With 10 games crammed into January 2000, we decided to break this instalment of the Championship Manager Challenge down into two digestable chunks.
Part one saw us travel to Brazil for the inaugural World Club Championship and steamroll our group-stage opponents to reach the final, where Real Madrid lie in wait. Here’s how we got on . . .
Real Madrid go with a front two of Fernando Morientes and Nicolas Anelka, and former Liverpool winger Steve McManaman is a familiar face in midfield. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer isn’t fit to start, and Roy Keane and Ryan Giggs barely make the cut based on their condition.
We got off to a pretty horrible start when Anelka puts Madrid ahead after just 5 minutes. And on 18 minutes, our misery was almost doubled when only the post prevented Morientes from doubling his side’s lead. Massimo Taibi was on form during the first half an hour to keep the deficit manageable, and as half-time approached we grew into the game, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic becoming a nuisance. But in the second period, McManaman scored Madrid’s second and that was pretty much all she wrote. Full-time: 2-0.
We return to England disappointed not to have another trophy in our carry-on luggage, but overall, we gave a good account of ourselves.
Domestic action reconvenes with a trip to Anfield to take on Liverpool. Roy Keane’s suspension means that Ronny Johnsen has to start in midfield; I’m not feeling too confident.
And it turned out my trepidation was warranted: Liverpool took advantage of our jet lag to thrash us 4-1. Ibrahimovic netted a consolation goal, by which point a Patrick Berger double and strikes from Steven Gerrard and David Thompson had done the damange. After the game the board let me know of their displeasure at this result.
We’ve got Middlesbrough at home next, which should be a good opportunity to bounce back. But before then, I get the news that Ibrahimovic has been injured in training and will be out for three weeks -- Shit!
Having been unable to bring in a top quality striker, I’d become almost embarrassingly reliant on the 18-year-old since giving him his debut. Dwight Yorke will have to step up and lead the line.
Oh, what’s that? Yorke’s now out for 10 days? Brilliant. And our captain and best player, Roy Keane, has picked up an injury too.
So, Middlesbrough at home. Despite our current injury crisis, I’m encouraged by the amount of names in the away side’s line-up that I don’t recognise; not the most intimidating team to visit Old Trafford.
Eight minutes into the match, one of those names I didn’t recognise gets written on the scoresheet -- David Colins. A quick glance at his profile reveals that he is a 19-year-old striker with seven goals in his last 10 Premier League games. After half an hour, Boro are reduced to 10 men when Matthew Spring is sent off, and Solskjaer quickly equalises.
In the second half, Ludovic Giuly scores from the spot to put us ahead. But our lead doesn’t last long as Collins scores again to pull the 10 men level. Solskjaer puts us back in the lead with 15 minutes to go, but it’s all Boro by this point. Collins rattles the post twice in the final 10 minutes, but Jesper Blomqvist scores with three minutes left to seal the three points for us. Full-time: 4-2. *Hurriedly makes bid to sign Collins*
Our penultimate game of the month is the first leg of the League Cup semi-final away to Tottenham Hotspur. I’m faced with a selection dilemma for this one as we are scheduled to play Arsenal in the FA Cup in three days’ time. I take the risk of fielding my strongest team and hope they’ll make it through unscathed.
A Tim Sherwood volley in the opening minute put the home side ahead. Spurs should have been reduced to 10 men when John Scales went in two-footed on Andy Cole, but somehow the defender got away with only a yellow card. Then, in the opening minute of the second half, Scales, the man who shouldn’t even be on the pitch, doubled Tottenham’s lead. David Ginola made it 3-0 late on, and, despite Solskjaer’s late goal, a massive uphill battle awaits us in the second leg at Old Trafford next month.
We finish the month by taking on runaway Premier League leaders Arsenal for a place in the FA Cup quarter-finals. I decide to scrap the Marcelo Bielsa-inspired 3-3-1-3 formation and go with the 3-5-2 shape that is so popular in this game.
And we finish on a marginally more positive note: we’re still in the cup. Emmanuel Petit put Arsenal ahead from the penalty spot, but a spectacular 30-yard screamer from David Beckham was enough to secure a draw. There will be a replay at Highbury next month, with the winner facing either Fulham or Tranmere in the quarter-final.
If you missed the last instalment of the CM99-00 Challenge, you can catch yourself up here.
And if you’d like to check out the series that inspired this feature, it’s here.