Monday, April 20, 2009

Macheda shines as Berbatov lets side down as United crash out of FA Cup ..

Manchester United crashed out of the FA Cup on Sunday after losing in a penalty shoot-out, as a result Everton will face Chelsea in the final. As I predicted he would prior to the game and with one eye on the Premier League clash with Portsmouth at Old Trafford on Wednesday, Fergie made several changes to the team that progressed to the semi-final of the Champions League last week.

The United manager left out Ronaldo along with Neville, Giggs and Van der Sar; he also rested a host of star names including Scholes, Berbatov and Evra. Far from being annoyed or even upset, many United fans will have been delighted to see Fabio and Rafael da Silva, Ben Foster, Darron Gibson, Danny Welbeck and boy-wonder Fedrico Macheda starting this showpiece semi-final and quite right too.

It was a bold selection by Ferguson, and even though the FA Cup was clearly third on the manager's priority list, the team that faced Everton was built on solid foundations with Vidic and Ferdinand at the back. It was a calculated gamble by Fergie, but it was by no means reckless.

Going into this game, many feared that the Champions might wobble against a hungry in-form Everton, but those fears looked to be unfounded as soon as the semi-final kicked-off, because United's youngsters were more than a match for an experienced Everton team. Anderson was given the responsiblity of taking charge of the champions midfield alongside Gibson, the Brazilian battled hard and took the eye with his surging runs and tackling.

The average age of United's team was just 22 - the youngest player on the pitch, Federico Macheda, was the arguably the most composed of the lot. Although he's only played three times for United's first-team, the 17-year-old striker once again looked like the real deal.

Playing at Wembley is a test for any forward, not least because of the size of the pitch, and then there's the energy sapping turf and the sense of occasion. Wembley didn't faze Macheda in any sense; his link-up play with Welbeck was hugely impressive. Unlike, Rooney, Tevez and Berbatov who are all essentially second strikers, the young Italian is a genuine number nine in the making, he leads the line superbly and his close control is excellent.

Against what was an excellent Everton defence Macheda was happy to receive the ball in any situation, such a pity that United couldn't make that vital breakthrough before the dreaded penalty shoot-out, on another day referee Mike Riley could have and perhaps should have awarded the champions a penalty following a clumsy challenge on Welbeck.

It wasn't that surprising that Macheda looked to be suffering with cramp late on due to his none-stop running in what was a hard fought contest, but it is questionable if he was so tired that he needed to be replaced ahead of extra-time. Fergie opted to bring on Berbatov for Macheda and it's fair to say the former Spurs striker made little or no impact on the game.

While Macheda plays like a genuine number nine, quite often with his back to goal and around the opposition penalty area, all too often Berbatov drops deep, but unlike Cantona, who the Bulgarian has been compared to, he doesn't always make things happen. Worse still, Berbatov is easily knocked off the ball, loses possession cheaply and lacks pace. Berbatov was awful against Porto last week, he wasn't much better against Everton.

It was sickening to see the Bulgarian waste a golden opportunity to give United an early lead in the penalty shoot-out; this after Cahill had blazed over the bar when taking Everton's first spot-kick. If Ferguson does not have strong words with Berbatov about what was a pathetic penalty attempt, then I for one will be surprised, if he is ever given the responsibility in the future, suffice to say do not expect him to try that trick again.

It is hard to criticise Ferdinand, who failed to score United's second penalty, because he'd had another great game at the back, but he should have done better and he will know that.

While everyone will be disappointed, we United fans can take a degree of satisfaction from this game because for the first time in a good while, it looks like the club may well have the nucleus of another exciting young team.

In the not too distant future I can see Macheda edging out Berbatov, because it can surely be only a matter of time before Fergie and his backroom team realise that one is a genuine striker and the other flatters to deceive in the wrong areas of the pitch. While moaning about Berbatov's performance and his casual attitude, it would be wrong not to mention Carlos Tevez who was for once disappointing too.

It's also worth mentioning the now defunct FA CUP semi-final replays and what might have been in years gone by, because while there's no doubting replays have given us some great games down the years, prior to Sunday's semi-final United had played 58 games this season when compared to Everton's 41. The champions could really have done without a replay, so until someone comes up with a better way of ending games, penalties it will continue to be.

Man of the match: Vidic, closely followed by Anderson.

1 comment:

  1. I was really impressed with Macheda, lead the line well, linked up well, put himself about, ran himself into the ground & made a nuisance of himself. Didn't look fazed at all, looks a fairly big lad for his age with plenty of skill as well. Really one for the future but can see him getting lots of 1st team action next season.

    The contrast with Berbatov is very striking. That pen was awful - if you are going to put it down the middle at least put some height on it so the keeper can't save with his legs! A pretty disappointing first season especially considering how much he cost & that we lost out on the possibility of Campbell going to Hull for £7m.

    Rio's pen wasn't too bad at least it was going towards the corner.

    The youngsters did themselves & the club proud - looking forward to seeing more of them.

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