How things change. The last time United traveled to this part of the country, they conceded five goals and scored just as many during 90 incredible minutes and yet the game itself was nothing more than a mere backdrop to what was the day’s main event – Sir Alex Ferguson’s last ever game in charge of Manchester United.
As the travelling Reds basked in the May sunshine, incessenatly serenading their departing manager throughout the game, we all had the impression of witnessing a historic moment, one that few will ever forget and which has now tinged with melancholy, given the dismal turn things have taken since that day.
And so onto Greece, for what’s likely to be one of United’s last Champions League ties for a while, definitely at least until the 2015-16 season and definitely the last the Reds can reasonably be considered favourites for this season, given that Thursdays are increasingly likely to become the new Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
Fate was kind towards David Moyes and his men and while United’s 19-season spell in the Champions League coming to an end, the draw offers the Reds the best possible chance to advance to the quarter finals for the first time since 2010-11, for Olympiacos, with all due respect, shouldn’t cause too many concerns to United, not over two legs anyway.
Having spent last weekend away in Dubai while other clubs bothered with frivolousness such as the fifth round of the FA Cup and having presumably watched in awe as two of their Premier League rivals – even though it’s hard to fathom they could still see us in such a light – being taken apart by Bayern and Barcelona, United return to action tomorrow.
A trip to Crystal Palace should, in theory at least, be a rather exciting occasion – even though those who’ve had the misfortune of embarking in the public transport-induced ordeal that is getting to Selhurst Park will surely disagree – given that the Reds haven’t traveled to this part of South London since 2005.
Carlos Queiroz has insisted that David Moyes needs time at Manchester United and that the United manager “will be fine” as long as he’s afforded some patience by the fans and by the club’s hierarchy, even after his dreadful first season at Old Trafford, which currently sees United lying 11 points behind fourth placed Liverpool.
During his two spells at Old Trafford, the Portuguese coach saw United win three league titles and a Champions League trophy and he was credited with bringing the sort of tactical innovation into the team that United have sorely missed this season, with neither Moyes nor any of his staff looking too clued up in terms of turning things around on the pitch.
What a difference (almost) a year makes. 10 months ago United traveled in great spirits to North London having just clinched the league title, as Arsenal, through grinned teeth, welcomed the newly-crowned champions on the pitch with a guard of honour, while United fans reminded Arsenal fans just how good Robin Van Persie really was.
Less than a year on and the guard of honour has almost turned into a walk of shame, with United so catastrophically bad that even the novelty factor deriving from being crap after two decades of success has now worn off, Reds seemingly accepting that the United we all knew has simply evaporated this season.
The last seven days have been strange. United have lost against one of the worst teams in the league, they have seen the manager they didn’t deem fit enough to take over from Fergie defeat City in their own backyard after an incredible unbeaten run and have witnessed their captain announcing that, well, he’ll no longer feature in the team picture next summer.
And so the merry Premier League ride brings us to Fulham at home, a game that hardly gets the juices flowing but one we absolutely have to win, given the nature of the other weekend’s fixtures, with Liverpool hosting Arsenal and Spurs welcoming Everton in what is, effectively, almost a Champions League playoff.
Luckily for United, Fulham are as obliging a team to visit Old Trafford as Moyes could ever hope for, and Betbright have accordingly boosted United’s price to beat Fulham, up from 1/5 to Evens at https://www.betbright.com/lg/5900/444 – it’s a bankable win even in this hellhole of a season.
Away from the transfer deadline day shenanigans, ITK Twitter accounts and the dreaded “Sky Sport sources” line, for Manchester United and David Moyes there’s the small matter of a second Premier League game in four days to deal with.
Having finally got back to winning ways against Cardiff on Tuesday night, United travel to the Britannia, which, while it clearly isn’t the fortress the press have spent the last five years harping on about, remains a hotbed for dire football, generally windy and unpleasant days and, more importantly, some of the worst fans the Premier League has ever seen.
Had it not been for the surprising arrival of a diminutive, yet incredibly talented, Spaniard, tonight’s Premier League at Old Trafford would have been all about one man and one man only, as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer returns to the ground where he so often found the net during his playing days.
As Ole returns as a visitor, there are few doubts that he’ll be greeted to a raucous reception for Old Trafford does not forget his heroes – unless they wash up on Merseyside and kiss the Liverpool badge, that is – and the Norwegian, for his dedication to the club first and foremost, deserves a hero welcome.