I don’t mind admitting it. Of course there were multiple heroes tonight, not least the manager for being unafraid to put Eriksen in for Dier when it was all going to hell (kudos to Dele for saying “any one of us could have been taken off. Not least me. I was awful the first twenty minutes” – Guardian), and giving a talk that worked at halftime, whatever it was, and of course the obvious MOTM in Kane—or maybe it was the ball boy. But when Dele got nicked in the elbow and then subbed off, and he had to walk around half the pitch under the new guidelines, and I knew he would be applauded with fervor the whole way, my emotions broke.
He’s a fantastic player. He was part of the entire shift to the front foot in the second half—helped assist the Aurier goal, buzzed all around the Greeks—you could see his quality and desire simply jumping out from the television screen. He ain’t his brother. He’s the real deal we saw from 2015-18—and if he keeps playing like this, lots of good things are going to come to this squad. The tears welled up in me because that’s what it’s like to root for this particular team—that’s what the last seven days have been—emotional, raw, sad, happy, curious, gobsmacked. And it culminated with that walk around the pitch of our glorious new ground, knowing at the end there would be a manager who, if nothing else, is a certified winner, waiting to congratulate him at the end of the stroll. The night had been transformed from danger and that familiar feeling of letdown into a European moment of glory—small, mind you, but meaningful.
As for the rest—I feel bad for Eric Dier, but Jose had no choice. Eriksen was not at his best, but no matter—in a game you have to chase he is infinitely superior to most any other options Mourinho had at his disposal. Alderweireld, Rose and Winks were most to blame for the two goals—but the entire side were poor, sloppy and without energy. Thank the Gods the Olympiacos defender switched off and Dele was there to give us hope before halftime.
As for the three goals, our wondrous ball boy deserves credit for springing up so quickly and handing his treasure to Aurier—but let’s not kid ourselves, Kane was the beginning and end of that goal. His sliding tackle was a thing of beauty, which set up the throw in—and he shot up and started running, and there was the ball from Lucas for the simple finish. On the next, Dele, Kane and Winks completed some really nice possession with Dele’s cross, headed by Son and damn if Serge Aurier didn’t put those Leicester ghosts to rest with a virtually identical goal to the one which was disallowed. (I can’t place the opponent but me thinks he scored a similar goal in the Champions League or a cup game last year) And the last was the result of our stifling possession and a great free kick by Eriksen that Kane needed to only glance into the net to break the record for fastest to twenty.
There was a final set of actions I have to believe Jose had to notice. We are two goals up and we do not want to give the Greeks a shout at the end. The lineup of Sissoko, Ndombele, Aurier and Sanchez—dealing with threats down our right flank—was simply airtight in terms of taking back and maintaining possession. All four are hard, tough but also inventive with the ball. They make at least the beginning of a Mourinho-esque one side of the bus when the game has to be shut down.
Bournemouth next—none of these early games are anything like the test that will begin in earnest at Old Trafford next weekend. But this team has regained its spirit. It likes to win. It has a manager who feeds off of winning. There is much more to come.
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