Manchester United: The sleeping giant
Manchester United - A behemoth off the field, seeking to reclaim past glory on it
After a more than palpable penalty shootout, the Luzhniki Stadium was painted in a sea of red on that fateful night in Moscow as Manchester United were crowned Champions League winners. Sir Alex Ferguson led his flamboyant side to the highest honour in European club football. The Red Devils finally tasted success that had eluded them for close to a decade.
Sir Alex then guided the team to two more Champions League finals where they were outdone by possibly one of the greatest outfits of our era in the form of Barcelona.
Fast forward to 2017 and United find themselves in Skopje, which played host to a Super Cup Final. A mouthwatering clash awaited the Manchester club against Real Madrid, restoring 'parity' in many ways for a club that has been signed off the highs that it was used to. United's reacquaintance with Ronaldo typified the different journeys that the club and individual have been on over the last few years.
While Ronaldo has gone from strength to strength lapping up three more Champions League titles, his former side have struggled to even qualify for the competition.
It is evident that Jose Mourinho has been tasked with re-engineering a side that has fallen flat on all footballing accounts in recent years. But the Super Cup Final highlighted similar problems for United that have persisted for quite some time now.
As Madrid's midfield trio of Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and Isco weaved patterns around the Old Trafford outift, United showed no signs of being able to dictate tempo, being loose in possession and toothless in attack. With the exception of Matic, who proved to be a thorn in Madrid's fluidic motion, Herrera and Pogba struggled to give United any impetus in controlling the ball in middle of the park.
Given Madrid are the Champions League holders, there was always going to be a gulf in class. But sadly the battle was lost on the footing where United seem to be keen to build their 'spine' from. In Pogba, who Jose believes to be one of the elite players in the world, and Herrera, a fan favourite who grew in stature with his performances last season, the Red Devils see the present and the future. In them lie the heartbeat of the dressing room and the foundations to build a world class elite team again. But the Galacticos of Perez proved how far a distance this English outfit has to travel to get to where they once were.
Under Ed Woodward, executive vice-chairman, Manchester United have gone down the Galactico route of buying talent over the last few years. While the commercial appeal has shot through the roof, United's footballing prowess on the pitch has been underwhelming, to say the least. But in Mourinho, the Red Devils have a proven winner who is looking for redemption after having fallen out with his former club Chelsea, for the second time.
Since Mourinho's arrival, United have become a tighter unit at the back. De Gea, Bailly and Valencia offer a good mix of exuberance and experience in equal measure. Last season saw a tepid United attack that, despite boasting of Zlatan Ibrahimovic up front, found goals hard to come by. Lukaku's addition to the side is a welcome change that gives the Europa League winners pace in the attack, something they desperately lacked while Zlatan led the charge.
With so much resting on the young shoulders of Lukaku and Rashford to deliver up top, the likes of Pogba and Herrera need to elevate their games to a level from which Jose can mount serious challenges, for not only the Premier League title, but also European challenges in the coming years.
With no Rooney to sing or root for, the Old Trafford faithful will now turn to a new dawn - with the likes of Rashford, Lukaku, Pogba spearheading the illustrious English club. The maturity of its constituents will determine how far United can travel in closing that Galactico gap. Will the Sleeping Giant finally awaken?