It’s interesting, as I peruse the meaning of the word confection in the Encarta English Dictionary, how apt a word that it is to describe Manchester United’s last gasp victory over Middlesbrough. The 1st of its definitions is that it can be used to describe something sweet, such as the sweetness and richness of a well deserved victory plucked from the jaws of a morale crushing loss. Put simply, referee Lee Mason was being pilloried by every Manchester United fan, for a few horrific refereeing mistakes which had abetted a scarcely believable 1-0 deficit, going into the final few minutes of the match.
The 2nd of the definitions of confection states that it is the process of combining things or the result of such a combination. In essence, Manchester United became the irresistible force of yesteryear. Wave upon wave of United pressure, ceaseless barrages wore down the stubborn rear guard with both Martial and Pogba, the beneficiaries of some excellent attacking interchanges, scoring to turn the game on its head. As many fans alluded to, it was a fitting, stirring comeback on the birthday of the peerless Sir Alex Ferguson, watching on from the stands, who masterminded so many of our prodigious comebacks of the past.
The 3rd and final definition of confection is that of an often elaborate piece of craftsmanship and skill. There is a sense of optimism amongst fans that Jose Mourinho, on the back of five successive victories, showcasing progressive, scintillating attacking football that the verve and identity of the club is becoming firmly re-established. In short, that Mourinho is beginning to turn his expert hands into returning our club back to the zenith of the English game.
The French contingent of our starting line up today scored the vital goals that secured the victory and provided the classy strikes to cement our victory. Anthony Martial, despite the furore regarding a possible loan or transfer out of the club in recent weeks, was simply exceptional. A constant thorn in the side of Chambers all game, he ran the Middlesbrough defender completely ragged. Sadly, due to the multitude of bodies packed inside the box, the breakthrough during the opening half eluded Manchester United and Martial.
On one occasion, Martial found Marouane Fellaini with a peach of a cross but the midfielder’s header looped over the crossbar, summing up a frustrating afternoon to that point for the young Frenchman. Indeed, after Martial hit a sumptuous long range shot which rattled the woodwork, he then proceeded to exhibit superb close control dribbling skill before delivering a wonderful, deliciously curling cross which Ibrahimovic gleefully rammed home. Sadly, the big Swede was penalised for a high foot, preventing him from equalling Messi’s goal total for the calendar year. Replays showed that the decision was contentious to say the least and many viewers, me included, were aggrieved that the goal was disallowed.
Pogba also showed glimpses of the player I am sure he will grow to be at United, during the first half. Despite having the unenviable task of unpicking the stubborn Middlesbrough defensive lock, illustrated through the dense, packed middle of the pitch and with the albatross around his neck (Marouane Fellaini), Pogba thrived with touches of inimitable class. His effortless running and range of passing was a joy to behold, combining with his incredible flair, during the first half summed up by a glorious overhead kick which rattled the post. Had this effort gone in, we would have had two sublime goals, which should have been given offside to treasure within a week (Mkhitaryan’s scorpion effort the other).
The engine room, or midfield, of a team is so integral to how well it performs and with Pogba there we have someone who can do it all. Pogba has such a plethora of attributes, one moment he is breaking up the play, the next spraying inch-perfect searing passes to every corner of the pitch, or powerfully bringing us forward striding like a colossus through the opposition’s ranks. The pass he fired at Fellaini’s chest during the first half, beggared belief given how pinpoint accurate it was from such a distance and also taking into account the Belgian’s strongest asset, his chest control.
However, somehow despite the great performances of our two French heroes and the seemingly inevitable goals that would come, our hearts sank when Grant Leadbitter found the net and it seemed that a gnawing sense of déjà vu was the most pressing French saying that came to mind. This was especially reinforced when the two failed to communicate as the ball was half cleared from a corner, Pogba‘s attempted acrobatic heroics preventing Martial from having a clearer, more conventional chance. The former, then headed back across the face of the goal for Mata but the Spaniard’s shot was blocked by a Middlesbrough defender as the minutes ticked inexorably by.
However, there was still time for the French pair to produce two wonderful finishes and turn the match on its head. When Eric Bailly fired the ball up to Zlatan Ibrahimovic, it was Martial who timed his run to perfection meeting Zlatan’s knock down and finishing with composure and aplomb. The goal was a crucial one which epitomised the Frenchman’s iron clad self belief and the precocious talent, he has displayed in his short time at United, in providing key and telling moments to change a game in favour of his side. For the winner, Pogba sauntered into the perfect space and with the most nonchalant of headers dispatched the ball unerringly beyond Valdes’ reach into the top corner of the Middlesbrough goal.
From agony to ecstasy in a matter of moments, two French young players, for whom we supposedly overpaid in consecutive summers, repay their debt in spades with priceless goals. Rival fans can only watch and drool over the French pair, surveying with eyes green with envy that we are able to afford to bring some of the finest most precious jewels in the world to our kingdom.
Jose Mourinho, himself, has taken full responsibility to hone these two rough diamonds into the perfect cut, at all opportunities managing them brilliantly. Of Pogba recently, he has called him “the best in the world” and his complete skill set in this position certainly does provide compelling evidence to substantiate this claim. Jose shows his tactical nous in being able to inspire players. As Zlatan says in his autobiography, Jose, “lights up the room” and “would become a guy who I was willing to die for.” By showering Pogba with accolades such as these, it becomes clear that Jose wants to be the man for whom the midfielder will fulfil his undoubted potential.
Of Martial, Mourinho has exhorted him to listen to his manager’s instructions so that he can listen to feedback on how and what to improve upon. It is imperative that both of the Frenchmen continue to appreciate and value the advice and teachings that Jose can impart to them. Jose is a winner, who has managed many top talents over his managerial career and led them to success so I am confident that he can generate the best future for these two French prospects.
Rumours have begun to circulate that Atletico Madrid forward Antoine Griezmann could be the next French maestro to arrive at the club in the summer. This would further enhance the burgeoning French contingent at Manchester United and with Memphis Depay seemingly resigned to leaving the club the hallowed Number 7 shirt would seemingly be destined for the diminutive ace. His friendship with Paul Pogba is well known, as is his idolatry of David Beckham. Surely, the lure of following in his hero’s footsteps and playing with his friend will prove too great a temptation to resist? Certainly, the timing looks ripe for his arrival, Manchester United have the funds, reputation and clout to circumvent any obstacle, proven through an exceptional summer transfer window before this season. The prospect of the three Frenchmen in tandem with magical Mkhitaryan and magisterial Ibrahimovic would give any defence in the world nightmares and would certainly provide an outstanding attacking force to be reckoned with next season for a title charge.
The French confection, then have combined perfectly to take us to the cusp of the top four places. However the remainder of the weekend pans out, we will be within four points maximum of those precious Champions League places at the halfway stage of the season. Unbelievably, given my own and many United followers despair when we drew at Everton, just under a month ago, we have resurrected our season with the help of some of our United superstars. Today, the French Confection provided us with a sense of renewed hope and optimism that our season can provide the sweet success of cup triumphs and the Holy Grail of a Champions League berth at the end of it. Maybe this triumph will inspire, Antoine Griezmann, another Frenchman, to join the confection, providing another jewel in the elaborate creation Jose is trying to mastermind. In the meantime, Pogba and Martial will continue to be “les incroyables” but to my mind, the prospect of this further French ingredient really would make this already mouth-watering concoction a masterpiece.