Manchester United: From Magic to Mediocrity

  • Steve Ogah
  • Sports
  • January 2, 2024

“couldn’t bleed arteries into their opponent’s defense and recreate the passion that fans had witnessed only four days earlier.”

Nottingham Forest’s 2-1 Saturday evening triumph over Manchester United in the English Soccer Premiership was a painful blow to Manchester’s hopes of ascending the Premiership table. After 20 matches played, the 13-time champions of the English Premiership are in 7th place, 13 places from the bottom of the table. But only on December 26, Manchester United had given fans of the club something to cheer, indeed something magnificent, when the team overcame a two-goal first-half deficit to triumph 3-2 over a determined Aston Villa squad at their comfort zone, Old Trafford. 

Many observers believed things had started looking up for Manchester United. But the team began to buckle at its knees just when their supporters and those who still think they can reignite old fires, home and away, had looked forward to the old days of magnificence. 

Peter Drury, the celebrated English soccer commentator, had described the euphoric scenes at Old Trafford elegantly. Commenting on the Manchester United Vs. Aston Villa game, Drury said: “This is how it used to be,” he added, “This is how Old Trafford can be. This is Manchester United who once upon a time were never beaten, and tonight they remembered how it can be. Two down and going nowhere. Suddenly, they feel as though they may be going places. Garnacho, two thrilling goals to turn it round. And Hojlund, the goal of a lifetime to win it after Aston Villa had seemed to be bossing it. Smiles at Old Trafford, the like of which this year we have seen so rarely, if indeed at all. This is a precious night for individuals. It is a precious night for this vast sporting institution.” Peter Drury also remarked: “They smile again. And Old Trafford feels like a happy place as it has so rarely been this year. From two behind, United win it…by three goals to two.”

Indeed, there were magical scenes at Old Trafford on a night when some fans had lost hope as Villa shot to a two-goal lead by the 26th minute. Argentine striker Alejandro Garnacho pulled one back in the 59th and then equaled the score line in the 71st minute. 11 minutes after, Danish man Rasmus Winther Hojlund sealed victory for United, reigniting euphoric scenes at Old Trafford. But this victory turned out to be a lightning strike, brilliant but fleeting.

Enter the Saturday night defeat in the hands of Nottingham Forest at the City Ground. Manchester United lacked the same level of genius they had shown on home turf. At 54% to 46%, the team enjoyed greater ball possession over Nottingham Forest but failed to transform that authority to enough goals. Instead, they earned four yellow cards to Forest’s two. Again, United launched 110 attacks to Forest’s 90 but still managed to breach the opponent’s goal line only on one occasion. Furthermore, United made 10 goal attempts to Forest’s 8, had five shots on goal to their host’s 2, and couldn’t bleed arteries into their opponent’s defense and recreate the passion that fans had witnessed only four days earlier.

For a team with Manchester United’s intimidating local and continental pedigree, reeling in 7th place is regarded as mediocrity by several football analysts. The unit can be better. Players and everyone else only need to roll up their sleeves and put their shoulders to the wheel when and where it matters most. They have the class. They have the culture. They only need the will to reignite old glory again, at home and far from it. If this doesn’t happen, this current crop of Manchester United ambassadors will not make their fans “smile again” soon.