Finally, it’s time to go see Manchester, UK’s third biggest city in terms of population and of course, one of the most recognizable football teams in the world, Manchester United. Also known as the Red Devils who were extremely popular during the 1990s and early 2000s due to players such as David Beckham, Ryan Giggs, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Wayne Rooney. That was probably the best era for Manchester United in what was called the Ferguson years when Alex Ferguson was the manager of the team leading United to multiple trophies with 2 of them being the Champions League trophy. Since then, Manchester United has seen its ups and downs over the years but I thought that going to the city of Manchester alone was a good idea anyways – to see something new and different.
I’ve always thought that Manchester was Great Britain’s second biggest city but actually, the city of Birmingham is in fact bigger. And despite this statistical fact, Birmingham does not have any first league football clubs in the Premier League right now unless you count the Premier League’s Wolverhampton Wolves who play just northwest of Birmingham (which might be considered part of its larger metro area). In the city alone, the best that Birmingham can offer are Birmingham FC, Aston Villa FC, both currently in the second league. In the past, those two teams have played in the top league before but of course, the competition is awfully fierce to stay at the top. That tells you the power of sports marketing when two giant heavyweight teams can prop an entire city up onto the world’s radar screen as both United and City have done for Manchester. Some people even include West Bromwich Albion but the team is not actually in Birmingham city-proper (but very close-by).
Manchester United’s home station, Old Trafford, is pretty famous for not just being the home grounds for the home team but for also holding famous events such as World Cup games, English football team games, rugby games, cricket games, lots of concerts and even baseball during World War II when US troops were stationed there. But obviously the history that goes through the veins of the stadium is what intrigues the Manchester United fans and regular football fans in general.
Unlike what I saw in SV Wehen Wiesbaden, Manchester is world class. In this game, Manchester United appeared to be a lot more active than what I saw on TV due to the manager change that occurred earlier in the season when the team fired Jose Mourinho and brought in one of its own former players, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as the caretaker manager. Solskajer was a manager in the Norwegian football club in his native country of Norway before the team hired him to hopefully right the ship, not necessarily fix everything. Previously, the team was in turmoil due to Jose Mourinho’s actions and decisions which puzzled a lot of people while at the same time would make United’s best players such as Paul Pogba, David de Gea, Romelu Lukaku, Juan Mata, and Alexis Sanchez question Mourinho and even desire to get out of Manchester. There were even rumors that Pogba wanted to get out and join FC Barcelona despite being paid big bucks to come back from Juventus. But Solskjaer has defied the odds and gotten this team not only back on track but playing unbelievably back at an elite level again.
Due to the changes that Solskjaer put in, the players are happy again and no one wants to leave. Instead, the team has won or drawn all of its games with the exception of one loss which was due to PSG. Despite the eventual setback in Champions League against PSG, Solskjaer has done so well that the team is looking to hire him full-time. His managerial skill has already shown its tactical abilities in this game against Southampton even with the number of injuries to the Manchester squad. In this game, Manchester United employed a 4-4-2 lineup with an emphasis on spacing but I really think that times it was just a smokescreen for a 4-3-2-1 positioning tactic where Romelu Lukaku would be on the wing and then all of a sudden become a 9 striker. Southampton played a counterattacking style where they would go from a 4-3-3 to a 3-3-4, depending on the situation.
Their tactical strategies would clash as Southampton scored on a counterattack with a rocket-shot in the midst of all these offensive charges by Manchester United. But before you knew it, Manchester United would charge back with 2 straight goals to pump up the crowd. Southampton counterattacked again before they scored again on a stunning free kick until Romelu Lukaku got setup with a great pass in the front of the box to score the game winner (and his second goal of the day) to seal the deal. Manchester later got a penalty which Paul Pogba decided to take which puzzled me because I thought that he should have given it to Lukaku for the possible hat-trick, but instead Pogba went head with the penalty…. and missed! Well, the goalie stopped the penalty but it didn’t really matter as this was all during extra time as Manchester United was up 3-2.
Now that I’ve seen Manchester United, only one team remains that I have not seen of the vaulted Premier League Six which is Liverpool FC. I don’t know why and I don’t know how but Liverpool is one of those cities where it’s difficult to travel to. Even people from Liverpool will fly in/out of Manchester Airport instead of Liverpool Airport so that tells others something about the city despite Liverpool having two teams (Liverpool FC and Everton) in the Premier League.