A team in crisis facing the runaway league leaders. A team in decline facing the new kings of English football.
That’s how it had been billed.
Luckily for us, however, Manchester United don’t do scripts, if anything they enjoy nothing more than defying them.
To some he’s the man tasked with saving Manchester United through a skilfully prepared potion of inch-perfect passes and delicate flicks, to others he’s simply an overrated footballer who will never have what it takes to grab a game by the scruff to its neck, while to others yet he remains an outrageously talented player who will follow Juan Sebastian Veron in the list of those who just “did not fit the system”.
Whatever your stance on Shinji Kagawa is, the Japanese splits opinions with the same incisiveness with whom he split defences wide open when playing for Borussia Dortmund.
As Manchester United and Arsenal face each other on Sunday, it’ll be impossible not to cast our minds back to transfer deadline day and wonder how things would have panned out had United agreed to sign Mesut Ozil, rather than deeming the German international too expensive, thus allowing him to join the North Londoners.
Since his arrival at the Emirates, the former Real Madrid man has been inspirational for the Gunners, who have won eight games and drawn one after losing at home to Aston Villa on the opening day of the season and arrive at Old Trafford with a five point lead over second-placed Chelsea.
With less than two months to go before the January transfer window opens, the second instalment of the silly season is about to get underway and considering the farce that unfolded during the summer, United can be expected to be at the centre of attention yet again – although hopefully not for the wrong reason this time.
Despite a rather unimpressive start to the season, the Reds are only three points adrift of second placed Chelsea and two points behind free-spending and free-scoring Manchester City, but while David Moyes seems to have moved a lot closer to developing an established XI, it’s undeniable that the United manager could do with some quality signings.
According to Wayne Rooney, it’s too soon to consider Arsenal favourites to win the Premier League this season and the United striker has played down the Gunners’ threat ahead of Sunday’s showdown at Old Trafford.
After losing at home to Aston Villa on the opening day of the season, Arsenal have gone to register eight wins and a draw in the next nine games and currently sit at the top of the table, five points clear of second-placed Chelsea, but Rooney insists it’s too soon to draw conclusions.
David Moyes has refused to criticise Ashley Young after the United winger appeared yet again to dive in order to win a penalty last night against Real Sociedad, as United squandered three good opportunities to take a decisive step towards qualification in Group A.
In his latest attempt to usurp Tom Daley’s spot in Britain’s diving team, Young went to ground with customary ease five minutes after coming a substitute, when Sociedad defender Markel Bergara appeared to slightly pull his shirt after Young had played a quick one-two with Shinji Kagawa just inside the box.
For a game played on Bonfire Night, United’s 0-0 draw against Real Sociedad showed a remarkable lack of spark, which still leaves United one point clear of Bayer Leverkusen and three clear of Shakthar Donetsk, with a trip to Germany likely to play a big role in deciding United’s destiny in Group A.
Hardly an ideal scenario by any means, and one that could have been easily avoided had United done just a little bit more tonight.
Manchester United will take on Real Sociedad tonight knowing that a win in San Sebastian would put them on pole-position to clinch qualification to the round of 16, as United enter tonight’s match only three points away from the 10-point tally that is normally considered crucial to progress to the second stage of the competition.
In the first half at least, Saturday’s win against Fulham showed glimpses of the ruthless and clinical United of yesteryear and having won the last four matches in all competitions and having extended their unbeaten run to seven games, David Moyes wants to continue such a positive run ahead of Sunday’s clash against Arsenal at Old Trafford.