Tuesday, April 1, 2008
Manchester United -- Masters of Cattenaccio?
I wrote on this blog not three days ago about Manchester United's dominance of the Premiership as a suspect mark of quality considering their lack of trophies in Europe which, give or take, is the real test of mettle for teams aspiring to be, in the words of a graffiti artist in Style Wars, "the all out king."
I certainly had statistics on my side, at least until ManU's trip tonight to the Stadio Olimpico for a quiet performance that should rank as one of Manchester United's best in Europe for almost a decade; prior to tonight, United had only won twice away in Europe since 1999. I Giallorossi were in truth missing Francesco Totti, their [cliche alert!] talisman up front, and they threw away at least two great chances around the hour mark to level the score after Ronaldo's fantastic Fowler-esque header before the half. But United had a clear tactical edge.
What was remarkable on the night was United's and one hopefully suspects Ferguson's approach to the game, which was intelligent, restrained, and measured, almost the opposite of the archetypical English pundit's cry in Europe for the pace, power, and passion that 'the English game is known for etcetera etcetera.' United's players held possession, didn't close down under pressure, and tentatively inched toward goal two steps forward and one step back, without the accelerated through balls and rapid fire pace that runs ruin back home. For the greater part of the first half they were remarkably similar in style to another white and red club that has played often in the Olimpico; Vidic for short period before his injury looking very much like Japp Stamm did four years ago.
This mature approach even more so than the away-win itself indicates that this year may be different, especially if one considers United's path to the final could be blocked by an increasingly frustrated and therefore resurgent Barcelona. Most players looked up to the change in style; Park and Carrick were a good fit, Rooney looked very comfortable making space in the centre, Evra had a great match. Really all but Scholes, who gave away possession about a thousand times in the United half, seemed comfortable for the walking pace. Mancini and Giuly had great speed and were given lots of space by the newly sonambulant ManU, but couldn't deliver. As Roma pushed farther forward, Ronaldo and Rooney made a great deal of menacing space and kicked up the pace Premiership-style, which meant that all-in-all, by the 70th minute the game was in the bag. De Rossi for the way he played might as well have been on the bench.
The end result of this is that if Manchester United have the intelligence and foresight to play a measured game in Europe and then come home to play their familiar thrashing, pacey 4-4-2, they could be in Moscow against neighbourly opponents they've beaten already this season. I still contend there is an imbalance at the top of the Premiership, but damn it if Manchester United play lovely football.
Note: Paul Doyle just said essentially the same thing as this with more detail and a less decisive finish on the Guardian...the two make a lovely pair in my opinion. And another! That was liquid football!
Posted by Richard Whittall at 4:37 PM