On the 21st of September around 12.45pm, United fans were sat back with their feet up or pint in hand brimming with excitement at the idea of a season with this new look United side under the brilliant Van Gaal.
Half an hour later most had switched off their televisions in disgust, sank a few more ales and taken to the internet to discuss why this would be another season of abject failure.
Nothing better summarises the fickle nature of football than that fixture. United went from title contenders to mid-table mediocrity quicker than a Tom Cleverly back pass.
What a difference a Christmas break makes. A month ago Chelsea had won the league. Southampton and West Ham were going to be in the Champions League. And families across Britain were hopeful that their lives would mean something in 2015.
Fast forward to Monday morning and the Nation is furious they can’t wear pyjamas to work while simultaneously drowning in coffee. A wet realization has soaked commuters. This year is going to be exactly the same as the last.
After the cans have been cleared away, the taste of ale scrubbed from your mouth and you’ve snuck out without her, noticing football fans can get back to the important things in life.
The best thing about January 1st is the promise of football. While everyone else is focusing on a new year and a new start, Macaulay Culkin swears that this is the year he gets his life back on track and Rene Zellweger promises no more plastic surgery in 2015, United fans will hope to nurse a hangover with victory at the Britannia stadium.
Realistically Tottenham have become a team with the same manager merry-go-round as Real Madrid, but with the London side it’s been more like aiming for Kate Upton covered in chocolate but ending up with Kerry Katona and a half empty bottle of curry sauce. This preview is written with Mauricio Pochettino currently at the helm, but keeping in mind this could change by Sunday.
So when United face Neil Warnock’s side on Sunday they will be coming up against a team with a leaky defence, questionable performances but the ability to grind out results. Sounds familiar.
After United breezed past one mid-table side last weekend with relative ease, fans hope this weekend will be just as formulaic. It is likely that Aston Villa will provide a sterner test than the side that arrived at Old Trafford a week ago, who were what can only be described as a real poverty team.
Although performances haven’t been spectacular, they haven’t needed to be. This would usually be the time the ever insightful pundit Andy Townsend would roll out the cliché, if you can’t be good, be lucky.
This world has seen many atrocities. Natural disasters, genocides, chemical warfare, Kerry Katona. Each as upsetting and as mentally scarring as the last. Features of this existence that make many question whether it’s worth bringing children into this world. Only one event could single headedly overshadow these barbaric occurrences. Leaving them all to pale in significance.
Of course this humanity-destroying, hope-dissolving, prospect-disintegrating event would be Liverpool wining the Premier League title.
The only way to start this preview is to simply to say, even Liverpool beat this lot.
Something that after last season is said with immense satisfaction. Part of the reason for this satisfaction is that last season this fixture would have been labelled a “mid table clash” with very little consequence. Arsenal and Liverpool fans revelled in United’s mediocrity. Twelve months later this fixture rolls around again, but this time it is a key 90 minutes in the battle for the top four.
Whisper it, but United might be on the way to redemption. They’re not quite there, of course, but November was as encouraging a month as we had witnessed since lifting the trophy in May 2013. Three games, nine points, two clean sheets and a first away win, all while United’s direct rivals for fourth place – which, like it or not, is the only realistic target for this season – dropped points, allowing Louis Van Gaal’s troops to sneak into the top four.
Beating the likes of Crystal Palace and Hull City at home should be a routine exercise for United, but if last season taught us anything is that nothing should be taken for granted and, therefore, November’s mini-revival was more than welcome, particularly as it’s been achieved with a squad ravaged by injuries.
A win against Stoke would lift United within one point of third place, ahead of Southampton’s trip to the Emirates tomorrow night, but Mark Hughes’ men are likely to prove a sterner test than Hull did on Saturday.