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!


Anonymous said...

Too often soccer commentators and columnist (and bloggers apparently) get too wrapped up in analyzing the game based solely on the score-line. While I'm not naive enough to believe that the result isn't what counts I don't think this game, and most games in general are as one sided as most would say.

I am a Roma supporter and cannot be unbiased when reading commentary about this game - but I still feel as if I were watching a different game than most.

For long stretches of the match Roma were dominant - it took a moment of brilliance from the world's best player (what at Goal!!) to break through. The second goal - I think we can all agree was a cluster-fuck. ManU were fortunate.

While Roma could have certainly done with better performances from their "home grown" talent - Aquiliani and De Rossi, Roma's main deficiency was the lack of finishing. Totti would have added potency to the Roma attack, that was so clearly lacking last night (Roma is in desperate need of a signing a striker).

All-in-all I thought that the 2-0 result was a little harsh on Roma. I certainly don't believe that they deserved to win and it would be a stretch to say they deserved a draw - but a 1-0 result would have been more indicative of the game.

From reading numerous articles on this game Roma (as with most match losers) were judged rather harshly. If I hadn't seen the game I would have assumed that I Lupi did little more than show up and play dead.

Roma are a vastly improved squad from last year - but realistically don't stand a chance at advancing (though they will fight - unlike last year). Their performance should be taken for what it was a decent (and at times dominant) performance that was lacking.

Now one should have a better bead on his squad and their performance than the manager:


Sorry if this didn't make any sense - I'm just really sad/angry after last night's game. You just had to write a post that would get me all crazy!!


Richard Whittall said...

Troppo Ronaldo was what the Gazetta della Sport wrote yesterday...I think Roma were very well organized, and at the start of the second half an equalizer looked almost certain.

They held possession well outside the area and managed to create a lot of space, but like you said, the finishing was poor, and in CL two-leg football good finishing is what matters. Just look at how many chances Arsenal missed tonight. They'll sorely regret it at Anfield.

The real test of mettle is to give as good as they got at Old Trafford. Someone asked me the other day if I was looking forward to ManU Barca, and I told him there are two legs and I wouldn't bet against Roma at least inching it to penalties if they're patient next week...but I stand by the fact that De Rossi was totally missing yesterday.