I’ve been trying my best to write a match report for the past hour or so. I bet this is going to be a bad one. It’s going to be incoherent, but it has to be done. So here goes…
Manchester United look set to gifting the title to Chelsea after being in the lead all this while. Sure, we still are in control of our destiny realistically. But we have to beat West Ham and Wigan to ensure we win the title. Also there is the small matter of a Barcelona side that needs to be seen off at OT on Tuesday; not too much time to recover one suspects, considering the Spanish giants rested six of the players in their weekend loss to Deportivo.
We, ran around for 90 minutes on Wednesday in Camp Nou and did an equal amount of running around yesterday. Trust me, to win on Tuesday — and next weekend — would require a little more than a grit of the teeth. It’s not going to be easy, but, to use a cliche, when have we done things the easy way?
Chelsea were the first to get off the blocks today. A midfield of Ballack and Essien went on a rampage, but we weren’t unduly troubled as Vidic and Rio along with Silvestre — who was deputising for Evra — and Brown kept the Chavs at bay. But I think, Vidic’s injury had some part to play in the bigger scheme of things for the rest of the game. Drogba’s knee knocked him off and Fergie had to reshuffle his back four, bringing on Hargreaves at RB and pushing Brown to the centre.
While Chelsea were on the ascendancy it appeared that the reds had done just about enough to keep the score level before half time, only for Ballack to head home in injury time.
The second half was much better though and some urgency kicked in to United. But I could never really see how they were going to score as Nani continued to frustrate and Giggs, well, he just doesn’t have the pace to break on the counter, anymore. It was a blunder by Carvalho that gifted us the goal as Rooney, for once, put a one on one into the net.
We continued to press, although Avram Grant — to his credit — did look to attack by sending on the right subs. However, despite all of Chelsea’s efforts, they didn’t look like scoring until the penalty. I thought it was harsh, but I guess we have been having a strange relationship with penalties over the past couple of weeks haven’t we? Two weren’t given against Boro, one (I think) at Ewood Park, Ronaldo’s failure to convert one at the Nou Camp, Marquez bundling Ron over inside the area and today Ballack wrestling Ronaldo in the penalty area, rugby style. The Carrick one is not something I’d want to whine over — it’s just that the word penalty isn’t ringing anything positive for us at the moment. It was unfortunate. Ballack scoring the penalty was as certain as the sun rising in the east tomorrow.
Fans have blamed Fergie for showing too little respect for Chelsea. Some have called his side selection as baffling. OK let’s get some perspective.
I know, it may have seemed a little arrogant of Fergie to not start Ronaldo. But I thought either of Ronaldo or Rooney was going to be rested. They have been running at full tilt for many weeks now and they seem like they are on their last legs. Perhaps Ronaldo starting upfront instead of Rooney might not have been a bad idea either. But I really can’t fault the gaffer too much on this count. I also thought he got his back four right.
The main point of contention is central midfield. Anderson, Carrick and Fletcher have all shown the stomach for the biggest games this season. In fact Fletch was among the better players yesterday. Scholes, on current form, doesn’t have the legs to play two games in a week. And the same could be said of Hargo. So I don’t know what our alternatives could have been, really.
You see, it’s easy to blame the manager’s team selection for these things but I think there has been a bigger problem that has been swept under the rug since we were already on top of the league till now. The rot was evident to me in Camp Nou where we failed to keep the ball for more than 30% of the time. United are a different team when they start to respect their opponents. They seem unsure, almost confused, in this unfamiliar role where hanging on to a lead or settling for a draw is the sole aim. Fergie’s mentality has been questionable more than his selections. Clearly he was willing to settle for a draw in Camp Nou as well as at the Bridge. While we escaped from Barcelona with a draw — although it was reasonably justifiable in Europe — we weren’t quite so lucky yesterday. And that, I think, is what could cost all the good work we’ve done till now.
Arsenal went through a horror week where they faced Liverpool, us and Liverpool, again, and effectively ended their dreams of winning any trophy. We are going through a tough couple of weeks ourselves: Blackburn, Barca, Chelsea and Barca. If we get through Barca with a win and manage to beat West Ham next weekend, we can hope to smile. And for a start, let’s practice “hold onto the feckin’ ball for 1 minute at a stretch while passing inside the opposition half.”
But till then I will be biting chunks off my nails.
PS: I am still positive that we’ll retain the title despite the negativity. It’s just that it’s been a while since we won a game over the past couple of weeks.
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