Posts Tagged red devils
Having won the UEFA Champions League in 2005/06 (2-1 vs. Arsenal) and again in 2008/09 (2-0 vs. Manchester United), Spanish giants C. F. Barcelona now appear to be favourites to once again reclaim Europe’s most prestigious club competition following the semi-final first leg matches. According to statistics (from Opta Sports) no club has overturned a 2-0 defeat in 15 attempts at the semi-final stage of this competition, a result the Catalans achieved on April 27 against fierce rivals Real Madrid; all the better at the Santiago Bernabeu home of the Merengues.
The result may have been different had Real’s Portuguese defender and a sturdy defensive midfielder of late Pepe not been sent off quarter of an hour into the second half with scores still goalless, albeit it would be biased to let that take the shine off the very well executed brace by Argentine phenomenon Lionel Messi whose second saw him weasel past four white shirts before finally slotting past Iker Casillas for his 52nd goal of the season in all competitions for Barcelona and 36th goal in all his Champions League appearances, which has seen him go past German legend Gerd Muller on the all time top-scorers list.
Meanwhile a repeat of the 2008/09 final is on the cards after the Red Devils finally got two goals past the impressive Manuel Neuer of Schalke 04 in the second half after the German goalkeeper kept his side in the tie with a string of saves in the first half. Barring what happens to any of the teams’ players in the second leg matches, Manchester United stand in better frame to match the ingeniousness of Barcelona. However, it would be very difficult for Sir Alex Ferguson’s side to reclaim a trophy it won in the 2007/08 season.
First factor going against United is the unfair fluidity Pep Guardiola’s charges have attained when it comes to team play, which leaves opposition teams either having to play a faster pace game, have at least a 90% completion rate in its passing game and then have a minimum of three players that each can produce a moment of magic from any part of the pitch. There also is going about grinding the game to scrap, not allowing Barcelona the fluidity they have perfected and successfully implemented in a majority of matches in all competitions this season before then going about to win such match.
And yes, United’s attacking third comprising an in-form Wayne Rooney with goals and assists paired with this season’s revelation in perhaps all of Europe, Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernandez with his great technique at positioning and not just goals scored but important match winners time and again that have seen him earn himself a starting shirt ahead of Dimitar Berbatov (left out completely in the Champions League semi-final first leg at Germany) can pose quite a threat to the rampaging Catalans.
This is complemented by Edwin van Der Sar who stands stalwart between the sticks, the imposing Nemanja Vidic who is the heart of the Red Devils’ defence and a midfield based more on effectiveness than on flair through veterans Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs alongside Michael Carrick and Anderson with Nani especially and Antonio Valencia most capable of the flair part of the business.
All that said, whichever of the aforementioned midfielders Sir Alex puts in the starting line-up must play like they sometimes have over this season in order to not see Rooney having to come deep just to get a feel of the round leather, a scenario the Red Devils team must avoid otherwise Chicharito would be left isolated upfront and Rooney would have been taken some distance from a range where he can actually cause damage.
It would be the best starting Scholes as he has the ability to achieve a pass completion rate the Barcelona forwards enjoy supply from their midfield while starting Giggs would be a better idea than starting Luis Nani as the vastly experienced Welshman has been more consistent over the season and more so lately than the Portuguese whom one isn’t sure would turn up on match-day. Carrick is also capable of achieving a good pass completion rate but like Nani, one can never know which Michael would turn up on match-day.
Based on this seeming uncertainty in midfield that normally would not be glaring against most other oppositions, United may still just find Barcelona a riddle a bit too hard to sort out.
Seeing the starting XI, it was a little surprise the match at Old Trafford between Manchester United and Rangers of Scotland ended goalless while Werder Bremen’s previous experience in the competition came in handy in the German side’s draw at home to UEFA Champions League debutantes Tottenham Hotspur.
Against the Scots, the Red Devils were just a touch off being lethargic on the night largely thanks to Sir Alex Ferguson’s wisdom to ‘rest’ Edwin Van der Sar, Nani, Paul Scholes (for the love of God, your best performing midfielder?), Dimitar Berbatov (yes, the Bulgarian’s starting to put in performances deserving of the money spent to bring him here…three seasons after!) and Ryan Giggs, who only came on for the last half hour after Antonio Valencia suffered a bad looking ankle injury.
Before the introduction of Giggs, United desperately lacked verve, ideas to slice the visiting defence open; still props should be given for their performance on the night, and apparently the will to win the match as it were. Safe for Darron Gibson’s efforts from long range, it was a near ghastly show-up…near ghastly, it would have been ghastly had Rangers converted any one of its four shots on target.
So what was Sir Alex thinking with his selection for the night, especially in light of Valencia’s (the club now) ease of dispatching their Turkish hosts Bursaspor 4-0. The Spaniards are clearly faring well so far with life after the Davids – Villa and Silva – and former Getafe forward Roberto Soldado looked good in Turkey and rounded up the scoring there.
David Villa got on the score sheet as well for Barcelona that rallied from a 20th minute Sidnei Govou opener for Panathinaikos to see off the visiting Greeks 5-1 at Camp Nou in a match that saw Lionel Messi wreak havoc from right after the opening goal – even though he managed to miss a penalty ten minutes to half time.
Other results saw defending champions Inter Milan, as feared in this post http://wp.me/puIC6-3u found the trip to FC Twente not so rosy though the neutral and more especially the Twente fans will take the 2-2 draw any day. Argentine striker Diego Milito just can’t stop scoring though this time round, he got Twente’s second goal on the night in the Group A encounter. That group remains open for all clubs after an identical result was achieved despite Tottenham Hotspur leading 2-0 after 20 minutes of the match with goals either side of half time earning Werder Bremen a draw at home and a good point earned by Spurs.
Group B saw Benfica beat Hapoel Tel Aviv of Israel 2-0 in Lisbon while Olympique Lyon could only manage a lone goal win at home to Schalke 04. Barcelona lead Group D on a healthy goal difference ahead of Danish side FC Copenhagen that left it late before defeating Obafemi Martins’ Rubin Kazan by a lone goal.