Season 2005/6 was a strange one for United. After two years without a Premier League title it was clear from very early on that that would become three, as Chelsea left the rest of the division in its wake.
Even worse, we had to endure the sight of Cristiano Ronaldo’s wobbly lip as a 2-1 defeat in Lisbon to Benfica left the team bottom of their Champions League group for the first time ever. Bad one. But, unnoticed by many, something strange happened to that inconsistent team in the February that pointed to much brighter things. After a particularly abysmal 4-3 humping at Blackburn, courtesy of a hat trick from one David Bentley, United would go on to win their next 9 games and 11 of their last 14 playing some slick, exciting football. It seemed to go largely unnoticed, as elements of the press delighted in the ‘Fergie over the hill’ narrative. The League Cup was won at Wembley, but that wasn’t deemed to be enough. United fan Rob Smyth of the Guardian wrote an infamously scathing assessment of the club, it’s manager, players and culture, one which he now admits was thankfully way off base. But the positive signs were obvious to some. The 2006/7 seasons remains the only year since I’ve been writing guff on the internet that I’ve predicted that United would win the Premier League title with a reasonable degree of certainty. It was my finest hour, a moment of clarity in a lifetime of cynicism. But it was obvious to me in those last few months of the 05/06 season that some serious swizzle was going down at Old Trafford. Fergie had hit upon the answers and United just ‘clicked’.
I’m very transparent at the best of times so you can no doubt see where I’m going with this. We all watched the Tottenham game with the same gobsmacked gurn, wondering where in the name of the sweet baby Jesus that came from. We still don’t know, but ‘it’ seems to be here to stay. Probably. Not only is ‘it’ hanging around, but ‘it’ is getting better, which seemed a tad unlikely after the master-class at Anfield. Of course, it was typical of United that the thunder-humping of City could not be a ninety minute affair and the team started and finished like a bunch of drunkards, as Aguero bookended a pulsating game of wonder-spunk with two well-crafted team goals. If Florentino is reading, and I’m told he’s an avid follower of these reviews, Casillas would have saved the second, with his c*ck. But in between the heart-disease inducing first and last ten minutes angels appeared and sang, and bunny rabbits hopped around the Old Trafford pitch and we all got hopelessly drunk on the wonders of human existence. That goes for the players too, who had a gay old time snapping at City players’ feet like very very angry wasps. Gael Clichy, in particular, got his wonky chops stung several times. Yaya Toure had an allergic reaction, developed anaphylaxis and missed 80% of the match unconscious in the centre circle.
With the ball United were equally as poisonous, particularly that Ashley Young chap, the one lots of people used to wish terrible accidents on on Twitter but now rim his a*se instead. It’s hard to identify an outfield player who has had a better season. He’s the archetypal Van Gaal player: dependable, consistent and most importantly adaptable. Left back, left wing-back, wide midfielder, he’s done them all and done them all well. So bravo Ash. He’s not the only one to have achieved redemption. Take that Fellaini dude. He was TERRIBLE under Moyes. Just horrible. We all wanted him gone. I was chuffed when he signed, but by the time last season finished retching its putrid innards all over us never wanted to see his stupid mushroom head again. More fool me, because now he’s been reinvented as a sort of middle-left attacking midfield thingy he’s having a right old knees up. Turns out that the player we saw at Everton was as good as he appeared. High fives to Louis for inventing a whole new position on the football field just to accommodate him. Who says the elderly can’t innovate?
Almost everyone was wonderful. Mata continued to display what a beautiful all-round human being he is with a tremendously taken offside goal (wins are always sweeter when p*ss is boiled) and Herrera was everywhere, with passes, tackles, dribbling things and lots of smiles his girlfriend’s mother must love. There was one piece of skill where he deftly switched the ball from right foot to left which left Fernadinho flat on his ar*e begging for mercy. No mercy was forthcoming. Michael Carrick swanned about doing his ‘making everyone else look more brilliant’ thingy before departing to an injury that has millions of fans turning to religion. Blind and Valencia also had solid games, although on a few occasions the latter had to atone for his own brain-f*rts. Only Jones and Smalling struggled, looking shaky throughout. As @danielharris amusingly quipped on Twitter,’Not long before “Do you watch Phil Jones play football?” is a question on life insurance forms’. Smalling was slightly less flaky, scoring his fourth goal of the season, equally the tally of one Radamel Falcao Garcia, the striker so unfairly judged because he plays in a team which creates little, is misused and under-appreciated by Van Gaal and bla bla bla bla bla f*cking bla. Also on four league goals is one Daniel of Welbeck, the Arsenal former-striker now substitute winger, whose exit from Old Trafford was painted as a terrible blunder, the ‘signing of the decade’ according to Jamie C*ntknapp. Not bad Smalls. You might win me over yet.
By the end City looked set to cry. Even a second goal with five minutes left against ten men couldn’t lift their pain and stop their bottom lips trembling. That makes it 8 defeats in 14 for the Berties and a first derby away defeat since 2011. Those four intervening years properly sucked. I think it’s safe to say that those demons have been well and truly exorcised. Particular pleasure should be reserved for the sight of Vincent Kompany hurling himself into a reckless challenge on Daley Blind for which he should have been dispatched to the Siberian salt mines and then getting hooked at half-time for being a bulb-bonced liability. Captain Fantastic. Even more amusing was the sight of his replacement, Eliaquim Mangala, stumbling about like a p*ssed giraffe. £32m people. And then there was poor Manuel, increasingly hollow-eyed and resembling David Moyes more every week. He’s no doubt toast, as the Old Trafford crowd reminded him, but the two Spanish chaps who sign the players should be first through the door. Of course, they won’t be. So adieu Senōr, you were too likeable to manage that lot anyway.
So here we are, four points above the boys in pastel blue and a top four place looking increasingly secure, which is nice given that we looked utterly dooooooommmeedddd after the defeat at Swansea. Alas, the fixtures get no easier from here on in, with Chelsea and Everton away next and Palace away and Arsenal still to come. Five weeks ago we’d all have laughed at the idea that this side could quite realistically win all of them. As things stand we don’t even need to. But this is a team that has suddenly clicked, is a joy to watch and can now beat anyone. The biggest test comes next week, but win or lose this is all starting to feel very early-2006. The only defeat in that 14 match end of season run was at Stamford Bridge. Let’s hope that that parallel isn’t repeated. In the words of the immortal John ‘Hannibal’ Smith, “I love it when a plan comes together”. Wise words comrade.
The week at United