There’s been this nagging feeling at the back of my head; the press had built up United to be a monster that would just walk all over Barcelona. Even many fans were disturbingly over confident over our chances. Surprisingly, a good number of English non-United fans were also fairly confident of United’s chances.
With all the hubris surrounding the game and United in particular, there was one thought in my head: everyone is building this up with a chance of a spectacular fall lying in wait. That was a thought more due to my cynicism over any unduly gushing praise; even cockiness over a side that have been demolishing everyone left, right and centre — scoring well over 100 goals this season.
One may say this is hindsight talking, but I mentioned this prior to the match. I knew we were perfectly capable of beating Barcelona on our day, but I was also perfectly aware that it was foolishness to expect United would just walk all over them.
The first 10 minutes however, gave me the hope that United were really up for this and it could be our night. Ronaldo was in his elements, out to prove a point. And despite all the media shenanigans over the best player in the world, he was among the few players to emerge out of the match with any credit.
Samuel Eto’o’s goal came, as they say, entirely against the run of play. There was no indication till then of Barcelona ever coming close to the ball till that instant. More shocking was the ease with which Eto’o turned Vidic, and whilst EVDS could have done better at his near post, the damage was done.
United were shell shocked, visibly, and chased shadows for the rest of the game. There is nothing else to say about this really. Ideally, my match report should end here. Full stop.
But it won’t, because I have to waffle a little longer because of the occasion. So, waffle, I shall.
There was a debate about Guardiola being a better coach than Ferguson. It’s hard to make that argument because of the gulf in experience and achievements between the two managers. But today, it looked like Barcelona were well coached and prepared for the occasion once they got their goals. The Barcelona coach was on the touchline belching out instructions even when they were ahead, and he was quick to spot moments of indiscretion from his wards — although they were few and far between.
It’s also hard to say that Ferguson got his tactics wrong. I think he put out the side everyone predicted. It could be said that Fletcher was missed, but I’ll again chalk this down to the first goal that knocked the wind out of the players. What was shocking was the lack of drive shown by the players to get their heads together, regroup and come back stronger. There was little fight, and only more frustration as Barcelona passed us to death.
Ferguson was absolutely right when he said we did little when we got the ball. Fletcher can help get the ball back for you, but when Carrick tried way too many Hollywood passes, and Rooney just got angrier and angrier, and Evra mishit everything after another foray, and Park fell down after being given the ball by Ronaldo (following much hard work by the Portuguese) there is little one can do but scratch heads vigourously.
So, how do I feel? I feel sick but in a strange way. I am not gutted by the defeat, as I would have had it been at the hands of Chelsea or Arsenal or Liverpool. But I still feel empty today. It was as if the day seemed blank. There is a weird curling feeling in the stomach, yet no grief.
We were extraordinarily poor today, and there is little disgrace in losing to an exceptional side. I only wished we gave them a bit more fight than we did today.
The obvious fan reaction will call for heads to roll, players to be sold etc. I’ll pass on that reaction, because it belittles a season’s worth of work. Yes, we have obvious weaknesses, but so does every club. So I’ll spare my readers my rant on which player needs to be sold or who needs to be dropped. I think I’ve either moved past that or can’t be too arsed to go through that ritual following a defeat. Doing that just feels like taking hindsight to the back of the truck and subjecting him to gross, even illegal, physical abuse.
The time will come when we take stock of the season — and that will come over the next few days. So watch this space.
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