Manchester United away will be a good test of how fair we’ve come this season. Actually, the very fact that I can type that and not immediately be carted off to the nearest nuthouse is itself a measure of how far we’ve come, irrespective of how the game pans out.The fact that we had only two points from eight games a few months back has had all meaning sucked out of it by ‘Arry’s narcissism, so it’s easy to forget that once upon a time this wasn’t just a relentless soundbite, but actually a damning indictment of what a wretched team we were.
How things have progressed, particularly since Palacios arrived. The gauge of our ability went from how we’d fare against Hull away, to Villa away, to Chelski at home – and suddenly I’m genuinely curious to see whether we can compete with the European and Premiership champions on their own patch. Blimey.
Top Four Next Season? Then Let’s Compete With Man Utd Today
It could be a particularly important game for the Hudd. I would actually expect Jenas to replace him if fit, but if Hudd gets the nod this would be a massive test of how good he really is. Opinion is split. The Hoddlers and the Haters have regularly made their respective cases. We’ve seen that he can pull strings at home to West Ham and a relegation-threatened Newcastle, but if he really is to push on and cement his place in the team, and indeed the England squad, he’ll soon have to start walking the walk against the best teams in the country. An anonymous 90 minutes today would do little to advance his cause.
Anonymity against Man Utd would be no disgrace – but the “no-disgrace-in-defeat” mentality is something I’d be glad to see the back of. Let’s see who can cut it against the best, and have a think about who to jettison in the summer.
Occasional Wobbles From Man Utd
Their fallibility has, for me, been epitomised by their goalkeepers. We’ve been rather shot-shy in recent weeks, and it would be a shame if this trend continued today, as Van der Saar has looked ropey every time I’ve seen him in recent months (cue a blinder from Van der Saar this afternoon). Thanks to the rock-solid Ferdinand-Vidic combo in front of him he kept around thirty thousand consecutive clean sheets and made the PFA shortlist, but he seems increasingly prone to spill, or flap, or get beaten at his near post. Foster’s most recent outings have also been notable for a couple of David James-esque calamities.
I don’t expect us to win, and I’m not holding out for that. But on the back of recent results, I’d love to see that our improvement extends to giving the best team around a real run for their money. Just some indication that we really have slightly closed the gap. The win against Chelski has already hinted at that. The consensus seems to be that we don’t need much tweaking in order to push for Europe or even the top four next season (although there’s still some debate as to precisely where such tweaking is needed). A good performance, if not necessarily a good result, would be further evidence that we’re inching closer, and that we’re well set for 09/10.