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Rooney and Ronaldo punish wasteful Roma to give United 2-0 away win

Ronaldo - Rooney

Manchester United won 2-0 at the Stadio Olimpico thanks to goals before and after the break by Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney. The Red Devils take a vital 2-goal lead into the 2nd leg, to be played on Wednesday, 9th April 2008 at Old Trafford. The semi-final beckons, and with it another crack at history.

Highlights (You can read the play-by-play match report here on

Cristiano Ronaldo scoring an away goal in a crucial game for Manchester United – showing a resolve that seemed missing in seasons gone past.

Wayne Rooney’s all-round performance, easily the man of the match for his work-rate, creativity and commitment. Ronaldo stole the show with his goal but the rest of the game was more about Rooney.

Vidic’s injury – a knee strain as he landed awkwardly after jumping for a header – will be a cause of concern but hopefully it’s not a long-term injury like last season.

Roma’s wastefulness in front of goal – granted, by the end of the game both teams had their fair share of chances but there were periods of time before both goals that Roma had clear-cut chances to score, and they bottled it. For United to grab those crucial away goals in difficult games – at Lyon and now here at Rome – is a good sign of maturity from their players.

Dissecting SAF’s European Tactics

I watched this game to crack the puzzle that is United’s away form in Europe, and there’s a lot to be learned here (at least for me).

For starters, I realised today, not so much from how Ferguson started with Carrick and Anderson but how he persisted with Ronaldo and Rooney in the previous game against Aston Villa, that his management style is based on consistency and self-belief. Other managers may be superior tacticians (Rafa Benitez), and others better trainers (Arsene Wenger), but there are few in the world today (if we’re modest) who can match Ferguson for his ability to motivate his players and play to their strengths.

It’s the most important quality a manager can have – Mourinho used to great success with Porto and Chelsea but Ferguson has done it for 2 decades, and he’s as good as ever.

Secondly, United tend to play very deep and hold off from the opposition, not committing to tackles or tight marking. It can prove to be their downfall at times – as Benzema showed with his goal in the 2nd round – but for a team that is more instinctive than a sharp tactical system like Chelsea or Liverpool and more fluid than the clockwork system of Arsenal, it is perhaps the best way to go.

I had hoped that Carrick or Anderson would have sat in front of the defence and shielded them – and there were times that it was necessary and would have United some grief – but Ferguson has eschewed that holding midfielder system and prefers to let players move in and out of positions as the situation develops. It’s more fluid, it’s perhaps more open to unlocking by a skillful attack but against Roma tonight, it was good enough.

Mind you, Vucinic broke through a couple of times, Panucci missed a sitter and there a couple of other good chances spurned but that was more because of a slightly shaky defence (and a strangely subdued Rio Ferdinand – sporting a black eye and not at his best) than because of Ferguson’s tactics.

This system can be quite frustrating at times (especially when you don’t win) but that’s mostly because we’re used to seeing the hustle and bustle of Premier League football, which as Rafa said in his recent interview makes tactics less important than in European competitions, and there United can rely on their speed, quality of attack and the ability to use their momentum to destroy opponents. When it works (as it has for United in this season and the last) it can be quite attractive, but that same approach here at Rome would have cost United a goal or two, and that’s not a luxury you can afford.

Should United have played like Liverpool or Arsenal – as a team that relies on tactics to nullify the opposition threat or as a team that using their clockwork system of passing and the extra time available on the ball in Europe to carve out wins in enemy territory? This current United side has beaten Liverpool home and away, thrashed Arsenal at home once and were denied a famous away win at Emirates by a late goal, all this season. Form aside, I’d take a fluid and adaptable system that has the capability of working in all conditions over a more rigid system that works perfectly in some situations and completely falls apart in others.

Player Watch

I’m worried about Ferdinand – that black eye (and whatever caused it) seemed to have his confidence down. Hopefully it’s just one game and he’s back on song for the away game against Boro, because with Vidic injured Rio needs to be at his best.

Anderson was poor – he didn’t make the switch from the Premier League to European football too well over the last couple of days and he was either out of position or ineffective with the ball. He has a long time ahead of him to learn, and hopefully this was a learning experience for him.

Hargreaves is a beast of a player who can play right-back, defensive midfield, central midfield, possibly left-back as well, plus is a dead-ball specialist and runs himself into the ground. People have complained about his lack of games, but as an asset to the squad he is worth every penny paid. And while we’re at it, so is Carrick.

Van der Sar and Evra again proved their worth to United – EVDS with a couple of excellent saves but more importantly confident command and control of his area, and Evra with some great defending (though he stayed back more than usual, which was to be expected in an away European tie).
Rooney I’ve already praised – and the lad deserves unreserved praise – but at the center of Manchester United’s charge on both fronts this season is one Cristiano Ronaldo, whose match followed a familiar pattern except for that goal (and that changes everything).

The trick to nullifying Ronaldo has always been to frustrate him – he starts bitching and taking little dives and sometimes that works against him, with the ref becoming biased and the distractions only hurt United’s chances (you take Ronaldo out, you take out a significant part of United’s pace and creativity, especially if there is no Nani or Saha or Tevez on the pitch). For the first 38 minutes or so Ronaldo was marked out of the game and I was already preparing what I was going to say about him – that his lack of temperament in these situations is what holds United back at such junctures – but on the 39th minute Ronaldo produced a gem of a goal that, to me at least, proved how much he has grown as a player this year.

You can’t always influence the game by picking up the ball on the wing, weaving into the center of the park and taking a shot, or if no space is available, falling over and playing for a free kick. When Ronaldo was marked out other members of the United side picked up the slack (notably Rooney, Carrick and Scholes) and when these 3 combined to create a chance, Ronaldo came steaming and slammed a header past Doni for a goal.

Last year’s Ronaldo would have been screaming for the ball at the edge of the box or sulking some way away from the action. This year’s Ronaldo got stuck in, and that proved to be the difference. In the absence of a true center forward Ronaldo has the height, skill and speed (perhaps not always the strength) to play that role, and he’s done that to some extent where crosses and corners are concerned (Rooney still plays the target-man – it’s truly astonishing how many different roles these two play in the United team).

For the remaining 60 minutes Ronaldo didn’t do much, apart from a taking a shot when he should have passed and taking a crack at the goal on the volley when controlling it and crossing it back might have been a safer option. Par for the course for a ‘dim’ European performance by Ronaldo.

Except that he stood up and made the difference when it really mattered.

The final word should go to Nemanja Vidic – hopefully he can make a quick recovery, although I have no doubt in Brown to cover for him.



  1. Sam

    2 April 2008 at 13:18

    I agree Rio was immense, but I can see where Ahmed may develop those views from. There were a couple of moments in the opening part of the game especially when Rio made some uncharacteristic mistakes- he gave the ball away in a dangerous position down in the bottom corner very early on, then dived in on Vucinic and completely missed the ball a bit later.

    I think, though, these were isolated incidents, and though we may not normally see them from Rio we also saw some quite exceptional interceptions/ blocks/ tackles which more than made up for them. We also need to look at the bigger picture- Rio was commanding, marshalled the defence well (I didn’t think they were shaky, I though O’Shea did superbly well, Grog’s being slightly harsh on Brown, and Evra showed us he is, in fact, a defender). He’s a fantastic captain, in my opinion.

  2. NiKOS

    2 April 2008 at 13:49

    TALKING ABOUT SCHOLES.Losing the ball is not a good thing.Making wrong passes is not a good thing , too. BUT…if you have to make the most cruicial passes outside of your area and in front of your opponets ITALIAN DEF MIDS , if you ‘re the only one who takes the ball from the defenders and make ALMOST EVERY first attacking pass in the game you ‘re meant to make a mistake , too.You can even make 3 or 5 mistakes. Have you ever seen Rooney or Ronaldo in front of our box? They ‘re a threat for our defs 🙂 Scholes made great passes yesterday night. He took the ball out of the defence many times and SOMETIMES HE WAS STOPPED BY ROMA’S ITALIAN MIDFIELD.YOU THINK IT’S EASY? That’s why Anderson was lost somewhere in the pitch.Cause ROMA aggresive-defending midfield in SO GOOD. Belive it or not they ‘re better than us in this job.
    If I like Scholes? Of course I do! But you should see who makes these crucial passes in every game.
    P.s. if Rooney had made the same assist we would have been talking about his geniuses.

  3. Grognard

    2 April 2008 at 17:04

    Shannon; I am not showing a bias towards Hargo at all. It’s just that I have total faith in this player’s ability to do the job because I have watched him for years and rarely has he ever disappointed. Last night he was immense for us. Even Fergie said so. He was a calming effect for us defensively and then he also took the threats on on the Roma left side out of the game as soon as he showed up. He even showed the ability to attack and with some luck could have set up a few more goals. Both he and O’Shea made outstanding contributions and corrected everything that was wrong from Brown and Anderson. I love Fergie to death and I am nobody to question him but I still must. Why Owen Hargreaves isn’t starting every game or at least every CL game at DMF or at least at RWB is a mystery to me. It must be due to his knee tendinitis. If so, I think he will show his true worth and warrant his transfer cost next season. Still, he has a lot he can do for us this season and help us to a double.

    NIKOS; In the past I came out as one of Scholes big critics and made the claim that he was too old and probably washed up when it comes to playing for a club like United. I now realize I was wrong and that the Ginger Ninja has quite a bit left in him. With that said, last night was not one of his better nights. He set up a goal beautifully and he controlled the tempo and flow of the game like a master but he did give the ball away badly more than half a dozen times. This led to quick Roma counters that wee thwarted by their own stupidity or Rio Ferdinand. Scholes wasn’t terrible but it was not one of his best games. Still, the pairing of him and Carrick in the middle is sublime and add Hargreaves to the mix and it’s perfection. The player I’m down on and who I think looks tired and finished for this season is Anderson.
    He may have a bright future with the club but for me, he just doesn’t float my boat.

  4. Wheezy

    2 April 2008 at 18:30

    Oh my god what a joke Avrahm Grant is HAHAHAHAHAHA
    “Grant ready to sacrifice style for progress” like they had any style to begin with
    I hope they get SLAUGHTERED by Fenerbahce

  5. Mihir

    2 April 2008 at 18:45

    Am from India and since you mentioned that you will be travelling from Delhi to Kathmandu(which is in Nepal) during the semis…
    The Champions League is shown on “Ten Sports” in India and the coverage starts at midnight.

  6. kaza

    3 April 2008 at 03:39

    great maturity from the players. they defended very well as a group and i think rio was one of our best players. he made some crucial tackles and interceptions. rooney played well and i hope he goes on a long scoring run.
    Does anyone know of a stat saying how many times rooney and ronaldo have scored in the same match, because it happens so often

  7. Shannon

    3 April 2008 at 03:43

    [Beachryan] It was nice reading the RVN interview. I wouldn’t have wanted him bitter at the club. After all he is a legend of OT.

    [Grognard] Agree that Hargo should be playing CDM in most away and especially Champions league away games.
    Although the guy has a nice cross doesn’t he!

  8. kaza

    3 April 2008 at 03:44

  9. craig mc

    3 April 2008 at 16:59

    Ronaldo – what’s wrong with knowing your good, and strutting a bit. Cantona was arrogant too, a real strutter but didn’t hear many complaints about him. Well maybe about his Kung Foo kick!!!!!! I think though it was the first time I have ever seen Ronnie go in like crazy horse for his headed goal against Roma. Perhaps that’s why he thinks players shouldn’t be physical with him, because he is not usually physical like he was for that header. I am still trying to work out if he was being determinedly physical, or if the Roma player barged into him. Anyone???. I think that Ronnie not being physical in his approach, is why he seems to stay clear of injuries other more forceful players sustain.

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