By Ivan Lim
When football resumed after a hundred-day hiatus on account of the coronavirus pandemic lockdown, I wished for Liverpool to win the title quickly so we could focus on the fight for the remaining Champions League places.
And I was hoping that Manchester United would win all of their remaining matches.
The first wish was quickly granted when Chelsea dispatched Manchester City 2-1 to allow Liverpool their first Premier League title, joining the ranks of such great teams as Manchester United (13 titles), Chelsea (5), Manchester City (4), Arsenal (3), Blackburn Rovers (1), and Leicester City (1).
My second wish died with the first Manchester United outing upon restart – in the 1-1 draw away to Tottenham Hotspur that inspired the now famous and fantastic rant from former United captain Roy Keane about the performance of David de Gea and Harry Maguire.
However, victories against Sheffield United (3-0), Brighton (0-3), Bournemouth (5-2) and Aston Villa (0-3) saw Manchester United earning the distinction of being the first team in the Premier League’s history to win four consecutive matches by at least three goals.
The reason for my wanting to see Manchester United doing well is that the biggest event in English football has always been a clash between Liverpool and Manchester United. But United have struggled lately and, let’s face it, they never resembled any threat to Liverpool at all this season, which isn’t very much fun for me as a neutral, even though they managed to steal a point when the Reds visited Old Trafford earlier in the season.
I was hoping United would make it five in a row when they hosted Southampton, or at least five wins, never mind the three-goal margin, but this was not to be – the United team looked jittery and jaded, and astonishingly conceded a Southampton equaliser in the sixth minute of added time, which also meant they lost an opportunity to move up to third place behind Liverpool and Manchester City.
Bruno Fernandes, who had been a revelation at the start of the year following his move from Portugal’s Sporting Lisbon in the January transfer window, continued his fine form at the restart, but by the time United faced the Saints, he looked like he could use a 100-day breather. And young Mason Greenwood’s rise in form finally stalled in that match, too.
United may have got back to winning ways with a 2-0 away win at Crystal Palace, but that performance looked laboured, too, with their slender one-goal lead from Marcus Rashford at the stroke of half-time always looking in peril until Anthony Martial finally doubled it on 75 minutes.
But despite United looking dishevelled and depleted, I felt they would rise to the occasion in their FA Cup semi-final tie against Chelsea at Wembley. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer may have gone on a 19-match unbeaten run, but he seemed hopelessly out of depth with the team he picked – they couldn’t hold on to possession and they had a poor, shattered goalkeeper who couldn’t hold on to the ball.
When Eric Bertrand Bailly had to be sent to hospital for a head injury – he had a cut on the back of his head following his aerial collision with teammate Harry Maguire – I wondered what was on Solskjaer’s mind. But Chelsea goals on each side of the halftime break is probably an indication that he was as clueless as I was.
The abject capitulation was completed when Maguire, with little pressure from Antonio Rudiger, bundled the ball past a stricken de Gea. There may have been a silver lining in Fernandes’ imperiously-struck 85th-minute penalty, but it did little apart from making the scoreline just a bit more respectable. Credit to Chelsea, though, for capitalising on one of United’s worst displays this season.
De Gea should have stopped the first two Chelsea goals, but we’ll leave the discussion of whether Wembley was the graveyard of his career for another day.
There are still two matches remaining in the Red Devils’ Premier League campaign and third place remains very much a possibility. Chelsea face a well-rested Liverpool team, who last lost to Arsenal, next and I’m pretty certain the newly-crowned champions have little desire to lose two consecutive games to the two FA Cup finalists, even if they have nothing meaningful to play for. The Blues then have to face Wolves, who are also fighting for a place in Europe.
Manchester United will now have to regroup and put up a strong performance when they play West Ham at Old Trafford. They will then visit an off-form Leicester City side for their last match of the season.
A month ago, predicting United wins for these two fixtures would have been so easy, but not now. Solskjaer will have to make his team believe in themselves again. He will probably give his old mentor Sir Alex Ferguson a call soon, if he hasn’t already. And when he does, I hope Fergie would bring out the old hairdryer on his Norwegian protege so he can wake up in time to win those last two games, and then strengthen the squad before next season.
Get a central defender who is faster than the arthritic tortoises currently manning the United backline. Recall Dean Henderson from Sheffield United. Buy Jadon Sancho. Buy whoever.
But first, win those last two matches for the United fans who have had to put up with the humiliation of seeing Liverpool win the Premier League title this season.
Trust me - they need that reprieve, badly.
This article, “Please, Solskjaer, win the last two matches for Manchester United fans”, originally appeared on Football Siao – Singapore’s craziest EPL website.