Just the reserves, of course. No Cole, Scholes, Beckham, Keane or Stam, and Yorke sunning himself on the bench until half-time. Nothing to play for, the Championship and relegation issues resolved last week. A stroll in the April sunshine. Except that this is Manchester United, and you’re playing a brandname as much as a football team. A victory means something, regardless of who happens to be representing the multinational plc this week. They’ve made it that way, not us…but it’s still brilliant, still a reminder of what English football will lose when the Champions League makes games like this a thing of the past.
This – for those of you not there, you poor wanderers – was a heart-stopping game, not as visceral and energising as last week’s pulsating kickaround, but liberating in a different way. It was helped no end by the remarkable even-handedness of the referee, something which shouldn’t elicit comment but these days does, and which riled champions who arrogantly, complacently expect special treatment by right. So at least we were in with a shout, playing eleven against eleven. Just like at Anfield all those months ago, we could only beat the guys they put in front of us. Or so we thought for half a blissful hour.