Date:Wednesday May 21 2008
Manchester United 1999 probably wouldn't recognise Manchester United 2008. At least not in the Champions League.
The former had a relatively straightforward starting eleven: Schmeichel - Neville, Stam, Johnsen, Irwin - Beckham, Scholes, Keane, Giggs - Yorke, Cole. They played a very cavalier, attacking 4-4-2 no matter who the opposition were.
Their results reflected their adventurousness. They scored 27 goals en route to the finals and conceded a massive amount of 15. They scraped through from the group stages on second place with four draws and two wins.
In the knockout rounds they had a terribly exciting quarter-final against Inter: United quickly established a two-goal lead at Old Trafford and held on to it. The second leg was an end-to-end game with Inter creating more and taking the lead but Scholes equaliser near the end knocked them out.
The semi-finals against Juventus were epic and unforgettable with United saving the day with a last-minute equaliser at Old Trafford and then turning around a two-goal deficit to win the game and the tie at the Stadio delle Alpi.
And now behold Manchester United of 2008. I won't even attempt to describe our 'best XI' - a pointless and futile exercise. Our tactics varied from 4-4-2 via 4-5-1 to 4-3-3, with the occasional 4-2-3-1 thrown into the equation.
We were the statue of perfection in the group stage, winning the first five games to advance comfortably. The only real attacking show was against Dynamo Kiev who were stuffed 4-2 and 4-0. Otherwise, one-goal wins, solid defending and a creditable draw in the dead rubber that was Roma away.
Come the quarter-finals and though Lyon score from their only chance United lay siege to their goal and get the deserved equaliser. In the second leg we were attacking for 40 minutes before Ronaldo grabbed his usual goal then came the defending again which was faultless once more.
Roma, away: defensive counter-attacking play taken to perfection, the way we've never seen it before from a United team. Maybe we can credit Queiroz for our defensive prowess, especially as we blamed him for our feebleness earlier. We beat Roma, Italian title-chasers 2-0 at their own ground and the world started talking about United as the favourites.
Catenaccio was taken to another level in Barcelona: while everyone expected a thriller United went for a 0-0 draw and got it. A far cry from the 3-3 draws in 1998 which excited Europe.
The return leg was about a fantastic goal, solid defending and good counters again - as different from the 1999 team as it's possible. You may ask what my point is. Well, my point is that if any United team can ever beat Chelsea in a final, then this is it. But as it's so different from the one that reached its peak at the Nou Camp, expect no such drama what we had witnessed that night.
Date:Wednesday May 21 2008
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