Jubilation on the pitch after referee Chris Kavanagh blew his whistle, for a second time, was matched by a gnawed introspection from Manchester United supporters locked out of pulsating events at The Amex.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men used a season’s worth of luck to down Brighton & Hove Albion 3-2, via Bruno Fernandes’ landmark – for the Premier League – penalty kick after added time. Each shudder from the woodwork when it was rattled on five occasions by Saturday’s unfortunate hosts was felt within the hearts of the worried Red Devils faithful, of whom wounds remain raw from their chastening opening assignment against Crystal Palace.
Yet events back home a day later cast this, utterly remarkable, let-off in fresh light. Salvaging a first three points of 2020/21, at the second attempt, deserves some celebration and not rampant recrimination.
Sunday’s glee at Manchester City’s continuing defensive implosions within a 5-2 rout by Leicester City, which appeared to increase Pep Guardiola’s existential crisis, was fortunately timed. It also should not have been a surprise for anyone, truly, paying attention to the unprecedented disruption caused by COVID-19.
Fandom and concern go hand in hand. Anguish is an unwelcome by-product of adulation, familiar as elation.
Mitigation is, however, in bountiful supply for those of red, or sky blue, persuasion.
It is little more than a month since European knockout ties were being contested by these behemoths of the game.
Superstars attached to both clubs have contracted the infectious disease which defines this blighted year, a celebrated starlet from both sparked an international incident in Iceland, a truncated pre-season witnessed United lose their only friendly to Aston Villa and City eschew them all together, life remains disrupted in a conurbation of which stringent societal restrictions have been reimposed and crowds are locked out of desolate arenas for the foreseeable future.
In short, finding your rhythm within this cacophony is a tough ask. Especially when competing against opponents who ended their 2019/20 commitments in late July.
Palace, for example, had played four friendlies and earned a top-flight victory against Southampton before they conquered Old Trafford. A greater spring was in their step, regardless of resource or ability.
City downed a Wolverhampton Wanderers last week hampered by the same bitty preparations caused by Europa League commitments, then were picked apart by Brendan Rodgers’ fine-tuned Foxes.
This is not to ignore broader themes. Solskjaer’s inability to spot Brighton’s danger at the back stick should have cost him two points and fluidity in midfield is absent, while City’s lethargy off the ball and porous defensive shape sounds alarm bells first rung by last month’s Champions League quarter-final humbling by youthful Lyon.
But Benfica and Portugal centre-back Ruben Dias will soon step foot onto Etihad Campus. The lengthy – and enervating – chase of Borussia Dortmund and England sensation Jadon Sancho might finally be brought to a successful conclusion by United before October 5’s market close, among other targets.
Fresh faces bring fresh solutions, fresh energy.
Next month’s, misguided, international window, though, offers a guarantee of more disruption. It could be mid-November before true reflections of Mancunian might, or lack thereof, can be gauged.
The moment to, truly, panic is not now. Not even close for this coronavirus-impacted simulacrum of a season.
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