Ahead of tonight, many Reds – some privately, some less so – had begun trying to find some positives to draw from a possible derby defeat.
The biggest silver lining of all, according to the general consensus, was that a City win would complicate Liverpool’s title bid. But, went the counter argument, surely United will finally turn up for a game where, as far as they were concerned,only pride was at stake?
It had to happen eventually and it has. The roles have swapped and for the first time in almost three decades City arrive at Old Trafford as firm favourites. It’s them chasing the title (after dreams of a Quad…ops Treb…have been stupendously dashed) and it’s United who have got nothing else to play for if not local pride and, small time though it might sound, the chance of scuppering City’s title bid.
The caveat to that, of course, is that beating City tonight might hand Liverpool a significant boost in the title race and if it came down to City and Liverpool, I think we both know who we’d rather see lifting the trophy – spoiler alert: they don’t play in red and they don’t revel in self-pitying – but it’s hard to fathom the prospect of going into a derby without wanting to win it.
Eight months ago Wayne Rooney looked set to leave Old Trafford behind and join Chelsea. On Saturday he captained the team – not for the first time this season – scored one the best goals the club has ever seen and moved up to third in United’s all-time goalscoring list.
In what has been a dismal inaugural campaign, David Moyes’ handling of Rooney has been one of the few positives of United’s season and Saturday confirmed how pivotal the striker is to United’s future, particularly when he enjoys this sort of form, something that had somewhat gone missing over the last 18 months.
Reports in today’s newspapers suggest that Manchester United have agreed a deal worth £37m for Sporting Lisbon midfielder William Carvalho, which will bring the defensive midfielder to Old Trafford after the World Cup, as David Moyes looks to bolster his options in the middle of the park.
United have scouted Carvalho intensely this season and the 21-year-old was also on the radar of a host of other top European clubs – including Chelsea and Real Madrid – but the Mirror suggests that Ed Woodward has managed to get his man this time around, after failing spectacularly with bids for Ander Herrera and Cesc Fabregas last season.
What a strange season this has been for United. On Sunday they were humiliated on their own turf by Liverpool, on Wednesday they produced an utterly improbable and unexpected comeback in the Champions League,thanks to hat-trick from Robin Van Persie, who managed to dissipate reports describing him as unhappy, before picking up an injury that could sideline him for the rest of the season
Today they traveled to a traditionally tricky ground for them with a central midfielder filling in at centre-back and were gifted three points thanks to two goals from a player who was on the verge of leaving the club seven months ago, while he now ranks third among the club’s all-time goalscorers.
There’s no rest for the wicked and so, just three days after producing the sort of performance we had been demanding since August, United turn their attention back to the Premier League, desperately hoping to build on Wednesday’s positives to arrive to Tuesday’s night derby in slightly more buoyant mood than they’ve been all season.
United have made their life complicated all season and Saturday’s trip to East London is far from being an appealing prospect, given the Reds’ seemingly unwavering determination to make things difficult for themselves whenever they face West Ham at Upton Park, where West Ham have won their last three league games and where United have conceded at least twice in their last four visits.
Manchester United will face Bayern Munich in the quarter finals of the Champions League, after the Reds were handed arguably the hardest possible draw in today’s draw, with the first leg to be played at Old Trafford on April 1st, while the return leg at the Allianz Arena eight days later.
Bayern qualified for the quarter finals by knocking Arsenal out 3-1 on aggregate, winning 2-0 at the Emirates, before drawing 1-1 at home at the Allianz Arena and will enter the clash against United as overwhelming favourites, as they bid to become the first side ever to retain the Champions League.
Wayne Rooney has urged Manchester United to keep on attacking in each of their remaining games in a bid to salvage something out of a dismal season, while also insisting that an attacking, high-tempo brand of football is part of United’s DNA and the only way forward for the club.
Having been ponderous and sluggish when going forward throughout the campaign, for the first time this season United reverted to their normal selves on Tuesday night, as they put Olympiakos under pressure with a first half performance that might not have been vintage, but was a huge improvement on this season’s standards.