Date:Tuesday April 1 2008
Manchester United have all but confirmed their place in the semi-finals of the Champions League. And I don't think I'm being too bold here.
This team of 2008 play with a confidence and discipline that is breathtaking and really you just can't see us losing heavily at Old Trafford. Especially not after we nullified Roma's attacking threat in their own intimidating ground.
I wasn't happy at all when I saw the starting line-up. It is well documented on this site that I do not want Scholes to start games like this and as Tevez was omitted in favour of Park I felt Fergie was going mad. Of course he proved me wrong again as he's bound to do. I'm now quite enjoying making a complete fool of myself by giving him advice before realising he does it much better than I could ever do.
The early exchanges weren't brilliant though. Deploying Rooney and Park on the wings gave United much defensive solidity as both were inclined to track back and try to harass the opposition's fullbacks and wingers but in terms of attacking threat, we offered little. Ronaldo was isolated and the Belgian referee felt it's all right if our Portuguese magician is kicked off the park.
Roma tried the flanks but met strong resistance there, tried through the middle but usually met either Michael Carrick or the Ferdinand-Vidic pairing. Scholes tied up the loose ends but Anderson wasn't at his best. Therefore there was reason to worry about our defensive stability when Vidic had to be replaced after falling awkwardly on his knee. His replacement O'Shea, rather than slotting in at right-back, was deployed in the centre - and did a superb job there.
Rio wasn't at his best in the first half, to be honest and we had to endure a couple of nervy moments due to his uncertainty. But all in all, we soaked up the little pressure Roma applied and frustrated them very efficiently with a disciplined performance.
The crucial goal came at a crucial time and was brilliant. Rooney came in from the flank and received the ball with his back to the goal. With one quick, fluid movement he turned, left Panucci for dead chipped the ball towards Scholes whose not exactly pin-point but still reasonable cross was headed home irresistibly by a flying Ronaldo who may have put the myth that he can't cut it in big games to bed.
The second half went quite the way I expected it to go. That is, except the first 15 minutes. We were a bit sleepy in those moments and Vidic's absence told: Panucci and Tonetto both could have equalised due to lack of understanding between the members of our defence.
And then Fergie pulled off a masterstroke. He introduced Owen Hargreaes in place of Anderson, which seemed obvious given that the Brazilian wasn't playing very well. But the fact that he deployed Hargo on the right where Roma offered the most threat and that completely snuffed out their attacking momentum. The last memorable opportunity was Vucinic's header in the 60th minute which drew the only really great save from Edwin van der Sar.
Rooney was moved to the middle and Fergie admitted after the game that he should have done it earlier. But to be honest, Roma's total and final collapse was due to a rather lucky goal. Wes Brown came up with one of the rare United attacks but his cross was too deep. Yet Park still managed to get to it, headed it back towards the six yard box where Doni failed to either hold it or punch it away, instead he somehow palmed it to Rooney's way and the young Englishman, often criticised for his erratic finishing, pounced to score a real poacher's goal.
Roma collapsed, imploded, fell to pieces. They completely lost their belief, their strength, their faith. And they could have been well beaten. United turned on the style after the second goal, Ronaldo his the post and fired inches over the bar, Carrick should have scored after being set up by Rooney, Rooney himself should have done better when Ronaldo provided him with a great opportunity. The midfielders passed the ball around with nonchalant ease, getting the ball out of the tightest corners with confidence. Sometimes it bordered on the embarassing as Evra, Carrick, Scholes, Rooney and co. passed the ball around the hapless Roma players who knew that it was game over.
It really should have been a third but does not matter. The fact that United, for 70 minutes, produced a textbook away performance in the Stadio Olimpico then played champagne football for the last 20 minutes speaks volumes really. We have the beating of any team, we have a fantastic defence, a confident and incisive midfield and in Rooney and Ronaldo two players who can do it against anyone, they can make anyone suffer. And we could afford not playing Ryan Giggs and only bring on Carlos Tevez when the game was already won. Bring on Barcelona!
Date:Tuesday April 1 2008
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