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Man Utd 1-0 Barcelona: Reds March On To Moscow

Crisis? What crisis? That was so easy wasn’t it? Surely we’re going to wallop every team that comes our way from now on, aren’t we?

Okay, let me not attempt to jinx the team anymore, but to quote a certain Scottish manager — I forget his name — football… bloody hell!

United beat Barcelona 1-0 at home to finally reach the finals of the Champions’ League for the first time since ’99. If you are a fan of symbolism, there’s plenty to talk about here; Paul Scholes, the man along with Keane who had to sit out of the final last time, picked out the best possible time for his trademark screamer — something that he hadn’t done since, I believe, the draw against Portsmouth last year; we won our last Champions’ League in Barcelona, and we beat them to get into the final; our last final came on Sir Matt Busby’s 90th birthday, and it would be equally memorable this time as it is on the 50th anniversary year of the Munich disaster; and with our 100% record in Champions’ League finals, I’d fancy us to win it. Bring ’em on, ‘dippers or Chavs.

Back to the game, the lads gave us a performance that was entirely a contrast to what we’ve managed to witness over the past couple of weeks. It could be said that we didn’t get a home game for a while now, and it showed yesterday, as the crowd was, for a want of a better word, outstanding. The atmosphere was electric, and even I could feel it as I watched it in my home theatre system. Hopefully they didn’t damage their vocal chords too badly because they still have a big job to do against a potential banana skin in West Ham. But that’s for later.

Fergie started with an attack minded 4-4-2 that was full of pace. He said he wanted to give our side every chance of attacking and going for it from the whistle and his staring XI mirrored that. True, the absence of Vidic and Rooney did cast doubts on many fans. And even the start — the first 15 mins or so — of the game was nervy as Barcelona completely hogged possession. But the Ginger Ninja’s goal changed it all, and also came much against the run of play; Ronaldo lost the ball which Zambrotta weakly cleared and it fell nicely for Scholes to send one right past Victor Valdes at full stretch — top stuff, and what a time. And the normally expressionless face of the Prince was all smiles, as he realised what had just happened.

From then on United got its swagger back, and should have really buried the game by half time. But it was not to be and the second half saw Barcelona once again dominated possession without really creating much as the defence came to the fore. There has been much talk from critics saying when push coming to shove, United resort to long ball tactics and containment. I agree, but with the caveat that just about any team, especially the English and Italian ones, resort to this strategy in the Champions’ League. Arsenal, for all their ‘beautiful football’, lumped the ball up to Henry in a 4-5-1 on their path to the Champions’ League final two seasons ago. This was not ugly football in the least. It was a victory for a team that was well organised and had a grasp of the pace of the game. We created enough chances for a team in the lead; a great one-two between Ronaldo and Tevez, some good breaks forward; a couple of gilt edged chances in the penalty area that, on another day, would have gone in.

Now for the performances. The defenders should take credit for yesterday’s display, again. Rio was, as usual, fantastic — I still wonder if we would have actually conceded three goals at the San Siro had Ferdinand played. Hargreaves showed the lung busting energy and his versatility for a make shift right back — and to his credit he has played three games in a week which is something for his injury ravaged season. I think he will be an even better player next season when he gets a nice rest in the summer. Evra played like a man possessed, while Messi did make forays on the right wing it was because Evra spent a lot of time up the pitch. When he was one-on-one with Messi though, he did a good job. And Wes Brown… well, it speaks volumes about his performance if you say Vidic wasn’t missed. Exactly the kind of player you need in your club.

In midfield, Carrick and Scholes did the job that was needed of them. Not spectacular, disciplined in defence and credit must go to them as they were up against Toure, Deco and Xavi.

In attack Nani, was about average because of his wastefulness and lack of decision making, but he will turn out better with every season. Park was brilliant and he has been so in the Champions’ League this season. He is quite easily the most hardworking player on the pitch. He gives everything from constantly running for 90 minutes to tracking back and harrying the opposition. He did everything you could ask for. He’s been forever the forgotten man, but his contribution should never go unnoticed. In my book he was among the men of the match. Ditto for Carlos Tevez. Ran like a mad man; he has an air of Gattuso in him harrying defenders and tracking back — more than making up for the absence of Rooney. Played like his life depended on it.

And finally coming to the person who is usually the focus in big games like these — Cristiano Ronaldo. He wasn’t outstanding, nor was he completely subdued. He was initially played up the park and was hence isolated, but when he moved over to the wing he got more of the ball and his performance was definitely a major improvement over Camp Nou. And not just that: he’s also shown the desire to track back and clear balls out of danger using his aerial presence. A performance from him that showed his understanding of the game more than trying to look clever. He may never have the close control of Messi, but his blistering pace, aerial ability, strength and fitness make him a more rounded player than the Argentine whizkid; you just can’t compare the two at the moment, although considering all of Barca’s attacks went through Messi, credit should be given to the young lad. He’s truly a master in the making — the real deal in Argentina’s production line of ‘next Maradona’s‘.

On the performance, it wasn’t vintage all out attack football — that would be too naive wouldn’t it? It wasn’t ugly, last ditch defending that characterised Liverpool on their path to Istanbul. It was a performance from a side that was assured and knew how to win the game despite all the things Barcelona had to throw at them.

The 1-0 win, was certainly not very good for nerves, but we’ll take it any day wouldn’t we? Credit to all the fans once again.

Next stop West Ham. Hopefully the boys don’t lose their intensity against inferior opposition. After all there’s really no harm in our side going full pelt at this last stretch. Just two games to the title, and another to potentially complete a double, and a famous season, without doubt.

Believe!

We’ll never die!

Fergie’s post-match press conference video

… and extended highlights from yesterday.

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