As contributor to this site in somewhat of a game anaylst capacity, I see it as my duty to write reviews and reports as straight and fair as possible with the expected hint of bias.
Fortunately this webpage allows me the blog to put across my personal opinion – and in the wake of a 0-0 draw at the Nou Camp, I have a few thoughts to air.
Wednesday nights game was the classic starter for the main course that will be served over the next two games – ultimately, the game was underwhelming, failed to live up to the hype, but strangely made you desire the next two games even more. Fergie’s team selection was leaked a few hours before the game and seemed so strange that it almost felt like a red herring, except that you sort of knew it was true. Knowing it was practically impossible for anything other than a 4-4-2, more surprises were afoot when it was clear Rooney was playing on the right hand side to counter the strength of Abidal.
Fair enough, we’re playing a great European side. Away. In an arena fit to grace any of the highest level games. By all means, start with the intention to shackle their strengths. If that’s all last night’s game was ever meant to provide Sir Alex with,then he played the game perfectly. Barcelona seemed toothless, I forgot Messi and Eto’o were playing, such was our commanding defence.
But surely I’m not the only United fan feeling that same sense of emptiness – we did the same containment job 8 years ago, as holders, in Madrid, only to capitulate at Old Trafford. And that’s the worst feeling – if we’d shown a little more adventure, stuck with the strategy that saw us score in Lyon and win at a canter in Rome, played Anderson, moved Rooney out to the left, imposed ourselves a little better – the game on Wednesday was there for the taking. Even if you forget the missed penalty and the two we weren’t awarded (we’re now at the stage where these ridiculous decisions are costing us, big time), we rode the “storm” of the first half and should have realised that we had a massive chance to take a lead in the tie. Even score with adventure, risking a goal on the counter.
A goal on Wednesday would have changed the entire complexion, even a goal in defeat.
The point I’m trying to make is that when all is said and done, the hard graft of 50-odd games leading up to this point gives you the reward of occasions such as the one in the Nou Camp – and while of course it is necessary to respect the opponents strengths, I can’t help but feel that there was an opportunity for our players to shine their own lights, an opportunity now gone and an opportunity that may come back to haunt United – let’s face it, it did when we played Monaco, and it did when we played Real. The result the other night has the same mental effect as a 1-0 defeat – well, at least, that is the mentality the players need to be in on Tuesday if we are to progress
United have to score twice at home and while you would back us to do it once, the problem is Barcelona’s plan is the same at home or away – it’s a counter attacking team, much like ours, and we will have the same threat to deal with as we had last night. Maybe that’s one leaf we should have taken from their book. Only time will tell – what it means for the second leg is that Old Trafford needs to be as hot as it was against Roma last year, as hot as that magnificent night in 1984 against our Catalan rivals. Moscow is tantalisingly close – United have some good omens, 11 straight home wins in Europe, no goals conceded in the knock out stages at Old Trafford, no goals conceded in 4 games consecutively in Europe – you would expect the last two records to be erased from existance in our next game, but as long as we keep the first one intact, we’ll be in the final.
It seems bizarre to be writing about this as a footnote, but Manchester United could all but seal the Premier League title with a win at Stamford Bridge tomorrow. A win will mean that any result against West Ham sees us lift the trophy at Old Trafford. Chelsea’s home record is incredible but their displays have been less than convincing – we have every chance to win tomorrow, I just hope the team selection reflects that.
Finally, on behalf of Stretford-End.com, I’d like to wish the Lampard family all the best through this awful time. Pat Lampard reportedly went to every match she could to watch Frank Jr play, and it is simply one of life’s incredible ironies that he will probably be missing for compassionate reasons in what would have been one of the biggest games of his career tomorrow. There will probably be a minutes silence and I implore any reds travelling who read this to observe it immaculately.