Thursday, March 12, 2009

Sloppy United through: Fear factor inhibits performance....

As someone put it to me last night "the result was more important than the performance". I am of course referring to United's two-nil win over Inter Milan; a result which sees the champions of Europe through to the quarter-finals of the Champions League.

It was another good night for English football, as Arsenal eventually overcame Roma after a penalty shoot-out, in so doing joining United, Liverpool and Chelsea in the last eight of Europe's premier club competition.

United deservedly won two-nil, but they rarely played like champions on the night; this after the Reds had made the perfect platform from which to build when scoring after just four minutes, when the once again quite brilliant Nemanja Vidic scored with another bullet header, this after sweetly giving Patrick Vieira the slip from a Ryan Giggs corner.

United's second goal came four minutes into the second-half after Giggs, Scholes and Rooney linked up to supply Ronaldo, who scored his first goal in the Champions League of the current campaign with another great header.

The goals were the high points of a performance which left much to be desired from the champions - because in truth, it was one to forget. While every United supporter will be rightly delighted about securing a place in the quarter-final, there will be many who were left wondering why so many United's players were so off colour on such a big occasion, because based on how they played against Inter Milan, United are going to have to improve massively if they are to retain the trophy this season.

Going into the big game at Old Trafford many were wondering how United would approach the game, given the holders had failed to score that vital away goal in the San Siro in the first-leg. My own view was there was a very real danger that the team could be affected by Fergie's pre-match negativity when admitting that he felt "vulnerable" - a word that the United manager has never used before to my knowledge prior to any game.

One could argue that the United manager was being honest, and under normal circumstances in everyday life such honesty could be appreciated, but the business end of top flight football requires all sorts of psychology where the mindsets of the players are concerned.

Ferguson, has his own very special methods when it comes to psyching-up the players; it can involve throwing tea-pots, tea-cups and football boots around the dressing room, but on this occasion you do wonder if Mourinho's record had gotten underneath his skin.

Ferguson has a reputation for saying the right thing in press conferences, usually to get what he wants or else to get at an opponent via the media. However, this week, for once, he may have been a little too truthful, because with the tie being so delicately balanced and with so much at stake the pressure seemed to have affected many of the team that faced Inter Milan. I for could not help feel that Ferguson's own fear of failure had affected the team given the nerve racked performance of so many of the United players - what other explanation can one give, given that the same players are usually immaculate?

Paul Scholes, was for the most part quite poor, he wasn't on his own. Michael Carrick was just as bad and Wayne Rooney looked off the pace. Of the three Rooney did at least work hard for the team on the left during the second period, but rarely have Scholes and Carrick been so wasteful when in possession.

John O'Shea was once again dodgy at right-back, his name could have easily appeared in the referee's notebook as early as the first five minutes after giving away cheap free-kicks and possession all too readily. The fact that John O'Shea didn't get booked early in the game - which would have heaped yet more pressure on United - was down to the German referee, who it has to be said had a very good game.

While Scholes was having one of his worst games ever for United, Ryan Giggs was again the attacking star of the show; the only problem was that the Welshman wasn't on the ball enough.

After the game Vidic went on record saying that Fergie hadn't told the team to play defensively, perhaps, it was simply the pressure of the occasion which led to so many players choking on the night; whatever it was, the fans and the United manager will want to see a big improvement when Liverpool are the visitors to Old Trafford on Saturday.

Ahead of the Champions League draw, a few weeks ago I wrote off Barcelona's chances, I still believe that they won't win the competition. My gut feeling is any one of the remaining English clubs will win the Champions League; my outside tip is Bayern Munich.

I predict that the draw will unfold as follows:
United vs Barcelona (we always have to do it the hard way)
Liverpool vs Villarreal
Arsenal vs Chelsea
Bayern vs Porto


  1. Haha, hillarious prediction for the draw, United have to do it the hard way, this time it will probably go to penalties too.

    Yes, it is absolutely astounding that Ferguson said what he said, and given how he is looked up to by the players, it would have surely shaken them somehwat. And imagine, if this is what he said to the press, what would have said to the players before they went out? Could he have motivated them at all if he was saying that to the press?

    I hope this doesn't have longterm conseqeunces on the United season. United have been winning because they know that they will win every game, if their manager admits he is 'vulnerable' how will the players get into the winning spirit then?

    Rather strange circumstances, I hope they are explained by Ferguson or the players at some time, preferably in the summer to ensure that theres no squad unrest this term.

    A surreal performance, winning despite missing many chances, and defending poorly. It only has to get better from here.

  2. Uday,

    I think Ferguson's insecurities concerining his all too many Champions League failures, coupled with his record against Mourinho might well have been transmitted to the players.

    You're coming at this from my point of view here because I was also asking the same question; if he was so negative in front of the press, Lord knows what he would have been saying to the players...

    As regards the future, until United start playing like worthy Champions of Europe I think we will see more of the same in the later rounds. That said, I honestly believe that too many players lack self-belief in their own ability on the biggest of stages - but some of them are simply not good enough, I refer to John O'Shea.

    Last night the midfield barely functioned and when that happens the forwards will suffer.

    Fergie shouldn't have started with Scholes, but that is with the benefit of hindsight. The manager went with experience - it only worked partially - the fact is, you cannot hope to keep on winning with no midfield which is basically the story of last night.

    United might well have been beaten by just about any Premier League club if they performed as they did last night in the league - they really were that bad.


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