This felt like watching Manchester United again. Not some pale, dour imitation of United. Not some team scared of its own shadow and forbidden from expressing its talent. Not some team inhibited by it own history. Not some team that wasn’t even trusted by its own manager. This, at last, was a United team playing with swagger.
When Jesse Lingard rolled in United’s fifth in this 5-1 romp in the dying seconds, everybody grasped the symbolism. It was the first time United had scored five goals since Sir Alex Ferguson’s last game in charge in May 2013, a rambunctious 5-5 draw with West Brom.
MATCH FACTS AND STATS
Cardiff (4-5-1): Etheridge 6 – Ecuele Manga 5, Morrison 6, Bamba 6, Cunningham 5 – Hoilett 6(Harris 74), Camarasa 6, Gunnarsson 6(Ralls 83 5), Arter 5(Zohore 61 5), Murphy 6.5 – Paterson 6
Subs not used: Peltier, Smithies, Reid, Mendez-Laing
Scorers: Camarasa (37)
Booked: Gunnarsson, Cunningham
Man Utd (4-4-2): De Gea 6 – Young 6, Jones 6, Lindelof 6, Shaw 7 – Herrera 6, Matic 6(Fellaini 87 6), Pogba 8 – Lingard 8, Rashford 7(Fred 79 6), Martial 7(Pereira 87 6).
Subs not used: Bailly, Mata, Dalot, Romero
Scorers: Rashford (3), Herrera (29), Martial (40), Lingard (56, 89)
Referee: Michael Oliver 7
Man of the match: Pogba
This felt, in moments at least, like a team that had some of the same spirit and panache as the Ferguson sides that once made United great. This felt like watching a team that was at least trying to wipe away the memories of the five and a half years of struggle and uncertainty since Ferguson retired. And so they sang.
‘You are my Solskjaer,’ they yelled, lauding their new interim manager and the man who will forever be associated with the most dramatic moment in the club’s history, ‘my Ole Solskjaer, you make me happy, when skies are grey. Oh Alan Shearer, was ******* dearer, so please don’t take, my Solskjaer away.’
The chant carried United fans back to happier times. Some of their football did, too. If ever a team looked like it had staged a prison break, it was this United team. Paul Pogba, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford, in particular, looked like men who had been liberated from the yoke of a manager whose faith they had never enjoyed.