Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Old heads let United down: Have United gone as far as they can in the Champions League?

It was a night that started with ecstasy, but ended in potential tragedy; that was the story of United's first leg Champions League quarter final tie with Bayern Munich in the Allianz Arena.

United got off to a flying start when Rooney gave the visitors a shock lead in the opening minutes. The opening goal had more than a slice of good fortune about it; the ball was floated into the Bayern penalty area from United's right flank, it was flicked on by Mark van Bommel, and then Rooney's marker Martin Demichelis slipped, leaving the United striker unmarked and he made no mistake from Nani's free-kick, from close-range.

Bayern were visibly rocked by the shock of going behind so early in the contest; United had further opportunities to extend their lead, but instead of taking control it was Bayern who went on to take a grip of this quarter final.

Ferguson's decision to start with Gary Neville looked like a poor one because Ribery had the beating of him all night long; so much so that at times it was slightly embarrassing. Neville has had some good moments of late, but his performance against one of the best winger's in the world was one he will want to forget. Nani was tasked with helping his fullback and at times he did well in this respect.

In midfield Ferguson had elected to start with Paul Scholes and here again it looked like the wrong decision by the manager; Scholes has done extremely well in some games this season, he played well against Bolton at the weekend, but expecting him to play again so quickly after Saturday's Premier League clash and in such an important away game was a gamble; one that ultimately backfired.

United were facing an under-strength Bayern Munich side that was without Robben and Bastian Schweinsteiger - knowing Bayern were likely to be less than at full strength may well have played a part in Ferguson's pre-match thinking; worryingly, whatever the United manager's tactical plan, his team were quite awful for long periods, even so it was an absorbing and open contest.

The midfield trio of Scholes, Carrick and Fletcher was far too open on too many occasions. Mark van Bommel set the alarm bells ringing with one first-half solo run; the Dutchman was given far too much room with Scholes looking on, seemingly powerless to do anything about it, what's more there was no sign of Fletcher or Carrick. Van Bommel's run at the United defence was a warning; one that wasn't heeded or checked and United eventually went on to pay the price for failing to control midfield; that and failing to retain possession which Bayern dominated throughout.

United had led something of a charmed life and as the game went on it seemed like just a matter of time before Bayern equalised. In a bid do something to change the pattern of the second-half - which the home team had more or less completely dominated - Ferguson sent on Berbatov and Giggs for Park (ineffective) and Nani (one of our better player's on the night); the changes had zero impact.

United eventually paid the price for sloppiness and it came as no great surprise that Gary Neville was at the heart of it, when he took leave of his senses and handled the ball outside the United penalty area. Ribery scored from the resulting free-kick via a deflection off Rooney; questions will be asked about the United defensive wall which collapsed too easily.

At that point in the contest and after Vidic had seen a thundering header rebound off the Bayern crossbar, United would have been quite happy to take a draw; but it wasn't to be, as once again the midfield parted like the Red-Sea when Tymoschuk brushed aside the half-hearted challenges of Giggs, Vidic and Fletcher, before the ball fell to the feet of Evra, who dithered and was robbed by Olic who had scored to seal the victory.

TO make matters much worse, Rooney limped off the pitch with what looked very much like a dreaded metatarsal injury; though reports are claiming it was an injury to Rooney's right ankle. It remains to be seen what the full extent of the injury is, but United's chances of retaining the title and progressing in the Champions League will have been severely damaged if Rooney is ruled out of the next two games.

Bayern should be back to full strength for next week's second-leg and if that is so then even with Rooney, progression looks like a tall order based on last night's hapless performance.

We have to remember this was the same Bayern side who were systematically taken apart by Barcelona last season and of course it was the Catalans' who destroyed United in the final; United's midfield let them down badly in last year's Rome final; 12 months on, it seems we have learnt nothing from that chastening experience given the lack of organisation and cover for the back four, the problems in the engine room have not been fixed. If United somehow progress into the final and it's beginning to look like a big IF, then you do wonder how this team would deal with Barcelona's midfield.

14 comments:

  1. Tonight didn't matter, Saturday does. We all know what OT is like on European nights, that will hopefully make up for it. Time for Berbatov to really show what he is made of, Kiko to step into some mighty big shoes and show us he is worthy of the praise he gets.

    Chelsea are easily beatable, we know this. They have Liverpool to play still which could work in our favour no matter what the outcome on Saturday.

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  2. KBHOTW.
    I hope you're right, but like I've stated the problems in midfield were exposed by a relatively poor Bayern side...what does that say about this United team?

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  3. well if rooney will next two games why not paly macheda and berbatov up front there is no point in playing 4 51 at home go out and attack them with 442. i think we will beat chelsea and bayern cos they think it will be walk over we will raise game for it the two game both teams will be stuunned how we can cope with rooney someelse will be a hero that hero will be macheada come on you reds belive

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  4. Not sure how Macheda is doing right now, but there's no better time to make a big impact... Time will tell...

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  5. Why is Man U always exposed against sides which can pass well and also press, it was a repeat performance of last years CL final.

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  6. Mansur,

    That is what I was driving at.

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  7. James,

    I agree, but this was still one game. We've hit great form recently and hopefully the midfield problems will be shored up. When Barca stumbles against Rubin Kazan we didn't rush to judgement. If our midfield stumbles for the next two games, then I will be completely on board.

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  8. Last nights game was by far one of the worst United games I've ever seen. All I saw was ridiculous dump-and-run. There was NO united midfield. Aside from a couple of occasions Man U players could not complete four passes in a row. And when during the post-game commentary Sir Alex says that "lack of possession THROUGH OUT the game was a disgrace." I completely understand our "strategy" to play 5 in the mid, during European games, and hit teams on a break (when playing away). I'm not sure what the strategy was last night...

    Nani, Park, Carrick, Scholes gave the ball away cheaply (when they had it, which was not often.) Nani was the farthest thing from our "most influential player" on the night (and my personal opinion, he will NEVER become that.) Rooney was completely invisible after he scored in the second minute and the back four looked lost and scared to take control of their defensive third. I hate being so critical of players because I understand that everyone has, what people like to call, “a bad day” but the United players should thank their lady luck that the score was 2-1, and not 4 or 5 to 1.

    All of the credit for the win should go to the Bayern midfield. They gave everything they had during the game, and when Robben comes back next week it will be a big boost for them.

    I absolutely have to give all the credit in the world to Edwin “The Great” Van Der Sar. He never gets rattled, and the years upon years of experience are a great attribute to that (which can’t really be said about Scholes and Neville during last nights game.) When, yes when, United get through to the next round it will be because of Van Der Sar, and no one else on the United squad.

    (I can only imagine the atmosphere in the United dressing room after the game...)

    Lastly, as we all know no one likes to play at Old Trafford and that will not change when it comes to Bayern next week. I see them trying to hold on to their lead and try to hit us on the counter-attack.

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  9. That was our repeat of last season final. Our midfield has not strengthen. We need someone who can fully control the middle with speed and strength and break the opposition attack. Nani has been one of the better players and i do feel disappointed with Park with him not effective as the last 2 matches. If we do indeed advance to final against Barcelona i bet we will faced the same result even with Fletcher. It shows that Fletcher can't handle the opposition alone. Carrick is good but in those type matches it doesn't suit his style which makes him look poor. Scholes don't have the pace and stamina in his game to defend and attack. I still feel our attacking option is not strong and the engine is not upgraded. If both component can be improved, we will win anyone including Barcelona.

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  10. Oleg,

    I pretty much agree with all of that. I think you're spot on, we should be thankful it didn't end up 4-2 on the night and if had done we couldn't have complained.

    And yes, Edwin van der Sar is in good form right now.

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  11. Oleg

    I guess you are being too hash on Nani. He was one of the better players on the pitch. He looks to be the man to beat his opposition where the rest could not handle their opponent. From my point of view, you are still the Nani, Berbatov haters. Being hash is one thing, supporting them is another. I hope you being hash is base on this match and not bias. Whenever nani plays well, no one credit him and say it's only one or two matches. When he play badly for one cross or one mistake, he is being scolded. That is not fair. You give credit when its due. I still think Nani plays well again Bayern. Just that the midfield had no one to support him and Neville never make it to the other half to support as well.

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  12. So the question is, when we play Bayern next week, to we go 4-4-2 to add more offense or do we stick with 3-5-1? I am sure some of this will depend on Saturday but I don't know who you could put with Berbatov up front. Sorry but Diouf and Macheda are ready for full time action. But where do we get that attacking element? Maybe Park? I hate it when Giggs played underneath Rooney because he doesn't have the pace anymore to be dangerous in that position.

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  13. Well, i agree that United were hopeless(too easy a word???) on the night and the midfield is not so strong and they look lost sometimes but u cannot write them off just now as there is still the return leg to play and i believe the players will put on a commendable performance in the coming matches...
    I believe that United will go through as Berba has the class to steer United into semi-final of the Champions League as well as to come trumps against Chelsea this weekend.
    N hope Rooney comes back in time for the semi-finals.....

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  14. Evgenni,

    IF it were up to me Berbatov wouldn't start against Bayern. I'd start with Macheda up front and I'd play Giggs in a central attacking role just behind the Italian.

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