Date:Monday April 9 2007
United face the most important game of their season tomorrow.
If you don't mind, I don't bother writing a report about Saturday's shambles of a game at Portsmouth - we lost due to pathetic mistakes at the back, profligacy and dodgy refereeing decisions (in this order).
It's time to look forward as an absolutely massive game is coming up - and United are short in every department.
All season we've been hearing how lucky we were with injuries but now we're preparing to turn over a 2-1 deficit without Vidic, Gary Neville, Silvestre, Park, Scholes (he's fit, of course) and Saha: looks a daunting task. Saha has not recovered fully from his hamstring injury and Sir Alex hinted he might not be included on the bench as he should not be risked before he's in a 100% condition.
Evra needs match practice and Richardson proved on Saturday that he's a Championship player so picking the team will be straightforward for Sir Alex: the only question is whether Smith or Ole will partner Rooney up front. Not so bad but we will have only one man (either Ole or Smith) on the bench to turn the game around if things are not going well...
As I had said, it's the most important game of the season. Chelsea seem to win 1-0 no matter how badly they play - and they played very badly again... - so our lead suddenly looks slender. Elimination from the Champions League would be a hammer blow that would destroy the remnants of our confidence and I think we'd go to a slide like Arsenal are doing now.
José Mourinho said he would be rooting for us tomorrow as it would do no harm for their title chances if we progressed. I disagree. Knocking out Roma means we will go into the games against Watford and Sheffield full of confidence and needless to say, these matches can boost the morale even further as neither is looking particularly difficult. We can put our season back on track even with a Chelsea-type 1-0 victory tomorrow.
Of course, keeping a clean sheet will be viciously difficult. Roma are a very good attacking team and they will test Edwin van der Sar with a lot of distant efforts as it's clear that our Dutch hero is out of form. His errors have gifted our opponents three goals in two games and with a makeshift defence in front of him, we can hardly expect that United won't concede. That means Carrick and Fletcher will have a very important job: they must shield the defence, not giving space to Roma's creative midfielders - and a lone striker who, hopefully, will be someone else than Francesco Totti who is struggling with a worrying hamstring injury. His absence would be a hammer blow for Roma as I believe they must score to go through.
So, Carrick and Fletcher must be patient, closing down Roma every time they get the ball. We must not be exposed on the break as that could be fatal. I strongly believe that Giggs, Rooney and Ronaldo will cause them serious problems even without Scholes so I expect we will score - and if we take the lead, the Italians will struggle.
Hopefully, this time the ref won't be behind them - Lubos Michel is a very good referee and hopefully does not bear any grudges against English teams or does not like Italian football.
The ref could still help them but one thing that was very important for Roma in the first leg won't be here for them now: their fans. Stadio Olimpico's intimidating atmosphere is a great boost for the home team but now it will be the Old Trafford crowd who have to prove they can produce a fantastic atmosphere without stabbing and beating up anyone. We have a huge responsibility: we must be patient and must cheer on the team relentlessly. We need to give 120%.
Date:Monday April 9 2007
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