Since Jose Mourinho was relieved of his duties on December 18th, it would be fair to say that life as a Manchester United fan hasn’t been all that bad. Admittedly, going out of the FA Cup to Wolves was frustrating and drawing PSG then Barcelona in the Champions League doesn’t feel very fair. But those concerns pale in comparison to the complete transformation that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has brought about at the club. Attacking football, trust in youth, the provider of yet another famous European night, a staunch defender of his players, the ability to smile (Jose please take note), an understanding of the history of this great club – Ole seems to have it all.
However, there is something lurking in the background which is ever so slightly beginning to take the gloss off all that. The elephant in the room if you like. Whether United fans like it or not, as good as life under Solskjaer is, the Premier League champions this year will be either Manchester City or Liverpool.
For the vast majority of the season, I speak for most United fans when I say it was pretty simple really. We always wanted Liverpool to lose, and we wanted everyone else to win, to stop Liverpool from winning the league. There was no chance Liverpool could win the title. It took us decades to get where we are now: 20 triumphs to their 18. They could stay on 18 for eternity, thank you very much. The glee that a title would bring to their annoying fans (“It’s our year!”), the obsession the media would have with Klopp, the ex-Liverpool pundits plastered all over national television… it would have been impossible to comprehend. As far as United fans were concerned, anything was better than a first Liverpool title since 1990.
It became obvious fairly early on that the only alternative was City. While we took absolutely no pleasure in this, Pep’s men were our only hope of avoiding doomsday.
At this point in the season however, it’s not all that simple. Now, if City were to win the league title, it would almost certainly be one of at least three, if not four, trophies they would lift this season.
They’ve already won the League Cup, and one would assume that the FA Cup is a mere formality; Brighton in the semi-final this weekend, followed by Watford or Wolves in the Final (two solid teams but no match for City). Winning the league, therefore, would complete a domestic treble. While this treble wouldn’t quite match United’s 1999 one, it would firmly establish this City side as one of the greatest ever in English football.
The real fear, one United fans do not really speak of, is that the noisy neighbours will prevail in Europe as well. City are favourites to beat Spurs in their quarter-final clash, and would most likely win a two-legged tie against Ajax or Juventus, their potential semi-final opponents. Unquestionably, a Champions League Final against Barcelona (or maybe even Liverpool) would be the toughest test of them all, but City would hardly be the underdogs. Make no mistake, a quadruple for City is as horrifying as Jordan Henderson lifting the Premier League.
Some United fans berate those of us who even talk about it all. “Not our concern”, “focus on ourselves”, they say. Except, every time you look at the Premier League table, it is very hard to stop your eyes from drifting to the top, where City and Liverpool are miles ahead of anyone else.
The problem is that, to us, it doesn’t just read Manchester City and Liverpool. On one side, you see a team more than capable of winning the treble or quadruple, with the possibility of overshadowing United’s treble of 20 years ago. On the other side, you see a club which would parade the title like no other, a club with unbearable fans and ex-players, who would then move just one more title away from drawing level with United.
For us, life under Solskjaer has been brilliant. Just being in contention for the top four, with a Champions League run alongside, is a bonus.
But as Sunday 12th May creeps closer, the reality of City or Liverpool winning the league title looms larger. Thank god we have Brexit to distract us.