As was made obvious on the pod this week, I don’t much care for the League Cup.
A trophy where the best teams send out their reserves has that same anti-climactic feel as in World Athletics events when USA and Jamaica put their B team in for the semi-final. Same badge, but an altogether different product. If I’m honest, I didn’t even have my heart set on watching the game last night; as any married person will be aware, remote control politics is a high stakes game. Foregoing viewing last night as a bargaining tool for more important televised moments seemed a likely move. So it was a pleasant surprise that my beloved decided that a bath was in order just before eight thirty. So taken aback was I by the realisation that I bounded up stairs to set the taps in motion. One of life’s great joys is watching Manchester United – so to be able to do so unexpectedly meant the serotonin was flowing even before the kettle had boiled.
Fletch and Ando party like it’s 2007.
Settling down for the final five minutes of the first half, brew in hand, reality bit. I remembered what the Coca Cola/Worthington/Carling/Capital One/Mickey Mouse trophy was like. Tonight’s ‘entertainment’ would be the same old laboured, disjointed performance that had characterised recent seasons. Ferguson has understandably viewed the contest as a chance to give forgotten players a chance to shine/attract buyers – Macheda and Diouf as wingers, Michael Owen labouring up front, etc. What an absolute delight then to see what actually looked like a football match. Not only that, but players seemed to actually raise their game for the occassion. Rooney’s first touch didn’t see the ball move into a new postal code for a start. Cleverley looked like the vibrant presence many have pinned their hopes on this year, popping passes around and revelling in the freedom of a more advance role. Biggest shock of the lot though was Anderson not playing like a star struck fan who had won a DHL contest to play for United. His passes were crisp and inventive, his use of the ball was intelligent and his driving runs were rightly rewarded with his name on the scoresheet. The positives didn’t stop there – a back four comprised of players new to the first team picture handled the challenge – hope springs eternal that the inevitable injury to Ferdinand or Evans won’t automatically require a redeployment of Carrick. Darren Fletcher survived ninety minutes and showed glimpses of the tenacity we have been missing so badly.
Powell has seized every opportunity to impress in his short United career.
My own personal favourite performance came from a player who spent just a small amount of time on the pitch yet made a big impression. It is a special feeling when you watch a cameo and have the sense that in years to come you will reflect on seeing a player at the start of a career that has since gone stratospheric. For all the fanfare surrounding the addition of Kagawa and van Persie, it might just turn out to be the youngster from Crewe who is considered our best business of the summer. Powell’s head appears on a permanent swivel, he plays continually on the front foot and his desire to exploit the merest opening is reminiscent of both Andres ‘the ghost’ Iniesta and Indiana Jones reclaiming his hat. It is some time since I have seen a player of such minimal experience, in such a paucity of minutes, look so accomplished. There is no better manager to judge and nurture such a talent as Ferguson and the early signs are of a player who will become a fixture in our first team before too long.
After the stuttering performance and fortunate result at the weekend, this game came as a real pick me up. A cohesive, exciting performance with two goals to cherish. The opposition were admittedly understrength, yet as their manager has opined today, Newcastle presented a formidable challenge. A challenge that we withstood, even allowing for a traditional wobble before the night was over. Real quality lurks beneath the surface of our regular eleven and it is comforting to know that whether enforced or by choice, the manager has the tools to make changes should our main men fail to fire.