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Red Devils vs. Potters

Following the victory in Amsterdam, United played 2 away fixtures in the Premier League. The Red Devils first defeated Huddersfield Town (3-0, September 30), but then drew at Southampton (1-1, October 14). Kakeru and Yusuke also had to join the National Team during the international break between the aforementioned matches. Meanwhile in the UEFA Champions League, United defeated Spanish side Sevilla F.C. by a score of 2-0 at Old Trafford (October 17).

Another boost for United was that Nemanja was about to make his return into the matchday squad after the ankle injury which ruled him out of action since the match against Arsenal in September. Nevertheless, Yusuke also earned his right to start the majority of matches thanks to his solid performances of his own. The Japanese midfielder was working hard to make it even harder for José to pull him out of the starting XI. Almost in a flash, October was running down its course.


Thursday October 19

West Didsbury, Manchester, UK

In the evening, Kakeru, Nana, Yusuke, and Noriko had some free time together. They took the time to test a different skill: playing altogether the latest instalment of the FIFA video game series on the PlayStation 4.

"Noriko and I already made our fantasy team. What's your pick?" Nana asked.

"Yusuke and I have built THE Ultimate Team." Kakeru replied.

"Guys versus girls... That's quite a matchup." Yusuke said.

"Ready when you are." Noriko added.

And then the friendly match started. Settings were put at 5 minutes per half.

"I'm gonna make the run." Kakeru said.

"Oh, here's the pass... Come on, Messi!" Yusuke said.

"GOOOOOOAAAAL!!!" Kakeru and Yusuke shouted as their team took the lead.

"What happened to you?" Noriko asked between chuckles.

"I was pretty rubbish at defending, I guess." Nana replied with a little laugh.

Just a minute later, Nana and Noriko got on the attack.

"Great ball... Run in, Noriko." Nana said.

"Sidefoot it... YES! Come on, Cristiano Ronaldo!" Noriko shouted before she gave Nana a high five after the 1-1 goal.

"I guess we're in for quite a match." Kakeru said with a smile.

Just a few minutes later...

"You lost the ball again?" Noriko asked Nana.

"Here I go. Griezmann, go ahead." Kakeru said.

"Nice cross, it should be… OHH!" Yusuke said.

The player controlled by Yusuke failed to score the goal after a great pass by the player controlled by Kakeru. Nevertheless, that didn't keep Kakeru and Yusuke from bursting in laughter as well.

"I don't think Lewandowski would miss that in real life." Kakeru said.

"Here we go now. I'm gonna try this." Nana said.

Nana controlled the in-game version of herself, and performed a Witch Turn to beat the virtual players controlled by Kakeru and Yusuke. As a result, Nana and Noriko's team took the 2-1 lead.

"YEEEEAAAHH!!!" Nana and Noriko screamed altogether celebrating the goal.

"That's almost cheating to be able to do that in a FIFA game." Yusuke said.

"The guys at EA managed to record the motion capture of that feint, so it's 100% legal." Nana said between a few laughs.

A few minutes later, the match entered its final stage.

"I have it, I have it." Yusuke said.

"Pass it, pass it... Oh! Yikes!" Kakeru said at the moment the player controlled by Yusuke was tackled down hard by the player controlled by Noriko.

"Uh, oh... And we're down to 10 players." Noriko said.

"That was brutal." Nana added.

"That's a good spot for a free kick. I will take it with Neymar." Kakeru said.

Finding his spot, Kakeru aligned the shot above the wall and into the top corner of the goal while controlling the virtual Neymar.

"2-2! COME ON!!!" Kakeru and Yusuke screamed out loud.

"We had it coming anyway." Nana said.

Finally, both teams decided to settle the tie with a penalty shootout. After Nana's team scored 3 goals out of 4 attempts, and Kakeru's team scored 2 out of 3, it came down to the 4th shooter for Kakeru's team. Yusuke took control of the shooter.

"Here I go, Antoine Griezmann... AH, MISSED!" Yusuke said before he went to bury his head onto the couch to hide his embarrassment. The scene got everyone else around laughing.

“Match point for us!” Nana exclaimed.

By a strange coincidence, the in-game version of Nana was the 5th penalty taker for Nana and Noriko's team. The power and accuracy of the shot taken left no chance to the virtual goalkeeper.

"GET IN! WE WON!!!" Nana and Noriko exclaimed, celebrating the win.

"Oh, well. That was a good match, ladies." Kakeru said.

"Thanks, Kakeru." Nana replied.

"It's nice to clear our minds with something this fun together before going back to work tomorrow. You guys will have a good tactical session about your next opponent." Noriko added.

"Speaking our next opponent, Stoke City, the only thing that caught my attention about them was an expression on whether or not a player 'can do it on a cold rainy night in Stoke'. What is that supposed to mean?" Yusuke asked.

"That's just a ridiculous joke." Nana replied.

"What's that?"

"It was a running joke in the media which is about whether or not a player can perform at the same level if conditions are at their absolute worst, Yusuke. In England, those conditions vary from defenders who tackle like mad men to wind, rain, muddy pitches, and sometimes freezing temperatures. In Stoke, we can find such conditions in due time around winter. That's one of the few things I don't like about the English perception of the game though." Noriko replied.

"They asked a hypothetical question about whether or not Lionel Messi would perform in England as well as Cristiano Ronaldo did. The same question is asked about other non-British players. That is nothing but an ill-informed statement since any top player get fouled, and kicked a lot in any top league. By the way, I scored one at Stoke last year." Nana added.

"I see. That's nothing worth talking about." Yusuke said.

"Stoke City still play on their strengths as a physical team hitting opponents on counterattacks. However, they have technical players who can make key passes and can control the ball better." Kakeru said.

"It's no longer only about direct play, big and mean players, leg-breaking tackles, and very long throw-ins although the reputation remains. They are a tricky side, but the same can be said for any other team in this league." Noriko added.

"A good physical and tricky test... Why not? If anything, it will be a good workout ahead of the international break in November." Yusuke said.

"Yep, especially for the second match of that break in Glasgow." Kakeru added.

Sometime later in the evening, Yusuke already left to go back to the neighboring apartment. While Kakeru already went to sleep, Nana and Noriko took a few moments to have a little conversation about the latter's private life.

"How are things going between you and Yusuke? I noticed you are fully comfortable with him as good friends, but I haven't seen much of an attempt to go further recently." Nana said.

"Except for one time when we went to watch a movie on last Sunday, there were not many opportunities for us to make progress although we had a good time back then. To be honest, the last few weeks have been quite hectic for both of us." Noriko replied.

"I understand. There were lots of matches, lots of training sessions, clinical placement obligations, and more. It's not ideal to push a relationship further."

"You're right, Nana. However, there's something else that came across my mind too." Noriko said.

"What is it?"

"You know that my dream has always been to become the first-team doctor at United. The question I'm asking myself is: if I push my relationship further with Yusuke, would I jeopardize my dream?" Noriko said.

"Noriko..."

"I know, it's silly for me to think about something that’s so remote in the future since I’m not a physician yet. However, I remembered when Eva Carneiro was bashed in the tabloids in the midst of her demotion from touchline duties by José Mourinho at the beginning of the 2015-16 season. Although it was unfounded bullshit, a so-called ex-boyfriend accused her of sleeping with Chelsea players. Regardless, she left Chelsea on bad terms. Since United are stricter in terms of public image, I'm worried that I would be scratched immediately from the shortlist if I am in a relationship with a player at the same time the opportunity comes by."

"How old was Eva Carneiro when she joined Chelsea's medical staff?" Nana asked.

"She was 36 when she first joined the club to work with the reserves in 2009, and then 38 when she was promoted to first-team duties." Noriko replied.

"There's plenty of time to make that dream a reality. Yusuke will either be retired or playing for a J-League team during one or two seasons at the most by the time he reaches that age. Nevertheless, he really wants to make life-lasting memories in Manchester both on and off the pitch; that’s what he told me once." Nana said.

"He said that?"

"Yep. If you ask my opinion, being in a relationship with a player doesn't mean it would be a roadblock for your aspirations if you're happy." Nana said.

"Nana..."

"The only thing that matters in your quest is that you show the people at the club that you are the best candidate available regardless of everything else. With that in mind, I don't think I have ever seen anyone who is as intelligent, good and hard-working as you are in medical studies."

Noriko remained silent for a few seconds before she finally took Nana's words to heart.

"You really mean everything you just said?" Noriko asked.

"I do at 110%. I stand by my word."

"Thank you, Nana. It means a lot to me. I guess I shouldn't have caught myself up with such thoughts." Noriko said.

"I would do anything to cheer up a very good friend." Nana replied. "I will help you in any possible way in due time, but make sure to maintain that same determination. OK?"

"OK, I promise." Noriko finished.


Saturday October 21

Manchester United vs. Stoke City (Premier League match 9)

Old Trafford, Manchester, UK

Stoke City Football Club comes from the city of Stoke-on-Trent in the county of Straffordshire, in the West Midlands. As the city has been the home of the pottery industry in England since the 17th Century, it was self-explanatory for the club to be nicknamed as "Potters". When the "Potters" were promoted in 2008 after an absence of 23 years from top-flight English league football, the team was notoriously known for their conservative style of playing bigger, meaner, and more direct than everyone else. After a managerial change in 2013, Stoke City started integrating players with more technical abilities and better creativity although some of their former strengths still remain. Although Stoke City usually end up no further than the mid-table area of the standings, facing Stoke still remains a tricky test for any Premier League club.

For this match, José fielded Pog, Ander, and Yusuke as his 3 midfielders with the best available physical attributes. In the front 3, Kakeru, Romelu, and Jesse started the match. Although Kakeru was regarded as the most lightweight player of his side, he was not going to be intimidated knowing the support he has behind him. Nana could only sit and watch from the bench, waiting for a possible opportunity to have a go against a tired opponent later on.

Transporting the action to the 15th minute, your commentator is Ian Crocker.

Ian Crocker: A giveaway by Stoke. Herrera is leading the attack... finds Lingard on the right.

Following the pass by Ander from the central circle, Jesse came up facing the Stoke left-back. After Jesse made a burst of speed to clear the defender out of his way, the latter ended up fouling by grabbing the Englishman in red down.

Ian Crocker: Foul by Pieters... It's a quick free kick.

After noticing that Antonio was making his run while the Stoke players were slowly retreating into defensive positions, Jesse took a quick free kick to allow his Ecuadorian teammate to continue the attack. Dashing down the flank, Antonio saw the unmarked Kakeru calling for a pass at the far post. Almost immediately, the Ecuadorian unleashed a long aerial ball towards Kakeru’s head.

Ian Crocker: Antonio Valencia... AIZAWA! Some save...

Kakeru's point blank header was stopped by the Stoke City goalkeeper. However, the speed of the shot allowed no control for the rebound, which resulted with the ball bouncing towards the front of the goal. In the no man's land in front of the Stoke goal, Ander arrived in, and smashed the ball into the twine to give his team the lead.

Ian Crocker: But it's turned in by Ander Herrera! Manchester United take the lead after a quarter of an hour done.

"Nice goal, Ando!" Kakeru congratulated Ander.

"Thanks, Knight. That's a nice header too."

"Hey! Nice pass, Tony V!" Kakeru also acknowledged the quality of the pass by his Ecuadorian teammate.

Looking from the other end of the spectrum of emotions, Ryan Shawcross was cursing at himself for letting Kakeru slip past his marking. The Stoke City captain only had one thing in mind: making life as hellish as possible for Kakeru.

'Don't think you'll have an easy day after this, you prick. Watch me going now because I will smash you.' Ryan Shawcross thought.

Meanwhile in the stands, Noriko was attending the match with her father as usual. However, Sarah and Taeko Ishiki received Sayuri and Harry's tickets for this match. Regarding Taeko, she quickly became the captain of the revived Manchester United Ladies team since its reinstatement.

"It's good to see Ander score today." Sarah said.

"Indeed. He doesn't play as often as he would like these days, but he's such a good guy, and he deserves the goal." Noriko replied.

"Still, I have a feeling Stoke will not stay there without retaliating." Taeko said in English to keep everyone in the same conversation.

"You talk about Ryan Shawcross?" Noriko asked.

"Yep! Look into his eyes; he looks determined to take Kakeru in a 1v1 battle for the rest of the match." Taeko replied.

"Knowing what kind of animal Shawcross is, Kakeru better be careful." Sarah said.

"I just hate this dirty piece of work. It's hard to believe that he was part of United's academy. Thank God we never took that disgraceful piece of trash back with us after he was loaned to them." Noriko finished.

And so the match carried on with United controlling most of the play through ball possession. However, Kakeru began to feel Ryan Shawcross' tight marking on him. No one could predict how far Shawcross would push the referee's tolerance while covering Kakeru for the rest of the match.

In the 24th minute:

Ian Crocker: Manchester United have a corner kick.

Before the corner was taken, Ryan Shawcross walked in, and used his hands to restrain Kakeru's movement. As the signal was given by the referee, Ander kicked the ball towards the pack of players in front of the Stoke City goal. The ball was almost attracted towards Kakeru like a magnet at the far post. However, Ryan Shawcross grabbed Kakeru's shirt while jumping up to meet the ball first with the head. But even worse was that Shawcross threw his forearm in Kakeru's face, which led to Kakeru falling onto the ground while the ball flew out of danger.

After the contact, the reaction inside Old Trafford was immediate with a massive shout for a penalty kick. However, the referee let the play continue much to the dismay of the local supporters and the whole Manchester United squad.

"What the hell is that?!" Kakeru shouted at the referee, who didn't reply.

"That's an arm in the face; almost an elbow. How did you miss that?" Pog asked as well.

"How can Shawcross be allowed to put his arm in the face? That should be a penalty. You messed up big time; that's a really bad call." Matthias also protested.

Meanwhile in the stands:

"Is that referee joking? Even I could see that from here, you meatheaded cretin." Noriko said out loud.

"That's bloody ridiculous!" Sarah exclaimed.

"He's one of the worst referees in this league. How such people can keep their jobs at top level is beyond me." Robert said.

"Agree. That guy in particular is an utter joke based on what I saw of him in other matches." Taeko added.

Following that incident, Ryan Shawcross gave the word ordering his teammates to press harder against the Manchester United players, especially on Kakeru. Nevertheless, that didn't quite allow Stoke City to gain any more control of the ball against United although the visiting side didn't mind "parking the bus". Stoke were waiting for counterattack opportunities.

In the 32nd minute:

Ian Crocker: Again it's a giveaway by Stoke. Pogba now for Manchester United...

Following another bad pass by one of the Stoke City inside the Mancunian half of the pitch, Pog intercepted the ball, and started the counterattack. The French midfielder then passed the ball across the halfway line towards Kakeru. In front of him, Stoke City's right-back stood his ground as much as he could, knowing that Kakeru would get into a dangerous position to take a good shot from just outside the box if the play comes closer to goal.

'Clumsy as he is, he will either fall behind me or foul me.' Kakeru thought.

Kakeru then faked a run towards his own left before he turned towards the right. However, the Stoke City defender kept moving, and slid in to tackle Kakeru from behind. This time, the referee gave the free kick to Manchester United instantly, and pulled out the yellow card.

Ian Crocker: Free kick for Manchester United... and we have the first booking of the match. Johnson is booked for the rash challenge.

The home supporters applauded the decision while giving it a derisive tone to the cheers. In all, it was to remind the referee that he did a poor job up until that moment in the eyes of the home supporters.

"About time, you idiot!" Noriko shouted out loud. The remark was aimed at the referee.

"That daft referee doesn't even deserve half of his pay for this match regardless." Robert said.

"We better capitalize on this one, Uncle Robert." Taeko said.

"I know, Taeko-chan. I only wonder if they should try to find other players to score; Kakeru has been tightly marked so far." Robert replied.

"Come on, United! Let's score another one!" Sarah screamed.

Meanwhile on the Manchester United bench:

'Be strong, Kakeru. They go hard on you, but I know you can get through this.' Nana thought.

"Kakeru has been pushed hard quite a lot." Daley said.

"Yeah, but I also know he can hold his ground. It's a test of resilience now." Nana replied.

Ian Crocker: From that position, you would expect Herrera to take it. However, Saeki can also whip the ball in with his left foot.

As the players moved into position inside the box, Ander and Yusuke already discussed about the free kick strategy to take. As expected, Kakeru was already shadowed by Ryan Shawcross inside the box. And once again, Shawcross used his hands and arms to restrain any movement even before the free kick was taken. The signal was then given by the referee.

PEEP!

Ander made the first run, but didn't strike the ball. Yusuke then curled a very long ball inside the Stoke City penalty area, but it appeared to fly away from everyone. Without hesitation, Matthias ran into a position to head the ball back towards the pack of players.

Ian Crocker: Saeki takes... Köhler brings it back...

Following Matthias' header, the ball bounced into Kakeru's feet. Although Shawcross stood between Kakeru and the goal, Kakeru shielded the ball before he flicked it backwards to the nearest player with a red shirt.

Ian Crocker: Aizawa... LUKAKU!!!

The short pass allowed the Belgian striker to take a hard and low shot first time that gave no chance to the Stoke City goalkeeper.

Ian Crocker: United have doubled the lead through Romelu Lukaku! The supporters love it at Old Trafford!

"Hell yeah, Rom! You banged that one!" Kakeru exclaimed.

"Thanks, Kakeru. Nice layoff pass too." Romelu replied.

"Huge goal!" Yusuke also congratulated his Belgian teammate.

"Good shot, Rom!" Matthias added to the congratulations while the rest of the Manchester United field players mugged the big Belgian.

Meanwhile on the bench:

"Perfect timing with that goal." Nana said.

"On en avait besoin (We needed it)." Anthony remarked.

"Mets-en! (You bet!)" Nana replied to Anthony.

"The only thing we need now is to get to halftime with that 2-goal lead." Daley said.

"We better not start sitting on that lead too early though. They are not the most technical team as a whole, but some of their players can produce individual brilliance when we’re not careful enough." Nana replied.

Unfortunately for United, Nana's fears took shape in the last few minutes before stoppage time at the end of the first half. Feeling the urgency to score at least one goal in order to plant a seed of doubt in the minds of the local team and its supporters, the Potters launched more attacks and counterattacks against the Red Devils.

Ian Crocker: Arnautovic... back to Pieters.

Stoke City's left back, Erik Pieters, then started a quick run that surprised a couple of Manchester United players. Picking his spot, Pieters crossed the ball inside the Manchester United area.

Ian Crocker: The cross goes in! It's punched away by De Gea.

The Manchester United goalkeeper cleared the ball away. However coming in at 25 yards from goal, Welsh midfielder Joe Allen took the ball, and then shook off Yusuke with a nifty body feint. After a little run towards the inside, Allen unleashed a powerful strike that left no chance to the goalkeeper.

Ian Crocker: Allen... IT'S IN! It was an unstoppable strike! Stoke City have cut the deficit in half; it's 2-1.

Inside Old Trafford, it was total silence except for the noise coming from the Stoke City supporters in the Southeast corner of the stadium. Manchester United players and supporters alike could only shake their heads in disbelief; the Potters planted the seed of doubt. Less than 2 minutes later, the halftime whistle was blown by the referee and both teams retreated to their respective dressing rooms.

Inside the Manchester United dressing room:

"You OK?" Nana asked Kakeru.

"Yeah, but Shawcross is playing on the very edge with his hands on me. I have to find a way to get past that brute anyway and make him pay." Kakeru replied.

"I know you can do it. Just don't waste too much energy for nothing while doing so."

"OK." Kakeru said.

Then José came in to give his instructions for the second half: "It's disappointing that we conceded just before halftime, but being ahead is still a big positive. The thing is that you have to play the ball faster against a team like Stoke. Everyone has to support the player with the ball, and start testing the Stoke goalkeeper more. That’s what I want to see in the second half, people."

Following the team talk, José ordered the 7 substitutes to leave the room. The substitutes had to make a few exercises on the Old Trafford pitch while the 11 starters took their time to absorb the last few instructions from the manager.


The second half started with the Red Devils still controlling most of the play. The only difference was that the home side took a more aggressive approach both offensively and defensively; Stoke City players didn't have much time with the ball. Yusuke and Pog learned their lesson from the first half, and left no breathing room for Stoke's creative midfielders. However, things didn't look like improving for Kakeru against Ryan Shawcross as the latter still used all the little dirty tricks in the book to stop the Japanese striker. Kakeru's growing frustration was about to boil over on the pitch.

In the 64th minute:

Ian Crocker: Pogba... he finds Lukaku.

After a link-up play between the Frenchman and the Belgian, Romelu ran several yards ahead before he spotted Kakeru angling a run towards the space between Stoke City defenders Johnson and Shawcross. The Belgian striker launched the through pass destined to his Japanese teammate.

'That's it, Rom.' Kakeru thought.

However, the retreating Ryan Shawcross barged in, and knocked Kakeru down to the ground with quite a rash tackle. But because Kakeru didn't receive the pass, the incident was seen as an impeding foul. Hence the referee blew his whistle, and gave a free kick to the Mancunians.

Ian Crocker: It's a free kick for Manchester United, and perhaps more to come against Shawcross.

Despite having the foul called against him, Ryan Shawcross still came in to give Kakeru a verbal jab: "Get off the grass, Nikon."

The ethnic slur in the remark was the straw that broke the camel's back. Kakeru then stood up, and went on to confront the Stoke City captain.

"HEY! What's your problem?" Kakeru shouted before he moved dangerously close and face-to-face with Shawcross.

You're the problem, you ****.” Shawcross said.

"Oh, yeah? I only see one **** here, and he's in front of me!" Kakeru replied at the same time the referee came in to stand between the 2 belligerents. Furthermore, players from both teams came in either to separate Kakeru and Shawcross, or to give a piece of their minds against the opposition.

Ian Crocker: Things are boiling between Aizawa and Shawcross. You can say it has been coming for a while.

In the aftermath, the referee came in to give the lone yellow card out of the confrontation to Ryan Shawcross. Nevertheless, Kakeru was also warned by the referee that the next infringement will result in a yellow card at least.

On the Manchester United bench:

"Kakeru está cansado e frustrado. Eu acho que você deve mudar ele e Ander com Anthony e Nana (Kakeru is tired and frustrated. I think you should switch him and Ander with Anthony and Nana)." Rui said.

"Ainda não. Eu ainda tenho fé nele para fazer uma última diferença para hoje. Vamos dar-lhe um par de minutos mais (Not yet. I still have faith in him to make one last difference for today. Let's give him a couple of minutes more)." José replied.

Despite a good position, the following free kick led to nothing as Pog shot it wide. However, Manchester United got themselves another chance to regain the 2-goal lead just less than 2 minutes later, in the 66th minute of the match.

Ian Crocker: Here's Saeki. He's looking for support... Lingard... Lukaku.

Looking to find a partner as he was holding onto the ball at short distance from the Stoke penalty area, Romelu found Kakeru waving his arm up asking for a pass. Then the Belgian striker went for some creativity by chipping the ball behind the Stoke City defenders and inside the penalty area. At the very same moment, Kakeru managed to move into Shawcross' blind side, and then run forward. Desperate to stop the danger, Shawcross grabbed Kakeru’s shirt, and dragged him to the ground.

PEEP!

Ian Crocker: Aizawa's brought down! It's a penalty for Manchester United!

Realizing that he committed a serious foul, Shawcross walked to the referee in an attempt to plead his case. However, the referee asked for any other player to walk away while Shawcross is the only player being summoned.

"Come on. He just fell down on his own. That's not a penalty." Ryan Shawcross said.

"Ryan, come here." the referee replied. "I already gave you both verbal warnings and a yellow card. You won't get away this time; you’re off."

Ian Crocker: And Ryan Shawcross is gonna get a second yellow... and Stoke City are down to 10 men!

The second yellow card and the ensuing automatic red card left Ryan Shawcross stunned before he turned his gaze for a moment at Kakeru. The Stoke City captain had a look of disgust on his face.

"If we score, I think you can start banging your head on a wall for some time." Kakeru said to Shawcross.

"Piss off! We'll see if you can keep your shit in a cold night in Stoke." Ryan Shawcross replied.

"Just **** off!" Romelu gave his 2 cents to the Stoke City captain.

Shawcross was then urged by his teammates to let it go. On the way to the players' tunnel, he was greeted with jeers and insults from the home supporters. Among the spectators, Noriko, her relatives, and her friend took their shots at the Stoke City captain.

"How do you feel now, you unwanted reject?" Noriko taunted.

"Get off the grass, you tosser!" Robert added.

"Go home, you scumbag!" Taeko added as well.

"You were never good for us, and you still suck, Shawcross." Sarah said.

Meanwhile, the Manchester United players were expecting Romelu to take the penalty kick at the time. However, the Belgian turned towards Kakeru.

"Hey, Kakeru. You want this shot to go in more than anybody else. So come on, and have a go."

"You're sure, Rom?" Kakeru asked.

"I am. I know you want to make Shawcross pay for what he did today." Romelu replied. "Make him taste his own crap."

"OK." Kakeru then took the ball.

After Shawcross left the pitch, the referee ordered all players except Kakeru and the Stoke City goalkeeper to stand outside the penalty area. While Kakeru blanked himself out from any distraction in the vicinity, only one thought came up to his mind: the desire to make Shawcross pay by rubbing even more salt in the wound with a goal that would almost bury Stoke City. When ready, the referee gave the OK.

PEEP!

With a disconcerting ease, Kakeru sent the goalkeeper the wrong way, and extended United's advantage to 3-1.

Ian Crocker: Clinical finish by Aizawa. Manchester United have now regained their 2-goal cushion with less than a quarter of an hour left.

"That's how to do it, Knight. Well done." Matthias congratulated Kakeru.

"You made him pay big time." Romelu added.

"That bastard can now go home in tears." Yusuke said.

After the Manchester United players stopped celebrating, and moved on the way to the restart, Kakeru threw a punch forward in mid-air while shouting "Yatta! (Yeah! I made it!)". All of his accumulated frustration was vented in an instant. Before the restart was taken, José ordered 2 substitutions to be made.

Alan Keegan: Double substitution for Manchester United: replacing number 19, Kakeru Aizawa, and number 21, Ander Herrera... number 11, Anthony Martial, and number 7, Nana Mishima.

Kakeru then walked off under the applause from the Old Trafford faithful, and returned the applause.

"Good goal, Kakeru." Anthony said.

"Thanks, Anthony." Kakeru replied before he gave the double high five gesture that confirmed the substitution on the touchline.

"You did well, Kakeru. You can leave it to us now." Nana said on the touchline while waiting for her turn to come on.

"Thanks, Seven. Go kick some butt with no Shawcross to bother you."

"Count on me." Nana said.

Kakeru then walked his way to the home dugout where he high-fived his teammates, and shook hands with the coaching staff.

"Well done with the last penalty, Kakeru." José said.

"I wish I could have done more to keep my composure better a little earlier." Kakeru replied.

"He's a very tough and dirty customer, but you did the job by scoring the goal after you took him out of the match. It's OK." Rui comforted Kakeru with a tap on the shoulder.

"Thanks, Coach."

The dismissal of Ryan Shawcross combined to Kakeru's goal appeared to have toned down Stoke City's determination by a notch. The Potters were forced to replace one of their creative midfielders with a defender in order to maintain a line of 4 defenders at the back for damage control. Nevertheless, that didn't stop United from going for the jugular through their new attacking options in the 71st minute.

Ian Crocker: Saeki... Pogba... He overhits the pass to Martial.

Pog's pass was intended for Anthony, but went towards a Stoke City defender. However, that defender didn't expect the pass to come with such velocity, and thus the ball bounced off him, allowing Anthony to apply pressure. When Anthony retrieved the ball, he knew that Nana was standing in a good position. Following Anthony's pass, Nana made her run towards the Stoke City goal with the ball.

Ian Crocker: Martial steals it... Mishima...

Nana escaped one tackle from the defender who lost the ball, then beat a second defender with an elastico feint before shifting her body to the right, and then pushed her run even further after getting past Pieters' attempted tackle with a perfect feint. At that moment Nana escaped a 3rd Stoke defender within a small bit of space, only the goalkeeper stood in her way. Picking her spot, the Little Witch pounded a low drive across the helpless Stoke City goalkeeper and in.

Ian Crocker: And Mishima... OOOHHH YEEEEEESSS!!!

That little piece of individual effort got the 72,000+ Manchester United supporters jumping off their seats to unleash an explosive roar. Everyone knew that a very special goal to remember just happened in front of their eyes. At the same time, the Stoke City players, down on their knees, could only look at each other while asking for an explanation.

"That's the stuff of legend, Nana! Stuff of legend!" Noriko shouted from her seat as she watched Nana getting congratulated by the other Manchester United players a dozen of yards away.

"This is magnificent! She just skipped past 3 defenders as if they weren’t there." Sarah said.

"She just scored a similar goal to what Paul Scholes did against Blackburn Rovers in 2007; it's almost identical." Robert replied.

"You're right, Dad. That’s almost the same thing." Noriko said.

"It's an OMG! moment just as I like them." Sarah added.

"That's the goal of the month for me." Taeko finished.

Scholes vs

Scholes vs. Blackburn (2007)

March 31, 2007.

Then on the way to the restart, Nana took a look towards Kakeru. He was standing up to applaud his fiancée's most recent moment of magic."That's astonishing, Seven! You're the best!" Kakeru shouted. Then Nana returned the compliment with a big smile.

You’re one lucky guy. You know that?” Daley said.

"I won't brag about it even if we’re engaged, but I guess I am lucky." Kakeru replied.

"Don't be so modest, Kakeru. She is probably any footballer's dream life partner regardless of what anyone else might say; a real partner both on and off the pitch since almost forever." Daley said.

'Daley is right after all. I cannot ask for any better than Seven as my dream life partner.' Kakeru thought. He had a little smile on his face.

For the remaining minutes of the match, Stoke City gave the fight while United made sure to run down the clock without getting into incidents that would either lead to unwanted disciplinary actions or injuries. Only 2 minutes after Nana’s goal, Pog made way for the returning Nemanja Matić. Although it was only a short period of time on the day, the partnership between Yusuke and Nemanja severely punished the Stoke midfielders with good tackles. The score remained unchanged at the very end of the match.

Ian Crocker: It's over. In the end, José Mourinho's Manchester United, comfortable winners, have found their winning ways back. Ander Herrera opened the score for the home side. Romelu Lukaku doubled the lead before Allen cut the deficit. Then Kakeru Aizawa added a third goal on a penalty before Nana Mishima settles it all with a magnificent solo effort. It was a much needed victory ahead of the next 2 Premier League matches before the international break. The final score: Manchester United 4-1 Stoke City.


After the match, Noriko, Taeko, and Sarah were walking their way outside Old Trafford. Robert already left on his own to go back home. After matches, Noriko sometimes looked for fellow hardcore United fans to talk with. One of those acquainted fans spotted Noriko.

"Hey, Red Kate!" a man shouted. That person has a tan skin, black short hair, and a black beard.

"Oh hello, Adam! You enjoyed the match?" Noriko replied.

"Quite a lot although things were a little hairy at 2-1." Adam replied. "Hey, is that Taeko Ishiki with you?"

"Yep! She's my cousin from my mother's side." Noriko replied.

"My name's Taeko Ishiki. What is your name?"

"I'm Adam McKola. I'm a reporter for the Manchester United fan YouTube channel called FullTimeDEVILS. I'm honored to meet the captain of MUFC Ladies."

"Nice to meet you too, M. McKola." Taeko replied before she turned back to Noriko "Why did he call you 'Red Kate'?"

"That's my nickname when I'm around hardcore United fans like Adam, Tae-itoko. I only used a derivative of my middle name, Catherine, and it makes it easier for them to remember."

"I see."

"Wanna give your post-match reactions in front of the camera, you two? I have plenty of reactions as usual, but I would really like to have your reactions separately if possible." Adam asked.

"Sure!" Noriko replied.

"Why not? That should be fun." Taeko added.

"You two go ahead. I'll just stand here waiting on the side." Sarah said.

Then Adam and Noriko positioned themselves in front of the cameraman working for the YouTube channel while making sure Old Trafford was visible in the background.

Adam McKola: Hi, guys! Adam McKola here for FullTimeDEVILS. I'm outside Old Trafford where United have beaten Stoke. Kate, what do you make of the performance?

Noriko: I think we controlled most of the play overall. After we scored the second goal, I think United went to sleep a little at the end of the first half when they scored. Otherwise, Stoke have done nothing but defend, and United went back in the second half giving nothing to them. Then Kakeru Aizawa scored the penalty. After that, Nana Mishima scored an absolute peach of a goal. Plenty of positives despite a short period of time where things were hairy. We are back to winning ways in the League, and we needed that before playing the Scousers next week.

Adam McKola: Who is your man of the match?

Noriko: Hmm... I would say Yusuke Saeki. He gave the Stoke midfielders almost nothing today, and he put in a number of good passes forward.

Adam McKola: Last question... What do you make of Ryan Shawcross against Aizawa today?

Noriko: If I answer that, you will have to add one or two bleeps in there.

Adam McKola: You can swear.

Noriko: Shawcross is one of the dirtiest *beeeeeep* I have ever seen in the Premier League. I was angry that he got away a number of times when he used hands, arms and elbows on Aizawa. I'm glad Shawcross was sent off in the end. If he was still playing for us, I don't think I would be able to stomach his antics. Football doesn't need *beep* players like him.

Adam McKola: Well, the point is clear. Thanks, Kate.

After the cameraman finished filming the little interview with Noriko, Adam asked Taeko to give her own reaction in front of the fan camera. It was more or less routine for the former Nadeshiko Japan captain.

Adam McKola: Hi, folks! Adam McKola here for FullTimeDEVILS. United have beaten Stoke 4-1. I'm with MUFC Ladies captain Taeko Ishiki. What do you think of the performance?

Taeko: To be honest, it was not easy to watch at times because Stoke came in to park the bus. But I think United played the right way in the circumstances; you can't expect to beat Stoke without working hard, and that's what they did. The first 3 goals were all hard work, and even the 4th goal was due to Anthony Martial's hard work.

Between questions, a few male United fans went into the background, and shouted "UNITED! UNITED!" before they left the frame. The little moment got Adam and Taeko smiling a little.

Adam McKola: Speaking of Nana Mishima's goal, how good was that?

Taeko: Unless someone does something very special, it's the goal of the month. She has been doing that since she arrived on the big stage when she was 15. She will always find an opening to get past defenders, men's game or women's game, and then have a quality finish at the end.

Adam McKola: Who's your man of the match?

Taeko: I would say either Saeki or Pogba. They bossed the midfield.

Adam McKola: Thank you, Taeko Ishiki, MUFC Ladies captain.

Before Adam went on to collect a few more post-match reactions, he and Noriko had a little talk about the next match.

"Next Sunday is going to be a big match." Noriko said.

"I know. Are you joining the travelling band as usual for away matches in the Northwest?" Adam asked.

"Yep! I already bought my ticket as well as my cousin's."

"Nice. The pickup spot for the buses is the same as usual, so make sure to be there early in the morning on Sunday. And don't forget: we have one more hour of sleep between next Saturday and next Sunday when we change time on the clock." Adam said.

"I will. Thanks." Noriko replied, and then Adam left.

"I must say I'm never went to an away game in Anfield before. Is it OK for a celebrity to join the traveling supporters?" Taeko asked Noriko.

"Of course, Tae-itoko. I have seen players and former players joining the group when they didn't have any obligation on their schedule. I have also seen actor James Nesbitt once when I went to the Emirates Stadium in 2013. It will be fun, you can be sure of that."

"I can't wait to see that." Taeko finished.

A couple of hours later, Kakeru and Nana were attending a little post-match party with their teammates. At one point, Kakeru received a message from Noriko on his smartphone.

"Ah, it looks like Noriko is featuring in another video." Kakeru said.

"A video?" Yusuke asked.

"She gives post-match reactions sometimes on a YouTube channel for Manchester United fans." Nana replied.

"Let's have a look." Kakeru said.

Kakeru, Nana, and Yusuke then saw the videos from Noriko and Taeko's interviews on the FullTimeDEVILS channel. The 3 Japanese players could only smile at the way their friends gave their comments.

"Same old, Noriko. She earned the last word spot on there." Kakeru said.

"She is really passionate. You think she will come to the match at Anfield next week?" Yusuke asked.

"She definitely will." Nana finished.

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