“You’ve only come to see United,” proclaim the fans as stadiums fill, and away ends at Old Trafford sell out.
Playing against Manchester United isn’t the same as it used to be. There used to be a fear factor; a resentment of going up against the storied club with its worldwide fandom that only rivals that of religions. That’s just not the case now.
United show up for the big games. The team has no losses against the so-called ‘Big Six’ this season in all competitions plus a win over second-place Leicester City, who at this rate may replace United in the coveted group. It’s strange how much Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side gets beaten by the lower clubs, especially those toward — or at — the bottom of the table.
Do United just get up for those Big Six fixtures and not the smaller ones?
Trips to Bournemouth, Newcastle and to bottom-of-the-league Watford have resulted in losses. Even Old Trafford has lost some of its daunting vibes with United losing to Crystal Palace and drawing with Aston Villa and relegation-battling Everton. The Theatre of Dreams has been a Theatre of Nightmares for United in the post-Sir Alex Ferguson years.
Clubs don’t fear United these days, they don’t respect United — nor should they — and they don’t expect to lose when they play United.
When those smaller clubs face United, they don’t need to prepare to face a top team. The Big Six clubs prepare for games against United like top-four battles when in reality, they should prepare for United like any game against a mid-table or below team that has the ability to burn you on the counter. Because that’s what this current United team is.
There doesn’t seem to be a Plan B when things go wrong for United. Problems arise in the sport and United don’t adjust well enough to them. The “squeaky bum time” comebacks are no longer feasible with an inexperienced squad.
Breaking down United has not been difficult for teams this year. So many teams have “shocked” United that pulling off the 2-1 win at Manchester City comes as even more of an upset to the tactical genius of Pep Guardiola than it should be in a Manchester Derby.
It’s doubtful that Solskjaer and his staff watch more of the top clubs and prepare less for the smaller ones. It’s the other way around. The bigger clubs expect a fight and the smaller ones bring that fight.
The smaller clubs certainly are up for it when they play United — they’re still playing the historic Manchester United shirt afterall. But the players wearing those shirts aren’t the same as the ones that they associate with the famous crest.
It’s one of the most frustrating eras in the club’s history, which says a lot considering how much worse it could be in reality.
So now when the opposing fans show up to the matches, they’ve not come to see United. Not anymore.
They’ve come to beat United.