A loaded gun won’t set you free.

There’s something about the moment that brings Joy Division to mind. It might be autumn; or the desperate cynicism around politics and society; the suspicion that something’s falling away – something profound, like goodness, maybe?

Lots of things feel hollowed-out or skein-like or like some web you want to wipe away… and the things that often mitigate against all that – arty stuff? Sporty stuff? – are kinda being psychologically outgunned, or disproportionately swallowed under by the Looming Dark.

Blimey. It’s come to something when a wee something on Utd City starts out like that. But, laughably or not, it does feel like legitimate context, because Mourinho, because Crass World Pressure, because Rooney, because there are stats all over indicting Guardiola(!), because The Death of Caring is upon us.

We don’t care about big things like human decency so why would we care about footie? Football doesn’t care about us, so why we would we bother back? What further proof could we need that the world is bollocksed when it *does appear credible* that Wayne from Toxteth, the last of the street footballers, might be off to China to rot in his armed apartment? How much  more can our idealism be snuffed out, when it’s so dead?

Something about Manchester United used to speak against this. Something in their redness, their pace, their invincible energy.

We all know half the world needs to hate them but even some of those guys felt the surge when a bloke name of Best ran with it. Then Bryan Robson and Cantona and Kanchelskis and Giggs. Charging. More out of instinct than instruction, more in joy than in calculation. This went right past tribalism: it was received as brilliance – something to be aspired to – okaay, maybe as well as hated.

Now, amongst other things, we have a manager who lives joylessly – ‘disastrously’ he calls it – in a posh hotel. And he daren’t go out. Throughout the Premier League we have poisonous rather than inspirational expectation and a kind of moronic appeasement to yet dumber, broadly ever more unaware players and agents. (Of course there are honourable exceptions but players generally must take a lump of blame for the utter separation between themselves and the fans).

Players seem greedy, lazy, arrogant and more-or-less dishonest. More interested in getting their opposite number red-carded than scoring. More interested in drawing a pen than scoring. Staggeringly unaware of how ordinary they actually are. Staggeringly not bothered.

This is somewhere between a cruel view and an average view of football’s things, I think. Maybe I should add that I grew up in a football family and that my grandfather was an MU player before injury cut short his career. So I’m not entirely an outsider, railing with neither authority nor understanding. I get football: I do not enjoy drifting from it.

On Mourinho I’m more dispassionate than most, being clear that he has been a great of the modern era but not hugely enamoured of his playing style. I think the possibility he may have wanted to be at United ‘all along’ is mildly fascinating and that *whatever happens* he must get three years, if he wishes it that way. However, whilst accepting that despite the obscene transfer spending before he arrived, there were faaar too many players at the club simply unworthy of the shirt, I am shall we say concerned(?) that he has not yet addressed that fundamental imbalance: more – that he may not have improved it.

The very crudest view would suggest that if you have a practically unlimited budget you should be able to straighten things out. Crude but trueish. And Mourinho may. He may, though, need more time than many of the proponents of that view might imagine, or allow.

It’s absolutely right that we plebs holler for some accountability or value – Pogba cost how much?!? – we’re entitled. We aren’t responsible for the monstrous salaries so we feel we have moral superiority over and above the usual shareholder/propper-upper stuff. This judgemental fervour is surely both contagious and dangerous – hiking up passions from the reasonable to the wild.

In this context it’s asking a bundle but us fans might still need to consider our contributions – vocal or otherwise. We need to think about how essential it is that players feel good, in a role, in an environment.

Bringing us back – in the United case – to Mourinho. The manager is the environment. His job is to select, after providing some tactical input and (mainly) creating an understanding; a zone of comfort in which players (sorry but this is still the best phrase) express themselves.

Mourinho has traditionally found a way – often magnificently, through sheer force of personality and brilliant proactivity – to win through, here. Sometimes via adversarial routes, sometimes by getting players (and fans) to love him. Intriguingly, right now, the universe is for the first time doubting his virility. It’s threatening to de-Specialise him. Tonight, against City, becomes a meaningful test.

Or it would if (sor-ree sponsors!) this cup meant anything. We saw from Liverpool Tottenham that it’s become a reserve team fixture. Plus, in this case, a bit of family malice. They’re’ll be a lot of hot air but this result does not matter: performances will.

Haven’t seen the line-ups yet (6.20pm) but hoping on the one hand for Mourinho to think more Fenerbache than Liverpool and unleash – or at least offer the possibility for – some Manchester United football. For me this means no Fellaini. (Fellaini goes, from Old Trafford, along with Memphis and Rojo and the others on your list, right?)

Longer term, there’s a slate to wipe clean. Ibra was always a short-term fix, the Rooney Question needs to be addressed and half the defence needs shipping out again. I think Shaw – if he can ever stay fit – is a player and Bailly was looking good but I am not convinced Smalling, however much this goes against the grain of contemporary thinking, is good enough for a proper, elite-level MU. Sorry but I’m just not.

Whilst we’re into the radical sweeps I’d like Mata and Herrera to get a generous run together. If this squeezes out Lingard for now, fair enough. Pogba stays in there. Rashford plays often – rotating with Martial and Ibrahimovic. Crucially, they are freed up, to dash, to charge, to play without fear – because they are Manchester United.

And now, as we fizz or freeze… kick-off.

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Pep … or pebbledash? That may be the question.

Pep. It sounds like a Sports Drink or a feisty Weimaraner with particularly twitchy-pointed, galaxy-searching ears; that’s as well as being the prefix to ‘talk’, naturally. It could be a zingy product for the all-new sprucification of our most fungal, spaghetti-clad saucepans. It could be, in fact anything sharply illuminating and of course, in a sense, it is. So the thought strikes me that although the media has been in a state of Chelsea Approval Frenzy in the last 24 hours, it might be appropriate to check that reactionary imbalance by returning, for a moment, to the previous state of Guardiola idolatry; Pep being quite genuinely prince of most of what is good (in football) and cleansing even.

Post the fascinating and revealingly crypto-jingoistic ‘reactions’ to Chelsea’s victory over the Catalunyan Gods, I advise some further reflection. On the one hand because I am – uncharacteristically, in my defence – applying the enthusiasm break and on the other because frankly our judgements have surely been on the pop. Pep’s carousel may have twirled in a country cart-wheel rather than a metro-sexually cosmic kindofaway last evening but come on guys, some proportion pulleeease.

I know… the irony, the irony….

But I keep seeing that Chelsea centre-forward – him, the ‘African Lion’ one – rated 8; Miereles 7; half the Barca team 6. I’ve seen a sub-heading ‘Drogba tour de force’. I’ve heard oodles of supportive pebbledash around that house-sized museum-piece English Grit and Determination. And it’s got me hacked off.

Okay so Chelsea won an admirable victory against a side so widely regarded to be the best in the world that discussion on that, at least, seems pointless. They were indeed well organised and the arguably heroic John Terry and his nominal(?) manager have to take substantial credit for these facts of the matter, interloping cruelly as they do into my altogether more supra-factual argument. I can buy and even raise a churlish grin to the win for journeymen lumpers over twinkling throroughbreds. However I might just remind the chest-thumping hordes that despite said win Chelsea’s throwbackism is something Pep (and the rest of the sentient universe) is entitled to put into perspective. Something his team may well yet do upon the return fixture.

Let me dare to go on the offensive – worse – the pretentiously offensive. For somewhere in the holding-player-free midfield of my absurdist pomp I do feel a righteous indignation brewing; one that I hope might in some way reflect the inspired tippy-tapping of diminutive boots in the Barca heartland. (Did warn you!) It feels like (and perhaps I kid myself?) worryingly ambitious footietruths flutter beneath my fingertips like passes waiting to be threaded. But am I man enough – as in brave enough, courageous in a Xavi-esque, accepting a pass in an unfeasibly tight ‘situation’ fashion enough – to actually express this ludicrously purist vision/deception/hallucination juggling its er… balls? Because the question is about seeing what’s really there… and what quality it has. Right?

Chelsea dun gud. Without any one of them being creative hardly at all – indeed maybe (sadly?) because not one of them tested the deliciometer – they were able to rumble towards the win. They neither broke the Catalans’ spirit nor really tested the core of their defence – known to be the one near-human weakness they deign to exhibit. Despite this, defensively, all over the park, they did a job on Barcelona and that may rightly be viewed as a triumph. Just not really by me.

Chelsea do have some quality and I merely suggest therefore that their limited game-plan undershot given the conspiracy of fortunes working in their favour. (Woodwork smudged and gimmes unclaimed, remember?) They cannot have aspired, pre-match, to give possession away routinely cheaply or fail to generate chances or momentum through retaining the ball or through individual moments of skill. I expect them to be disappointed that – for example – Drogba missed two real opportunities in the first handful of minutes through lousy first touches. And that his clumsiness with those precious openings was mirrored throughout by a general coarseness in play. And I repeat I do understand why Di Matteo took a defensive approach and that I am unable to argue it was unsuccessful but… look at the other side. The brighter one.

Pep and his truly magnificent representatives talk a good game and then they go play it; consistently. They are a special incarnation of the most pure expression of Skill Theory – a theory I am about to make up but which (fair do’s) they own and personify, actually. Their/my theory is about the simple, unequivocal supremacy of skill over muscle. They are the oak-beamed, lime-plastered dreamhouse, the rest the dour or pebble-dashed semi. Consequently I unashamedly favour an oaky, carousel-appreciative position on footie. And I have to defend it against heathen incursion by luddite Englishmen like Mikel, Drogba and Ivanovic.

Last night notwithstanding I reckon the overwhelming success of Barcelona FC may be the single greatest joy of and for the sporting billions currently resident on the big blueish toggerball we call home. Theirs is the most sublime achievement in an age and environment where short-termism, cynicism and outright dishonesty tend to prevail. They are certainly not beyond the occasional lapse – diving or at least exaggeration springs to mind – but the higher quality of their higher purpose should not only be applauded… but protected. In this sense I cannot join entirely with the whiff-of-regression-to-clumphood-associated chorus of approval for Chelsea. We’ve spent too many decades bemoaning lack of quality to suddenly trump it.

Lastly a further word on Drogba – whom part of me wishes to deny the oxygen of publicity. I did see an 8 rating for him in a national newspaper and a subheading on Drogba’s ‘tour de force.’ Both offended something in me – was that just me? What I saw was a largely poor but reasonably ‘willing’ performance made embarrassing by histrionics – his logo reading Ultra Ponce rather than Superman. If I were to turn back the clock much as the blues did, I’d say he made a chump of himself. But he was, as they say, a winner.

Guardiola, however, still holds the treasure.