Okay, so, yes, it’s just a preseason friendly. There’s nothing stake…and yet. And yet. Any match against Man U is going to be fraught with drama, almost as much as a North London Derby. For those of you too young to remember it, the rivalry between these two clubs once seethed and roiled like a cauldron, and it may just have peaked back in October 2004 when Wayne Rooney’s dive “earned” a penalty in the 73rd minute and later scored to win the match 2-0, thus ending our unbeaten run at 49 matches.
Go back and watch the highlights. Referee Mike Riley seemed to do everything in his power to gift Man U this match, ignoring various Man U fouls before quickly awarding the game-changing penalty after the lightest of contact from Campbell on Rooney, the latter selling the contact with all of the conviction and sincerity of a two-bit whore. These days, for better or worse, such simulation might have seen Rooney being booked. If you’re still unsure about the tenor of this match, watch Van Nistelrooy’s reaction to converting the pen. Listen to Old Trafford roar. It was as if this one goal had in one fell swoop won Man U a quadruple. Of course, anyone would celebrate defeating the Invincibles, It’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance. For Van Nistrelrooy, who had famously struck the crossbar with a stoppage-time penalty in September 2003. Mayhem. Madness. Martin (Keown).
Okay, so the rivalry has cooled a bit since Ferguson and Wenger retired and each club suffered and staggered through years of less-than-stellar campaigns. Under new managers, we each found our way back to Champions League spots and are almost certainly eyeing each other as direct rivals to supplant Man City from the top spot. Man U have been quietly ambitious in the transfer market as Ten Hag tries to rebuild his squad, having signed Mason Mount and André Onana. Ten Hag can’t be helped by the drawn-out saga over whether or when the Glazers will sell the club, a saga that makes our six-month pursuit of Declan Rice look breathtakingly rapid by contrast. It’s hard to feel much sympathy for these rivals, given the financial clout they’ve used to lord it over the rest of the Prem since its founding. They’ve been almost Boehly-esque (Boehlian?) in their spending, frittering money away as if they were playing Football Manager in real life. Despite those resources, our rebuild is leagues ahead of theirs, and Saturday gives us a chance to remind them of the current pecking order.
Okay, so I started two consecutive paragraphs in the same way. The reality is that this is just a preseason friendly, and neither side is likely to treat it as anything but. Most of the players are probably too young to have experienced first-hand how intense this rivalry once was, and each manager is probably more interested in tinkering and experimenting than in winning. I’m not just hedging my bets in the event that we lose. Should we win, I’d give the result the same treatment I gave to our 5-0 thrashing of the MLS All-Stars. Well, that was wonderful. A good time was had by all. I’m pooped. I’m always up for defeating an old rival.
In the end, if we win, we’re going undefeated and winning the league, maybe even a treble. If we lose, it was just a preseason friendly.