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Match Reports

Luck, Toil and A Bloodied Head as United March On

There is a hint of ruthlessness in the way United have played this season among piles of misplaced passes, over-hit shots, and sluggish movement. After starting on a blazing note at the beginning of the season, in terms of attacking verve, the lack of goals probably had a lot to do with an alarming drop in the kind of swagger that the team is known to display.

The Roma game, which by the way couldn’t have possibly been expected to go the way of last season’s encounter, nonetheless, promised a much open game than the fare that has been served thus far this season.

Thankfully, in terms of its openness, the game did deliver as advertised. And like most open games, there were plenty of nervy moments and close calls — another test, this time against genuinely good opposition, for a defence that has managed to hold fort quite admirably, this season.

While lots of Reds fans had hopes of a repeat performance after hearing about Inter hammering the Giallorossi (who were playing at home) 4-1, the Roma players surely weren’t going to be naive enough to let such a thing repeat. As is their wont, they started in their usual frenetic pace and clearly looked the better team for large parts of the first half.

The manager opted to start Nani instead of Giggs and Saha instead of Tevez. O’Shea was picked to take the place of an injured Brown and Vidic managed to clear fitness tests and return to the starting XI. The 4-4-2 was a sign of positive intent, given it was a European fixture against good opposition.

Our sluggishness early on didn’t help the cause either as Roma attacked with some quick one touch passing, Mancini being a constant menace to O’Shea on the left flank. However, to his credit, O’Shea stepped in and did the job required of him and kept him quiet for a good part of the game – despite the odd slip or so.

The first half was a mostly underwhelming one, with a couple of Nani’s good crosses that were to avail thanks to the lack of any player up front, or the ball moving slightly wide off Ronaldo’s head on an occasion.

The second half was faster paced than the first as Ronaldo made some jinking runs in an otherwise quiet night. He didn’t terrorize their, surprisingly, well-organised defence but had a few mazy runs down the flanks that were encouraging. Rooney was more or less invisible for much part and Saha was surprisingly uninvolved upto a certain extent.

The most eye catching player on the pitch, going forward, was undoubtedly Nani. The Portuguese had been forced into a steep learning curve after Ronaldo’s suspension and Rooney’s injury and his progress has been heartening. Yes, he still seems lost with the ball, or tends to give the ball away far too often. But then he has time to improve and his crosses (and corners) are getting better and better and there were at least three quality crosses that I could say off the top of my head that was begging to be struck. One was struck, but was blasted well over the goal on the volley, from a point blank range, by Rooney, with the keeper at his mercy. There was a deft (or audacious, however you choose to call it) attempt at goal over the ‘keeper from a tight angle that made the ball do a tantalising tight-rope walk on the crossbar before the Roma defence managed to heave a sigh of relief.

It’s been said many times before, on this site, that it is the sluggishness we show in our passing that has been our undoing. A perfect way to prove why we haven’t been scoring as much as we’d have liked is in the way we got our goal. Ronaldo initiated the move by sending it to his right to Carrick who promptly passed it back to him. Ronaldo proceeded to pass it on to Nani who took a touch and then flicked it forward to Rooney, who took a shot with his first touch. The directness that has so eluded us more often was there for all to see. A quick move that yielded a goal and more importantly, helped prise open the Roma defence.

While things were happening in the Roma half there were chances created in the other side of the pitch too. However, the Giallorossi showed a tendency to panic once the ball was at their feet inside the box. It was as if they had ants running all over their head and pants — biting every nook and crevice — forcing them into doing something stupid. They hit the ball in all directions except towards goal, and when they actually did, the immense Rio Ferdinand showed them why around 30 million quid was spent to rescue him from the scum, which also went by the name of Leeds United, many aeons ago. The man is playing like a champion and along with Vidic he gives so much assurance to our side. It’s a pity we aren’t making full use of this security at the back and playing more adventurously. TK had a decent game, although my heart did manage a flutter, or two, whenever I saw him not holding onto the ball cleanly enough. And oh, I hereby declare — if I haven’t already — Rio Ferdinand for Captain!

Carlos Tevez and Anderson, who came on as a late sub, showed us glimpses into their ability. Tevez skinned a defender or two and shot a powerful drive, from outside the box, that went over the post and Anderson did manage to jink past a player or two but was out-muscled due to a lack of support. The kid does have some pace and trickery, contrary to what has been said about him in the press of late. He needs more time that’s certain.

The match was played in good spirit apart from the bad elbow knock on Ronaldo. Yes, they were rough on the lad as most players are. It is a tough job being a good player isn’t it. There was also the odd play acting, but it was okay overall. On the whole, the team has been found wanting going forward, but – forgive the cliche – the performances are getting more assured. Hopefully we’ll manage to spank Wigan this weekend and set things right.

Huh? What do I hear? Carrick’s out for 6 weeks? An elbow injury? Someone please put his hand in a sling and throw him in back into training already!