Intentional breaks are great when the last act of your team was to stuff a rival, before dispersing to points around the globe, giving us a weekend off from the Premier League and an extra seven days to bathe in the glory of the victory. Think the last two wins over Liverpool and the teenie tiny Scouse tears that they shed, waiting for the chance to put it right. Think how Steven Gerrard felt for that fortnight after he’d lasted less than a minute on the pitch as he watched his boys capitulate 2-1 at Anfield in his last ever shot at United. Two weeks is a long time. Those two weeks were ace.
However, our last week has been absolutely sh*t. I can remember few international breaks as unpleasant as this. And there is still a week of it to go. I hate time. F*ck you time. It’s been eight days since Arsenal (and Louis Van Gaal) made fools of United at the Emirates and it still hurts like a festering, infected, open wound. I needed us to play again quickly, to banish it from my memory and allow me to replace it with positive thoughts, that maybe this team is on the verge of something after all, that the football won’t all be bone-crushingly tedious, that we’ll excite, click as a unit and explode and that Anthony Martial is the second coming of Pele.
But at the moment all there are are questions, maybes, perhapses, what ifs. I needed the game at Goodison Park to have been yesterday, so that there was a chance that I could buy a copy of the paper this morning and read about United back at the top of the league, or at least keeping pace with City. I can dream.
If I were a footballer I’d have wanted to play again as quickly as possible, to right the wrongs of the Emirates. There were so many wrongs. So many. I’ll not list them again for fear of spoiling all of your days. Not one player in that United team will have come away thinking they had done alright, save maybe for the hopelessly isolated yet still classy Martial. He’ll have enjoyed the international break, twice playing exceptionally for France. So will Matteo Darmian, having scored his first international goal. Of those not on international duty, Ander Herrera, ever the culture-vulture, went to Venice. Marcos Rojo, for whom every day is currently a day off, took his wife and child to Disneyland Paris. Schoolboy error. Legoland is way cheaper. Perhaps the players will come back fresh, but it’s more likely that those who’ve been away playing for their countries will return knackered, or injured. Having said that, if Rooney’s injury could keep him out for 2/3 weeks, that would be nice. Van Gaal seems unable to pull the trigger on his much loved, lame former thoroughbred race horse. A short break may make the manager see the value of alternative options. But probably not.
We could all have done with the chance to right the ship sooner. Mind you, if I had to pick a place to try to do that Goodison Park would not have been it. United are perpetually filth there. We rarely even lay a glove on Everton. Roberto Martinez will be sat in his office this morning with his usual grin of self-satisfaction. But today’s grin may be bigger than usual for, as happened last season, the manager of the team who faced United prior to the Goodison visit has done his job for him. Last year it was Mourinho who set his side up to gift United possession, compactly contain and break with pace and intensity. Martinez copied the Portuguese and Van Gaal was undone. Fast forward a few months and it is Wenger who has showed the younger man the path to follow. United, it would appear, cannot cope if teams fly at them early on, press them hard and break with pace and power. Southampton did it and nearly won the game in the opening half an hour. Wolfsburg flew out of the traps with intensity and almost won it in the first twenty-five minutes. Against Arsenal United were done within seven minutes. Martinez has the players to replicate such an approach, even if they aren’t quite as talented as Wenger’s mob. They didn’t need to be last year and, one suspects, they won’t need to be this year either.
Van Gaal must surely react to the Emirates horror-show. He cannot believe that it would be wise to play a two man midfield of Carrick and Schweinsteiger ever again. Ever. Ever. Never. And he must be questioning his decision to fly out of the traps and try to overpower Arsenal early in the game. Or maybe he isn’t, because I get the impression that the Dutchman isn’t a man riddled with self-doubt. United will play only one way: slowly, patiently, blandly. They will hope not to concede early goals, which would leave them ripe for the picking. They probably won’t win, because statistically Van Gaal’s side win less than a third of their away matches, which for a club of this size, with the resources available, is shocking. In recent times we’ve won at Goodison even less.
You may have noticed that I’m not overly confident. It’s true, I cannot lie. I miss the days when United regularly vanquished the Toffees home and away, when Rooney used to turn up against his boyhood side. And before him, Yorke, Cole, Giggs, Van Nistelrooy, Teddy Sheringham, Jesper Blomqvist. Jesper fecking Blomqvist. Chris Eagles. Christopher Eagles. Where has all the Goodison joy gone? I’ve forgotten what it’s like to even score there.
Maybe this weekend will be different. I’d take a point right now, because I’m a pansy. But perhaps Memphis Depay will suddenly find his feet in the Premier League, Anthony Martial will terrorise the Everton back four and Van Gaal will pick a formation and midfield capable of providing an impenetrable shield for the defence and a base from which to attack. And maybe Daley Blind will do a remarkable marking job on Romelu Lukaku. He’ll need to, because another defeat would set alarm bells ringing and cast further doubt on Van Gaal’s project and philosophy. And I don’t want to lose faith in the big man. Well, lose more faith.
If there were no international break I’d feel a little bit more confident. The players would surely have been raring to go, to right the wrongs of the Emirates. But the extended period away from the Premier League will have diverted attention and energy elsewhere and the performance at Arsenal will have had time to fester in their minds, much as it as festered in mine. A win at Goodison would be huge. At the moment I’m just not hugely confident that it will happen. It feels like the course of a season rests on what happens in the next match. But I say that almost every week, so ignore these ramblings. The international break has messed with my mind.