16 not so bad things that happened in a bad season for Manchester United
Well, it’s not been great. Should we just focus on the good times, then? It’s not been easy to put together the not-bad things of the season just gone, but there are a few that stand out: David Moyes’ reckless – or pioneering? – use of his official Manchester United mouse mat, the 4-1 opening day win over Swansea, Robin van Persie’s triumphant celebration against Arsenal, Danny Welbeck’s goalscoring form over Christmas, the sight of Tom Cleverley and Alex Buttner standing over a free-kick in the Cup, the fans in general, Anderson leaving in January, Juan Mata and David de Gea’s burgeoning friendship, like an old photo of a young couple kissing amidst the wreckage of war, Juan Mata’s blog, Steven Gerrard hitting the post and missing out on an Old Trafford hat-trick, and United’s brilliant and baffling away form. And here are some other highlights:
1. Januzaj vs. Sunderland
There was very much a thirst for Adnan Januzaj’s full debut before Adnan Januzaj’s actual full debut, so impressive was he in pre-season and in his early cameos from the bench. What had excited fans was just how much his youthful enthusiasm was complemented by genuine talent. That burst of pace from deep, the willingness to take on defenders, a few decent crosses … is he really a Manchester United winger? Despite all of this, nobody could have seriously predicted the evening’s events at Sunderland (not to make this sound like Januzaj had a Cantona moment in the stands). United were even more atrocious as usual, and probably didn’t even deserve Januzaj’s rescue act with all the freebies they offered their hosts. Fortunately, Sunderland were kind enough to score just one, allowing Januzaj his moment. His first was fairly straightforward, converting a low Patrice Evra cross, but a goal wasn’t exactly inevitable. United, with Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie as sluggish as they’ve ever been, were not really creating chances. As it was, Januzaj, not for the last time, was United’s only real performer. His teammates sought him every time they picked up the ball, and the Belgian himself showed a few good touches coming from the flanks (“a few good touches” is the thing people absolutely rave about). He was the only player that looked like he could win the game: and so he did, hitting a spectacular left-footed volley from a tricky angle. Having scored what eventually turned out to be the winner, his celebration was not as muted this time. Nor was it for relieved fans, who had it confirmed that the boy was a star.
Just before his side took on Manchester United in the Champions League Round of 16, Olympiakos coach Míchel González revealed that he likes Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie and Adnan Januzaj. According to him, these were “good players”. Weeks earlier, also in preparation for United, Arsenal Wenger commented on the “quality they have going forward”, mentioning Van Persie, Juan Mata and Januzaj. There’s a lot of sense in picking out players based on reputation, as we might find with someone like Van Persie. For those in a position not as privileged, say, in their debut season, standing still does not do. And Adnan Januzaj certainly doesn’t, impressing both more than expected at this stage and, tellingly, when others haven’t. It’s a pretty great achievement, despite how poor United have been, that Januzaj has ended his first season as among the main men. With all that talent, the fact that he’s still very young figures a lot less with how he’s perceived. Look at how Hull’s Steve Bruce put it, after another stunning Januzaj performance, perhaps his best since Sunderland away: “It can’t be dark times when you have got someone like Januzaj,” said Bruce, probably cursing Stephen Quinn under his breath. “He’s only 18 and looks like a real player. In Januzaj, for me, they have got the outstanding player in Europe at the moment.” He is the season’s highlight. Bruce has got one thing wrong, though: he’s 19. Where does the time go?
3. 5-0 vs. Leverkusen
Though PSG would later expose Bayer Leverkusen as simply not good enough for the big stage, United’s thrashing of the Germans remains their most satisfying performance. David Moyes’ side played quick attacking football in the middle of an injury crisis, with Wayne Rooney, Nani and Shinji Kagawa all delivering. The win was a welcome break from all the losing and drawing, as Moyes continued to make a decent account of himself in Europe. Just let him have this.