Thursday, April 24, 2008

United set to bottle it again in Europe?

United were in action in the Nou Camp last night in the first-leg of the Champions League semi-final, the game did not live up to expectations and the Red Devils were hugely disappointing. Going into this match, we were told that Barcelona were 'really struggling' to find form. The Catalan giants were without Ronaldinho, Henry had been dropped and Messi was only just returning from yet another injury lay-off, added to which there has been suggestions that all is not well concerning Samuel Eto'o. Ferguson's team had their own problems, but in comparison they weren't anywhere near as bad as Frank Rijkaard's, with the rock that is Nemanja Vidic missing due to a stomach bug.

There was every reason to hope that United would win this game given Barca's problems. The visitors got off to a flying start when they were rightly awarded a penalty in the opening minutes, but sadly Ronaldo made a complete hash of it when hitting the crossbar.

From that point onwards, barring another great penalty shout when Ronaldo was felled in the Barca box and Michael Carrick hitting the side netting when he should have done much better, the Reds performance fell way below expectations.

United were not helped on the penalty that wasn't given, by a referee who did not cover himself in glory, the phrase 'homer' springs to mind. But United cannot rely on referees to win them the Champions League and in all honesty to do that last night would be an excuse that would only serve to paper over the cracks of what was in truth an appalling display by the champions.

Fergie had started with Rooney and Tevez up front, which was encouraging from an attacking perspective, well at least it should have been, but Rooney and Tevez were largely anonymous and dire respectively.

If United's forwards were bad, the midfield was even worse. Park, Scholes, Hargreaves and Carrick never got a grip of the game at any stage. On too many occasions the home team picked their way through the United engine room with quick incisive passing - and once again Scholes gave away too many free-kicks in dangerous areas. It's hard to be positive about any of United's front six players, not one of them could have complained if they'd been dragged off at half-time, Ronaldo being the only exception, he was again by far United's most dangerous player.

United's away form hasn't been good of late, drawing with Blackburn and 'Boro, as good as they both were on the day, suggests that the champions are struggling in the latter stages of this campaign away from home.

This coming weekend United travel to Chelsea, who also looked very out of sorts against Liverpool on Tuesday, but the Reds need to improve massively on last night's performance. But if the champions can take a point or win at Stamford Bridge it would give Ferguson's team a huge confidence booster ahead of the return-leg with Barca next week.

However, there must fears that United could be set to bottle it again in Europe, we have been here so many times in the past, so near and yet so far. In the Champions League quarter final in 1998 we had drawn 0-0 with Monaco, but we went out on away goals when drawing 1-1 in the return leg Old Trafford, it was the same in 2000 stage against Real Madrid, the first leg in Spain it finished up 0-0 but we lost at home 3-2. Drawing 0-0 away from home in the first-leg is an ok result, but without that vital away goal it could come back to haunt United again.

Our history of bottling it in Europe means that few United fans will be truly confident of victory given that an under strength Barcelona pretty much dominated possession from start to finish, the Reds were not even at the races. I cannot help think that Chelsea, Liverpool or Arsenal would have won comfortably if they'd been up against that Barcelona team.

United will in all probability go on to win the league, but you do wonder if once again they will fold in the latter stages of Europe's premier club competition, because collectively and individually United seem to lack self-belief in their own abilities when it comes to the biggest stage. Quite how much of that is down to tactics is open to debate, the performance in the Nou Camp only served to raise more questions rather than provide answers on that score; for example where on earth was Rooney supposed to be playing? Where was he for most of the game?. Why didn't Anderson come off the bench? Had Park been out drinking on the Ramblas all afternoon with the lads?

Ferdinand and Evra did ok, the rest of the United players had game's to forget and we can be thankful that Barca's strikers couldn't hit an elephant’s backside with a banjo - just about any other Barca team of reasons seasons would have pasted the Reds last night. We got out of jail. Let us hope that we make amends with a value for money performance next week. Our home form this season should see us make it to the final in Moscow, but I wouldn't bet a single penny on that given our record.

But by the time the Barca clash comes around we could be de facto Champions again. It could be a very good weekend...

9 comments:

  1. Quite how Fergie can keep on playing Scholes in his current form is beyond me. Continually resting Anderson is equally as baffling.

    We certainly did get out of Jail.

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  2. Let us hope that Vidic is back in time to face Drogba & Co and Barca next week.

    Ronaldo has vowed to make amends for that penalty miss - in him we can also hope that he will once again turn out to be our match winner.

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  3. I really can't see how you ManUre supporters could even suggest that your olympic diver is worthy of footballer of the year over, say, Gerrard; sofa king stupid.

    Arsenal was only unlucky. We'll be back.

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  4. You better believe it because it's going to happen.

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  5. United will be fine. 2-0 in the return leg next Tuesday. And there is only one team that continually plays as poorly as United did the other night....Chelsea. 1-0 United coming up at the Bridge. Game over.

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  6. The away goal in the first leg is so vital and i was so dissapointed with the way Man Utd lined up. We should of been looking to attack Barcelona not just sitting back and hoping to catch them on the break. Barcelona were there for the taking and we should have gone at them and looked to show the frailties they have at the back.

    Hopefully we can still win it at home, but i'm not too sure if Barcelona get 1 goal then we have to get 2 and it makes it much more difficult.

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  7. Ron - I cannot believe that some other United fan sites have been putting a positive spin on what was largely an inept performance pretty much from start to finish.

    Red Rants said "it was better than last year" - ffs, it couldn't have been much worse.

    0-0 in the first-leg is not a great result as I pointed out. We could pay the price for not scoring that away goal.

    I totally agree with your comments - and next week should we fail, we will look back and reflect on yet another missed opportunity.

    Having spoken to a few reds on the performance they seem to concur with your view that United had tried to sit back to hit them on the counter-attack (not really the United way and never really has been - though sometimes you have no choice and really you could argue that the Reds had been forced onto the back-foot, but do not forget that we were giving the ball back to them all of the time).

    One view was that Rooney had been told to play in midfield - which seems to be about right given he barely figured up front. Fergie's tactical nouse will once again be called into question should it go pear-shaped next week.

    That said, we effectively had a five-man midfield - but still we never had the ball. It was close to be embarrassing at times - the only saving grace was they couldn't finish.

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  8. Scholes had a terrible game.

    Ferguson came to park his bus in front of the Nou Camp goal, playing Italian football as Roma coach Spaletti put it.

    Barcelona were given only small chances, however they could not finish, United did not go for the game really, they went for the draw.

    All in all, 0-0 is good at a game in the Nou Camp

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  9. Regarding the first leg. Scholes, like the rest of the United front six was anonymous - we were given a football lesson by Barca and anyone who says different is kidding themselves.

    Ronaldo was by far our most dangerous and best attacking player on the night, but even he didnt do anywhere near enough.

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