United Shot Themselves In The... Ankle
Rooney's ankle will dominate headlines but we should talk about the match first because there are plenty of lessons to be learned. Bayern Munich beat Manchester United 2-1 in the first leg of the Champions League quarter-final, in a game that United could and should have won.
We lined up in a 4-3-3, Park and Nani flanking Rooney and Scholes, Carrick and Fletcher in a midfield three. It was a reasonable starting line-up, the same that so cruelly dismantled Arsenal and against a Bayern team which had very mixed fortunes at home in the CL this season I expected a good performance.
We got off to a dream start: in the 2nd minute Nani's free-kick took a deflection off a defenders' head, it fell to Rooney who, having lost his marker, had no problem with sidefooting it under the bar from close range. Absolutely brilliant, couldn't have wished for a better start.
However, United failed to really capitalise on it even though Bayern's leaky defence threatened to fell apart whenever we probed them. But Fergie's now inherent caution meant that the central midfielders were too deep, the wingers were too concerned with tracking back instead of focusing on attack and we gradually allowed Bayern back into the game.
Having said that, we should have been 3-0 up before they had a real chance: Nani waltzed through the defence and sent a deft little shot wide, then his cross from the right hit the crossbar and near the end of the first half Fletcher outpaced Lahm on the left and his perfect cross eluded Demichelis' head and found Rooney who had time to control the ball but smacked it against Hans-Jörg Butt.
Still, United were 1-0 up at the break and though the passing wasn't good enough, we did not keep the ball well and left Rooney isolated for long periods, it was a satisfactory performance as we kept Bayern at bay fairly comfortably. Fergie admitted at half-time that we were okay but need to keep the ball better.
Well, that did not happen. Indeed, nothing happened. We had three central midfielders yet Bayern enjoyed wide open spaces through the middle and we had to be grateful to Edwin van der Sar for saving long shot after long shot. Bayern weren't creative, especially as Ribery was well marshalled by Neville, Nani and sometimes Fletcher but with Scholes and Carrick playing way too deep we could never get a grip on the game.
We could never play the ball out of the box because of this deep defending so it kept coming back to us which, inevitably, led to a loss of concentration. We should have applied pressing in midfield: surely the midfield duo of Van Bommel and Pranjic could have been harried into making mistakes. But as we did not even attempt it, I can not tell. What I did see is that often the two centre-backs joined to help in midfield because they could do it as Rooney who had a good game, received no support whatsoever. They were visibly scared of him but on his own he could not win the game for us.
And, predictably enough, Bayern equalised after Gary Neville stupidly handled the ball outside the area. The resulting free-kick hit Rooney and deflected into the net, giving Edwin no chance whatsoever.
Outrageously enough, United summoned a little courage and camped in Bayern's half for 5 minutes or so, proving that despite atrocious performances from Scholes and Carrick we could still beat this Bayern side if we were bold enough to play our own game. Giggs' corner found Vidic and he smashed a header against the crossbar - an unlucky moment as taking the lead again that late on would surely have sealed our progress.
However, the defence's concentration ebbed away, strength and stamina were fading after the constant pressure from Bayern and they gave it a real go in the final minutes. By that time Carrick and Park were replaced by Berbatov and Valencia but in my opinion it was a grave mistake to leave Scholes on the pitch - quite simply, he did not have the stamina to keep up. Carrick was bad but at least he was rested at Bolton and played only 20 minutes or so.
Fergie's substitutes were surely made with the intent of improving our ball retention but Valencia made no real impact and while Berbatov, in my opinion, played well, he could not prevent Bayern from dominating the midfield. And we paid the price in the end: first Gomez had a real chance but Van der Sar saved well and then, minutes later, Evra was caught dallying on the ball in the box, Olic took it away from him and put it away calmly.
The sight of the Bayern players celebrating was sickening but the real blow was that in the build-up to the move, Rooney twisted his ankle and collapsed on the turf, unable to move. He left Allianz Arena on crutches and in a protective boot - which could mean that in 30 crazy seconds, United's season ended.
Two massive, massive home games coming up. A draw against Chelsea and a 2-0 win against Bayern would suit me fine, what about you?
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