The Little Devil in Blue
Thursday November 8
8:35 PM GMT
On the night before (November 7), United played their 4th Champions League group match in Seville, and won against Sevilla F.C. by a score of 2-0. As a result, United earned 12 points in 4 matches, and clinched qualification for the round of 16 that would be played later in February-March. In that match, Kakeru and Nana only made a small cameo after their teammates already established the comfortable lead.
In the Thursday evening after the return to England, Kakeru and Nana were joined by Taeko for a dinner night at Sapporo Teppanyaki Restaurant in the Castlefield area of Manchester. After the three of them finished their meals, they took the opportunity to talk about various things around a few glasses of wine.
"I'm surprised that Noriko-chan didn't join us tonight though. I don't think she ever said no for dinner at this restaurant." Taeko said.
"She is still spending time reading the contents of the special lecture she had yesterday at the Manchester Medical School. She looked pretty much into it." Kakeru replied.
"Eva Carneiro was the special guest lecturer yesterday, I believe." Nana added.
"Ah, yes. The former Chelsea F.C. doctor, I see."
"Spot on, Tae-san. Noriko's a big fan of Dr. Carneiro." Nana said. "However, I must also admit that she didn't speak that much to us since Saturday although we also had obligations of our own in Spain on Tuesday and yesterday. Did something happen last Saturday?"
"When she was given the shirt by Saeki-kun after the Liverpool game, her face turned red. Saeki-kun said something to her, but she didn't want to say anything more about it." Taeko replied.
"I see." Kakeru said.
"Speaking frankly, guys, is there something going on between Noriko-chan and Saeki-kun?"
Following Taeko's question, Kakeru and Nana both took a few seconds to think about how to answer. It wasn't long before they went ahead to share their impressions.
"To be honest, I think Noriko has really fallen for Yusuke. The two of them have built a good friendship after an uneasy start, but she is thinking about making the next step." Nana replied to Taeko.
"And what about Saeki-kun?" Taeko asked.
"From the moment he first saw Noriko, he became attracted to her. He's doing his best to have her attention, but it's not like he's forcing his way with Noriko. If they go beyond mere friendship, he really wants her to be OK with it. Still, the fact that he gave her that shirt says that he is receptive to any decision she will make." Kakeru replied.
"It's just that Noriko never went there with any other man before, so she doesn't quite know what to do." Nana added.
"What should we do?"
"Nothing much, Tae-san. However, we might be able to set up that opportunity for the two of them to get definitely that close when they will be ready. It only takes a spark now." Nana said.
"I guess we have to wait and see." Taeko said.
"Certainly. Let's stop talking about them for now." Kakeru replied.
"On a different topic, I'm thinking about next match against Chelsea. If it comes down to it, this would probably be the first time in a while that I play against Mai. I knew she made it into the Chelsea U23 team during summer, but I didn't think she would be able to make it so soon with the Chelsea first team." Nana said.
"The last time I played with her on the same team, she tore into opponents as if they were nothing. I attended a Chelsea Ladies match in the FA Women's Super League a few months ago, and she was even better than she already was in the Nadeshiko League." Taeko replied.
"I wonder why our executives were not able to convince her in signing with the Manchester United Women's team. The fact that I sometimes spend a few training sessions with the girls should have helped too." Nana said.
"From what I know, we tried. It's just that Chelsea came in, and offered her something we just couldn't offer."
"What is it, Tae-san? I hope it's not just money." Kakeru asked.
"An open door to the world of fashion in London. Outside of matches and training sessions, she also has a nice job as a model as well. Since London is a world capital of fashion, they have everything she wants."
"I can't say I'm surprised now that you mention it. Mai always expressed a desire to be famous and to earn a lot of money so she can prove herself to her father." Nana replied.
"Since she earned her spot with the men's teams at Chelsea, she does more fashion photoshoots than before, and has her face in several magazines. I guess that's her way of measuring success." Taeko said.
"I would think so too. Anyway, we all watched the match between Chelsea and Arsenal from last week. She won't be easy to contain if she comes in the second half, and has her way in our own end of the pitch." Kakeru said.
"Not if I can do something about it." Nana replied.
"What do you mean, Nana?"
"She also has weaknesses that we can exploit, Kakeru." Nana finished.
For the following 2 days, United made their preparations ahead of what promised to be a very important match against another top rival. This would be the last match before the November international break.
Sunday November 11
Manchester United vs. Chelsea (Premier League match 12)
Old Trafford, Manchester, UK
3:15 PM GMT
Matches involving Manchester United and Chelsea are not quite regarded as a rivalry in the most traditional definition because of a lack of geographical proximity and a lack of persistent competition for trophies between the 2 clubs. Nevertheless, a confrontation between the 2 clubs is now recognized as a battle of Premier League heavyweights. Since the arrival in 2003 of Roman Abramovich as the then-new owner of the West London club, both United and Chelsea competed several times against one another for trophies, especially between 2005 and 2011. Even though managers have come and gone over the years at Chelsea, the team is still regarded as a powerful side. For Manchester United, it was the opportunity they waited to avenge their FA Cup final defeat of the end of the previous season. The upcoming match between the 2 sides promised to be a hardly fought battle once again.
The Manchester United players arrived on the Western half of the pitch to warm up while the Chelsea players were making their way towards the Eastern half of the pitch. Among the Manchester United players distinctively dressed with shorts to indicate their status as match starters, Kakeru took a quick look around Old Trafford.
'Another day at the office, but I still can't shake the amazement when I set foot here. It's still the same feeling I had in that old dream.' Kakeru thought.
Suddenly, Kakeru felt a rough contact as someone jumped right on his back.
"Mai-chan! What are you doing?"
"What do you think? I'm saying 'hi' to you." Mai replied, still clinging on Kakeru from behind. The blonde Japanese girl was wearing track pants as the other substitutes did.
"Mai-chan, please stop! People are watching." Kakeru begged.
"Are you done with my fiancé?" Nana asked with a stern look in her eyes.
"HEY! Get back here, Mai! You have a job to do!" Chelsea acting captain César Azpilicueta angrily shouted.
"Well, I hope to play against you later in the match. Kakerucchi, Witch... This time, I will be on the winning side." Mai said as she finally got off Kakeru's back.
"We will see you on the pitch if you play." Nana replied.
Finally, Mai got on her way to her team's warm-up session, but not without more scolding from her senior Chelsea teammates.
"Geez! What's up with her?" Kakeru asked.
"Trying to take away your focus, obviously." Nana replied.
"She better not stand in my way in any case. We have our own pride to defend as Manchester United players." Yusuke said.
"Exactly, Yusuke. Let's get to business." Kakeru finished.
Around 35 minutes later, both teams were standing in the tunnel. We were only minutes away from the customary 4:00 PM kickoff time for a late Sunday afternoon that had 2 Premier League Matches only.
Manchester United came up with the following 4-3-3 formation: David de Gea (goalkeeper and acting captain), Diogo Dalot (right-back), Chris Smalling (centre-back), Matthias Köhler (centre-back), Luke Shaw (left-back), Ander Herrera (central midfielder), Yusuke Saeki (central midfielder), Paul Pogba (central midfielder), Alexis Sánchez (right forward), Romelu Lukaku (striker), and Kakeru Aizawa (left forward). Nana was among the substitutes for the beginning of the match, but she was seen as a powerful backup plan should United need more firepower and flair. Nemanja Matić was expected to start against his former club, but he was taken out of the lineup as a preventive measure following a knock during the warm-up.
Meanwhile, the Blues also came up with a 4-3-3 formation that fielded a very powerful side: Kepa Arrizabalaga (goalkeeper), César Azpilicueta (right-back and acting captain), Antonio Rüdiger (centre-back), David Luiz (centre-back), Marcos Alonso (left-back), N'Golo Kanté (central midfielder), Jorginho (central midfielder), Ross Barkley (central midfielder), Pedro (right forward), Olivier Giroud (striker), and Eden Hazard (left forward). Mai was starting on the bench alongside the likes of Álvaro Morata, Mateo Kovačić (on loan from Real Madrid), and Cesc Fàbregas to highlight the depth of that Chelsea team.
Contrasting completely with the Mancunians' home kits, the Chelsea players wore blue shirts, blue shorts, and white socks. For this match, Noriko was attending with her parents and Sarah.
"Tell me more about that new Chelsea player. Is she as good as some people say?" Sarah asked.
"She's very good. Nana told me that Mai Murasaki used to make male footballers look really bad in high school. She also destroyed all competition both in the Nadeshiko League and in the FA Women's Super League. She made life difficult for Arsenal on top of scoring a cracking goal against them last week." Noriko replied.
"Murasaki might be on the bench for now, but the most important thing for United is that they must not underestimate her." Sayuri said.
"That much, eh? Hopefully, Butler already spoke to the players about Murasaki in the tactical team talk." Sarah said.
"I'm sure they have been warned, especially if Nana is there to tell everything she knows about Murasaki. I also think there's a reason why Nana is on the bench as well." Robert replied.
'I hope you're ready for this, Yusuke. This is your biggest challenge so far.' Noriko thought.
Finally, both teams walked out onto the pitch under the cheers of the Old Trafford crowd. On that particular weekend, it was Remembrance Week. As such, all 20 Premier League clubs had their players wearing red poppies on the chest of their matchday kits in honor of armed forces members who made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty. The red remembrance poppy became the most familiar symbol of Remembrance Day (November 11) due to the poem "In Flanders Fields" written by Canadian military physician Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae. After both teams took place on the edge of the center circle, on either side of the halfway line, the whole stadium observed an impeccable minute of silence until the referee marked the official end of the moment.
At that moment, fans roared in anticipation of the start of the match. United kicked things off while attacking towards the East Stand as it was often the usual habit at Old Trafford. Meanwhile, Chelsea had their sights at the Stretford End. The visitors controlled most of the early running by passing a lot of the ball around, but United managed to play a disciplined game. Nevertheless, the first serious scoring chance of the match went to the "Blue Lions".
In the 8th minute:
Martin Tyler: Barkley... Hazard. He tries to get past Dalot.
Down United's right flank, Belgian trickster Eden Hazard attempted a feint to get past Diogo. The ball got through, but the young Portuguese defender in red instinctively blocked Hazard from running any further.
Martin Tyler: Fouled by Dalot. It's a free kick for Chelsea.
The referee awarded Chelsea an indirect free kick from a decent distance. Once everyone was set, Pedro stepped up to take the free kick.
Martin Tyler: Pedro takes the free kick.
The ball flew above most players in the penalty area and towards the far post. Chelsea had Brazilian defender David Luiz making an attacking run in the area, but Matthias used his own body to shield David Luiz and it was just enough to prevent a dangerous shot as both men went down. After the ball went behind for a goal kick, the Brazilian was waving his arms in disbelief, and shouted at the referee.
Martin Tyler: Oh... Just needed a touch...
Gary Neville: David Luiz feels he's been held by Köhler. He's absolutely furious.
TV replays showed that Matthias used his left arm to block David Luiz's run, and succeeded in making people believe to be an incidental contact between the 2 players. The German defender used his experience perfectly to prevent a goal without raising suspicion in the referee's eyes.
"Well done, Matthias." Yusuke said.
"Thanks, but that was too close. We better start attacking for real now." Matthias replied.
And Matthias' message was certainly heard as the Red Devils started launching their attacks on the Chelsea goal. Shortly after Matthias' goal-saving effort, United had their first scoring opportunity.
In the 10th minute:
Martin Tyler: Smalling... Köhler. He has some space ahead...
After receiving a lateral pass from Chris, Matthias ran a few yards forward with the ball. Although there were a few red shirts available in midfield, the German defender spotted Kakeru making a run behind the Chelsea right-back. Without hesitation, Mathias launched the long ball into Kakeru's run, but the pass appeared to be a tad too strong at first sight.
Martin Tyler: Into the run of Aizawa. Can he keep it in?
After a mad dash, Kakeru arrived in time to keep the ball in play. With Antonio Rüdiger denying any direct path to the Chelsea penalty area, Kakeru had to drag the ball back in the opposite direction. At the same time, Romelu and Alexis were already moving inside the penalty area.
Martin Tyler: Lukaku and Sánchez are waiting in the middle...
Kakeru waited to see if someone else was open. Then he saw Pog making a run while the Chelsea midfielders were a little late to catch up with him while the Chelsea defenders dropped a little too deep. At the right split second, Kakeru passed the ball towards the front of the Chelsea penalty area, allowing Pog to take the shot in his stride.
Martin Tyler: He drops it to Pogba!
Pog struck the shot with the outside of his right foot, creating a curling effect on the ball. The shot flew out of reach of the Chelsea goalkeeper to his left, but the ball curled a little too much as well. The end result saw the ball strike the electronic advertising boards just inches wide to the goalpost The crowd at Old Trafford stood up ready to celebrate for the vast majority before they shouted a very loud "Ohhh!!!" when they saw the ball miss the goal.
Martin Tyler: Well, it wasn't too far away for Paul Pogba. He beat Kepa, but not the post.
Pog could only put his hands on his head, dejected by the near miss. After a few seconds to shake off his own disbelief, Pog gave Kakeru the thumbs-up sign to acknowledge the good pass.
Gary Neville: Pogba hit it just inches wide to the goal, but it was a great pass by Aizawa. Aizawa does well to keep the ball in play. Then he holds up the play, and finds Pogba in his run. The shot went past Kepa, but it only curled a little too far.
Meanwhile the Manchester United bench, everybody was still shocked at the miss.
"That's a shame." Nana said.
"I know. Witch. That was a good ball from Knight to Pog." Jesse replied.
"As long as we keep the pressure on Chelsea, that's the way we can beat their passing game." Nana said.
With that scoring chance being the thing that came closest to either goal, United felt that Chelsea could look somewhat vulnerable at the back. The Red Devils were looking to make use of whatever momentum in their search of the vital 1-0 lead.
In the 16th minute:
Martin Tyler: Köhler... a pass to Saeki, and now back to Köhler.
With the ball at his feet, Matthias made a run forward with the ball until he arrived a few yards beyond the halfway line. From there, he passed the ball towards Alexis. With Chelsea defender Marcos Alonso standing in front of him, Alexis waited until the perfect second to unleash a pass into Diogo's overlapping run. Dashing in full speed, Diogo started to cut his run inside the Chelsea penalty area.
Martin Tyler: That's a great run by Dalot. He has options in the middle.
Seeing Kakeru and Romelu both covered by a number of blue shirts, Diogo spotted Pog at the edge of the penalty area, unmarked, waving his hand up, and asking for a pass. The pass quickly arrived into Pog's path; the Frenchman was going for the one-timer from within 16 yards.
Martin Tyler: It goes for POGBA!
As Pog made the run to take the shot, Chelsea midfielder N'Golo Kanté came in to partially block the shooting lane. Pog took the shot, but the ball went off Kanté and out on the sidelines. The Old Trafford faithful were left speechless when they thought there was a genuine scoring chance just a few seconds ago.
Martin Tyler: Good block by Kanté!
Gary Neville: It was a good buildup play by Manchester United. Matthias Köhler runs up a few yards, passes the ball to Alexis Sánchez, who then sends it to Dalot on the overlap. It's a great run and a great pass in front of goal towards Pogba all alone, but Kanté did enough to block the shot.
In the stands:
"That's a shame." Noriko said.
"I agree. Pogba would have had a good shot if it wasn't for Kanté." Sarah replied.
"With Kanté on Chelsea's side, that's more than a good match against our midfielders. It's about who will outsmart the other at the end of the day." Robert said.
"Now that you mention it, you're right, Dad. Pogba and Kanté know each other, and can really cancel each other out." Noriko replied.
Any scoring chance that was missed on one side meant an opportunity for the other side to draw first blood in this tight affair. All it took was a single mistake to open things up.
In the 26th minute:
Martin Tyler: Herrera... Saeki... Oh, a mistake!
Ander first passed the ball towards Yusuke, but the attempted return pass from Yusuke was a rarely sloppy one. It allowed N'Golo Kanté to intercept the ball in the middle of the pitch. In a flash, it was a Chelsea counterattack.
Martin Tyler: Kanté... to Jorginho. He finds Pedro on the right.
The quick Chelsea counterattack stretched the Manchester United defensive line as the ball rolled quickly between 3 players. Meanwhile, Chelsea striker Olivier Giroud was unmarked for a split second. It was dangerous!
"Watch him!" Pog shouted in an attempt to warn his teammates at the back.
Martin Tyler: Pedro picks out Giroud!
Pedro spotted Giroud, and sent a quick low cross for him. Despite Chris Smalling's desperate attempt to block the shot, Giroud's shot got through with power. Fortunately for the home side, the Manchester United goalkeeper stopped the shot with his feet and fell backwards. However, the rebound was bouncing in an open space towards Eden Hazard.
Martin Tyler: Saved by David de Gea...
Hazard was about to shoot when Yusuke suddenly went in with a sliding tackle to push the ball away from his Belgian opponent. As a result, the ball rolled out of bounds, and the Mancunians sighed in relief.
Martin Tyler: Great tackle by Saeki to take the ball off Hazard!
On the Chelsea bench, everyone was hands on heads when they saw the save followed by Yusuke's clearing tackle.
"You gotta be kidding us!" Mai exclaimed. Her fellow Chelsea substitutes had the same phrase in mind.
Gary Neville: Yusuke Saeki makes up for his mistake big time there. It was a sloppy pass by Saeki to begin with, and then the ball is quickly passed around by the Chelsea players. Pedro finds Giroud unmarked, and puts in a great ball. David de Gea makes a superb save on Giroud, and Saeki clears away the rebound before Hazard can get to it.
"Not on my watch, pal." Yusuke said to Eden Hazard.
"We'll grab a goal. Count on that." Eden Hazard replied.
A few seconds later, Matthias arrived to have a quick chat with Yusuke.
"Sorry, Matthias. I almost cost us a goal." Yusuke said
"You made up for it, so it's OK. Just hit it cleanly next time, and watch out for opponents. These guys are dangerous on counterattacks." Matthias replied.
"Got it!" Yusuke finished.
From there until the late stages of the first half, chances came few and far between. However, there was nothing as menacing as what previously happened. Both teams remained rather conservative in their approach, but that didn't stop Chelsea from trying their luck again just before halftime.
In the 45th minute:
Martin Tyler: Shaw... finds Pogba ahead of him.
After he received a pass from Luke, Pog was quickly closed down by 2 Chelsea players at the halfway line. The big French midfielder in red attempted to bulldoze his way through, but he was shadowed by his fellow countryman, N'Golo Kanté. Finally, Pog lost the ball as he felt impeded by his opponent. However, the referee let the play continue instead of calling a foul.
Martin Tyler: Pogba says he was fouled. The referee doesn't agree.
The loose ball went to Jorginho's feet. Then the Italian midfielder passed the ball towards Pedro, who came up face-to-face with Luke.
Martin Tyler: Jorginho... to Pedro...
The Spanish forward waited a few seconds before he started bursting and dribbled his way past Luke. However, Yusuke, who came up in support to his defender, was forced to tackle the Spaniard down.
Martin Tyler: That was a brilliant piece of skill by Pedro, who had to be brought down by Saeki. It's a free kick for Chelsea.
Several Chelsea players expected Yusuke to receive a yellow card, but the referee went to have word with Yusuke instead.
"Yusuke, Yusuke! I want to be very clear on this. That was a foul to stop a player from moving forward. This is the last time. Foul someone again, and you'll get a card." the referee said as he waved his arms across to mean it was a final verbal warning. "Understand?"
"Yeah, I understand." Yusuke replied.
"Off you go!" the referee ordered.
While several eyes were turned towards Yusuke, the Chelsea players were concerned about Pedro's situation. The Spaniard was down and holding his left ankle, so much that the Chelsea medical staff had to rush towards him.
Martin Tyler: Pedro has a problem here.
Gary Neville: It looks to be his left ankle. Pedro may have twisted his ankle as he tried to stay up when Saeki tackled him.
After the Chelsea doctor and physio assessed the initial injury, they escorted Pedro towards the nearest touchline so they can see if he could carry on. The Spaniard was limping quite noticeably, unable to put much weight on that left ankle. With little time left to play in the first half, the Chelsea head coach chose not to make a substitution just yet. Seconds later, both teams were ready to proceed with what would be the last action of the first half.
Martin Tyler: With Pedro gone, Eden Hazard will be in charge of the free kick.
With the ball located 35 yards from goal in an indirect free kick position, Eden Hazard whipped the ball towards the far post. There, Marcos Alonso escaped from Alexis' marking. The Spanish left-back was in a position to tip the ball for Chelsea.
Martin Tyler: In for Marcos Alonso!
Marcos Alonso stretched his leg as far as he could to deflect the ball towards the goal. Fortunately for United, David de Gea put both hands on the ball, stopping the Chelsea threat.
Martin Tyler: Brilliant effort by Marcos Alonso, but David de Gea was at the right place and the right time.
There was a collective sigh of relief from the Manchester United supporters inside Old Trafford. David de Gea launched the ball forward for his teammates to launch a counterattack, but it led to nothing. Shortly after, the referee blew his whistle to call the halftime break. After 45 minutes, the score was still 0-0.
In the stands at halftime:
"Well, what do you make of the first half?" Sarah asked.
"We knew it would be tight, but Chelsea controlled the first half better than we did. They also better chances. We have to be better than that in the second half." Noriko replied.
"I think we looked more reactive than proactive. We should be imposing our style on them, not the opposite." Robert added.
"There was a short period in which we looked more like attacking, but we stopped after Giroud got a shot on target." Sarah said.
"Whether Andrew Butler likes it or not, our team is missing Nana's creativity. No disrespect to Ander Herrera, but we would be a lot more dangerous with Nana in his place. It's too easy for Chelsea to focus the midfield battle on Pogba only." Noriko replied.
"I hope we will see Nana come on before we trail by a goal."
"Me too, Sarah. But I'm also interested in seeing what Chelsea will do now with Pedro probably out injured." Noriko finished.
When both teams came out of their respective dressing rooms for the second half, Nana heard a familiar voice talking with another Chelsea player. Furthermore, the source of that familiar voice was about to come into the action at the start of the second half.
"When you get the ball, don't you worry. Look for a teammate. Olivier and I will come in support." Eden Hazard said.
"Got it. We do exactly what we did against Arsenal." Mai replied.
Spotting Mai in full kit and ready to play, Nana remembered what was said in the tactical team talk 2 days before the match. With the information Nana gave to Andrew and the rest of the coaching staff, the Manchester United manager ordered his players to stop Mai from shooting at all costs. Isolating Mai away from a shooting position was the key.
Alan Keegan: Substitution for Chelsea: replacing number 11, Pedro... number 19, Mai Murasaki.
'She will make the most of any bit of space she's given. We better be careful at all times now.' Nana thought.
Martin Tyler: Pedro will no longer take part in this match. Mai Murasaki will come on for the next 45 minutes.
Gary Neville: Murasaki will play on the right side of that Chelsea attacking 3. She scored a magnificent goal against Arsenal last week to put the game out of reach.
Chelsea got the second half started. The pace of the action didn't change too much for a few minutes with United controlling the ball a little more than Chelsea did, but no real attempts were taken by either goal. However, Mai's inclusion win the Chelsea team was about to start having an effect from the moment she came up to speed in the match. The Manchester United players were also about to discover what the new Chelsea player can do.
In the 50th minute:
Martin Tyler: Cleared away by David Luiz. It's Barkley for Chelsea...
After a failed attempt by United to penetrate the Chelsea penalty area in front of the Stretford End, Chelsea pushed forward with a swift counterattack. Looking for options, Ross Barkley spotted his teammate Marcos Alonso on the left.
Martin Tyler: Here's Marcos Alonso.
Arriving at 10 yards away from the Mancunians' penalty area, Marcos Alonso attempted a cross in the penalty area itself. However, the ball missed everybody before it was retrieved by Mai on the wing.
"I won't let you!" Luke shouted as he stood his ground in front of Mai.
"Try to catch me, handsome." Mai replied with a smile as she skipped past Luke off with a burst of speed to enter the penalty area.
'Man, she's really quick. Witch was right about her.' Luke thought.
"You don't screw with me!" Matthias said.
Arriving in support was Matthias. The German blocked Mai from having a direct shooting lane on goal, but Mai then made a shifting run away from goal to give herself a passing angle. At the right split second, Mai curled a left-footed lob towards the far post for Olivier Giroud. The French striker escaped Chris' marking for a brief moment, and completed with an easy header shot on goal.
Martin Tyler: Murasaki... to Giroud! Oh, it's IN!!!
The Chelsea players started celebrating while the Manchester United defenders all appealed for something towards the referee. Suddenly, the referee blew his whistle several times, and all eyes turned towards the linesman standing with the flag up.
Martin Tyler: Wait... the linesman's flag is up for offside. It's still 0-0.
While the thousands of Manchester United supporters applauded the referee's decision while mocking the celebrations in the Chelsea camp, the players in blue were crowding the linesman for an explanation about why the goal didn't stand.
"What's wrong? It's a good goal." Mai asked.
"You can't disallow that goal! How?" César Azpilicueta asked.
"There's nothing wrong there." Eden Hazard added.
"Giroud was offside." the linesman replied.
Indeed, Giroud was in an offside position at the very moment Mai made the pass. That situation was created by the extra feint Mai made against Matthias while Giroud was on the run. TV replays then showed that the French striker in blue was only just offside by a few inches at the most. Giroud couldn't believe the decision at all. Seconds later, the Japanese blonde woman went on to speak with the referee.
"Come on, ref! You're getting influenced by the home crowd."
"I don't want to hear it, Mai. The decision stands."
"Please reconsider everything. This is wrong." Mai pleaded again, with her hands folded almost like in a prayer.
"I don't think we have met before, but I'm the referee on this field today. Not you. Stick to your job, I'll do mine. If I ever hear you complaining again today, you will get a card. Is that clear?" the referee said.
"Yeah, yeah." Mai replied in resignation.
"You put the cross in the box, but Giroud was offside. That's why the goal is disallowed. That is the end of the conversation. Back you go." the referee finished before Mai joined her teammates back in position.
Gary Neville: The Chelsea players are not happy about this one. It was a great play by Murasaki to create some space. She chips the ball back towards the far post for Giroud. It's a fabulous ball, but he's offside. The linesman got that spot on.
Martin Tyler: Well, Manchester United survived going behind, but this could be a taste of things to come.
Although Chelsea were rightfully denied a goal, the Blues found the rhythm they wanted to impose upon the Mancunians at the start of the second half. The Blues were about to pose more threats on the Manchester United goal.
In the 53th minute:
Martin Tyler: Headed away by Azpilicueta...
An attempted aerial pass for Kakeru was headed away by Chelsea's acting captain. The ball flew across the halfway line, where N'Golo Kanté regained control of the ball. Then the French midfielder in blue launched a pass into the path of Eden Hazard.
Martin Tyler: Kanté... finds Hazard on the run.
Arriving within a short distance of the Manchester United penalty area, Eden Hazard made 2 good feints in quick succession to move past Diogo. Then the Belgian entered the penalty area before he rolled the ball across for a teammate. The ball missed Olivier Giroud, but it arrived at Mai's feet.
Martin Tyler: He can't get it across to Giroud, but Murasaki's there...
With Manchester United defenders in the way, Mai chose to run with the ball across to her left. Yusuke and Chris gave chase, but Mai dribbled her way a few seconds.
Martin Tyler: Still Murasaki...
When Mai finally took the left-footed shot, it appeared to be a weak attempt. Nevertheless, the ball rolled between Chris' legs. Meanwhile, Eden Hazard sneaked his way through, finding himself all alone against the Manchester United goalkeeper for a split second.
"Crap!" Yusuke cursed, realizing that his team was in trouble.
Martin Tyler: Hazard is in for Chelsea!
Hazard arrived inside the 6-yard-box, and took the shot immediately. Fortunately, United's Spanish goalkeeper quickly closed down the gap between him and his Belgian opponent. With cat-like agility, David de Gea blocked Hazard's shot. The ball went behind for a Chelsea corner kick.
Martin Tyler: What a save by David de Gea! Eden Hazard can't believe it!
While Hazard looked in disbelief at what he just missed, the Manchester United players congratulated their goalkeeper for the save before they went into defensive positions for the upcoming corner kick.
Martin Tyler: Hazard takes the corner kick...
Instead of flying or curling towards the mass of players in front of the Manchester United goal, the ball appeared to fly short towards the nearest edge of the 6-yard box. But at that moment, Olivier Giroud ran towards the ball, and deflected it with a solid header.
Martin Tyler: The corner's towards Giroud...
Olivier Giroud's header shot was flying directly towards the position where Kakeru stood by the goalpost. But suddenly...
"I'm having that." Mai said.
'What?' Kakeru thought.
Mai escaped her markers just a split second ago, and that was enough for her to perform a diving header shot that added a second and decisive deflection. In a flash, the scoreline then read: Manchester United 0-1 Chelsea!
Martin Tyler: And Murasaki gets the touch! This one's gonna count! In the 54th minute, Mai Murasaki has drawn first blood for Chelsea at Old Trafford! So the De Gea save counted for very little.
Mai was quickly mugged by her Chelsea teammates. Having scored the insurance goal against Arsenal a week before, she scored another big goal that earned more adoration from Chelsea fans and teammates altogether.
"Well done!" César Azpilicueta exclaimed as he hugged Mai.
"Big goal, Mai!" N'Golo Kanté added.
"Thanks, guys!" Mai replied.
While Mai and her Chelsea teammates celebrated near the southeastern corner flag and only a few rows away from the 3,000 travelling Chelsea supporters, the Manchester United players were looking at each other for an explanation. For one split second, the Red Devils underestimated Mai's speed and agility which helped her getting into that scoring position.
"It's only one goal down, lads. We have 36 minutes to salvage something. Let's go!" Matthias rallied his teammates.
"Yes!" the Manchester United players replied.
And so the match continued. With the psychological boost coming from the goal, the Chelsea players were in more confident mood when they applied pressure on any Manchester United player with the ball despite all the efforts from the local side to find a gap to exploit. Meanwhile on the sidelines, Nana was warming up, and was getting ready to enter at the hour mark.
'Once I get in there, it will be between you and me, Mai-chan.' Nana thought.
In the 60th minute:
Martin Tyler: Hazard... spots Murasaki.
On another Chelsea counterattack, Hazard led the run, and then passed the ball for Mai. With Yusuke chasing her very closely while Olivier Giroud was not in a good position to receive a pass, Mai chose to kick a long shot from almost 30 yards away.
Martin Tyler: Murasaki with the shot... That's a catching practice for David de Gea.
The shot was solid and accurate, but David de Gea was able to catch the ball without any problem. United's Spanish goalkeeper threw the ball forward to start a counterattack. However, the attack was cut short as Kanté closed down quickly on Pog. As a result, the ball was kicked out of bounds by the Chelsea midfielder. At that moment, Manchester United made their first change of the match as announced by the voice of the PA announcer.
Alan Keegan: Substitution for Manchester United: replacing number 21, Ander Herrera... number 19, Nana Mishima.
The substitution saw Nana taking her place at the left of the midfield while Pog moved to the right of midfield; the switch was made by design so Nana would come up facing Mai. As Nana came onto the pitch, she immediately took a look towards Mai. Both Japanese women, the opposing number 19s, looked into each other's eyes with only a few yards between the two of them. Everyone was already anticipating the upcoming duel.
"I have been waiting for this day a long time ago. This time, I will no longer be in your shadow." Mai said.
"I see that as a nice challenge, and I accept it. Bring it on… if you can." Nana replied with a smile.
Martin Tyler: It looks like the challenge has been issued and accepted.
Gary Neville: Such scene would have been unthinkable just a few years ago, but it is for real now. Two of the best female players in the world are will square against one another in a Premier League match for the first time.
Martin Tyler: Regardless of the result at the end of the day, it is already a historical moment.
The play resumed. And not long after Nana's entrance, both she and Mai were about to come facing one another.
Martin Tyler: A giveaway... Chelsea have the ball now. Kanté... to Murasaki.
With Mai in possession of the ball around the center circle, it was Chelsea on the counterattack. Unlike before though, Mai is quickly shadowed by an opponent.
"Don't think of shaking me off." Nana said.
"Go ahead, and try catching me then." Mai replied.
Although Mai was moving forward while Nana was moving backwards, the Little Witch was not making the first move at all while closing the distance between her and her rival.
'Look around... No one in a good spot to pass to... I have to get through her anyhow.' Mai thought.
At the moment Nana appeared to have shifted her body a little too far, Mai turned her run, and tried to exploit the opening. However, Nana was not quite fooled.
"Gotcha!" Nana exclaimed. The Little Witch stuck the leg out, and took the ball away from Mai in a flash.
Martin Tyler: Taken away by Mishima!
Nana led the attack back inside the Chelsea end of the pitch. Seeing Kakeru ahead of her on the left flank, Nana passed the ball towards him. The Japanese forward came up facing César Azpilicueta.
"Come on!" Azpilicueta challenged Kakeru.
Instead of trying to run past Chelsea's acting captain on the outside, Kakeru chose to run towards the inside before he took the shot.
Martin Tyler: Shot blocked by Rüdiger...
The shot was blocked by Antonio Rüdiger on the edge of the Chelsea penalty area, but the ball came back towards Kakeru. The Japanese forward continued to run a few yards across of the width of the pitch before he launched an aerial ball towards Alexis on the right flank.
Martin Tyler: Aizawa... lovely ball for Sánchez...
Instead of attempting to control the ball for himself, Alexis tipped the ball across for Romelu. The big Belgian managed to get away from David Luiz's marking. With one strike of his favored left foot, Romelu blasted the shot towards the top corner at the near post, but...
Martin Tyler: LUKAKU!!! Saved by Kepa!
The shot was stopped on a reflex jump by Kepa. As a result, Chelsea survived while conceding a corner kick, much to the total disbelief from the 72,000+ Manchester United supporters inside Old Trafford.
"I don't believe it! What does it take to score today?" Noriko exclaimed in despair.
"I really thought that was in for sure." Sarah added.
Gary Neville: What a chance! That was the best chance of the match for United.
The crowd roared in anticipation of the following corner kick. Unfortunately for United, it led to nothing as a foul was called against them for impeding a Chelsea defender. Only the groaning sound of disappointment was heard inside Old Trafford.
"Knowing the typical approach from Chelsea, that last attack will prompt them to become more compact as a unit if anything." Robert replied.
"I hope Butler will send a fresh attacker in soon. We need something different in there." Noriko said.
And then Noriko's wish was answered in the 67th minute as Anthony came on to replace Alexis, who already ran a lot of distance. It also meant that Kakeru would switch from the left flank to the right flank. Andrew was hoping that the young French forward would provide a stronger attacking punch forward against a resolute Chelsea team.
In the 70th minute:
Martin Tyler: It's Hazard for Chelsea. He passes to Murasaki... who plays a give-and-go with Giroud.
After playing back and forth the ball to Giroud, Mai charged forward in full speed with the firm intention of delivering the final blow against the Red Devils. Once again, Nana arrived in front of Mai. This time, it was 35 yards in front of the Manchester United goal.
"Come on, Mai! Have a go." Nana defied Mai.
"Geez! You're really persistent." Mai replied.
Facing one another once more, Nana used the same tactic as earlier in order to give her teammates enough time to get back into defensive positions. However, Mai surprised Nana with a sombrero flick this time.
'I win this time, Witch.' Mai thought as she continued her run on the inside and towards the front of the penalty area.
'Not if you don't have full control with him coming in.' Nana thought as well.
Almost coming out of nowhere, Yusuke arrived in full speed, and took the ball away from Mai with a well-timed tackle before the latter could regain full control of the ball. Surprised, Mai couldn't avoid contact with the human hurdle that was Yusuke, and fell to the ground hard as a result.
Martin Tyler: Saeki with a physical tackle on Murasaki... The referee says play on.
"What is that, ref?! That's a foul!" Mai shouted at the referee.
In response, the referee simply waved his hand asking Mai to stand up instead. In fact, Mai fell a split second after Yusuke got a touch of the ball. As a result, there was no whistle, and the play was allowed to carry on.
Martin Tyler: Saeki with the ball... passes on to Aizawa.
With the long ball by Yusuke towards the right flank, Kakeru moved slowly with the ball before he saw Diogo making the overlapping run on the right wing. Spotting a moment of hesitation among the Chelsea players, Kakeru made a skillful feint to shake Marcos Alonso off, and then shifted his run towards the middle. Because of the danger that Kakeru might either take a good shot or pass the ball to a nearby teammate, David Luiz tackled Kakeru down just outside of the Chelsea penalty area.
Martin Tyler: Free kick for Manchester United in a good position here.
While everyone was looking at the referee pointing towards the point of infringement on the recent foul and giving David Luiz a yellow card, Mai was still unhappy at Yusuke's tackle. She was having a heated exchange with the Japanese midfielder in red.
"What the hell was that for? Coming in from the blind side like that… I could have been hurt!" Mai angrily shouted at Yusuke.
"Unless you forgot the rules or just like to whine, I'm allowed to get the ball first. The rest doesn't matter." Yusuke dryly replied.
"If you stand in the tracks, I will always come in your face like a Shinkansen (Bullet Train). Why? It's because I don't care if you're a woman from the very moment when you and I don't wear the same colors. Remember that because I'll show you no mercy."
Then N'Golo Kanté and Eden Hazard came in to calm Mai down.
"Leave it, Mai. It's no use going after him." Kanté said.
"You have to be smart against him. He's in their first team today for a good reason." Hazard added before Mai silently walked towards her defensive position for the upcoming free kick.
Meanwhile, Nana and Yusuke had a little talk.
"Good tackle there, Yusuke." Nana said.
"Good thing I did extra training with you in the last few days just for the sake of stopping her."
"That was good preparation indeed."
"That's all thanks to you, Nana. Let's go now." Yusuke finished.
Both teams then set up for the Manchester United free kick. From the shooting position, a direct shot looked quite difficult. Hence Chelsea put only 3 players in the wall while most of the others were watching for red shirts in the penalty area. Nana and Pog were set as the shooter-and-decoy duo for the free kick.
Nana whipped the free kick towards the far post where Matthias was lurking. However, Antonio Rüdiger managed to touch the ball first as both he and Matthias jumped for it. Mateo Kovačić headed the ball away from the penalty area, but Pog regained control of the ball for his team.
Martin Tyler: Cleared by Kovačić... only as far as Pogba.
Mai quickly arrived in front of Pog to deny further any direct entry. Pog then passed the ball to Nana.
'Come on, Witch!' Mai thought.
'You're still not aware enough about your surroundings.' Nana thought.
At that moment, Nana surprised Mai and another Chelsea player with a reverse pass into Pog's diagonal run inside the Chelsea penalty area.
Martin Tyler: That's a brilliant pass for Pogba! He could be in here!
Pog ran with the ball as Mai was desperately attempting to catch up with the Frenchman. At the right split second, Pog fired a quick ball past Kepa and across for a teammate in red. Kakeru was a little short when sliding in, but Anthony was perfectly timed his run, and tapped the ball in. In a blink of an eye, Old Trafford erupted.
Martin Tyler: And Martial has found the back of the net! That's great team work between Mishima and Pogba. Anthony Martial turns it home in the 72nd minute, and what a crucial goal this is. 1-1!
After the goal, Kakeru immediately picked up the ball, and gave it to Yusuke, who then ran as quickly as he could with it. United wanted the quick restart with the objective of wasting as little time as possible before going for a match-winning goal.
"Nice goal, Anthony!" Kakeru congratulated Anthony on the way.
"Thanks, Knight." Anthony replied.
"Bien joué! Allons marquer le suivant! (Well played! Let's score the next one)" Pog congratulated his fellow countryman.
'Good thing you pointed out that Mai's not really aware of her surroundings, especially in defensive positions. Pog used that to his advantage.' Kakeru thought as he gave Nana the thumbs-up in distance.
"Well done, lads! Let's go for the win now!" Matthias rallied his teammates for more.
Gary Neville: That was an absolutely incredible buildup by Manchester United, but Murasaki made a big mistake on the play. She didn't track Pogba, who was at the same shoulder level up until Mishima sent the ball forward for Pogba. Then Pogba went in, unmarked, and picked his man with a perfect ball across. Aizawa was just a little short, but Martial was perfectly placed to tap it in.
Meanwhile in the stands:
"Finally! It was about time!" Noriko exclaimed.
"Yeah, that was well played on the right. I'm surprised Murasaki marked Pogba so poorly." Sarah said.
"That's probably something the players have been told by Nana." Noriko replied.
Meanwhile on the Chelsea bench, there was some activity as the visitors prepared themselves to make their second substitution. On the first moment the ball went out of bounds after the restart, Chelsea's head coach replaced Ross Barkley and Olivier Giroud with Croatian midfielder Mateo Kovačić and Spanish striker Álvaro Morata. The substitution was meant to create a new spark for Chelsea. However, it was another Chelsea player who would nearly set things on fire between the 2 sides on what started as a mundane play.
In the 74 minute:
Martin Tyler: Dalot... finds Saeki...
As United were in control of the ball, Diogo passed the ball sideways to Yusuke in the center circle. Morata attempted to take the ball away from Yusuke, but the Japanese midfielder flicked the ball above the Spanish striker and towards Pog.
Martin Tyler: Pogba, and back to Saeki...
In the attempt to complete a give-and-go, Pog's pass rolled a little far for Yusuke to reach. As a result, Yusuke and Mai found themselves rushing towards the same ball from opposite directions. Yusuke managed to poke the ball away towards Nana, but Mai, who came up committedly with a high foot in her own attempt to tackle the ball, ended up brushing Yusuke's knee. The ensuing collision took both players down on the grass.
Martin Tyler: Ohh! What a collision between Saeki and Murasaki!
Yusuke, obviously unhappy at Mai for the reckless tackle, stood up and moved towards her. The Japanese blonde woman of Chelsea was also standing her ground.
"Hey! You want to play tough?" Yusuke asked.
"You don't scare me." Mai replied. Both she and Yusuke were only inches away from one another in a staring contest.
"Don't try me." Yusuke warned.
"Calm down, guys. We don't need this." Nana interposed herself between Yusuke and Mai.
"Well, your friend is the one with a problem." Mai blurted out.
"Enough, Mai-chan! Do anything, and you'll deal with all of us." Kakeru also came to protect his teammate. What surprised Mai was the fact that Kakeru showed fire in his eyes against her for the first time. It was something she never saw until that moment.
"Mai, come here." the referee ordered.
"Come on. I didn't touch him." Mai pleaded her case, but to no avail.
"That was a high tackle, and your studs were showing. It was reckless. You'll get a yellow card for that. This is your very last warning." the referee explained the decision before he produced a yellow card.
Martin Tyler: It's a yellow card against Murasaki.
Gary Neville: It's one of those where a misplaced tackle could have been dangerous for anybody at the end of that, especially with the studs out. The referee had no other choice but to pull a yellow card there. Murasaki was committed; she knew what was at stakes. Saeki got to the ball a split second before Murasaki brushed his knee with that tackle. It could have been a flashpoint between the 2 sides, but fair play to Mishima and Aizawa for defusing the situation quickly.
After Mai received the yellow card, she turned to look at Yusuke. In response, Yusuke looked into her eyes while making the gesture of pointing 2 V-sign fingers first at his own eyes and then at Mai's eyes. Through that particularly intimidating gesture, Yusuke's message to Mai was simple: "I'm watching you."
Meanwhile in the stands, very loud boos were heard from thousands of United supporters. They were expecting to see more than just a yellow card for what they deemed as a reckless tackle.
"Are you having a laugh, ref? It should be red!" Noriko was loudly voicing her partisan disappointment.
"She should have been off, you nutter!" Sarah added.
"Could have been worse. That was as dangerous as you could ask short of a two-footed tackle." Robert said.
"Aye. That was absolutely disgusting." Noriko replied.
Although the incident could have taken United's concentration, it did nothing but strengthen their resolve to attack even more. A few minutes later, the Red Devils got themselves another glorious chance.
In the 78th minute:
Martin Tyler: Kanté for Chelsea...
N'Golo was moving forward with the ball in the center circle as his team was controlling the ball at that time. The diminutive French midfielder in blue attempted a pass ahead to a teammate, but the pass was promptly intercepted by Yusuke.
Martin Tyler: Good interception by Saeki.
Yusuke ran a few yards with the ball before he launched the ball further ahead on United's right wing. Kakeru was running after the ball under the roar of the expecting crowd.
Martin Tyler: That's a great ball too. Aizawa...
Kakeru arrived near the lateral edge of the Chelsea penalty area, facing Marcos Alonso. The Japanese forward in red attempted to dribble his way past Marcos Alonso, but the Chelsea left-back firmly stood his ground. At the same time, Kakeru had teammates entering Chelsea's penalty area.
Martin Tyler: Lukaku arriving, Martial arriving as well...
Now that both Alonso and Kanté blocked Kakeru from running any further, the Japanese forward passed the ball backwards to Pog. Then the Frenchman tried to make a through pass towards Romelu, but it was blocked by David Luiz.
Martin Tyler: Pogba... blocked by David Luiz.
However, David Luiz's clearing attempt went straight towards Yusuke's feet nearly at the center of the park. The Japanese midfielder then passed the ball on the right to Pog, who soon started trotting a few yards ahead of him with the ball.
Martin Tyler: Pogba again...
Pog then launched a chip pass above the nearest opponent and towards Romelu. Both David Luiz and Antonio Rüdiger tried to reach the same ball, but Luiz missed it while Rüdiger accidentally touched it with his heel. As a result, the ball fell in front of the penalty area with no Chelsea defender standing. Anthony was in a position to hit the shot immediately.
Martin Tyler: Oh, a mistake... the ball comes back for Martial!
Anthony shot the ball out of Kepa's reach, but the ball struck the outside of the post before it went out. Chelsea escaped going behind with only a goal kick out of what was a monumental mix-up between the Chelsea defenders.
Martin Tyler: So close! You think Martial would score that. He probably thought the same, but he didn't.
Gary Neville: Well, they got into a mix, Chelsea. The ball from Pogba was intended to Lukaku, but then there was a collision between Rüdiger and David Luiz. Martial pulls the trigger, but he was just inches away from giving United the lead. Kepa was pleased to see that go out for a goal kick because he was in no position to stop that shot.
Meanwhile in the stands:
"That was really close. He should have scored." Sarah said.
"It's very encouraging though. We are really dominating them ever since we tied the scoreline." Noriko replied.
"Keep on coming, lads!" Robert shouted out loud, encouraging United to keep attacking.
Later in the 80th minute:
Martin Tyler: Here's Martial from Pogba.
Attacking from the left wing again, Anthony was looking to may his way into the Chelsea penalty area. However, Chelsea had 2 defenders watching him. With no direct option but for Romelu, Anthony attempted a chip pass that flew above a few players. Unfortunately, David Luiz headed the ball out. The ball then bounced outside and in front of the penalty area.
Martin Tyler: Cleared by David Luiz... Saeki arriving...
With a distance of 30 yards to goal, Yusuke didn't hesitate as he struck the volley shot. However, the shot flew wide by a few inches again.
Martin Tyler: Again, it was only inches away. Saeki, who scored the winner at Anfield last week, almost did it again here.
Gary Neville: Manchester United are building up the momentum now. It was a good volley by Saeki. When a player hits it as cleanly as he did, you know the shot will not be that far off the target.
Meanwhile, Yusuke was trying to shake off the disappointment of having missed the target. 'Man, I'm not lucky there. I was sure that was good enough.' Yusuke thought.
"Good effort, Yusuke!" Pog said.
"We are bringing it on them." Romelu added.
In distance, Kakeru and Nana raised their thumbs up to acknowledge the quality of Yusuke's effort in the circumstances. But despite the domination shown by United for quite some time, the score was still tied at 1-1. The Chelsea players knew that it only took one mistake from the Red Devils or one lucky break to score a very opportunistic goal that would steal all 3 points.
In the 84th minute:
Martin Tyler: Long ball ahead towards Morata.
Although Morata attempted to get to the ball first in the Manchester United half, Matthias used his superior height to head the ball away. However, the ball went loose for Jorginho. On the following split second, Mai went bursting with speed between 2 Manchester United defenders. At the same moment, the Brazilian-born Italian midfielder sent the pass into Mai's path for a breakaway.
Martin Tyler: Jorginho... through for Murasaki! No offside!
Finding herself in a 1v1 situation with David de Gea, Mai waited for one second before she took the shot. David de Gea got enough of a touch to slow the ball down behind him, but Mai also skipped past the goalkeeper to catch the loose ball with the goal wide open.
Martin Tyler: Must score surely...
Mai took the shot, but Yusuke suddenly came sliding in to block the shot, and deflected the ball behind for a corner kick. Once again, Yusuke succeeded in stopping Mai.
Martin Tyler: Saved off the line by Saeki! Mai Murasaki thought she had scored, but Yusuke Saeki came in with a crucial save to keep the score at 1-1.
The thousands of Manchester United supporters inside Old Trafford applauded as Yusuke was getting congratulated by his teammates. Meanwhile, Mai was absolutely stunned that the ball didn't go in after what was supposed to be a certainty. In the stands, Noriko couldn't contain her excitement after what she just witnessed.
"Great save, Yusuke! Well done! Woohoo!" Noriko shouted.
"That was amazing!" Sarah added.
"That could be the turning point if we win this. I can feel it!" Noriko replied with sheer enthusiasm.
Gary Neville: That was a superb block by Saeki. Great pass by Jorginho towards Murasaki, who was onside. She takes the shot. David de Gea gets a piece of it, but then Murasaki pushed forward to get the rebound. And at the very last second, Saeki comes in with a well-timed block on the goal line. Great effort.
It was a very close call for Manchester United. The following corner kick for Chelsea led to nothing, much to everyone's relief among the United supporters. After a few tactical adjustments have been ordered by Andrew from the bench, United regained a better control of the action while preventing Chelsea from creating dangerous attacks. In any case, the stage was set for one final roll of a dice.
The match finally arrived in its final phase when the clock showed 90:00. The 4th official on the touchline then came up with his electronic board to indicate the number of injury time minutes.
Alan Keegan: The referee has indicated a minimum of 3 minutes of added time.
The crowd urged their team to attack. The action was taking place inside the Chelsea half of the pitch, but Chelsea were defending well up to that point. United were still desperately looking for one last crack at the Chelsea goal.
Martin Tyler: Now it's Pogba.
Pog walked a few yards across the width of the pitch with the ball before he passed the ball towards Kakeru on the right wing. With a well-timed dribble, Kakeru cut inside one of the Chelsea defenders before he kicked the ball across and inside the penalty area for Romelu.
Martin Tyler: Aizawa is going through... Now Lukaku...
Romelu was nowhere in position to shoot, but knew that a teammate would be coming behind to take a one-timer shot from just inside the box. Without any hesitation, the Belgian laid the ball behind him.
Martin Tyler: It's MISHIMAAA...
Nana came in to strike the shot in full stride, and struck the ball low towards the bottom corner. However, the Chelsea goalkeeper managed to get just enough of a touch of the ball to keep it out. However, the deflection went beyond the byline, thus giving United a corner kick.
Martin Tyler: What a save by Kepa!
Gary Neville: That was a great save by Kepa against Mishima. It had goal all written over it.
Kepa was quickly congratulated by several of his Chelsea teammates while Nana was still grimacing at the missed opportunity. Nevertheless, the Little Witch quickly ran her way towards the corner flag while her teammates were setting up inside the Chelsea penalty area. United were sending 6 players inside the penalty area: Matthias, Romelu, Pog, Chris, Yusuke, and Kakeru. For this particular corner kick, United chose to go with quite the aggressive approach.
Martin Tyler: Nana Mishima will take the corner kick for Manchester United.
For this very important situation, Chelsea had all of their 11 players guarding the penalty area. Mai was the player protecting the post at Kepa's left. Finally, both teams and the referee were ready to go.
Nana whipped the free kick towards the exact area in front of Chelsea's 6-yard box. Fighting for position against David Luiz, Matthias succeeded in reaching the ball first. This time, the shot was going towards the goal with some pace.
Martin Tyler: KÖHLER! It's saved...
Kepa made a reflex save on Matthias' header, but couldn't control the rebound. Meanwhile, Kakeru came in, and unleashed a powerful left-footed strike that flashed just past Mai's right leg. In a blink of an eye, Old Trafford was sent into wild euphoria.
Martin Tyler: ...AND IT'S IN!! KAKERU AIZAWA!!! 2-1 for Manchester United!! Look at the joy! There's every chance Kakeru Aizawa has won it for Manchester United in stoppage time.
In the midst of all the thunderous noise inside the stadium, Kakeru was greeted by a 10-man pile in celebration to his late goal. For the Manchester United supporters, it almost felt like rolling back the years with the old "Never Say Die" attitude that was taught by Sir Alex Ferguson. The Manchester United bench also erupted with Andrew leading the celebrations with successive fist pumps and urging the Old Trafford faithful to make even more noise. On the other end, the goal had a totally devastating effect on the Chelsea players. Mai was still thinking about the chance she missed earlier and then at the goal she couldn't prevent.
Meanwhile in the stands:
"AMAZING, KAKERU! YOU DID IT!!" Noriko shouted.
"You have won it, Kakeru!" Sarah added as she hugged Noriko at the same time. "UNBELIEVABLE!"
"The good old days are back, Sarah!"
"You can say that, Noriko!"
Alan Keegan: UNITED'S GOAL... SCORED BY NUMBER TEN... KAKERU AIZAWAAAA!
Back to the commentators:
Gary Neville: Well, Köhler won the initial header against David Luiz. Kepa made a brilliant save, but the rebound went straight to Aizawa. He was not going to miss the opportunity from that range. Kakeru Aizawa did not have the most prolific of performances today, but he has shown in the past that he can step up to score late goals. He did just that.
Martin Tyler: Kakeru Aizawa has now 14 goals this season, including 10 in the Premier League.
The play restarted with the Chelsea players attempting to launch an attack with almost everyone forward in the last 2 minutes or so of stoppage time. However, the Blues' final effort was cleared by Matthias. The loose ball went to Anthony around the halfway line, but he had to deal with César Azpilicueta. The Frenchman then passed the ball nearby towards Nana.
Martin Tyler: We are well beyond the 3 minutes of stoppage time. United are clinging to their one-goal lead. Mishima...
Nana had only one thing in mind: kick the ball as far as possible from her team's goal. The Little Witch launched a deep ball for Kakeru to run after.
Martin Tyler: It's a deep ball for Aizawa to chase.
However, Marcos Alonso arrived in front of Kakeru before they let the ball roll behind for a Chelsea goal kick. Alonso quickly picked up the ball before giving it to Kepa. Meanwhile, the vast majority inside Old Trafford were screeching and booing as they wanted to hear the final whistle.
Martin Tyler: Goal kick. Seconds to go now.
"Come on, ref! BLOW THE WHISTLE!!!" Noriko shouted.
"We're out of time! Blow it!" Sarah added.
Martin Tyler: They want the final whistle.
When Kepa finally kicked the ball away from his own penalty area, the sound of safety was finally heard.
PEEP PEEP PEEEEEEEEEP!!!
The final whistle sent the vast majority at Old Trafford into an explosion of cheers and massive joy.
Martin Tyler: They have got it! Manchester United have beaten Chelsea again at Old Trafford. For a long time, it appeared it would be Chelsea's day. But United came back with the equalizer from the substitute, Anthony Martial. Then in stoppage time, Kakeru Aizawa scored what proved to be another late winning goal for Manchester United. His contribution has made sure that Manchester United will stay at the top of the table entering in the international break. There is still a long way to go in the title race, but United have shown the response you would expect from champions. There will be plenty to discuss in the studio later on, but the final score reads: Manchester United 2-1 Chelsea.
Indeed, the result was not just about the 3 points. It also meant that United grabbed the initiative against a top rival in the race in progress for the Premier League title. The Manchester United players and supporters alike had every reason to celebrate.
"We did it!" Nana exclaimed as she hugged Kakeru.
"Yeah! We all did it!" Kakeru replied.
"Well done, Kakeru!" Matthias congratulated Kakeru with a high five as well.
"YEAH! Come here, you beauty!" Pog gave Kakeru the congratulatory bear hug.
The vast majority of the players from both teams stayed to shake hands between opponents. One handshake in particular was long expected by spectators and media alike; it was the encounter between Nana and Mai.
"Nice game." Mai said before she shook hands with Nana.
"Thank you, Mai-chan. You did quite well too; you truly belong in this league."
"Thanks, Witch, but I feel I still have a lot to learn before I can become as good as you are in England."
"Just don't change the way you play though, Mai-chan. We will need you just like you have always been with Nadeshiko Japan. It's only about working to improve on other aspects of your game."
At that moment, Kakeru and Yusuke also arrived to shake hands with Mai.
"No hard feelings, Murasaki-san. I did my job, you did yours. You were very hard to handle though." Yusuke said.
"Thanks. Sorry for the earlier tackle. You played a great game. That save you made was the difference in the end." Mai replied to Yusuke before she turned towards Kakeru. "Well done, Kakerucchi. Once again, you showed that flair for late drama."
"Thanks, Mai-chan. You gave us quite a hard time too. Hope to see you around soon." Kakeru replied.
"Sure, of course." Mai replied before she came closer to Kakeru, and whispered in his ear with a seductive voice: "If you ever get bored in Manchester, you can always call me. I will keep a nice hotel room in London just for the two of us. We will have lots of fun."
"WHAT?" Kakeru asked. His face was turning red.
At that point, Mai laughed out loud before she replied: "Seriously, Kakerucchi, you're so funny. Did you really think I was serious? I gave up on my chances of becoming your girlfriend a long time ago."
"Phew! I'm glad you cleared that up." Kakeru said.
"Well, see you soon then." Mai said.
"See you soon too. Stay in good health for our international matches." Nana replied.
"I will." Mai finished and left.
"What did she say to tease you again, Kakeru?" Nana asked.
"No-nothing important. I'm never comfortable when anyone suggests that I could have had a relationship with a woman other than you. I'll never do something like that." Kakeru replied. Nana then smiled after she heard her fiancé's reply, which was well and truly sincere.
"You sure are totally dedicated to Nana. No one can ever say the opposite." Yusuke remarked with a smile on his face.
Meanwhile in the stands:
"Well done, United! Well done!" Noriko exclaimed.
"That was a great comeback!" Sarah added.
"It's almost like in the Fergie days." Sayuri said
"You got that right, Sayuri. It feels like vintage United with comebacks and late drama." Robert replied.
"That's the kind of spirit we always love with our club, Robert."
As the Manchester United players saluted the crowd, Yusuke and Noriko's gazes met in distance for a few seconds. For a few moments, Noriko was lost in her thoughts about Yusuke. She didn't know how what to think. But then, Noriko remembered something she took as an advice a few days back.
Flashback - Special medical conference at the Manchester Medical School, Wednesday
On that day, former Chelsea F.C. doctor Eva Carneiro was the guest speaker at the conference. For the occasion, Dr. Carneiro talked about her work as a team physician, about how she moved up the ladder, about similarities and differences between work environments, and about what it takes for aspiring physicians to perform well under pressure in demanding environments. After the conference, Noriko had a private talk with her role model.
"Dr. Carneiro, I'm a big fan of your work as a physician, especially at Chelsea. I'm aspiring to follow your footsteps so I can work at a top football club like you did." Noriko said.
"That's really good to hear from all young women who want to get into the job. I'm really flattered. What club would that be if you have a chance one day?" Eva asked in reply.
"I hope it will be Manchester United... my club since childhood. Of course, I will gain experience in a hospital environment before I apply. Nevertheless, that has been my dream for many years now."
"When you know what you want to do, that's a powerful tool to drive you through anything on the way to your goal. I was 16 when I knew I wanted that job as a football physician so I can be the one who saves the day for the players." Eva said.
"It's OK if you don't want to answer. But still, I have an important question I wanted to ask from you, Dr. Carneiro."
"What is it?"
"Have you ever seen sports physicians who end up dating athletes they work with?"
"That didn't happen for me, but I have seen that happen a few times." Eva replied to Noriko. "The thing is that when sports physicians work with athletes on a daily basis for years, it's almost like co-workers dealing with each other every day at the workplace. I know that isn't quite ethical, but it's the truth. People can get attracted to one another in such context. It's a natural thing."
"I see." Noriko said.
"If I may ask, is there an athlete you're really attached to on a personal level? I promise to keep it a secret."
"Yes, there is someone. We are already good friends, but I'm thinking about whether or not we should push our relationship to the next level. I say that I'm afraid that because my career aspirations might be compromised if I go ahead with him... because he's already there, where I want to be in the future."
After taking a few seconds to find an answer, Eva realized that Noriko was implying romantic feelings for an unnamed Manchester United player in the question. In response, Eva replied: "I think I'm catching what you try to tell me here. The advice I can give you is: believe everything is possible, and put your own happiness ahead of anything else."
"You really mean it, Dr. Carneiro?"
"Of course I do. No matter the choices you make, you can always aspire to a successful professional life, and also having a satisfying personal life. Always believe in yourself. It's the same message I give to all young women and young girls out there."
"I... I will, Dr. Carneiro." Noriko replied.
"By the way, I don't know your name."
"Noriko... Noriko Catherine Lewis."
"Well, Noriko. I hope you will succeed in your future endeavour, and that you will find that happiness. Both at work and in your personal life, maintaining communication is the key for success."
"Thank you, Dr. Carneiro."
"My pleasure. Write me back if you ever need more advice." Eva finished.
Remembering that conversation between her and Eva, Noriko suddenly found a new inner strength. She was finally determined to go ahead with Yusuke even though she was not quite sure about how.
'I will tell him how I feel. I can't live with those doubts anymore.' Noriko thought.
"What are you thinking?" Sarah asked.
"About something I wanted to do for some time, but didn't acknowledge until now." Noriko finished.