Date:Thursday April 24 2008
Well guys, this is the great part in being a pessimist. When you're proved wrong, it feels great.
United did not collapse, did not concede stupid goals, weren't all over the place defensively. We were as Italian as it is possible to be, even some Italian teams could learn being Italian from us.
Not all is brilliant, of course. We have missed a huge opportunity with the penalty - Ronaldo displayed admirable mental strength when he had to take the spot kick against Arsenal twice but this time he opted against his usual routine. He did not stop at any point of his run and fired wide as any Englishman is prone to do at major tournaments.
After this United offered next to nothing in attack, a good Carrick effort inside the box aside. But in the absence of Nemanja Vidic Fergie clearly did not want to take risks. Our starting eleven and formation was testament to it.
Ronaldo was left alone up front, to chase down long balls and keep them. Rooney and Park were deployed on the wings top track back and harass Barca's wide attackers and stop the full-backs from supporting them. It worked as the hosts failed to create a single clear-cut chance in the whole game, Eto'o came closest when he fired into the sidenetting from a difficult angle.
But it deprived United of any attacking edge. Rooney did not have the licence to roam and therefore our engine was off. Scholes and Carrick collected an incredible amount of balls but their distribution was sloppy - though it was not only their fault as usually there was no one available because everyone was too occupied with their defensive tasks.
Hargreaves did brilliantly to neutralise Andres Iniesta at right-back and Messi, some nice touches and a couple of good dribbles aside, was anonymous - Evra and Park did a very good job on asphyxiating him.
There were some baffling things, too. I agree that the best thing to do at the Nou Camp against a below-par, confidence-lacking Barcelona side is to park the bus in front of goal and frustrate them. Especially as we have the home leg to look forward. But if this is our intention, why start with Carlos Tevez? He did all right, kept the ball quite well but he was useless when he should have tracked back and tackled the midfielder.
Meanwhile, on the bench was a midfielder tailor-made for this job: Anderson. I'd even suggest our attacks would have been more potent had he been on the pitch. The only thing I can think of is that he wasn't fully fit after all.
There is a lot of talk in the English press about how wonderful Barcelona and Messi were and all that - I find it baffling. If it was an English team against an Italian one, they'd talk about how the masterful discipline and resilience of the Italians kept out the hopelessly unimaginative English side. Double standars and a bit of self-loathing I guess.
I expected a lot, lot more from Barcelona. They passed the ball around nicely, their football was quite pretty but one-paced, predictable. Their attacking play made Wes Brown look like Baresi. I thought he would struggle against Eto'o and co. but he did his job flawlessly - due to the discipline of him and every other player and due to the blunt nature of Barca's attacks.
An away goal would have been nice and we had the perfect opportunity to get it but we must be pleased. An attacking approach might have resulted in a 3-2 defeat if we allowed Barcelona space: two away goals but a worse position than what we are in now.
I'm a bit disappointed that we could not keep the ball better, that we did not stretch them on the counter-attacks, using our pace but Fergie's approach was too defensive-minded for it. But you know what the hell? I witnessed too many crumblings away from home, when our defence simply collapsed. At times (Real Madrid 2000) our keeper kept us in the game, on other occasions (Real Madrid 2003) we lost heavily.
A deserved 0-0 draw away from home is more what I expected of this game - therefore I'm pleased. Let's hope we'll not ruin the good work at Old Trafford where we can't afford being cautious. We can and usually do beat everyone at home in the Champions League when we dare to attack them. Our defence is solid enough, especially if Vidic will be back and we have enough quick, energetic midfielders (Hargreaves, Anderson) to defend against counters.
The record holder for the most consecutive home wins in the Champions League is a home win away from the final of the competition. It's actually a great position, chaps.
Date:Thursday April 24 2008
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