August gave us some mixed results, but we finished strongly by winning the European Supercup, and I somehow managed to win the manager of the month award.
But we’ve little time to reflect on our accomplishment as the games are coming thick and fast in September, and the first of six matches in the month sees us take on Leicester City at home.
Martin O’Neill has got his Leicester side set up in the same 3-5-2 that Harry Redknapp’s West Ham United used against us last month, with the strange split strikers idea. But in addition, O’Neill is using the experienced Ian Marshall as a libero in the centre of the back-three.
I feel no need to match their numbers in midfield and trust my standard 4-4-2. Ryan Giggs, Ludovic Giuly and Paul Scholes are all fit for selection.
We fly out of the blocks, and in the 10th minute Dwight Yorke finds the net from a free-kick, but referee Paul Durkin inexplicably rules the goal out and demands a retake. Yorke can’t get his second effort on target. We continue to dominate and Giuly hits the post, but at half-time it’s 0-0.
I start to worry that we’re in for another disappointing bore draw when Tim Flowers denies Yorke after 55 minutes. But, refusing to be denied, the Trinidad and Tobago striker gives us the lead. Flowers makes a few more key saves to keep us from extending our advantage, but Leicester pose little attacking threat and we see out the 1-0 win.
Next up, Olympiakos visit Old Trafford for our first Champions League clash of the season. The folically challenged future Bolton Wanderers legend Stelios Giannokopoulos is a (very long) recognisable name in their ranks, but he doesn’t make the squad for this one.
I stick with the same line-up that beat Leicester, with the returning David Beckham taking a place on the bench.
In only the second minute, Sasa Curcic gives the visitors a shock lead. But their lead doesn’t last long, as with 13 minutes on the clock Paul Scholes unleashes a trademark 20-yard rocket into the top corner. Half-time: 1-1.
With just over an hour played Ryan Giggs races through on goal and finishes calmly to put us ahead. Then, with 11 minutes to play, Alessandro Nesta heads home from a corner, registering his first goal for the club and securing three valuable points.
In the other game in our group, Parma swat aside Partizan Belgrade 3-0.
We travel to Teesside to face Middlesbrough next, and Nesta will have to sit this one out with a minor injury. My 20-year-old summer signing from Monaco, Phillipe Christanval, has been impressive in the reserves so I’ll give him a chance to start. Boro are managerless at the moment after Bryan Robson was sacked a couple of weeks back.
Gary Neville picks up an injury early on so Denis Irwin takes his place. After 28 minutes Paul Scholes heads his second goal in as many games to give us the lead. Early in the second-half, Jaap Stam is sent off for a second yellow card, forcing me to shuffle the deck. I realise I have no defenders on the bench, so Michael Silvestre moves to centre-back and Giggs will have to help out at left-back. Teddy Sheringham makes way for Beckham and I get men behind the ball to try and see out the win. Christian Ziege starts to get on the ball a lot and is causing some trouble. But my makeshift back-line holds out, and after 68 minutes we are awarded a dubious penalty, I won’t compain though. Giuly steps up and scores to give us a much appreciated two-goal cushion. Ziege continues to threaten but we see the game through.
I’m happy with the result but Neville’s injury will keep him out for two weeks, and Stam’s red card will earn him a one-match league ban.
We’re back in Champions League action with a potentially tricky tie away to Partizan. They play an ultra-defensive 5-3-2, with Djordje Tomic instructed to get forward from midfield.
Absolutely nothing happens in the first-half: 0-0. And after 74 minutes I shake things up in an attempts to inject some life into this dull affair. I bring on Andy Cole for Scholes and go 4-3-3. It has an immediate effect as, within 60 seconds, we get forward and win a penalty which Ole Gunnar Solskjaer scores for his first goal of the season. In an attempt to protect our lead, I take off Yorke and bring on Ronny Johnsen to sit in front of the back-four. In the 79th minute Roy Keane gets himself sent off. It doesn’t affect the score but he’ll be banned for the next Champions League match against Parma.
We play Bradford City next in the final Premier League game of the month. Our reserves played Bradford this week and 17-year-old Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored his first United goal. The Bantams play a very simple 4-4-2 with Dean Windass and Dean Saunders up front. They are 19th in the table and we should be beating them comfortably.
Solskjaer gets injured early on so Cole comes off the bench. We huff and puff for the first 45 minutes, but we muster little more than a handful on long-distance efforts which Matt Clarke easily saves.
With 15 minutes to play it’s still goalless, so I throw Giggs on for Phil Neville and go with an attacking 3-2-3-2 formation. Almost instantly a David Beckham shot from 20 yards break the deadlock. It finishes 1-0. Not the easy victory I was anticipating, and our lack of goals is a little concerning. But a win’s a win.
The League Cup thrid round draw has taken place and we’ll face Derby at home.
We finish the month with a crucial Champions League encounter against Parma at Old Trafford. We’ve both got six points from our opening two group games, so a win here would put us in a great position to qualify for the knockout stages.
But that’ll be easier said than done, as Parma currently have the likes of Gianluigi Buffon, Fabio Cannavaro, Lilian Thuram, Ariel Ortega, Amoroso and Hernan Crespo in their side. I’ll be without the suspended Keane and injured Solskjaer.
Parma fly out of the blocks as Crespo plays a one-two with Amoroso before forcing a fine save from Massimo Taibi. But then, after 14 minutes, Yorke scores to put us ahead. The rest of the half is back-and-forth with Crespo showing his class, but Taibi isn’t too troubled.
Parma take hold in the second half with Amoroso flashing a powerful effort just wide early on. Mario Stanic lashes a perfectly-struck volley over the bar with 12 minutes to play, as we cling to our slender lead. In the 85th minute Luciano Galletti is presented with a wonderful chance to draw his side level, but he can’t keep his nerve and pulls his shot wide. Full-time: 1-0.
September ends with six wins from six, I couldn’t have asked for much more. I am still slightly concerned that we aren’t scoring as many goals as we should be, and, with what’s left of my transfer budget, I’ll continue to search for a striker; David Trezeguet and Henrik Larsson are being monitored.
My buzz is killed a bit by this. Oh riquelme, what could’ve been. What right-minded government would deny the gifted playmaker a work permit to play for United? Conspiracy? Absolutely. Tony Blair claimed he was a Newcastle United fan but he was clearly in cahoots with Arsene Wenger in ‘99, trying to thwart our title bid.
But still, six wins from six; I’ll take it. And think of all the fuss that could’ve been avoided if this had actually happened way back when...
If you missed last week’s instalment of the CM 99-00 Challenge, you can find it here.
And if you’’d like to check out the series that inspired this feature, click here.