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Red Devils vs. Toffees

Friday September 15

Aon Training Complex, Carrington, UK

Ahead of the next Premier League match at Old Trafford, the Manchester United players trained with intensity as they knew better than anyone about the importance of bouncing back in the main domestic competition after the defeat against Arsenal in the previous weekend. Furthermore, the upcoming opposition, Everton F.C., was anything but an easy prey. Following some on-field work, the players gathered inside the tactical room to discuss about what to expect from their Liverpool-based opponents. After a briefing about the work done in the last few days, it was video time. For the final part of the tactical session, José showed footage of what Everton did very well in previous matches.

"As you can see here, Everton's passing game can be very dangerous if we let them breathe in our own half. The midfielders will work very hard to hunt the ball, but remember that the key man to watch is Gylfi Sigurdsson. Most of you guys certainly remember when he used to play for Swansea. he hurt us in the past, he is always dangerous from anywhere, and he will take chances when he sees a gap." José said about Everton's tactical approach.

"Sigurdsson is one good test for you." Kakeru whispered to Yusuke.

"I expect it." Yusuke replied.

The video continued with José instructing his players about Everton's midfield before the topic changed into Everton's defensive approach.

"As most of you see on the screen now, they are very good defensively when they are given time to set up. I don't need to tell you how experienced they are with Ashley Williams and Leighton Baines among their regulars. Now, they have added youth in Michael Keane. Speed of execution will be vital by any means. Play a sharp passing game and attack the spaces. That's how we will get them. We all worked hard in the last few days with that match in mind, and not only about Celtic on Wednesday. We cannot lose this game." José said. “Any questions?

The players kept it silent, meaning the tactical briefing can end.

"All right. Be at the Lowry in time tonight before curfew." José finished.

Then the players left the tactical room, all briefed about what to expect in general of the Everton team. In one of the corridors, Kakeru, Nana, and Yusuke were talking about the upcoming game.

"It looks like we are in for a tough battle." Yusuke said.

"It's not the same as playing against Liverpool F.C., but a match between a Manchester-based team and a Liverpool-based team is always a heated thing." Nana replied. "It's part of a long-standing rivalry between 2 cities."

"And besides, Everton always give quite a fight against us even if they don’t win." Kakeru added.

"I heard that some people nickname Everton F.C. as the Toffees. Why is that?" Yusuke asked.

"From what I have heard, they say that there was a famous type of candy being made from a shop in the Everton district in Liverpool. That's where they earned their nickname." Nana replied.

"I see. That's quite funny though."

"It sure is." Kakeru said. "But nothing will be funny with them tomorrow."

"You're thinking about facing your former captain, Wayne Rooney, right?" Yusuke asked.

"Yep. He has done so much for the club, and he was a big inspiration for Nana and I. For the first time, I will face him as an opponent." Kakeru replied.

"It will be a strange for all of us who had him as a teammate." Nana added.

"I can imagine." Yusuke said.

"Rooney helped us a lot to integrate in the club. For me, he held the ship as well as he could when we were trying to find our winning stride again. The only other player who had that much influence on me was Zlatan Ibrahimović. While Zlatan was the one who taught me, like many of us, on how to be a better player, Rooney is the one who showed me how to give everything for this club." Kakeru said.

"You can be sure he will give everything out there for his boyhood club of Everton tomorrow even if his body doesn't quite follow as well as it did in the past." Nana added.

"I will keep that in mind." Yusuke replied before he changed topics. "Something bothers me about tomorrow's kickoff though. Why would the Premier League would set up professional matches to be played on Saturdays at 12:30 PM, right in the middle of lunchtime? I know that we all played games in high school around such times, but never at professional level with everything it demands."

"That's the downside of having the most televised football league in the world, Yusuke: show as many games as possible while having to respect the '3:00 PM blackout' in the UK. Sometimes, our Saturday kickoff is either that early or much later at 5:30 PM." Kakeru replied.

"It wasn't easy when we played for the first time with an early kickoff. What any player needs is to slightly adapt his routine, and take a bigger intake for breakfast in order to get that energy." Nana added.

"Well, thanks for the advice then." Yusuke replied.

"Sure, it's all part of settling yourself down in a new environment and a new culture. You'll get used to it just as everyone else did." Kakeru said.

"So be it. By the way, there is one last thing... is Noriko-san still mad at me for that little incident on Sunday?" Yusuke asked.

"She was shocked, but I don't think she holds any ill feelings about it. Why?" Nana returned the question.

"I want to make up with her, but I'm not sure how and when to do it."

"I can't tell you how to do it, but I'm sure it will be just fine if you're the one making the first step towards her." Kakeru said.

"Kakeru's right. Whatever she wants from you so she can see you in a good light, just ask her." Nana added.

"I'll see what I can do after the match. We have to keep our focus for tomorrow." Yusuke replied.

"Make sure you don't eat too many toffees tonight." Kakeru joked.

Yusuke laughed. "I knew you would say that. Same goes for both of you."

"That's for sure." Nana finished.


Saturday September 16

Manchester United vs. Everton (Premier League match 5)

Old Trafford, Manchester, UK

One of the reasons for early kickoff times such as 12:30 PM on Saturdays is television. Because of an arcane law designed to protect attendances at the stadiums, games at the traditionally scheduled time of 3:00 PM on Saturday afternoons aren't televised within the United Kingdom. Although all teams are drilled to hold training sessions in the mornings, there are some teams performing better than others in early matches. There is no rational explanation behind it, and the main challenge for both teams is to hope that "the morning coffee has kicked in."

In the players' tunnel, Kakeru and Yusuke stood among the 11 starters for Manchester United. Everyone's attention was on Wayne Rooney though. One by one, the Manchester United players shook hands with the man who scored a record total of 253 goals for United.

"Hey, Kakeru." Wayne said.

"Hi there, Wazza."

"Nice to see you're doing great so far this season."

"Thanks. You're doing well with Everton so far too." Kakeru said.

"Thanks. Let's have a good game today." Wayne gave Kakeru a friendly hug.

Then Wayne continued shaking hands until both teams were finally waiting side by side in the tunnel.

"Who are you looking at?" Kakeru asked after noticing his friend focusing his attention on a player from the opposition.

"I'm looking at their number 18." Yusuke replied, which prompted Kakeru to look at Everton's central attacking midfielder, Gylfi Sigurdsson. "I'm studying him."

"There's nothing you can't do if you already gave Araki-san a run for his money last week. Just keep it simple." Kakeru said as he gave Yusuke a friendly tap on the shoulder.

"Our team is not just about a few individuals. I know what you guys think about in your gameplan; the goals can come from any of us." Everton midfielder and former United player Morgan Schneiderlin said.

"We know what your team’s strengths and weaknesses are, Morgan. We'll make it count where it matters: on the scoreboard." Kakeru replied.

"We'll see it on the pitch, Kakeru."

"I expect it, Morgan." Kakeru finished.

Within the following seconds, the referee ordered both teams to come on the pitch. Under the applause of the home fans, Kakeru and Yusuke switched themselves into game mode. Meanwhile, Nana followed her fellow Manchester United substitutes on their way towards the bench. José decided that Nana would only come off the bench at the earliest in the second half because she left a good share of energy in the match against Celtic 3 days earlier. Meanwhile, the most noticeable addition to the Manchester United starting lineup was the return of veteran Englishman Ashley Young after a season-ending injury sustained in May; he was starting at left-back for the men in red shirts.

Your commentator for this lunchtime match under the sun, from the BBC, is Guy Mowbray.

Guy Mowbray: After the defeat against Arsenal last week, United look to get back to winning ways in the League. With a solid cameo debut against Arsenal and a first start for Manchester United in the midweek match against Celtic, Yusuke Saeki earns his first Premier League start this afternoon. Nevertheless, all eyes are on this man, Wayne Rooney, who returns to Old Trafford today with the club where it all started for him.

Although the Old Trafford crowd gave the usual cold welcome to opposition players as their names were announced by Alan Keegan, everyone in the attendance waited for the very moment Wayne Rooney's name would be announced last in the starting XI for Everton.

Alan Keegan: WELCOME BACK TO OLD TRAFFORD! Number 10... WAYNE ROONEY!

In response, Wayne saluted the crowd. Although he was a consummate professional, the Evertonian had a little of a tough time containing his emotions in front of a crowd that was his own for 13 seasons.

After this emotional moment, both teams proceeded to start the match. Only 5 minutes into the match, Everton were already conceding most of ball possession time to Manchester United, and set themselves up to hit at United on counterattacks. However, such approach also meant that Everton would have to hold their ground against opposition attacks for most of the time. Also whenever Everton had the ball, the visiting players in blue were submitted to high pressure from the home players in red.

Guy Mowbray: Cleared towards Baines, who passes it to Williams.

Everton's left-back, Leighton Baines, passed the ball towards the nearest central defender, the Welshman Ashley Williams. As Manchester United players put on some pressure on the Everton defender, the latter kicked the ball back deep in United’s half where Matthias was standing.

Guy Mowbray: Headed down by Köhler for Saeki...

"Yusuke!" Pog shouted for a pass.

Gylfi Sigurdsson came in sticking his leg out to tackle Yusuke down. However, Yusuke used his hands to push himself up, resist against Gylfi's persistent shoving, and finally pass the ball forward for Pog. The referee gave United the advantage.

Guy Mowbray: The referee lets Saeki go... Pogba... on the left for Aizawa.

Kakeru waited for the perfect opportunity, and then beat Everton's right-back towards the inside. Quickly pondering his options, the Japanese forward passed the ball towards the front of the box where Yusuke as ready to unload a left-footed strike from distance.

'Here it goes!' Yusuke thought.

Guy Mowbray: Now Saeki with the SHOT!

The shot bent across the face of goal, so much that Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford was not able to reach the ball with his fully stretched right arm. Fortunately for the goalkeeper, the ball struck the outside of the post, and flew behind, resulting only in a goal kick for Everton.

Guy Mowbray: Just hit the outside of the post. Saeki was that close of scoring his second goal in 2 League matches.

Yusuke grimaced as he just saw the result of his effort producing nothing in the end. 'I was sure I had it.' Yusuke thought.

"It's OK!" Romelu said while applauding in approval of the last attempt.

"Good effort, Yusuke!" Kakeru added.

The game continued for a while with nothing exciting on the attack as United were still held by Everton's compact defensive setup. At the other end, Everton didn't have a crack at the Manchester United goal yet as all counterattacks were ineffective. In the 23rd minute, a little moment of controversy left its mark on the first half of the match.

Guy Mowbray: Saeki… looking for options, finds Lukaku.

Yusuke sent a long ball forward to Romelu, but the Belgian striker couldn’t find his way past the Everton defenders at the edge of the box after receiving the pass. As a result, Romelu passed the ball back towards Kakeru.

Guy Mowbray: No way forward for him... Aizawa... finds Young on the overlap...

As Kakeru knew that Ashley Young was running behind him, the Japanese forward immediately passed the ball into his English teammate's path. Making a dash inside and towards the edge of the Everton box, Ashley Young crossed the ball towards Romelu. However, but an Everton player cut the pass before it reached its recipient. Nevertheless, the ball went back towards Pog, who was lurking outside of the box.

Guy Mowbray: Pogba with the shot! It was blocked...

The shot was stopped by the Everton defender Michael Keane, but United's French midfielder was preparing to take a second attempt. However, another Everton player stood in the way between Pog and Keane. That other Everton player lifted his right arm up, and hit the ball away momentarily.

Guy Mowbray: Oh, was that a hand ball?

The Manchester United players and fans alike immediately screamed for a penalty as the apparently illegal contact was made inside the penalty area, but the referee didn't signal anything. The ball was finally cleared on the sidelines by Leighton.

"How did you not see that? He knocked the ball away with his right arm inside the box!" Pog asked the referee while making sure to point towards the right arm.

"Come on, ref! His arm was that high when he touched that ball. It was impossible to miss that." Romelu also asked for an explanation.

"From where I stood, I didn't see anything to call at all. Even the assistant didn't call it." the referee replied shortly, not wanting to hear any more.

"That was a very poor decision, ref." Kakeru mumbled to himself.

Guy Mowbray: There is no possible doubt: it was a hand ball. The Everton manager would say it wasn't intentional, but any other manager, player or fan would say it was a penalty. Everton have a break.

Meanwhile, Noriko and her parents were watching the action unfolding far away in the Eastern half of the pitch. They saw the last controversial incident from their position, and they were as displeased as any of the other United fans in the attendance.

"How did he not see that? Even I could see it from far here" Noriko said.

"I don't know. Either him or the linesman should have seen it." Robert replied.

"It speaks volumes that the standard of refereeing is very low these days." Harry said.

"No kidding. The quality of football referees is so far behind rugby's now." Sayuri remarked.

"Indeed, it has become a joke compared to many other sports. The game of football deserves better officiating for all the money it makes." Robert added.

Later in the 30th minute:

Guy Mowbray: Aizawa... looking for Lukaku.

From his position slightly on the left side of pitch, Kakeru slightly cut inside his marker, and aimed for the through pass to Romelu. However, the pass was cut by Ashley Williams. The loose ball came towards Morgan Schneiderlin, who then passed it back to his other central defender.

Guy Mowbray: Cleared away...

What was intended as a clearance became an unintentional pass to Everton winger Yannick Bolasie. The Congolese winger managed to sneak behind Eric, and was on a dangerous run towards the Manchester United goal.

Guy Mowbray: Here's Bolasie... He's behind Bailly, and he can run all the way!

Both players got into a sprint towards United's goal. Eric gained his ground right next to Yannick, and used the left arm to push him. After pushing the ball a little ahead of him inside the box, Yannick then instinctively grabbed Eric's left arm within a split second before he dragged both players on the ground. At the same time, the loose ball was caught by United’s goalkeeper.

"Hey, peno!" Yannick pleaded his case, but then put his hands on his head in despair as he was not awarded the penalty, but the play was allowed to continue instead. Everton players, coaches, and fans were furious at the referee.

Guy Mowbray: That last touch by Bolasie probably got the decision against him as David De Gea was going to pick up the ball anyway.

On the Manchester United bench, players and coaches alike sighed in relief that the Everton winger didn't create any damage in what was an unexpected counterattack.

"That was a close call." Daley said.

"At first, Eric made a mistake when he didn't see the player behind him. But Eric didn't give up, and he applied just enough pressure to make it a little nudge, nothing more. There were 2 things the referee didn't like: first, the ball was far too far ahead to create a real point blank chance out of it; second, Bolasie grabbed Eric's arm to drag everyone on the ground. That's why Everton didn't get the penalty." Nana replied.

"I always forget how you have such a fine eye for detail, Witch."

"That comes with experience since I worked more or less like an assistant coach in high school, Daley." Nana finished before she switched back into her thoughts. 'Still, it was too close for comfort. The Boss was right when he warned us about their ability to launch counterattacks.'

In the 38th minute:

Guy Mowbray: Paul Pogba has the ball now...

Pog crossed the halfway line, and ran a few steps ahead with the ball before he spotted Henrikh ahead of him. Then United's Armenian flicked the ball into Romelu's path in front of the Everton penalty area.

Guy Mowbray: Good flick by Mkhitaryan towards Lukaku...

Finding Ashley Williams in his path, Romelu sent the ball past a couple of Everton defenders. Kakeru was ready to strike the one-timer.

Guy Mowbray: AIZAWA!!!

As Kakeru's shot was flying towards the top corner at the goalkeeper's right, Pickford immediately jumped in, and deflected the shot away. However, the rebound flew back and further outside of the box where Ander was lurking.

Guy Mowbray: Great save by Pickford, but we're not finished yet. Ander Herrera...

Ander then passed the ball to Antonio. The Ecuadorian tried to find an opening for a cross, but an Everton player stood in, and deflected the ball behind the goal line. Hence it was a Manchester United corner kick. The last action got the home crowd roaring and asking for more.

"Nice pass, Rom!" Kakeru acknowledged the quality of the through pass. The Manchester United striker replied with a thumbs-up sign.

'Come on, you guys. We have to take advantage of the momentum' Nana thought as she watched the action from her seat.

Guy Mowbray: Herrera will take the corner kick. Is there more to come?

Ander played a short corner kick with a quick give-and-go with Antonio before the ball was sent into the penalty area. As the ball's trajectory dipped, Matthias arrived in, and out-jumped all Everton players. The German defender in red made solid contact with the ball, and the resulting shot flew towards the goal.

Guy Mowbray: It's in for KÖHLER!!! Another great save by Pickford!

Pickford, once again, was in the right place at the right time when he stretched his arms in the shot’s trajectory. After the save, one of the Everton defenders cleared the ball out of danger and towards the sidelines. Meanwhile, everyone wearing and cheering red was in disbelief after the Everton goalkeeper just robbed 2 goals on back-to-back chances.

"Damn it! We should be ahead by 2 goals with chances like that." Noriko exclaimed.

"I thought the same too. Hopefully, our team won't get deflated after missing those opportunities." Robert said.

Meanwhile on the Manchester United bench:

"Come on, lads! Keep going!" Nana shouted, and clapped her hands to cheer her teammates up.

"We should be ahead by now. Damn." Daley said.

"If we keep attacking them like this to give them nothing, we will win today." Nana replied.

The remaining minutes of the first half went down quickly with United pressing, but not quite able to find the breach in Everton's armor. The score remained 0-0 after 45 minutes. Both teams knew what they needed to do, but were also fully aware of what the other team can do with a single mistake to capitalize on.


Around 11 minutes after the halftime whistle:

"Do you think Mourinho will make any changes, Grandpa?" Noriko asked.

"Considering we played well in the first half, and limited their chances in the first half, things should stay the same. If there's one player who could make way for the first change, bar an injury, it would be Herrera going out for either Mishima or Mata." Harry replied.

"I agree. There's no point changing anything just yet unless there's a knock somewhere." Robert added. "It depends of what kind of attacking shape we want to use."

"I would like to see Nana coming in to break the deadlock. I think it's going to happen if she comes on while it's still 0-0." Noriko said.

"I have no doubts about Nana's talent, and we all know she can do it, but that's quite a bold prediction." Sayuri said in Japanese.

"Knowing her like I do, I stand by my point." Noriko replied.

At the same time Noriko finished the conversation, players from both teams came out of the players' tunnel for the second half. As predicted, the 22 players who started the match remained on the field. Meanwhile, the substitutes still had their track jackets on after they did a few warm-up exercises during halftime. Everton started the second half with a high-intensity pressure in midfield, but were not able to build a sustained attack. It wasn't too long before United moved forward to test Everton's defenses again.

In the 54th minute:

Guy Mowbray: Saeki... nice control…

After he dribbled a bouncing ball past a nearby Everton player, Yusuke passed the ball forward to Pog, who then performed a quick 1-2 play with Kakeru. The Manchester United midfielder was dashing towards the Everton penalty area.

Guy Mowbray: Give-and-go with Aizawa... Pogba... 3 red shirts in the box...

Pog looked for options: he had Kakeru, Henrikh, and Romelu lurking and waiting for a pass. However as Pog sent the ball across the front of the 6-yard box, Michael Keane stood in, and deflected the ball behind to concede a corner kick.

Guy Mowbray: Manchester United have a corner...

On the corner kick, Ander sent a long aerial ball inside the Everton penalty area. Despite a huge defensive presence at the near post, Matthias' head was the one that made contact with the ball.

Guy Mowbray: The cross... KÖHLER'S HEADER... IT'S AGAINST THE POST!!!

The ball from Matthias' header struck the post, and the rebound then bounced off Kakeru's hip to roll back towards Pickford. However, the whistle was blown, and play was quickly halted under the looks of disbelief from the Old Trafford crowd.

Guy Mowbray: THE FLAG'S GONE UP! It's being waved, the ball has not gone in, and Pickford has it in his grateful gloves.

At the very same time Matthias headed the ball towards the post, Kakeru was standing offside by fine margins, hence the play being called. Even Kakeru was a little surprised by the velocity of the rebound, so he had very little control with it.

'Damn! I should have timed my run better.' Kakeru thought.

Although United continued to control most of the ball possession time, the game continued to be an affair of fine margins that could go one way or the other. In the 60th minute, the Toffees started having scoring chances of their own against the Red Devils.

Guy Mowbray: Everton now controlling the play, and looking to strike. Leighton Baines... finds Bolasie.

Indeed, Everton were in a phase where they controlled the ball a little better with good passes. Looking for options, Yannick Bolasie found the moment to pass the ball to Gylfi Sigurdsson as the latter found some open space.

Guy Mowbray: He finds Sigurdsson...

Realizing that Gylfi was looking to take a shot from distance rather than pass the ball, Yusuke dashed, and then ran into the shooting trajectory as Gylfi took the shot. However, the shot deflected off the inside of Yusuke's left leg, and rolled towards the goal.

"Damn it!" Yusuke cursed.

The ball appeared to be rolling quickly towards the bottom corner of the goal, but David dived in full stretch and just managed to get enough of the shot with his right hand to let it roll away for a corner kick.

Guy Mowbray: Just turned aside by De Gea! It was a difficult stop, but he made it.

On the way to defensive positions ahead of the upcoming corner, Yusuke looked towards his goalkeeper, and nodded his head as a way to say "Good save".

When the Toffees took the corner kick through Leighton's left-footed pass, Matthias cleared the ball away with his head. However, the Everton player who stood closest to the halfway line sent the ball back towards his teammate Leighton to start another threat on the Red Devils' goal.

Guy Mowbray: Baines...

Dashing forward by a few yards, Leighton unleashed a quick low cross that rolled towards the edge of the 6-yard box. Standing unmarked and ready for the easy tap-in goal was Wayne Rooney. However, David held his ground once again as he stuck his left leg out in a reflex motion to stop the shot at point blank.

Guy Mowbray: ROONEY! STOPPED BY DE GEA AGAIN!

After a scramble with both sides attempting to control the ball in the air in the following 5 seconds, David caught the ball, and stopped the play in his team's favor.

"Great save, Big Dave!" Matthias said.

"Thanks, Big Dave! You really saved our butts just now." Yusuke congratulated his goalkeeper with a tap on the shoulder.

"It's OK, but try to slow down the play now if any." David gave his teammates his advice to counter Everton's rising momentum.

Feeling that his team was in need of a new spark in order to regain the initiative over their blue opponents from Merseyside, José ordered a double substitution in the 65th minute. At the same time, Henrikh was carrying a little knock, and thus needed to be subbed off. The 2 players coming in had the task of revitalizing the Red Devils' attacking pressure over the Toffees.

Alan Keegan: Substitution for Manchester United: replacing number 21, Ander Herrera... number 7, Nana Mishima.

"Go get them, Witch!" Ander said to Nana while giving her the double high five in the substitution process.

"Count on me."

After Nana walked onto the pitch, the 4th official indicated the next substitution to take place for the Red Devils.

Alan Keegan: Substitution for Manchester United: replacing number 22, Henrikh Mkhitaryan... number 11, Anthony Martial.

Nana went straight to Kakeru to pass on further instructions from José.

"So what's the plan, Seven?" Kakeru asked.

"The Boss says you move on the right forward position of the 4-3-3, but you're OK to interchange with anyone else in the front 3. I will stay mainly on the right in midfield." Nana replied.

"Got it. Let's go!"

The game continued, and Manchester United started regaining the initiative in the match. It took a few minutes for the Red Devils to find the right attacking pace, but the substitutions were starting to take their effect in the 74th minute.

Guy Mowbray: Long ball by Valencia... it's cleared by Williams.

The clearance by Ashley Williams only went as far as to Pog at a little less than 40 yards from goal. Pog then passed the ball to Kakeru, who moved forward a few yards before making a cheeky back heel pass for Romelu.

Guy Mowbray: Lukaku's in position to shoot...

Instead of hitting the ball as 2 Everton players jumped forward to block any shooting attempt, the Belgian striker in red ran with the ball in front of the penalty area, and then passed the ball back to Kakeru towards the side of the penalty area.

Guy Mowbray: He found Aizawa on the edge of the penalty area... Looking for the cross.

Spotting a red shirt dashing across the near post, Kakeru crossed the ball towards that teammate. The player in question was Nana, who deflected the ball with a half volley towards the goal. However, the shot also deflected off an Everton defender and then off the post.

Guy Mowbray: It's Mishima! That's off the post!

Without any hesitation, Leighton immediately headed the ball out of bounds, allowing his fellow Toffees to breathe. Meanwhile, Nana could only look in disbelief at the opportunity that just went by. The Old Trafford crowd was buzzing as well.

In the 75th minute:

Guy Mowbray: There are 2 substitutions coming for Everton. It looks like it is the end for Wayne Rooney and Kevin Mirallas. They will be replaced by Sandro Ramírez and Dominic Calvert-Lewin.

As expected, the man known as "Wazza" was applauded by the entire attendance as he left the field. The 2 changes were meant to add some fresh legs for Everton with 15 minutes and stoppages to play.

In the 79th minute:

Guy Mowbray: Everton trying to create something on the break. Calvert-Lewin...

The following pass was intended for Gylfi. However, it was quickly intercepted by Yusuke. From there, Yusuke promptly passed to Pog, who then passed the ball to Antonio on the right flank.

Guy Mowbray: Valencia for Manchester United...

Dashing along the right flank, Antonio finally arrived on the edge of Everton's penalty area when he sent a quick low pass across the inside of the box. Running on the ready for a one-timer shot, Nana immediately blasted the ball. Unfortunately, the shot was blocked by Ashley Williams.

Guy Mowbray: Mishima! It hit Williams! It comes back to Mishima again...

The rebound went immediately back to Nana, who only needed a split second to see her best option. Following her instincts, Nana went for the lob pass ahead for Kakeru. The Japanese forward managed to get between 2 blue shirts and stay unmarked at 6 yards from goal. Without any hesitation, Kakeru went for a header shot towards Pickford's goal.

Guy Mowbray: AIZAWA! TERRIFIC SAVE BY PICKFORD!!!

In desperation, Pickford stretched his right hand, and deflected Kakeru's header away and behind. The end result was only a corner kick and even more disbelief from the local supporters. At the same time Nana moved towards the corner flag, Pickford was still reprimanding his teammates for the poor defensive coverage. On the following corner kick, Nana’s long ball flew towards Romelu. Unfortunately for United, Romelu's attempted header was cleared away by an Everton player, and the following high-tempo sequence of passes by the players in red was wasted into a goal kick when the last pass went astray and out of bounds.


For the following 7 minutes, United continued to attack relentlessly. However, the Toffees were still holding on the hope of getting out of Old Trafford with at least a draw. The players in blue were literally "parking the bus" in front of Pickford's goal. By the 86th minute, the Red Devils’ odds of breaking the deadlock were dwindling by the minute as both teams were getting exhausted. However, United had a throw-in deep in Everton's territory.

Guy Mowbray: Saeki for Manchester United...

Looking for options after the throw-in, Yusuke spotted Romelu making a run inside the penalty area. At the decisive split second, the Japanese midfielder unleashed a quick pass straight towards Romelu's upper body.

Guy Mowbray: Lukaku has a chance...

Unfortunately for Romelu, an Everton defender slid in with a tackle to take the ball away. Kakeru and another Everton defender then came in fighting for the ball; the Japanese managed to shield the ball for a split second. Showing his back to the goal, Kakeru knew he had to act quickly.

"Kakeru!" Nana shouted.

The Japanese forward in red immediately pushed a pass back towards the edge of the 18-yard box. Despite the presence of 3 Everton players in her path, Nana unleashed a powerful low shot between her nearest marker's legs and towards the bottom corner of the goal. This time, Pickford's hands couldn't stop to the ball from reaching the intended destination.

Guy Mowbray: MISHIMAAA!!! 1-0 UNITED! IT'S A THUMPING STRIKE!

Under a thunderous noise of joyful cheers inside Old Trafford, Nana ran towards the nearest corner flag, and slapped it down before she got mobbed by Kakeru and their other teammates in the celebrations.

"I KNEW YOU COULD DO IT! WOOHOO!!!" Noriko shouted. She was only a few yards from the celebrating United players.

"You did it, Seven!" Kakeru said.

"Thanks! Great pass, Kakeru." Nana replied.

"Great shot, Nana!" Pog added.

"Well done, you guys!" Romelu added. "Beautiful!"

"We're almost there, so stay focused." Matthias reminded everyone of the next task at hand in the match. "Let's give them nothing!"

Guy Mowbray: Just only 4 minutes plus stoppages to go now. United have broken the deadlock, thanks to the Little Witch.

On the Manchester United bench:

'There is absolutely nothing these two can't do together on the pitch. They are perfectly synched on the same wavelength, and know how to find each other when it matters the most.' José thought as he looked on with a smile, and applauded his players.

Trailing behind on the scoreboard, the Toffees had no choice but to bring more players forward at a great risk. They made their final substitutions with the idea of going in full attack to tie the game. However, the Red Devils of Manchester were also trained to hold onto the lead, and to hit the opposition swiftly on counterattacks in those situations.Just less than 3 minutes after Nana's goal, disaster struck Everton.

Guy Mowbray: Sigurdsson... good pressure by Yusuke Saeki.

As Gylfi tried to pass the ball forward under Yusuke's very tight marking, the ball went loose towards Matthias, who then passed the ball back to the Manchester United goalkeeper.

Guy Mowbray: Köhler... back to De Gea, who clears it away.

David's long clearance flew beyond the halfway line. At that position, Romelu managed to get in front of Leighton and chested the ball down. Spotting Kakeru making a dash in full speed, Romelu unleashed the through pass towards the Japanese striker’s path. Although Michael Keane was trying to keep pace with Kakeru, the latter was clearly about to outrun the Everton defender.

Guy Mowbray: Aizawa's through. It's Kakeru Aizawa...

As Kakeru was entering the Everton penalty area, Michael Keane used his left arm, and instinctively grabbed Kakeru's shirt in order to regain a positional advantage. The action drew several shouts from the Manchester United supporters and players as the foul was committed inside of the penalty area. Kakeru even fell to the ground as a result of the long grab and the arm around the neck.

Guy Mowbray: Was he pulled back by Keane?

PEEP! PEEP!

The referee blew his whistle, and immediately pointed towards the penalty spot under the loud cheers from the local supporters. Meanwhile, Kakeru was pumping his fist after he earned the penalty decision in his favor.

"YES!" Kakeru shouted.

"Well played, Knight! Well done!" Romelu congratulated Kakeru with a hug.

"We have them now!" Pog added.

Guy Mowbray: It's a penalty for Manchester United!

Because of the obviousness of the foul, there was not one Everton player complaining against the decision. The Toffees knew that Michael Keane had no choice but to commit the foul. Meanwhile, the 3,000 Everton fans started booing as the penalty taker for United stepped up. The player was none other than former Everton striker, Romelu Lukaku.

Guy Mowbray: The former Manchester United player has given away the penalty. Now, it's the former Everton striker, Romelu Lukaku, stepping forward. He has a chance to put the penalty miss against Celtic behind him.

Meanwhile in the stands:

"Come on, Lukaku." Robert said.

"I hope he doesn't fail us now." Noriko added.

Everyone inside Old Trafford had eyes on the penalty taker, who was waiting for the signal from the referee. Only 12 yards and Jordan Pickford separated United from a more comfortable margin to claim a victory.

PEEP!

Making his run, Romelu struck the ball towards the goalkeeper's left bottom corner. Meanwhile, Pickford went diving towards the wrong side on his right. Suddenly, the big striker in red doubled his team's advantage.

Guy Mowbray: LUKAKU SCORES! And suddenly Manchester United have a 2-0 lead. They will claim all 3 points surely now.

Romelu was quickly mugged by his teammates after the goal. At that moment, victory for the Red Devils was no longer a doubt to anyone inside Old Trafford.

Alan Keegan: UNITED'S GOAL... SCORED BY NUMBER NINE... ROMELU LUKAKUUU!!!

"Get that one in, Rom! Nice shot!" Kakeru said.

"Well done. They are finished for today." Matthias added.

"Thanks. Let's keep it safe now." Romelu replied.

On the other end of the spectrum of emotions, the Everton players could only watch in shock horror as their efforts were officially gone to total waste after 2 quick and late goals from the Red Devils. The visitors lost any motivation to carry on with the fight, and that gave one last opportunity for the local side to rub salt in the wound deep in stoppage time.

Guy Mowbray: Baines with the throw... it's intercepted by Lingard.

Having replaced Kakeru on the pitch right after the 2-0 goal, Jesse intercepted the throw-in pass that was destined for an Everton player. The English winger passed towards Romelu, who then started cutting towards Everton's penalty area. Although he was surrounded by 3 players, Romelu managed to lay the ball off for a dashing Nana.

'I'll have you now.' Nana thought.

Then Nana fooled the veteran defender Ashley Williams completely with an elastico feint as she appeared to be going left before she changed her run to her right inside the danger area.

Guy Mowbray: Mishima's going through!

With a quick point blank shot, Nana left no chance for Pickford as the ball flew to the bottom corner in his right. For the second time in only a few minutes, Nana got the vast majority of the attendance at Old Trafford up for a standing ovation towards her.

Guy Mowbray: 3-0! The scoreline is harsh for Everton, but Nana Mishima, who started it all off with 4 minutes from time, finishes it all off in injury time.

"Way to go, Nana! That was a great run!" Noriko exclaimed as she watched the Manchester United players gathering around Nana in the celebrations.

"I'm really happy you predicted it right for Nana-chan. She really is amazing today." Sayuri said.

"I know, Mom. For me, there's no better female player than her at this time, and she even beats most of the guys so easily out there."

"It's the first time she scores 2 goals in a same official match against men, right?" Robert asked.

"It is. She will surely remember this special day, Dad." Noriko replied.

"I'm really happy to be here, and see this moment in my lifetime. Football sure has changed, but it sure can still create unique moments like this one." Harry said to Noriko, who replied with a big smile.

The game finally ended by a final score of 3-0 for Manchester United, back to winning ways in the Premier League and still at the top of the standings despite the defeat against Arsenal. Right after the final whistle, Wayne Rooney and Morgan Schneiderlin were the first to congratulate the Manchester United players.

"Good game, you guys." Wayne said.

"Thanks, Wazza." Kakeru replied.

"Your team kept it tight until the last few minutes. You played well too." Nana added.

"Yeah, it was a close game. We should have taken our chances." Wayne replied.

"You guys have become even better than you were last year. I hope you'll carry on except against us." Morgan added.

Kakeru and Nana laughed.

"I wish you a good continuation then." Nana said.

"Best of luck until our next match. See you then." Morgan said.

"I hope we will both be there at Goodison Park. See you next time." Kakeru replied.

"See you there." Wayne finished.


After the post-match interviews, some showering, and a change of clothes, Kakeru, Nana, and Yusuke joined Noriko just by the exit of the players' tunnel. It was set to be a short meeting before the 3 Japanese players would go home, and then join their teammates later in the evening for a party involving only the Manchester United players.

"You were really awesome today, Nana. It's the first time you score 2 goals in a single match since you joined United." Noriko said.

"Yeah, it was something very special. Still, I would not have been able to do it if it wasn’t for Kakeru's efforts. He deserves the plaudits as well."

"You're right, Nana. If we also count the fact that he earned the penalty kick, Kakeru has 2 assists for today's game alone although he didn't score."

"I must say that it wasn't quite my day considering that I missed my chances to open the score. Still, I'm glad that I'm still able to contribute that much in a different way." Kakeru replied to Noriko.

"It's OK, Kakeru. That's why you're a dangerous player to play against in this league; the opposition can't predict your next move, but you keep delivering something." Nana said.

Meanwhile, Yusuke was still silent in the middle of the conversation. Kakeru then switched topics a little. "Oh, and by the way, I think Yusuke handled Gylfi Sigurdsson very well in the circumstances. Am I right, Yusuke?"

"Well, I studied his approach to the game. It wasn't that difficult in the end." Yusuke replied.

"Yeah, but you sure had to go from theory to practice. You were not fazed for most of the time." Nana said.

"Nana is right. I think you played a very solid game, and that's why Everton didn't exploit the middle that often." Noriko added.

"Well, thanks." Yusuke replied.

"Oh, I just remembered that I forgot something in the dressing room. It will take a few minutes." Kakeru said.

"I also have to check one last thing before we get going too. So don't go too far off, you two." Nana also added before she and Kakeru walked away.

"W... Wait! Kakeru! Nana!" Yusuke begged, but to no avail. Suddenly, Yusuke realized that he was now alone with Noriko. "Well, that was unexpected."

"What?" Noriko asked.

"Nothing. You want to walk out there a little?" Yusuke asked.

"Sure. Why not?"

Yusuke and Noriko walked just by the area where the Lewis family was seated during all home matches.

"When I saw you during the match, you looked quite intense every time we scored, and when the crowd was chanting. Where did you learn to support a team like that?" Yusuke asked.

"My father and my grandfather are huge fans of this club. They also used to be more intense, so I guess I learned a number of things from them, including the banter. I spent my first 7 years of life in this city as well, remember."

"I see. There are female fans at Yokohama, but none of them ever matched that intensity of yours. If anything, I feel fortunate for our club to have strong supporters like you." Yusuke said.

Noriko smiled. "Thanks. In the English culture, football is ecstasy, anguish, joy, and despair. It's a religion. What's good about it regardless is that I'm lucky to support a club that wants to entertain the fans as well as to win."

"That's for sure." Yusuke said before he remembered why he wanted to talk to Noriko in the first place. "Noriko-san... about what happened on Sunday night..."

"Huh?"

Suddenly Yusuke got on his hands and knees with his head bowing towards Noriko. "Sumimasen! Sumimasen! Sumimasen! If there's anything I can do to make amends, just ask me anything. I will do it!"

The scene was unexpected and almost too comical for Noriko to keep her cool, so much that she chuckled a few times.

"First of all, there's no need to make such a scene if you wanted to apologize. I think it's off for today if you thought of something. You guys will join your teammates tonight while I'm already booked for an all-girls night with my friend Sarah and her friends from medical school." Noriko said.

"I see."

"However, I don't have anything planned for tomorrow. Yeah, I think tomorrow is perfect if you want us to do all sorts of things in the city." Noriko said.

"Really? Then tomorrow is good for me too. Thank you." Yusuke was obviously glad to see Noriko finally getting comfortable enough around him.

Meanwhile, Kakeru and Nana were watching the scene unfolding from distance around the corner. They originally pretended to have something to do elsewhere so they could watch how Yusuke and Noriko would interact with each other.

"Well, it looks like the first step has been made." Kakeru said.

"I agree. It will only get better from now on." Nana finished.

Knowledge, Wisdom, Humanity :Previous Chapter«Home Page»Next Chapter: First Date

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