Friday 26 February 2021

Manchester United and the (bad) 'luck of the draw'

To paraphrase an old adage: there are three things certain in life. Death, taxes, and Manchester United being given ridiculously difficult cup draws.

Seriously, it's actually beyond a joke now. There must surely be a secret writ at UEFA dictating that the Reds are always handed the hardest tie possible - these draws are supposedly random but then how on earth do you explain our rotten luck in always getting the most difficult tie possible. It happens Every.Single.Year. People wonder why we're not having much luck on the trophy front but is it any wonder when we play the heavyweights every time. To add insult to injury, the mob from across the city face the exact opposite - playing the Romanian farmers of Ragarse Rovers one week and Witton Wanderers the next. They are due to play the Dog&Duck Reserve side in this year's FA Cup final. It's ludicrous how they always get the piss easy ties and we get the toughest team possible. Every.Single.Year. In other news, water is indeed wet.  

The trend continued as we were paired with the mighty AC Milan in the Europa League last 16 - that in itself tells you how far these two sides have fallen. These two great, historic and famous clubs used to regularly knock six bells out of each other as Europe's creme de la creme in a fixture synonymous with the Champions League semi finals. But yet only one will make it to the quarters of the continent's second tier tournament.
United were drawn into the Champions League Group of Death then, having dropped out of it, a strong Sociedad side provided the opposition at the last 32 stage of the Europa League. United made much lighter work of them than expected, but Adnan Januzaj, David Silva and co. looked to be a stiff proposition when the draw was made. Seven time European champions Milan - second in Serie A and with a certain Zlatan in their ranks - are the top ranked side left in the competition. Admittedly they are not the Milan of old but still carry a mystique and splendour as their exciting young side look to re-awaken one of the global game's sleeping superpowers. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer must think that someone - somewhere in the corridors of power - has it in for him. In summary, the most difficult Champions League group possible, the hardest round of 32 opponent and now the tournament favourites in the last 16. 

Since his appointment, our cup draws have been as follows: PSG (twice), Barcelona, RB Leipzig, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea (three times), Wolves (twice), Everton, Man City (twice), Sevilla,  Real Sociedad and now Milan. Any manager would struggle when faced with these sides. United have already beaten two top six sides in West Ham in this year's FA Cup and then sent Liverpool packing only to be drawn with Leicester in the quarter-finals. I could go on. 

In context, when City sauntered to their domestic treble in 2018-19 their FA Cup draws read: Rotherham, Burnley, Newport, Swansea, Brighton and Watford. In the other domestic trophy Pep Guardiola's side faced Oxford, Fulham, Leicester, Burton Albion (in a SEMI FINAL) and then Chelsea. Granted you can only beat what's in front of you but no team can be that fortunate so many times in a row. 

Of course, a valid argument can be made that to win these titles and trophies - to be the best - you have to beat the best first and should expect to play one of the bigger sides at some stage anyway. That's often the way it works in a cup draw - a bit like a computer game, the challenge increases in difficulty as you work your way up through the levels. Only it doesn't seem to apply for us. We go straight to the most difficult level and stay there whilst others remain on the lower level and never get anything more difficult. I honestly can't remember the last time we got an 'easier' tie at the latter stages of a competition. For a process that supposed to be totally random when pitting one club against another, it really does make you wonder if there's not more to these draws than perhaps meet the eye. 

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