Date:Thursday March 12 2009
Manchester United have done it. We have not been buried in that graveyard of holders, the last 16 of the Champions League. There were a few nervous moments all right but the European champions deserved to go through and deserved their 2-0 win tonight.
Fergie sprang a little surprise by starting with Paul Scholes alongside Michael Carrick but it looked like his gamble would pay off as United took the game to the Italian champions right from the start. Two corners in quick succession showed that the holders mean business - and they went ahead due to Nemanja Vidic's simple but brilliant header.
It was baffling to see Vida being left alone in acres of space but I suppose Patrick Vieira had to answer some unpleasant questions about it - he never came back to the pitch after half-time. But before the break United had to endure nervous moments despite their domination in the first 20 minutes. Inter, throwing caution to the wind, started to play quick, expansive football which rattled our somewhat complacent troops.
Many reports claim that in this period we played too slowly: I disagree, I think that our players too often went for the spectacular, quick pass rather than opting for the patient approach which served us so well at the San Siro - even though I agree with Fergie's assessment that when we played quickly and precisely Inter could not live with us. United still had the more possession but we gave the ball away too often too unnecessarily.
Ibrahimovic had too much space to spread the ball around with his back to the goal and he almost scored his first ever goal in the Champions League knockout stages when he headed the ball against the bar following Maicon's free-kick.
Stankovic also had a real chance, firing above the bar after Evra totally failed to mark him at the far post - the Frenchman looks a bit tired mentally, the one week rest after the Liverpool game will come at the best possible time for him. After Stankovic's chance Ibrahimovic fired wide from the right and that spelled the end of Inter's attempts to fight.
In between these efforts, United could have dealt a severe blow when Rooney's brilliant pass found O'Shea clear, unmarked 10 yards from goal. But it's O'Shea we're talking about and he simply fired the ball into Julio César.
Scholes was anonymous in midfield - his defensive work was non-existent and he either A) played square 5 yard passes or B) launched the ball forward to no man's land. Most fans around me agreed that a change would be necessary, that Fletcher could make life much more uncomfortable for Inter's midfielders but Fergie disagreed.
It might have been our downfall but the players quickly demonstrated that they did not have the intention of going out here. They started the second half in similar fashion as the first one and the excellent, evergreen Ryan Giggs created space for himself on the edge of the box, found Scholes who quickly passed the ball to Rooney. He hesitated a little then sent an inch-perfect cross into the box which was met by the unmarked Ronaldo who got there before Julio César and headed it into the empty net.
Old Trafford erupted and you could sense that it knocked the stuffing out of Inter. Especially as minutes after the goal Adriano hit the post from Cambiasso's cross - this another piece of misfortune clearly drained the remnants of the visitors' confidence and United cruised through the rest of the game.
Scholes was substituted in the 70th minute and got a standing ovation which his personality deserves every time but his football didn't tonight. His replacement, Anderson didn't have a tough assignment: Inter were deflated and it was increasingly obvious how easy it was for Ryan Giggs to run rings around them. Berbatov could have added the third while the excellent Rooney and the somewhat quiet Ronaldo had powerful shots saved by Julio César but these hardly mattered.
There weren't two goals between the teams tonight. But United won 2-0, deserved to win and deserved to go through as we were the better team for 150 minutes of the tie. Half an hour of good football is simply not enough against the reigning European champions. Not special enough, Jose.
Date:Thursday March 12 2009
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