Date:Wednesday October 3 2007
United are very close to getting through from the group stage of the Champions League after beating AS Roma 1-0 thanks to a wonderful goal by Wayne Rooney.
But I've still feeling that our season's got to kick in. Carling Cup notwithstanding, our first team won their last seven games without conceding a SINGLE GOAL. That is in itself magnificent but this time Roma came close on three or four occasions while we weren't creative enough again.
Fergie omitted the out-of-form Giggs, replacing him with Nani and relegated Tevez to the bench, calling on Louis Saha. Vidic recovered to play and John O'Shea took the right-back post.
Well, he needed time to settle in and in the first quarter of hour I felt the worst when Mancini bore down on him with the ball at his feet. The Brazilian wasn't in sparkling form but often took advantage of O'Shea sloppy positioning and in the first 15 minutes, Roma were the better team though they created nothing.
United, like waking up from a deep sleep, gradually assumed control but it only showed in possession and territorial advantage. A couple of promising crosses were the most we could create. Rooney was subdued, Saha was always surrounded and they closed down space effectively to restrict Nani and Ronaldo on the wings.
Fans so often called for the re-introduction of the 4-4-2 formation: weel, now they got their wish but the performance did not seem better at all. We could not break down a resilient Roma midfield and defence and too often infuriatingly conceded possession. The first half's only real chance came when our best attacking player, Nani dribbled down to the byline and his teasing cross eluded everyone in the centre and found Rooney who without controlling it, fired over the bar.
I was hoping against hope during the break that something will change in the second-half. Well, it didn't. United tried hard but without any real conviction. The Romans still tried to shoot on every opportunity but fortunately none of these shots were well-struck and Kuszczak seemed confident. We seemed to give up the weapon of the long shot for the second 45 minutes after in the first half Saha and Ronaldo tested Curci.
It was clear that whichever team would score that will win the game. Seeing Rio Ferdinand's imperious display at the back, I hoped that we would do that though lack of concentration often let us down at the back and we presented the Italians with a lot of shooting opportunities. But all the deflected shots came to nothing, fortunately. Roma had a weak penalty claim when Mancini tumbled under minimal contact from Carrick but the referee waved play on. It would have been extremely harsh to award a penalty for that.
The ref didn't award it and it was United who broke the deadlock on 70 minutes.
It was a goal worthy of the English champions and worthy of the Champions League even though you could hardly say that about the rest of the game. Ronaldo's backpass found Carrick who surged forward, sent a clinical pass to Nani who brilliantly played in Rooney. The England striker looked up and fired the ball into the far low corner, his shot taking a deflection off the post. It was an inch perfect shot and the only angle with which the ball could elude Curci but still hit the back of the net.
I though that our experience, stubborn back-line and the memories of the 7-1 would ease us through the rest of the game but it was far from the case of course. Our midfield was too often overrun because after the goal Scholes and Carrick positioned themselves in front of the back four, leaving wide open spaces in midfield. Of course it could have meant that Roma dominate possession but can't find a way through a crowded penalty area.
But it wasn't the case, resoundingly not. Our two central midfielders did not seem to know what is their exact job and how should they position themselves. As a result, it was often complete chaos in the previously cool and composed defence. Rio and Vidic could have done their job lot better had Fergie not ordered back his midfielders to help them out. And I'm deadly serious.
But fortunately Roma spurned their chances and we could breat a sigh of relief. It was difficult though: Ronaldo had been elbowed in the face and therefore he wasn't on the pitch for the last five minutes. And we must mention that in the first half Daniele De Rossi should have been sent off for a definitely nasty challenge, he lunged at Ronaldo's knee with the ball nowhere in sight. But all these things hardly mattered and though substitute (and quite lively) Anderson could have scored a goal had Giggs put him through a moment earlier, we must be happy with the 1-0 win. After all, we've collected 6 points in the Champions League with a 2-0 goal difference. Can't get more effective than that, surely?
Of course I still have my doubts and worries. I still believe that with the quality players we have United will start playing good football. But when? And until that point, will we be able to grind out victories in this manner? Right now we can be rightfully called the new Chelsea. But I hope it won't last and we'll be back to our familiar, free-scoring ways.
Date:Wednesday October 3 2007
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