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Deja vu from the Estadio da Luz

Haven’t we seen this before?  I knew it wouldn’t last. I mean Fergie could never let things just be. It was asking too much for us to carry our youth movement, scintillating pace and form over the Channel and into the continent and expect a similar starting squad and the tactics that have wowed us for last month. Instead Fergie called on the old guard and decided to go back to his proven cautious and pragmatic approach, which mixes one part boredom, one part sloth-like pace, and two parts cowardice into a cocktail that chokes the lifeblood out of all Manchester United supporters.

Times. They are a Not Changing

The first thing I take from this game is that after so many years and so many failures in Europe Fergie does not change his tactics if they seem to get him the result. Style and entertainment go out the window and he is just happy to go on the road and grab a point if not steal a win with a show of drudgingly boring and uninspiring football that chokes the life out of any spectacle as well as most optimistic and excited supporters who were expecting much the same as we have become accustomed to this early in the new season.

It seems that what we have to become comfortable with and expect more often than not is Fergie’s Catenaccio, known from here on as “Fergienaccio”. A play on the original, which defined means;

Catenaccio (Italian pronunciation:  [kate?natt?o]) is a tactical system in football with an emphasis on defence. In Italian, catenaccio means “door-bolt, implying a highly organized and effective backline defense which is intended to prevent goals.”

Well Fergienaccio works a little different it seems. Instead of a backline that might equip itself with a sweeper, Fergie creates a Catenaccio in the midfield by polluting it with the likes of JS Park or Darren Fletcher and strangles the game by keeping the midfield congested. And yet Benfica still found at least a half dozen good chances to score simply because the players we employed in the midfield were either too old, not good enough or both. My vote is for both.

One thing we can learn form this game is that nothing beats speed. Benfica were a constant threat despite the congested midfield and our play in the EPL this season is more proof positive that speed kills. Experience and maturity is a nice thing to have but is it really necessary when the opponent is not as good as we are?  Why utilize slower and albeit more experienced players if they are going to be constantly on their heels defending and trying to keep up with their faster and younger opponents.

There are several sayings that I like to use at times like these so please forgive me and indulge me this one time; 

  1.   Learn from the past
  2.   If you’re attacking, you don’t get as tired as when you’re chasing
  3.   Nothing is worse than playing not to lose
  4.   Pick the right horse for the course


Group Stage Philosophy

Base my indulgent sentiments on what we saw in this game. One thing I get from these games in Europe is a real understanding of Fergie and his grand ambition to win in Europe. But when he manages a game in Europe, what does he really bring out of the game that improves him and his team for the future?  The whole theory behind football is to outscore the opponent. Modern football however redefines the theory and tells the team to protect from giving up goals. Which emphasizes what Italians value more than a 4-2 win is a 1-0 or even scoreless draw. NUTS!!!!  And nowhere outside of Italy is this more prevalent than in the group stages of the UEFA Champions League.

To be honest there is nothing I look forward to less these days than and opening group match or any group match for that matter. Boring, drudgingly antiseptic affairs designed to prevent catastrophe rather than advancing forward with grander ambitions. “Nothing is worse than playing not to lose”. I think that quote says it all really. But that is what it’s all about in the Champions League, at least until the knockout stages when winning has to be the first priority and thus teams attack more and take more offensive initiative.

I may disagree with what Fergie is doing in Europe but seriously one cannot knock the methodology or tactics too much because based on the system in place as it gets us far into the tournament every season it seems. Bottom line is it may not be pretty but it seems to work. It kind of reminds of people who settle for plain looking spouses just so they can say they are not lonely and can brag that they are married.

Intense Competition for Places

So did we learn anything from this game that we can take with us, use or discard for the future?  Well first of all it is safe to say that our backup goalkeeper is outstanding and right now may be better than are high priced starter. Expect a real competition for the starting role over the next few months. I think we can all agree that Ryan Giggs is timeless and as great a United legend as there ever has been. The real Jonny Evans is back. If it’s not a late tackle or a missed hand ball, it’s blowing his cover and allowing the Benfica goal without putting up much of a fight. And for me the most noticeable thing I got from last night is that this group we are in will be oh so boring to watch and sit through.

Fergie seemed quite upbeat about the performance and had a few interesting comments after the match to offer which I found interesting. I found the performance of Anders Lindegaard to be outstanding. His reflexes and range were great but what I found in his game that really excites me is his footwork and positioning. Still, Fergie is not about to make big spending on David De Gea look unjustified as he had the following things to say about the now heated up keeper controversy. Regarding his selection dilemma for the Chelsea match at Old Trafford this Sunday he replied to the reporter in his typical intolerant and rude manner;

“Not at all. David de Gea will play on Sunday. That’s the understanding we had before the game and it doesn’t change. I don’t know why you ask these questions. You are just looking for stupid little things.”  “We’ve got two great goalkeepers in Anders and David”

Relax Boss, the lady from ITV (Kenny Dalglish’s daughter it seems) just asked a valid question. Then Fergie went on to explain further;

“We were always getting to the moment when we were going to share that. David will play against Chelsea on Sunday and possibly Anders will play against Leeds on Tuesday, depending on how I see the situation in terms of Ben Amos, who needs some game time also. There are opportunities to spread that load because coming over to the English game, it’s such a competitive intense league for a young goalkeeper. There will come a time when I need to give him a break. This was a good moment because he had a fantastic game on Saturday, so this was a nice time to give him a break.”

One thing you got to love from Lindegaard is that he wants the starting role and he is determined to get it. I love his quotes where he just simply puts it in proper perspective.

“I’ve said a thousand times before I’m not here to pick my nose.”
“I enjoyed it very much, it was a great night. It’s a great stadium to play at, a very loud audience. This is why I came to United, to play these kind of games. ‘There’s always a bit of nerves and if there isn’t then it’s not that enjoyable. It makes me feel alive. I’m satisfied with my performance, just a bit sad that I didn’t save the first goal.”

Fergie then went on to pay tribute to Ryan Giggs for scoring that brilliant cracker of a goal;

“It was a great goal, very good. I felt in the early part of the match he perhaps sat too deep in midfield but, when he got in behind them, in their central-midfield area, he was a real threat to them. It was terrific quality. I thought both goals were terrific. The boy Cardozo took his goal fantastically well, a fantastic turn and hit.”

One noticeable absentee for me again was none other than Dimitar Berbatov. Honestly folks, has it come that 21 goals last season and a great professional attitude gets you zero respect or gratitude yet alone playing time from this manager anymore?  When asked about his omission again he offered up his typical lame answer;

“It’s hard because of the number of strikers we have,” Fergie uttered from the side of his mouth “Michael Owen is there and we’ve got Federico Macheda and Mame Biram Diouf too. It’s not easy. Danny Welbeck will be back the week after next and it’s not easy. Dimitar has been training really well, his attitude has been spot-on, brilliant, really good, and he’ll get his game time, there’s no question about that, as the season goes on because we’re into European football, the League Cup, the league games. There are plenty of occasions.”

Well gag me with a forklift and excuse me while I vomit. The man is a classy and gifted star player that delivered in spades last season and he has been left out in the cold like the dirty wet dog on a rainy day. Call me wrong but my anger over this is about respecting a player and treating him right. The last time I looked Dimitar did nothing to play himself on to the bench. The problem here as I see it is twofold. First, Fergie never gives his golden child Rooney a rest and secondly, Berbatov is an extravagance that we should have sold this past summer but didn’t.

A Tale of Two Leagues

We learned a lot from what we can expect from this club this season in England as well as in Europe. It appears we will go with our youth and pace in England while resorting to slow boring Fergienaccio with old slow and seasoned players and an overdose of JS Park on the continent. Expect Berbatov and Kuszczak to be sold in January because frankly keeping that kind of payroll around to rot on the bench seems like poor business. I cannot help but wonder about the wages being wasted on two players not being used when that money could have gone towards a player like Wesley Sneijder who would have ensured a easier and smoother if not more entertaining tour of Europe this winter. Personally I think that is a valid gripe. After all, Fergie all but admitted that he has too many forwards. Well then sell one or two and buy a midfielder I say. We can never have too many world class midfielders pulling the strings around Old Trafford.

Finally if we learned anything from yesterday, it’s that Fergie is a stubborn old cuss who will do it his way and to hell with criticism, lack of entertainment value and positive football. When it comes to Europe it will be the same old same old until we meet Barcelona and get raped and brutalized again because he learns nothing from his games in Europe and he brings the same old nags to the race time after time. And for those people who were wondering where the old Grognard was?  A game like this brings him out with his fangs out and his nails sharpened. And right now I’m hungry for Haggis.