Thursday 8 December 2016

Lazily assuming they'll get it right next time

Published 20/03/2016 | 17:00

Liverpool's Philippe Coutinho scores his crucial goal against Manchester United in the Europa League
Liverpool's Philippe Coutinho scores his crucial goal against Manchester United in the Europa League

My first impression of the Philippe Coutinho goal which effectively ended the Liverpool-Manchester United tie as a contest was that it had been some kind of Maradonesque solo spectacular. So, as dads do, I badgered one of the daughters into watching the action replay. "Look at this, this is worth seeing, this is something you'll remember for a very long time."

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Having watched it, Daughter Number Three asked, "Why didn't anyone try to stop him?" Out of the mouths of babes and all that. Because though the finish is lovely, the striking thing is how little pressure was exerted on Coutinho. He simply had to elude a challenge by Guillermo Varela which looked like it belonged in some non-contact version of soccer devised by American sports psychologists to help children with self-esteem issues, amble into the box and outfox a keeper whose mind seemed to be on making sure that all the paperwork is done properly when the next transfer window comes round.

The best way to describe the way United defended is half-assed and that unlovely phrase also captures the spirit of their season. It's impossible to watch United without getting the feeling that they're not fully committed to the task at hand, that something is being held back. Presumably this has a lot to do with Louis Van Gaal's status as a Dead Manager Walking.

At Old Trafford another season is being written off and the narrative about how things will be much better next term is already being spun. I'm reminded of the words of an old England World Cup song which assured the fans, 'This time, more than any other time, this time, we're going to find a way. . . We'll get it right, this time we'll get it right'. Substitute 'next time' for 'this time' and you've got the basic message which has been beamed out from Old Trafford ever since Alex Ferguson quit.

Come summer some new saviour will be presented and there will be talk of him being 'handed a war chest' to put United back on top. But you're beginning to wonder if perhaps United may be suffering the same kind of post-imperial decline which afflicted Liverpool after their machine began to wind down in the early '90s. Back then Liverpool also spent several years apparently convinced that it would all come right in the end simply because they were Liverpool.

Two and a half decades later it still hasn't happened for them. Jurgen Klopp may or may not be the man who finally changes that but, in fairness to him, you could never describe him or his team as dull. United, on the other hand, look like they're walking round with tired blood. At Old Trafford these are decadent days.

Sunday Indo Sport

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