Manchester United travel to South Wales to take on Cardiff City on Sunday. The Red Devils are coming off their biggest win of the year over Arsenal and have rejoined the pack of teams who are challenging for this season’s Premier League title.
For United, the match against Cardiff City is one where football managers find the most difficult to prepare their team for: the game following a big win and against a team they “should” beat. Most teams find it hard to equal the levels of emotion and concentration they showed in the previous game. It’s almost a forgone conclusion that individual and/or team performance will relax in the next fixture. In any sport, this contest is referred to as a possible ‘letdown game’.
According to most experts, United entered the match against Arsenal as underdogs and had to answer questions about their performances on and off the field. Their defense was leaking goals, their midfield was being over-run and outworked by opponents, and people were questioning the tactics of manager David Moyes. It was also determined that United’s lack of activity during the summer transfer window had severely damaged the team’s chances of regaining the league title because the club failed to address its midfield and defensive needs. United’s critics were like vultures picking at a rotting carcass; swooping in from every direction to take a bite out of the wounded champions. Even the Red Devils’ opponents were smelling blood when they traveled to Old Trafford. Teams were no longer fearful of a rampant Manchester United scoring goals at will against them. Instead of being content with staying close to the champions, opponents were now attacking United and going for maximum points in the Theatre of Dreams. Lastly, United’s most loyal supporters were becoming uneasy. Blogs, message boards, and call-in shows were all being flooded with worried fans.
But in previous weeks (prior to the match with Arsenal), United had been showing signs that they were a club returning to form. Perhaps it started with the come-from-behind win against Stoke City a few weeks earlier? Or maybe it was the 3-1 victory at Fulham when United scored three goals in a blistering twenty-two minutes spell in front of their loyal away supporters who had packed the Putney End? Whatever the case, United had shown brief instances of their championship form. Quietly, the Red Devils and their supporters had been building momentum leading into the Arsenal clash.