Archive for April, 2008

Singing the Barcelona Blues

Posted on April 25, 2008  by Stretford-end  in Man United   No Comments »

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, 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.

By Yolkie 

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Goodies and Baddies

Posted on April 10, 2008  by Stretford-end  in Man United   1 Comment »

So here we are at the business end of the season, with just a handful of games remaining – 7 as things stand, hopefully 8, 7 or 8 games that will determine whether United can win a historic double, or retain the Premier League while suffering European heartbreak, or let the league slip though winning the European Cup, or even (God Forbid) faltering completely in the last stretch and having no shiny new toys to polish and display over the summer.

For fans of a football team, as you get older, you realise that these other teams competing with you have invested just as heavily in time, effort, finance and emotion to get to the same stage – yet why do we regress to the child like emotion of feeling like we’re the “goodies” defeating the “baddies”? He-Man to Skeletor, Teenage Mutant Hero (or Ninja?! What’s all that about) Turtles to Krang, Batman to Joker/Penguin/Riddler, etc, the list goes on. In essence, you know that the baddies are not as good or as strong as you, but you know if you show one flinch, one little weakness and they can get you momentarily.

I don’t know, maybe it’s just me that feels that way, maybe it’s a result of pre-conditioning in this all consuming media era – maybe having lived through such a cynical age, where success breeds contempt, where such beauty in the game is met with jealousy while inferior products are lavished with praise in a blatantly transparent attempt to undermine superiority, maybe it’s that feeling that despite several attempts at being knocked down (and god knows, we’ve been on our knees a few times) a last minute winner, or a comprehensive 3 or 4 nil battering (read, football masterclass) of your closest rivals still feels like a triumph of good over evil, especially as a Manchester United fan.

Was I alone in feeling a sense of justification when Ryan Giggs tore Arsenal’s defence in 1999, the football equivalent of a man deciding not to climb a mountain, but barge through it waving a victory flag and planting it? Was I alone in feeling the same defiant justification when David Beckham slotted in a FA Cup semi final winner in 1996 at Villa Park, the same ground we were defeated 8 months previous to prompt certain sections of the media to signal the death knell of Fergie’s domination? Was I alone in living the football dream in 1999 as movie-storyline games against Liverpool, Arsenal, Juventus, Barcelona and Bayern Munich gave us the comic book scenarios while the rest of the country were willing us to defeat? Was I alone in feeling that our title win last season was akin to David slaying the Goliath of Chelsea despite all the odds, and still with a bunch of local lads supplying the vital infratstructure? No. And I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in feeling that this season, the likes of Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes are doing their Rocky Balboa “one more round, don’t know when they’re beaten” act, supplying class and experience to show the likes of Ronaldo and Rooney the way – scratch that, the Manchester United way.

As a supporter of the club that has provided more Roy of the Rovers style storylines than even a writer could dream up, it completely amazes me how we are constantly overshadowed for any real recognition, but in actual fact, that lack of recognition makes every such victory all the more sweeter. The fear of failure is a real one – the price you pay as a United fan is you don’t get the pat on the backs from supporters of other clubs no matter how great the achievement, but in defeat, they are all vultures – it is a situation exclusive to United – Chelsea came close but were still receiving kudos for their financially fuelled domination by the time the Red Devils reclaimed their spot at the top of the tree.

But then, I’m sure every supporter feels this way..!

On Sunday we play Arsenal, baddies because of the 1990 brawl, baddies because Cantona was inexplicably sent off there in 94, baddies because they have not once accepted defeat against us with dignity, baddies because of Keown, Vieira et al in the 2003 brawl rematch, baddies because of Pizzagate, baddies because being outclassed in such a style that they are “renowned” for, they resort to kicking then moan when others do it to them. Baddies primarily because in all of the above situations, Arsenal, their players and management, were the antagonizers.

Add, of course, the sizeable sprinkling of media fawning they get for achievements that place them nowhere but firmly in the shadow of ours, then of course there is a little resentment – just not in the way that L’Arse fans think. The biggest pain of all is listening to them with their Andy Gray / Martin Tyler commissioned beliefs, Sky Sports supplied nicknames, armed with a defence that because the ex-Arsenal / Liverpool pundit board on Sky or BBC say nothing but good about Arsenal, it must be true, and weaned on a diet of drivel given by their manager, who clearly lives in a world where Arsenal have never done any wrong – they will always take the righteous “we’re no angels” yet vehemontly defend the undefendable with the most inane, incredulous patter you are likely to hear – failing that, of course, there’s always myopia.

If – and it’s a big if – our goodies can triumph against these media created “whizkids” (they are a good team, don’t get me wrong, but so are Liverpool..) on Sunday we will have taken a giant step psychologically towards the title, until our next “baddies” contest, at Stamford Bridge, a fortress they haven’t been defeated at in the league for a million years – as things stand, United could potentially write their own story by winning the league there. What sweeter way, in this of all years?

By Yolkie 

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