United's Season Is As Good As Over
OK, this was a good, exciting season. United competed for major honours right till the very end and actually lifted a trophy, if only the Carling Cup. But now it's time to plan for next season.
We might start kidding ourselves that there is a title race in England; there isn't, Chelsea will win it and win it comfortably now. United proved again that they are jaded, their energies are rapidly ebbing away and though the players lifted themselves for one superhuman effort against Bayern Munich, it wasn't enough.
Why? Well, first because of a certain Mr. Rizzoli. The Italian referee allowed Bayern players to get away with murder but suddenly turned into a strict disciplinarian when he had to punish Rafael. The Brazilian right-back got a yellow card when he was tripped by Van Bommel and he tackled the midfielder from behind. The correct decision would have been a free-kick to United and then Rafael wouldn't have got a yellow card so early on.
Van Bommel proceeded to pick up a caution for an ugly challenge then hacked down Valencia on the edge of the area - no second booking. All right I thought, a patient referee. The Dutchman then targeted Wayne Rooney's injured ankle but his sneaky foul escaped the attention of Rizzoli - that should have been his third yellow card of the evening, even Graham Poll would have sent him off after those.
But he got away, unlike Rafael, who slightly tugged Ribery's arm who, in turn, pushed him away spectacularly. No booking for the Frenchman, second yellow to Rafael. Obviously.
United were imperious until that point, racing into a three-goal lead as Valencia and Nani tormented them beyond dignity and our midfield dominated. However, Bayern drew heart from a goal by Olic and the red card and they started to dominate possession. Yet United should have put the tie to bed: Nani and Carrick both missed good chances and Gibson had a great shooting opportunity but hit the ball straight at Butt.
And of course then came Robben who was poor up until that point and curled home the winner of the tie. We could not muster a response as the players were clearly out on their feet - Rizzoli ensured we were going out.
Are there positives? Yes, of course there are: we were wonderful in the first half and showed that we are still capable of some brilliant football. Nani's resurrection is still going strong, he scored two magnificent goals, the first was absolutely magic and the second was clinical. Valencia, as I said, was beyond brilliant, he was unstoppable. Then there is Rafael: unjustly sent off but he was superb before that, reducing Ribery to pouting and arguing with the officials (without punishment).
We wouldn't have been good enough to beat Barcelona anyway - at least now it will be Bayern who will be destroyed by Lionel Messi and co. As for United, we have to start planning for next season.