European Night at Old Trafford
Sunday September 10
West Didsbury, Manchester, UK
In the evening, the Manchester United team arrived at Piccadilly station after a 2.5-hour train ride from London to Manchester. From there, Kakeru drove Nana and Yusuke back towards their duplex in less than 15 minutes. Despite the disappointment of losing the match against Arsenal a few hours earlier, Yusuke accepted to have a quick dinner at Kakeru and Nana's place before he’d return to his own apartment.
"Tadaima! (We're home!)" Nana said, but no one answered.
"Noriko may already be asleep. She has to be at Trafford General early tomorrow for her clinical apprenticeship in orthopedics. Nana and I also have clinical clerkship work for tomorrow too." Kakeru said.
"Possible. I'll check if we have something we can quickly eat for dinner for tonight."
"I would like to borrow you that new video game you just bought. Can I?" Yusuke asked.
"It should be there somewhere on the table in my room upstairs. You can go and look for it." Kakeru replied.
Yusuke walked up the stairs, and found the video game he was looking for. However as he came out of the bedroom, the door of the nearby bathroom opened up, and Noriko came out. Noriko only has a towel wrapped around her naked body.
"Yu-Yusuke-san!" Noriko's face was getting crimson red. The shock was so great that she lost her grasp on her towel, and dropped it on the floor.
"He-Hello, Noriko-chan." Yusuke, with his cheeks also turning red a little, couldn't find other words to say.
Suddenly, Noriko screamed so loudly that it echoed in the whole apartment. Immediately, Kakeru and Nana ran up the stairs to see what was going on.
"Noriko, what's going on?" Kakeru and Nana asked together. However, they were shocked when they saw the naked Noriko sitting on the floor, trying to hide as much of her own nudity as she could. Nana immediately grabbed Yusuke, and then pushed both him and Kakeru away.
"Down the stairs, you two! Quick march!" Nana ordered to both Kakeru and Yusuke before she turned towards Noriko. "I already told you before: make sure not to come out with just a towel after a shower."
Quickly and without asking questions, Kakeru and Yusuke walked down the stairs to the kitchen.
"Did I hear it right, Kakeru? Did that happen to you before?" Yusuke asked.
"(sigh) Yes, it happened a few times to me before."
"Seriously, Kakeru, she is gorgeous. You sure you were never tempted by her?"
"OK, I stop there, but I'm asking a serious question."
"Look, I know you have very good looks. Girls have been all over you since high school, and I'm sure you have lots of success with them, but please stop asking me that because I have 2 women living with me." a shocked Kakeru replied.
"The truth is... I haven't had that much success with girls. I had a few flings, but I never found one woman who would be a great prospect to become a long-term partner. It's not easy being a famous player who tries to find the right woman." Yusuke replied with the most sincere tone in his voice.
"I'm really sorry to hear about it, Yusuke." Kakeru asked.
"Anyway, enough talk about women. I'll see if I can grab some dinner." Yusuke finished.
At the same time Kakeru and Yusuke had their discussion, Nana and Noriko had their own talk upstairs after Noriko covered herself with a bathrobe,
"I... I can't believe I flashed my naked body to him. He saw everything. How can I be so clumsy?" Noriko said.
"No need to dwell on it, Noriko. I agree with you on one thing though: it was really clumsy, just like you did a few times before." Nana replied.
"But why him of all people? Why?" Noriko asked out loud.
"Is there something wrong? Why are you still so uncomfortable around Yusuke?"
"It's... It’s because he reminds me of Suguru-san somehow, Nana. I know this makes little sense, but I cannot describe it otherwise."
"I see. As far as I can remember, Yusuke has always been someone very different from Suguru-san. Please give him a chance to become a close friend to you at least; he's a very good person, and it will be worth opening yourself to him. Just take a moment to think about it." Nana finished.
The last words left Noriko with food for thought.
Sometime later in the same evening, Yusuke already went back to his apartment after he and his 2 teammates finished dinner. Meanwhile, Kakeru, Nana, and Noriko had a little talk about what happened earlier in the match against Arsenal.
"During the match against Arsenal, I felt something different today when I went out there." Kakeru said.
"How different?" Noriko asked.
"It was more than anger. Jenpa's smirks and arrogant look in his eyes stirred something inside me. It was something I never felt against any opposition before."
"We think we know where to look at for an explanation. Noriko... you and your parents have known the rivalry against Arsenal in the 1990s and 2000s. How was it?" Nana asked.
"It was pure hatred. At the time, both teams had players who had power, skills, pace, experience, and aggression. You know that 2-team rivalries fighting at the top often exist in Spain, in Scotland, and sometimes in Germany, but it rarely happened in England. However, United and Arsenal did just that for almost a decade."
"That much?" Kakeru asked.
"Yep! My parents and I despised Arsenal very deeply during those years. United fans hated Arsenal's players and fans; Arsenal fans felt the same towards us. When the match started, both teams hated each other and things could get heated quickly. According to what I saw of today's match, there were sparks between both teams, and it was reminiscent of the old rivalry. What Kakeru felt was probably glimpses of that kind of hatred."
"If that's the case, what is the way to prepare ourselves mentally for the next time we play against them?" Nana asked.
"Nana, Kakeru... What I'm about to give you for an advice about it might go against your respective natures, but it's better if I tell you in advance. In order to prepare yourself for such a battle, you have to be ready to feed off that hatred of your opponents in order to become even more ruthless. Opponents, including those who are your friends off the pitch, have to fear you out there because it's the most ruthless player who will win the duels that will add up to make the difference between winning and losing."
"How can I do that against long-time friends who are also fellow teammates with the national team? I played intense matches against friends before, but never to the point of forgetting the friendly nature of our rivalries." Kakeru asked.
"I'm not sure I can do it either. You're asking a lot from us." Nana added.
"You won't have a choice; Araki and Oda already showed how ruthless they can be together with Jenpa today. Yusuke-san displayed some of that ruthlessness against Araki when he came on as well. Players have to cast their friendships aside to become worst enemies in those matches for 90 minutes. At times, there will be situations where you will have to fight your way against friends in order to win the match, and to defend your own teammates. That is part of being a professional."
"This is not going to be easy for us, Noriko. We were really fond of them as our senpais." Nana said.
"I never said it would be easy, but it will be necessary. Still, it is early days though. It's no use thinking about that now. When the time comes, I will help both of you in your mental preparation." Noriko replied.
"I hope we will be ready by then. Meanwhile, we have the Champions League to think about." Kakeru said.
"That's right! Tell me more about Celtic's goalkeeper, Lee Chu-Joon. I read that he used to be on your team at Enoshima High School."
"Akitoshi-san, as he was known to us at Enoshima, was our senior goalkeeper for only one year since he was a 3rd-year when we arrived. He was amazing for us in our run for the national title in the Winter Tournament." Kakeru replied.
"He will pull off spectacular saves, and fight until the very end to clear the ball away. At 18, he was already called up by the South Korean Under-21 national side after we won the Nationals. That means we will need our best shooting boots on Wednesday." Nana added.
"Did José Mourinho tell you what to expect ahead of that match?" Noriko asked.
"I expect to be on the bench because I played the entire game today although he didn't say it. However, Nana and Yusuke were told they would start against Celtic." Kakeru replied.
"Well, let's hope to see you guys taking this team to new heights in Europe this season. The job starts on Wednesday."
"We will push our limits further this time, Noriko." Nana said.
"Let's go for it all the way." Kakeru added.
"Yeah, but it's time to get some sleep. We have some clinical work to attend tomorrow." Noriko said.
"Thanks for reminding us. Let's go to sleep then." Nana finished.
The UEFA Champions League, known simply as the Champions League, is an annual continental club football organized by the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA). Introduced in 1992 to replace the former annual European Cup competition which started in 1955, the current competition changed its format to include a group stage and allow multiple entrants from certain countries. Before 1992, the competition was a straight knockout tournament that was only open to the champion club of each country.
Having won the Premier League the previous season, Manchester United entered the tournament as one of the 22 clubs that were qualified automatically while 10 others had to go through qualifying rounds between July and August. The 32 clubs were drawn into 8 groups of 4 teams, and play each other in a double round-robin system between September and December. The 8 group winners and 8 runners-up would then proceed to the knockout phase that culminates with the final match in May. For this particular season, United was drawn in a group that also included Celtic F.C. (Glasgow, Scotland), A.F.C. Ajax (Amsterdam, Netherlands), and Sevilla Fútbol Club (Seville, Spain).
In order to avoid any conflict with domestic competitions, the Champions League plays all its matches in Tuesdays and Wednesdays while the final would be played on a Saturday. On the second Wednesday of September, the quest for European glory began for the red half of Manchester.
Wednesday September 13
Manchester United vs. Celtic (UEFA Champions League group match 1)
Old Trafford, Manchester, UK
Kickoff for a mid-week Champions League match in England is always due at 7:45 PM BST or GMT depending of the time of the year. The reason why "European nights" at Old Trafford are regarded as something special is because they provide a unique and intimidating atmosphere for opposing teams. It is said that Manchester United fans save their voices to up the ante in home Champions League matches, lifting the Manchester United team up higher as the proverbial "12th man" makes his presence felt.
Before the teams came out of the tunnel, flag bearers have been waving Manchester United flags for several minutes at each end of the pitch to galvanize the crowd. Both teams could already hear the noise inside Old Trafford reaching high levels. Nevertheless, it didn't keep Nana and Kakeru from having a chat with their former Enoshima High School teammate, Akitoshi Ri, who is known to all broadcasters as Lee Chu-Joon.
“Akitoshi-san, nice to see you.” Kakeru said.
"Great to see you too, Kakeru, Nana-chan." Akitoshi replied.
"So how are you doing in Scotland?" Kakeru asked.
"It took a little time to adapt myself to my new environment last season, but it has been going well since."
"Good. I'm really looking forward to play you at your best tonight." Nana said.
"I look forward to it as well." Akitoshi replied. "It's a shame you're not starting this one though, Kakeru."
"I played on Sunday, so I expected it. Still, I'm on the bench, and I can come on at any time." Kakeru replied.
"If so, bring it on then. I'm here fighting for a result."
"I have no doubt about it. Good game." Kakeru finished before he and Akitoshi shook hands.
A few minutes later, the signal was given for both teams to come out of the tunnel. At the same time the whole attendance at Old Trafford roared and cheered for their respective teams walking under the stadium's floodlights. Celtic's supporters were known to be very vocal with 3,500 strong, but United's supporters were also voicing their lungs out as well.
"UNITED! UNITED! UNITED!" Noriko and Robert shouted along with the 72,000 Manchester United supporters present in the stadium.
"Noriko is really into it tonight." Sarah said. Noriko's friend was given Harry's ticket for the night.
"She sure is." Sayuri replied.
After both teams lined up in the middle of pitch, flag bearers waved a giant circular flag of the UEFA Champions League logo in the center circle. Meanwhile, the speakers at Old Trafford played the customary and powerful UEFA Champions League Anthem. It was an orchestral piece in which the vocal chorus is played in UEFA's 3 official languages: French, German, and English.
Ils sont les meilleurs
Sie sind die Besten
These are the champions
Les Grandes Équipes
Once the anthem was over, the whole crowd roared again to show their support. A match between Manchester United and Celtic was always regarded as a special occasion because of the history behind each of the 2 clubs.
Your match commentator for this Champions League campaign is the legendary Clive Tyldesley.
Clive Tyldesley: These 2 clubs have squared off against one another in this competition in 2006 and in 2008, but you can feel there's always something special when they meet. The heirs of the 1968 Wembley winners against the heirs of the 1967 Lisbon Lions, the champions of England against the champions of Scotland, it's Manchester United against Celtic.
For the inaugural match of the Champions League campaign, José proceeded with several changes to the starting lineup that started against Arsenal. The lineup read as followed: David de Gea (goalkeeper), Antonio Valencia (right-back; captain for the night), Phil Jones (centre-back), Chris Smalling (centre-back), Matteo Darmian (left-back), Yusuke Saeki (central defensive midfielder), Ander Herrera (central midfielder), Nana Mishima (central midfielder), Jesse Lingard (right winger), Romelu Lukaku (striker), and Anthony Martial (left winger).
For Champions League matches at home, United switched their usual black socks for white socks to complete their home kit of a red shirt and white shorts. Meanwhile, Celtic’s outfield players wore fully dark green kits.
Yusuke's eyes were almost sparkling as he looked around. He was appreciating every single detail of the context and the atmosphere surrounding the occasion for his first ever first-team start for his current club.
"Having goosebumps?" Nana asked.
"I do." Yusuke replied.
"Me too; it's the first time I play in the Champions League. We played in the Europa League before, but it's not really the same thing." Nana said.
"It's the first time I start an official match for Manchester United, at Old Trafford, and it's in the Champions League of all competitions. I never thought it would happen like this."
"The best way to get through the initial awe is to feed yourself with the energy from this crowd. You'll do just fine." Nana gave Yusuke a tap on his shoulder before both players moved into their respective positions for kickoff.
With their eyes set towards the Stretford End, the Celtic players kicked off the match first under thunderous roars from the whole crowd expecting a great match. After Celtic put up a few passes together, Ander intercepted a sloppy pass, and ran with the ball to start a counterattack.
Clive Tyldesley: Now, Herrera with the counterattack... It's towards Lingard on the right.
Jesse ran with the ball down his flank, but got the tackled away for a throw-in. On the following throw, Ander passed the ball for Jesse, who then headed the ball backwards for Yusuke.
Clive Tyldesley: Saeki sends it in...
Yusuke's aerial ball intended for Romelu was cleared away by a Celtic defender, but the ball took a high trajectory before it came down just outside of the box. At that position, Nana escaped her marker, and struck the ball one-time with a left-footed volley.
Clive Tyldesley: It comes to Mishima!
The shot took a curl towards the top corner, but Akitoshi parried the ball away at the very last second, and the shot was deflected behind for a corner kick. Mesmerized by the save, the United supporters held their hands on their heads in shock. Nana also looked to the heavens in disbelief.
Clive Tyldesley: What a save by Lee! Fantastic effort by Nishima... only matched with a desperate effort by the South Korean goalkeeper. It’s a corner kick for Manchester United.
Getting a grip from the brief shock, Nana walked towards the corner flag, and prepared to take the corner kick. United had the likes of Chris, Phil, Ander, and Romelu inside the box. Upon the referee's signal, Nana took the corner kick.
Clive Tyldesley: Mishima takes... it goes for Lukaku!
Nana kicked the ball towards the "no man's land" in front of the 6-yard box. At that position, Romelu out-jumped the Celtic defenders and headed the ball towards the top corner at Akitoshi's left side. However, the former Enoshima High School goalkeeper reached the left arm just enough to deflect the ball behind for another corner kick.
"For God's sake! Kakeru and Nana were right about this goalkeeper being a pain." Noriko said, still unable to believe it after she saw the action unfolding from distance almost across the length of the pitch.
"He's very decent indeed." Sarah added.
"He's a very good shot stopper, I'll give you that. The real question for any goalkeeper, however, is: can he show composure? Composure is what sets some keepers apart from the rest." Robert replied.
Clive Tyldesley: Second attempt. Mishima... off Smalling and across the face of goal...
The ball slightly bounced off Chris Smalling's head and then across the face of goal, where Romelu jumped towards the ball. Just a split second before Romelu could head the ball, Akitoshi caught the ball in mid-air. In the ensuing contact, both Romelu and Akitoshi fell to the ground, forcing the referee to call the foul against the Belgian striker.
Clive Tyldesley: It's a foul made by Lukaku, but it was good concentration by Lee. The goalkeeper kept his nerve with that many bodies in front of him.
"Well, we now have the answer. He is more than a good shot stopper." Robert said.
'This is where things can get tricky if this goalkeeper keeps on frustrating United with great saves in succession.' Noriko thought.
Nevertheless, United continued controlling the play for most of the time against Celtic's defenders after that last early chance, but couldn't find a way to get past Akitoshi's efforts yet. In the 23rd minute, the team in red went at it again as Jesse led a swift counterattack before he was tripped by a Celtic defender 25 yards from goal. The referee awarded the free kick, and the distance was just inside Nana's territory...
Clive Tyldesley: We know Nana Mishima can hit them from that distance, but she also has Herrera, Lingard, and Lukaku in that wall, lurking for rebounds.
Nana struck the ball around the Celtic wall, but Akitoshi parried the curling shot before it hit the low bottom corner. However, the cheer accuracy and pace of the shot made it hard to handle, so much that the rebound went in front of the goalkeeper.
Clive Tyldesley: It's Mishima... It's saved.
The rebound bounced towards Romelu, who overpowered the Celtic player assigned to mark him. The Belgian striker immediately took a shot, but Akitoshi jumped in front of the shot again before it bounced back across. Jesse also jumped on the second rebound, but Akitoshi closed the small gap quickly enough to make a 3rd save in quick succession before the Celtic defenders cleared the ball away.
Clive Tyldesley: It's Lukaku, saved again! Lingard, it's saved again!
"SHAPE UP, LADS! BE FIRST ON THE BALL!" Akitoshi shouted at his defenders as he got back up in front of his goal. The South Korean was clearly unhappy with the poor defensive cover from his teammates.
Clive Tyldesley: Magnificent piece of goalkeeping to keep not one, not two, but 3 Manchester United players.
On the Manchester United bench:
"You gotta be kidding me!" Kakeru exclaimed.
"How did he stop 3 attempts within 3 seconds?" Pog asked out loud.
"I knew he was good, but I never thought he would be that good." Kakeru replied.
"We better find a way to score soon. He cannot ride on his own luck like this forever." Matthias said.
The play carried on, and Akitoshi continued making a few good saves whenever United launched their attacks on the Celtic goal. The South Korean goalkeeper held his team almost on his own, but he was about to see his efforts rewarded in the 30th minute of the match when Celtic launched a rare attack.
Clive Tyldesley: Long clearance by Lee...
Following Akitoshi's long kick, the descending ball bounced off the head of Celtic's captain in midfield, and went towards Phil. However, United’s young defender slightly misjudged the trajectory of the ball, so Celtic had a striker running behind him.
Clive Tyldesley: Off Scott Brown... Misjudged by Jones! Griffiths is going in...
As Celtic's Scottish striker, Leigh Griffiths, struck the ball, Phil managed to run back to block the shot. The ball deflected behind for a corner kick.
Clive Tyldesley: Deflected by Jones. It is a corner.
Both teams moved into position for the corner kick. As it is current practice with many teams, United had their 2 smaller players standing each by either goalpost. Nana was also holding her position by the post.
When the referee ordered the corner kick to proceed, the Celtic player sent the ball in that "no-man's land" for his teammates.
Clive Tyldesley: Here comes the corner...
Beating the Manchester United defenders for height and timing in his jump, Croatian defender Jozo Šimunović powered a header towards the gap between David and Nana. Despite all of her good efforts, Nana's attempt to deflect the ball out with her head came too short. Celtic opened the score against all the odds.
Clive Tyldesley: IT'S ŠIMUNOVIĆ! Jozo Šimunović gives Celtic the lead at Old Trafford!
While Celtic players were celebrating the goal, Nana was cursing at herself for not being able to keep that ball out of the net.
"I screwed up on that one, Nana. I let him loose." Phil said.
"C'mon! They can't ride their luck forever." Ander rallied his teammates.
"He's right! Let's grab the next one and the one after that." Nana added to the rally cry.
Meanwhile in the stands:
"It's only one goal, lads! Attack, attack! Attack, attack, attack!" Noriko shouted from her seat.
Almost as an immediate echo, large numbers among the 72,000 Manchester United supporters shouted "UNITED! UNITED!" and "ATTACK, ATTACK! ATTACK, ATTACK, ATTACK!!" to galvanize their team. In response, United took control of the play again, and got a glimpse of a break in the 36th minute.
Clive Tyldesley: The ball was played with a hand. Free kick for Manchester United…
After the referee called the foul against Celtic, Yusuke took the ball, and laid it down before he took the quick free kick with a long aerial pass forward.
Clive Tyldesley: Saeki takes it quickly… towards Martial.
The ball landed inside the penalty area. At the very same time, Anthony outpaced the Celtic defenders, and forced Akitoshi to try stopping the ball.
'Il va mordre à l'hameçon (He's going to take the bait).' Anthony thought.
At the right split second, Anthony poked the ball a little ahead of himself and out of Akitoshi's reach. Diving in too late, the South Korean goalkeeper brought United's French winger down when the former plunged his body in the way. Almost instantly, thousands of voices shouted in unison towards the referee.
Clive Tyldesley: Brought down by Lee! The referee's looking at it... PENALTY!
The 72,000 United supporters cheered when the penalty was given. Meanwhile, Akitoshi was pleading his case at the referee as expected, but to no avail.
"What for, ref? He went down too easily." Akitoshi said.
"That was clear impeding on that, and you were nowhere near the ball. You're booked." the referee replied as he showed Akitoshi a yellow card.
At the same time, Anthony was congratulated by his teammates for earning the penalty.
"Great run." Yusuke said.
"Thanks. Great pass too, Yusuke."
Clive Tyldesley: Romelu Lukaku will take this penalty with the chance to put Manchester United back on terms.
The referee ordered the players from both sides to stand outside of the box. Only Romelu and Akitoshi stood in the penalty area. The Belgian already placed his ball in position; he was only thinking about where he would hit the ball
'Come on, Rom.' Kakeru and Nana thought at the same time.
Clive Tyldesley: Who will be the hero?
Given the signal by the referee, Romelu struck the ball hard and low towards Akitoshi's right. However, the Celtic goalkeeper managed to dive towards the trajectory of the ball, and thus deflected the ball to the side with the fingertips of his glove.
Clive Tyldesley: LEE SAVES IT! Lukaku denied! Celtic are still in front 1-0.
Celtic's captain, Scott Brown, reached the rebound first, and kicked it to the side. Everyone supporting United in the stadium could only shake their heads in disbelief. Once again, Akitoshi performed another miracle to keep his side in the lead.
"Bollocks!" Noriko exclaimed.
"I can't remember the last time a goalkeeper stole us so many times in one half of football." Sarah said.
"Lukaku struck that shot well. Sometimes, you have to give credit to the goalkeeper." Robert replied.
"Is there any way we can beat him?" Sarah asked.
"There is always a way." Noriko finished.
Only less than a minute following Akitoshi's save on the penalty kick, United pushed forward again. Following an interception, Celtic's defenders started the counterattack with a pass for Scott Brown, who then tried to pass towards the wing. However that attempt of a pass was blocked by the backtracking Nana. As Celtic's captain went in to retrieve the ball, Yusuke took the ball away with a nifty little move.
Clive Tyldesley: Retrieved by Saeki... Pushed forward for Mishima.
Yusuke immediately flicked the ball for Nana. After the Little Witch ran a few yards ahead to get past a Celtic player, she looked for options. An opportunity suddenly appeared: while Jesse was luring a central defender on one side with the run, Romelu went into the gaping hole in Celtic’s defensive line. Without hesitation, Nana launched the through pass into Romelu's run.
Clive Tyldesley: It's a clever pass through! It's Lukaku!
Akitoshi ran forward to stop the ball, but Romelu arrived first in top speed, and struck a low shot. Somehow, the shot squeezed through the space between Akitoshi's midsection and left arm, and rolled into the back of the net. Old Trafford erupted following the 1-1 equalizing goal.
Clive Tyldesley: AHH! Romelu Lukaku has equalized for Manchester United! He squeezed the shot through Lee Chu-Joon. Still, it was a superb pass by Mishima to find Lukaku at first.
"GET IN! Bien joué, Rom! (Well played, Rom!)" Nana exclaimed in the middle of the celebrations on the pitch after the goal.
"Merci! C’était une très belle passe. (Thanks! That was a very beautiful pass.)" Romelu replied.
"Their keeper is beaten. Let's go for more now." Ander rallied his teammates to go back for the restart.
Meanwhile on the Manchester United bench:
"Great killer pass, Seven!" Kakeru shouted.
"Pinpoint accuracy." Matthias said.
"We still need to score one more without conceding anything to them." Pog said.
"I know, Pog. I think I know how to make it harder for their goalkeeper." Kakeru replied.
The final minutes of the first half winded down with only one half of a chance from Manchester United on Celtic's net, but the score remained unchanged. Both teams retreated to their respective dressing rooms, but the Manchester United players were the only ones who didn't feel quite satisfied with the result after 45 minutes despite scoring the equalizing goal. It was important to win the first group match in the Champions League.
In the Manchester United dressing room:
"It's not the first half we all expected, but at least we pulled it back at 1-1. Here's the thing though: they will try to hit us on counterattacks and set pieces only. If you keep working harder than they do, they won't have such chances, and we will win the match. On the attack, be more aggressive, and be more creative. They have a good goalkeeper, but he is only human like all of us. Remember that for the second half." José gave the team talk.
"YES!" the Manchester United players replied altogether.
"Kakeru, Juan, Matthias... you start warming up at the beginning of the second half. Expect to be ready by the hour mark." José warned the 3 substitutes of what was about to come.
After that, a few players gathered with assistant manager Rui to discuss about attacking tactics to use against Akitoshi's goal. Among them were Kakeru, Nana, Romelu, Jesse, and Ander.
"I looked at their goalkeeper and the way he moves; he is very aggressive on the ball. We have to be both more aggressive and yet more creative in our plays." Rui said.
"He's on a yellow card. Do you think that might get into his head?" Romelu asked.
"I would be surprised if it does. Lee has always been a fighter, so he will dash in to block shots 'til the very end. If we want to beat him with better odds, we have to use his aggressive style to lure him out of position." Kakeru replied.
"Luring him out?" Jesse asked.
"That's good thinking. Romelu scored against him head on, but we only scored once after missing so many direct chances. We need to be more efficient with our shots, but we can be creative. So we make the goalkeeper waste his energy by running from side to side when we pass across to a teammate inside the box." Nana replied.
"Exactly, Witch. Give the player with the ball one or more options for a pass across in the box. The goalkeeper won't be able to cover the whole width of the goal if we attack like that. We turn his aggressive ways against him. Let’s go!" Rui said.
"OK!" the players replied.
Following that little meeting, Kakeru and Nana had their own talk about the tactical changes.
"Did you have that idea of luring Akitoshi-san out while watching from the bench?" Nana asked.
"What he did in the first half was quite reminiscent of what Mikiya Tono did in the Nationals against Enoshima in our first year. I guess that's the best way to deal with any goalkeeper who is a pain."
"It better work for us. I don't want to start this Champions League with anything less than a win." Nana said.
"Still, be careful out there when you push forward."
"You know I will, Kakeru. Meanwhile, make sure you’re prepared to unleash the fury when you come on."
"Friend or not, I will give him no favors."
A few minutes later, the bell rang as a signal for the Manchester United players to come back on the pitch. Ahead of the second half, the players in red were resolute in breaking the human wall that was Lee Chu-Joon with the decisiveness that was necessary for United to earn the 3 points in the group table.
The second half of the match started very slowly as Celtic regrouped as a tight unit to stop United's attacks. Meanwhile, Celtic's attacks were quite timid as Yusuke and the 4 defenders had no trouble stopping them. With the score still tied at 1-1 in the 60th minute, Celtic's captain had ideas of his own to try crippling United's creative force.
'If they think a girl will make us look like shite today, they are mistaken.' Scott thought.
Following a Manchester United throw, Yusuke passed the ball towards Nana in the center of the pitch. The Little Witch ran past an opponent, but Scott charged into Nana by the side, sweeping her legs in the process. Immediately, the vast majority of the 72,000 Manchester United supporters shouted as the referee blew his whistle to call the foul after Nana went down.
"KICK HIM OUT, REF!" Noriko shouted furiously.
"SEND THAT BASTARD OFF!" Sarah couldn't contain herself that time.
"HE'S A BLOODY MADMAN OUT THERE!" Robert added his voice in.
On the pitch, the incident gathered a crowd although the Celtic players came quickly to protect their captain from the angry Manchester United players, including Nana. The referee produced a yellow card against Celtic's captain, who smirked at the whole incident while the crowd voiced its displeasure.
Clive Tyldesley: It's only a yellow card against Scott Brown for that last aggressive challenge. Meanwhile, Manchester United are about to make a substitution here.
On the touchline, Kakeru was waiting for the 4th official to put the numbers on his board. When the ball went out of play a few moments later, the board displayed the numbers 14 in red and 19 in green: Kakeru was set to replace Jesse.
Alan Keegan: Substitution for Manchester United: replacing number 14, Jesse Lingard... number 19, Kakeru Aizawa.
After Kakeru came on the pitch, he immediately went for quick talk with Nana and Yusuke about what happened recently.
"It looks like their captain has something against you." Kakeru said.
"If he comes in my area, he will taste his own medicine." Yusuke added.
"Don't worry about that now. If he wants a piece of me, I'll get him first. He has not seen what I can do just yet." Nana replied.
Then the 3 Japanese players went back to their assigned positions for the play to carry on. Meanwhile, Nana had one thing she wanted to do in the very short term: show Celtic's captain that she can play a very physical game of her own, and make the bully taste his own medicine in a way that he would remember it for a long time. It only took 60 seconds before Nana and Scott went at each other again.
Clive Tyldesley: Good control by Boyata... He finds Brown.
As Scott made his run, Nana interposed herself between the ball and the Celtic captain. Lunging in with her right leg out and her right foot on the ground, Nana made contact with Scott, and sent him crashing hard down on the pitch.
Clive Tyldesley: Foul by Mishima. It was a rash challenge... Is there more coming here?
Scott was a little in pain after an awkward landing. Nevertheless, he got up, and went after Nana. The Celtic captain had his blood boiling after Nana made him taste his own medicine with quite a hard tackle.
"Ye feartie (You coward)! Come here, let's go!" Scott shouted while his teammates were holding him.
Nana kept her gaze frosty, and only replied with a blah-blah hand gesture, meaning he was a bore. She also had her own teammates standing in front of her as peacemakers.
Meanwhile, the referee came in to show Nana a yellow card.
"I know that was retaliation, Mishima. This is the last time I give you a chance to finish this game. No more of that." the referee said.
Then Nana walked away while the Manchester United supporters booed at the referee for the card, and yet cheered at Nana for showing that she can hold her ground well enough to embarrass some of the hardest men in the game.
"You caught him really hard, Seven." Kakeru said with a smile.
"Thanks. What goes around comes around." Nana replied.
"Sometimes, you are one hell of a scary person, Nana." Yusuke made the remark; he was perplexed by Nana’s gutsy challenge against the hard man that was Celtic’s captain.
“Against some players, it’s the only way to impose your will upon them, especially British footballers.” Kakeru said.
After that incident, it took a few minutes for United to build up some momentum, but the wait was worth it as the break came in the 67th minute on what started as a Celtic counterattack.
Clive Tyldesley: Celtic on the counterattack. Scott Brown's making the run...
As Celtic's captain ran with the ball forward into United’s half, Yusuke saw the opportunity, and came in with a strong standing tackle that took the ball away a split second before Scott was sent flying to the ground. Despite protests from the Celtic players, the referee didn't call any foul, but rather allowed the play to continue.
Clive Tyldesley: Great tackle by Saeki... Herrera's going forward.
"Ando!" Nana called for the ball.
"Witch!" Ander warned before he passed the ball straight towards the Little Witch.
Surprised by the speed of the counterattack, the Celtic players couldn't pull back into defensive positions. After she skipped past a tackle, Nana looked at her options, and then spotted Romelu making a run between Celtic's 2 central defenders.
Clive Tyldesley: Mishima sees the space... Lukaku is in.
Finding no passing option at that very second, Romelu took a hard shot on goal. The shot was stopped by Akitoshi on the edge of his 6-yard box, but the rebound bounced back towards the Belgian.
Looking for the source of the shout, Romelu spotted a red shirt, and tapped the ball across in that direction. The player Romelu found at the end of the pass was the very one that Celtic really didn't want to see hitting a shot within 6-10 yards from goal.
Clive Tyldesley: Great save by Lee! Lukaku's there again... AIZAWA!
Despite Akitoshi's desperate diving effort, Kakeru smashed the ball into the goal, and sent Old Trafford wild following the goal that gave United the 2-1 lead.
Clive Tyldesley: IT'S 2-1 FOR MANCHESTER UNITED! He has done it again! Kakeru Aizawa comes to United's rescue with 23 minutes to go.
"YEAH, KAKERU! WELL DONE!" Noriko shouted from her seat.
"Well done! 'Ave it!" Sarah added.
Kakeru ran towards the corner flag to celebrate his goal before he was joined by his teammates, especially Nana arriving first to jump into Kakeru’s greeting arms for a tight celebratory hug.
"You did it, Kakeru!" Nana said.
"Good instinct by getting there, Knight!" Romelu said.
"Thanks. That was a nice pass too." Kakeru replied.
After a few celebrations, the Manchester United players ran back into restarting positions. Meanwhile, Scott Brown was not happy with the chain of events that started with the strong tackle Yusuke gave him. The Celtic captain gave a mouthful to the referee.
"Why the hell was that not a foul? That should have been a free kick for us!" Scott complained.
"He got the ball cleanly there." the referee replied before he brushed Scott away.
"Yeah, that's a typical homer decision. Thank you very much." Scott added a touch of sarcasm as he went after the referee.
"You better tone it down now. Remember that you're already booked." the referee gave his last warning to Celtic's captain, who had to be calmed down, and pulled away by his teammates. The last thing Celtic wanted was to fall down to 10 men because of one silly yellow card too many.
Celtic's manager then felt that the Manchester United players were clearly getting under his captain's skin. Without any hesitation, he pulled his captain out for another player before anything silly would put the Scottish side into numerical disadvantage. Indeed, Scott Brown was known to be both very committed and yet too aggressive at times, so much that he received a number of silly yellow and red cards in his career. A little later, José proceeded with a second substitution as he replaced Anthony with Pog. That change also meant that Nana was shifted onto the right wing.
In the 73rd minute:
Clive Tyldesley: Manchester United are pushing forward through Herrera... finds Aizawa.
Using his faithful Run-With-The-Ball technique, Kakeru skipped his way past 2 Celtic defenders as if they were nothing. By the time he entered the last third of the pitch, Kakeru only had 2 defenders standing in the way to goal.
Clive Tyldesley: He's gone past Lustig. He's taking on Boyata...
Kakeru waited the perfect moment as the Swedish defender in green went down, and stuck his leg out for a tackle. To avoid the tackle, Kakeru faked going left before he pushed forward to his own right. On the edge of the Celtic penalty area, Celtic centre-back Dedryck Boyata came in front of Kakeru, stopping any further advance.
"Knight!" Romelu shouted as he continued his run towards the far post.
Without waiting any further, Kakeru lopped the chip pass across the box towards the far post. In that area, Romelu jumped above the nearest Celtic defender, and made a clean contact with the ball. As the header shot appeared to fly into the goal for sure, Akitoshi jumped into the way with one hand on the ball.
Clive Tyldesley: Terrific save by Lee on Lukaku... Oh, as far as Aizawa...
The previous one-handed save by Akitoshi was not well controlled as the ball bounced off a Celtic defender and back into the danger area where Kakeru was lurking. The Japanese striker opted for a low shot, but Akitoshi managed to just get enough of a touch of the ball before it rattled the post.
Clive Tyldesley: Off the post! Brilliant save by Lee on Aizawa! The South Korean saves Celtic again!
As one of Celtic defenders cleared the ball far and away for a throw-in, Kakeru could only clench his teeth in disappointment at the double scoring chance that was missed.
"That was almost perfect. Man, he's a monster." Pog said.
"Yeah, but let's not stop at all." Kakeru replied.
Pog took the throw towards Romelu, who then passed the ball wide for Kakeru on the left wing. After Kakeru ran with the ball past the Celtic right-back, the Japanese forward dashed in towards the edge of the box when he suddenly made pass towards an open area 25 yards from goal. In that position, Yusuke dashed in with only one thing in mind.
Clive Tyldesley: Aizawa finds Saeki... Saeki has a shot!
Following Yusuke's left-footed shot, the ball took a swirl towards the left that surprised Akitoshi completely. Although Akitoshi jumped in, his reach was nowhere near touching the ball. However, the ball struck the outside of the post and out.
Clive Tyldesley: Off the post and out! Celtic just got lucky. Lee was surely beaten by the swirl on Saeki's effort, but not the post.
"That's just my luck." Yusuke said after letting out a sigh.
"Akitoshi-san has made so many huge efforts to keep the score tight, but I'm sure we are wearing him down." Kakeru replied.
Indeed as Kakeru noticed, Akitoshi was starting to feel the effects of physical and mental fatigue following the bombardment the latter sustained from the Red Devils in the match. Nevertheless, there was always the possibility that one Celtic threat could change the match.
In the 78th minute:
Clive Tyldesley: James Forrest's pushing forward on the wing...
Running with the ball down the wing, Celtic's winger James Forrest unleashed a long aerial cross inside the box. Coming in was his teammate Griffiths, who headed the ball towards the bottom corner. However, David caught the ball just with both hands in front of the goal line.
Clive Tyldesley: What a save by De Gea! United are still in front!
"Well played, Big Dave!" Yusuke congratulated his goalkeeper.
"It's OK, but keep pushing forward. Vamos!" David replied before he threw the ball a long way ahead for his teammates to counterattack.
Although Akitoshi made most of the work to keep the game still tight at 2-1, David made a few key saves of his own when it mattered as well in order to preserve the lead for his team. Finally, United found a break in the 85th minute after Celtic moved more players forward in a nearly desperate attempt to equalize the score.
Clive Tyldesley: Blocked by Saeki, Pogba retrieves.
The French midfielder found Nana dashing towards the half-way line, and unleashed a perfect pass to her. Nana had plenty of space ahead as Celtic committed too many players forward. Kakeru was also running down the pitch on the last Celtic defender's shoulder. Anticipating the possibly long-awaited third goal, the crowd at Old Trafford roared louder as the 2v1 situation was taking shape with Kakeru and Nana running with only Jozo Šimunović as the last field player standing between the 2 Japanese players and the Celtic goalkeeper.
"C'MON NANA! C'MON KAKERU!" Noriko shouted.
"Kakeru's free on the right!" Robert also exclaimed.
As if both of their minds read into each other's, Nana passed the ball towards Kakeru, who was almost in a position of breaking away alone towards the Celtic goal, towards the Stretford End.
Clive Tyldesley: Manchester United can score here... Aizawa coming in, Šimunović after him...
Despite being tailed by the Croatian defender, Kakeru ran in full speed with the ball. From the moment Kakeru arrived within 25 yards from goal, Akitoshi ran ahead from his own 6-yard box in an attempt to stop Kakeru.
"I won't let you score, Kakeru! This won't end here!" Akitoshi said.
Arriving on the edge of the 18-yard box, Kakeru pondered his options, and decided that he would go around the goalkeeper. Although Kakeru initially fooled Akitoshi for a split second with a body feint, the South Korean goalkeeper kept his footing, and ran after Kakeru.
Clive Tyldesley: Aizawa's going around Lee...
Kakeru delayed his kick as long as he could until he went on with it. As Akitoshi made his move, and dived in to put his hand on the ball, Kakeru chipped the ball across with the sole intention of passing into a free space.
'All yours, Seven!' Kakeru thought.
'I'm having that, Kakeru.' Nana thought at the same time.
Nana took advantage of the fact that both Akitoshi and Šimunović were both keeping their eyes on Kakeru; she continued her run behind them, lurking in a good position just outside of the 6-yard box. Although 2 Celtic players almost caught up to her, Nana kept her composure, and tapped the ball into the goal to send the Old Trafford crowd into frenzy again.
Clive Tyldesley: MISHIMA FINISHES IT OFF! It's 3-1 for Manchester United! Massive relief at Old Trafford. You have to feel it's well and truly game over!
"Great ball, Kakeru!" Nana said as she celebrated the goal by pointing towards Kakeru to acknowledge the quality of the pass.
"I knew you would be there, Seven! Well done!" Kakeru replied as he took the jumping Nana into his arms.
Only seconds later, the rest of the Manchester United players joined in to celebrate the goal that took a ton of pressure off their shoulders. With a 2-goal gap in their favor with so little time left, everyone knew it would be almost impossible for Celtic to make a comeback.
"Nice pass, Pog! Merci!" Nana thanked the teammate who kicked off the counterattack.
"That was great stuff, you two." Yusuke said. "You did what you said you'd do at halftime."
"Luring him out to turn his aggressive style against him by using the width, that's what we all said." Kakeru replied.
Meanwhile in the stands:
"Great teamwork, you two!" Noriko shouted to congratulate both Kakeru and Nana, who responded by waving back at her.
"You played great!" Sarah added.
"I have been watching these two playing together for a few years now, but they never stop to amaze me when they need to be on the same wavelength." Robert said.
"Better than any duo you have seen over the years?" Sayuri asked her husband.
"I'm not sure, but they are close." Robert replied.
Shortly after the 80th minute, José made his last substitution when he replaced Yusuke with Michael. On the way off the pitch, the Japanese defensive midfielder was warmly applauded by the supporters for his first ever start for the club. From there, the remaining minutes of normal time and injury time went down without any further incident. The Manchester United players worked on just defending their lead without doing anything reckless while Celtic, without energy and without their captain to inject a boost of energy, didn't mount any serious attack. After 3 minutes of injury time, the final whistle was blown.
PEEP PEEP PEEEEEEEEEP!!!
Clive Tyldesley: Manchester United have started this Champions League campaign on the right foot, but they had to come back from behind. They had to score 3 goals against the very persistent Lee Chu-Joon to win it. The final score at Old Trafford: Manchester United 3-1 Celtic.
In the post-game handshakes, Nana and Scott Brown only shook hands very briefly. The Celtic captain was still not happy at the fact that a woman embarrassed him by matching in toughness. Nevertheless, the point of interest was the handshakes between United’s 3 Japanese players and the Celtic goalkeeper.
"Great game, Kakeru. I see how good you have become now." Akitoshi said.
"Thanks. You gave us quite a lot of trouble tonight."
"I did what I could, but you two outsmarted me. I will have to be a lot better in the return match between us in November, in Glasgow, but you better be ready for the noise there." Akitoshi said.
"We will be up to the challenge at Celtic Park." Nana replied.
"I expect it." Akitoshi said as he shook hands with Nana.
"Good game, Lee-san. I guess I'm the only one among the three of us who has yet to score against you." Yusuke said.
"Try me anytime, but I'm not making you gifts. By the way, congratulations for your first start at United; I look forward to see you play in Glasgow too." Akitoshi replied.
"I will be there." Yusuke finished.
After Celtic's South Korean goalkeeper parted ways with Kakeru and his friends, the 3 Japanese players saluted the celebrating supporters inside Old Trafford before they left the pitch. While most professional footballers would take the day off after a match even on weekdays, Kakeru and Nana's following day would be quite different from a typical post-match day. It was a matter of knowledge, wisdom, and humanity.