Ander Herrera could share the Old Trafford stage and with Michael Carrick back and nonchalantly spraying forward passes in every direction United were wonderful to watch. Herrera was EVERYWHERE. Properly omnipotent. Ashley Young left Kyle Walker with twisted gonads. High-pressing from front to back had Tottenham in a panic, whilst with the ball there was constant positivity. Martin Keown would later do a little sex-wee on Match of the Day about United’s ‘triangles’, but the former Planet of the Apes star was right. Players were always looking for space, trying to make themselves available and offer quick incisive passing. Essentially it was the antithesis of the tepid, negative sh*te we’ve had to sit through all season. The back four played well, although the snapping and snarling in midfield meant that the ball rarely came near them. When they were finally breached, Dave spread his testes wide and enveloped Harry Kane’s shot with his crotch. World class from head to toe and all points in between.
And, of course, there were the goals in that Fonz-like first half. Fellaini, about whom I’m starting to have pleasant tingling sensations in my pants, terrified Spurs with his runs from deep and his left foot finish from Carrick’s pass was sublime. Carrick then scored with his bonce and Rooney went all 2004 and barn-stormed his way to a third. Scenes. Particularly when the latter amusingly made fun of the front-page pictures of him being sparkoed by Phil Bardsley. For that to be the lead story anywhere on any day is a damning indictment on the priorities of some elements of the press in this country. Particularly remarkable was the sight of Rooney on the cover of printed edition of The Sun, for he is neither a hired actor employed to pretend to be a benefits cheat or a ‘communist’ relative of Ed Miliband. Strange times.
United backed off in the second half, but contained the visitors with ease to round off a truly surreal afternoon. It was a game which United simply had to win. Had to. With the run of fixtures still to come points in the bank are absolutely vital. Every game is do-or-die now, including the biggest of them all at Anfield next week. Quite what this performance does for our assessment of Van Gaal’s United is not yet clear. Where has this tempo and intensity been hiding? Was this a rare and wonderful drunken sweet-spot or the start of something special? With the matches to come it would be a remarkable achievement for the Dutchman to get a top-four place, but after this confidence must be high. Hell, we’re two points off City. The most important thing from here on in is that the manager keeps his nerve. The 4-3-3 works. Herrera and Mata starting together works. Playing Rooney as a striker works. Michael Carrick just makes things work. FALCAO AND VAN PERSIE DO NOT MAKE THINGS WORK. Perhaps Van Gaal is now the man who cured Ebola. Or perhaps United will revert to type next week and get panned at Anfield. We haven’t played well there since Mary dropped a sprog in a barn. Whatever. I’m just going to enjoy walking like The Fonz for a week. It’s been a while.