Barcelona 0-0 Manchester United – Much better than last season

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We will be shifting servers in the near future to avoid any such future problems.

Ok, back to the match itself. In case you haven’t seen the game, I suggest finding a place to download it and watch it again, or trying to catch a replay on TV. My hangover prevents me from going play by play over last night’s events, although to the teams’ credit I managed to go through the whole game without sleeping (as opposed to the shit on a stick affair at Anfield when I dozed off 10 minutes into the game). If you’re pressed for time, read the beeb’s report or guardian’s minute-by-minute coverage.

What I DO want to discuss though, is the nature of United’s performance and what that holds for the coming days (both the Chelsea game and the second leg at Old Trafford).

United played quite well for their standards

Remember, we’re not Liverpool or Chelsea – we didn’t have the players in midfield or upfront to hussle and play ‘direct’ football. Some of you might disagree, but comparing United’s performance to Liverpool’s last year would be unfair for two reasons – one, the different styles of play, and two, the fact that Barcelona gave away that game last season with some shocking defending.

Instead, we were on the backfoot throughout, with Barcelona controlling the midfield through possession and their much better use of it. The crowd was a factor as well (in motivating the home side) and I hope United fans heed Fergie’s request to create a special atmosphere in the return leg to urge their team on.

We’re not Arsenal either – our game is usually played on a higher tempo with less emphasis on the short passes (although they’re still there). Arsenal might have done better against Barcelona, but that’s as much to do with psychology (they’ve done well away in Europe in recent years, United haven’t) as with their style of play (remember Villareal away in the 05/06 season? shambles…).

But the most important (and for me, positive) thing is that this side played a lot better against an arguably more dangerous side (in terms of attacking talent across the pitch) than it did last year away in the Champions League semifinals. There’s a lot of talk about how United should win this and play like that but at the end of the day, this was a bunch of kids who’ve shown considerable maturity in standing up to a strong team and come away without being embarrassed. United learned their lessons from last season and it showed in the way priority was given to closing down attacks and defending as a team.

That penalty

The penalty, without a doubt, changed the game. If it had gone in, there was always going to be more goals in it – a score draw or a 2-1 to either side was quite possible then because it would have given United more confidence and given Barcelona the added incentive to go forward and attack.

Ferguson said that perhaps the penalty came too early for United and Ronaldo was caught a bit unprepared. I find that true to an extent – the pressure got to Ronaldo and it might not have gotten to him if the pen had been in, say, the 10th minute. As things were, it was a surreal moment and too good to be true to be given a penalty in the first minute in a Champions League semifinal at the Camp Nou.

Ronaldo missed (for the record I think with his European experience Hargo should have taken it, but hindsight is 20/20 and you’d have bet the house on Ronny scoring from a pen against Barca), and both teams were cautious after that. Barcelona focused more on possession and control than outright attack, and United, aware that they had rustled up a nest of bees, were cautious and focused on nullifying Barcelona’s threat as opposed to doing any serious foraging up front by themselves.

United did have a strong shout for a second penalty around the 29th minute, but that wasn’t given. Can’t say much about that, except that Ronny would have tried again and I’d still bank on him putting that one away. Should we now throw a strop and say we were denied clear-cut scoring chances by a referee? Nah, we’re not going to berate the ref. Unfortunately, this happens when you rely on single individuals to referee high-pressure games where something as obvious as home crowd pressure (not to mention the fact that it’s harder to give a second penalty than it is to give the first one) can influence the ref’s decisions. As Fergie said, you don’t expect to get one penalty at Camp Nou so to get a second there was no chance. At least that’s better put than doubting the integrity of the referee, which surprisingly hasn’t earned Rafa Benitez any fine up till now…

Team selection

Unfortunately Vidic was ill but Wes Brown did a good job as his replacement. Brown is a confidence player and he grew into his added responsibilities yesterday. He’s a great asset to have in the squad with his experience, loyalty and defensive abilities. Sure, he’s not a natural right-back, but of all the center-backs playing at right-back for the top four this season, who’d you back? Exactly…

Ferguson held back Nani and Anderson for the next two games, and when you think about it, this time around we have players we can rely on to freshen things up and still win games for us. Come Stamford Bridge, I would expect at least one of these 2 to get a starting role. Strength in depth, coupled with maturity and experience, gives us a much better chance of progress this season than it did last season.

Park, Scholes and Carrick played an important role in ‘getting the job done’ without making too many mistakes. EVDS put the defence under pressure a bit with a few erratic clearances but was otherwise solid. Hargo had a decent game as well and hopefully he’ll be in midfield for the return leg alongside Anderson to provide the team with some added bite. It was also interesting to see United play Rooney on the wing because it was a testament to Fergie’s flexibility and that of his players as well. How many strikers do you know who, despite being first-choice for their team, will willingly take on a defensive role in midfield?

Looking forward

It’s Stamford Bridge and then back to Old Trafford for the next 2 parts of the ‘most important time of our season’. We could lose against Chelsea and still win the Premier League, but because of the lack of an away goal we now need to beat Barcelona at OT.

And if we can beat Real Madrid 4-3, and AC Milan 3-2 – I see no reason why United can’t win again against top European opposition at the Theatre of Dreams. We’re good enough to win the next two games, and at the very least I think we’ll pick up a point at Stamford Bridge and progress to the Champions League final to play … Chelsea … in Moscow.

Over to you.

115 Comments

  1. I certainly hope we don’t rest too many players against Chelsea. In my opinion, the seasons hard work means that the title should come first. I am hoping for a draw against Chelsea, if we can at least get a point I can see us getting a win against West Ham at home.. (finally!) I don’t want us to lose against Chelsea, or even contemplate it as I don’t think we’ll be West Ham and Wigan when we have to. 6 points from 6 when we NEED them, including a game against Wigan on ‘THAT PITCH’. I hope Wigan are safe from relegation by then.

    I was pleased that despite both teams talking up their attacking ability before the Barca game, I felt very relaxed through the whole game. Only when Eto’o hit the side netting in the second half that I winced. Other than that, despite a great shift by Messi and the ability they have in Eto’o and Iniesta to name a few they didn’t bother us one bit.

    I don’t know if it was because it was so easrly in the game but I expected Ronaldo to miss and was not bothered in any way when my prediction came true. It was indeed, surreal and it could have been that Barca were on the backfoot or that there was still a whole game to go that I forgot it fairly quickly. Had Ronny missed in the last minute of the game at 0-0 it would be a different story altogether, I would be sick. I still think it is wrong to suggest another penalty taker than Ronaldo. Yes it’s a Champions League semi-final and yes, it was in front of 90 thousand supporters in a noisy ‘Camp Nou’ but did anybody forget it was only a week ago that Ronaldo got us back into the game at Old Trafford against Arsenal, Under pressure. From the spot. Twice.

    We have just created a new record of 11 home wins in a row at Champions League level. We should be aware that although we can’t compare to Chelsea’s awesome record of 80 games unbeaten at home, we have probably won quite a few more than Chelsea at home in that time. Old Trafford is a fortress again, especially in Europe and Barcelona will be forced to play a totally different game in front of our support, on a smaller pitch.

    We have to go all out to win that game, not get a one goal lead and then hang on for dear life. A late goal for Barca in that situation will kill our hopes for yet another season.

  2. Grognard: please take this with a pinch of salt, but don’t you find it ironic that you wanted Rooney rested but had a go at Saha before and (roughly) said you wanted players to play through injuries and not be “pussies”?

    Everything else I agree with though,although to say the 98/99 team never set up for the counter is wrong, they just got forced into a lot ofcorners that meant they had to attack, and they succeeded. Attacking teams have much less success in Europe than defensive ones, and it make sense to adapt rather than attempt to impose yourselves, especially considering the youth of some of our team..

  3. Michael; Read my post #97 where I explained myself about the injury thing. Clearly Rooney get the benefit of the doubt because he is not the type to sit down with a minor or nagging injury. Saha would get hospitalized if a stiff breeze got him in a wind tunnel downtown. Rooney has also made miraculous and lightning fast recoveries from foot breaks. Saha would take three months to recover from a hang nail.
    Sorry but most soccer players are pussies and Saha is the biggest pussy of them all.

    My comment was from the perspective of a footy fan who understands the game’s culture and practices. Not the one who has a hard time stomaching it. You don’t see hockey players or American football players diving and crying over fouls and acting like they just got shot only to get up 20 seconds later and run around like nothing happened to them. Fortunately English players are a little more like my North American brethren. They act like men. I will not ever understand what it is culturally that makes European and South American men act like little bitches every time something negative happens to them on a pitch. It’s disgraceful and it is the black scourge on the game. So I feel my comment on pussies is not just for those who get injured and don’t play with a little discomfort, but also their fem fatal personalities on the field that is totally unbecoming for any man. They have no shame or any manly pride, and it’s truly shocking to North Americans. Perhaps that is the number one reason why thee game has never taken off with a bang over here.

  4. Perhaps you’re right, and you raise a good point about American sports. I did ask you to take with a pinch of salt, though, I was only joking. The irony made me smile. I think that perhaps the physcial demands of football over a season are greater, and that the lack of rest between matches means that players can’t afford to play crocked. And anyway, numerous NFL players sit out a game if they’ve taken a knock. Fair point about diving and the like though.

  5. Fuck Americans not taking up football… who cares!

    Ronaldo sooks about not getting fouls because he is the most fouled player in the world.

    The kids not perfect, he’s just a great footballer who is 23 years old yeah….

    On the Chelsea game, I’d like to see Pique dumped in CB with Brown reverting back to RB

    Hargo in the middle with Scholes… and Ronaldo to be banged back into RW where he can penetrate… Rooney and Tevez upfront… Lets go to the bridge for a win, 442 MANCHESTER UNITED FOOTBALL

  6. Two questions that can maybe help put things into perspective:

    1) Had Ronaldo scored the penalty, and the team continue playing the way we did and we won 1-0, would you have seen the game in a different light?

    2) Irrespective of the first-leg result / performance, if we don’t beat Barca at Old Trafford, do you still think we deserve to be in the Champs League final? Similarly, if we lose to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, do you still think we deserve to win the EPL?

  7. Doesn’t anyone find the fact that Lahm hasn’t agreed to a new contract interesting?

    The way Beckenbauer talked about him leaving for a bigger club, it’s almost as if he’s inviting bids (or telling Lahm publicly to fuck off if he can’t accept less money). A bit like the Brown deal but Lahm’s younger and quite possibly more ambitious.

    No one’s interested?

  8. Grognard- I don’t know why European and South American players tend to dive more than others, saying that John Terry and Drogba both seem to dive more than any other players in the Premier League.

    I will never condone players for doing it, whether it’s Rooney, Ronaldo or any other cheating player. However, I do see why players do it week in week out. Ronaldo, a boy who cried wolf is still tarred with the same dirt from 4 years ago and as a result is booed at every away game despite the fact that he was the most fouled player in the Premier League last season. Nani came in to the game in a similar way but has learned way quicker. Rooney always stays on his feet when getting fouled in the penalty area (liverpool vs Carragher, anyone?) but never gets a decision in his favour, so when he doesn’t stay on his feet after being knocked he gets stick. Above all it is down to the ‘powers that be’, if referees used the power to book players who dive or feign injury more often and post-match fines were introduced as a result, players would cut it out sooner and managers would make sure of it.

    Oh and please stop using the word ‘Pussy’ and ‘Pussies’. PLEASE 🙂

    As for Chelsea, I think Nani and Anderson will both get a starting position after sitting out most of Wednesday’s game and being rested completely respectively. I think it’d be the regular back 5 with Pique fitting in at back should Vida still be ill. Carrick will surely fit in to midfield as Scholes rarely starts 2 in a row. I am hoping for a draw at the most, that way a win against West Ham will do it for us.

  9. Redd75-

    From the moment we got the penalty I didn’t think he’d score. Maybe it was so early in the game that it felt surreal and missing still left us with 90 minutes of football and a game I thought we could win. I was happy with the result and if it was a goal at the beginning then even better, but the way we played while not exciting was professional.

    I will never say Chelsea deserve to win anything. Manchester United deserve it and Arsenal would have deserved it more. If we don’t win the game at OT then we will be out of the Cup and as a result will not have deserved it.

  10. [Ahmed]
    It’s been discussed already, when the news broke — about two-three days ago. You bet people are interested here! The Barca game perhaps stole the thunder from the usual talk of transfer speculation and strikers. 🙂

  11. But Grognard you did use the example of Brazil, who at this moment in time play some of the worst football from a top international team. And is this not a sign of the changing times then, that Brazil realise with the flair players they have they can just get everyone behind the ball and then break away on the counter, and since this has been a success for them doesn’t that also say something? Negativity is always going to be part of football and as you said, the CL makes it a them for every away team(except Barca).
    Saha has not been the only player you have said should play through the pain barrier, and I am very certain of that. All I want you to understand is that playing through the pain barrier severely limits their ability and so is fairly pointless. Thats why we should use our big squad.
    And yes I have seen Huntelaar a lot recently, and as much as he did impress me, I did not see one instance when he started/became a part of a quick counter attack , but I did see him completely ruin one as he held on to the ball too long. You don’t like Saha, you think he’s a good player, so you will never appreciate what he can do/did for us last season. Playing on the counter is one of his best attributes because of his ability to run with the ball and the way he can turn defenders at speed.

  12. Conor; Name me another player I criticized for always being injured. My wrath has always been targeted at one man, Balsa Boy Saha. You and other can go blue trying to sell me on his virtues but I’m sorry, I don’t see it. Yes he was a decent player, not an outstanding one. He was greatly overrated and he never lived up to those expectations when he was healthy, which was about 2% of time he has been at OT. Look the bottom line is that like everyone else I should be given the right to dislike a player if I choose to. So he is my Public Enemy #1. I refuse to be tolerant or sympathetic to his plight. For me he lacks conviction, passion and heart. And he is also very very soft. Perhaps his injuries have been serious but perhaps part of what I say about him is also true. He has never given me a reason to cheer him on, other than the occasional tease. No player has ever bothered me like he has. I’m sorry but he really gets under my skin. Yes I may be unfair but I think that as a fan I have the right to form my own opinion of the man, right or wrong.

    And it is clear that you have not seen enough of Huntelaar because I have seen him do great things on counters over the past three years. I have seen him play well over 50 times and so I feel like I can safely assess his abilities correctly. Personally speaking, I think he is perfect for United as he will fit in well but also offer us an added dimension and alternative to our attack. While possessing many of the traditional characteristics of a striker, he also has pace and skills that bring him more in line with what we are doing right now. I’d love it if we could sign him so that he could prove me right. I really believe in the lad.

    Ahmed; United and Barcelona are very interested in Lahm and I think we have a strong chance of acquiring him thanks to his friendship with Hargo and the fact they both share the same agent. With that said, I think what is happening right now in Munich is the very same thing that was going on with Wes Brown. I still feel that when it’s all said and done, Bayern will cave in and give Lahm what he wants to satisfy new manager Klinsmann who considers Lahm one of his favorites in their national team days. Time will tell. Right now I think there is a 50% chance he stays with Bayern and 40% chance he signs with us. I see a very poor 10% chance of him going to Barca, although they could go crazy and offer way more money to get him.

  13. ppl why all ths fuzzzz? its was a great result for us..getting a draw at nou camp is not bad thing ….and lets all give Etoo some credit for not diving in the box despite being fouled…he stood on his feeet …well done Etoooo….these kond of ppl are very rare …they belong to seperate planet …..

  14. Grognard just for the sake of argument; here you said “Not having Hargo and Anderson may be are undoing in this game. Jeez! I’m sorry but at this stage of the year, players need to play with a little pain and suck it up a bit. Being Canadian I just cannot handle the fact that footballers can not handle playing with any physical discomfort. Certainly hockey players and American football players don’t suffer from this problem. Only baseball players are as wimpy as this.” And so as you can see this was directed at all of our players and not at Saha. I haven’t a problem with you either being annoyed at SAF for letting Rooney play through the pain or that you want every player to have enough commitment to the team to play for the team, but you can’t have it both ways.
    About Saha, I know I will never change your mind on him, and he is a great frustration to everyone. I just find it a bit confusing that you can’t appreciate how good he was, as it was fairly clear at the end of the 05-06 season and the first half of the 06-07 season, and you are a logical person. You have every right to hate him for his injuries, it may not be his fault(and I actually blame SAF for showing to much loyalty and faith in this case) but it is a fair reason to not want him in our team imo.
    And yes I haven’t seen enough of Huntelaar, so I know you can judge what he would bring to us much better than I, but I just think you’re urge to get a goalscorer is making you show just a bif of bias towards Huntelaar, you talk about him as if he is the best thing since sliced bread 😆

  15. At the end of the day we are talking about football (or Soccer) not American Football, Baseball, Ice Hockey or anything else. Football at the top, in most cases is played at a much higher pace than any other ‘ball’ sport, thinking of it I would say it has less stopages in play too. In FOOTball you rely on your legs than any other ball sport. I know Saha has been accused of having mental blocks with his injuries, but if you are injured you can do nothing about it.

    Louis Saha’s Carling Cup run in 05/06 was what helped us to the final and also helped Ruud Van Nistelrooy out of Manchester. Louis had been on a great run up front and Fergie’s decision to reward him with a start in the final ahead of Ruud. After the final whistle and a 4-0 win (Rooney 2, Saha, Ronaldo) which was the first step to real sucess for our new squad of players Ruud was seen storming down the touchline away from our players and you know what SAF feels about the importance of team spirit.

    Anyway, in the last couple of months after years of being a big supporter of Saha, injured or not having my full backing I have finally run out of patience. He is a top quality player and like Cisse, if he went abroad will never be injured again and score loads. We can’t afford to bank on him any longer, I don’t have a clue who we’ll get instead. Berbatov is not the tallest player and he doesn’t have much of a squad personality but I’d still like to see him at OT.

    We also have:

    Tevez, Rooney, Manucho, Febien Brandy, Frazier Campbell and (even Guiseppe Rossi if we wanted to buy him back)

    I have faith in United this summer and I’m sure we won’t get caught short again.

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