Thursday Briefing: A big response is required
Exiting the Champions League on Tuesday night was a bitterly disappointing experience, yet there is no time for sorrow in this pandemic-affected season and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s players have an opportunity to restore pride in Saturday’s 183rd Manchester derby.
Despite the frustration in Europe, United are actually on a positive run of form in the Premier League after recording four successive wins and currently sit above City in the table by a solitary point. A victory in M16 on Saturday evening would enhance that gap to four points and ensure we are Manchester’s highest-placed team in the division, which is not to be sniffed at – particularly when considering Guardiola’s side are widely regarded to be second favourites for the title.
Make no mistake, victory at the Theatre of Dreams would leave United in a positive league position, as the hectic December fixture list gathers pace and the new year approaches. With European football now on the back burner until February, domestic matters become the most pressing focus - starting on Saturday.
The atmosphere that afternoon was absolutely electric and many fans describe Scott McTominay’s dramatic winner as their moment of the season. Little did we know that football and society as a whole would change so dramatically just days later, as the world responded to the coronavirus pandemic.
Although small groups of fans have returned to certain venues around the country, including the London Stadium for last weekend’s Premier League win, Manchester remains under tier-three restrictions and Saturday’s behind-closed-doors derby will be the first in history without supporters there to see it.
Beloved club legend Paddy Crerand has been isolating at home during the pandemic, taking all of the necessary precautions, and he can’t wait for the day we can all return to the Theatre of Dreams.
Writing in his column for United Review on Saturday, the 1968 European Cup winner says: “No doubt the players enjoyed having a crowd of some description to play in front of last week, even if they were all West Ham fans! Players thrive off an atmosphere, even if they’re getting booed.
“Let’s hope it’s not too much longer until we can get at least 2,000 of you – and me! – at Old Trafford. The TV coverage is great but I’m sure most of us would rather be at the game.
“The fans will certainly be missed [on Saturday]. The noise for the last derby here, back in March, was unbelievable when Scott McTominay scored his goal.”
Hopefully, come Saturday night, Paddy will be celebrating a United win.
Following the midweek trip to Germany, the players will be back at the Aon Training Complex as preparations for the Manchester derby continue apace.
Our other teams will be hard at work too, ahead of a big weekend of action across the club, starting on Saturday morning when the Under-18s face Wolverhampton Wanderers at 11:30 GMT on MUTV.
Neil Wood’s Under-23s are also readying themselves for a Manchester derby, against City at Leigh Sports Village on Sunday afternoon. That game is live on MUTV from 13:00 and, later, viewers of the club channel can watch United Women’s anticipated WSL match against Reading.
WHAT HAPPENED YESTERDAY?
The morning was naturally all about the Champions League loss in Leipzig, with reaction from Solskjaer and Maguire dominating the headlines. We then turned our attention to the Europa League and the competition’s draw for the knockout stages, which takes place in Nyon on Monday.
Our match preview for the derby provided essential information on the big game, including the kick-off time, TV coverage and match official appointments, as well as insights into the visiting Blues.
As ever, the United Daily bulletin at 18:00 provided the latest club news - this time, including footage of Facundo Pellistri's superb goal for the Under-21s.