Posts Tagged ‘Champions League’
After I looked at the kind of group that we could end up drawing last week, I concluded that our easiest group would be CSKA, BATE Borisov and Otelul Galati. I got my wish out of pot 4 (which is fairly irrelevant so long as you miss Dortmund / Napoli, which we did but City didn’t) but despite missing from the other two pots, we can be pretty happy with the teams we’ve drawn. We face Benfica and Fake Barcelona, against whom we have excellent records, and meet Otelul Galati for the first time in our history.
The Champions League draw is this afternoon, and it’s an interesting one. Because a few teams have come from nowhere to be genuinely top class in the past year or so (namely Napoli and Dortmund) there are some Pot 4 teams who wouldn’t look out of place in Pot 2 and, given the decline of the likes of Zenith St Petersburg and Arsenal, there’s crap in the upper pots too. This makes it almost impossible to predict the kind of draw we’re going to get.
I am constantly amazed by the number of Manchester United fans who post their predicted lineups to various forums and on various blogs before our massive games and leave out Park Ji-Sung.
Even in the run-up to our recent games against Chelsea, people were putting Nani and Valencia wide, Scholes in the middle, Anderson… it seemed that they were trying anything that they count think of to keep Park Ji-Sung out of the team.
This is absolutely insane because, if one player has proved himself time and again to be the man for the big occasion, it’s our Korean livewire. This season, he has been absolutely immense and pivotal against Arsenal at home and three times against Chelsea, along with his lower-key but no less decisive contribution against Wolves at home. When the chips are down, Park is your man.
Because of this, he is an absolute 100% certainty to start against Barcelona a week on Saturday.
Is Park the most underrated Manchester United player of the Premiership era? It’s not unfair to say that his performances against Chelsea have bordered on matchwinning. He was absolutely outstanding on Sunday, and I shudder to think what would have happened to my fingernails if he hadn’t scored seconds after Drogba in the Champions League.
The important question we need to ask, though, is can he shackle Leo Messi? Jose Mourinho has showed that, if you can keep Leo Messi quiet, then Barcelona make less of an impact. Of course, Andres Iniesta could still boss you, and Xavi is serene no matter what you throw at him, but it’s Messi that can be the game-breaker. Messi is likely to drop into Park’s territory plenty of times, and with our lad’s engine and energy, if he has a good day he could keep Messi quiet.
This means that we can then concentrate on winning the individual duels elsewhere on the field. If we get overrun in midfield, we will lose, and it’s possible that we could see a deeper-lying Rooney than at any other stage this season.
With the midfield battle theoretically won, we have a platform to hurt Barcelona who, if they can be exposed, don’t have the best backline in the world. By a long, long way. Key to that will be Park, assuming the armchair managers amongst you pick him.
If we have learned just two things about football in the past 24 hours, they are that Javier Hernandez is human, and Manuel Neuer is not.
I have waxed lyrical on this blog about the ability of the Schalke number 1 beforeand, although I was becoming resigned to the fact that David De Gea was looking more and more like our number one target given Neuer’s apparent preference for a move to Bayern Munich, I hope that plenty more people will now see things my way.
I still hang on to a distant hope that, after he plays at Old Trafford, he will decide that he’d quite like to play there every week, especially given the Schalke fans protests at his desire to join Bayern.
Quite apart from the saves that Neuer made to keep Schalke from being utterly blown away in the first half, he has this massive presence in goal that I haven’t seen since Oliver Khan, and Schmeichel before him. You almost felt that Hernandez and friends were afraid to shoot in the first half, deeming it pointless.
It took us the best part of 70 minutes pure domination to finally get the ball past him, and even then it was down to the capitulation of a Schalke defence that was given an utterly torrid time by Wayne Rooney and, most criminally, Antonio Valencia, who was given so much space and time on the right wing he could have grown vegetables.
I’m almost more encouraged by Hernandez’s contribution overall, even though he didn’t manage to hit the back of the net. We now know how he reacts to missing a few chances; he goes out looking for more. He works his socks off, hangs off the last man, and looks a constant menace with his pace and sharpness. His finish for his disallowed goal, too, was utterly brutal.
Throw in an assist for Rooney on top, and you have a good night for the Little Pea, even if it wasn’t truly great.
Key to our ability to absolutely overrun a Schalke midfield was Michael Carrick, who shielded the back four brilliantlyand shifted the ball all over the pitch with the minimum of fuss. Where are the Carrick bashers now? Tweeting Gibson? If anyone wants to know why he’s been handed a contract extension, then they need to watch the DVDs of the Chelsea second leg and last night’s game, and then STFU.
Ryan Giggs has never won a game of football at Molineux. He’s now done everything else. Oldest Champions League goalscorer, United appearance record holder, most medals ever awarded to a British footballer… if you asked someone which player was 33 and which 37, and showed them Giggs and Raul last night, they’d wonder if you had made a mistake and meant 27 years instead.
It’s not difficult to see how Schalke beat Inter if you know your football. They come forward quickly, have a keeper that inspires confidence and seem to ride their luck. Italian clubs can, periodically, struggle with teams that play a fast pace and, alongside England and France, German football is the quickest there is. However, to Manchester United they’re just another team.
The second leg SHOULD be a formality, but of course there are no certainties in Champions League semi-finals. Ask Claudio Ranieri. Even so, I’m confident that we’ll be visiting Wembley at the end of May, for a crack at our 4th European title.
It’s 24 hours since the final whistle blew at Stamford Bridge, and I am still absolutely buzzing about the result. Winning 1-0 there was absolutely beyond even my wildest dreams. I don’t think I found a single United blogger predicting that we would win. Most of us seemed to go for 1-1, and the rest seemed to settle for a good 2-1 defeat with an away goal.
That we did it AND got to enjoy the Chelsea fans being totally shafted by the referee in the last minute makes it all the sweeter. How does it feel boys, how the fuck does it feel?
Of course, it would be folly to get carried away with things. I can’t see Chelsea going the whole tie without scoring, which means that we’ll have to get another at Old Trafford. I had visions of Nani clipping that 1 on 1 over Cech as he raced through, and at 2-0 it would have been a completely different proposition, but Chelsea still need to score twice to win. They’re not going to want penalties. They’re still shit scared of them.
Still, when we look back on this performance we will remember it for one thing above all else – Michael Carrick’s emergence from the shadow cast by the boo-boys. Absolutely immense defensively, expansive, probing, and an absolutely perfect pass to Giggs in the build up to Rooney’s goal. If Michael Carrick isn’t the first name on the team-sheet in the run-in, then it better best be Nemanja Vidic.
I hope the irony of blaming the referee for the result is not lost on the Chelsea fans. They get the rub of the green match after match, year after year, and when they finally get one decision go against them, they all start bitching and moaning about how much of a disgrace it is. Well, sorry guys, welcome to our world. Besides, the foul was outside the box, even if no referee in the world is ever going to give a free kick in that situation. Penalties every time, as we saw against West Ham at the weekend.
Even without that, Chelsea didn’t really threaten beyond periods of extended pressure. their one flurry of post and two goal-line blocks just before half time, and the wonder save Edwin made from Fernando Torres.
Fernando Torres. The boy looks completely, utterly destroyed by the way his Chelsea career has started. Absolutely lost. The fans are on his back, he’s not sure that he has the support of his players or his manager, and he can’t even begin to see where his next goal is coming from. Since he last scored he’s hit the post, had goals disallowed, had shots cleared off the line, and seen Edwin claw out a header which, to be fair, was basically perfect. He must feel like going home every night, curling up into a little ball and dying.
His tepid performance made the decision to remove Drogba all the more puzzling. He was causing us all sorts of problems, and I was delighted to see the back of him.
Anyway, so what, he’s not our problem. Up front, we don’t have a problem. Wayne Rooney is once again firing on all cylinders, and looks almost back to his devastating best from last season. Dimitar Berbatov oozes class every time he comes on to the field and Javier Hernandez, even if he does struggle to make an impact in the more physical games, could score a goal at absolutely any moment.
Antonio Valencia doesn’t look like he’s been away. Likewise Park and, with Anderson scoring twice for the reserves this weekend, we have pretty much our full compliment of midfielders available. Just Fletcher out with his mystery virus.
This all bodes so, so well for the end of the season. Still, if we’re even going to start breating the t-word, we have to follow this up with a win at the weekend. However ecstatic I am with this result, I will be more pissed off than that if we drop points. With our fixtures, we simply cannot.
Our form is fantastic, though. I’m sure we won’t. Fingers crossed.
It’s quite a big step for me to admit that, at the moment, perhaps Dimitar Berbatov isn’t part of our first XI. He’s certainly not the man in form and, perhaps fatally, not the man with age on his side either.
It would be almost unthinkable in most scenarios to consider the leagues top scorer to be any team’s third choice center forward, and it’s certianly not a negative reflection on Berbatov as a player or as a bloke, as he’s absolutely top bracket in both regards.
Part of the blame (if we are to call it that) must land at the feet of Sir Alex Ferguson, who has only sparingly given Berbatov the chance to shine in the big games this season. Mostly, however, it’s down to both the sudden return to form of Wayne Rooney and the inexorable rise of little Javier Hernandez.
I love Berbatov, but last night was not made for him. We scored two great goals which exhuded the cut-and-thrust of our attacking play at it’s best. The pace and movement of the front two and the wingers caused Marseille touble only sporadically, but when it did they were unplayable.
Pace and movement are two areas in which Berbatov does not excel, but Rooney and Hernandez base their entire games on being good in them. Rooney, when on song, dominates the space between the opposition lines much like Scholes, his range of passing second to none. Hernandez, on the other hand, is the master craftsman in the penalty area, possibly the most supremely talented poacher I have seen in many a year.
As an extra bonus, Antonio Valencia appears to have slipped seamlessly back into the team and is brilliantly linking with these two right from the off. Although admittedly we have no idea how he would meld with Berbatov this time around, this late in the season isn’t the time for experimentation.
Instead, we get to ride the crest of a wave of striking form towards the three trophies that we’re still in with a shout of winning. Whilst I still think we’ll come unstuck against some genuine quality should we meet Barcelona or Real Madrid, if we manage to avoid those guys until the final (they could draw each other in the quarters or semi still) we could beat anyone in a one-off game.
In all honesty, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to see where Berbatov fits in to our fast, and mobile front four. Could it be that he would be the best value player to sell in the summer? I’d date to see it happen because I love to watch Berbatov play, but selling Rooney now he appears to be back on form and interested again, for all my personal distate for the guy, would be footballing suicide.
Last night was far more nervy than it needed to be and, once again, you can say that we got bossed in the midfield for long periods, especially in the second half. Marseille have a plethora of huge physical defenders of African origin, although some (Taiwo) fall over way too easily.
Quite how Marseille failed to score I will never know. Their finishing was about as deadly as a bath plug, and there is a school of thought that we were lucky to get through. Indeed, if Gignac and Diawara had both taken their woefully wasted chances, it would have left us needing a further two goals in the second half to progress. Of course, goals change games, and if Gignac had levelled our opener so quickly who knows how the game would have panned out?
Smalling etc etc.
Speaking of the defense, we’re now fucked again. With John O’Shea and Rafael out we have no fit right-backs. Wesley Brown can deputise, but it’s hardly his preferred position, and Fabio is more accustomed to playing left-back, so with Vidic out for three weeks it remains to be seen what shows up against Bolton at the weekend. Probably Evra, Smalling, Brown and Fabio, unless there’s a reserve we can chuck in. Wouldn’t fancy it at this stage of the season though.
Just over two weeks after Arsenal laughably ranted about winning an unprecedented quadruple, Manchester United are now closing in on the possibility of another famous treble. Of course, the toughest leg will be the Champions league which, should United progress past Marseille, will involve beating Real Madrid or Barcelona. The other teams in the quarter finals will be (or are likely to be) Shakhtar, Tottenham, Schalke, Chelsea and Inter or Bayern. Tough but winnable.
Of course, we need to get past Marseille first. With our path to the FA Cup now set in stone, and our fate in the league in our own hands, could our failure to get an away goal in Marseille cost us at home?
It could, but that’s without taking into account the fact that Marseille are a team in absolute disarray. One of their two main strikers, Brandao, has been fingered for rape and is not permitted to travel, so much will depend on the fitness of Pierre-Andre Gignac. It looks like he’s going to miss out, so Loic Remy and Benjamin Ayew will be the main threats, players we know little about.
There is also the little matter of a fit Valbuena to worry about. Little Matthieu might look like his head is way too big and his arms way too short, but he’s a top quality player and can hurt any team on his day. Let’s not forget what he did to the dippers.
Marseille also have a mean defence. They haven’t conceded a Champions League goal in bloody ages, about five hours, so if we think we’re just going to be able to knock them over at home then we have another thing coming.
None of this should detract from our own game plan, of course. We are on a high after our much needed win over Arsenal at the weekend, and with the return to fitness of Antonio Valencia, along with the unexpectedly rapid progress of Nani, we have the ingredients needed to beat Marseille, and comfortably.
Fletcher continues to be absent, but other than the usual long term absentees there are no other midfield issues as Carrick is fit. The improved performance of Darron Gibson on Saturday should see him retain his place, and one can only assume that the rest for Scholes means that he will be starting here. I also think Fabio should be retained from the start, keeping Tony available from the bench. The little Brazilian was a revelation on Saturday.
Wayne Rooney is showing signs of returning to his former glories, and Dimitar Berbatov, for whatever reason, doesn’t seem to be trusted in European games, so I’m not expecting to see him start. Nani’s remarkable return to fitness should see him start on the right.
The back five pick themselves, giving us the the team below, which I expect to see start tomorrow.
Marseille showed in the first leg that their main threat comes from pace down the flanks, so Rafael and Evra could be busy. Rooney, Fabio and Nani should be way too fast for a back line involving Gabriel Heinze, although our former player of the year did well in the first leg.
Five Cantonas Prediction
3-1. I think there will be an early scare when they equalise at 1-1, but we’ll pull away in the second half and grab a third when they’re chasing the game late on. Rooney, Gibson and… go on then, Valencia to score for us. Ayew for them.
That game was HORRIBLE. I haven’t been so bored watching United since we last played that bloody team in yellow. It was to be expected I suppose. Our record in France is as bad as tonight’s game was, so no doubt Fergie got what he came for.
It’s a little frustrating because, without Gignac and Valbuena, you have to feel that Marseille were there for the taking. They should offer more in the second leg going forward, which should be of concern because they have a very effective (huge, African) back four.
I still think we’re favourites though. Fairly comfortable ones, but we all know about the damage that one away goal can go. We will need to be positive but balanced in the second leg.
I was relatively impressed by Gibson, but he wasn’t and never will be a fitting replacement for Paul Scholes. The gulf in class between the two was apparent when Scholsey came on for his cameo.
Nani has the beating of Heinze, who looked woefully short of pace going back. Odd, considering he was actually a fairly effective outlet going forward. I expect him to make mincemeat of the mincing Argie at Old Trafford.
Other than that, in terms of lessons learned, things to take, incident… beats me. There are probably some awesome goals from South America you can watch over at 101 Great Goals. Go there instead. Don’t waste any more time on Manchester United away to Marseille.
Marseille aren’t a team most fans know too much about, but they have become regulars on the European scene lately.
We haven’t played them ourselves for 12 years, and they haven’t been in the Champions League knockout stage since their bribery-tainted victory in 1993. That said, they have impressed at times in their recent Champions League campaigns, which have included a victory over Liverpool at Anfield, and their squad is flecked with quality.
This season they look like they mean business. They won away at Spartak Moscow (3-0) and MSK Zilina (whatever…) and beat Chelsea at home, albeit after the rentboy’s form plunged off a cliff. They also made it through the group with only three goals conceeded. Only Manchester United and Real Madrid conceeded less.
Their main goal threat, Andre-Pierre Gignac, will miss the game, as previously mentioned, although Mathieu Valbuena has returned to training this week. Valbuena was a goalscoring part of the impressive France team which tore England a new one a few months back, and has been linked with a move to everyone good, including ourselves. Despite being short of match practice he should start.
How will United fare in Marseille?
- Win (75%, 12 Votes)
- Score draw (19%, 3 Votes)
- Lose (6%, 1 Votes)
- No score draw (0%, 0 Votes)
Total Voters: 16
Marseille are not short of experience, either, with the influential Lucho Gonzalez well into his second season at the club, and sixth in the Champions League. He is of course familiar to us from his time with Porto, who we seem to play remarkably often.
Their team also contains a certain Gabriel Heinze. I’m not sure where to begin with this dickhead, other to say that it will be an absolute pleasure to welcome the wannabe dipper back to Old Trafford, and thank him for his service. I thought we would miss him when he left, but I was not counting on Patrice being so, so good.
The tie offers United a chance to return to the Stade Velodrome, famous for it’s intimidating atmosphere. In 1999, we lost 1-0 to them, with a young William Gallas grabbing the only goal. A year prior, it was the scene of Dennis Bergkamp’s winner against Argentina, one of the great World Cup goals. England played Tunisia there in the group stages of that tournament. Amusingly, their record attendance was for the 2004 visit of Newcastle United.
Although Gignac is out and Valbuena short of games, we have injury problems ourselves, with the usual suspects out, along with Anderson, who picked up a knock against Crawley, and Ferdinand, who still hasn’t shaken off whatever minor niggle has got to him this time.
If he were still at United, and you’d asked me ten days ago, Heinze would probably have started at center back tonight, because we’re missing Rio Ferdinand again. I would have been reluctant to suggest Chris Smalling as an alternative due to his lack of experience, but he was so colossal against City that it would be ludicrous to leave him out. Composed, confident, dominant in the air, this kid is the real deal.
He will partner Vidic, with Evra and Rafael at full-back (although John O’Shea has come back into favour lately). Then it gets interesting. If Marseille go 4-3-3, I expect us to do the same, meaning Berba could, again, be the one to miss out. It’s a difficult one. Berba doesn’t really fit the system, although that’s more the fault of those around him than his own. We tend to be more effective overall with Rooney up top.
Nani is the first name on the teamsheet this season, and I expect Giggs to start on the other wing to provide experience. With Anderson out injured, a midfield of Scholes, Carrick and Fletcher pretty much picks itself once Giggs is wide, with Gibson looking woefully short of form.
Park’s absence is a blow, because I think he would have started this game, but I still think we’re strong enough to win this tie. Our away form is a concern, however, so I think we can expect a draw here.
Five Cantonas Prediction
1-1. Rooney to continue his renaissance, but they will grab one in the second half when they come at us. We will be happy with this result.
Shows what I know. No sooner do I post this, the news breaks that Giggs has not been named in the squad to travel, along with Rio, Owen and Anderson. Has he picked up a knock? Does this mean Rooney will play on the left with Berba up top?
Marseille are going to be missing their main man for at least the first leg of their tie against us. The game is on Wednesday evening.
Andre-Pierre Gignac has hit a rich vein of form after declaring that ”you will see the real Gignac in 2011″ following a poor end to 2010. He has a minor tissue strain, and should be fit for the second leg if there are no complications.
The game may also offer the United staff the chance to run the rule over Mathieu Valbuena, to whom we have been linked, and United fans the chance to show their appreciation for Gabriel Heinze, who handed in a transfer request in an attempt to force through a move to Liverpool.