Date:Sunday April 27 2008
I'll say it again: I think we were right to prioritise containing Barcelona in the Nou Camp and our draw there is a good result. Therefore, the catenaccio of that game is justifiable.
However, going for the draw to Chelsea is a huge, huge mistake. Unfortunately, they are not Arsenal or Barcelona, making pretty passes that lead to nowhere. They play route one football designated to break down every defence with sheer power. It's of course helpful if the linesmen are your friends but that's football for you.
We should have pressed them, try to force them to make mistakes as technically they are nowhere near as gifted as Barcelona. Instead we tried the same thing: line up in front of the box and wait for them to do something.
There were only two periods in the game when we looked like ourselves: when we were trailing. After the first goal we replied in a positive and dangerous fashion and got our just reward. We should have gone for the kill as our lads were clearly enjoying their football - but the injuries to Rooney and Anderson triggered Fergie to withdraw his team into its shell again.
After the second goal, maybe the perceived sense of injustice helped, too but we mustered two brilliant chances to equalise and could consider ourselves unfortunate not to get a point.
But it tells you something: this team is at its best when it's allowed to go out and play. Really, it's not rocket science anyway: we are full of gifted attacking players. We are not Liverpool who play Dirk Kuyt on the wing. Not Chelsea whose most creative force is probably Didier Drogba (the way he creates space for others is admirable) and Michael Essien (by sheer amount of running).
We have three games to go - and hopefully four. In order to make it four we must throw down the shackles and attack Barcelona, batter them into submission: many teams tried it this season and most did it successfully. Quite simply, their suspect defence must be put under severe pressure: after all, even Ricardo Carvalho cracked when we dared to attack. They do not have a defender of the Portuguese's quality.
Rooney, Ronaldo and Tevez scored two thirds of our goals. Therefore it's only natural that they should start in a fluid front three. Scholes, Anderson and Hargreaves to support them: that should achieve a good blend of pace and passing and tackling.
If we throw off the shackles and do not try too be too clever I expect we shall have too much for a Barcelona team who have too much experience of losing this season. An early goal could totally rock them - and that's why we must not allow that fear of an away goal dominate our minds. We must go for the jugular.
As for West Ham and Wigan - it's sort of obvious, isn't it? These are two teams with nothing to play for: Wigan are safe, West Ham are tenth. The Hammers became our bogey team, and I shudder to think of previous experiences of important April and May games against them - but the two most famous, 1992 and 1995, happened at Upton Park. This time, we shall be at Old Trafford.
Neither of these two should cope with a full-strength United attacking at full speed. It's no coincidence that we top the league with a supreme goal difference: it's because when we attack at full pelt, we are unplayable for most teams. That is something Fergie should not forget. Perhaps it's time to make him watch a video of a certain game played on April 10th, 2007.*
*yes, the 7-1 victory over Roma
Date:Sunday April 27 2008
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