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UEFA Champions' League

Manchester United players need to do better

Manchester United have been, for several years now, circumspect in Europe (ponderous and over-cautious if you want to be picky about it). It’s not something the fans enjoy, but it is a combination of Fergie’s choices and how our players perform (both are equally responsible), so we have to come to terms with it.

On the surface, the season has gone well – United are one point behind Arsenal with a superior goal difference and Arsenal still to come to Old Trafford. United are also in the quarter-finals of both the FA Cup and the Champions League, and would be good bets to progress to the last four in each of the competitions.

But there are times when United’s performances disappoint and leave you wanting for much more. Last night’s performance against Lyon at Old Trafford was one of those games.

In the first half United were half-irresistible and half-pathetic. Scintillating, electric movement and passing and breaking to take the ball forward from defence to attack in seconds, but only to give the ball away time and time again in the final third. Lyon tucked in and defended through the middle, predicting (accurately) that United didn’t have the height to threaten from crosses nor did they have the physical presence to bulldoze through the center. The chances that did fall to us were half-chances and hats off to Lyon for playing the way they did – they did well and could easily have taken the game to extra time.

RR reader Grognard has a great match report in the preview thread’s comments – you should read that too to get an idea of how the players did.

Overall though, United progressed and that’s all that we really asked for – and instead of looking with jealousy at the performance of other teams, we need to focus on our own team and our own future.

Manchester United’s future in Europe hinges on three things: the availability of players, the right tactics by SAF and the requisite effort by the players. Last year at the San Siro we had none of those 3, and we duly suffered. This year, at Stade Gerland and Old Trafford, we had the players and tactics but not everyone performed as expected.

The Lyon game exposed frailties in United’s European game, but it also showed that we’re stronger than before. I’m not sure if last year’s United squad would have played like this or been able to withstand such pressure.

We’ll find out who our opponents are next Friday (or is it this Friday?) – and with Barcelona, Fenerbahce and Arsenal progressing with us, none of the games in the last eight are going to be easy. I just hope that the players are up for it.

I’d like to see more of Carrick floating those amazing passes to the forward players for Nani, Evra, Rooney and Ronaldo to run into, more of Anderson putting in picture-perfect tackles and robbing opposition players of the ball from behind, more of Rooney facing the goal instead of his back to hit, more of Nani and a helluva lot more from Ronaldo in terms of possession and passing.

Fergie should be able to sort all that out by the next European tie, hopefully. Till then, cheer up guys – we’re in the Champions League quarter-finals, again, and there’s still a lot of the season to go. Lyon were tactically and technically efficient and if you combine that with our waywardness, the edginess of last night’s game was to be expected. I have full faith in the players to learn from it and improve for the next game.