Whatever your opinion of the Carling Cup - sadly now on its way out of Old Trafford's trophy room - you surely can't question the power of the pot United will continue to chase this Tuesday night, the European Cup.
I love our domestic game but European competition takes football to a different level. When the floodlights turn on, a switch is flicked on in your head to make you think of epic Old Trafford nights, evenings of great expectation and sometimes anxiety. So what can we expect from this week's visitors Valencia, as they flamenco their way to Manchester in search of a group-topping victory? If truth be told, it's difficult to say; they've only scored 19 goals in 14 La Liga games, but having lost only four games - including Saturday's 2-0 defeat to Real Madrid - they are fifth in the Spanish table and have a better defensive record than anyone bar the big two. Speaking of whom, did you see the way Barcelona served up an absolute battering to their arch rivals last week? It was a reminder to the rest of Europe they mean business. Hands up if you fancy them in the knock-out stages of the Champions League. Hmm, didn't think so.
Sorry, did I say I love the domestic game? Not sure that was my feeling last Tuesday, after my miserable first ever trip to Upton Park. They say every cloud has a silver lining... they're right, it could have been five-nil. Every aspect of the day went "Pete Tong", from getting locked out of the press box to getting knocked out of the cup. And having given Paddy Crerand my only pair of gloves to wear, the colour of my fingers matched the home team's shirts by full time. The Boleyn Ground was baltic - the Hammers' fans' chorus of "I'm forever throwing snowballs" was an inventive twist on their anthem as they bubbled through to their first League Cup semi in over 20 years.
The less said about that game, the better. The first defeat of the season had to come at some time, but while you expect to be beaten at some point, you don't expect a beating. I spoke to the Boss and to Ryan after the game and both were fizzing with frustration. They were not put on this planet to taste defeat. Having seen everything in the game over the years, they both made the point that there's no shame in defeat if you learn from it and prevent it happening again. Sadly, there will be a different name on the Carling Cup this season.
Time will tell, of course, if United's name ends up on the European Cup instead. Winning the group on Tuesday night is the next target and while the Reds will be hot favourites at Old Trafford, my experience of cup football at cold Upton Park tells me to expect the