Hello. Let’s start with a trip to Dictionary Corner:
Nearly is used to indicate that something is not quite the case, or not completely the case.
- Goldsworth stared at me in silence for nearly twenty seconds.
- Hunter knew nearly all of this already.
- The beach was nearly empty.
- They nearly always ate outside.
- Manchester United nearly won a trophy under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Now, one of these is obviously made up. No beach is nearly empty at the moment, not when it’s the first opportunity in months to enjoy the fresh sea air, catch some rays and have a tear-up.
Yes ha ha, let’s talk about the football, shall we.
Manchester United have made admirable progress under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer – this is their best and most exciting team post-Fergie – but if they don’t win something soon, they will be remembered as just another nearly team.
The progress of a football club is measured more broadly these days. But when it comes to the development of an emerging team, nothing stimulates the players like winning their first trophy together. As Denis Law said of United’s 1963 FA Cup victory, it can be “the gate … to the shining uplands”.
Before they can approach that gate, United need to get to a final. Under Solskjaer they have been beaten in four semis and two quarters; they also look set to finish second in the Premier League this season. A team can get a reputation, you know.
United have lost those semi-finals to some fine teams: Manchester City twice, Chelsea and Sevilla. There’s probably nobody of that calibre left in the Europa League, though their potential semi-final opponents Ajax come pretty close. Even so, this feels like United’s best chance so far of winning a trophy under Solskjaer.
Their first task is to see off Granada, the underdogs who have had such a memorable first season in European competition. They have already put out Napoli and Solskjaer’s old club Molde in the knockout stages, although their domestic form has been less impressive since the turn of the year.
United are favourites to win the tie, and the whole tournament. That brings added pressure, especially when you have already had a few near misses. But if they are going to stop being a nearly team, United will have to deal wiv it.
Kick off 9pm in Granada, 8pm in Manchester.
Granada v Manchester United: Europa League quarter-final – live!