Connect with us

Manchester United Players

Park Delivers Knockout Blow To Send United Into Schalke Semifinal

While Ji-Sung Park may never be considered a Manchester United legend, save for perhaps in his corner of the world, there’s no doubt that the man has done a lot more than help sell a lot of shirts in Asia over the last six years.

Injuries have blighted his potential impact, and that includes this season, which saw him miss two months of action after a month-long Asian Cup absence.

He might not be one of the first names on the teamsheet, but when fit, he has contributed a great deal to United’s success in recent seasons, and he’s more than a few times over repaid the £4m investment that was made in him in 2005.

Park will always be remembered for his outstanding performance in the second leg of the Champions League semifinal tie against Barcelona three years ago, but his Man of the Match-worthy showing in Tuesday night’s win over Chelsea should certainly rank up there as one of his best as well.

Early this season, few might have expected to even see him on the bench for such an important match, but he overcame an admittedly poor start to play a role in United’s ascent to the place they currently hold at the summit of the Premier League table, and his return from injury was a welcome sight, even with Antonio Valencia’s return restoring United’s preferred pairing on the flanks.

But instead of Valencia and Nani starting on the wings in both legs against Chelsea, it was Park that was the only constant. Sure, having the speed and skill of our two best wingers would have done well in a match in which defense wasn’t going to be the priority for Chelsea, but that pairing would have made far more sense if the tie was more finely balanced or United were in a position to have to attack from the outset and take a few risks.

However, while taking advantage of Chelsea’s intent, tiring them out, and making and taking opportunities to close the deal were the objectives on the night, the objective was also to be smart, to be careful, to minimize risks and thereby the opportunities that Chelsea would have to score their way back into the game. So, the perfect man to start opposite Nani was someone who’d help do that less with speed and more with energy and relentlessness, someone who could provide needed balance and versatility, who could get stuck in when needed and then turn around and help launch a break, someone who’d all around be a pest for 90 minutes and help beat Chelsea into submission.

Check, check, and check.

I couldn’t sum it up any better than this: “MOM for me was Park. Running into space, attacking the wings, cutting inside, defending with zeal, and of course, taking his chance perfectly.

The effort that he put in really was equal to the spoils that he reaped.”

It was only fitting that, overlooked as his importance and value can be sometimes, that in the most important moment of the 180 minutes, he was completely overlooked by Chelsea’s stretched defense.

With Chelsea down to 10 men, any push forward could have borne fruit, but to counter-punch immediately after their goal meant that there was even more of a chance they could be caught off-guard, and that’s indeed what happened. As bodies flocked to first Wayne Rooney and then Ryan Giggs, it left Park all alone to sneak into the area completely unaccounted for, latch on to Giggs’ perfectly timed and placed pass, and slot it home to drive a stake through Chelsea’s hopes as soon as they’d been resurrected. The goal was a just reward for all of his hard work over the two legs, and in a season where we’ve come to expect the unexpected, it shouldn’t be all that surprising that he was the one that came up with the decisive strike.

Of course, despite his defined position, his impact isn’t measured only in goals and assists, but in that department, quality outpaces quantity, as evidenced by the fact that of his seven goals this season, four have been match-winning strikes.

But overall, it could be said that the Korean personifies much of the qualities of this Manchester United team.

What this team may lack in world-beating talent in some areas, it more than makes up for it with heart, resolve, energy, effort, commitment. How else would we have seen the countless comebacks and late wins that we’ve seen this season? Talent has been a key factor, sure, but if the necessary intangibles weren’t there, we wouldn’t have seen what we did at Villa, Blackpool, and West Ham.

More often than not, this team knows how to be in the right place at the right time. Whether it’s been the poacher extraordinaire Chicharito being perfectly positioned as he was on Tuesday night to blast the ball into the roof of the net, or a key tackle or interception on the other end, which we saw on multiple occasions against Chelsea, the clutch plays far outweigh the mistakes.

And there have been down moments, but this team doesn’t hang its head and give up when the going gets tough. This season hasn’t been a breeze for United, with struggles at the beginning, the issues winning away from home, many defensive missteps, Wayne Rooney’s on and off-pitch issues, a mass of injuries throughout the squad, and dips in form and inconsistency from some key pieces, but here we are, a month left in the season, and folks are talking about that ‘t’ word.

All of the above describe Park perfectly, and all of those attributes are why there should never be a question about why he’s relied upon so often in important matches and why we should expect to see him play a key role in United’s push for success down the stretch.