Just yesterday, everybody was freaking out about Manchester United’s poor performance against League two club Cambridge United, which employees former Manchester United academy prospect Luke Chadwick, in which United drew 0-0. The draw, feeling more like a loss to United and a win to Cambridge, even though the two clubs will meet again in just two weeks to settle the series, this time at Old Trafford, however.
Fast forward to today, United’s performance doesn’t seem so bad. The FA Cup took a major shock, where all current top-3 clubs in the standings got eliminated. Manchester City lost to Middlesbrough without even scoring a goal and Chelsea lost 2-4, after having a 2-nil lead. Southampton lost in a dogfight 2-3. All these, unlike United on Friday, got to play on their home field. Tottenham also lost on Saturday and Liverpool FC drew, forcing a replay leg also in two weeks at Anfield.
The day couldn’t have been any better for United. Without any European football, playing the additional matches won’t hurt the clubs fitness. In fact, it may even be a positive to a team as deep as Louis Van Gaal build them to be, and still rumored heavily in the transfer market that closes in roughly 10 days.
Early round FA Cup matches are the most difficult for big clubs. Super rich athletes are spoiled from a young age in today’s ‘Modern football’. Where most leagues, in cooler climates, are still off on winter break and spending time in Turkey or Qatar for mid-season training camps, England’s best clubs must travel by bus to small stadiums, get dressed in tiny locker rooms, play in cold and rain and against teams who view the match as their “European Cup final”. Players on big clubs just want to show up, get the win, and get out. Easier said then done.
Teams in the FA Cup get paid per match bonuses from the FA. While the amount of money seems rather small for big salary players such as Falcao and Di Maria, the money is significant for players who play in League two. For Cambridge to extend the match to another day, their players will see a big payday from the FA.
Today’s results have made United the big winners from the weekend. They will be okay and will beat Cambridge United with ease in two weeks. Van Gaal is very high on culture. That’s why he will never have his teams not ready for a derby. In his first derby with Barcelona, despite struggles, Van Gaal’s team beat Madrid 3-0. With United, Van Gaal beat Liverpool in their first showdown too, 3-0 as well, and also beat them in pre-season because Van Gaal said you never take your rivals soft. He sets a standard.
To ensure a culture of winning, you need to win. It’s that simple. Everybody knew going into the season, that top-4 was the goal and finishing first, beyond anyone inside the locker room felt was unrealistic. And that’s okay because it’s a progress. But, that didn’t mean United could win the FA Cup. And with Chelsea and City eliminated, it has put United in the drivers seat of the competition.
I can’t help but think Van Gaal is sitting tonight in his living room with a smirk on his face. In a playoff format, winner-take all matchup, Van Gaal feels he can beat anybody, including Chelsea or City, but to avoid those two anywhere down the road is an major advantage.
Manchester United were an easy target yesterday for a joke, but now are favorites to win the tournament and in Van Gaal’s world, changing the culture back to winning.
Amazing what 24 hours can do in sports..