It was a statement to leave Manchester United fans and casual viewers alike choking on their leftover turkey.
As a Boxing Day stupor spread across the nation, with millions incapacitated through excessive cheese and chocolate consumption, Evra’s words caused many to question whether he’d been munching on raw chicken from the Old Trafford kitchens.
“If they play the same way and are more focused on set pieces, I won’t be surprised if they win 3-2,” the former United defender said at half-time on Amazon Prime as United trailed Villa by two unanswered goals.
At the time, Evra’s prediction felt more unlikely to come true than witnessing Santa Claus helping himself to your dad’s brandy – Erik ten Hag’s side had spent the previous 45 minutes working on a free jazz interpretation of nadir.
All the optimism from the announcement of Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s buy-in had evaporated into the damp Manchester air. A well-organised and opportunistic Villa were helping themselves like pigs in a trough.
Most United supporters had poured themselves an extra glass of amber nectar and began rooting around in the dark humour section of their brains. It seemed only Evra had kept the faith.
Happily, the clock had reached that twice-a-day point when the bonkers pundit was right – as Villa froze, United took the game to their over-achieving opponents in a display of attacking dynamism from another era.
Alejandro Garnacho plundered two goals, the second aided by a wicked deflection, while Marcus Rashford pulled himself out of his extended funk with flashes of his former self.
And Ramus Hojlund bought the house down with his hooked winner and cathartic celebration – the internet banter merchants will have to find another target to bully.
— Amazon Prime Video Sport (@primevideosport) December 26, 2023
While Evra appeared to be the only person suggesting United would claim the unlikely victory at half-time, Ten Hag argued that there had been signs of the comeback that was to follow even during the first half.
“In the first half we played solid,” the United boss said in his post-match press conference . “A bit sloppy to give two goals from set plays. We changed slightly the pressing but already in the first half we created chances.
“We said to keep going, and believe in ourselves, that is what I demand from the team. I said during half-time to keep believing and you will win this game.
“Today, I think over 90 minutes on the right side [Garnacho] was an absolute threat. The whole front line was good, the timings so good, it was a continuous threat for the opponent.”
United have made a speciality out of false dawns in the post-Ferguson era. Nobody that follows the club on a regular basis will be fooled into thinking yesterday’s victory did nothing more than paper over the cracks.
But Ten Hag’s squad has been written off by most pundits this season. This Boxing Day comeback proves there’s still abundant talent at Old Trafford, albeit incapable of showcasing it on a consistent basis.
Evra knew. They often say there’s a fine line between genius and madness, but the former France international could reflect on a rare evening in the former camp.
By Michael Lee