You might have heard that Wembley hosted a football match yesterday afternoon. And it’s fair to say everyone is getting a little bit excited. Sure, the La Liga and Copa Del Rey champions, complete with two thirds of a certain abbreviated trio, conceding four without reply to a team with James Milner at left-back certainly stands out from the usual random bundle of off-season results.
But maybe professing the end of the Catalan dynasty and a subsequent Wirral uprising is a little too soon. Hell, even Jurgen Klopp, the human embodiment of emotion and excitement, attempted to temper the chattering giddiness at full-time.
"Look it's very likely I could sit here and we lost 4-0, life would not have been that nice like it is at the moment,” he said.
"It's helpful too because of the things you can learn. But it's a friendly.”
After all, pre-season games, with their relentless carousel of momentum-sapping substitutions, are hardly a fool proof barometer of the campaign to come and these head scratching results prove.
2nd August 2014
Real Madrid 1-3 Manchester United
Poor, put upon United. One bad season in a lifetime was enough to destroy the aura of knowing invincibility cultivated by 13 league titles in 21 years. And how the footballing world rejoiced, joined together from Stoke to Sunderland in snide revenge. Therefore, its fair to say United fans were rather pleased when Louis Van Gaal, the autocratic, arrogant antithesis to his affable yet futile predecessor, pitched up in the North West weeks after inspiring unfancied Holland to one of the greatest international performances in living memory against Spain.
Even Real Madrid, Champions of Europe just two months prior, were powerless to prevent the one-man wrecking ball from toasting another triumph.
“It’s an absolute joy to watch,” says the dazzled co-commentator, his eyes misting under the myth of Van Gaal.
“Every time a player passes the ball there’s movement. United look a completely different team.”
Indeed there was and they did. Darren Fletcher’s incisive pass into Wayne Rooney, a backheel into Danny Welbeck, a flicked through ball into Ashley Young: 1-0.
United’s number 18, rejuvenated in the Dutchman’s seemingly ingenious wing-back system, curled in a second before Shinji Kagawa’s glorious ball was thumped home by Javier Hernandez.
Van Gaal’s United followed up their dazzling supremacy over the European Champions by triumphing over Liverpool and then Valencia, ending their pre-season tour with six wins out of six. They then proceeded to lose at home to Swansea. And draw with Sunderland. And concede four to MK Dons. And finish fourth. Then fifth.
25th July 2015
Mansfield Town 1-1 Leicester City
“Uninspired,” Gary Lineker quipped upon Leicester City’s unveiling of Claudio Ranieri. Twelve months on, he’s preparing his finest pair of briefs for the prying eyes of public television. Yes, we all know how last season ended, the culmination of a sporting achievement that even now still feels like one of those lucid dreams too bizarre to fully recall.
However, it’s worth noting how the season started for Premier League champions Leicester City: with a dull stalemate at the One Call Stadium.
Ranieri, in his second game in charge of the Foxes, less than a year after he was sacked in disgrace by Greece, started David Nugent in the hole behind Andrej Kramaric, Ritchie De Laet and Tom Lawrence at wing-back and Jamie Vardy on the bench.
Thus, Nugent’s sublime strike 10 minutes in was cancelled out shortly after by Mansfield’s Matt Green. It’s fair to say Leicester’s season soon picked up.
11th July 2003
Peterborough United 1-0 Arsenal
Once upon a time, in a faraway land where James Beattie scored for fun and Jose Mourinho was a little known upstart in his native Iberia, Arsenal ruled the English game with an iron fist and silk shoes.
Arsene Wenger, meanwhile, remained the smooth-talking, smug-smiling Hugo Drax to Sir Alex Ferguson’s eternally victorious Sean Connery.
“We can go through the season unbeaten - a frightening thought,” Wenger said in September 2002, as reported by the BBC. A year and a half later, that ‘frightening thought’ became reality.
Before they scribed ‘The Invincibles’ into legend, however, there was the little matter of a 1-0 defeat to second division Peterborough United. Francis Green’s goal 29 minutes in was enough to condemn an Arsenal side of Edu, Ray Parlour, Sol Campbell, Martin Keown and, ahem, Francis Jeffers (below), to an embarrassing off-season defeat. Bet Wenger didn’t see that coming, to quote the popular joke of the day.
Remarkably, the Gunners wouldn’t lose a game on domestic turf until January, when Juninho’s Middlesbrough won 1-0 at Highbury in the League Cup semi-finals. How times change.