The Little Devil in Blue
Thursday November 2
8:35 PM GMT
On the night before (November 1st), United played their 4th Champions League group match in Seville, and won against Sevilla F.C. by a score of 2-0. As a result, United earned 12 points in 4 matches, and already qualified for the round of 16 that would be played later in February-March. In that match, Kakeru and Nana only made a small cameo after their teammates already established the comfortable lead.
In the Thursday evening after the return to England, Kakeru and Nana were joined by Taeko for a dinner night at Sapporo Teppanyaki Restaurant in the Castlefield area of Manchester. After the three of them finished their meals, they took the opportunity to talk about various things around a few glasses of wine.
"I'm surprised that Noriko-chan didn't join us tonight though. I don't think she ever said no for dinner at this restaurant." Taeko said.
"She is still spending time reading the contents of the special lecture she had yesterday at the Manchester Medical School. She looked pretty much into it." Kakeru replied.
"Eva Carneiro was the special guest lecturer yesterday, I believe." Nana added.
"Ah, yes. The former Chelsea F.C. doctor, I see."
"Spot on, Tae-san. Noriko's a big fan of Dr. Carneiro." Nana said. "However, I must also admit that she didn't speak that much to us since Sunday although we also had obligations of our own in Spain on Tuesday and yesterday. Did something happen last Sunday?"
"When she was given the shirt by Saeki-kun after the Liverpool game, her face turned red. Saeki-kun said something to her, but she didn't want to say anything more about it." Taeko replied.
"I see." Kakeru said.
"Speaking frankly, guys, is there something going on between Noriko-chan and Saeki-kun?"
Following Taeko's question, Kakeru and Nana both took a few seconds to think about how to answer. It wasn't long before they went ahead to share their impressions.
"To be honest, I think Noriko has really fallen for Yusuke. The two of them have built a good friendship after an uneasy start, but she is thinking about making the next step." Nana replied to Taeko.
"And what about Saeki-kun?"
"From the moment he first saw Noriko, he became attracted to her. He's doing his best to have her attention, but it's not like he's forcing his way with Noriko. If they go beyond mere friendship, he really wants her to be OK with it. Still, the fact that he gave her that shirt says that he is receptive to any decision she will make." Kakeru replied.
"It's just that Noriko never went there with any other man before, so she doesn't quite know what to do." Nana added.
"What should we do?"
"Nothing much, Tae-san. However, we might be able to set up that opportunity for the two of them to get definitely that close when they will be ready. It only takes a spark now." Nana said.
"I guess we have to wait and see." Taeko said.
"Certainly. Let's stop talking about them for now." Kakeru replied.
"On a different topic, I'm thinking about next match against Chelsea. This is probably the first time I will play against Mai in a while now. I knew she was really good in the Nadeshiko League, but I didn't think she would be able to make it so soon with the Chelsea first team." Nana said.
"The last time I played with her on the same team, she tore into opponents as if they were nothing. I attended a Chelsea Ladies match a few months ago, and she was even better in the FA Women's Super League than she already was in Japan." Taeko replied.
"I wonder why our executives were not able to convince her in signing with our Ladies team since you are the captain. The fact that I sometimes spend a few training sessions with the girls should have helped too." Nana said.
"From what I know, we tried. It's just that Chelsea came in, and offered her something we just couldn't offer."
"What is it, Tae-san? I hope it's not just money." Kakeru asked.
"An open door to the world of fashion in London. Outside of matches and training sessions, she also has a nice job as a model as well. Since London is a world capital of fashion, they have everything she wants."
"I can't say I'm surprised now that you mention it. Mai always expressed a desire to be famous, and to earn a lot of money so she can prove herself to her father." Nana replied.
"Since she earned her spot in the Chelsea first team, she does more fashion photoshoots than before, and has her face in several magazines. I guess that's her way of measuring success." Taeko said.
"I would think so too. Anyway, we all watched the match between Chelsea and Arsenal from last week. She won't be easy to contain if she comes in the second half, and has her way in our own end of the pitch." Kakeru said.
"Not if I can do something about it." Nana replied.
"What do you mean, Nana?"
"She also has weaknesses that we can exploit, Kakeru." Nana finished.
For the following 2 days, United made their preparations ahead of what promised to be a very important match against another top rival. This would be the last match before the November international break.
Sunday November 5
Manchester United vs. Chelsea (Premier League match 11)
Old Trafford, Manchester, UK
3:15 PM GMT
Matches involving Manchester United and Chelsea are not quite regarded as a rivalry in the most traditional definition because of a lack of geographical proximity and a lack of persistent competition for trophies between the 2 clubs. Nevertheless, a confrontation between the 2 clubs is now recognized as a battle of Premier League heavyweights. Since the arrival in 2003 of Roman Abramovich as the then-new owner of the West London club, both United and Chelsea competed several times against one another for trophies, especially between 2005 and 2011. The upcoming match between the 2 sides promised to be a hardly fought battle once again, especially with José Mourinho facing his old club.
The Manchester United players arrived on the Western half of the pitch to warm up while the Chelsea players were making their way towards the Eastern half of the pitch. Among the Manchester United players distinctively dressed with shorts to indicate their status as match starters, Kakeru took a quick look around Old Trafford.
'Another day at the office, but I still can't shake the amazement when I set foot here. It's still the same feeling I had in that old dream.' Kakeru thought.
Suddenly, Kakeru felt a rough contact as someone jumped right on his back.
"Mai-chan! What are you doing?"
"What do you think? I'm saying 'hi' to you." Mai replied, still clinging on Kakeru from behind. The blonde Japanese girl was wearing track pants as the other substitutes did.
"Mai-chan, please stop! People are watching." Kakeru begged.
"Are you done with my fiancé?" Nana asked with a stern look in her eyes.
"HEY! GET BACK IN LINE, AND STOP EFFING AROUND, MAI!" Chelsea captain Gary Cahill angrily shouted.
"Well, I hope to play against you later in the match. Kakerucchi, Witch... This time, I will be on the winning side." Mai said as she finally got off Kakeru's back.
"We will see you on the pitch if you play." Nana replied.
Finally, Mai got on her way to her team's warm-up session, but not without more scolding from her senior Chelsea teammates.
"Geez! What's up with her?" Kakeru asked.
"Trying to take away your focus, obviously." Nana replied.
"She better not stand in my way in any case. We have our own pride to defend as Manchester United players." Yusuke said.
"Exactly, Yusuke. Let's get to business." Kakeru finished.
Around 40 minutes later, both teams walked out of the tunnel to get ready ahead of the customary 4:00 PM kickoff time for a late Sunday afternoon in the Premier League. Kakeru and Yusuke were among the starters while Nana was among the substitutes. United fielded their usual 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 hybrid formation. While the back 4 and the front 3 had the usual regulars, the midfield 3 consisted of Yusuke, Pog, and Ander. Nemanja was expected to start against his former club, but he was taken out of the lineup as a preventive measure following a knock during the warm-up.
Meanwhile, Chelsea came up with the 3-4-3 formation that became the trademark of their Italian manager, Antonio Conte. A very powerful side was fielded for the Blues: Thibaut Courtois (goalkeeper), César Azpilicueta (right centre-back), David Luiz (centre-back), Gary Cahill (left centre-back and captain), Victor Moses (right midfielder), N'Golo Kanté (central midfielder), Tiemoué Bakayoko (central midfielder), Marcos Alonso (left midfielder), Pedro (right forward), Álvaro Morata (striker), and Eden Hazard (left forward).
Contrasting completely with the Mancunians' home kits, the Chelsea players wore blue shirts, blue shorts, and white socks. For this match, Noriko was attending with her parents and Sarah.
"Tell me more about that new Chelsea player. Is she as good as some people say?" Sarah asked.
"She's very good. Nana told me that Mai Murasaki used to make male footballers look really bad in high school. She also destroyed all competition both in the Nadeshiko League and in the FA Women's Super League. She scored a cracking goal against Arsenal, and she made life difficult for them as a substitute last week too." Noriko replied.
"Murasaki might be on the bench for now, but the most important thing for United is that they must not underestimate her." Sayuri said.
"That much, eh? Hopefully, Mourinho already spoke to the players about Murasaki in the tactical team talk." Sarah said.
"I'm sure they have been warned, especially if Nana is there to tell everything she knows about Murasaki. I also think there's a reason why Nana is on the bench as well." Robert replied.
'I hope you're ready for this, Yusuke. This is your biggest challenge so far.' Noriko thought.
On that particular weekend, it was the last weekend in the Premier League before Remembrance Day (November 11). As such, all 20 Premier League clubs had their players wearing red poppies on the chest of their matchday kits in honor of armed forces members who made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty. The red remembrance poppy became the most familiar symbol of Remembrance Day due to the poem In Flanders Fields written by Canadian military physician Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae. After both teams took place on the edge of the center circle, on either side of the halfway line, the whole stadium observed an impeccable minute of silence until the referee marked the official end of the moment.
At that moment, fans roared in anticipation of the start of the match. United kicked things off while attacking towards the East Stand as it was often the usual habit at Old Trafford. Meanwhile, Chelsea had their sights at the Stretford End. Although United controlled most of the early running, Chelsea set their team up in a position to hit back on counterattacks. The first serious scoring chance of the match went to the "Blue Lions".
In the 8th minute:
Martin Tyler: Bakayoko... Hazard. He tries to get past Valencia.
Down United's right flank, Belgian trickster Eden Hazard attempted a feint to get past Antonio Valencia. The ball got through, but United's Ecuadorian defender instinctively blocked Hazard, and thus conceded an indirect free kick from a decent distance. Once everyone was set, it was up to Spanish winger Pedro to take the free kick.
Martin Tyler: Pedro takes the free kick.
The ball flew above most players in the penalty area and towards the far post. Chelsea had Brazilian defender David Luiz making an attacking run in the area, but Matthias used his own body to shield David Luiz, and it was just enough to prevent a dangerous shot as both men went down. After the ball went behind for a goal kick, the Brazilian was waving his arms in disbelief, and shouted at the referee.
Martin Tyler: Oh... Just needed a touch...
Gary Neville: David Luiz feels he's been held by Köhler. He's absolutely furious.
TV replays showed that Matthias used his left arm to block David Luiz's run, and succeeded in making people believe to be an incidental contact between the 2 players. The German defender used his experience perfectly to prevent a goal without raising suspicion in the referee's eyes.
"Well done, Matthias." Yusuke said.
"Thanks, but that was too close. We better start attacking for real now." Matthias replied.
And Matthias' message was certainly heard as the Red Devils started launching their attacks on the Chelsea goal. Only 2 minutes after Matthias' goal-saving effort, United had their first scoring opportunity.
Martin Tyler: Lingard... to Herrera.
Finding no one to make a direct pass to, Jesse passed the ball to Ander. In a blink of an eye, the Spaniard passed the ball way forward towards Romelu, who then had his back to the Chelsea goal.
Martin Tyler: Lukaku... Pogba...
Romelu made a quick one-touch pass to Pog, who then passed into Kakeru's path.
Martin Tyler: A through ball for Aizawa!
Kakeru only had the Chelsea goalkeeper, Thibaut Courtois, as a final obstacle to goal. However, Courtois made a quick rush to close the shooting angles. Kakeru took his chance with a shot aimed to go across Courtois' left, but the latter put his right hand in the way, and deflected the ball out of play.
Martin Tyler: Great save by Courtois! He's done well to stop the shot.
Neither Kakeru nor anyone else affiliated with United believed what just happened. After a few seconds to shake off his own disbelief, Kakeru gave Pog the thumbs-up sign to acknowledge the good pass. Meanwhile the Manchester United bench, everybody was still shocked at the save.
"That's a shame." Nana said.
"I know. Witch. That was good one-touch football, and everything was perfect before the save." Daley replied.
"That's the kind of quality you'd expect from one of the top 3 goalkeepers in the world." Juan said.
"True. We also have one of the top 3 goalkeepers with us, so we also know that feeling." Nana replied.
Chelsea's Belgian goalkeeper, Thibaut Courtois, and United's Spanish goalkeeper, David de Gea, are both considered to be among the top 3 goalkeepers in the world. Only Manuel Neuer from F.C. Bayern Munich is better rated than the other two. The quality of the 2 goalkeepers was a big reason why everyone anticipated the match to be one of fine margins.
In the 16th minute:
Martin Tyler: Köhler. A pass to Saeki, now back to Köhler.
With the ball at his feet, Matthias made a run forward with the ball until he arrived a few yards beyond the halfway line. From there, he passed the ball towards Jesse. With the Chelsea defender standing in front of him, Jesse waited until the perfect second to unleash a pass into Antonio's overlapping run. Dashing in full speed after he skipped past his marker, Antonio started to cut his run inside the Chelsea penalty area.
Martin Tyler: That's a great run by Valencia. He has options in the middle.
Seeing Kakeru and Romelu both covered by a number of blue shirts, Antonio spotted Pog at the edge of the penalty area, unmarked, waving his hand up, and asking for a pass. The pass quickly arrived into Pog's path; the Frenchman was going for the one-timer from within 16 yards.
Martin Tyler: It goes for POGBA!
As Pog made the run to take the shot, Chelsea midfielder N'Golo Kanté came in to partially block the shooting lane. Pog took the shot, but the ball went off Kanté and out on the sidelines. The Old Trafford faithful were left speechless when they thought there was a genuine scoring chance just a few seconds ago.
Martin Tyler: Good block by Kanté!
Gary Neville: It was a good buildup play by Manchester United. Matthias Köhler runs up a few yards, passes the ball to Lingard, who then sends it to Valencia on the overlap. It's a great run and a great pass in front of goal towards Pogba all alone, but Kanté did enough to block the shot.
In the stands:
"That's a shame." Noriko said.
"I agree. Pogba would have had a good shot if it wasn't for Kanté." Sarah replied.
"With Kanté on Chelsea's side, that's more than a good match against our midfielders. It's about who will outsmart the other at the end of the day." Robert said.
"Now that you mention it, you're right, Dad. Pogba and Kanté know each other, and can really cancel each other out." Noriko replied.
Any scoring chance that was missed on one side meant an opportunity for the other side to draw first blood in this tight affair. All it took was a single mistake to open things up.
In the 26th minute:
Martin Tyler: Herrera... Saeki... Oh, a mistake!
Ander first passed the ball towards Yusuke, but the attempted return pass from Yusuke was a rarely sloppy one. It allowed N'Golo Kanté to intercept the ball in the middle of the pitch. In a flash, it was a Chelsea counterattack.
Martin Tyler: Kanté... to Matić. He finds Pedro on the right.
The quick Chelsea counterattack stretched the Manchester United defensive line as the ball rolled quickly between 3 players. Meanwhile, Chelsea striker Álvaro Morata was unmarked for a split second. It was dangerous!
"Watch him!" Pog shouted in an attempt to warn his teammates at the back.
Martin Tyler: Pedro picks out Morata!
Pedro spotted Morata, and sent a quick low cross for him. Despite Eric Bailly's desperate attempt to block the shot, Morata's shot got through with power. Fortunately for the home side, the Manchester United goalkeeper stopped the shot with his feet, and fell backwards. However, the rebound was bouncing in an open space towards Eden Hazard.
Martin Tyler: Saved by David de Gea...
Hazard was about to shoot when Yusuke suddenly went in with a sliding tackle to push the ball away from his Belgian opponent. As a result, the ball rolled out of bounds, and the Mancunians sighed in relief.
Martin Tyler: Great tackle by Saeki to take the ball off Hazard!
On the Chelsea bench, everyone was hands on heads when they saw the save followed by Yusuke's clearing tackle.
"You gotta be kidding us!" Mai exclaimed. Her fellow Chelsea substitutes had the same phrase in mind.
Gary Neville: Yusuke Saeki makes up for his mistake big time there. It was a sloppy pass by Saeki to begin with, and then the ball is quickly passed around by the Chelsea players. Pedro finds Morata unmarked, and puts in a great ball. David de Gea makes a superb save on Morata, and Saeki clears away the rebound before Hazard can get to it.
"Not on my watch, pal." Yusuke said to Eden Hazard.
"We'll grab a goal. Count on that." Eden Hazard replied.
A few seconds later, Matthias arrived to have a quick chat with Yusuke.
"Sorry, Matthias. I almost cost us a goal." Yusuke said
"You made up for it, so it's OK. Just hit it cleanly next time, and watch out for opponents. These guys are dangerous on counterattacks." Matthias replied.
From there until the late stages of the first half, chances came few and far between. However, there was nothing as menacing as what previously happened. Both teams remained rather conservative in their approach, but that didn't stop Chelsea from starting something just before halftime.
In the 45th minute:
Martin Tyler: Chelsea might have a crack before halftime.
As Chelsea were pushing forward in the Manchester United half of the pitch, Hazard, Pedro, and wide midfielder Marcos Alonso strung a few passes together. When the ball arrived to Pedro, the Spaniard in blue looked around for a passing lane towards his fellow countryman Morata. However, the Spanish striker was well marked by Matthias. Then Yusuke suddenly came in with a well-timed tackle to take the ball away.
Martin Tyler: Taken away by Saeki. It's Paul Pogba...
Within seconds, United moved forward on the counterattack deep at the other end. Pog waited for the perfect moment before he passed the ball forward to Kakeru. As Kakeru attempted to burst his way through the Chelsea defense even further, Bakayoko came back to support his defenders, and instinctively grabbed Kakeru's shirt. When the impeding became blatant, the free kick was immediately awarded to Manchester United by the referee.
Martin Tyler: Free kick for Manchester United. It could be the last roll of a dice before halftime.
"Come on. He barely touched him." Kanté pleaded for his fellow countryman to the referee.
"I don't want to hear it. He grabbed the player by the shirt, and took him down. It's a free kick." the referee replied.
While all eyes were turned towards Kanté, Pedro asked the Chelsea bench for medical attention. The Spaniard was limping conspicuously while rubbing the back of his leg as he tried to walk towards the bench.
Martin Tyler: Pedro has a problem here.
Gary Neville: It could be his hamstring. Clean tackle by Saeki there, but Pedro landed a little awkwardly. Sometimes it only takes a little bit of bad luck when you pull your hamstring out of nothing.
When the referee spotted the struggling Chelsea player, he asked the Chelsea doctor to help the injured player getting off the pitch. Moments later, everyone else was set for the free kick which would certainly be the last action of the first half.
Pog struck the right-footed shot around the wall, and the shot appeared to be curling towards the bottom corner to Thibaut Courtois' left. However, Chelsea's Belgian goalkeeper got enough of the ball off his fingertips to deflect it onto the post. The only problem is that after the ball hit the post, it bounced back in front of the goal.
Martin Tyler: Pogba... That's off the post!
Kakeru and Chelsea's Spanish defender César Azpilicueta both ran towards the ball. In desperation, Azpilicueta threw in a tackle before Kakeru could reach the ball. Fortunately for the Chelsea defender, the tackle touched the ball first just before Kakeru was taken down.
Martin Tyler: Aizawa goes down... The referee waves it off.
The referee denied all claims for a penalty. By the time Chelsea cleared the ball away, the whistle was blown for halftime. After 45 minutes, it was still scoreless between the 2 teams, and many local supporters were still vocal about the last decision although it proved to be the right call by the letter of the law.
'I was unlucky there, but I have to find ways to escape their tight marking in the second half.' Kakeru thought.
When both teams came out of their respective dressing rooms for the second half, Nana heard a familiar voice talking with another Chelsea player. Furthermore, the source of that familiar voice was about to come into the action at the start of the second half.
"If I go in the middle, you go to the left. If Álvaro drifts wide with the ball, you go in the middle. We attack the spaces in their back 4 at the same time." Eden Hazard said.
"Got it. We do exactly what we did against Arsenal." Mai replied.
Spotting Mai in full kit and ready to play, Nana remembered what was said in the tactical team talk 2 days before the match. With the information Nana gave to José and the rest of the coaching staff, the Manchester United manager ordered his players to stop Mai from shooting at all costs. Isolating Mai away from a shooting position was the key.
'She will make the most of any bit of space she's given. We better be careful at all times.' Nana thought.
Martin Tyler: Pedro will no longer take part in this match. Mai Murasaki will come on for the next 45 minutes.
Gary Neville: Murasaki will probably start at the right of Morata, but she can also interchange with Eden Hazard if needed.
Chelsea got the second half started. The pace of the action didn't change too much for a few minutes with United controlling the ball a little more than Chelsea did, but no real attempts were taken by either goal. However, Mai's inclusion win the Chelsea team was about to start having an effect from the moment she came up to speed in the match. The Manchester United players were also about to discover what the new Chelsea player can do.
In the 50th minute:
Martin Tyler: Cleared away by Cahill. It's Bakayoko for Chelsea...
After a failed attempt by United to penetrate the Chelsea penalty area in front of the Stretford End, Chelsea pushed forward with a swift counterattack. Looking for options, Chelsea's French midfielder Tiemoué Bakayoko spotted his teammate Marcos Alonso on the left.
Martin Tyler: Here's Marcos Alonso.
Arriving at 10 yards away from the Mancunians' penalty area, Marcos Alonso attempted a cross in the penalty area itself. However, the ball missed everybody before it was retrieved by Mai on the wing.
"I won't let you!" Ashley shouted as he stood his ground in front of Mai.
"Try to catch me, handsome." Mai replied with a smile as she skipped past Ashley off with a burst of speed to enter the penalty area.
'Man, she's really quick. Witch was right about her.' Ashley thought.
"You don't screw with me!" Matthias said.
Arriving in support was Matthias. The German blocked Mai from having a direct shooting lane on goal, but Mai then made a shifting run away from goal to give herself a passing angle. At the right split second, Mai curled a left-footed lob towards the far post for Álvaro Morata. The Spanish striker escaped Eric's marking for a brief moment, and completed with an easy header shot on goal.
Martin Tyler: Murasaki... to Morata! GOAL!!!
The Chelsea players started celebrating while the Manchester United defenders all appealed for something towards the referee. Suddenly, the referee blew his whistle several times, and all eyes turned towards the linesman standing with the flag up.
Martin Tyler: Wait... the linesman's flag is up. It's offside and it's still 0-0.
While the thousands of Manchester United supporters applauded the referee's decision while mocking the celebrations in the Chelsea camp, the players in blue were crowding the linesman for an explanation about why the goal goal didn't stand.
"What's wrong? It's a good goal." Mai asked.
"You can't disallow that goal! Why?" Chelsea captain Gary Cahill asked.
"There's nothing wrong there." Eden Hazard added.
"When Murasaki made the pass, Morata was offside." the linesman replied.
Indeed, Morata was in an offside position at the very moment Mai made the pass. That situation was created by the extra feint Mai made against Matthias while Morata was on the run. TV replays then showed that Morata was only just offside by a few inches at the most. Morata couldn't believe it when a teammate translated the linesman's explanations on the decision. Seconds later, the Japanese blonde woman went on to speak with the referee.
"Come on, ref! You're getting influenced by the home crowd."
"I don't want to hear it, Mai. The decision stands."
"Please reconsider everything. This is wrong." Mai pleaded again, with her hands folded almost like in a prayer.
"I don't think we have met before, but I'm the referee on this field today. Not you. Stick to your job, I'll do mine. If I ever hear you complaining again today, you will get a card. Is that clear?" the referee said.
"Yeah." Mai replied in resignation.
"You put the cross in the box, but Morata was offside. That's why the goal is disallowed. That is the end of the conversation. Back you go." the referee finished before Mai joined her teammates back in position.
Gary Neville: The Chelsea players are not happy about this one. It was a great play by Murasaki to create some space. She chips the ball back towards the far post for Morata. It's a fabulous ball, but he's offside. The linesman got that spot on.
Martin Tyler: Well, Manchester United survived going behind, but this could be a taste of things to come.
Although Chelsea were rightfully denied a goal, the Blues found the rhythm they wanted to impose upon the Mancunians at the start of the second half. The Blues were about to pose more threats on the Manchester United goal.
In the 53th minute:
Martin Tyler: Hazard...
Eden Hazard had the ball when he found himself facing Antonio in front of him. However as the experienced and skillful player he is, Hazard suddenly cut towards the inside of the pitch, and increased his speed forward despite Ander's nearby presence.
"Don't think about going in, Hazard." Yusuke said as he arrived to support midfield partner.
Then Hazard also fooled Yusuke when he spotted Mai to his right, and performed a perfect give-and-go with her. The Belgian trickster continued pushing forward, and even surprised Eric Bailly by getting past the last-ditch tackle. Hazard was in the clear towards goal...
Martin Tyler: Murasaki... Hazard again! He's in for Chelsea!
Hazard went in with speed, and David de Gea was the only obstacle left. Waiting on the edge of his 6-yard-box, United's Spanish goalkeeper played a game of patience that almost felt like an eternity. With cat-like agility, David jumped into the trajectory of Hazard's shot after the latter made the first move. The ball went behind for a Chelsea corner kick.
Martin Tyler: And David de Gea saves his side again!
While Hazard looked in disbelief at what he just missed, the Manchester United players congratulated their goalkeeper for the save before they went into defensive positions for the upcoming corner kick.
Martin Tyler: Hazard takes the corner kick...
Instead of flying or curling towards the mass of players in front of the Manchester United goal, the ball appeared to fly short towards the nearest edge of the 6-yard box. But at that moment, Álvaro Morata ran towards the ball, and deflected it with a solid header.
Martin Tyler: The corner's towards Morata...
Álvaro Morata's header shot was flying directly towards the position where Kakeru stood by the goalpost. But suddenly...
"I'm having that." Mai said.
'What?' Kakeru thought.
Mai escaped her markers just a split second ago, and that was enough for her to perform a diving header shot that added a second and decisive deflection. In a flash, the scoreline then read: Manchester United 0-1 Chelsea!
Martin Tyler: And Murasaki gets the touch! This one's gonna count! In the 54th minute, Mai Murasaki has drawn first blood for Chelsea at Old Trafford! So the De Gea save counted for very little.
While Mai and her Chelsea teammates celebrated near the southeastern corner flag and only a few rows away from the 3,000 travelling Chelsea supporters, the Manchester United players were looking at each other for an explanation. For one split second, the Red Devils underestimated Mai's speed and agility which helped her getting into that scoring position.
"It's only one goal down, lads. We have 36 minutes to salvage something. Let's go!" Matthias rallied his teammates.
"Yes!" the Manchester United players replied.
And so the match continued. With the psychological boost coming from the goal, the Chelsea players were in more confident mood when they applied pressure on any Manchester United player with the ball despite all the efforts from the local side to find a gap to exploit. Meanwhile on the sidelines, Nana was warming up, and was getting ready to enter at the hour mark.
'Once I get in there, it will be between you and me, Mai.' Nana thought.
In the 60th minute:
Martin Tyler: Hazard... spots Murasaki.
On another Chelsea counterattack, Hazard led the run, and then passed the ball for Mai. With Yusuke chasing her very closely while Álvaro Morata was not in a good position to receive a pass, Mai chose to kick a long shot from almost 30 yards away.
Martin Tyler: Murasaki with the shot... That's a catching practice for David de Gea.
The shot was solid and accurate, but David was able to catch the ball without any problem. United's Spanish goalkeeper threw the ball forward to start a counterattack. However, the attack was cut short as Bakayoko closed down quickly on Jesse. As a result, the ball was kicked out of bounds by the Chelsea midfielder. At that moment, Manchester United made their first change of the match as announced by the voice of the PA announcer.
Alan Keegan: Substitution for Manchester United: replacing number 21, Ander Herrera... number 7, Nana Mishima.
The substitution saw Nana taking her place at the left of the midfield while Pog moved to the right of midfield; the switch was made by design so Nana would come up facing Mai. As Nana came onto the pitch, she immediately took a look towards Mai. Both Japanese women looked into each other's eyes with only a few yards between the two of them. Everyone was already anticipating the upcoming duel.
"I have been waiting for this day a long time ago. This time, I will no longer be in your shadow." Mai said.
"I see that as a nice challenge, and I accept it. Bring it on... if you can." Nana replied with a smile.
Martin Tyler: It looks like the challenge has been issued and accepted.
Gary Neville: Such scene would have been unthinkable just a few years ago, but it is for real now. Two of the best female players in the world are now playing against one another in a Premier League match for the first time.
Martin Tyler: Regardless of the result at the end of the day, it is already a historical moment.
The play resumed. And not long after Nana's entrance, both she and Mai were about to come facing one another.
Martin Tyler: A giveaway... Chelsea have the ball now. Kanté... to Murasaki.
With Mai in possession of the ball around the center circle, it was Chelsea on the counterattack. Unlike before though, Mai is quickly shadowed by an opponent.
"Don't think of shaking me off." Nana said.
"Go ahead, and try catching me then." Mai replied.
Although Mai was moving forward while Nana was moving backwards, the Little Witch was not making the first move at all while closing the distance between her and her rival.
'Look around... No one in a good spot to pass to... I have to get through her anyhow.' Mai thought.
At the moment Nana appeared to have shifted her body a little too far, Mai turned her run, and tried to exploit the opening. However, Nana was not quite fooled.
"Gotcha!" Nana exclaimed. The Little Witch stuck the leg out, and took the ball away from Mai in a flash.
Martin Tyler: It's taken away by Mishima. United can attempt something here.
Shifting the action towards the Chelsea end of the pitch, Nana passed the ball on the right flank for Jesse. The English winger was looking to pass the ball towards Romelu. However, Romelu was already marked by 2 Chelsea defenders at the edge of the penalty area, and it was impossible for him to find a good shooting position. Thus Jesse passed the ball to Antonio, who then passed back to Jesse. The Englishman was assessing his options while backtracking a little.
'Where to go? Could I... There!' Jesse thought.
Martin Tyler: Lingard... now Mishima.
Arriving 10 yards in front of the Chelsea penalty area, Nana received Kakeru's pass. The thousands of Manchester United supporters shouted "SHOOOOOOOT!" as they expected a shot from long range.
"I will not let you shoot!" Mai shouted as she ran as fast as she could to catch up with Nana.
'Not my intention.' Nana thought.
Martin Tyler: A pass to Aizawa on the left.
Nana sent the ball towards Kakeru on the left and on the edge of the Chelsea penalty area. The Japanese forward ran a few yards ahead with the ball, and waited for César Azpilicueta to be committed. At that moment, Kakeru pulled the ball into the opposite direction to have a shooting position with his stronger right foot.
Martin Tyler: Aizawa with the shot...
Kakeru's shot was curling towards the inside of the post at Courtois' left. However, the Chelsea goalkeeper got enough of a touch with his fingertips to deflect the ball out of danger.
Martin Tyler: Oh, what a save by Courtois! It's a corner.
It was total disbelief inside Old Trafford when the ball struck the frame of the goal before Gary Cahill cleared the ball out of bounds. As the 72,000+ Manchester United supporters would acknowledge, everything was almost perfect.
"I don't believe it! What does it take to beat Courtois today?" Noriko exclaimed in despair.
"I really thought that was in for sure." Sarah added.
"Knowing the typical approach from Chelsea, I expect them to park the bus soon. That last attack will prompt them to become more compact as a unit if anything." Robert replied. "We will need to use different attacking options."
"I hope Mourinho will send another attacking player in soon. We need something different in there." Noriko said.
And then Noriko's wish was answered in the 65th minute as Anthony came on to replace Jesse, which also meant that Kakeru was tasked to switch from the left flank to the right flank. José was hoping that the young French winger would provide a stronger attacking punch forward against a resolute Chelsea team.
In the 70th minute:
Martin Tyler: It's Hazard for Chelsea. He passes to Murasaki... who plays a give-and-go with Morata.
After playing back and forth the ball to Morata, Mai charged forward in full speed with the firm intention of delivering the final blow against the Red Devils. Once again, Nana arrived in front of Mai. This time, it was 35 yards in front of the Manchester United goal.
"Come on, Mai! Have a go." Nana defied Mai.
"Geez! You're really persistent." Mai replied.
Facing one another once more, Nana used the same tactic as earlier in order to give her teammates enough time to get back into defensive positions. However this time, Mai surprised Nana with a sombrero flick.
'I win this time, Witch.' Mai thought as she continued her run on the inside and towards the front of the penalty area.
'Not if you don't have full control with him coming in.' Nana thought as well.
Almost coming out of nowhere, Yusuke arrived in full speed, and took the ball away from Mai with a well-timed tackle before the latter could regain full control of the ball. Surprised, Mai couldn't avoid contact with the human hurdle that was Yusuke, and fell to the ground hard as a result.
Martin Tyler: Saeki with a physical tackle on Murasaki... The referee says play on.
"What is that, ref?! That's a foul!" Mai shouted at the referee, who waved his hand asking Mai to stand up instead. In fact, Mai fell a split second after Yusuke got a touch of the ball. As a result, there was no whistle, and the play was allowed to carry on.
Martin Tyler: Saeki with the ball... passes on to Aizawa.
With the long ball by Yusuke towards the right flank, Kakeru moved slowly with the ball before he saw Antonio making the overlapping run on the right wing. Spotting a moment of hesitation among the Chelsea players, Kakeru made a skillful feint to shake Marcos Alonso off, and then shifted his run towards the middle. Because of the danger that Kakeru might either take a good shot or pass the ball to a nearby teammate, Chelsea captain Gary Cahill tackled Kakeru down just outside of the Chelsea penalty area.
Martin Tyler: Free kick for Manchester United in a good position here.
While everyone was looking at the referee pointing towards the point of infringement on the recent foul and giving Cahill a yellow card, Mai was still unhappy at Yusuke's tackle. She was having a heated exchange with the Japanese midfielder in red.
"What the hell was that for? Coming in from the blind side like that... I could have been hurt!" Mai angrily shouted at Yusuke.
"Unless you forgot the rules or just like to whine, I'm allowed to get the ball first. The rest doesn't matter." Yusuke dryly replied.
"If you stand in the tracks, I will always come in your face like a Shinkansen (Bullet Train). Why? It's because I don't care if you're a woman from the very moment when you and I don't wear the same colors. Remember that because I'll show you no mercy."
Then N'Golo Kanté and Eden Hazard came in to calm Mai down.
"Leave it, Mai. It's no use going after him." Kanté said.
"You have to be smart against him. He's in their first team today for a good reason." Hazard added before Mai silently walked towards her defensive position for the upcoming free kick.
Meanwhile, Nana and Yusuke had a little talk.
"Good tackle there, Yusuke." Nana said.
"Good thing I did extra training with you in the last few days just for the sake of stopping her."
"That was good preparation indeed."
"That's all thanks to you, Nana. Let's go now." Yusuke finished.
Both teams then set up for the Manchester United free kick. From the shooting position, a direct shot looked quite difficult. Hence Chelsea put only 3 players in the wall while most of the others were watching for red shirts in the penalty area. Nana and Pog were set as the shooter-and-decoy duo for the free kick.
Nana whipped the free kick towards the far post where Matthias was lurking. However, Gary Cahill managed to touch the ball first as both he and Matthias jumped for it. Bakayoko headed the ball away from the penalty area, but Antonio regained possession for his team.
Martin Tyler: Valencia... now to Pogba.
When Pog received the ball from Antonio, Mai arrived in front of him to deny further any direct entry. Pog then passed the ball to Nana.
'Come on, Witch!' Mai thought.
'You're still not aware enough about your surroundings.' Nana thought.
At that moment, Nana surprised Mai and another Chelsea player with a reverse pass into Pog's diagonal run inside the Chelsea penalty area.
Martin Tyler: That's a brilliant pass for Pogba! He could be in here!
Pog ran with the ball as Mai was desperately attempting to catch him up. At the right split second, Pog fired a quick ball past Thibaut Courtois and across for a teammate in red. Kakeru was a little short when sliding in, but Anthony was perfectly timed his run, and tapped the ball in. In a blink of an eye, Old Trafford erupted.
Martin Tyler: And Martial has found the back of the net! That's great team work between Mishima and Pogba. Anthony Martial turns it home in the 72nd minute, and what a crucial goal this is. 1-1!
After the goal, Kakeru immediately picked up the ball, and gave it to Yusuke, who then ran as quickly as he could with it. United wanted the quick restart with the objective of wasting as little time as possible before going for a match-winning goal.
"Nice goal, Anthony!" Kakeru congratulated Anthony on the way.
"Thanks, Knight." Anthony replied.
"Bien joué! Allons marquer le suivant! (Well played! Let's score the next one)" Pog congratulated his fellow countryman.
'Good thing you pointed out that Mai's not really aware of her surroundings, especially in defensive positions. Pog used that to his advantage.' Kakeru thought as he gave Nana the thumbs-up in distance.
"Well done, lads! Let's go for the win now!" Matthias rallied his teammates for more.
Gary Neville: That was an absolutely incredible buildup by Manchester United, but Murasaki made a big mistake on the play. She didn't track Pogba, who was at the same shoulder level up until Mishima sent the ball forward for Pogba. Then Pogba went in, unmarked, and picked his man with a perfect ball across. Aizawa was just a little short, but Martial was perfectly placed to tap it in.
Meanwhile in the stands:
"Finally! It was about time!" Noriko exclaimed.
"Yeah, that was well played on the right. I'm surprised Murasaki marked Pogba so poorly." Sarah said.
"That's probably something the players have been told by Nana." Noriko replied.
Meanwhile on the Chelsea bench, there was some activity as the visitors prepared themselves to make their second substitution. On the first moment the ball went out of bounds after the restart, the Chelsea manager replaced Tiemoué Bakayoko with Spanish midfielder Fàbregas. The substitution was meant to add more attacking flair in midfield. However, the momentum was still United's for several minutes after the equalizing goal.
In the 78th minute:
Martin Tyler: It's a corner for Manchester United.
Although Nana could have taken her time before the corner kick, she saw that the Chelsea players were not quite ready defensively. Without any hesitation, she took a quick corner kick by passing the ball to Anthony.
Martin Tyler: Taken short and quickly for Martial...
Anthony moved towards the Chelsea defender. Waiting until the perfect moment, Anthony dribbled past the defender without losing the ball behind the goal line, and then sent a floating ball across towards Kakeru. The Japanese forward in red only partially escaped his marker, but that was enough for Kakeru to hit the half-volley with the left foot at point blank.
Martin Tyler: Oh, against the post by Kakeru Aizawa!
Kakeru's shot went straight onto the post, and the ball was cleared away by another Chelsea player. Once again, United came close of beating Courtois; it was only a matter of inches.
"That was really close. He should have scored." Sarah said.
"It's very encouraging though. Nana was really clever with that quick corner kick. And that move by Martial... wow!" Noriko replied.
"Keep on coming, lads!" Robert shouted out loud, encouraging United to keep attacking.
Later in the 80th minute:
Martin Tyler: Here's Martial from Pogba.
Attacking from the left wing again, Anthony was looking to may his way into the Chelsea penalty area. However, Chelsea had 2 defenders watching him. With no direct option but for Romelu, Anthony attempted a chip pass that flew above a few players. Unfortunately, Gary Cahill headed the ball out. The ball then bounced outside and in front of the penalty area.
Martin Tyler: Cleared by Cahill... Saeki arriving...
With a distance of 30 yards to goal, Yusuke didn't hesitate as he struck the volley shot. However, the shot flew wide by a few inches to the post.
Martin Tyler: Only inches away, but it was a good effort by Saeki, who scored the winner at Anfield last week. He almost did it again here.
Gary Neville: Manchester United are building up the momentum now. It was a good volley by Saeki. When a player hits it as cleanly as he did, you know the shot will not be that far off the target.
Meanwhile, Yusuke was trying to shake off the disappointment of having missed the target. 'Man, I'm not lucky there. I was sure that was good enough.' Yusuke thought.
"Good effort, Yusuke!" Pog said.
"We are bringing it on them." Romelu added.
In distance, Kakeru and Nana raised their thumbs up to acknowledge the quality of Yusuke's effort in the circumstances. But despite the domination shown by United for some time, the score was still tied. The Chelsea players knew that it only took one mistake from the Red Devils or one lucky break to score a very opportunistic goal that would steal all 3 points.
In the 84th minute:
Martin Tyler: Long ball ahead towards Morata.
Although Morata attempted to get to the ball first in the Manchester United half, Matthias used his superior height to head the ball away. However, the ball went loose for Cesc Fàbregas. On the following split second, Mai went bursting with speed between 2 Manchester United defenders. At the same moment, the Spanish midfielder sent the pass into Mai's path for a breakaway.
Martin Tyler: Fàbregas... through for Murasaki! No offside!
Finding herself in a 1v1 situation with David de Gea, Mai waited for one second before she took the shot. David got enough of a touch to slow the ball down behind him, but Mai also skipped past the goalkeeper to catch the loose ball with the goal wide open.
Martin Tyler: Must score surely...
Mai took the shot, but Yusuke suddenly came sliding in to block the shot, and deflected the ball behind for a corner kick. Once again, Yusuke succeeded in stopping Mai.
Martin Tyler: Saved off the line by Saeki! Mai Murasaki thought she had scored, but Yusuke Saeki came in with a crucial save to keep the score at 1-1.
The thousands of Manchester United supporters inside Old Trafford applauded as Yusuke was getting congratulated by his teammates. Meanwhile, Mai was absolutely stunned that the ball didn't go in after what was supposed to be a certainty. In the stands, Noriko couldn't contain her excitement after what she just witnessed.
"Great save, Yusuke! Well done! Woohoo!" Noriko shouted.
"That was amazing!" Sarah added.
"That could be the turning point if we win this. I can feel it!" Noriko replied with sheer enthusiasm.
Gary Neville: Well, that was a superb block by Saeki. Great pass by Fàbregas towards Murasaki, who was onside. She takes the shot. David de Gea gets a piece of it, but then Murasaki pushed forward to get the rebound. And at the very last second, Saeki comes in with a well-timed block on the goal line. Great effort.
It was a very close call for Manchester United. The following corner kick for Chelsea led to nothing, much to everyone's relief among the United supporters. After a few tactical adjustments have been ordered from the Manchester United bench, Yusuke and the 2 Manchester United central defenders continued to add to Mai, Hazard, and Morata’s frustrations through a much tighter man-marking. In any case, the stage was set for one final roll of a dice.
The match finally arrived in its final phase when the clock showed 90:00. The 4th official on the touchline then came up with his electronic board to indicate the number of injury time minutes.
Alan Keegan: The referee has indicated a minimum of 3 minutes of added time.
The crowd urged their team to attack. The action was taking place inside the Chelsea half of the pitch, but Chelsea were defending well up to that point. United were still desperately looking for one last crack at the Chelsea goal.
Martin Tyler: Now it's Pogba.
Pog walked a few yards across the width of the pitch with the ball before he passed the ball towards Kakeru on the right wing. With a well-timed dribble, Kakeru cut inside one of the Chelsea defenders before he kicked the ball across and inside the penalty area for Romelu.
Martin Tyler: Aizawa is going through... Now Lukaku...
Romelu was nowhere in position to shoot, but knew that a teammate would be coming behind to take a one-timer shot from just inside the box. Without any hesitation, the Belgian laid the ball behind him.
Martin Tyler: It's MISHIMAAA...
Nana came in to strike the shot in full stride, and struck the ball low towards the bottom corner. However, the Chelsea goalkeeper managed to get just enough of a touch to deflect the ball behind for a corner kick.
Martin Tyler: What a save by Courtois!
"Well done, Tarantula!" Mai congratulated her goalkeeper.
"Thanks, but it's not over yet. Mai, you guard the post on my left." Thibaut replied.
Before the corner kick was taken, the Chelsea manager made his final substitution by replacing César Azpilicueta with the taller Antonio Rüdiger. The German defender was brought in to add more height on set pieces, especially with the likes of Matthias, Romelu, Pog, and Eric as tall opponents.
Martin Tyler: Nana Mishima will take the corner kick for Manchester United.
For this very important situation, Chelsea had all of their 11 players guarding the penalty area. Mai was the player protecting the post at Thibaut Courtois' left. Finally, both teams and the referee were ready to go.
Nana whipped the free kick towards the exact area in front of Chelsea's 6-yard box. Fighting for position against Cahill and Rüdiger, Matthias succeeded in reaching the ball first. This time, the shot was going towards the goal with some pace.
Martin Tyler: KÖHLER! It's saved...
Thibaut Courtois made a reflex save on Matthias' header, but couldn't control the rebound. Meanwhile, Kakeru came in, and unleashed a powerful left-footed strike that flew just past Mai's right leg. In a flash, Old Trafford was sent into wild euphoria.
Martin Tyler: ...AND IT'S IN! KAKERU AIZAWA!! 2-1 for Manchester United! Look at the joy! There's every chance Kakeru Aizawa has won it for Manchester United in stoppage time.
In the midst of all the thunderous noise inside the stadium, Kakeru was greeted by a 10-man pile in celebration to his late goal. For the Manchester United supporters, it almost felt like rolling back the years with the old "Never Say Die" attitude that was taught by Sir Alex Ferguson. The Manchester United bench also erupted with José leading the celebrations with successive fist pumps and urging the Old Trafford faithful to make even more noise. On the other end, the goal had a totally devastating effect on the Chelsea players. Mai was still thinking about the chance she missed earlier and then at the goal she couldn't prevent.
Alan Keegan: UNITED'S GOAL... SCORED BY NUMBER NINETEEN... KAKERU AIZAWAAAA!
Back to the commentators:
Gary Neville: Well, Köhler won the initial header against Cahill. Courtois made a brilliant save, but the rebound went straight to Aizawa. He was not going to miss the opportunity from that range. Kakeru Aizawa did not have the most prolific of performances today, but he has shown in the past that he can step up to score late goals. He did just that.
Martin Tyler: Kakeru Aizawa has now 12 goals for Manchester United this season, including 8 in the Premier League.
The play restarted with the Chelsea players attempting to create something with the ball. However, Chelsea's final effort only led to a Manchester United goal kick in the very last seconds of stoppage time. After David proceeded with the goal kick, it was finally over.
PEEP PEEP PEEEEEEEEEP!!!
Although it appeared for a long time that Chelsea would get a result, United finally came out on top with the victory everyone wanted before the international break. The result was not just about the 3 points; it also meant that United grabbed the initiative against a top rival in the race in progress for the Premier League title. The Manchester United players and supporters alike had every reason to celebrate.
"We did it!" Nana exclaimed as she hugged Kakeru.
"Yeah! We all did it!" Kakeru replied.
"Well done, Kakeru!" Matthias congratulated Kakeru with a high five as well.
"YEAH! Come here, you beauty!" Pog gave Kakeru the congratulatory bear hug.
The vast majority of the players from both teams stayed to shake hands between opponents. One handshake in particular was long expected by spectators and media alike; it was the encounter between Nana and Mai.
"Nice game." Mai said before she shook hands with Nana.
"Thank you, Mai-chan. You did quite well too; you truly belong in this league."
"Thanks, Witch, but I feel I still have a lot to learn before I can become as good as you are in England."
"Just don't change the way you play though, Mai-chan. We will need you just like you have always been with Nadeshiko Japan. It's only about working to improve on other aspects of your game."
At that moment, Kakeru and Yusuke also arrived to shake hands with Mai.
"No hard feelings, Murasaki-san. I did my job, you did yours. You were very hard to handle though." Yusuke said.
"Thanks. You played a good game too. That save you made was the difference in the end." Mai replied to Yusuke before she turned towards Kakeru. "Well done, Kakerucchi. Once again, you showed that flair for late drama."
"Thanks, Mai-chan. You gave us quite a hard time too. Hope to see you around soon." Kakeru replied.
"Sure, of course." Mai replied before she came closer to Kakeru, and whispered in his ear with a seductive voice: "If you ever get bored in Manchester, you can always call me. I will keep a nice hotel room in London just for the two of us. We will have lots of fun."
"WHAT?" Kakeru asked. His face was turning red.
At that point, Mai laughed out loud before she replied: "Seriously, Kakerucchi, you're so funny. Did you really think I was serious? I gave up on my chances of becoming your girlfriend a long time ago."
"Phew! I'm glad you cleared that up." Kakeru said.
"Well, see you soon then." Mai said.
"See you soon too. Stay in good health for our international matches." Nana replied.
"I will." Mai finished and left.
"What did she say to tease you again, Kakeru?" Nana asked.
"No-nothing important. I'm never comfortable when anyone suggests that I could have had a relationship with a woman other than you. I'll never do something like that." Kakeru replied. Nana then smiled after she heard her fiancé's reply, which was well and truly sincere.
"You sure are totally dedicated to Nana. No one can ever say the opposite." Yusuke remarked with a smile on his face.
Meanwhile in the stands:
"Well done, United! Well done!" Noriko exclaimed.
"That was a great comeback!" Sarah added.
"It's almost like in the Fergie days." Sayuri said
"You got that right, Sayuri. It feels like vintage United with comebacks and late drama." Robert replied.
"That's the kind of spirit we always love with our club, Robert."
As the Manchester United players saluted the crowd, Yusuke and Noriko's gazes met in distance for a few seconds. For a few moments, Noriko was lost in her thoughts about Yusuke. She didn't know how what to think. But then, Noriko remembered something she took as an advice a few days back.
Flashback - Special medical conference at the Manchester Medical School, Wednesday
On that day, former Chelsea F.C. doctor Eva Carneiro was the guest speaker at the conference. For the occasion, Dr. Carneiro talked about her work as a team physician, about how she moved up the ladder, about similarities and differences between work environments, and about what it takes for aspiring physicians to perform well under pressure in demanding environments. After the conference, Noriko had a 1-on-1 talk with her role model.
"Dr. Carneiro, I'm a big fan of your work as a physician, especially at Chelsea. I'm aspiring to follow your footsteps so I can work at a top football club like you did." Noriko said.
"That's really good to hear from all young women who want to get into the job. I'm really flattered. What club would that be if you have a chance one day?" Eva asked in reply.
"I hope it will be Manchester United... my club since childhood. Of course, I will gain experience in a hospital environment before I apply. Nevertheless, that has been my dream for many years now."
"When you know what you want to do, that's a powerful tool to drive you through anything on the way to your goal. I was 16 when I knew I wanted that job as a football physician so I can be the one who saves the day for the players." Eva said.
"It's OK if you don't want to answer. But still, I have an important question I wanted to ask from you, Dr. Carneiro."
"What is it?"
"Have you ever seen sports physicians who end up dating athletes they work with?"
"That didn't happen for me, but I have seen that happen a few times." Eva replied to Noriko. "The thing is that when sports physicians work with athletes on a daily basis for years, it's almost like co-workers dealing with each other every day at the workplace. I know that isn't quite ethical, but it's the truth. People can get attracted to one another in such context. It's a natural thing."
"I see." Noriko said.
"If I may ask, is there an athlete you're really attached to on a personal level? I promise to keep it a secret."
"Yes, there is someone. We are already good friends, but I'm thinking about whether or not we should push our relationship to the next level. I say that I'm afraid that because my career aspirations might be compromised if I go ahead with him... because he's already there, where I want to be in the future."
After taking a few seconds to find an answer, Eva realized that Noriko was implying romantic feelings for an unnamed Manchester United player in the question. In response, Eva replied: "I think I'm catching what you try to tell me here. The advice I can give you is: believe everything is possible, and put your own happiness ahead of anything else."
"You really mean it, Dr. Carneiro?"
"Of course I do. No matter the choices you make, you can always aspire to a successful professional life, and also having a satisfying personal life. Always believe in yourself. It's the same message I give to all young women and young girls out there."
"I... I will, Dr. Carneiro." Noriko replied.
"By the way, I don't know your name."
"Noriko... Noriko Catherine Lewis."
"Well, Noriko. I hope you will succeed in your future endeavour, and that you will find that happiness. Both at work and in your personal life, maintaining communication is the key for success."
"Thank you, Dr. Carneiro."
"My pleasure. Write me back if you ever need more advice." Eva finished.
Remembering that conversation between her and Eva, Noriko suddenly found a new inner strength. She was finally determined to go ahead with Yusuke even though she was not quite sure about how.
'I will tell him how I feel. I can't live with those doubts anymore.' Noriko thought.
"What are you thinking?" Sarah asked.
"About something I wanted to do for some time, but didn't acknowledge until now." Noriko finished.