Date:Monday April 28 2008
United are only a home win away of getting into the Champions League final. It's actually an enviable position, after all, there are thousands of clubs all across Europe who can only dream about it. Yet we have our own problems.
Wayne Rooney and Nemanja Vidic are both major doubts after suffering injuries at Chelsea. Vidic's case is more straightforward: he was kicked in the face and lost a tooth yet I think that with painkillers or a special mask, he'll be able to play and sat out training only as a pre-caution.
Rooney's case is a more difficult one. He aggravated an earlier injury at the Bridge after he received a knock to his hip bone. It severely restrains his movement and causes pain so if the medical staff can't clear the problem he will be unable to play.
Sir Alex Ferguson stated he will give every chance for the pair to prove their fitness as it is a hugely important game. I'm not surprised: we can cope without both against West Ham but Barcelona is a different proposition.
I've made this several times but I will do it again: with all due credit to the fantastic Cristiano Ronaldo, the most important player to our attacks, the heart of our best moves is Wayne Rooney. There is that statistic that says we haven't lost a league game this season when he was on the pitch. He wasn't on the losing side even on Saturday as he came off when it was 1-1, having scored the equaliser.
It's just that we sometimes look devoid of ideas without Rooney, the team lacks a defined shape when he's absent. It's no coincidence that we could not effectively counter Barcelona: with Rooney isolated on the wings we had no one to orchestrate things on the break.
I'm not happy that we are so hugely dependent on one player but the truth is that only too frequently fail to produce decent football without him. Especially when the stakes are so high. He would cause huge problems for Barcelona's decidedly shaky centre-backs if allowed to attack them. He can play on defenders' shoulders, drop deep, give assists, making the team tick.
In his absence, the burden on Ronaldo and Tevez would just be too high as it so frequently happens. To put it bluntly: without Rooney we would most probably have to rely on good defending and one of the two (more probably Ronaldo) nicking a goal through a set-piece or individual brilliance.
There is one last cause for optimism. The last time we started without Rooney was in the Champions League quarter-final against Roma - and we played very well in that game. The thing is, the tie was effectively over after the first leg then. This time we've got everything to play for.
Date:Monday April 28 2008
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