Monday, April 06, 2009

Macheda stunner leaves title rivals Liverpool choking ...

United went into Sunday's 'must win' clash with Aston Villa knowing that anything less than victory would leave bitter rivals Liverpool on top of the Premier League following an injury winner at Craven Cottage on Saturday evening. United fans will have been gutted to learn that the 'Merseyside Reds' winner came in the 92 minute; the typical reaction of many was "typical stuffy scousers".

In fairness, United have had their own share of late wins this season and in years gone by, but you have to go back to 1992 when Steve Bruce scored that late winner against Sheffield Wednesday which eventually helped Fergie secure his first league title to match the drama of what happened at Old Trafford on Sunday as the champions fought back from being 2-1 down to win 3-2.

Going into Sunday's clash injuries and suspensions meant that United were without Rooney, Scholes, Vidic, Ferdinand and Berbatov. For their part Villa needed to win after their mauling at Anfield last time out. United themselves were coming off the back of two damaging league defeats in a row and badly needed to get back to winning ways ahead of the midweek Champions League clash with Porto.

Given Fergie's selection options, many United fans will have been concerned about the team that faced Aston Villa and those fears were well founded as the visitors trumped Ronaldo's (14) early goal when scoring twice through Carew (30) and Agbonlahor (58) courtesy of two well taken headers.

It came as no surprise that Villa had taken the lead given the pattern of the game with United reverting to lumping the ball down the park in the manner of a poor third division team on too many occasions. However, just three minutes after going behind following Agbonlahor's second-half header events took a dramatic turn after Fergie sent on Fredrico Macheda when replacing the once again totally ineffective Nani.

The 17-year-old Italian striker quickly made his presence felt when going down inside the Villa penalty area after a challenge with scouse wannabe Gareth Barry. It is fair to say that the introduction of United's young Italian star completely changed the pattern of the game, because from looking clueless and lacking any bite up front United suddenly started to tick when going forward.

It is also fair to ask if Villa having gone ahead, decided to sit back in a bid to hold on to their lead, whatever the merits of the visitors tactical plan, United set about the task of getting themselves back into the game with a series of well worked attacking moves which hitherto had been sadly lacking until Macheda's entrance.

The combination of Giggs and Tevez up front simply did not work, and despite flying half-way round the world to face Villa after playing for his country, United's Argentine striker gave his all in the red cause - it isn't stretching the facts to say that he worked until he dropped through sheer exhaustion when falling over in pursuit of the ball on several occasions. Tevez was eventually substituted and once again he received a standing ovation from the Old Trafford crowd.

If United were going to score, it was likely that the responsibility would fall to the World Player of the Year again, but having scored once and then played a big part in Villa's second goal when giving possession away cheaply, it looked unlikely that Ronaldo would score again given that he was playing nowhere near his full capability. At that point in the game, it looked like Ronaldo would once again be cast as both hero and villain.

The seemingly ever growing army of United fans who believe that the club has no option but to get rid and sell Ronaldo to Real Madrid were given further evidence of his apparent lack of commitment to the club and his team-mates as the Portuguese star strolled through this game.

But then on 80 minutes, Ronaldo answered his critics, as only he can, when improbably scoring with a well taken effort that left Brad Friedel clutching at thin air as the ball whistled beyond his reach before nestling in the corner of the rigging. All of a sudden from looking likely to lose three Premier League games on the spin United scented blood and the goal scoring chances soon followed with Fletcher and substitute Wellbeck testing the Villa keeper.

If the match had finished up 2-2 few would have complained, but then Fredico Macheda scored arguably the best goal of the season so far. The goal was a sweet as any you will see and was worthy of winning any game, that it should come on Macheda's United first-team debut made it all the more special.

I cannot pay a higher compliment than to repeat what someone close to me said after the game "Macheda gave us what we have been lacking - what we expected of Berbatov when he arrived, he gave us presence, he held the ball up battled and looked quality", so true.

After the game a delighted Gary Neville thanked Macheda for his winning contribution, but then went on to suggest that despite his own mistakes which led to both goals, the team had kept on playing football, which clearly was not the case until Fergie made those crucial second-half substitutions.

Neville's revisionism will have certainly baffled many fans because for the majority of this game United were simply awful. Fergie further muddied the waters when offering his reasoning for playing Neville against big John Carew. The United manager then dug an even bigger hole for himself when stating that the team which faced Villa had more experience than the 1992 side that famously came back from the dead to win against Sheffield Wednesday.

Still, it was a case of who cares, United fought back to win when for all the world it looked like our title challenge was collapsing before our very eyes. However, following a moment of sheer inspiration and no small measure of skill Macheda fired United back to the summit of the Premier League table, in so doing leaving the many on-looking Liverpool fans cursing.

Apparently the Liverpool fans were singing "we are going to win the league" for twenty minutes after the final whistle at Craven Cottage. You do wonder if they started celebrating a little too soon....

Fergie says that whoever goes on to win the Liverpool vs Chelsea Champions League quarter final will push United the hardest in the title race. I do not agree. I say whoever comes off better against Arsenal will likely win the title.


  1. Liverpool fan here - just wanted to say this is a great blog, analysis superior to anything I've been reading in the mainstream press. Hope Utd's results remain inferior to your writing!

  2. "I say whoever comes off better against Arsenal will likely win the title."
    I have to agree with you there. Arsenal will be a difficult challenge and could decide the outcome.

    Nice blog by the way.
    Check out mine. Thanks


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