There’s not much I’d take from Blackpool fans and I’m particularly loving how they’re getting all that “plucky little…” stuff they used to rip shreds off us for, but there is something that I am envious of and that’s the gidiness of those first flushes of top flight football. Walking into Old Trafford, 70,000 people, The Theatre of Dreams, all those international stars, how can it get better than that”. It’s those moments that allow you to believe the Sky myth and be glad to be part of it.
And then it’s “why’s he playing 4-3-3?”, getting ripped apart for your naivety, realising that Wayne Rooney is probably the best player you’ve seen in the flesh, no it’s Ryan Giggs, no it’s Ronaldo, now it’s Rooney again. It’s all very scary, but you still walk away, safe in the knowledge that there’s only a few teams that can play like United and apart from those you’ve done alright this season. But it’s all downhill from there as the shiny gloss wears off and you realise that for every United waiting to tear you apart there’s a Fulham and a Middlesbrough ready to grind something out of you and as much as the greed league is bad, it’s the fear league that ruins the romance of it all.
Still, I know that walking up out of the concourse at Old Trafford now would be as much of a buzz as it was the first time around but £42 is £42 and whilst that sort of outlay is okay for a first date or anniversary, there’s not enough romance left to pay that much for a run of the mill day out, especially if she’s bringing that prozzy shagging, chicken nugget eating overpaid oaf of a boyfriend is going to be there.
I don’t mean that, if I were going to Old Trafford then it would be as much to see how the “new” Latics could cope with the likes of Rooney. Apparently our changes of defeat increase massively if he plays, united have won 72% of games with Wayne and 47% of games without (thanks @optajoe), but do you think that big Tony Alcaraz would take pride in keeping a little pea quiet when he could have brought down a giant?
And you can’t underestimate the influence that Rooney has had on games between the two sides with nine goals in our eleven meetings over the last 5 seasons and Latics hearts in mouths every time he gets the ball. Not that nine goals is that impressive when you consider that United have managed 35 in those games, Latics managing just the four in return and absolutely no points to boot. Our bogey team? Possibly, with Nottingham Forest the only other league team we’ve never managed to beat and Forest’s record is nowhere near as impressive.
But it’s not just us, is it? United’s home record is second to none in the League and they’ve lost only one of their last 17 league games at Old Trafford. The crumb of comfort is that it was a team in blue that did it. Not that we should get carried away, that team in Blue was Chelsea and we’ve seen how far behind them Latics are already this season. Still we can always look at last season for confidence, not in how we played mind, just that it can’t be anywhere near as bad, there was talk of Fulham being a terrible performance but Latics ruined my Christmas night out last season by playing like eleven Ali Dias.
Even if they can’t be expected to play worse, can playing better get us anywhere? It’s probably safe to say that it’s going to be a struggle. But we knew that anyway. Talking this week, Bobby has suggested that it’s all in the mind and you have to give some credence to the idea. If I think it’s going to be a struggle, you think it’s going to be a struggle and the players think it’s going to be a struggle, then in all likelihood, it will be one. If we all believe that we can get something, then, well it’s worth a go, as long as no one has to suffer listening to Cher to get in the right frame of mind.
It’s Bobby’s job to convince the lads that they can get something out of the game and he’s got a track record now in managing that in big games. In turn it will be the players’ jobs to convince the 60-odd thousand United fans that they’re not going to have it all their own way. You might think that this should be about how heavily we get beat but I bet you thought that after Torres scored last Wednesday night.
United are hardly in the greatest of form so far this season, they’ve already drawn with West Brom at Old Trafford and whilst we usually come across them when they’re rolling this might represent Latics best chance yet of upsetting the balance and being a little more than an irritant to the Reds. Of course a lot will depend on whether Rooney makes it back from Legoland in time and just how knackered everyone is after their mid-week travels and travails.
It’s not very romantic but I fancy Latics to make this a difficult game for United. I don’t know what that means in terms of outcomes but it probably won’t make for a pretty game. It’s not particularly romantic but the ability to turn games like these into ugly affairs, to stop the other team playing and earn the right to play is one that is fairly essential if Latics are going to improve in the long term. Fulham and Boro may have spoiled the Premier League dream for me, but after five years dreaming, maybe it’s time for some reality?
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