Apologies for the tardiness…
Speculating about what might have happened had Parker, Bale and/or VDV been fit is the very living, breathing embodiment of pointlessness (although it has not stopped yours truly moping on a near-daily basis about what might have been had Gazza tapped in against the Germans in Euro 96), but for the purposes of perspective following our SECOND CONSECUTIVE DEFEAT (gasp) it might be salutary to note that with the aforementioned gentlemen on board our lot probably would have prevailed. Having effected a mighty convincing impression of being the superior team in general, the addition of any of those three might also have impacted upon some of the crucial specifics of proceedings. Par example, ‘tis hard to imagine Parker or even Bale switching off to fiddle with their hair as Modders did for the second goal, while Parker again might have made a difference when Kaboul backed off for the third. Moreover, all our possession and dominance could feasibly have translated into something infinitely more satisfying than swooshy Sky Sports graphics had Bale or VDV been gambolling across the turf. Desperately frustrating to have to play a game of this magnitude missing such key personnel, but with human cloning technology still liable to misfire we simply have to accept such absences.
The Reshuffled Pack
Such is Parker’s unadulterated magnificence that it literally takes two men to replace him, but Sandro and Livermore performed admirably. Alas, this reshuffling meant that Modric’s myriad talents were not fully exploited, as he struggled to make sense of a job description loosely pertaining to activity on the left, but we nevertheless displayed various shades of wholesome attacking brio. Lennon’s final ball, as ever, lacks a certain refinement, but all the preceding scuttling tends to prompt the ringing of alarm bells and panicked swinging of legs amongst opposition ranks. With Adebayor and Saha again doing plenty to keep United occupied, at the apex of an old-fashioned 4-4-2, we were jolly close to hammering home our advantage.
However, the rather cruel lesson from all of this was that against the elite there is precious little margin for error. By somehow hanging on through the use of assorted fingernails and teethskins, and then taking advantage of the slightest lilywhite lapses, United fairly pointedly illustrated to our heroes what needs to be done to take the next step, from majestic Top Four glory-blazers to actual ruddy champions. The very best teams tend to do eke out such outcomes, having spent all game scrambling to survive. As the resident agriculturalists of AANP Towers have pointed out, thus is the wheat separated from the chaff.
That Cursed Horrible Wench, Lady Luck
That said, the gentlest soupcon of luck would not go amiss just once in a while for our lot. He being Adebayor and they being United it was thoroughly unsurprising that our first half “goal” was disallowed, but in a more lenient mood the ref may have noted that there was precious little means of avoiding a handling of the ball at full speed. (That said, had it been the other way round the howls of protest from AANP Towers would have lingered long in the air). Further ill luck was the decision by United’s part-time clown and resident 8 year-old goalkeeper De Gea to punctuate his season of general amateurishness with an absolutely blinding save from Livermore’s deflected shot in the second half. And while I’m having a whinge, how the dickens did a standard, fairy harmless foul by Sandro earn him a yellow card?
General grumpiness therefore pervades the air around these parts, but this whole sequence of frustrations ought not to derail the third-place push. Our football remains perky, we have outstanding players due to return and our remaining fixtures appear thoroughly winnable each and every one.