Obviously it’s far too early to call it definitively and there’s little point placing trust in what we’re hearing from the pollsters, whose so-called ‘science’ has taken another absolute battering these past days. But all that said, and with the usual reservations and conditions, I don’t think it’s outlandish to suggest that we’re seeing signs of a blue wave right now that could yet lead us to government. It’s all very encouraging.
Consider the results that are in. In our last three games, we have scored 10 and conceded none. It’s seven-and-a-half hours and the best part of three weeks since we last gave away a goal. Our attack has started delightfully carving creative paths through variously obdurate defences while our own back line is locked down more tightly than a besieged Arizona vote-counting centre.
True, when one looks back to the 0-0 draw with Manchester United, four games ago, it is with some tinges of regret: history currently relates that we are the only team to go to Old Trafford in the Premier League this season and not come away with all three points. To that extent, one can maybe be forgiven for wishing that the wave had started to gather strength just that little bit earlier. Like an hour-and-a-half earlier.
But one knows how that’s not the way of these things, of course, and it’s important not to be greedy or unrealistic at this point. The basic and well-established fact is, team construction is a process that tends to require time while players settle and blend. And as was demonstrated by the returns from the largely stylish 3-0 victory over Rennes in the Champions League last night, we’re now beginning to see the fruits of that invested time.
Some sympathy for the visitors, though, and in particular Chagas Estevao. It’s one thing to be penalised for failing to get your hand out of the way of a ball that has ricocheted at speed off your own body, quite another to end up getting sent off as a consequence of that.
BT Sport, as ever, had Peter Walton on hand to take us inside the referee’s mind as he stared at this one over and over again at various speeds on the pitchside pop-up flat-screen. According to Walton, the ref would have been looking at Estevao in those replays and thinking, ‘He’s made himself unnaturally bigger.’
Well, let that be a lesson to him, I guess. Flirt with unnatural bigness in 2020 and you can land up with a red card and a suspension. Good to have that set out clearly. But is there anyone, anywhere in the world, who was waiting for the authorities to clamp down specifically on unnatural bigness?
Did anyone in any lifetime ever complain that unnatural bigness was a stain on the game – or even a minor problem within it? Yet here we are. The great curse of the VAR era is that football’s officialdom is now obliged to cavil over things that literally nobody watching the match cares about.
As ever on these long nights in front of the telly, one kept an eye on the results as they were getting declared elsewhere. In particular I got quite excited at one point about the news that Spain was shading towards Krasnodar. But it was the same old story about getting ahead of yourself: when all the goals had been tallied, Sevilla had eased ahead. Slightly disappointing, maybe, from our point of view, but at the same time, our belief that every goal should be counted remains absolute.
Meanwhile, in Group H, the notorious ‘Group of Mirth’, PSG missed a penalty and had two players sent off against RB Leipzig. And Istanbul Basaksehir and Manchester United reported early and produced the heartening spectacle of Demba Ba, now aged 35, capitalising on several acres of highly develop-able land to run half the length of the pitch and score against an entirely absent United defence.
Just by chance it worked out that Ba’s appointed pursuer on this occasion was another of our former trophy-accumulating greats, Nemanja Matic, now aged 32. So, quite the Olympic sprint altogether, then, on the night. Informed reports indicate that Matic is due to reach the edge of the United penalty area by 15.45 today, UK time – though, again, that’s an estimate and subject to updating as the situation on the ground unfolds.
The wonders of social media were soon enabling one to do a compare and contrast exercise with Ba’s exquisite dash behind Rio Ferdinand and onto Juan Mata’s central through ball at Stamford Bridge in the FA Cup quarter-final in 2013, another occasion when our former player appeared to be coated in magical disappearing paint as far as people from Old Trafford were concerned.
Putting the two build-ups together, Mata’s highly imaginative pass was undoubtedly the classier of the two contributing moments. Although, for pure organisational chaos and general comedy, there’s a lot to be said for an assist that is played from the attacking side’s own penalty area, as last night’s was. Either way, these were items to stow away and savour again and again, in both cases, renewing, like so much this week, your faith in democracy.