Chapter 12: First-Team Debut
Sunday May 19, 201X
For the second half, Manchester United players took positions in the Eastern half of the pitch and were set to attack towards the Stretford End as they do so often in those circumstances. Meanwhile, Manchester City's strikers Carlos and Sergio were standing at the center, waiting for the referee to blow his whistle starting the final half of English football of the season. When that signal came, Sergio passed the ball back to Yaya, then to Ricky and to Matija. Quickly, City's Serbian centre-back spotted David Silva forward on the left flank and launched the long ball ahead. With just a flick, the Spanish winger made an aerial pass for Carlos, who then spotted James on City's right wing. However, United's veteran French left-back Patrice deflected the pass out for a throw.
Based on City's approach early in the second half, it was clear that they were trying to build up on the momentum from the end of the first half and score their 3rd goal in order to kill any hope left.
Martin Tyler: Well, Manchester City are looking for a third goal early in the second half.
Gary Neville: They know what how massive that goal would be, hence the speed of the attack.
On the Manchester City throw, Pablo threw the ball towards Yaya, who then passed the ball to James. Playing the give-and-go with Carlos, James found himself alone facing Manchester United’s goalkeeper after Patrice lost him for a second and played him onside.
Martin Tyler: Through for Milner, he's onside...
James took the shot with his right foot, but the ball hit De Gea's shoulder and then the outside of the post for a corner. When the play unfolded, all Manchester United fans watching from all over the world sighed in relief. Luckily for Manchester United, the score remained unchanged.
Martin Tyler: Oh, so close! If that had gone in but for De Gea, it would have been Goodnight Manchester United.
Meanwhile on the pitch, Nemanja and Rio were mostly angry about that lapse of concentration by the French left-back. "Wake up and eyes peeled, ****ing hell, Patrice!" Rio shouted.
With no further due, Patrice held his right hand up to acknowledge that it was his fault indeed. Fortunately for him, the following corner had no consequence either as United cleared the ball away effectively.
In the following 5 minutes, Manchester United worked on controlling the ball a little better and pushing forward looking desperately to score the next goal. On the attack, Michael unleashed the long ball towards Wayne on the left wing, who then headed it back one-touch towards Patrice. As the French left-back spotted a few red shirts into the box, he tried his luck with a cross into the box. Challenging for the aerial ball, Robin and Matija both went for it. By a strange twist of fate, the ball missed both players and then bounced off Ricky's feet.
Martin Tyler: It bounces off Vernardi, but here's Aizawa!
Jumping out of nowhere and surprising Ricky completely, Kakeru moved ahead of him and struck the ball with his left foot. The ball seemed to be driving at full speed towards the bottom corner of the goal before Joe deflected the shot away and behind for a corner.
Martin Tyler: Ohh! Great save by Joe Hart on Aizawa! It's a corner for Manchester United.
Gary Neville: That was a fantastic save, but what about Aizawa's instinctive display there? He just came out of nowhere between Vernardi and the ball, and then came blasting it with his left foot. It was a save of the highest quality there.
At the same time the players were preparing themselves for the following corner, the crowd was roaring for the first time as they saw the local team so close of scoring a much needed goal. They knew that momentum could swing back in United's favor. On the following corner, Wayne lobbed the ball into the box, but it was deflected off Vincent's head and out towards the Spanish winger David Silva. Then City's Spanish winger dashed towards the three-quarters of the field’s length before he stopped in his tracks waiting for support to come. When Sergio arrived in support, the give-and-go was played and the Spanish winger suddenly got through United’s defensive line.
Martin Tyler: Silva with the give-and-go, Silva is in...
With a desperate attempt, Rafael dashed quickly to try cutting Silva's shooting angle while Rio was looking to block the middle in case of a rebound. Silva took a shot, but it was stopped by United's goalkeeper De Gea. However, the ball bounced in the air and back towards the edge of the box for Sergio.
Martin Tyler: Oh, De Gea is there again... Sergio Agüero...
On the rebound, Sergio tried to take control of the ball, but the ball bounced off the ground after a bad first touch. With that split second given by the bad first touch, Nemanja managed to get back in front of Sergio and hit the ball with the chest back into the hands of the Manchester United goalkeeper. Without a moment of hesitation, United's Spanish goalkeeper made a long throw towards a teammate who called for a pass on the left flank and near the center line; it was Kakeru dashing along the left side this time. Under the cheers and roars of all Manchester United fans in the stadium, Kakeru was pushing deep into City's territory.
Now facing Pablo, the Japanese rookie stopped the run and pulled back a little before he was forced to resist James' physical challenge with the shoulder. Quickly as reinforcements arrived, Kakeru passed towards Shinji and back to Kakeru in a 1-2 play.
Martin Tyler: Aizawa... Looking for options... Now, a give-and-go...
With now James eliminated from the equation, only Pablo was left standing before Kakeru would be able to create a serious attack with numbers against City’s net. While showing his back to Pablo from close range, Kakeru stopped the ball with the inside of his right foot, and then he turned his body around and moved the ball away with the outside of his left foot.
"A McGeady spin!" Nana and Noriko exclaimed as they watched the play from their respective positions and identified the last move. As a result of it, Pablo was caught off guard and Kakeru got through. In a reflex movement, Pablo tried to grab Kakeru's shirt before the latter would make it inside of the box. However, Kakeru quickly swapped away any grabbing attempt as he ran into the box facing goalkeeper Joe from an acute angle and Vincent trying to cut Kakeru's passing options.
Martin Tyler: Brilliant turn by Aizawa to get past Zabaleta...
With no option to shoot, Kakeru surprised everyone by passing the ball quickly through Vincent's legs and towards his fellow countryman Shinji. As Matija and Gareth both rushed quickly to stop Shinji’s rush, the Japanese midfielder quickly shot the ball from 14 yards towards the top left corner of the goal. However, the shot was parried away again by City's goalkeeper and behind for another corner.
Martin Tyler: Getting it across to Kagawa! Another great reflex save by Joe Hart! Fantastic end-to-end football!
Gary Neville: Have a guess on who made that last play: none other than Kakeru Aizawa. He fooled Zabaleta completely with that turn and cut inside the box to find Kagawa. Once again, Joe Hart finds a way to follow the ball and to be at the right place at the right time.
Meanwhile, none of the United supporters could believe that Joe stopped both of their team’s most recent attempts on goal within a couple of minutes. Both chances were solid attempts that would have translated themselves into goals most of the time but for one of the best goalkeepers in the Premier League.
"Oh, man! Tell me this isn't possible!" Mai exclaimed in despair.
"Kake-nii made 2 great plays in such a short time. We should have had at least a goal by now." Mito added.
"Kakeru won't give up now, you can bet on that. He's asking for more every time." M. Aizawa said.
"C'mon, United! Keep it going!" Noriko shouted on the edge of her seat.
"Keep pushing, boys! C'mon, Wazza!" Robert added to the words of encouragement from the crowd.
Wayne rolled the ball towards the Southwest corner of the field, not far from where Kakeru's family and friends were sitting. As expected, Nemanja, Rio, Michael, Robin and Kakeru moved altogether into the box as part of the setup on the corner kick against City's defensive setup. Meanwhile, Shinji was also standing by the corner flag and that meant that the upcoming corner kick would possibly be taken short. As the referee blew his whistle to allow the corner kick, Wayne played short by passing it to Shinji, who then passed the ball back to Wayne after the latter moved backwards a little. When the English striker spotted the opportunity, he played the long ball towards the middle of the pack.
Martin Tyler: It's Rooney...
The cross went off Gareth's head before it could reach Nemanja, but the ball flew towards just outside the edge of the 6-yard box that's closer to the far post, where other players were lurking. From there, Ricky jumped up to try getting ahead of Robin, but United's Dutch striker got to the ball first.
Martin Tyler: Barry got to it... Vernardi's trying to be strong, so is Van Persie...
For less than a second, the ball was loose after Robin headed it back towards Kakeru, who just lost the City player marking him. Immediately, Kakeru turned his body and unleashed a volley from his deadly right foot. Having seen the danger, Vincent tried to block the shot, but it was too late as the shot flew past City's captain, past a surprised City goalkeeper and into the back of the net. In less than a second, Kakeru sent Old Trafford into frenzy with a spectacular goal.
Martin Tyler: 2-2! Kakeru Aizawa! City couldn't clear and Aizawa has struck his debut goal in the 54th minute!
Aware that there was no time to waste, Kakeru picked up the ball in the back of the net and carried it quickly back to the center of the field for a quick restart. Meanwhile, the Manchester United fans let out a roar begging their team to go for more ASAP.
"That's my boy!" Mrs. Aizawa shouted.
"Way to go, son! Keep going!" M. Aizawa added.
"You can do it, Kake-nii!" Mito said as well.
'He's leading the charge now. Anything is possible with him.' Noriko thought.
'You made the first big step as a professional striker, Kakeru. Now, take the next one.' Nana thought as she was still applauding the last goal from the bench.
Gary Neville: City didn't deal with that cross well, I'm surprised. Van Persie keeps this ball alive and the hottest of United's strikers since the beginning of the second half unleashes the volley. It's a magnificent goal. You never know what might happen next.
Back in Yokohama, everyone saw Kakeru's first professional goal and suddenly hope came back among the United supporters at The Tavern. All of the Enoshima alumni celebrated the goal loudly not only because it was Kakeru's special moment, but they also felt that there would be more to come in the game for some reason.
"That's typical of Kakeru; great goal!" Yusuke said.
"Indeed, but this is just the beginning." Makoto replied.
"This is just a taste, guys. Knowing him, he’ll keep leading the charge and create something more soon." Araki added.
That "something more" mentioned by Araki came a little less than 6 minutes later when Manchester City first got themselves on the attack. Yaya passed the ball forward to David Silva, who then passed to Sergio. Facing United defenders Rio and Nemanja while being pressured behind by Michael, Sergio tried a through pass towards deep at the right of United's box for Carlos. The pass went a little far ahead of Carlos, but he made the low pass back towards the center of the box. However, Rafael anticipated the danger and cut the pass.
Martin Tyler: Tévez intercepted by Rafael. Passing back to Ferdinand, forward to Kagawa...
In a series of one-touch passes, Rafael passed backwards to Rio, who then passed it forward towards Shinji to start the counterattack. While trying to contain Yaya's applied pressure, Shinji passed the ball to Wayne on the left. Having spotted Kakeru on the opposite flank, Wayne sent the long ball to him. Leading now the counterattack, Kakeru got past Gareth while dashing forward. However, Ricky stood on the edge of the box in front of Kakeru. A direct approach seemed difficult as Ricky didn’t seem to bite at Kakeru’s dribbles on the spot.
"Bring it and try me, Aizawa!" Ricky said.
Meanwhile, Robin moved into position in front of the City defenders and Kakeru took the opportunity to pass the ball to him. However, there was no possibility to run forward yet as Matija and Gareth, who made the run back to help his defenders, were both standing in front of Robin. Meanwhile, Shinji moved ahead towards the right flank and by the City defenders.
"Stay with him, Ricky!" Gareth ordered Ricky to keep watch on Shinji, which he did. At the same time, Kakeru drifted a little towards the middle.
Martin Tyler: Aizawa to Van Persie... City are putting up the barricade... Back to Aizawa...
With no alternative, Robin passed the ball back to Kakeru slightly on the right before the former started dashing towards the inside of the box. Without any hesitation, Kakeru passed the ball just past Gareth and straight in line forward towards Shinji.
"Don't even think about it." Ricky said to Shinji.
'Who said I would?' Shinji thought for a split second.
Despite Ricky's marking, the Japanese midfielder managed to instantly deflect Kakeru's pass right into Robin's path. The Dutch striker managed to get through City's defense and face City's goalkeeper Joe one-on-one.
Martin Tyler: Kagawa to Van Persie. Can he score here?
Robin unleashed a very accurate shot with the left foot past Joe and into the top corner of the goal. Suddenly, Manchester United found themselves back in the lead at 3-2 and the 72,500 United supporters inside the stadium screamed their joy even louder as their team were then only one goal short of making a miracle become reality with 30 minutes left.
Martin Tyler: IT'S IN! Robin van Persie in the 60th minute! United score 2 goals in 6 minutes and are now just one goal away of making the impossible happen!
On the Manchester United bench, Nana jubilated with the rest of her teammates. On the field, just like Kakeru did after scoring his goal, Robin picked up the ball and immediately ran towards the center of the field for a quick restart.
"Great goal, Robin!" Kakeru congratulated while ruffling Robin's hair.
"Thanks, but we need to keep going." Robin replied as he ran with the ball.
"Nice pass, Kagawa-senpai!" Kakeru congratulated before Shinji gave the thumbs-up with a smile in reply.
Gary Neville: The passing-and-move by Aizawa, Kagawa and Van Persie was just superb. So few touches... City allowed them to play it around and move up the ball, and what a finish by Van Persie. The goalkeeper had no chance. Manchester United now believe they can make it.
Kakeru took a quick glance at his family and friends celebrating the goal in the middle of fellow supporters in the stands. Spotting Noriko, Mito and his parents looking at him, cheering and urging him to keep up the good work, Kakeru responded with a smile.
"That was awesome by the 3 players!" Mito said.
"Kakerucchi became more than just a shooter; he has also grown into an excellent passer when needed. He and Kagawa-san both knew what they were doing." Mai replied.
"I saw him play with the Reserves. He's an excellent passer when he can create a chance for a partner although his style of play is still mostly similar to Michael Owen's or Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's. Those night training sessions with Nana-chan surely allowed him to develop great passing skills." Noriko said.
"Yep! He's a lot more versatile than the boy I met almost 3 years ago." Mai replied.
"He's exactly the knight that Japan needs, but he has also shown that he can be more than that if needed to. I can't wait to see him perform at senior level for the Samurai Blue with such poise and skills. Great days are still to come." Noriko finished.
Meanwhile, most of the Manchester City players were asking questions among themselves. They were still in shock after what just happened.
"What the hell are you doing, Ricky!?" Gareth shouted at his young teammate.
"They keep finding ways to escape my man-marking with one-touch passes. Things always go wrong for me when Aizawa..." Ricky replied.
"I don't give a damn about Aizawa, Ricky! Everyone, we need to tighten things up in our end. If they want to play one-touch football, we have to give them no space, fall back in numbers, wear them down, force mistakes, slow the tempo and hit on the counter every time. They still need to score one goal, but that's not a given. Is that clear?" Vincent gave the order.
"Yes, Captain!" the City players responded.
At the same time, it started raining over Old Trafford. When the game began, it was still sunny before the sky became overcast with clouds just before the end of the first half. This new element was characteristic of the unpredictable weather in Manchester and would soon test both teams' resolve.
Until the 67th minute, there were no clear goal scoring opportunities from either team as both teams tried adapting their play with the rain. As a consequence of the new weather, players had to be more careful as the pitch was getting slippery and slick. That also meant the ball rolled faster, thus playing one-touch football with ground balls was a little touchy. At the time, Manchester United regained the ball deep in their territory with Patrice unleashing the long ball forward.
Martin Tyler: Evra's looking to pick up Kagawa...
With Ricky closing down, Kakeru stopped the ball down with his chest and quickly passed it to Tom, who then made a pass sideways for Wayne on the left. Spotting Robin on a sprint forward, Wayne played the long ball for his Dutch teammate. As Robin jumped up to get to the ball, he made contact with Vincent in mid-air ahead of him at the same time City's captain intercepted the ball with a header. As a result, Vincent landed on his backside and his uncontrolled clearing header landed in a dangerous zone.
Martin Tyler: Kompany trying to win the header, not convincingly.
Spotting the loose ball, Kakeru immediately leaned his body to his left in the middle of his run and smashed the ball with all of his strength in his right foot. Despite Ricky's attempt to block the shot, the ball flew the 23-yard distance straight like an arrow towards the top corner of the goal and City's goalkeeper had no chance of stopping it. Suddenly, the crowd raised the roof of the stadium with cheers in reaction to the goal and all Manchester United players started celebrating.
Martin Tyler: AIZAWA... WHAT A GOOOOAAAL! IT'S 4-2!
Gary Neville: Goal not given! Flag's up!
Martin Tyler: Hold on, flag up! No goal!
Indeed, the linesman watching the play raised his flag up to signal a foul on Robin when he made contact with Vincent. After the goal was scored, the referee spotted his assistant's flag up and blew his whistle several times through the cheers from the crowd to give a free kick for City. Suddenly, Kakeru and his teammates realized what just happened before a few of them went to the referee. Everyone wanted an explanation from the referee.
"Disallowing the goal? For what? There was nothing wrong." Kakeru said in disbelief.
"What the bloody hell was that? How is that not a goal?" Wayne asked with his usual fiery temper.
"Robin made the foul while Vincent was going for the ball. It's a free kick for City.” the referee replied.
"Oh, come on! I don't believe it!" Kakeru exclaimed in despair.
"What foul? That was nothing." Nemanja protested as required by his position as team captain.
"We both went for the ball, ref. That's not a foul!" Robin replied to the ref before he turned towards Vincent to express his discontent: "Try to man up instead, you wuss!"
Gary Neville: Here's what just happened: both Van Persie and Kompany went for the ball on the edge of the box. Kompany got there first. There was contact, but it looked more of a coming together. There wasn't much, but the referee's assistant deemed it was a foul. Difficult decision by the officials. Nonetheless, it's a break for City and it's still a one-goal game.
Meanwhile in the stands, a vast majority of fans were booing at the referee and the linesmen on the pitch. They were obviously disappointed with the decision and also thought that nothing was worth calling a foul about.
"WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT? IT'S COMPLETE BOLLOCKS!" Noriko shouted at the referee as she got off her seat.
"YOU CAN'T BE SERIOUS!" Mai added to the protests.
"OH, COME ON! You must be kidding all of us!" M. Aizawa also voiced his discontent.
"ABSOLUTELY BOLLOCKS!" Robert shouted.
Despite all the protests, the referee was unmoved. Meanwhile, Manchester City proceeded with their first substitutions of the game. The City manager decided to change 2 players in his lineup in order to solidify his defensive options and replace tired players.
Alan Keegan: Substitution for Manchester City: replacing number 7, James Milner, number 22... Gaël Clichy. Second substitution for Manchester City: replacing number 16, Sergio Agüero... number 10, Edin Dzeko.
With those changes, Bosnian striker Edin was added for his height on corners on both ends of the field while French left-back Gaël was brought on to create a new defensive line with 5 defenders to counter Manchester United’s attacking force. That also meant that Ricky returned to his natural centre-back position. Hence, City's formation was changed into a very defensive 5-3-2.
At the same time, Sir Alex also prepared his second substitution of the game to add more attacking power.
"Nana, you warm up. You get on the sidelines alongside Danny and Jonny now." Sir Alex ordered.
"Yes, Gaffer!" Nana replied.
"Giggsy, you'll replace Tom on the next whistle. You move up to Wayne's position and tell him to cover the middle of the field alongside Michael." Sir Alex gave his instructions to his veteran player.
"OK, Boss." Giggsy assimilated the order.
Later in the 72th minute and after a few minutes in which Manchester City players did not much except "parking the bus" in front of their own goal and trying to keep passing the ball between themselves whenever they reach United’s territory. Still, the players in red and white attempted another attack.
After Michael intercepted a pass in midfield, he quickly passed towards Wayne, who then passed forward to Ryan in support in the middle. From there, Ryan passed to Patrice, who was providing support from the left flank.
Martin Tyler: Evra's crossing it...
Patrice’s aerial cross flew towards Matija for the interception, but the cross swirled a little to the right and fooled everyone. As a result, the passed arrived inside the box and on Shinji's right foot. In a quick movement, Shinji moved the ball from right to left before taking the shot.
Martin Tyler: Oh, here's Kagawa! Kompany got in the way somehow.
City's skipper Vincent threw his body in the path to block Shinji’s shot and the ball rolled outside the box. However, Wayne got to the loose ball before he passed it back in the box. The ball went between Pablo and Matija, and straight towards Shinji going forward again. As Vincent committed himself by going to ground in front of Shinji first, the Japanese midfielder made a cutback pass.
Martin Tyler: Kagawa... Brilliant cutback for Ryan Giggs!
Seeing the opportunity as Yaya also slipped on the slick pitch in front of him, Ryan took the shot. However, Ricky came to the rescue as he blocked the Welshman's shot with his body. The rebound from Ryan's shot also rolled out of the 18-yard box.
Martin Tyler: This time, it was Ricardo Vernardi who stood tall for City.
The play wasn't whistled dead at the time yet as Wayne intercepted the loose ball once again and passed it back towards Patrice on the left wing. Spotting a red shirt at the far post, United's French left-back sent a long cross towards that position. That lone player was Kakeru, who was almost running free as Ricky was trying to cover the more dangerous Manchester United striker, Robin, with Vincents help. Kakeru escaped Gaël's marking for one second and ran towards that ball. Without hesitation, Kakeru headed the ball towards the top corner of the goal
Martin Tyler: It's Aizawa! Blocked by Vernardi on the line again!
Ricky blocked Kakeru's shot with his head and the ball was cleared out to the side for a throw. Meanwhile, Kakeru was standing still with his hands on his head in disbelief after the 3 glorious scoring chances his team just failed to capitalize. Nonetheless, the 72,500 Manchester United fans in the stadium cheered at the last effort.
"C'mon, Kakeru! Keep pushing!" Noriko shouted.
"I hope you’re still watching over your younger brother, Suguru. He's been unlucky twice already in the last few minutes." Mrs. Aizawa whispered while she was holding Suguru's framed picture.
Around 3 minutes later, in the 75th minute, City took possession of the ball and the defenders were passing the ball around between each other. From his own territory, Ricky passed for Gaël, who then ran with the ball and shook off Rafael before passing forward for Gareth.
Martin Tyler: Barry... passes it to Yaya Touré, he has David Silva on his right.
Instead of passing to the Spanish winger, Yaya passed the ball backwards to Ricky, who was playing almost like a midfielder at that point in time. Ricky saw his fellow countryman Carlos and sent the through pass towards him in just one touch of the ball.
Martin Tyler: Vernardi... for Tévez! Chance for City!
Upon receiving the pass, Carlos pushed the ball a little forward. However, it was all Rio needed to put his body between Carlos and the ball. Meanwhile, the ball rolled to the Manchester United goalkeeper's grateful hands followed by sighs of relief from all United fans.
"Great defending, Rio!" some of the players, including Kakeru, congratulated the veteran defender.
Still, the last attack from City was a reminder of how they were still dangerous on the counterattack. In the 78th minute, City won a corner. When everyone moved into position, Kakeru noticed something odd about City's attacking setup in the box.
'Why is Vernardi standing outside the box?' Kakeru asked himself. 'He's usually very involved on all corners, so he shouldn't stand outside of the box unless...'
As the corner was shot by Carlos, Kakeru realized what City's strategy was and warned his teammates of the next move: "Mark number 15; he's gonna shoot!"
Watching the action from the sidelines, Nana also anticipated the next course of action the same way Kakeru saw things from his position. 'Vernardi’s going to shoot it from outside the box with a one-timer.' Nana thought.
The next course of action could soon affect the story of the game with just over 12 minutes left in normal time.