Thursday, May 22, 2008

United Champions of Europe: Poetic justice done as Chelsea's intimidation backfires...

Manchester United deservedly became Champions of Europe last night in a final that for once really did live up to expectations with both teams performing close to their very best. It was the first European final between two English clubs and a lot had been written in anticipation of what many feared could turn out to be a dull game, as was the case when the same two sides met in the FA Cup final last season.

United started the game looking and the more confident of the two teams. Ferguson had picked what many fans would agree was the Reds best team with Tevez playing up front along with Rooney.

Ferguson isn't known for his tactical nouse, but he really had done his homework when telling Ronaldo to weigh in the Chelsea's stand-in right-back Michael Essien. Time and time again, Ronaldo combined with Patrice Evra to find a way round the African star. The only way that Chelsea could stop Ronaldo was to foul or block him.

Carvalho later tried to take Ronaldo out with a cynical tackle, that could worst case; have broken the United star's ankle - for which the Portuguese defender could easily have been red carded.

Luckily Ronaldo was able to play on and throughout the match the multi-award winning winger was unplayable, it was fitting that he should open the scoring with a headed goal that was worthy of any final - the fact that it was Ronaldo's first against Chelsea made it all the sweeter.

The move that led to the opener pretty much summed up the difference between the two sides up and until that point. Scholes, who'd been a bit unlucky when getting booked for a clash with Makelele which resulted in the United veteran sustaining a facial injury, linked up neatly with Wes Brown deep inside the Chelsea half, the Reds right-back cut back and then crossed expertly with his left foot, Ronaldo made a towering leap above Essien and headed beautifully beyond Cech who was left rooted to the spot. It was a move of the highest technical order and Ronaldo's execution was clinical.

IF that opening goal had the fans on their feet, what followed was nearly as good with United looking extremely dangerous when launching two attacks that could easily have led to a three-nil lead as the Reds put Chelsea on the rack.

On 34 minutes the Reds started what turned out to be a stunning attack from deep within the United half as the ball was swiftly played out of defence, before Rooney delivered a pin-point long ball to the feet of Ronaldo, who once again left the Chelsea defence for dead, on this occasion his cross found the head of Carlos Tevez - only for Cech to make a great save, the rebound fell to Michael Carrick and his central drive went straight at the Chelsea 'keeper - either side of him and it would have been a certain goal.

United had really started to turn the screw when this time breaking down the right flank and once again it was Rooney who turned provider with a brilliant low driven cross that went jsut beyond the reach of Carlos Tevez - only the faintest of touches was required to further extend the Reds well deserved lead.

However, Manchester United have a well earned reputation for do it the hard way and somehow from a position of more or less total control we allowed the dour scrappers that are Chelsea back into the game with a horrible goal on 43 minutes, which was aided with two lucky deflections before Lampard had the simple task of passing the ball into an empty net.

Quite unbelievably, Edwin van der Sar had chosen to wear blades instead of studded boots, it later transpired that Chelsea's backroom team hard worked out that to do so could lead to players' losing their footing on what was a dodgy surface - which is precisely what had happened on Chelsea's equaliser. It beggars belief that United and their backroom team could fail to recognise such a basic technical detail, given that there had been so much talk about the state of the playing surface leading up to the final.

The Dutch stopper later fell over for the second time, but on this occasion it didn't end in a goal. The first half had ended all square, but Chelsea hadn't really been in the game and they were extremely lucky not to be three-one down at that point.

Somewhat predictably, Chelsea came out after the break visibly the stronger of the two teams as they went on to smother the life out of the game as only they can. Whereas in the first-half the Reds passing was quick and slick our play became scrappy and disjointed, as the game looked to be heading Chelsea's way with United becoming ragged.

The onlooking Red Army must have wondered how much longer the Reds could hang on against a team who are experts at grinding out results even when they're not playing that their very best.

Drogba, who had barely done anything of note until this point, sparked into life with 13 minutes remaining as he turned and curled a wicked shot that thankfully bounced to safety off the woodwork. If Chelsea's equaliser had more than a slice of good fortune about it, on this occasion it was United's turn to be very lucky.

It had been fairly clear for most of the second period that Scholes needed to be replaced, he had done his job brilliantly in the opening period, but his legs had gone, and it was fitting that Ryan Giggs eventually came on to replace him.

Quite why it took Fergie so long to make the change was a good question to ask at that point. Many fans would have no doubt been screaming at the United manager to take action but he'd left it until the 87th minute before making the switch.

Rival boss Avram Grant had also left it late before making his changes as Salomon Kalou was sent off for the disappointing Florent Malouda. Frank Lampard then hit the United woodwork after good work by Ballack and again the Reds could consider themselves to be extremely fortunate to be still in the game.

As the final headed into extra time, it became more of an even contest with United once again mounting their own attacks. Ryan Giggs was only denied by John Terry who somehow managed to head to safety - it would have been a certain goal but for the intervention of the England defender.

Rooney, to his disgust, was replaced by Nani, but in truth it was the right decision, save for the fact that the United striker would almost certainly have been a penalty taker should the match end in the dreaded penalty shoot-out, as was looking likely.

The final then descended into scenes of complete chaos when Carlos Tevez played the ball out of play when hitting it back towards the Chelsea goal following another bout of player cramp. The Argentine was immediately hounded by the Chelsea team with John Terry and Didier Drogba leading the pack.

It was entirely appropriate that Tevez had played the ball back towards the Chelsea goal, given that the Blues had started the trend earlier in the game when the roles were reversed.

What followed was poetic justice, first of all Drogba received his marching orders and quite right too. He had made the mistake of raising his hands in the mêlée - and only a complete amateur does that at any level of football.

Drogba had been unlucky not to score in normal time, he is a truly great player, but at the same time he has the annoying habit of trying to run the game when constantly carping to the officials.

The Ivory Coast star was at it throughout the game, just after the half-time break millions of fans around world watching on TV witnessed him appearing to give the referee yet more advice.

Ferguson, who is never short of opinions, interjected - the incident just added to the theatre of the occasion, but when Drogba eventually went for an early bath - few will have had any sympathy given his conduct. Drogba has no doubt played his last game for Chelsea - what a sad way to go out, as a loser and in such circumstances - especially given that he would have later been a Chelsea penalty taker.

Full time came without further incident. Anderson had replaced Brown in anticipation of the shoot-out. United fans must have feared the very worst when our star player Ronaldo then missed his penalty-kick.

Ronaldo had tried to trick Cech by stopping on his run-up and then starting again, but the big Chelsea 'keeper made a fine save when diving to his right. The Reds were just two penalties away from losing this final. The masses of onlooking fans must have thought we'd really blown it at that point.

Van der Sar was not making matters any better, given that he could have saved Chelsea's next penalty, but instead of saving it the ball went through him and into the net.

Next, it was the turn of Hargreaves and then Nani who both scored confidently and great credit to them for that - given what has happened in the past when United have been involved in shoot-outs. Many Reds fans' will have been replaying the nightmare vision of us losing the final there and then, but no, the tension was to carry on for just a while longer.

The thought of losing in such circumstances was too much to bear for the millions of United fans watching on TV, but for those who'd travelled to Moscow with all the expense incurred it must have been a truly excruciating feeling.

It was then the turn of 'iron-man' John Terry to seal United's fate, but miraculously just as he went to strike the ball, he slipped in the manner of Edwin van der Sar - had he not done so, he would surely have won the Champions League for Chelsea.

Terry will no doubt relive that miss a million times before he dies, so close and yet so far.

Personally, I couldn't help think that Terry had been made to pay for his part in the Tevez fracas earlier - he had led the finger pointing, intimidation and bullying. Again it was a case of poetic justice being meted out.

The shoot-out headed into the sudden death stage. Anderson and Kalou were successful from the penalty spot before Ryan Giggs coolly converted, in doing so transferring all of the responsibility onto another substitute, Anelka, this time Van der Sar did everything right when diving low and saving to crown United as kings of European football once again.

It was a truly nerve racking finish to what was a very good final. United ended their Champions League campaign unbeaten. We played the better football in the final; we thoroughly deserved the win, even though a penalty shoot-out isn't a satisfactory way to end any game.

The result will thankfully lead to the end of this Chelsea team as we know it. On top of which in winning this final, Fergie has finally exorcised the ghost of Jose Mourinho.

This current Chelsea team will I strongly predict implode. Reports claim that among others, Carvalho, Makelele and Drogba will be leaving the club – as good they are – they won’t be missed by Chelsea’s rivals. Good riddance.

In the view of many fans, Chelsea represent everything that is bad about football, both on the pitch and off it. It is to be hoped that the Chelsea players' take a long hard look at their disgraceful behaviour last night, which largely led to their own downfall when surrounding and bullying Tevez for which they paid a very high price.


  1. Brilliant report.

    In the second half, Chelsea really turned on their defensive midfield, and in the forward half of the pitch, United's midfield too often gave away the ball for quick counter attacks by Malouda and Drogba, among others, even Essien a couple of times.

    However, the defending was inspirational by the two centre-backs - Ferdinand and Vidic, if not for them, we would have lost the game on the second half.

    Extra time could have seen Giggs score as Evra with a brilliant run surely set up an empty net, however he had an awkward touch and Terry could 'dramatically' save it.

    It was a great game, and it was a game United could have won with ease, but as you said appositely, United like doing it the hard way.

    I wouldn't say Chelsea represent all that is bad about football, maybe they represent all that is ugly about football. Mourinho instilled a very negative approach in his players, which cannot disappear in a few months or so.

    If you look at the players in the Chelsea squad, they are all champions in their own right, Ashley Cole, Frank Lampard, Michael Ballack, Shevchenko, Essien, but they are in this sort of Chelsea mentality which results in their negative behaviour which I agree is surely bad for the sport in general.

    Let's hope the next manager, or even Avram Grant himself buck this terrible trend, and United-Chelsea rivalry becomes as fierce yet as beautiful as the Madrid-Barcelona rivalry; where teams play wonderful football in the spirit of the game.

    In this sense, I would prefer Arsenal to be United's major rivals in the coming seasons, as no matter what you think about Wenger, he is a great manager, but always instills a positive spirit of the game in his players in a manner similar to Ferguson (the last Arsenal-United match might contain evidence to the contrary; however Wenger would have surely censured his young inexperienced squad on their negative approach).

    All in all, a great season for United, may such seasons come in the future.

  2. Uday, fair comments all round there matey.

    Talented they undoubtedly are, but Chelsea do have too many players who are both bullies and snides.

    The good news is that it is the END of this current Chelsea team.

    Your thoughts on Wenger and Arsenal will become a reality I suspect. Though I don't like Wenger either, you have to respect his work, he's very good.

  3. Great post again James.

    I was listening to 606 on the way home last night and all anyone could say was how the best team lost. There was no mention of the Chelsea player's trying to bully Tevez and the ref. Or the fact that United created by far the best chances and for all Chelsea's possesion i can not remember Van Der Sar having a save to make apart from against Rio Ferdinand.

    Chelsea never threatened us in behind like Ronaldo did to them, the ball was always in front of our defence and Chelsea were restricted to long shots.

    I thought we thouroughly deserved to win just a shame that it had to be on penalties as it is a cruel way to lose, i remeber losing on penalties in the FA Cup final a couple of years ago against Arsenal and that was not nice.

  4. Chelsea represent everything that is bad about football, both on the pitch and off it.
    And obviously for us, United represents everything bad about football. No offense.

  5. I have just watched the game highlights on SKY again and I have to admit that maybe I was a bit harsh on Terry, but that said he IS their captain and over the last few seasons the Chelsea players' have been carrying on surrounding the ref and opposing players in a bid to get their own way.

    Terry is supposed to be their leader and as such he is guilty as are Chelsea as a whole of resorting to bullying tactics.

    I do not feel any sympathy for Terry or anyone else connected with Chelsea, apart from perhaps their fans, because it is no way to win or lose a game, but until someone comes up with a better solution we are stuck with it.

  6. Aravind - there is an awful lot wrong with Manchester United, starting with the appalling debt situation - £794m to be precise...which has led to the Reds ramping up prices etc, etc.

    But at least on the football front Fergie has been able to get on with it and all credit to him for the work he did last summer in the transfer market.

    Unlike Chelsea, we do at least try to play the game the right way - and we do not resort to bullying officials and opposing players, though there was one occasion when that happened a number of years ago - since then the players have really cleaned up their act. In contrast, it is an important part of the Chelsea game plan, a fact that the media have been happy to largely ignore...United being a really big club, would not get away with the same behaviour.

    Chelsea are also a totally manufactured club - until the Russian pitched up they were a tinpot club heading towards bankruptcy. They are a rich-man's play-thing and their prices are among the highest in the land.

    Comparing United and Chelsea is quite complicated because of the ownership situation, but to me and many others, Chelsea do reprsent everything that is bad about football.

  7. It was not their best performance but lady luck was absolutely on their side. Ronaldo will become a villain right now if United failed last night. Too bad Park didn't play in the final. He played very well in the semi finals.

    By the way i want to exchange links if u don't mind.


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