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The Flowers of Manchester :Previous Chapter«Home Page»Next Chapter: The Italian Job - Part 1

Full Speed, FA Cup 5th Round

With the emotion of the Munich Air Disaster commemoration now behind, the following task for Manchester United was to get through the fifth round of the FA Cup to reach the quarterfinals. However, the opponent on the day was the same EFL Championship team that created a major upset by eliminating United out of the EFL Cup back in October: Nottingham Forest F.C.

Within the ranks of the Red Devils, there was a desire for vengeance. However, as the round of 16 of the UEFA Champions League was looming closer on the horizon, the players knew they had to be careful and in control of themselves on the pitch. As such, the Manchester United manager decided to make use of whatever depth his squad allowed him to.

Unlike the EFL Cup fixture where it was played in Nottingham, the FA Cup fixture was set to be played in Manchester.


Saturday February 17

Manchester United vs. Nottingham Forest (FA Cup 5th Round)

Old Trafford, Manchester, UK

2:50 PM GMT

The Manchester United starting 3-5-2 lineup was set as followed: Sergio Romero (goalkeeper), Chris Smalling (right centre-back), Chris Smalling (centre-back), Marcos Rojo (left centre-back), Antonio Valencia (right wingback), Michael Carrick (central midfielder and captain), Nana Mishima (central attacking midfielder), Yusuke Saeki (central midfielder), Ashley Young (left wingback), Kakeru Aizawa (striker), and Zlatan Ibrahimović (striker).

It was a rare appearance in the starting XI for Michael, but it was also a very welcome moment for the players to have their club captain starting alongside them. For Zlatan, he was filling in for Romelu ahead of the upcoming midweek match.

While Manchester United field players wore their recognizable home kit, the Nottingham Forest field players were wearing a fully dark blue kit. As both teams stood in the tunnel, Kakeru, Nana, and Yusuke were having a little talk together.

"You looked quite pumped up, Kakeru." Yusuke said.

"You bet I am. Back in October, I didn't play particularly well against that lot, and it was a rare appearance for me as a lone striker as well. But today, I'm here to tear them a new one." Kakeru replied.

"I can understand that." Yusuke said and then turned towards Nana. "How about you, Nana?"

"When I think of them, I keep thinking about the 2 free kicks their goalkeeper stopped when it was a one-goal margin. If I scored those free kicks, it would have been a much different story. But it is as it is, and I haven't scored on a free kick for some time now." Nana replied.

"The last free kick goal you scored was in the first Premier League game of the season if I remember well." Kakeru said to Nana.

"Yeah, and I really want to start scoring at least one soon."

"I hope you'll score a free kick soon to cap all of those training sessions. Keep trying." Kakeru said.

Meanwhile, the Nottingham Forest players were looking at the 3 Japanese players speaking.

"What are they talking about?" one of the Nottingham Forest players asked.

"I wish they could just stop with that annoying lingo. Bloody foreigners." his teammate replied.

When the clock hit 2:55 PM, the referee led the march for both teams towards the pitch.

"COME ON, LADS!" Michael rallied his Manchester United teammates.

Both teams were greeted by the cheers and the roar of the Old Trafford crowd. When the clock struck 3:00 PM, Nottingham Forest went on with the kickoff, and tried to slow the play down a little bit. However, United had other plans right from the start.

Guy Mowbray: It's taken away by Köhler... and David de Gea clears.

Matthias thwarted an attack by taking the ball away from his opponent and towards the Manchester United goalkeeper, who then kicked it down the field. Surprisingly, Kakeru arrived in front of the nearest Forest defender to head the ball down to Michael.

Guy Mowbray: Carrick... Now Yusuke Saeki...

After he received the pass from Michael, Yusuke then started running forward with the ball until he reached the halfway line. He noticed that Kakeru was already making a run on the wing while the Nottingham Forest were falling back.

"Yusuke!" Kakeru shouted for a pass.

Yusuke responded by sending Kakeru the pass.

Guy Mowbray: ...setting Aizawa running.

Kakeru then charged in full speed towards the Nottingham Forest penalty area. The Japanese forward arrived face-to-face with a Forest defender just inside the penalty area. Meanwhile, Nana and Zlatan were arriving in attacking support.

Guy Mowbray: Mishima is running in the middle. Ibrahimović is arriving as well.

With 2 Forest defenders covering his 2 teammates, Kakeru then made a stepover feint before he pushed further ahead on the outside. All Forest defenders thought that the shooting angle would be too narrow for Kakeru, but they were wrong. The Japanese forward struck a quick shot into the top corner at the near post, surprising the goalkeeper completely.

Guy Mowbray: Aizawa's going all the way by himself and scores! Superb solo goal from Kakeru Aizawa! Only 50 seconds in, it's already 1-0 to Manchester United.

In a flash, the Old Trafford crowd was on its feet to celebrate an early goal. Kakeru was quickly congratulated by his teammates.

"Well done, Kakeru!" Nana congratulated.

"Thanks, Seven!" Kakeru replied.

"Great run, Kakeru!" Yusuke congratulated as well.

"Great pass too, Yusuke."

"Get in there! Big goal!" Michael said.

"Well done, Knight!" Zlatan added.

Meanwhile in the stands:

"WELL DONE, LAD!" Harry shouted.

"He really surprised everyone with that shot." Noriko said.

"For sure. There was not much space, but he found just enough room to get that top corner." Robert replied.

"Deception is such a beautiful thing when it works." Noriko said. "Now that we have the lead, Forest won't have a choice but to open the game up."

Just as Noriko predicted, Forest started to open the game up in an effort to find an equalizer. However, it was exactly what United wanted to create more opportunities of their own at the other end.

In the 10th minute:

Guy Mowbray: Cleared... only as far as Smalling.

Following a long clearance from the Forest goalkeeper, the ball was headed back by Chris in the Nottingham Forest half. Nana was there to take the ball, and then made a Witch Turn to shake off a Forest player.

"Nice!" Noriko exclaimed as she watched from her seat.

Guy Mowbray: Great turn by Mishima!

When Nana looked at her options ahead, she saw Kakeru making a run between the 2 Forest centre-backs.

"Kakeru!" Nana shouted before she launched the ball into Kakeru's path.

Guy Mowbray: Beautiful pass to Aizawa.

Everyone expected Kakeru to run straight towards the goal, but the Japanese forward chose to make a cheeky reverse pass to Zlatan as their paths crisscrossed. The big Swedish striker found himself all alone in front of the Nottingham Forest goalkeeper, and then left no doubt by sliding the ball under the goalkeeper and in the net.

Guy Mowbray: Aizawa finds Zlatan... in some space! ZLATAN FINDS THE NET!!! MANCHESTER UNITED FIND THEMSELVES 2-0 UP INSIDE 10 MINUTES!

With the Manchester United supporters cheering for their Swedish hero, Zlatan celebrated his goal with his trademark run with his arms away followed by a fist pump. The first person Zlatan looked at was Kakeru.

"Well done, Ibra!" Kakeru said.

"Thanks! That was a great pass too." Zlatan replied.

"Well played, you two!" Nana said.

The match continued. United played an inspired game by launching attack after attack against a shaken Nottingham Forest side. The visitors held their ground for several minutes while hoping to perhaps score on a set play. However, Forest's resistance was not going to hold at that rate.

In the 26th minute:

Guy Mowbray: Free kick for Manchester United... Taken quickly by Carrick. Mishima...

Following a foul that took place just inside the Nottingham Forest half, Michael took a quick free kick to Nana. The Little Witch then launched a long ball wide towards Ashley. The English left wing-back was running quickly forward, but then found himself blocked by Forest defenders in his path towards the penalty area.

"Ash!" Yusuke shouted at his right.

Ashley then passed the ball to Yusuke, who then deflected the ball into Zlatan's path and inside the penalty area.

Guy Mowbray: Young... Saeki... a flick...

The nearest Forest defender appeared to be in a position to get the ball first, but Zlatan used his long legs to fetch the ball, destabilizing the defender. And suddenly, Zlatan was all alone with the goalkeeper again!

Guy Mowbray: Great effort by Ibrahimović...

Noticing that the Forest goalkeeper was sliding forward to stop the shot, Zlatan made a side pass towards Nana. The Little Witch then took a shot towards the goal, but it was saved off the line by a Forest defender who fell back to defend. However, the pace of Nana's shot created an awkward rebound off the defender and back into Kakeru's feet.

Guy Mowbray: It's Mishima! It bounces back to Aizawa...

Without any hesitation, Kakeru lashed a strike into the top corner goal, sending Old Trafford wild for the third time in the afternoon.

Guy Mowbray: INTO THE NET! Superb strike by Kakeru Aizawa! His second goal of the match! Manchester United are 3-0 up.

"Well done, Kakeru!" Nana congratulated.

"Thanks, Seven!"

"Second time in a row that you score 2 goals. You're on fire!" Nana said. "Do you have one more in you?"

"We'll see." Kakeru replied.

From that moment onward, the pace of the game slowed down as the result was almost sealed. However, United still looked more dangerous than their opponents on the attack. A few minutes before halftime, United had another chance.

In the 42nd minute:

Guy Mowbray: Saeki in control now... passes to Nana Mishima.

United were deploying another attack in the Nottingham Forest half of the field. Yusuke passed the ball to Nana, who then looked for options. Zlatan then moved a little closer to be a good recipient for a pass.

Guy Mowbray: Mishima... to Ibrahimović...

When Zlatan was about to receive the pass, he also knew where Kakeru was. At the right moment, the Swede attempted a lobbed pass into Kakeru's path. However, the Japanese forward was impeded by a Forest defender.

Guy Mowbray: Aizawa was impeded. Free kick to Manchester United.

The Forest defender received a yellow card for the foul, but worse news was that the location of the free kick was located 5 yards outside of the penalty area, in front of the post to the goalkeeper's left – a good shooting position for a direct free kick. While Kakeru was already positioning himself in the wall of Forest players that was guarding from just inside the penalty area, Nana and Yusuke were the designated shooter/decoy pair for that shot.

"What do you think of this?" Yusuke asked.

"That's within my favorite range. I think I can take this." Nana replied.

"If I set the ball on the ground and feint making a run for it, the players in the wall might lose focus for just a split second."

"That would be enough for me to curl that thing where I want. Let's do this, Yusuke."

"OK!" Yusuke replied to Nana.

Yusuke then moved on to adjust the ball on the point of infringement. When everyone got ready, the referee blew the whistle ordering to proceed.

PEEP!

Yusuke, who stepped back by several meters, first started running towards the ball. A split second later, Nana also started making her run. At one point, the Forest players flinched a little and stood flatfooted. Finally, Yusuke stopped his run while Nana went all the way to strike the ball.

Guy Mowbray: It's going to be Mishima...

Nana's shot flew at high speed above the wall of players before it curled and dipped towards the top corner at the goalkeeper's right. The Forest keeper was totally unable to even get a single fingertip on the ball at full stretch. Old Trafford erupted again as the ball hit the twine.

Guy Mowbray: It's over the wall, it's in the corner of the goal! Nana Mishima, with some shades of David Beckham, makes it 4-0 for Manchester United. It's her 10th goal of the season for the club.

Nana celebrated her goal by running towards the nearest corner flag and punching it down. After months of without a free kick goal, she could finally see a good result following hours and hours of practice.

"You did it, Seven! You scored that!" Kakeru hugged Nana.

"Great free kick, Nana!" Yusuke also congratulated.

"Woohoo! Great goal, Witch!" Matthias added as players mobbed Nana for a few moments.

"That was as Beckham-like as it could be, and I played with him." Zlatan said.

"Thanks, guys! I'm happy it went in." Nana replied.

"Let's hope you'll starting scoring more of those." Michael said.

Meanwhile in the stands:

"That was amazing by Nana!" Sayuri said.

"The girl really hit it cleanly above the wall and in that top corner. That was a magnificent shot indeed, Sayuri." Harry replied.

"She must feel good now after all the amount of time she practiced those shots." Noriko said.

"That's right. She hadn't scored a free kick since the opening day and until just now. It's a huge monkey off her back now." Robert said.

"As long as she keeps on being dangerous with those free kicks, goals will come more often too. I'm sure they will come, Dad." Noriko replied.

After that, the final minutes of the first half winded down until the referee blew the whistle. For the flattened Nottingham Forest players, the halftime break came almost like the end of a boxing round in which a fighter got pummelled. On the other end, the Manchester United players felt very good about the performance so far. For the local side, all that mattered was to keep a professional performance while avoiding injuries as much as possible.


During halftime, in the stands, Noriko gave a phone call to Sarah.

"Enjoying the first half from where you are?" Noriko asked.

"Yeah. I'm enjoying it with our medical school friends at the Bishop Blaize. Say hello to Noriko, guys!"

"Hello there, Noriko!" the friends shouted.

"Great show so far, girls! Come on, United!" Noriko replied.

"I would have loved to be there." Sarah said.

"It is vintage United, but we have to mostly thank Kakeru and Nana for the result so far. They have been tearing the opposition."

"Same, Noriko. Speaking of Kakeru, do you think he will finally get a hat-trick today?"

"I think today is the day. He is long due to score a hat-trick at senior level, especially since he scored that hat-trick in the Reserves a few years ago." Noriko said.

"Yeah, that was right before he earned his first senior start. After that, the rest became history." Sarah replied.

"It's another milestone for him to reach on the path to become a truly World-class player. I have complete faith in him."

"I just hope he will keep something for Juventus in midweek though. That's a big test coming up." Sarah said.

"I hope it too, Sarah. Playing against the legend they have there will be tough for any player."

"We'll talk later, Noriko. The last commercial break just ended, and that means the players will come on soon."

"OK, Sarah. See you later at the Bishop Blaize. Bye!" Noriko finished.

In the following seconds, both teams came back onto the pitch. Then Kakeru and Nana kicked the second half off. After a few moments of passing the ball around and inside the Nottingham Forest half, the ball came to Nana a dozen yards in front of the penalty area.

Guy Mowbray: It's Mishima... good through pass.

As Nana looked up on the left flank, she saw Ashley making a run between 2 Forest defenders. The Little Witch then launched the through pass into Ashley's path.

Guy Mowbray: Young... it's over the goalkeeper...

As Ashley was running towards the Forest goalkeeper, the latter slid forward in an attempt to stop the veteran Mancunian player in red. In response, Ashley lobbed the ball over the goalkeeper, but the shot appeared to miss the target. Kakeru then ran after the ball, and just stopped it on the side of the 6-yard box before it could go out of bounds.

Guy Mowbray: Aizawa gets there...

Even though 2 Forest defenders were lining up to block shooting lanes, even though the ball was bouncing off the ground, Kakeru turned on a dime before he unleashed a left-footed strike from the tightest of angles without even looking at where the goal was. The end result surprised everyone inside Old Trafford.

Guy Mowbray: OH, THAT'S TREMENDOUS!!! WHAT A FINISH!! Kakeru Aizawa, from almost an impossible angle, has completed his first senior hat-trick! Less than a minute into the second half, United are 5-0 up against Nottingham Forest.

All of the spectators inside Old Trafford were on their feet. It was a special goal to celebrate just for its quality alone.

"YATTA!!! (I DID IT!)" Kakeru shouted out loud.

"That was AMAZING, Kakeru!" Nana jumped on Kakeru's back in the celebrations.

"Woohoo! Unreal stuff!" Yusuke exclaimed. "How did you do that?"

"I don't know, but I will take it." Kakeru replied modestly.

"That's your first senior hat-trick too! The goal is even more special now." Nana said.

"Goal of the season!" Matthias exclaimed at the same time the rest of the Manchester United players mobbed Kakeru.

Meanwhile in the stands:

"ARE YOU KIDDING? THIS IS UNBELIEVABLE, KAKERU!!!" Noriko exclaimed.

"Wow! That's one of the best goals I have ever seen, and I have seen lots of football in my life." Robert said.

"And for me too! Not many goals are better than that one after everything I've seen in seven decades." Harry added. "There was almost no angle at all."

"It takes real talent to do that and on his weaker foot too. He showed it big time. If anybody had any doubt about his skill level, there's no doubt left now." Sayuri said.

"The video of that goal will certainly go viral on the internet now! Eat your hearts out, Messi and Ronaldo!" Noriko finished with a laugh.

After that highlight reel moment, both teams took the pedal off the gas a little. Attacks were not as incisive as they should be, but the Nottingham Forest side was still hoping to score at least one goal as a consolation on such a miserable day. The visitors had their chance in the 55th minute.

Guy Mowbray: Carrick... Good tackle by Osborn. Now it's Lichaj for Forest.

The Nottingham Forest right-back retrieved the ball just before the halfway line. Then he attempted a forward pass that appeared to go nowhere, but Marcos misplayed the ball in favour of the Forest striker.

Guy Mowbray: The ball goes off Rojo. It's Murphy... finds Walker on the right.

The Forest striker passed the ball towards his teammate on the right wing. Ashley then came up to face the Forest winger, who then bent his run towards the middle and along the front edge of the Manchester United penalty box.

Guy Mowbray: Walker... turns on the inside to shoot...

The Forest player took a left-footed shot that was deflected by Ashley. However, the ball was rolling dangerously inside the penalty are and towards the Forest left winger.

Guy Mowbray: It bounces off Young... only as far as McKay!

The Forest left winger took a shot from just outside the 6-yard box, but Sergio arrived in position at the right time before he parried the ball out of play.

Guy Mowbray: What a save by Sergio Romero! McKay thought he scored Forest's first goal, but he was denied by the Argentine goalkeeper. It's a corner.

"Come on! Cover your men! Wake up!" Sergio, obviously angry by his teammates' poor man-marking, shouted.

"He's right. Let's play hard, lads! No spaces given!" Yusuke echoed his goalkeeper's words.

On the following corner kick, the ball flew above everyone before it curled out of bounds. The end result was a goal kick, but the United players knew it could have been worse even if a Forest goal would have meant nothing on the match. It was all about a top athlete's pride.

"We got off the hook there." Kakeru said to Nana.

"Yeah. I guess the only way we shut them down is by keeping the pressure on them."

"Let's have one more go at them, Seven." Kakeru said.

"One more ride before we might get subbed." Nana finished.

After that rare Nottingham Forest scoring chance, Manchester United regained control of the action. Knowing that there was a high probability that José would sub them off with the midweek match in mind, Kakeru and Nana were determined to make one last everlasting mark on the current match.

In the 63rd minute:

Guy Mowbray: McKay... he's dispossessed by Saeki.

Yusuke took the ball off the Forest player with a well-timed standing tackle. Then the Japanese midfielder ran across the halfway line with the ball before he spotted Nana in front of her.

"Yusuke!"

"Witch, take it!" Yusuke then passed the ball towards Nana.

Guy Mowbray: Saeki... finds Mishima...

Just as Nana received the ball, she spotted Kakeru ahead. Without any hesitation, Nana made a looping through pass into Kakeru's run. The Japanese forward bent his run well enough to beat the offside trap.

Guy Mowbray: That's a good ball! Aizawa's onside...

Kakeru was on a breakaway with only the Forest goalkeeper left to beat. Just as Kakeru arrived inside the penalty area, he had to deal with both the goalkeeper and the retreating defenders. The Forest goalkeeper committed himself by going down, but Kakeru dragged the ball onto the opposite direction before passing it to a teammate in the open. It was an easy tap-in of a goal.

Guy Mowbray: Still Aizawa... Oh, brilliant! Ibrahimović scores his second goal of the match, but that was perfectly set up by Aizawa. You cannot be more unselfish to great effect than that.

"Nice pass, Knight!" Zlatan thanked Kakeru.

"Well done you too, Ibra." Kakeru replied.

"Good goal." Nana added.

After a few celebrations, the 4th official put his electronic board up to indicate a substitution taking place. It was a substitution for Manchester United ordered by José, and it was something expected ever since Kakeru completed his hat-trick.

Alan Keegan: Substitution for Manchester United. Replacing number 19, Kakeru Aizawa... number 14, Jesse Lingard.

Kakeru walked on his way out under thunderous applause from the crowd, to whom he saluted in acknowledgement of the support.

"Great match, Knight." Jesse said.

"Thanks, Jess. Good luck." Kakeru replied as he gave the double high five confirming the substitution.

Seconds after Kakeru was taken off, the 4th official set new numbers on the board for Manchester United. This time, the number 7 was red while the number 21 was green.

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

When she saw the numbers, Nana walked her way towards the dugout before she was greeted by her Spanish teammate under cheers by the thousands.

"Well done, Witch." Ander said.

"Thanks. Give them a run." Nana replied.

Meanwhile in the stands:

"Well done, Kakeru! Well done, Nana!" Noriko exclaimed.

"They earned a nice rest. We will need them against Juventus." Robert said.

"Yeah, but I'm sure they were just getting warmed for that." Noriko finished.

Back on the Manchester United bench:

"Well done, you two." José shook hands with Kakeru and Nana

"Thanks, Boss." Kakeru replied.

"You must be quite happy with the hat-trick today. Are you?" José asked.

"I am. It's great to score 3 goals, but I can now focus on what lies ahead. That's all that matters."

"Good spirit, Kakeru." José said to Kakeru before he turned towards Nana. "A good goal and an assist today. You played well too."

"Thanks, Boss." Nana replied.

"Make sure to be ready for Tuesday. We will need you if I make the call."

"I'll be ready for anything, Boss."

"Good, good." José finished

Than Kakeru and Nana put on their coats before sitting next to their fellow substitutes.

"Already thinking about Tuesday?" Nana asked Kakeru.

"I have been thinking about that match before that video session we had with Noriko." Kakeru said.


Flashback – Monday February 12

8:45 PM GMT

In that evening, Kakeru, Nana, Yusuke, and Noriko sat down to discuss about upcoming matches. Even though the FA Cup match was coming around the corner at the time, the main focus was about something else.

"Are you sure you want to do this now?" Noriko asked. "I mean: I already have the videos ready, but you have to think about Nottingham Forest first."

"There will be plenty of time for the coaches to talk about them. However, I really want to see what I need to know about Juventus." Kakeru replied.

"If we start training for the Champions League match now, the Forest game will be nothing than mere practice once we start applying what we do in training." Nana added.

"And what about you, Yusuke?" Noriko asked.

"I agree with them, Noriko. The more we now about our enemy early on, the more prepared we will be. Our real challenge is Juventus, and many of the guys are about to prepare themselves for that match right now."

Noriko took a few seconds before she answered: "Very well. Let's get this show on the road."

Then Noriko started the video session about what to expect from the Turin-based side. It was nothing short of breathtaking to see as Juventus is the best Italian club in the current decade.

"Juventus' style of play: fluid, energetic, and creative. They will start with a 4-3-3 formation, but they can quickly revert into a 4-5-1 if they need to defend. Regardless of the formation, they use 3 central midfielders to break opposition attacks and pass the ball forward from deeper positions: Miralem Pjanić, Blaise Matuidi, and Sami Khedira. Those guys can start actions, but they can also provide cover whenever this centre-back, Giorgio Chiellini, makes surging runs forward." Noriko said.

"This is where someone needs to keep running with him when he has the ball." Kakeru said.

"Correct. Such run can unsettle any defense if there's no one to watch him." Noriko replied.

"We will have to be ready against him. Either Kakeru or I will have to watch an eye on him." Nana said.

"On the flanks of the striker Higuaín, they can field 2 between Paulo Dybala, Douglas Costa, Eduardo Cuadrado, and Mario Mandžukić. They are already dangerous on the attack, but they can also counter-press opponents if Juventus loses the ball in the attacking half."

"I guess that the man to watch in particular is Paulo Dybala, right?" Yusuke asked.

"We're getting there." Noriko replied before she spotted the part in the video montage where she would start describing Juventus' versatile attacker. "Paulo Dybala... quick, creative, and agile. He's an excellent dribbler, he has good control in tight spaces, good balance, the ability to beat opponents, and he's a complete attacking player. Many people say he is the Lionel Messi's rightful heir as Argentina's best player."

"Wow. It's almost like watching myself or Kakeru play." Nana said.

"That's an advantage because that means you know how he thinks in such situations and how he will attack. Nevertheless, some people say that he has a hero complex." Noriko said.

"That means he would be more tempted to score himself, so opponents might anticipate his next move. Right?" Yusuke asked.

"Exactly. Piling up the pressure on him will allow us to take back the ball." Noriko replied.

"What's next?" Kakeru replied.

"Gianluigi Buffon... World Cup winner with Italy in 2006 and Juventus captain since 2012. He has been the most consistent goalkeeper in the game since the turn of the century. He has everything you can ask from an elite goalkeeper even at such an old age: tall, intelligent, quick, rarely caught out of position, very cool-headed, and he rarely makes errors."

Neither Kakeru, Nana, nor Yusuke said a word when they saw the legendary goalkeeper in action on the screen.

"He will be a big challenge for you, guys. But he is NOT unbeatable. As long as you keep attacking his goal, he will concede like any other keeper." Noriko said. "Don't kid yourself: Juve will make you run. But you can beat them if you take their game straight back into their faces in the best way you know how to."

Those were the most important words that came out of that video session.


Present time

"Looking back at what Noriko showed us, I remembered that I was living for that kind of challenge. If I want to write my own legend, I need to beat living legends like Buffon on the pitch. I can't wait to be out there." Kakeru said.

"Kakeru." Nana smiled. "I feel the same as you, and I will help you walk that path no matter how hard it is."

"Thanks, Seven."

Meanwhile, the remaining minutes were winding down with the score remaining unchanged. In the 75th minute, United made heir final substitution when Michael was replaced by Scottish youngster Scott McTominay. With each minute winding down, the visiting team couldn't wait to see that long day of misery end. However, United had one last incisive attack left in the bag.

In the 83rd minute:

Guy Mowbray: Young will take the throw for United.

Starting inside the Nottingham Forest half, Ashley made the throw-in pass towards Scott. The Scottish youngster then ran a few yards ahead with the ball before passing it towards Zlatan in front of the penalty area.

Guy Mowbray: McTominay... finds Ibrahimović.

Zlatan then held onto the ball for a couple of seconds with his back to the Forest goal, but then passed the ball off into Yusuke's path. The Japanese midfielder had been moved into the playmaker's position after all the substitutions.

Guy Mowbray: Into Saeki. He can shoot, but plays there for Lingard...

Instead of shooting on sight, Yusuke laid the ball for Jesse. The Mancunian winger then took a first-time shot that went off a Forest defender. On that play, the Forest goalkeeper was left helpless once again with an inevitable outcome.

Guy Mowbray: It's seven! Jesse Lingard makes it 7-0! Manchester United are in 7th Heaven for the second weekend in a row.

Even though Jesse would often be quite exuberant after he scores a goal, he didn't milk the celebrations too much. It was also the same feeling on the bench as the Mancunian players applauded their teammate.

"Well done, Jess!" Kakeru applauded.

"Good pass, Yusuke!" Nana added.

"He played for so many years as a defensive-minded midfielder that I almost forgot how composed he can be when he is the playmaker who sits behind the forwards." Kakeru said.

"Some instincts just never go away. We all saw what he did against Huddersfield." Nana replied.

"True. His instincts and skills can come in handy should we have to deal with an injury to someone like Pog. Still, I hope we won't come down to that." Kakeru finished.

After the goal, the match was played almost at the pace of a training session with neither side willing to take risks. Finally, the match ended 7-0 in favor of the Red Devils. In the dressing room, José came in to give a few last words before he would let his players go.

"Now that we're in the FA Cup quarterfinals are out of the way, we can focus on the real thing that comes next. For those of you who will take part in this adventure, I say: have a good rest and be ready for tomorrow. Great game today, people. Great game!" José said.

The Manchester United players replied with a round of applause to their manager. For what was left of the day, the players prepared their bags before they took a rest. The team was set to watch videos of their next opponent in the morning before they would leave Manchester in the early afternoon for Turin with a short stop in Amsterdam, all on the following day.


Sunday February 18

Manchester Airport, Manchester, UK

1:10 PM GMT

The Manchester United players were set to take the KLM flight to Amsterdam scheduled for 1:40 PM. Nevertheless, the players had time to answer phone calls from their loved ones wishing a safe trip towards the continent.

"I can't wait to be in Italy. I have never been there." Kakeru said.

"Never?" Nana asked.

"Never. And you?" Kakeru returned the question.

"Nope. I have been with Nadeshiko Japan for quite some time now, but we never travelled to Italy even once."

"Oh, I see. It's going to be an interesting experience." Kakeru said.

"What is Yusuke doing?" Nana asked.

"Probably calling Noriko. Those two really can't let go of one another even though he already said goodbye to her this morning." Kakeru replied as he was looking at Yusuke.

"Yeah, I'm about to get on board in just a moment, Noriko." Yusuke spoke through the smartphone to Noriko.

"How did the morning video session go in Carrington?" Noriko asked at the other end of the line.

"Mostly the same things we already talked about on last Monday. Still, I feel that the guys will come well prepared for Tuesday."

"As long as you play within your strengths to counter theirs, it will be fine."

"Well, I guess you and Sarah will watch the game as always. Don't be late on that one." Yusuke said.

"Me? Never! I'm like a Swiss clock when it's about United." Noriko replied.

"OK, OK. I was just teasing you. Say hello to Sarah for me when you're at it."

"Will do. If you get to play out there, just make sure you don't get too banged up though." Noriko said.

"I will be careful, I promise." Yusuke replied.

"Besides, I have a big reward for my beautiful warrior... just like after the Liverpool game a few weeks ago."

"Don't start filling me with impure thoughts too early." Yusuke said with a smile.

"OK, only if we win and if you come back in good shape. I'll let you go now. Bye!"

"Bye, Noriko." Yusuke finished before he ended the call.

Then Kakeru and Nana were both looking at Yusuke.

"What?" Yusuke asked.

"Nothing. The way you and Noriko interact, even on the phone, is just too cute to take our eyes off." Kakeru replied. "Don't you agree, Nana?"

"Sure!" Nana added

"Well... *cough*... we have some business to do first. People didn't call me ‘M. Serious' in Dortmund for nothing." Yusuke said.

"Yes, Commander." Kakeru replied.

Then José ordered everyone to get on board of their intended flight: "All right, it's time. Let's go, people!"

"YES, BOSS!" the Manchester United players replied in unison.

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